The One Ring explained. Behind all the battles, and the many characters, the story of the Lord of the Rings movies is focused on a single, small object: the One Ring.
The One Ring is a powerful artefact with a long and complex history. While some of this was shown in the Lord of the Rings fantasy movies, and will no doubt also be seen in the new The Rings of Power fantasy series, there’s a lot of lore about the creation and power of the One Ring that audiences may not be familiar with.
However, any fan of Tolkien’s writing, the Peter Jackson fantasy adventure movies, or the new Middle-earth TV series will want to be as informed about the One Ring as possible, due to its pivotal influence on the story of Middle-earth. So, let’s journey to the fires of Mount Doom, and learn about the One Ring, and its history and powers together.
The history of the One Ring
The One Ring was created by Sauron in the Second Age, forged in the fires of Mount Doom. It was crafted in secret, designed to have power over the other rings of power which had been created by the Elven smith Celebrimbor, as a tool to wield power and influence over the races of Elves, Men, and Dwarves.
Sauron imbued the One Ring with the power of his own soul, which enhanced its strength, but also meant that if it were destroyed, then he would be destroyed too.
After being created by Sauron, it was kept by the former servant of Morgoth until the War of the Last Alliance, at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth. During the final battle, after Sauron had killed Elendil, Isildur used the sword Narsil to slice the One Ring off of Sauron’s hand, causing him to temporarily be defeated.
Isildur then claimed the One Ring, becoming the next Ring-bearer. However, he succumbed to the corruption of the One Ring. He failed to destroy it, instead believing he could use its power for himself. Isildur was killed by an Orc ambush, and the One Ring was lost in the water of the Gladden Fields, off the banks of the great river Anduin.
Many thousands of years later, deep into the Third Age, the One Ring was reclaimed from the river bed by the Stoor river-Hobbit Déagol. It was taken from him by Sméagol, who killed Déagol. Sméagol was exiled from his clan, though he retained the One Ring. He fled into the deep caves of Middle-earth, where he resided for many years, surviving on fish and stray Orcs, becoming known as Gollum.
However, the One Ring was desperate to seek out its old master Sauron, and slipped off Gollum’s finger, becoming lost in his cave before being found by Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo took the ring from Gollum, eventually bringing it back to the Shire, where it stayed with him until the night of his 111th birthday. Bilbo was persuaded by Gandalf to leave the One Ring to Frodo before leaving the Shire.
The One Ring remained in Frodo’s possession for many years, kept secret and safe, until Gandalf returned to inform him of the true nature and history of the object. Frodo then was tasked with taking the One Ring to the Council of Elrond in Rivendell, and he was aided in the journey by his three Hobbit companions and the mysterious Dúnedain Strider.
At the Council of Elrond, it was agreed that Frodo would take the One Ring to Mordor, to Mount Doom, in order to destroy it and end Sauron’s power for good. The One Ring stayed with Frodo throughout the journey, only being separated from him in Mordor when Sam thought he had been killed by Shelob.
The One Ring was taken to the Cracks of Doom by Frodo and Sam, before a final struggle broke out for its ownership when Gollum returned to claim it. Gollum managed to take hold of the One Ring, before falling into the fires of Mount Doom, killing himself and destroying the One Ring in the process.
The powers of the One Ring
The One Ring was created with one primary power in mind: control over the other rings of power. This would grant the holder of the One Ring mastery over the powers of the lesser rings, and domination over the wills of the lesser rings’ owners. This made the One Ring the most powerful object in Middle-earth.
However, aside from its ability to control the other rings of power, the One Ring granted its user the power of invisibility, and other abilities too, depending on their nature, strength, and willpower.
For example, with Hobbits, it enhanced their natural senses. Frodo was able to see great distances while using the One Ring, and Sam’s sense of hearing was hugely enhanced. For Gollum and Bilbo, the One Ring extended their lives beyond natural limits, and preserved their physical health. It is hinted that the One Ring would have given Galadriel unique abilities too, like supreme beauty and the power to dominate the minds and will of others.
The One Ring also has the ability to change others’ perception of the Ring-bearer: for example, when Sam wore the One Ring the Orcs in Cirith Ungol believed he was an intimidating and fearsome warrior.
However, despite these powers, the One Ring’s chief ability on Ring-bearers other than Sauron is its power of corruption. All who held the One Ring would eventually become corrupted by its influence over time. Those with the weakest sense of will, like Isildur, Boromir, and Sméagol, were corrupted almost immediately.
However, Bilbo and Frodo were both able to resist its corruption for much longer. Even some of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth, like Gandalf and Galadriel, feared using the One Ring due to how it might corrupt them.
For more deep dives into the lore of Middle-earth, check out our guide to the Galadriel and Halbrand’s relationship and the Balrogs. Or if you just want to know more about the inhabitants of Middle-earth during the Second Age, we have a guide to the best Rings of Power characters as well as a guide to the Rings of Power cast.