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Sauron seems to have quite a bit of power while he does not have the Ring. What does the One Ring in his possession allow him to do that he cannot without it?

He still controls thousands of orcs, the ringwraiths and other creatures to do his dirty work while not having the One Ring. From what I understand, Sauron needs the One Ring back in order to be able to gain control over Middle-earth and its people. What is the reason for this? He was still able to be destroyed when he had the ring, simply by having it cut from his hand.

Is it the fact that his powers greatly increase while having the ring, and if so, what are those powers that increase?

marked as duplicate by Andres F., Valorum, The Fallen, James Sheridan, Ward Jan 18 '15 at 3:02

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  • This question and the linked question are distinct. The reason Sauron made the One Ring was mostly to mind control the Elves and get them to do his bidding, which failed. And he did need the Ring at the time to conquer Middle Earth, given the Elves and the Numenoreans were in the way. But by the time of LotR, Sauron does not need the Ring at all to control Middle Earth - it was simply the only gambit his enemies had for stopping him. The questions are not duplicates and none of the answers on the other question make that clear. – Shamshiel Sep 26 '15 at 17:32
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The Ring was made for two purposes:

  1. To enhance Sauron's native ability of dominating minds and wills, especially those of his servants. But it worked on others too - he used it to corrupt and dominate the Numenoreans.
  2. To obtain complete mastery of those who wielded the Elven Rings - which would have been a tremendous coup!

Of course, neither of these worked out too well - the Elves were aware of him and simply took them off, and he didn't really have a pressing need to enhance his (already tremendous) power to dominate the minds and wills of his servants.

During the events of the Lord of the Rings, Sauron does not need the One Ring to gain control over Middle Earth. Sauron already has the military might to overwhelm Middle-Earth. Remember that in Sauron's initial, unprepared assault, Gondor almost fell, as described in the book.

Dale did fall, Erebor was under siege:

Battle of Dale. King Brand and King Dáin Ironfoot fall. Many Dwarves and Men take refuge in Erebor and are besieged.

Lothlorien and Mirkwood were invested:

Three times Lórien had been assailed from Dol Guldur, but besides the valour of the elven people of that land, the power that dwelt there was too great for any to overcome, unless Sauron had come there himself. Though grievous harm was done to the fair woods on the borders, the assaults were driven back.

The realm of Thranduil was invaded, and there was long battle under the trees and great ruin of fire; but in the end Thranduil had the victory.

(Appendix A)

And yet, as Denethor, who saw Sauron's true might, said:

For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched.

Gandalf confirmed his assessment in the next chapter, The Last Debate:

‘Hardly has our strength sufficed to beat off the first great assault. The next will be greater. This war then is without final hope, as Denethor perceived. Victory cannot be achieved by arms, whether you sit here to endure siege after siege, or march out to be overwhelmed beyond the River.

The reason Sauron needed the Ring was because it was the only route by which his enemies could stop him. If the Ring was claimed and used, or (though he did not even imagine it) destroyed, Sauron would lose and be destroyed.

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place. This was the essential weakness he had introduced into his situation in his effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and in his desire to establish a control over the minds and wills of his servants.

(Letters)

And indeed, in the Lord of the Rings, Sauron accelerated his assault on Middle-Earth because he was afraid that Aragorn had the Ring, and he wanted to seize it as soon as possible, before Aragorn could master the Ring, or even worse, before someone like Galadriel or Gandalf took it, who could have used it to even greater effect. This was the only weakness Sauron had, so of course he wanted the Ring back ASAP. But as the above quote from Letters illustrates, the lack of it did not make him any weaker; he is simply "enhanced", better able to use the powers he has. Sauron is not invincible with it, he just needs it because without it, someone else could use it to defeat him.

As a side-note, cutting off the Ring probably did not kill Sauron in the book - he had already been defeated and simply chose to abandon his body once the Ring was taken and his body was irrecoverably damaged. See my answer here:

Why did Sauron blow up if he only had his fingers cut off?

