Did Sauron have his great Ring while in Númenor? How did he save it then, while in spirit form?

He ... fell into the abyss. But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home. There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dûr...

So it appears that the ring was left in Barad-dur. But since he was planning to be brought in captivity to Númenor, why not bring along his precious (!) Ring, both as an aid in the corruption of the Númenóreans and to avoid that someone took it while unguarded?

Note that in a comment to a previous Silmarillion-related question of mine it was stated that he had the great ring on the island but I cannot recall it being mentioned and it seems against the text that I quoted....

PS: This question has the obvious counterpart in the LotR, regarding another Maia who dies and comes back. But in that case it is possible to invoke with good reason the intervention of Eru: this is less plausible in Sauron's case.

  • I'm afraid it's simply a plot hole.
    – Mithoron
    Mar 5, 2015 at 13:34
  • This plot hole is the visible seam between the two main, independently-developed Second Age stories that Tolkien stitched together: Númenor, originally developed even before LotR was started, and the forging of the rings of power, created as backstory for LotR. Demanding that Sauron is the antagonist in both, and the fall of Númenor happens post-Rings, means that something had to happen with the One Ring, it just never got properly thought through. Sep 21, 2022 at 12:51

3 Answers 3


"He naturally had the One Ring" (sic) with him at Númenor and carried the Ring back using his Maia powers (a rather funny situation to mentally picture), as answered by Tolkien in one of his letters

Good catch, nonetheless, I never wondered about that before :)

I can't keep myself from imagining some sort of shadow dragging the One Ring centimeter by centimeter on 3000 kilometers of seabed... No wonder Sauron became a bit mean.

  • Really good catch: I'm not convinced, given the context of Letter 131 which states Sauron was in no way diminished by not having the Ring on his person, that it was necessary to commit to that deus ex machina, which leads me to personally think he's being misinterpreted, but I can't find anyone anywhere else that seems to agree with that assessment.
    – user366
    Nov 15, 2012 at 8:45
  • 1
    @MarkTrapp Even if he was not diminished, Tolkien implied that he needed the One Ring "upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended." (Letters, p280, tolkien.slimy.com/tlfaq/Humans.html#RingSink) to subjugate Ar-Pharazon. Even if he still had the power, the ability to use it was linked to the One Ring, just as you still own a portable phone even if you haven't it on yourself, but cannot phone without grabing it.
    – Eureka
    Nov 15, 2012 at 8:59
  • 6
    @Francesco, Gandalf died atop the mountain, so if the ring were separated from him it would be there. I'm pretty sure that his new body returned to the same place, he'd just have to dig around in the snow and Balrog debris to find it.
    – TGnat
    Nov 15, 2012 at 14:32
  • 3
    @TGnat Not even the Balrog debris, since he felt from the mountain (Gandalf indeed returned at the same place, from where Gwaihir carried him to Lothlorien). Just some snow, using Maia-senses :)
    – Eureka
    Nov 15, 2012 at 14:38
  • 2
    @maguirenumber6: probably, yes. I doubt it actually fell into the Sea, which is generally 'good' in Arda, so Sauron probably would have grabbed it before it got there. May 10, 2017 at 4:30

He had the ring in Númenor, and Tolkien feels that people shouldn't "boggle" at how his spirit carried it off.

In October of 1958, Tolkien wrote a long letter to Dr. Rhona Beare (then a student at Exeter University, responding to a list of twelve questions she sent him on behalf of a group of "fellow-enthusiasts for The Lord of the Rings".

‘Question 2’: How could Ar-Pharazôn defeat Sauron when Sauron had the One Ring?

This question, & its implications, are answered in the ‘Downfall of Númenor’, which is not yet published, but which I cannot set out now. ...

Ar-Pharazôn, as is told in the ‘Downfall’ or Akallabêth, conquered a terrified Sauron’s subjects, not Sauron. Sauron’s personal ‘surrender’ was voluntary and cunning1: he got free transport to Númenor! He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans. (I do not think Ar-Pharazôn knew anything about the One Ring. The Elves kept the matter of the Rings very secret, as long as they could. In any case Ar-Pharazôn was not in communication with them. In the Tale of Years III p. 364 you will find hints of the trouble: ‘the Shadow falls on Númenor’. After Tar-Atanamir (an Elvish name) the next name is Ar-Adûnakhôr a Númenórean name. See p.315. The change of names went with a complete rejection of the Elf-friendship, and of the ‘theological’ teaching the Númenóreans had received from them.)

Sauron was first defeated by a ‘miracle’: a direct action of God the Creator, changing the fashion of the world, when appealed to by Manwë: see III p. 317. Though reduced to ‘a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind’, I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended. That Sauron was not himself destroyed in the anger of the One is not my fault: the problem of evil, and its apparent toleration, is a permanent one for all who concern themselves with our world. The indestructibility of spirits with free wills, even by the Creator of them, is also an inevitable feature, if one either believes in their existence, or feigns it in a story.

1 Note the expression III p. 364 ‘taken as prisoner’.

Letter to Rhona Beare, 14 October 1958, Letter of JRR Tolkien #211

Tolkien does not seem to have ever explained how a spirit could carry a ring, but he explicitly says that it's what happened, so I guess we'll just have to take his word for it that it's possible in his universe.

  • Nice find! Being reprimanded by JRRT himself is a sort of achievement, I suppose...
    – Francesco
    Jun 30, 2021 at 9:05
  • @Francesco - I myself will continue to boggle.
    – ibid
    Jun 30, 2021 at 9:05
  • Ah, it's the same letter found by @eureka. But thanks for the full quote.
    – Francesco
    Jun 30, 2021 at 9:06
  • I will do the same. This is one of my all time questions on the network and I will continue to stand by it.
    – Francesco
    Jun 30, 2021 at 15:40

Sauron, as a disembodied Ainu, was capable of manipulating matter. There is no reason he couldn't have carried the Ring back to Middle-earth with him. From the The Silmarillion, The Ainulindalë:

But when the Valar entered into Eä they were at first astounded and at a loss, for it was as if naught was yet made which they had seen in vision, and all was but on point to begin and yet unshaped, and it was dark. For the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering of thought in the Timeless Halls, and the Vision only a foreshowing; but now they had entered in at the beginning of Time, and the Valar perceived that the World had been but foreshadowed and foresung, and they must achieve it. So began their great labours in wastes unmeasured and unexplored, and in ages uncounted and forgotten, until in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the vast halls of Eä there came to be that hour and that place where was made the habitation of the Children of Ilúvatar.

Manipulating matter is what the disembodied Ainur did.

We know for a fact they did so before they had bodies because of this passage from The Silmarillion, in The Valaquenta:

Long they laboured in the regions of Eä, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves and Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of Earth. Then they put on the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein

Of course, when Tolkien wrote in letter 211 I do not think one need boggle, as quoted in ibid's answer, The Ainulindalë had not yet been published.

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