Rings of Power

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"Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

Lore

Tolkien's essay [1] in The Silmarillion gives the background of the making of the rings.

At the end of the First Age, Sauron evaded the call of the Valar to surrender, and fled to Middle-earth. Midway through the Second Age he came in disguise as Annatar ("Lord of Gifts") to the Elven smiths of Eregion, who were led by Celebrimbor, and taught them the craft of forging magic rings. Tolkien writes that the Elves made many lesser rings as essays in the craft,[2] but eventually with Sauron's assistance they forged the Seven and the Nine. The Three were made by Celebrimbor himself without Sauron's assistance; they remained unsullied by his touch.

The Three Rings of the Elves

The Three Rings of the Elves were the last made, and they possessed the greatest powers.

The Three Rings were created by Celebrimbor after Sauron, in the guise of Annatar, had left Eregion. These Rings of Power were free of Sauron's influence, as he did not have a hand in their making; however they were still forged by Celebrimbor with the arts taught to him by Sauron and thus were still bound to the One Ring. Upon perceiving Sauron's intent, the Elves hid the three from him. They were carried out of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, after the destruction of the One Ring.

Narya

The first ring, Narya, was adorned with a red stone. The name is derived from the Quenya nár meaning fire. It was also called the Narya the Great, Ring of Fire, and Red Ring.

According to Unfinished Tales, at the start of the War of the Elves and Sauron, Celebrimbor gave Narya together with the Ring Vilya to Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor. Gil-galad entrusted Narya to his lieutenant Círdan, Lord of the Havens of Mithlond, who kept it after Gil-galad's death. According to The Lord of the Rings, Gil-galad received only Vilya, while Círdan received Narya from the very beginning along with Galadriel receiving Nenya from the start.

In the Third Age, Círdan, recognizing Gandalf's true nature as one of the Maiar from Valinor, gave him the ring to aid him in his labours. It is described as having the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination, and despair (in other words, evoking hope in others around the wielder), as well as giving resistance to the weariness of time:

"Take now this Ring," he said; "for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill" (Círdan the Shipwright to Gandalf).

Narya was worn by Gandalf at the Grey Havens.

Nenya

The second ring, Nenya, was made of mithril and adorned with a "white stone", presumably a diamond.[3] The name is derived from the Quenya nén meaning water. It is also called Ring of Adamant and Ring of Water.

The ring is wielded by Galadriel of Lothlórien, and possesses radiance that matches that of the stars; while Frodo Baggins can see it by virtue of being a Ring-bearer, Samwise Gamgee tells Galadriel he only "saw a star through your fingers". (This appears in many editions as "finger"—which sounds more magical, since it suggests that her finger has somehow become transparent.)

Nenya's power gave preservation, protection, and possibly concealment from evil because "there is a secret power here that holds evil from the land". However, the fact that Orcs from Moria entered Lórien after The Fellowship of the Ring and Lórien itself had suffered previous attacks from Sauron's Orcs sent from Dol Guldur suggests the power of the ring did not constitute military prowess. It was said that, protected as it was by Nenya, Lothlórien would not have fallen unless Sauron had personally come to attack it. Galadriel used these powers to create and sustain Lothlórien, but it also increased in her the longing for the Sea and her desire to return to the Undying Lands.

After the destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron, its power faded along with the other Rings of Power. Galadriel bore Nenya on a ship from the Grey Havens into the West, accompanied by the other two Elven Rings and their bearers. With the ring gone, the magic and beauty of Lórien also faded along with the extraordinary mallorn trees (save the one that Samwise Gamgee grew in the Party Area that lived for centuries) and it was gradually depopulated, until by the time Arwen came there to die in FA 121 it was deserted and in ruin.

Vilya

The third ring, Vilya, was made of gold and adorned with a "great blue stone". The name is derived from the Quenya vilya meaning air. It is also called Ring of Sapphire, Ring of Air, Ring of Firmament, or Blue Ring.

It is generally considered that Vilya was the mightiest of these three bands (as mentioned in the ending chapter in The Return of the King). The exact power of Vilya is not mentioned; however it is reasonable to speculate that it also possesses the power to heal and to preserve (it is mentioned in The Silmarillion that Celebrimbor had forged the Three in order to heal and to preserve, rather than to enhance the strengths of each individual bearers as the Seven, Nine, and the lesser rings did). There is some speculation that the ring controlled minor elements, considering the event where Elrond had summoned a torrent of water as the Nazgûl attempted to invade Rivendell.

When Sauron laid waste to Eregion, Vilya was sent to the Elven-king Gil-galad far away in Lindon, where it was later given to Elrond, who bore it through the later years of the Second Age and all of the Third. As Gil-galad was the High King of the Noldor elves at the time of the rings' distribution it was thought that he was best fit to care for the most powerful of the three Elven rings. Upon Sauron's destruction, the power of Vilya faded and it was taken over the sea by Elrond at the end of the Third Age.

The Seven Rings of the Dwarves

The Seven Rings of the Dwarves, which were among the Great Rings, raise a question. We know that one of these Rings was held by the Kings of Durin's Folk, and yet through all the hundreds of years they bore it, there is no record of this Ring displaying any of its powers. Though the Dwarf-kings no doubt kept it secret and used it little, there are strong hints that the Dwarves were more resistant to the effects of the Great Rings than other mortal kinds.

Sauron gave six Rings of Power to the Dwarves to seduce them to his service. The Dwarves proved too hardy to be lured in this way, though, and the Rings did little more than increase their native lust for gold. By the end of the Third Age, Sauron had recovered three of the Seven Rings to himself, and the other four had been consumed by dragons.