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    “Lothlorien and Mirkwood were invested” — do you mean “infested”? Or something else? Regarding the Ring, I thought Sauron also needed it if he wanted to take physical form again, instead of just being a big firey eye. – Paul D. Waite Jan 16 '15 at 18:12
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    @PaulD.Waite: In the book, Sauron had already regained physical form. Gollum, for example, has seen that Sauron only has nine fingers. Tolkien said that LotR Sauron "should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic." As for what I meant with invested - I meant they were invested battling the armies of Dol Guldur. When the Witch-King broke Minas Tirith's gates, the appendices say "Battle under the trees in Mirkwood; Thranduil repels the forces of Dol Guldur. Second assault on Lórien." – Shamshiel Jan 16 '15 at 18:17
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    @Paul: invest, meaning 10, Wiktionary: to lay siege to. – Harry Johnston Jan 16 '15 at 22:26
  • Sauron needed the Ring was because it was the only route by which his enemies could stop him. The way I read that was, The book needed the ring because it was the only way the book could have a happy ending. – user11521 Jan 17 '15 at 1:24
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    @turinsbane: That is true, but none of those things were necessary for his final victory over Middle-Earth. The only way he could fail is if someone sufficiently powerful claimed the Ring for themselves, or if it was destroyed. If the Ring had been lost (as was the original supposition) his victory was inevitable (see Gandalf's comments above.) – Shamshiel Dec 5 '17 at 17:38
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I don't know what makes you say that it was necessary. I don't see anything that indicates that: as you say, he had his own power, plus all his armies and the Nazgul. Indeed, it's clear that he had been planning his return to power and his war against the West for a long time before he knew the Ring had been found, and the lack of it was no bar to his plans.

However, once he knew it had been found, he naturally had to try and get it for himself, both because the extra power would help him in his plans, and because he feared what his enemies could do if they mastered it.

  • I'll admit I'm primarily going by what the movies say, as I haven't read the books. Gandalf said he needs only the one ring to cover all the lands in a second darkness. Saruman also says he cannot again regain his full strength, assuming he implies unless he gains possession of the one ring again. – Toproller777 Jan 16 '15 at 19:02
  • And in the movies, Saruman also tries to convince Gandalf to join with Sauron after the discovery that the one ring has been found and that the ringwraiths were on their way to the Shire to recover it. – Toproller777 Jan 16 '15 at 19:11
  • @Toproller777: Unfortunately this is a point where the movies deviate from the book without much explanation. – Shamshiel Jan 16 '15 at 20:53
  • @Toproller777 Unfortunately you can't use the movies as reference for any finer points to do with the Tolkien universe. There's too much that is overlooked/retconned to make it appeal more to the less attuned eye. A movie which succinctly covers the finer points of the books would be too much to handle for an audience that doesn't know the back story, but for fans of the books it would be a delight. – John Bell Nov 24 '15 at 10:14
  • @Toproller777 Saruman tries to convince Gandalf to join with Sauron in the book as well – turinsbane Dec 5 '17 at 13:05
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The very question points to the need for suspended belief in fantasy/sci-fi. You're asking a logical question that can't really be satisfactorily answered because the answer itself is nonsense even within the rules established by the author.

Sauron was a Maia, an angelic being that is lesser in stature and power than a Vala, but still of infinitely greater power than any being of flesh and blood, whether man or elf or dwarf. Consequently, that a man or an elf, or a whole host of these, could overcome or vanquish a Maia is, at its foundation, a ludicrous idea. It would be like asking how an army of men could kill a single angel. An angel or a Maia (whatever you want to call it) is, for all intents and purposes, the equivalent of God Himself when it comes to the idea of a flesh-and-blood being fighting it.

So the idea of Sauron needing some sort of forged metal ring that he imbued with his own essence in order to exert some kind of magical control over the elves to subdue them is ridiculous from the beginning. By definition, he already had that power and more. What's more, Tolkien made clear in his own "rulebook" establishing the Valar and Maiar in The Silmarillion that only God Himself had the power to "create something out of nothing." Following that logic, Sauron could not have given the Ring more power than he already had within himself, so the very idea of the need for the Ring in the first place fails a test of logic even within Tolkien's own rules. Nothing about the Ring could amount to more than the sum of Sauron's own being, so what could he possibly have gained by making a Ring? And then to go from being essentially indestructible and unassailable by his very nature as a Maia, to making the Ring and letting a significant part of his own essence and power become part of such an obvious "single-point failure" device that all his enemies would immediately understand and attack as the one way Sauron could be destroyed? When that wasn't even necessary? From a military standpoint, even a drooling idiot could see that wasn't exactly Sauron's moment of shining brilliance in his strategic planning to take over the world. On the contrary, it makes him out to be a total moron on the level of a half-witted caveman, as opposed to what he was supposed to be in Tolkien's world: one of the first lieutenants of Morgoth, an accomplished, subtle, sophisticated military genius.

