Let’s hypothesize a world in which stringent system of checks and balances restrained Sauron’s power and impeded his plan of setting up an autocracy in Middle-Earth. Since no one is above the law, and Sauron has the same rights as all the other Men, Elves, and Hobbits, can he take a legal action against Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring for destruction of his property, i.e. the Ring of Power?
We will deal with this theory by means of Property Law and the legal consequences of Contracts and Covenants.
This article is merely on a hypothetical basis and ought not to be regarded as a legit or practical legal advice or consultation on part of the author. Meaning if you do actually possess a ring of power made in the fires of Mount Doom in the realm of Mordor, consult with your lawyer first and do not rely completely on this article for your course of action.
Back to the main question: Could Sauron file a lawsuit against Frodo for violating his property rights over The One Ring?
Consequently, can Frodo’s defense be possession by Prescription? Can he claim to be the new title owner of the Ring?
It depends on how long Frodo was in possession of the Ring. If it was less than 10 years, legally it still belongs to the Dark Lord, Sauron. Hence, Frodo needs to pay compensation for destroying the moveable good of which he was not yet the owner.
But if it was more than 10 years, then Frodo can establish to be the new titular owner of The Ring. Even though it only took him and Samwise, 6 months to get to Mordor and devour it in the volcanic fire of Mount Doom, he was holding the Ring for 17 years prior to that. Ever since his second-cousin Bilbo gave it to him on his 33rd Birthday.
So, the court would rule against Sauron and his claim of ownership right over the Ring.
Another legal issue that may arise is the concept of ‘usage and enjoyment’ required for the Prescription. If the possessor continuously uses the object for several years, he would become the owner.
Hence, Sauron and his team of lawyers may argue that not only Frodo didn’t continuously wear the Ring, he didn’t use or unleash any of the Ring’s powerful features such as invisibility and also controlling the Ringwraiths (also known as Dark Riders, or Nazgûl).
However, a counterargument Frodo can use is that the hostile environment created by Sauron and his servants prevented him from using the possessed item. Also, wearing it like a necklace should still constitute as ‘usage and enjoyment’. It’s more of different tastes and fashion choice, not a legal issue.
After Frodo got stabbed on Weathertop by Witch King of Angmar, one of the Nazgûl, Arwen came to his rescue and tried bringing him to Rivendell to get healed by Elvish power. The only way he could be saved, since the Morgul Blade was not a simple sword, but a powerful and dark magical one that could turn Frodo to a Ringwraith as well.
The Nazgûl (Ringwraiths) followed them by their fast horses and when they were getting near, they demanded that she give up the ‘half-ling’ (Frodo). Then Arwen shouted: “If you want him, come and claim him”.
By this phrase, Arwen made a proposal and conferred the right to accept (or refuse) the offer, to the Ringwraiths that were chasing them.
Therefore, trying to destroy them after they accepted the challenge and moved forward to, as she put it ‘come and get him!’, Arwen could be held accountable for acting against sanctity of offers and transaction!
(Side note: In the books, it is Glorfindel (one of the mighty Elves) that comes to Frodo’s rescue. However, in the movie version Glorfindel is replaced with Arwen in this scene and the dialogues are modified to a degree.)
The Ringwraiths (aka the Nazgûl, aka The Nine, aka The Dark Riders)
Sauron gave nine rings to nine kings of race of Men (among them Witch King of Angmar, and the Easterling King). And Three Rings to Elvish kings and Seven to Dwarf Lords.
As Tolkien eloquently put it :
“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.”
However, he then reclaimed the nine rings and kept them for himself. He used the Rings’ power to control the nine men who fell under his corruption and enslaved them to his will, thus turned them into the Ringwraiths (also known as the Nazgûl).
But is he allowed to just take back what he gifted?
Some legal scholars may say that since he was the real forger and creator of the rings, they are his rightful property. But we disagree. When Sauron bestowed the rings to them he also fully transferred the property right and made them the rightful owners.
Then Sauron acted unlawfully and against good faith and can be liable.
The Wizards of Middle-Earth
The Valar, quasi-Gods dwelling in the realm of Valinor, or The undying Lands, sent five of the Maiar to Middle-Earth. These Maiar (which is the plural of Maia), are ancient powerful spirits which helped the Valar (Plural of Vala) in shaping the universe.
These five chosen Maiar were sent to Middle-earth in form of five old wise wizards, to protect the free people and to guide and help them against rise of Melkor and his lieutenant Sauron which were growing in power and malice.
The aforesaid five wizards were (in hierarchical order) Saruman the White (known as Curumo in Valinor), Gandalf the Grey (who was called Olórin in Valinor), Radagast the Brown. (and two other not-so-significant or memorable Blue Wizards which I skip through. If they have a problem with that, they can sue me!)
They promised the Valar not to dominate the free people and not to seek power to match Sauron’s power; only to advise and guide people and not rule over them.
However, when these Maiar came to Middle-Earth among the Elves, Men, and Dwarves, the two Blue ones went to the East and completely abandoned their mission. Saruman later betrayed the purpose and joined Sauron in the Third Age.
If Saruman was subpoenaed in a court to defend his actions, would he be able to adopt a legal defense based on objecting to the terms and conditions of the agreement he made with the Valar?
In other words, were the instructions of the Valar too obscure? After all, what is the level of power they were prohibited to incur? What is the measure of ‘power’?
They were forbidden to gain as much power as Sauron. But how can one specifically measure the ever-growing magnitude of Sauron’s capability? Not to mention, Sauron was pretty secretive and cunning as well.
According to the law of covenants, if there’s obscurity in the terms and conditions of an agreement between an obliger and obligee, the burden is on the obliger.
Therefore, the court may rule that the instruction of the Valar should’ve been less ambiguous and more specific.
Gandalf and The Shire
We can also delve into Gandalf’s leisure time and hobbies and to see whether he broke the law by bringing fireworks and setting them off in the Shire without having a license or any permit on them.
Also, since some of those fireworks were magic-based, could they be considered hazardous? Would he be responsible for any potential damage to the Hobbiton village inhabitants?
The famous phrase by Tolkien “Do not meddle in the affairs of the Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger” is not a good defense strategy and will not hold up in court if the safety and well-being of the hobbits is the main issue here.
Disclaimer II : This article does not reflect the writer’s point of view on all the aforementioned matters, and she may have some biases since she wishes to be on the council of Elrond and eventually, on the revived version of White Council in Rivendell (but that’s more of a long-term goal).