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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
What does the One Ring look like?

uncle Iorlas

Sep 1, 4:17am

Post #1 of 5 (1049 views)
What does the One Ring look like? Can't Post

This isn't my own observation, my brother pointed it out, in confronting the fact that Gandalf on his own terms was daft not to realize straight away which ring Bilbo had. He tells us at one point that Bilbo's was clearly a Great Ring, and then he tells us that every Great Ring save one had its proper stone inset. Duh. Usually I've tried to save him from this by assuming he uses the term Great Rings in a couple different ways, and the former quote refers to the entire set of magical rings made in Eregion, major and minor. And he does tell us there were a number of minor ones in circulation at one time, though we know essentially nothing about them. We need there to be a lot of these around, because the only possible thing Gandalf can be thinking is that Bilbo has one of these.

But! There's one additional screen for him that I had never thought of before. Who all has ever seen the Ring, before Deagol? Not a lot of people. Not a lot at all. Or rather, specifically: who has ever seen the ring as a small, human-sized gold ring with no obvious writing on it? Cos that's not what it looks like when Sauron is wearing it, and it's been on his finger for most of its existence. Isildur watched it dwindle over time, and presumably he showed it to a couple of his associates. Elendur at least seems not unlikely to have had a peep at it. But records are few over so much time, and the remaining immortal memories who saw the thing in person would only ever have seen it as it is when on its master's finger: an oversized gold ring with writing blazing all over it. Would anyone, Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond or Galadriel, anybody at all have described the One as a small featureless gold ring?

In that light, the experience of reading Isildur's scroll would have been shock for Gandalf. He reads that the One "seemeth to shrink" and that the writing fades--and suddenly Bilbo's ring takes on a terrifying new look.

Not strictly sure of all of this--maybe Gandalf does say it's featureless, and if so perhaps he does so because Saruman read the scroll and let that slip. But shouldn't there have been some debate in the White Council on that point when he said it? Because several of the elves will have seen it back in the day.


Sep 1, 12:25pm

Post #2 of 5 (998 views)
Gandalf being slow? [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, it would not be too hard, one would think, for Gandalf to work out which Great Ring this was by elimination. My mental 'fix' for this is the same as yours: that there are enough of the Lesser Rings around that Gandalf thought 'Bilbo most likely has one of those'.

i hadn't thought of the point that the Ring's appearance wasn't what Gandalf was expecting - good catch!

But then, Tolkien tries to reverse thrust and have Gandalf tell The Council of Elrond that the Ring can't possibly be a Lesser Ring - I'm not sure it entirely works, once one stares long enough at the fridge!

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Sep 1, 3:27pm

Post #3 of 5 (991 views)
Thinking about this some more [In reply to] Can't Post

Bilbo's Ring is either Lesser or Great. If it's great, there's only one possibility:


"The Nine, the Seven, and the Three,” he said, “had each their proper gem. Not so the One. It was round and unadorned, as it were one of the lesser rings;"

Gandalf recalling how he remembered something Saruman said earlier - in Council of Elrond

The test for whether the Ring is Great or Lesser (the only test, that is before Gandalf discovers about the concealed writing) is that Great Rings prolong mortal life. So I suppose it ought to come down to when Gandalf realised that Bilbo was 'remarkably preserved'.

In Council of Elrond, though, Gandalf says:

There I was at fault,’ he said. ‘I was lulled by the words of Saruman the Wise; but I should have sought for the truth sooner, and our peril would now be less.


We later learn that Saruman is very capable of manipulating people with his persuasive voice - it seems plausible to me now that he may have been doing that to the other member of the White Council, inhibiting them from thinking about the One Ring in ways that Saruman would find inconvenient.

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 6, 9:44am

Post #4 of 5 (858 views)
Gandalf might have been speaking with the benefit of hindsight [In reply to] Can't Post

It might have been obvious to him looking back, but maybe not at the time. Maybe there where lesser rings which could make Bilbo invisible. And as for oddities in Bilbo's behaviour, that could just be because he was an eccentric member of an eccentric species!

Petty Dwarf

Sep 11, 2:47am

Post #5 of 5 (767 views)
All true. [In reply to] Can't Post

And, after all, the Old Took lived even longer than eleventy-one, and some people do age slowly.

"No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone."


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