Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
–J.R.R. Tolkien's epigraph to The Lord of The Rings
The Rings of Power were twenty magical rings forged in the Second Age, intended by Sauron to seduce the rulers of Middle-earth to evil. Nineteen of these rings were made by the elven-smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor. These were grouped into three rings for the Elves, seven rings for the Dwarves, and nine rings for men. One additional ring, the One Ring, was forged by Sauron himself at Mount Doom.
Sauron placed so much of his dark powers into the One Ring that he could not exist without it. As such, the quest to destroy the Ring plays a central part in The Lord of the Rings and its legendarium.
The Rings of Power were the masterwork of the elven-smiths of Eregion headed by Celebrimbor, who was descended from Fëanor. The impetus for their creation came from Sauron, who could at that time still assume an appearance fair enough to deceive the Elves. A total of nineteen Rings of Power were forged by the Elves, sixteen of which Sauron had a direct hand in creating. The greatest three Rings Celebrimbor crafted alone. Many other lesser rings were made, described in the The Silmarillion and by Gandalf, though they were generally considered as having been mere essays in the craft: practice, as it were, for the smiths. Sauron, however, planned to use the Rings to dominate the remaining Elves of Middle-earth. In accordance with this, he secretly forged the One Ring in the fires of Orodruin, seeking to bring all the rings and their wearers under his sway. However, when Sauron put the Ruling Ring on his finger, the Elves were immediately aware of him and took off their Rings. Furious at this turn of events, Sauron came against the Elves with open war and demanded that the Rings be given to him. Fortunately for the Elves, they were able to hide the greatest Three, but Sauron recovered the other sixteen. These he then gave to mortals: to the Dwarves and Men. Seven he gave to Dwarves, but Nine he gave to Men, knowing that they would most easily bend to his will. In time, the nine Men to whom the Rings were given became Nazgul, wraiths of great power under the command of Sauron. The Dwarf lords to whom the Seven were given became wealthy beyond measure, but they did not fall to Sauron's power. Instead, the Rings kindled in them an overwhelming greed for treasure, and so ruin was brought to each regardless.
According to Gandalf, one feature of the Rings of Power that appeared to be universal was that a mortal who wore any one of the Rings was granted a lifespan far beyond their natural one. It is likely that this is an unintended side-effect of the Rings' power, as Sauron originally intended for all the Rings to be worn by Elves, who were immortal to begin with. The individual who kept the Ring would not grow or obtain more life, however; they would merely continue until living became unendurable. Bilbo Baggins stated near the end of his time possessing the One that he was beginning to feel "thin and stretched", a sign that this process was beginning to affect him.
The Three that remained to the Elves were carefully hidden from Sauron. They were not created as weapons of war or as a means to dominate others; their purpose was to preserve the beautiful Elven domains where their wielders resided, and to aid in healing and resisting evil. However, they were still linked to the One Ring, and whoever wore it could, with effort, see the thoughts of those who wore the Three.
In the Silmarillion, it is indicated that the Seven Rings of the Dwarves were not fundamentally different from the Nine that were given to Men, for originally Sauron had intended the Seven and the Nine to reside in Elven hands so that he might control them. It is implied in that work that Sauron simply gave Men nine of sixteen lesser Rings because they were more easily controlled. However, the Nine and the Seven are referred to in other works as each being its own distinctive set. If they were different in their effects on their wielders or in the powers they conferred, it is not stated. It is also mentioned in Unfinished Tales that the Seven were created before the Nine. Sauron helped to create the Seven and the Nine, so it is likely that their powers and effects on their wielders were similar, even if each set was distinct. It is important to note that the fact that the Seven did not subdue the Dwarves is related to the resilient nature of the Dwarves themselves, not the Rings. It is likely that the effects of one of the Nine on a Dwarf would be the same as those of one of the Seven, and were a Man to wield one of the Seven, he would likely still become a wraith. The Three were fundamentally different because Celebrimbor, working alone, created them for specific purposes not in tune with Sauron's line of thought, and Sauron presumably did not know of their creation until after the fact.