It is not clear what happened to the three captured Dwarf-rings, but they were presumably destroyed in the overthrow of Barad-dûr in III 3019.

Little is known of any but two of the Seven Rings.

Ring of Durin

Also in the Second Age Sauron gave the Seven to various Dwarf-lords (though the Dwarves of Moria maintained a tradition that the ring given to Durin III came directly from the Elven smiths).[4] Gandalf mentions a rumour that the seven hoards of the dwarves began each with a single golden ring. The main power of the Seven on their wearers was to excite their sense of avarice, and the Dwarves used their rings to increase their treasure. The wearers did not become invisible, did not get extended life-spans, nor succumb directly to Sauron's control – though he could still influence them to anger and greed.[1]

Over the years, Sauron recovered three rings from the Dwarves, the last from Thráin II during his final captivity in Dol Guldur some years before the beginning of The Hobbit. The remaining four, according to Gandalf, were destroyed by dragons.[5]

Until the Council of Elrond, the Dwarves did not know that Thráin had held the ring of Durin's line and had lost it to Sauron. They thought instead that it might have been lost when the Balrog appeared in Moria.[6] One of the motivations for Balin's doomed expedition to Moria was the possibility of recovering the ring. Sauron's messenger attempted to bribe the Dwarves of Erebor for news of Bilbo (the last known bearer of the One) with the promise of the return of the remaining three of the Seven.

Regardless of its source, though, Durin's Ring of Power was tainted by Sauron's corruption, as Durin's heirs discovered to their cost.

The line of Durin's Folk suffered a string of calamities through their history, being driven from Khazad-dûm, and later from Erebor, until the royal line of the greatest and most ancient line of the Dwarves was reduced to a lowly existence in the Blue Mountains. The last of the holders of the Ring of Durin was Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield. Driven mad by longing for his lost home of Erebor in the distant east, he set out in search of it, but in the Wild he was captured by the agents of the Dark Lord. In the pits of Dol Guldur, the Ring of Durin was taken from him: the first of the Seven to be made was the last to be lost to Sauron.

Ring of Thrór

The first of the Seven Dwarf-rings to be forged, and the last to be recovered by Sauron. It was originally given to King Durin III of Khazad-dûm by the Elves of Eregion, and it remained in his line for thousands of years until it was inherited by Thrór, the King under the Mountain at Erebor. It was during Thrór's reign that Smaug descended on Erebor and drove the Dwarves into exile. Long after Erebor's destruction, Thrór passed the Ring to his son Thráin, who dwelt for many years as an exile from his ancient home. At last, Thráin set out on his own ill-fated Quest of Erebor, but he was captured by the spies of Sauron, and the Ring of Thrór was lost.

  • This Ring was unusual in that it was the only one of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves never to have been in Sauron's hands, at least until its capture in the late Third Age. According to tradition, it was passed directly by Celebrimbor to Durin III of Khazad-dûm, and so on to his descendants (the other six Rings were given to the Dwarves by Sauron himself). It was the last that Sauron captured, but its fate after this is not entirely clear: presumably Sauron would have kept it rather than destroying it, but even that can't be stated with certainty. At any rate, its power would have been eliminated with the destruction of the One Ring 174 years later.
  • The name 'Ring of Thrór' is, strictly speaking, a mistaken title. The general belief among the Dwarves was that Thrór had been its last bearer, and that it was lost in Moria when he was slain there. So, Glóin called it the 'Ring of Thrór' at the Council of Elrond, thinking that Thrór had been its last bearer. However, this was not so: in fact, Thrór had secretly passed it to his son Thráin, and it survived in Thráin's possession for many years after his father's death. Arguably, then, this Ring should be called the 'Ring of Thráin' rather than the 'Ring of Thrór'.

The Nine

According to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the Nazgûl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. They were once mortal Men, three being "great lords" of Númenor. Sauron gave each of them one of nine Rings of Power. It was Sauron's design to control all these rings and their bearers through the One Ring, forged in secret for this purpose, but only the Nine succumbed completely to its power and its seduction:

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Úlairi, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death. — The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 346}}

The corrupting effect of the rings extended the bearers' earthly lives far beyond their normal lifespans. Some passages in the novel suggest that the Nazgûl wore their rings, while others suggest that Sauron actually held them.

When Gandalf first told Frodo Baggins about the Rings of Power, he said,

"The Nine he had gathered to himself; the Seven also, or else they are destroyed. The Three are hidden still." [7] Also, Galadriel told Frodo, "You saw the Eye of him that holds the Seven and the Nine."

Yet at the Council of Elrond, Gandalf said that "the Nine the nazgûl keep".

Any of these Rings of Power seemed to render a man who wore it invisible.The nazgûl could not be seen directly by mortal eyes, but wore dark cloaks to give themselves form. Frodo saw their true form when he put on the One Ring.

References

  1. a b "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age is the fifth and last part of The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. It is relatively short, consisting of about 20 pages.
  2. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past".
  3. This is never stated explicitly, although the usage of the word "adamant", an old synonym, is strongly suggestive.
  4. The Encyclopedia of Arda, Durin III. "According to legend, he [Durin] was given a Ring of Power - the ring that would later be known as the Ring of Thrór - by Celebrimbor himself."
  5. The Encyclopedia of Arda, Seven Rings.
  6. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond".
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring, p.61, ISBN 0-395-48931-8