How can those wearing the One Ring be seen in the sunlight as a shadow?

[Bilbo] could see outside into the open air; there were a few steps running down into a narrow valley between tall mountains; the sun came out from behind a cloud and shone bright on the outside of the door -- but he could not get through.

Suddenly one of the goblins inside shouted: "There is a shadow by the door. Something is outside!"

The Hobbit - page 89 - Del Rey Paperbacks - chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark

If the one wearing the One Ring is invisible, how is it they can cast a shadow in the sunlight? Does the ring not induce true invisibility, or is the invisibility similar to a Chameleon charm in Harry Potter, where a person just blends in exactly with his/her surroundings and cannot be seen because he/she looks exactly like his/her background; however, they're not technically invisible, so I suppose the sun could cast a shadow in that instance.

How can those wearing the One Ring be seen in the sunlight as a shadow?

I'd like an answer based in Tolkien canon if possible.

  • 2
    No one knows. :) When Tolkien wrote the scene, he did not know it was the One ring of power. Most common explanation : the ring makes you invisible by shifting you to the spirit world, so maybe the shifting is not complete.
    – user8252
    Dec 19, 2012 at 1:17
  • 8
    What kind of answer are you looking for? Tolkien says that the ring doesn't provide true invisibility, and that in the light a weak shadow can be seen, but are you looking for a more physical explanation?
    – commando
    Dec 19, 2012 at 1:24
  • @commando - Well, seeing as saying "Tolkien says the ring doesn't provide true invisibility and in the light a weak shadow can be seen" repeats the question, I'll say I'm going for a physical explanation. Perhaps there isn't a physical explanation, but I thought it was an interesting question. I'm new to Tolkien, so what may seem obvious to most Tolkien readers isn't always to me. :) Dec 19, 2012 at 12:33
  • 1
    There is no physical explanation in canon. I'll give you the best quote as an answer.
    – user8252
    Dec 19, 2012 at 14:01
  • @Slytherincess So you're asking for a "real world" explanation? Dec 19, 2012 at 15:59

2 Answers 2


Gandalf to Frodo:

“You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself.”

And that's all we know. The Ring brings the bearer into the spirit world, but the process is partial (at least on the short term).

I would add (but that's pure speculation) that the sun is linked to the Valar, and so it's presence could diminish the power of the One ring.

  • 5
    Yes. In Tolkien's word, the Sun is a manifestation of the Golden Lamp created by Valar. This lamp was later destroyed by Melkor, who loved the Darkness. Since the One Ring was created by Melkor's lieutenant Sauron, the Ring's powers are in conflict with the light of the Sun. Dec 19, 2012 at 17:29

There are in the Middle-Earth canon a number of interesting instances in which the 'shadow-world' (of the Nazgul and the Ring) interacts oddly with sunlight. To quote from an excellent essay on the subject (Necromancy and the Shadow World by Marek Wypych):

“If you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the full sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow” and so consequently “the sun came out from behind a cloud and shone bright (...). Suddenly one of the goblins inside shouted: "There is a shadow by the door. Something is outside!" [Bilbo with the Ring]”. What is more full daylight have also effect upon the Ringwraiths: “They [the Nazgûl] themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys” and curiously “All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight” also “Of Khamûl it is said here that he was (...) the one whose power was most confused and diminished by daylight.”

I think this is a point where the scale of power between the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion is brought into stark perspective: the Sun was created by the song (a recurring symbol of powerful magic) of Yavanna and the tears of Nienna (which again and again appear linked to great works of healing and growth) from the last fruit of Laurelin, which was sung into being by Yavanna, watered by Nienna's tears and grown to fruitfulness in the presence of all the Valar. Meanwhile the Ring (and the Nine that ensnared the Nazgul) was forged by a singularly nasty but still far lesser Maiar.

The full light of the noon-day sun defeats the magic of the Ring and the wits of the Nazgul simply because, I suspect, it is a product of beings who were each in themselves individually of a higher order than Sauron.

Your Answer

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

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