Several other lesser rings
Described in the works of Silmarillion, the elves made many other Magic Rings, but they were mere practice for the craftsmen who created them. Their ultimate fates are unknown, nor is it known whether or not their powers were bound to the power of the One. If they were, then their power would have failed with the destruction of the One.
|“||Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky||”|
The Three Rings of Celebrimbor, son of Curufin, were forged by Celebrimbor alone, and were never touched by Sauron. They were called Narya, the Ring of Fire, held first by Gil-galad, who later gave it to Círdan and then to Gandalf; Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, worn by Galadriel; and Vilya, the Ring of Air, borne first by Gil-galad, who later gave it to Elrond. They remained hidden, and the whereabouts of the three were not openly revealed until the end of the Third Age, after the One Ring was destroyed, and the Dark Lord Sauron was overthrown. These rings are invisible instead of making the wearer invisible. Galadriel revealed her possession of one of the rings to Frodo while he was in Lothlórien after he saw her ring. This is because of his possession of the One Ring. Later, while traveling down the River Anduin, Frodo spoke of it to Aragorn, who admonished him not to speak of it outside of Lórien.
Each of the Three Rings had special properties, but their powers were limited. During The Council of Elrond, Elrond stated that neither he, nor Lórien, nor the Havens (the locations of the Three Elven Rings) had the power to withstand the might of Mordor.
NaryaNarya, also named the Ring of Fire or Red Ring, is one of the Three Rings.
According to Unfinished Tales, at the start of the War of the Elves and Sauron, Celebrimbor gave Narya to Círdan, Lord of the Havens of Mithlond, who kept it after Gil-galad's death. 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 labors. It is described as having the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination, and despair (in other words, evoking hope from others around the wielder), as well as giving resistance to the weariness of time:
"Take now this Ring," he said; "for thy labors 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 valor of old in a world that grows chill" (Círdan the Shipwright to Gandalf).
NenyaNenya, also named as the Ring of Adamant, the White Ring and the Ring of Water, is one of the Three Rings. The name is derived from the Quenya Nén meaning water.
Nenya is described as being made of mithril and set with a "white stone", presumably a diamond (this is never stated explicitly, although the usage of the word "adamant", an old synonym, is strongly suggestive). The ring is wielded by Galadriel of Lothlórien, and possessing 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 — but The Treason of Isengard, ch. 13, note 34, mentions it as an error.)
Nenya's power was preservation, protection, and possibly concealment from evil because it is stated about Lórien that "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 entered the forest 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 her 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 that had lived for centuries, and it was gradually depopulated. By the time Arwen came there to die in FO 121, Lothlórien was deserted and in ruin.
VilyaVilya, the Ring of Air, Blue Ring, the Dominant Ring, or Ring of Sapphire is the greatest of the Three Rings.
When Sauron laid waste to Eregion, Nenya, along with Narya, 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. Like the other two Rings of the Elves, Vilya was jeweled: it contained a great blue stone set in a gold band, which contributed to its titles as the Ring of Sapphire and the Blue Ring. Vilya was also called the Ring of Air, signifying its preeminence even over the other Rings of the Elves, since 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. It is reasonable to speculate that it also possesses the power to heal and to preserve, as it is mentioned in The Silmarillion that Celebrimbor had forged the Three for these purposes, 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. The ring can possibly possess the power to see the future, because Elrond can see the future as well.
Upon Sauron's destruction, the power of Nenya faded and it was taken over the sea by Elrond at the end of the Third Age.
|“||Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone||”|
Sauron presented the Seven Rings to the Dwarf-lords (although according to dwarvish tradition the Elven smith Celebrimbor gave the mightiest to Durin III personally). Apparently one ring went out apeice to the head of each one of the seven dwarf clans: Durin's Folk aka "Longbeards"; Firebeards; Broadbeams; Ironfists; Stiffbeards; Blacklocks; Stonefoots.
