In the Fellowship of the Ring movie, during the prologue, it explains how Bilbo got the ring. She says:

Its time had now come. It abandoned Gollum. But then something happened that the Ring did not intend. It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable. A hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire.

Couldn't the ring have intended to be picked up by ANYONE who would get it out of Gollum's cave? I think the ring most certainly did intend to have Bilbo find it, so that it would have the chance of getting back to it's master.

Obviously the ring had a mind and will of it's own, so I find it hard to believe that the ring would have thought it could escape the cave any other way. I think it saw an opportunity and took it.

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    The intention of the Ring was likely to be found by an orc so that it could make a speedier return to its master. I think that line in the movie was just intended to be a bit of drama. – Origami Robot Oct 19 '11 at 17:16
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    It's a ring. It's not an evil genius. It can slip off fingers. That's about its only trick for moving from person to person, putting aside the psychological effects, but those seem to work against its interests insofar as getting back to He-Who-Shall-No wait that's a different guy. – Sam Oct 20 '11 at 3:15
up vote 35 down vote accepted

Gandalf explains this to Frodo in more detail in the book, in Chapter I.2.

“It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.”
“What, just in time to meet Bilbo?” said Frodo. “Wouldn't an Orc have suited it better?”
(...)
“The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur's hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!”

Gollum didn't have many visitors. The Ring could have arranged to be picked up by a goblin, but had less incentive until around the time of Bilbo's visit, and (this is speculation on my part, but I didn't invent it) Bilbo was more likely to be effective for the Ring since he was obviously a traveler from afar who was going to travel yet further, unlike the goblins who might have kept the Ring in the caves under the Misty Mountains.

Gandalf suspects that there is more to the Ring's behavior: it may have been determined by Ilúvatar, who would thus have intervened to cause the end of the Third Age, acting in a far more subtle manner than when his reshaping the world marked the end of the Second Age. I don't remember any canonical material dwelling on this.

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.”

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    Interesting. This seems to suggest that the intent of the Ring/Sauron was not to get picked up by Bilbo, but simply to get away from Gollum. Getting picked up by Bilbo seems to be the intent of "something else". – gnovice Oct 20 '11 at 16:26
  • Nice quotes you found, +1 from me. – sbi Oct 20 '11 at 19:17
  • This answer was fascinating. – Robert S. Oct 22 '11 at 2:19
  • I somewhere read that Illuvater intervened at the very end as well: it was him that made Gollum slip and thus the Ring being destroyed. Looks like this guy was playing all the puppets from the background ;) – mort Jun 26 '12 at 15:28
  • @mort The Simlarilion does not record or suggest Ilúvatar intervening in the Third Age. It is possible that one of Tolkien's many discarded or never-completed drafts states this. – user56 Jun 27 '12 at 0:55

Consider what happened the first time the Ring was picked up by a hobbit, one by the name of Smeagol (a.k.a Gollum). It ended up stuck with him for centuries in a cave.

If I were the Ring, I certainly wouldn't intend to get picked up by another hobbit. It would instead be my intent to get picked up by something else, such as a human or an orc (like OrigamiRobot suggested). The surest way for the Ring to make its way back to its master quickly would be in the possession of an individual with a propensity for attaining power and dominance, someone who would abuse the power of the Ring in violent and world-altering ways. Hobbits just didn't seem to have such a propensity, which can be seen by considering how the Ring was actually used by the hobbits who possessed it:

  • Gollum: turned himself invisible to hunt and cause mischief, stared longingly at it for centuries.
  • Bilbo: turned himself invisible as a magic trick and to flee danger.
  • Frodo: turned himself invisible to flee danger.

Contrast this with how members of other races intended to use it:

  • Galadriel: would become a Queen, "beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night".
  • Boromir: tried to take the Ring from Frodo, believing that it could be used to defeat Sauron and save Gondor, returning it to its former glory.

So, no, I don't think the Ring intended to get picked up by Bilbo. Although it got the Ring out of the cave as it desired, it also ultimately got it destroyed.

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    Well, with all the fun adventures Gollum took the ring on, you know to a cave and ... to the lake in the cave, who could blame the ring for wanting to get away? – Xantec Oct 19 '11 at 17:41
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    If it liked that cave it should have put a ring... wait, nevermind. – Travis Christian Oct 19 '11 at 17:56
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    Gollum did use it to turn invisible to hunt goblins in the Misty Mountains – Origami Robot Oct 19 '11 at 18:48

Stepping out of universe for a bit, in the original version of The Hobbit, Gollum actually bets the ring in the riddle game and then gives it willingly when he loses. When the Lord of the Rings came out, Tolkien realized that this didn't fit, so he had to alter The Hobbit to bring the ring more in line with his newer vision. He had to find a way to get the ring from Gollum to Bilbo without changing the story too much. So he has Gollum 'lose' it just as Bilbo comes along allowing him to 'find' it. I'm sure there are other ways he could have come into possession of the ring, but this seems the most efficient.

Stepping back into the universe, I'm guessing Gollum didn't get a lot of visitors in his cave and the ring might have thought, any port in a storm.

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    Fun Fact: Tolkien justified this change by saying the original version was the version Bilbo originally told the Dwarves. – Origami Robot Oct 20 '11 at 12:40
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    ...and then Bilbo apologizes at the Council of Elrond and tells the "true" version. Great use of retcon. – Travis Christian Oct 20 '11 at 14:33
  • Bilbo found the ring by himself even in the original version of the story. When Gollum cannot find the ring to give it to him, Bilbo makes Gollum show him the way out instead. – Eric M Schmidt Mar 2 '15 at 4:47

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