Introduction

The One Ring is one of the most important, most complicated and most enigmatic elements of Tolkien’s universe. It is the source of Sauron’s power, the purpose of Frodo’s quest, the agent of Gollum’s destruction.

It is also one of the main sources of questions about the books. This article looks at several aspects of the Ring – its creation, its meaning to Sauron, its effect on its bearers and the people around it, its inherent powers, and its destruction.

Creation of the Rings

In the Second Age, some of the Noldor metal-smiths were fooled by Sauron’s fair form and fair voice, and they started working with the Dark Lord to create Rings of Power.

“In those days the smiths of Ost-in-Edhil surpassed all that they had contrived before; and they made Rings of Power. But Sauron guided their labours, and he was aware of all that they did; for his desire was to set a bond upon the Elves and to bring them under his vigilance.” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

Starting at around SA 1500, Sauron and the Elves together made the Seven and the Nine Rings in Eregion. Then Sauron left for Mordor, leaving Celebrimbor to create the Three Rings in about SA 1590. Ten years later, Sauron completed the forging of the One Ring, secretly in Orodruin. This Ring was made to rule all the others, and the power of the other rings was bound up with it. The Rings of Power became subject to it, and would last only as long as the Ruling Ring would last.

“And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency.” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

When Sauron first put the One Ring on his finger, the Elves realised his deception, and threw off their rings. Sauron came against the Elves in open war, demanding that all the rings should be delivered to him – since the Elves could not have created them without his knowledge and counsel. But the Elves fled, taking with them three of their rings – the last and most perfect of the rings that had been made. These were Nenya, Narya and Vilya – three rings that could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world. While they were still subject to the One, they remained unsullied, for Celebrimbor alone had forged them, and the hand of Sauron had never touched them.

What was the One Ring?
The Ring, first and foremost, was a reservoir of potential – potential power, potential lust, potential addiction. It was a never-ending nightmare into which mortals and immortals alike were irresistibly drawn – and a power beyond the imagination of most in Middle-earth. It was a power that could corrupt absolutely and it was a power that could take the bearer between two worlds – the physical world of Middle-earth and the “spiritual” world of Aman.

But what was this power? What did Sauron pour into the Ring to give it such abilities?

He poured in immense amounts of evil, hatred, malice and greed. He filled the Ring with his weapons of fear and terror, torture and deceit. And it was all of this that he poured into the Ring. And Sauron’s capacities for all those qualities was immense. He was:

” as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit…..Sauron desired to be a God-King and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.”

How did Sauron’s Ring control Rings that were created earlier?
Tolkien never clearly states how the One Ring controlled the other Rings of Power. However, there seem to be two main possibilities:

1) The most obvious of these is that the technique Sauron gave to the Elves to create the Rings left him a ‘back door’ through which to later gain control. If this is correct, it shows that Sauron must have been wanting to create the One Ring all along. This theory would also explain how the Three Elven Rings still came under the One Ring’s dominion – as the flawed method would have been used by Celebrimbor to create the last elven rings, even though Sauron was not actually present and helping in the forging.”

“But Sauron guided their labours, … for his desire was to set a bond upon the Elves and to bring them under his vigilance” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

2) The second, and I think relatively unlikely, possibility is that Sauron somehow cast a spell over the Great Rings after the creation of the One Ring..

The philosophy of the Ring
Tolkien wrote a letter to Rhona Beare, explaining why Sauron needed a Ring – why he couldn’t just keep all his power internally.

“If I were to ‘philosophize’ the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one’s direct control.” (Letters #211)

The appearance of the Ring
The Ring was of plain gold, It had Black Speech encircling it inside and outside – reading “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” (“Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.”)

What was the Ring to Sauron?

The Ring was a way for Sauron to maintain his power in the world. While the Ring was in existence, Sauron could not be destroyed – and nor could anything built by Sauron using the Ring. Fairly obviously, the strength of Sauron coupled with the Ring became immense.

“yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills”

“If he regains it, your valour is vain, and his victory will be swift or complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts.”

The Ring could not be used as a weapon against its maker.

“We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him and is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. Consider Saruman. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would set himself on Sauron’s throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear. And that is another reason why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”

Sauron with the Ring

Knowing the Ring’s absolute power, the Elves, not even Elrond, would hide the Ring when it came free in the world, let alone wield it. Its power was considered so great by Elrond that it was not safe enough in the depths of the Sea, and it was too corrupted and malevolent to be sent to Aman.

However, there were downsides to the Ring – the main one being that Sauron had to pour a large amount of his power into the Ring, not least to be able to “outdo” the power of the Elven Rings, The Ring was described thus in several places:

“the treasure of the Enemy, fraught with his malice: and in it lies a great part of his strength of old.”

“a great part of his own former power”

In binding up a good part of his power into the Ring, Sauron became much stronger when he had the Ring. However, if the Ring was destroyed, then Sauron stood to lose both the Ring’s boost to his power, as well as the large amount of his power that he had invested in the Ring. Quite simply, he would be too weak to even maintain a physical presence in Middle-earth.

“If it is destroyed, then he will fall: and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of his strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.
Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary.”

However, the fact that the Ring could be destroyed did not initially seem that important to Sauron. He had made it so powerful that he did not believe that anyone could resist its lure, and be able to take it to the one place in which it could be destroyed – the Cracks of Fire in Mount Doom.

“The Ring was unbreakable by any smithcraft less than his own. It was indissoluble in any fire, save where it was made … in Mordor. Also so great was the Ring’s power of lust, that .. it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it.” (Letters #131)

The powers of the Ring

Power over the other Ringbearers
The One Ring gave Sauron the ability to “perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.”

A source of temptation and addiction
The Ring seems to have some sort of power of addiction – something that the other Great Rings do not possess. From the moment that most people put on the Ring, they become enslaved to its will (though to varying extents) – and the longer that the wearer has the Ring, the greater the enslavement becomes. Gollum traipsed half-way across Middle-earth to try and regain the Ring; Isildur refused to give up the Ring, even under the counsel of Elrond and Círdan; Bilbo managed to give up the Ring but felt instant lust for it when he saw it again in Rivendell.

Frodo soon discovered that power of the Ring. He had felt the urge to put the Ring on while he was in the Shire, but at Weathertop his resistance lowered:

“But his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger……(h)e shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand.”

Only a few people seem to have been able to resist its pull – Galadriel, Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, Sam, Tom Bombadil – and, of those, only Tom seemed to be utterly resistant to its effects.

Ability to, in some way, think for itself and take advantage of a situation
After the Ring was lost to Sauron, it was constantly trying to find its way back to its master.

“Sauron would not have feared the Ring! It was his own and under his will. Even from afar he had an effect upon it, to make it work for its return to himself. In his actual presence none but very few of equal stature could have hoped to withhold it from him. Of ‘mortals’ no one, not even Aragorn.” (Letters #246)

To do that, it seems that the Ring could take advantage of situations in which it found itself. As Gandalf explained by Frodo:

“A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it.”

“It was not Gollum, Frodo, but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him”

An example would be when it tried to attract a nearby source of evil while in the Prancing Pony,

“Frodo leaned back against the wall and took off the Ring. How it came to be on his finger he could not tell. He could only suppose that he had been handling it in his pocket while he sang, and that somehow it had slipped on when he stuck out his hand with a jerk to save his fall. For a moment he wondered if the Ring itself had not played him a trick: perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room.”

Some people also believe that the Ring is able to think in complex and sophisticated ways. Take its gradual seduction of Boromir, culminating in his attempt to take the Ring on Amon Hen.

‘The Ring would give me the power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner.’

Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly. Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise.”

