July 9, 2001
Re: The Purpose of the Ring
As I recall, Sauron forged nineteen rings to give to dwarves, men, and elves to convince them of his good intentions. If you remember that famous poem, it offers some insight into this matter: Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky/Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone/Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die/One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne/In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Sauron, then, forged the the One Ring to keep an eye on everyone to whom he gave a ring. In the Silmarillion, Tolkien describes it. He writes "...secretly Sauron made One ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it...much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring...and while he wore the One Ring he could percieve 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."
The elves became aware of his plot and took the rings off, the dwarves pretty much just ignored him and used the rings to get rich, but the men who wore the rings were totally dominated by Sauron. And those men who wore the rings were granted immortality as long as the One Ring survived. They then became the Ringwraiths, or Nazgul.
Sorry about the length of this response, but it is important as this chain of events will set off everything that happens in The Lord of the Rings. As the elves and men of Numenor fight Sauron and strip him of the Ring, this provides the opportunity for Gollum (and eventually Bilbo) to get the Ring.
All this information can be found in the Silmarillion, which I definitely recommend to anyone who hasn't read it and would like to know more about Middle Earth.