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When Sauron is shown killing Elendil and then being destroyed by Isildur he is clearly not invisible and he is wearing the Ring.

But any time Bilbo or Frodo put on the Ring they went invisible without fail.

Did the Ring change after Sauron was destroyed or is Sauron capable of controlling the rings power unlike anyone else?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

From a FAQ about the Rings:

Was Sauron visible when wearing the Ring?

Though Tolkien never answered this question directly, most opinion in r.a.b.t is that Sauron was visible even while wearing the Ring.

  • The Rings of Power (except the Three) made their wearers invisible by shifting them mostly into the Unseen world. But Sauron already lived in that world as a Maia (an “angelic” spirit).

    His material body was something deliberately put on, as we put on clothes. Sauron was naturally pure spirit, not a hybrid like mortals, Elves, and Dwarves.

[click link for more details]

So, there are basically two worlds, the material and the spiritual world. Putting on the Ring shifts one partly into the spiritual world. But Sauron was already living in the spiritual world.

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The reason is because in the words of Gandalf "there is only one lord of the rings" and that is Sauron. The many will say that the ring turns the wearer invisible whereas in actual fact it merely has the potential to turn people invisible. Sauron was mostly visible whilst wearing the ring but he could have gone invisible if he wanted because he was the master of the ring's power, the other ring bearers however had no power over the ring and therefore could not make themselves visible whilst wearing it.

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This by the way is why Tom Bombadill did not turn invisible, not because the ring had no power over him but because he had more power over the ring and could control its power. – Matthew Stevenson Mar 12 at 10:52
This isn't a theory I know from reading all of Tolkien's works and asking myself the same question over and over. – Matthew Stevenson Mar 12 at 10:57

Maybe its symbolic. The ring judges people in comparison to its lord, Sauron. So everyone else doesn't "exist" in front of him, in other words they are invisible. Tom is probably more powerful in comparison so the ring disappears. About spirit world answer, yes Sauron is a spiritual being but the ring keeps him linked to the mortal realm else he would vanish from the mortal plane entirely, as seen in the end of series.

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Usage of the rings of power are based on the experience/desires of the user as well as the limitations of the ring itself. In The Hobbit, when Bilbo first used the ring (in Gollum's lair) his greatest desire at the moment was to go unnoticed (i.e., invisibility). Frodo likely had the same experience since his initial understanding of the Ring was as limited as Bilbo's. Keep in mind that in the LOTR books, another character, Tom Bombadil also did not become invisible (or affected in any way) when wearing the ring likely due to his experience as a much older magical being. Thus, Sauron could use it to help create entire armies, whereas magically inexperienced Hobbits simply became invisible.

Also, what Oliver_C answered.

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Do you have a citation for Sauron "using [the ring] to help create entire armies"? – user209 Dec 17 '12 at 23:08

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