I'm wondering how long it took for the Black Speech of Mordor inscribed around the One Ring to fade after Isildur took the ring from Sauron?

  • Do you mean after it would cool off from exposure to fire? – Xantec Apr 29 '13 at 16:17
  • No. In general. – Slytherincess Apr 29 '13 at 16:32
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    Your question and title are asking two different things. They may be related, but "How long did Isildur possess the One Ring?" and "How long did it take for the Black Speech to fade from the Ring?" are still two distinct questions with separate answers. – jwodder Apr 29 '13 at 16:39
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    @jwodder - I think I've fixed it. – Slytherincess Apr 30 '13 at 1:03

We don't know how long it took for the writing to fade. We do at least know that Isildur went to Minas Tirith (then called Minas Anor) to write the scroll that Gandalf later found, where he described that the writing on the Ring was only just fading. It's at least a week's journey from Mordor to Minas Tirith, so we presume that it took at least that long to fade.

The interesting thing is what that implies for the body of Sauron. We know that after taking the Ring out of Frodo's fire, the writing disappeared almost immediately: so Sauron's hand must have been many many times hotter than an ordinary fire.

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    Isildur was also burned by the ring when he took it ("it was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it"), whereas when Gandalf handed it to Frodo the ring was still cool ("'It is quite cool,' said Gandalf. 'Take it!'"). – user8719 Apr 29 '13 at 17:44
  • @SocioMatt I meant 'taking it out after putting it into...', now rephrased. – Daniel Roseman Apr 29 '13 at 17:57
  • @DanielRoseman Thought so. Just wanted to clarify. Comment deleted. – SocioMatt Apr 29 '13 at 17:57
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    Further into Isuldur's recollection is the follwoing: "The Ring misseth, maybe, the heat of Sauron's hand, which was black and yet burned like fire, and so Gil-galad was destroyed." Which actually implies that the heat of Sauron's touch was instrumental in Gil-galad's defeat. That would be pretty hot. – horatio Apr 30 '13 at 20:18
  • Sauron's power flowing through the Ring may have caused its heat, like an electric current flowing through a coil. It doesn't mean that Sauron himself was extremely hot. – TheMathemagician Jul 19 '15 at 23:04

How long the writing is visible depends on how hot the Ring was

This answer is based on the book rather than the movies. We are told of two times when the writing was visible.

Isildur's scroll

Gandalf reports to the Council of Elrond that he has read a scroll made by Isildur in Minas Anor (known later as Minas Tirith).

‘For Isildur did not march away straight from the war in Mordor, as some have told the tale.’

‘Some in the North, maybe,’ Boromir broke in. ‘All know in Gondor that he went first to Minas Anor and dwelt a while with his nephew Meneldil, instructing him, before he committed to him the rule of the South Kingdom. In that time he planted there the last sapling of the White Tree in memory of his brother.’

‘But in that time also he made this scroll,’ said Gandalf;

The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond

In the scroll, Isildur states that the ring was very hot when Isildur took it from Sauron's finger (hot enough to burn), and the writing had not completely faded by the time he was making the scroll. As Daniel points out in his answer, Minas Anor is several days journey from the battle.

It was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it. Yet even as I write it is cooled, and it seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither its beauty nor its shape. Already the writing upon it, which at first was as clear as red flame, fadeth and is now only barely to be read.

The Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond

Gandalf's experiment

In The Shadow of the Past, Gandalf visits Frodo in Bag End and wants to test his strong suspicion that Frodo's ring is the One Ring. He throws the ring in the fire. When, after "a while", he takes the ring out of the fire, it is cool, but the writing is visible.

To Frodo’s astonishment and distress the wizard threw it suddenly into the middle of a glowing corner of the fire. Frodo gave a cry and groped for the tongs; but Gandalf held him back.

‘Wait!’ he said in a commanding voice, giving Frodo a quick look from under his bristling brows.

No apparent change came over the ring. After a while Gandalf got up, closed the shutters outside the window, and drew the curtains. The room became dark and silent, though the clack of Sam’s shears, now nearer to the windows, could still be heard faintly from the garden. For a moment the wizard stood looking at the fire; then he stooped and removed the ring to the hearth with the tongs, and at once picked it up. Frodo gasped.

‘It is quite cool,’ said Gandalf. ‘Take it!’ Frodo received it on his shrinking palm: it seemed to have become thicker and heavier than ever.

‘Hold it up!’ said Gandalf. ‘And look closely!’

As Frodo did so, he now saw fine lines, finer than the finest pen-strokes, running along the ring, outside and inside: lines of fire that seemed to form the letters of a flowing script. They shone piercingly bright, and yet remote, as if out of a great depth.

The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past

There follows a conversation that may have taken 20 or 30 minutes before Frodo looks at the Ring again and the writing has disappeared.

Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see.

The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past


From these two pieces of evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that the hotter the ring becomes, the longer the writing lasts, with the range being at least from several minutes to several days.

This makes intuitive sense. Metal will glow if you heat it up enough, and will glow longer if you make it hotter. This case is not quite the same as it is not the metal, but the writing that is glowing, and in the case of Gandalf's experiment, the metal isn't hot at all.

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