Boromir initially tried to persuade Frodo to give up the Ring, first saying that he needed it, then asking Frodo to lend it to him, and eventually using force to try and take the Ring. His fall continued when he did not confess to the Fellowship what had happened. It was only with his last breath that he confessed to Aragorn that he tried to take the Ring from Frodo and that he had paid with his life.

But why Boromir? Because Boromir had the greatest need for the Ring – while he wanted to use the Ring to help Gondor, he would have also revealed himself to Sauron the second he donned the Ring. And that would have made the Ring’s journey back to Barad-dûr much simpler.

Invisibility, and movement into the wraith-world
There were two main worlds in Tolkien’s works – what we might think of as the material plane and the spiritual plane. Elves (specifically the High Elves who have lived in Valinor) exist in both at the same time. Mortals (Men and Hobbits) normally are aware only of the everyday material world.

The Rings (the One and the Nine, probably the Seven as well) shift the wearer partially into the spiritual world. In Rivendell, Gandalf tells Frodo:

“You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself.”

The Ringbearer never fully entered the wraith-world. Even when Bilbo was wearing the Ring in “The Hobbit”, he still cast a shadow in the bright sunlight, though that shadow was “shaky and faint”.

Tolkien gives further description of the wraith-world when Frodo is at Weathertop, and when Sam put on the ring in Cirith Ungol.

“Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light.”

“All things around him now were not dark but vague; while he himself was there in a grey hazy world, alone, like a small black solid rock. … He did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible; and he knew that somewhere an Eye was searching for him.”

The initial price for this transition between worlds was vulnerability to the gaze of Sauron and his Nazgûl:

“you had become visible to them [the Black Riders], being already on the threshold of their world.”

If the Ring was used continually, the Bearer would pay a greater price, eventually fading entirely from the material world.

“if [a Man or Hobbit] often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings.”

An earlier version of the manuscript gives a more detailed description of Tolkien’s ideas of the wraith-world:

If the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible – and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see. You have no power however like a Ring of making other things invisible: you are a ringwraith. You can wear clothes…..But you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings.” (The Return of the Shadow)

Language translation
The only mention of this ability is when Sam understood the Orcs in Cirith Ungol, so it cannot be said how far the ability extends.

“Perhaps the Ring gave understanding of tongues, or simply understanding, especially of the servants of Sauron its maker, so that if he gave heed, he understood and translated the thought to himself.”

The effect of the Ring on its bearers, and those around it

The Ring worked in different ways with different people, exploiting individual hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. The way it worked with a number of people it touched through “The Lord of the Rings” is shown below.

Ring Bearers

Bilbo

When Bilbo first finds the Ring, in “The Hobbit”, it is seen merely as a magic ring, capable of making the wearer invisible, but not much more. When Bilbo was taken through to “The Lord of the Rings”, his magic ring became a Ring of Power, though not even Gandalf realised that it was the One Ring until he cast it onto the fire.

In “The Hobbit” and at the start of “The Lord of the Rings”, Bilbo uses the Ring simply as a convenience, or as a trick. But even when Bilbo had little concept of the power of the Ring, he still started to feel its ill effects – even though he did not attribute them to carrying the Ring. He said that he felt “thin, sort of stretched….like butter that has been scraped over too much bread”. By the time that Gandalf required him to give up the Ring to Frodo, he had become nervous and worried about giving his Precious away, even becoming aggressive in his attempts to keep the Ring. However, even in his lust for the Ring, he kept some sense of reason, realising that the Ring was indeed a burden to him:

“And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tired locking it up, but I found I couldn’t rest without it in my pocket. I don’t know why. And I don’t seem to be able to make up my mind.”

The effect of the Ring on Bilbo was long-lasting, even when he no longer had it in his possession. When he saw it again in Rivendell, he seemed to Frodo as “a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands.” This glimpse of Bilbo-as-Gollum showed what effect the Ring would have had on the hobbit had he but given into to temptation.

