Currently reading The Hobbit to my daughter, and we came to the Barrels out of Bond chapter where the Dwarves are captured and imprisoned by the Wood Elves. Bilbo sneaks in with his magic ring of invisibility and eventually sets them all free.

But here's what piqued my curiosity: in the chapter it makes clear that Bilbo wore the one ring constantly for a very extended period of time: it specifically states he was down there at least two weeks and then - it's much less clear - possibly for even longer while he came up with and implemented his plan to rescue the Dwarves.

However in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is constantly terrified of putting on the ring lest he (and the ring) should be located by Sauron. So why does Bilbo, wearing the ring for several weeks, escape detection?

The obvious thought is that Sauron was simply not powerful enough at this time. But that seems a pretty thin claim in many ways. Sauron was powerful enough to be "recognised" as a dangerous sorcerer in his guise as the Necromancer, and to start to gather his followers together. You'd have thought that simply locating the Ring would require a pitiful amount of comparative effort.

Furthermore I believe it's implied in The Lord of the Rings that it becomes increasingly dangerous to use the Ring the closer it gets to its maker (I don't have a reference for this - might be my imagination). If so, things become even more inexplicable since Thranduil's palace wasn't actually all that far from Dol Guldur, where Sauron was holed up.

Any explanation? Or do we have to chalk it up to the poetic license due to a world in development?

  • 4
    It almost certainly has to do with a world in development...but I think I recall that Sauron was, at the time, not even aware that there was a true ring still kicking around Middle Earth...I might be wrong though.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 19:03
  • 1
    It's a similar question, but I don't think it's a duplicate. I'm particularly interested in the amount of time involved, which isn't covered in the other question.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 20:00
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    I'd consider it is because the answer to the other question clearly establishes that putting on the Ring is not what causes Sauron to discover you. Based on that you could wear it for a year quite safely.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 20:01
  • Added this to pre-empt a possible plot inconsistency: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/53598
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 22:06
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    Dol Guldur is quite a long way south of Thranduil's inner realm, about 330 miles. It's actually closer to Rivendell (~290 mi), and of course much closer to Lórien. Mirkwood is huge! Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 0:31

7 Answers 7


Because putting on the Ring doesn't cause you to be detected by Sauron.

However in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is constantly terrified of putting on the ring lest he (and the ring) should be located by Sauron.

This isn't the case at all. Frodo only wears the Ring a total of 6 times in LotR - at Bombadil's house, in the Prancing Pony, on Weathertop, twice at the Breaking of the Fellowship, and on Mount Doom - and the only times Sauron is aware of him are the first time at the Breaking (where Frodo actually went looking first) and on Mount Doom (where Frodo claims the Ring for his own in the heart of Sauron's realm).

The times Frodo is afraid to put on the Ring are when he's being tracked by the Ringwraiths, and is under temptation to wear it so that they can have power over him in the shadow-world (because they have no power in the physical world). It's nothing to do with fear of detection by Sauron.

It's actually quite safe to wear the Ring otherwise.

Aside from what it will do to you of course, but otherwise the worst that can happen is that you'll turn into a Gollum over time, then finally become a wraith yourself.

Remember: Gollum had it for hundreds of years and was never detected.

Also consider Sam.

Sam actually wore the Ring in Mordor itself.

Without any clear purpose he drew out the Ring and put it on again ... He ran forward to the climbing path, and over it. At once the road turned left and plunged steeply down. Sam had crossed into Mordor. He took off the Ring ...

(RotK Book VI Chapter 1: The Tower of Cirith Ungol)

But yet Sam wasn't detected by Sauron either, so it's quite clear that putting on the Ring, even in Mordor, is safe enough to do.

It seems to me that the whole notion of "putting on the Ring causes Sauron to detect you" is a movie construct, because that's where it does happen, but you need to forget about that and focus on what happens in the books, and only what happens in the books.

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    Interesting. I'd considered that Sam had the ring in Mordor, but I'd forgotten that he actually put it on. I thought he only carried it.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 13:19
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    Even in the movies, I don't believe Sauron picked up on the use of the ring every time. When it does happen (eg, at Mount Doom), it's just more obvious, with a great big flaming eye swinging around going, "the hell you say?!"
    – Brian S
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 16:16
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    You could view the visions of the eye in the movie as the wearer being aware of Sauron more than him being aware of them.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 16:25
  • I clearly remember Gandalf tells Frodo, in the letter about Aragorn, never to wear the ring again. Why, if this is not dangerous?
    – algiogia
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 16:11
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    @algiogia - I should be more specific. It was dangerous while Frodo was being hunted by the Black Riders because "You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself, and they might have seized you"; but that's a separate thing from the movie invention of Sauron detecting someone while they wore the Ring.
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 16:25

I don't know the exact dates, but while Bilbo and the Dwarves were travelling alone, Gandalf and the Lothlorien elves were driving the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur - from whence he removed himself to Mordor.

