Recently I watched the first Lord the of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf takes a envelope and throws in the fire, and picks it up and gives it to Frodo and asks him if he can see any writing on the ring.

Initially the script does not show on the ring and eventually the Elvish (As Frodo says) script becomes visible. When Frodo says he can actually see it, Gandalf appears to be upset/disappointed that he can. What does this mean? It seems like the One Ring chooses its bearer. I'm strictly speaking from the Movie and his reaction, does Tolkien ever go into more depth about this?

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    I always took Gandalf's reaction to be more along the lines of "Well, vacation's over."
    – Misha R
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 9:46
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    "And here I was, hoping I was paranoid and this was but a little neat inivisiblity ring and I could have a bit of rest and weed after all that trouble with the dragon less than a century ago but nooooooo, it had to go and be the One g^^damn ring to rule them all and now we are all in a world of trouble..."
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 13:36

4 Answers 4


Gandalf is upset because the fact that Frodo sees the writing, means that it is The One Ring. It's as simple as that. Throwing the ring into the fire was the test to determine if it was in fact The One Ring.

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    I think the implied question is: why is Gandalf upset that Frodo can see the writing, since Gandalf can see the writing for himself and determine whether it's the One Ring anyway?
    – Natural30
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 19:16
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    Wasn't Gandalf trying to keep it as far away from himself as possible at that point? I got the impression he was asking Frodo because he couldn't actually see it himself.
    – mskfisher
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 23:30
  • @mskfisher and there's angle. Depending on how he was holding the Ring, the writing on it may have been obscured to Gandalf but not to someone standing a few feet away from him.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 8:12
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    @TheodorosChatzigiannakis Pretty sure in the movie Gandalf says something explicitly to the effect that he should not read the ring himself, and of course, Frodo doesn't understand even if he can see it. According to this just hearing the inscription read aloud may be physically painful for the listeners.
    – goldilocks
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:43
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    Just checking the book. In The Shadow of the Past Gandalf throws the ring into Frodo's fire, Frodo having taken it out of his pocket. There is no mention of an envelope. And it is Gandalf who picks up the ring after lifting it out of the fire with the tongs. Gandalf then passes it to Frodo before the lettering appears. Clearly Gandalf does not fear any touch.
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 13:32

In the books Gandalf already knows the ring is the One Ring, or at least he's pretty sure it is. Immediately before he throws the ring into the fire the conversation is:

"Revenge?" said Frodo. "Revenge for what? I still don’t understand what all this has to do with Bilbo and myself, and our ring." "It has everything to do with it," said Gandalf. "You do not know the real peril yet; but you shall. I was not sure of it myself when I was last here; but the time has come to speak. Give me the ring for a moment."

So the point of throwing the ring into the fire is to show Frodo that it's the One Ring. In the book Gandalf is not disappointed to find Frodo can see the letters because he already knows what the ring is. It's a long time since I saw the film and I remember little about it, but presumably in the film Gandalf's disappointment is for dramatic effect.

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    In the book Gandalf just returned from an extended research-trip concerning the one ring. He interrogated Gollum and he has good reason to assume, that it's the ring. And assuming he does. But I always thought, that throwing the ring into the fire was one last test, maybe an unnecessary one, but one that makes it irrefutable.
    – Einer
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 8:01
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    @Einer Gandalf is specific about that. Well before they put the ring in the fire, he says to Frodo: "There is a last test to make. But I no longer doubt my guess." Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 11:06
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't movie Gandalf already know it's the One ring as well? When Bilbo is leaving, gandalf asks if he's leaving everything to Frodo, to which Bilbo says yes. Then they get into an argument and Bilbo calls it 'my precious', Gandalf responds by saying 'Precious? It's been called that before, but not by you.' This indicates that movie Gandalf already knew it was the One Ring, especially the way he behaved around it once Bilbo left. I think the writing signified to Gandalf that Sauron had indeed returned, not that the ring was the One Ring
    – Robert
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 19:18
  • @Robert When Bilbo called it that, I believe Gandalf knew that Gollum called the ring he possessed "my precious" (the one Bilbo called the same thing). While it was also the ring Isildur said was "precious to me" (but didn't actually call "my precious", at least not in the writing Gandalf saw), the fire was the final and certain proof of whether Bilbo's ring was Isildur's and hence the One (a test which he also got from the writing of Isildur); before then he still had at least a little hope it might not have been. Once the black speech showed up, it could only be the One.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 0:18
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    @Glen_b again, Gandalf already knew it was the one ring due to the way he reacted to it at Bilbo's birthday party. When the black speech appeared is when he actually grew concerned because that's when the ring was making itself known.
    – Robert
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 3:30

At that point Gandalf knew that if it's the one ring, it must be destroyed. And he knew, that only the fires of Mount Doom can do that. And he knows, that it will not be easy to accomplish that: Probably good people will die in this course. And if they (whoever the fellowship would be) succeed everything will change in middle earth, for example he and the elves will leave Middle Earth. If they don't succeed... nightmare!

That all of this is now going to happen, becomes apparent when the inscription becomes visible: It is the one ring! Gandalf's fears became true. And that upsets him.

  • At that point, it has by no means been decided that the Ring will be taken to Mount Doom to be destroyed. That decision is made at the Council of Elrond in Rivendell, several months later.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 21:16
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    @MikeScott It hadn't been decided yet, but didn't Gandalf already know that the Ring had to be destroyed?
    – Era
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 20:34
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    @MikeScott If I recall correctly, Gandalf and Elrond are both convinced that the only option is to destroy the ring before the council in rivendell even meets. It's everyone else at the council that has to be persuaded, not the remaining members of the White Council.
    – Leliel
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:34

He's not upset that Frodo can read it; he's upset that it can be read at all.

He suspected that it was the One Ring and now anticipates that Frodo's fate is now tied to it, for better or for worse. His visible response is resignation: that is it the One Ring; that it is a problem that must be dealt with; and that the solution will be costly.

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