In The Hobbit, the One Ring turned Bilbo invisible (more or less completely) along with his clothing, armour, etc. However, one passage in chapter 8 suggests that this power did not extend to his sword, Sting:

With that he [ring-wearing Bilbo] turned and found that the last space between two tall trees had been closed with a web—but luckily not a proper web, only great strands of double-thick spider-rope run hastily backwards and forwards from trunk to trunk. Out came his little sword. He slashed the threads to pieces and went off singing.

The spiders saw the sword, though I don’t suppose they knew what it was, and at once the whole lot of them came hurrying after the hobbit along the ground and the branches, hairy legs waving, nippers and spinners snapping, eyes popping, full of froth and rage.

So it seems that the ring's power to make invisible was not as effective as expected. Can somebody explain this? Would the fact that the sword was Elvish have any bearing on this?

In the next chapter, Bilbo steals keys from the Wood Elves (and later, food the Raft Elves). This led me to imagine that the keys might have been floating in mid-air as he carried them around the palace.


3 Answers 3


It seems that extraordinary items, particularly those made by elves, can shine though The Ring's invisibility.

Sting was forged by the elves of Gondolin well before The Ring was created.

At the Disaster of the Gladden Fields, Isildur had to cover Elendilmir, the crown of Gondor, with his cloak, even while wearing The Ring, to prevent its light from alerting the orcs to his presence. There is speculation, though I have not found any proof, that the single gem attached to the crown may have contained light from a Silmaril, making it extremely extraordinary.

  • Seems reasonable. I wonder about the armor that Bilbo and Frodo rock? I know Frodo typically/always wore it under his clothes, but what about Bilbo when he is sneaking around at the end of the Hobbit. Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 2:53
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    The Phial of Galadrial did contain light from a Silmaril.; although I believe the light only shined brightly when called upon. It stands to reason that that light would shine through the ring's invisibility. Bilbo's armor was Dwarven made, other than being incredibly strong did not have any special powers.
    – TGnat
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 14:22
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    I wonder if generated light would penetrate the Ring's invisibility in all cases? Would an ordinary flame (such as a lantern or torch) be seen? I don't recall it ever being tested. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 15:45
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    There is mention of the wearer having a faint shadow even when invisible.
    – Brilliand
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 16:11

Though this particular quote speaks of the Nine rather than the One, the Silmarillion states that: "They [the bearers of the Nine] could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun."

However, there is repeated evidence to show that the Ring-spell of invisibility was not infallible and to suggest that sunlight (“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 other magical light is the exception to the spell's power of concealment:

  • While in the pale and shadowy Shadow-World of the Nazgul: “Desperate, he [Frodo] drew his own sword(the sword in question was from the same hoard as the one with which Merry wounded the Witch-King - magical blades “[the] work of Westernesse, wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor”), and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand.” (in early drafts of the Fellowship of the Ring this fiery light is seen by Sam & the other Hobbits despite the Ring)
  • In Unfinished Tales: “Isildur turned west, and drawing up the Ring (...) he set it upon his finger with a cry of pain, and was never seen again by any eye upon Middle-earth. But the Elendilmir of the West could not be quenched, and suddenly it blazed forth red and wrathful as a burning star. Men and Orcs gave way in fear; and Isildur, drawing a hood over his head, vanished into the night.”

I don't think it has anything to do with "range" per se.

Don't forget that the Ring's power didn't really render the wearer completely invisible in the middle of the day but rather more difficult to spot.

I always assumed it just "shone through" on its own magical light.

I think that the fact that the Ring was created after Sting doesn't really matter here since the ring wasn't meant to make the wearer invisible and definitely not to hide elvish magic from prying eyes :)

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    The "shone through" theory seems reasonable. Is there any evidence that the ring wasn't designed to make the wearer invisible? I know it was designed so Sauron could wear it himself, but maybe this was a feature he personally added for pranks or what not. Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 2:56
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    @dolan That's actually just an assumption. Seeing as it did not render Sauron invisible and was designed for him alone. What the ring does is pushes the wearer into the wraith world as Gandalf tells Frodo “You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself.”
    – E.T.
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 8:20

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