Frodo

Frodo starts off not knowing what the Ring truly is. He thinks it just his Uncle Bilbo’s gold ring, though he is quickly disabused of that notion when Gandalf throws the Ring into the fire, and sees the Black Speech written around it. Even when Frodo knows its history, he still agrees to guard the Ring – thus accepting the charge in an altruistic manner. During the initial stages of his journey, he is able to resist temptation, notably when being attacked by the Barrow-wights:
Frodo, by John Howe

“Then a wild thought of escape came to him. He wondered if he put on the Ring, whether the Barrow-wight would miss him, and he might find some way out. He thought of himself running free over the grass, grieving for Merry, and Sam, and Pippin, but free and alive himself. Gandalf would admit that there had been nothing else to do.
But the courage that had been awakened in him was now too strong: he could not leave his friends so easily. “

He was also tempted whenever he saw a Nazgûl – partly because of the Ring’s wish to make itself known to the powers of evil, and partly from Frodo’s own fear. But on each occasion, he manages to resist temptation, either by himself, or through the aid of Gandalf, Gildor and Aragorn.

When Frodo agrees to take the Ring to Mount Doom, his relationship with it becomes more complicated. He continues to hold the Ring for a good purpose – even knowing that he is likely to go through pain and suffering because of that choice. But the Ring has also established a greater hold on him, and when he puts the Ring on at Amon Hen, he sees the Eye of Sauron, and Sauron sees his presence. By the time that Frodo reaches the boundaries of Mordor, the Ring has become more of a burden, and the temptation to use the Ring became greater.

“As he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king – not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. It took his hand, and as Frodo watched with his mind, not willing it but in suspense (as if he looked on some old story far away), it moved the hand inch by inch towards the chain upon his neck. Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind.”

As Frodo proceeded into Mordor, the Ring became so very heavy to him – both emotionally and physically, and it etched itself upon Frodo’s mind like a great wheel of fire. The Ring gnawed away at Frodo, eating away what little was left of his will.

“Anxiously Sam had noted how his master’s left hand would often be raised as if to ward off a blow, or to screen his shrinking eyes from a dreadful Eye that sought to look in them. And sometimes his right hand would creep to his breast, clutching, and then slowly, as the will recovered mastery, it would be withdrawn.”

He becomes almost totally consumed by the Ring, and the veil falls between him and the wheel of fire.

On the foothills of Mount Doom, Frodo submits to the Ring, commanding Gollum to be gone or else be consumed by the Fire. And at the Cracks of Doom, he claims his prize:

Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
‘ I have come,’ he said, ‘ But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine.’ “

However, even when Gollum has taken the Ring into the depths of Mount Doom, the Ring’s effect lingers on Frodo. He bears his physical scars from the war, as well as the emotional scars from bearing the Ring, and ultimately knowing that he failed in his quest. Eventually, this led to Frodo being taken to the Undying Lands, there to rest and be at peace.

Gollum
Gollum represents a being total corrupted by the Ring. He hated the Ring, but loved it at the same time. He shows us what Frodo or Bilbo could have become if they had given in to the Ring. It was desire for the Ring that motivated Gollum throughout. He had no focus but himself and his own desires. At the last it was Gollum’s desire for the Ring that destroyed him. He could not bear to be parted from it, and when Frodo claimed his precious in Mount Doom, in his desperation he bit Frodo’s finger off – with the Ring attached. For an ecstatic moment he was reunited with his treasure, only to fall at the end, a victim of his own uncontrollable lust for the Ring.

Others

Gandalf
The absolute power of the Ring is shown when Gandalf, one of the Maiar, dare not take the Ring.

“With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly….Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

Gandalf understands the lure of the Ring, and is tempted by it – if only slightly. What is interesting is that Tolkien took the view that Gandalf would have ended up being a worse Ringlord than Sauron.

“Thus while Sauron multiplied … evil, he left ‘good’ clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.” (Letters #246).

