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In the movie LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo drops the One Ring on the floor and then leaves his house. Gandalf then goes to pick it up but just before he touches it, he sees an image of Sauron's Eye so he doesn't pick it up. A short time later, Frodo enters the house, sees the One Ring on the floor, picks it up and then shows it to Gandalf.

Gandalf then decides he has to travel to the city of Minas Tirith to do some research on the One Ring in order to find out if Bilbo's ring may be the One Ring.

Why was Gandalf unsure if Bilbo's ring was the One Ring if he had seen an image of Sauron's Eye when he was about to pick it up?

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    Does this answer your question? Why didn't Gandalf say anything when he saw Bilbo's ring?
    – fez
    Oct 9, 2021 at 10:04
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    Or perhaps: Did Gandalf know Bilbo had the One Ring?
    – fez
    Oct 9, 2021 at 10:05
  • @fez, I don't think those two posts answer my question if Gandalf had actually seen Sauron's Eye when he went to pick up the ring.
    – user57467
    Oct 9, 2021 at 10:09
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    For all you can tell from that, it's a Ring that makes you see the Eye. It's no proof to what the Ring really is. He still needs Isildur's account.
    – Eugene
    Oct 9, 2021 at 12:03
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    Take a look at Mark.Olson's answer here (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/31296). It has the quotes that most directly explain it, as far as the book itself is concerned. The film diverges slightly for audience explanation, to shortcut things and add drama.
    – Stilez
    Oct 9, 2021 at 22:15

2 Answers 2

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You've linked together too many things that shouldn't really be linked at this point in the movie.

First of all, I wouldn't put too much weight on elements Peter Jackson put into his movies that weren't in Tolkien's books to begin with. It not just that they don't affect the story; they can't, by definition.

In Tolkien's original telling, Bilbo didn't toss the Ring on the floor. Instead, he sealed it in an envelope and put it on his mantelpiece for Frodo to collect later. The difficulty Gandalf had in getting Bilbo to give up the Ring (he actually called it "my precious") worried Gandalf enough to go off and figure out what he was dealing with.

So, you, the viewer, were shown an image of Sauron's eye when Gandalf bent to pick up the ring. That doesn't mean Gandalf saw that. It could just have been a premonition that Jackson had to illustrate somehow.

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    Nice job of getting through the narrow gate of reconciling Jackson's additions to the story!
    – Mark Olson
    Oct 9, 2021 at 13:56
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    Just to add, Gandalf was already suspicious, which is why he didn't want Bilbo taking it with him out of the Shire. Until he knew (or could confirm) what the ring was, the safest place for it was in the virtually unknown Shire.
    – chepner
    Oct 9, 2021 at 20:17
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    I interpret the vision of The Eye as Gandalf having a bad feeling about the ring. Even if Gandalf had an actual vision of The Eye: Does he know that’s the new form Sauron has taken?
    – Michael
    Oct 9, 2021 at 21:19
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    Even if we assume for a moment that Gandalf saw the same and could interpret it as "Sauron", that doesn't imply for sure it has to be the one ring, since most of the other rings also by this point also under his control. So it might be a hint that this ring is different, but not definitive proof. Oct 10, 2021 at 10:19
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    Sauron was already using the Eye when confronted at Dol Guldur by Gandalf & Co. in The Hobbit: The Grab for More Money, so Gandalf would clearly recognize the Eye. /s
    – chepner
    Oct 10, 2021 at 13:51
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He didn't know if it was the One Ring.

According to the unpublished works, three of the Dwarven Rings survived (four being consumed by dragon fire), and had made their way back to Sauron. But Gandalf didn't know that.

It was also state at the Council of Elrond (though perhaps not in the movie version) that the location of the Human Rings were unknown.

Beyond that, there were any number of lesser magic rings made as samples or prototypes before the 20 Greater Rings were made. Indeed, Gandalf originally believed Bilbo's Ring to be one of those. But forged in the same manner, might they still have been subject to corruption by the Enemy?

So Gandalf reaches for the Ring, and feels the taint of Sauron. But he doesn't know. Could it be the One? One of the Seven? One of the Nine? Or just some minor ring, calling to its architect as Sauron grew in power? Regardless, he did not touch it, and decided to research the rings, to find a way to be sure.

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    "According to the unpublished works, three of the Dwarven Rings survived (four being consumed by dragon fire), and had made their way back to Sauron. But Gandalf didn't know that." Unpublished works? Gandalf did know that in the books (though maybe not at that point). He was the one who told everyone else that at the Council of Elrond. It was also known that Sauron always had control of the nine (though there is debate on whether by the time of Lord of the Rings, whether Sauron or the Nazgul wore them). Oct 10, 2021 at 23:50
  • @suchiuomizu That was the Nine not the Seven. And after he went to do research on Bilbo's Ring. And I suppose you could say that the Silmarillion and all the incomplete story Christopher edited and released are 'published' so maybe I should have phrased it differently. But JRR didn't complete or publish them so... Oct 11, 2021 at 0:16
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    "It was also state at the Council of Elrond (though perhaps not in the movie version) that the location of the Human Rings were unknown": no, at the council of Elrond Gandalf very clearly states that the Nazgûl had them. Also, regarding what @suchiuomizu said, in chapter two (The Shadow of the Past) he tells Frodo that, of the seven dwarven rings, Sauron had three, while four had been destroyed by dragons, and that he used the Nine to enslave men. So he knew all of this even before the Council, but not at time time Bilbo left. Oct 11, 2021 at 2:06
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    All other Rings had gems, a plain ring could have been only the One. Wasn't that a well established fact for Gandalf?
    – Frax
    Oct 11, 2021 at 12:36
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    @Frax It could have been, but it was much more likely to be a lesser essay in the craft of ring making. After all, he had it on good authority (Saruman) that the One Ring was lost forever. Oct 11, 2021 at 12:50

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