The Ring is a plot point where you sort of have to exert a suspension of disbelief within the original suspension of disbelief that you need to read any kind of fantasy to begin with. In other words, the Ring itself is a deus ex machina even within the rulebook of the fantasy world Tolkien created. You just have to accept it for how Tolkien wrote it, because there is no real adequate explanation for its existence that conforms to the "science" of Tolkien's world. Tolkien was a terrible writer from the standpoint of overusing deus ex machina. He used this "get out of jail free" card in numerous episodes of all his works. For example, the overuse of the eagles comes to mind. Shadowfax is another. The Paths of the Dead. And so on.

So ironically, the very premise of the Ring itself is one of the weakest plot devices in the entire story. There is no logical or satisfactory answer to why it even needed to exist in the first place. You just have to enjoy the story for what it is and accept the Ring as part of the story without delving too deep into the "science" behind it, because it fails pretty fast when you start thinking too deep about it.

Edit for comments:

You guys are missing the point entirely. I love Tolkien's stories, I re-read them about once a year. But the OP was asking for logical answers to questions that cannot really bear much scrutiny, and was treading on a plot point of the story that is among the thinnest ice on that lake. High fantasy stories like LOTR fall completely apart beyond just a couple levels of "why?" questions unless they are extremely well-crafted, and Tolkien's stories are not crafted very well much below the surface, that's just the literary truth of the matter. Luthien should not have had any chance of overcoming Sauron. Elendil and Gil-Galad shouldn't have had any hope of overcoming Sauron, who was in Tolkien's universe a Maia (and a very powerful one at that, one of Morgoth's most important and powerful lieutenants), an angelic being of infinitely greater power and strength than a mere mortal man or a flesh-and-blood Elf. The very idea is nonsense even within Tolkien's own universe.

As to the Ring "enhancing" Sauron's power, how could Sauron's power be enhanced by something that could only contain his own original power to begin with? Enhancing his power means he's gaining something he didn't already have. But Tolkien's own explanations of the Ring said that Sauron let a great deal of his own power pass into it. So it doesn't contain anything within itself that he didn't already have to begin with, so what again was the entire point to the Ring in the first place? Again, such a question is circular nonsense, it's like you're trying to make some kind of logical sense out of unraveling a Moibus strip.

Stories like these have to be simply enjoyed for what they are. Tolkien created a rich, detailed world for us to walk around in and admire. But I think what happens sometimes is that when an author creates a world that is so rich as Tolkien's, we lose a sense that we're just reading a story and start trying to take that world apart piece by piece just like the curious humans that we are. We don't just like the beautiful watch, we want to take it apart and see what makes it tick. That works in our reality because it's real; when you start taking apart someone's made-up world, though, the whole story quickly falls apart. The OP's very questions make that clear: the obvious answer is that Sauron wouldn't have needed a Ring in the first place.

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    Elendil and Gil-Galad overthrew Sauron, several Elves killed Balrogs, etc. You're also ignoring that the Ring was designed to enhance Sauron's power and specifically have total control over the 19 other Rings. – Shamshiel Jan 17 '15 at 14:38
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    Possible, but it could be argued both ways. For example, Gandalf was prohibited by the Valar from using his overwhelming power as a Maia. Glorfindel was supposedly unable to withstand the Nine all together, but they're just men with rings supported by a single Maia who is seriously degraded in power without his One Ring, while Glorfindel was an Eldar who was badass enough to have once fought and destroyed a Balrog. And so on. Tolkien sometimes needed to introduce limits between vastly overmatched characters just to make the story workable, and the limits sometimes aren't very consistent. – Chris Jan 17 '15 at 19:05
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    @Chris, yes, as Tolkien said, Sauron pretty much made a huge miscalculation in making the Ring; his goal was the control the wielders of the Elven rings, but they were aware of him and took their rings off. The idea that Sauron's plan failed, and the Ring was pretty much a waste, is explicitly canonical. Also, Sauron was not diminished without the One Ring. As for Glorfindel: he was probably immune to the Ringwraith's chief power (fear), but they were still 9 strong, skilled, well-armed men thousands of years old. – Shamshiel Jan 17 '15 at 19:40
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    The Ring did not "enhance" Sauron's power or create new power out of thin air; the Ring's creation required part of Sauron's existing power to be poured into it. But why would Sauron even do such a thing? Well, as Tolkien puts it in one of his letters: this follows the literary/folklore tradition that in order for someone to use his inner power to its full extent, this power must be externalized. Think of it as "focus". Just like with magic wands, Sauron's Ring allows him to focus the full might of his power. – Andres F. Jan 17 '15 at 20:53
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    @AndresF.: A different letter:m "While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced." Creating the Ring allowed Sauron to externalize his native strength, wearing it allowed him to make use of that externalized strength, thereby enhancing his power. – Shamshiel Jan 17 '15 at 21:04

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