Galadriel
When Frodo offered Galadriel the Ring, she was pretty much resigned to her fate – to leave Middle-earth in the care of Men, and pass into the West. Whichever way the War of the Ring went, she would lose. Frodo offering her the Ring gave her a way to bypass that fate, and to wield the Ring for the good of all. In her rejection of that temptation, Tolkien showed a detailed insight into the process of weighing-up of choices and the exercise of free will, even although the course of ultimate good would cause personal diminishment.

” ‘I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! It was brought within my grasp. The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls. Would not that have been a noble deed to set to the credit of his Ring, if I had taken it by force or fear from my guest?
And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’ “

Samwise Gamgee
Sam was actually a Ringbearer for a short time, taking the Ring from Frodo when he thought that Frodo’s Quest was in danger of not being fulfilled.

” As Sam stood there, even though the Ring was not on him but hanging by its chain about his neck, he felt himself enlarged, as if he were robed in a huge distorted shadow of himself, a vast and ominous threat halted upon the walls of Mordor. He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
In that hour of trial it was his love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.

‘And anyway all these notions are only a trick, he said to himself.”

Sam’s thinking was different to the others who were tempted. Gandalf and Galadriel, at least, had a real idea of what the Ring represented. Sam, on the other hand, saw it mainly as a burden for his master, and only took it up to aid Frodo’s Quest. In the end, it was his love of Frodo, and his plain hobbit common-sense and sensibility that stopped him from being taken over by the Ring – not a conscious rejection of what the Ring represented.

Boromir and Faramir
Faramir and Boromir, in a lot of ways, represent different sides of the same person. Boromir is very much a soldier, wanting the Ring to give Gondor victory over its enemies, while Faramir is a wizard’s pupil and a guardian of Númenorean traditions.

Boromir first saw the Ring as a weapon, and as a means of overcoming the Enemy:

“Why do you speak ever of hiding and destroying? Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy. “

though when he was faced with temptation, he began to see the power that the Ring could give him personally.

Faramir, on the other hand, at least suspects the true nature of the Ring, and the dreadful toll it would take on its bearer. Before facing temptation, Faramir shows that he was certain that he would not take the Ring:

“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.”

But when he has Sam and Frodo captured in Henneth Annan, Faramir actually comes face to face with the lure of the Ring:

“The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me? And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha! … How you have increased my sorrow, you two strange wanderers from a far country, bearing the peril of Men! But you are less judges of Men than I of Halflings. We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow and be held by them.”

Sam thought that Faramir reminded him somewhat of Gandalf, and it was these qualities that protected him from the Ring’s influence – qualities which the military Boromir lacked.

The loss of the Ring

During the Battle of Sauron with the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, Sauron was thrown down, and Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand. Elrond and Círdan then counselled Isildur to throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, but he would not, seeking to keep it for himself.

Isildur was eventually found by a company of Orcs on a journey through the Misty Mountains, but he escaped through use of the Ring. He plunged into the Anduin, and there the Ring betrayed him, slipping from his finger as he swam. Isildur became visible to the following Orcs, and they killed him.

The Ring fell into history and legend until the White Council realised that Sauron had returned and was seeking the Rings of Power.

“It is Sauron himself who was taken shape again and now grows apace; and he is gathering again all the Rings to his hand; and he seeks ever for news of the One, and of the Heirs of Isildur, if they live still on earth.” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

Saruman showed particular interest in the Ring, and indeed wished to find it himself and wield it to order the world to his will. He began to see Sauron as a rival, rather than an enemy, and started to keep a watch over Gladden Fields – as were Sauron’s agents.

But the Ring was found by one of the small fisher-folk that lived by the River. His name was Déagol, and he bore the Ring for only a short time as he was slain by Sméagol, a fellow fishermen who desired the Ring. The Ring then passed to Bilbo Baggins, who won it in a riddling game from Sméagol, by then transformed into the pitiful Gollum.

References:

– The Lord of the Rings
– The Silmarillion
– The Hobbit
– Morgoth’s Ring
– The Letters of JRR Tolkien

Any quotes without references are taken from The Lord of the Rings.