Perhaps he was preoccupied with moving house. You know how that can be.

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    Good point. I hadn't considered that. But you'd still have thought something as crucial as the one ring would set off enough alarm bells to have been noticed even amongst all that chaos.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 19:13
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    Even in LOTR he only noticed it when Frodo stood on a mystical high point with it on, not otherwise. And possibly Barad-Dur helped Sauron's own far-seeing ability.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 20:23
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    @Oldcat: Sauron had a palantir there, so no doubt about that. :)
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 21:45
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    Also, just because he got a few alarm bells, doesn't necessarily mean he had the resources on hand to act on that information in a prompt and timely manner. He was, after all, mid-ass-kicking, and on the receiving side. Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 6:24

The true answer would be that Tolkien hadn't conceived of Sauron or the Rings of Power at the time of writing the Hobbit. It's just another magic ring, only later when he developed his legendarium did it gain all the significance it has in The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion.

However, if you want a rationalisation, I would say this. The shadow realm is extensive and presumably Sauron cannot be watching everywhere at once, otherwise Aragorn and Gandalf wouldn't have bothered to draw his attention with the palantír and by leading the army to the black gate. Sauron wasn't looking for the ring while Bilbo was in the elf kingdom because he didn't know Gollum had found it in the river, and he was being distracted by the attack from the white council.

Although Sauron only perceives the ring being worn twice anyway. Once when Frodo is on Amon Hen and deliberately looks into the red eye, and once when they're on Orodruin. It doesn't draw his attention when Sam wears it at Cirith Ungol. Just putting the ring on doesn't seem to be enough to get his attention.

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    Sauron actually did exist at the time (he was called Thû) and was always intended to be the Necromancer; see scifi.stackexchange.com/a/47768/8719 for the evidence. You're correct about the Rings though.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 12:52
  • I like this answer very much. Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 6:21
  • This is the correct answer. The Hobbit was a story Tolkien wrote for his child and published as book for children roughly 20 years before Lord of the Rings. The One Ring is just one ring (but was retconned to be The One Ring later). Sauron, likewise, was just one necromancer, but not The Great Dark Power.
    – Damon
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 15:13

Sauron was still kind of homeless and not yet fully settled into Mordor. He would need a couple of decades to complete the move-in process. Even then he had to know the Ring still existed, it was after all a part of him but he had no power or base strong enough to do anything about it. As in chess, he needed to get his pieces pre-positioned before making the push for dominion. The Ring also was 'laying low' until it's master was ready for it.


Another factor to consider: Elvish cities, pretty much without exception, are magically concealed from external threats. I believe this is explicitly mentioned in The Hobbit regarding Rivendell (if memory serves, Gandalf says that nobody can find it if Elrond doesn't want them to). In the First Age, the city of Gondolin was so well hidden that Morgoth himself was unaware of its existence. It seems plausible to me that the Wood-elves' city would at least somewhat disguise the presence of a Ring-user from Sauron.

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    I don't think that's right. I don't think there's any quote anywhere at all that says that. It's mentioned over and over again that Eagles were effective in keeping out Morgoth's spies. Ulmo might have had a hand in it too. And Morgoth knew about it for a long time, but didn't know where it was until its betrayal. Compare to Doriath, where it's explicitly said over and over again the Melian's personal magic protects the realm.
    – swbarnes2
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 22:55
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    Not really - the only described magic protection/concealment of elven realms is done through the rings of Galadriel and Elrond.
    – Peteris
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 11:27
  • @Peteris - in the third age, you are correct. Melian's wards in the First Age were not aided by a ring, but then Melian is a different order of being from the Elves.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 16:27

It could be that putting on the Ring made Frodo intensely aware of Sauron's presence, and the movie is depicting his terror of being seen, not any actually imminent detection by Sauron. For all we know, that enormous baleful eye was completely in Frodo's mind.


I would like to add up that in The Lord of the Rings it's said that "Frodo must scape from the Sauron's eye by avoiding to wear the ring", so as far as I remember in The Hobbit that eye hadn't existed yet, it was not until (as said in above posts) Sauron recovered all his power that it was raised.

  • I meant the eye is "who" discovers the ring bearer.
    – cloud120
    Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 18:11

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