One Ring

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers, but there are not many in this article.

The One Ring, also known as the Ruling Ring, is a fictional artifact from J. R. R. Tolkien's universe. It was created by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age in order to give him control over the other Rings of Power, which had been made by Celebrimbor and his people with Sauron's influence. Though it appeared to be made of simple gold, the Ring was virtually impervious to damage, and could only be destroyed by throwing it into the pit of the volcano in which it had originally been forged. Unlike the lesser Rings, it bore no gem, but its identity could be determined by a simple (though little-known) test: when heated in a fire, it displayed in fiery letters a section of poetry from part of its lore:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

These words, in the Black Speech of Mordor, are physically painful to any Elf who hears them.

Roughly translated, they mean:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Note: some recent editions of The Fellowship of the Ring accidentally omit the first two clauses of this phrase from Chapter 2.

The entire poem reads:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Part of the nature of the Ring is that it inevitably corrupted its wearer, regardless of any intentions to the contrary. Whether this was specifically designed into the Ring's magic or is simply an artifact of its evil origins is unknown. (Sauron might be expected to endow his One Ring with such a property, but he probably never intended anyone besides himself to wear it.) For this reason the Wise, including Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel, refuse to wield it in their own defense, but instead determine that it must be destroyed.

After its original forging, the Ring was cut from Sauron's hand by Isildur, who lost it in the Great River Anduin after he was killed. The Ring remained hidden for centuries until it was discovered by a Hobbit (a Stoor, to be precise) named Déagol. Sméagol (pronounced smay-a-gol, not smee-gol as in Peter Jackson's film version) murdered his cousin Déagol, stole the Ring, and was changed by the Ring's influence over many years into the unpleasant creature known as Gollum. As is told in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found the Ring while he was lost in the caverns of the Misty Mountains, near Gollum's lair and found it useful in his quest. Some decades later, following the counsel of his friend the Wizard Gandalf, Bilbo gave the Ring to his nephew and adopted heir Frodo.

By this time Sauron had begun to regain his power, and the Dark Tower in Mordor had been rebuilt. In order to prevent the recapture of the Ring, Frodo and eight other companions set out from Rivendell for Mordor in an attempt to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

Physically the Ring resembled a geometrically perfect circle of pure gold, this perfection and purity being part of its allure. It seems to have been able to expand and contract, in order to fit its wearer's finger or slip from it treacherously. In Peter Jackson's film of The Fellowship of the Ring, the Ring can be seen contracting to fit Isildur's finger.

The story of the quest to destroy the Ring is told in Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings, as is most of the Ring's history.

Symbolism of the One Ring

Although Tolkien has always strongly held that his works should not be seen as a metaphor for anything, and especially not for the political goings-on at his time (for instance WW II or the Cold War), many people have felt an irresistible urge to see the One Ring as a symbol or metaphor for various things. Among them are atomic energy and the atomic bomb, which would both be anachronistic, as the Ring was invented in the late 1930s, and the atom bomb did not become public knowledge until 1945. Other possible interpretations are that the ring represents the urge for power, which in Tolkien's view is always corrupting.

A recent interpretation by Danish author Peter Kjaerulff is, that the Ring symbolizes The Cursed Ring, a device described by both Plato, Wagner and Tolkien. Although Tolkien denied any connection, it is certainly possible that the One Ring was inspired by the central artifact of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, without being meant to 'symbolize' it.

A different way to look at this question is to ask what gives the idea of the Ring its power as a story element, without considering whether it was intended as a symbol for any one thing. The notion of a power too great for humans to safely wield is an evocative one, and already in the 1930s there were plenty of technologies available to make people think of that idea. The Ring also serves, for instance, as a powerful metaphor for addiction, at least in the sense that it serves as a construct from literature that one can profitably compare addiction to.

See also : Middle-earth

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