Q: Could Sauron have Unmade the One Ring?
ANSWER: As given above, this question does not adequately represent what I was originally asked but it would make a ridiculously long article title. Here is the original message submitted by a reader several months ago, in its entirety. I shall do my best to answer it fully:
Michael, do you think that, if Sauron ever regained the one ring, he might have “broken” or “un-forged” it so as to release and regain the great part of the power that was inherent in him from the beginning? Similar to Feanor breaking the Silmarils and releasing the light of the two trees.
Perhaps he would lose the ring-wraiths, but he already had enormous powers over his servants and other peoples of middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring, while not being in possession of the ring.
It seems like a Sauron with all the powers he had in the First Age would be unstoppable, and he would no longer have a vulnerability in the form of a separate, physical ring that could be lost, taken from him, or destroyed.
Do I think Sauron would have wanted to unmake the One Ring? No. The way Tolkien writes Sauron’s character, destroying the Ring never occurs to him. He is only intent upon regaining it so that he can be whole again according to the way he intended himself to be.
That is, when Sauron made the One Ring in the first place it was to enhance his own personal power, to make himself more like Morgoth. Sauron wanted to increase his power, not diminish it. Here is how Tolkien described the effect of the Ring in Letter No. 211:
… You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one’s life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least 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. A man who wishes to exert ‘power’ must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.
Given that he never sensed the danger that Frodo’s mission represented, Sauron never considered the possibility of destroying the Ring. So Tolkien tells us.
Of course, what we are asked to consider is not whether Sauron would simply destroy the Ring but whether he would consider trying to recover the power he had bestowed upon the Ring to himself. Is that possible according to the undeclared rules of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth?
I don’t think there is any definitive answer to this question. In my opinion Sauron’s decision was irrevocable. If he could have recovered the power from the Ring, why didn’t he do so when it was unmade? He was rendered powerless. Had he thrown the One Ring into the fire himself I don’t think his fate would have been any different. But could he have simply willed the power back into himself? Maybe with long and careful study he might have devised a way to transfer power from the Ring to himself. Tolkien mentioned in a note published in Morgoth’s Ring that Morgoth had disseminated some of his power into the creatures that served him. Hence, the transference of power from one rational being to another is possible in Tolkien’s world.
The Ring was a rational being, or part of a rational being. It acted with its own will and purpose, but that was really Sauron’s will and purpose. Some people have compared Sauron and the Ring to a multiple personality, where one personality remained Sauron (weakened) and the other personality became the Ring (also weakened). Together they were stronger than the original personality.
Sauron’s plan was always to keep the Ring with him. He never intended to lay it aside or be parted from it in any way. Tolkien says that when Númenor was destroyed Sauron’s spirit was easily able to carry the Ring with him back to Mordor, where he incarnated himself again. Hence, when Isildur took the Ring from Sauron’s dead body, before his spirit could recover its focus sufficiently to take the Ring to safety, Sauron’s scheme fell apart. He had no contingency plan for recovering the Ring.
It could be that Tolkien felt Sauron didn’t understand that he would become weaker with each death. Tolkien notes that it took Sauron longer and longer to re-incarnate himself each time. Had he merely been slain at the end of the Third Age, without the Ring being destroyed, he would presumably have required even more than a thousand years to become strong enough to form a new body again.
Here is an excerpt from “Note on Motives in the Silmarillion”, a philosophical essay Tolkien wrote in 1959 or later, in which he discussed some of the differences between Sauron and Morgoth:
Sauron was ‘greater’, effectively, in the Second Age than Morgoth at the end of the First. Why? Because, though he was far smaller by natural stature, he had not yet fallen so low. Eventually he also squandered his power (of being) in the endeavour to gain control of others. But he was not obliged to expend so much of himself. To gain domination over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth – hence all things that were born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be ‘stained’. Morgoth at the time of the War of the Jewels had become permanently ‘incarnate’: for this reason he was afraid, and waged the war almost entirely by means of devices, or of subordinates and dominated creatures. Sauron, however, inherited the ‘corruption’ of Arda, and only spent his (much more limited) power on the Rings; for it was the creatures of earth, in their minds and wills, that he desired to dominate. In this way Sauron was also wiser than Melkor-Morgoth. Sauron was not a beginner of discord; and he probably knew more of the ‘Music’ than did Melkor, whose mind had always been filled with his own plans and devices, and gave little attention to other things. The time of Melkor’s greatest power, therefore, was in the physical beginnings of the World; a vast demiurgic lust for power and the achievement of his own will and designs, on a great scale. And later after things had become more stable, Melkor was more interested in and capable of dealing with a volcanic eruption, for example, than with (say) a tree. It is indeed probable that he was simply unaware of the minor or more delicate productions of Yavanna: such as small flowers.
To say that Sauron was stronger in the First Age than toward the end of the Second Age is a mistake. His power was always with him until the Ring was taken from him. While he wore the Ring Sauron was stronger than he had been prior to the Ring’s making. Even if he thought it might be possible to restore himself to what he had been before, he would have viewed that as a step backward and away from his desire. He just would not have done it.