Inspired by this question. What counts as being given the one ring?

As I recall, when Bilbo is leaving for Rivendell, Gandalf refuses to take the Ring for safe keeping, instead he tells Bilbo to leave it on the mantelpiece.

However, when he returns years later to inform Frodo about the truth of the Ring, he asks Frodo to give it to him, so he can put it in the fire.

What counts as taking ownership of the ring? Why would Gandalf be afraid of it in one instance but less so another?

Disclaimer, I have not read the books in a while. This is mostly from the BBC radio dramatisation.

  • 2
    Its pretty simple, in one case he just wants it for a few seconds to test his suspicions on what it really is. In the Frodo wants Gandalf to have it long, where it would gradually work it power over him. Apr 30, 2022 at 13:59
  • 5
    There is no "game mechanic" which triggers specific behavior based on context.
    – chepner
    Apr 30, 2022 at 14:53
  • 2
    I think you may be asking slightly the wrong question. The act of "giving" is not relevant since the Ring operates by de facto possession and proximity and not at all -- this thing was made by Sauron, remember! -- by rightful possession. A much better focus for the question is how Gandalf dared handle it given the inevitable temptation he'd feel to keep it.
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:50

1 Answer 1


With respect to the One Ring, the difference between giving and taking seems to break down.

Sauron didn't give it to Isildur. The latter took it.

Isildur didn't give it to anyone. It fell off as he swam. He wanted to pass it on, but died before he could. From Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields":

'I cannot use it. I dread the pain of touching it. And I have not yet found the strength to bend it to my will. It needs one greater than I now know myself to be. My pride has fallen. It should go to the Keepers of the Three.’

Déagol didn't receive it as a gift from someone (other, perhaps, than from Eru's plan).

Sméagol wasn't given it, although he couched it in those terms. From The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, chapter 2, "The Shadow of the Past":

Sméagol: Give us that, Déagol, my love.


Déagol: I have given you a present already.

Bilbo wasn't given it (other, perhaps, than by Eru's plan).

Bilbo did give it, but only when nearly compelled by Gandalf, a Maia and Istar whose power he had to display more fully than usual. From The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, chapter 1, "A Long-expected Party":

‘Well, if you want my ring yourself, say so!’ cried Bilbo.‘But you won’t get it. I won’t give my Precious away, I tell you.’ His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.

Gandalf’s eyes flashed. ‘It will be my turn to get angry soon,’ he said. ‘If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.'

Frodo gave it once, to Tom Bombadil who gave it back, and which turned out to be a non-event although important thematically. From The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, chapter 7, "In The House of Tom Bombadil":

‘Show me the precious Ring!’ [Tom] said suddenly in the midst of the story: and Frodo, to his own astonishment, drew out the chain from his pocket, and unfastening the Ring handed it at once to Tom.

It seemed to grow larger as it lay for a moment on his big brown-skinned hand. Then suddenly he put it to his eye and laughed. For a second the hobbits had a vision, both comical and alarming, of his bright blue eye gleaming through a circle of gold. Then Tom put the Ring round the end of his little finger and held it up to the candlelight. For a moment the hobbits noticed nothing strange about this. Then they gasped. There was no sign of Tom disappearing!

Tom laughed again, and then he spun the Ring in the air – and it vanished with a flash. Frodo gave a cry – and Tom leaned forward and handed it back to him with a smile.

The Ring has no power over Tom Bombadil. It doesn't make him disappear. He makes it disappear.

Frodo offered to give it two other times to especially powerful characters, but we don't see what would have happened if he was successful. We do see why he wasn't, especially in Galadriel's initial reaction. From The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, chapter 7, "The Mirror of Galadriel":

‘You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’

As we know, she passes the test.

After that Frodo didn't intentionally give it. Sam thought he was dead, and, reluctantly, took it.

Sam did, when it was demanded of him, give it back, but he didn't want to. Frodo insisted, and his spirit had grown by then, although perhaps not as much as Gandalf's was revealed to be when he encouraged Bilbo to give it up.

At the Cracks of Doom Frodo didn't give it. Sméagol took it.

Sméagol didn't give it. He fell into the fire.

Although there are thoughts of giving the Ring, like Isildur's who said it should go to the Keepers as quoted above (Tolkien's word -- he didn't call them Bearers), only Bilbo and Sam ever did such a thing, plus Frodo to TB and TB back to Frodo.

Aside from those exceptional cases we don't know what it means to give someone the Ring, particularly in full knowledge and intending to transfer to them all of its power.

  • 1
    The intent matters in how one obtains the Ring to the recipient. Note that Smeagol's possession of it was his destruction, for he came by it through murder. Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when given the opportunity because of pity, and this kept the evil influence of the Ring at bay a little longer. But the answer is correct in that freely giving it determines none of the powers of the Ring for the owner. Jun 6, 2023 at 16:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.