The Dwarves used their Rings to establish their fabled treasure hoards (which in turn attracted dragons), but Sauron, according to portions of the Silmarillion, was unable to force the Dwarven bearers to submit to his will. Indeed, the rings did not even turn them invisible; they were immune to some of the more detrimental of the rings' effects. It is believed that the dwarves' natural hardiness, and the fact that it was only the more powerful dwarf lords who possessed them, made them resistant to Sauron's control. While it is not directly stated, the Rings presumably gave the Dwarf lords who wielded them a greatly increased life span, and they presumably did not age. The net effect of these rings was to bring vast wealth to the wearer and cause him to become extremely greedy, which ultimately led to the wielders' ruin. At the time of The Lord of the Rings four rings had been consumed by dragon fire and the rest re-acquired by Sauron. The mightiest of the Seven was taken from Thráin II, heir of Durin, who had been captured, imprisoned, and tormented by the Necromancer (Sauron in disguise) in TA 2845.
Shortly before the outbreak of the War of the Ring, Sauron's envoy approached Dain II Ironfoot in Erebor and offered to return the three surviving Rings to the dwarves, if they would help find the One Ring. Dain refused, knowing from the dwarves' long experience that Sauron was untrustworthy.
|“||Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die||”|
The nine rings for mortal men were those divided amongst those evil-hearted men doomed to become the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths. These ring-bearers held rings that were under control by Sauron, for they became evil servents of him. None are mentioned specifically throughout the Lord of The Rings save their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar. His second-in-command is named in the Unfinished Tales as Khamûl, the Black Easterling.
The early Middle-earth Role Playing games name the eight other Ringwraiths, Er-Murazor (the Witch-king, of Númenórean race), Dwar, Ji Indur, Akhorahil, Hoarmurath (Númenórean), Adunaphel (female Númenórean), Ren and Uvatha, but none of these names are considered canon, and especially the idea of a female Ringwraith is unlikely within the context of Tolkien's work, although possible, given that three Númenórean Queens ruled under their own power, Tar-Ancalimë, Tar-Telperiën and Tar-Vanimeldë. There is also an unlikely precedent for evil female characters in the entities of Ungoliant and Shelob. In "The Battle for Middle-earth 2: The Rise of the Witch-king", one of the Nine, given the non-canon name Morgomir, is the Witch-king's second-in-command in Angmar.
The line from Tolkien's epigraph, "Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die" refers to the fate of men, uniquely among the creations of Eru to pass beyond Arda to a destiny unknown to the elves. It was this uncertainty, and men's envy of elven immortality in the Blessed Realm which Sauron exploited, leading to the destruction of Numenor.
The effects of the Nine on the Men were that they each acquired great power and wealth, became powerful Sorcerers (this effect presumably ended when they became the Ringwraiths) and appeared to have eternal life, for they did not age. After a time however, life became unendurable to them, and when they put the Rings on, they often beheld the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. One by one, according to the nature of the Man and his innate inability to resist evil, they fell under Sauron's permanent control, and became wraiths who did only Sauron's bidding. They remained permanently invisible, except to those Elves who had once dwelt in the Undying Lands (few indeed by the Third Age) and Maiar such as Sauron and the Wizards. They were also visible to whomever wore the Ruling Ring (whether the other Rings conferred this ability is unknown). This process also appeared to link their lives and power with Sauron's, making them little more than extensions of his will. When Sauron's power was weak, the wraiths themselves were also fairly powerless. As Sauron became stronger however, they became much more powerful, to the point where the Witch King was presumably able to match Gandalf the White in strength.
It is unclear where the Nine were physically kept. At the Council of Elrond the history of the Rings of Power is discussed, and it is stated that Sauron has "gathered the Nine to himself," although it is also said that "the Nine the Nazgûl keep." This could mean either that the Nazgûl wear their rings while in the service of Sauron, or it could mean that after they fell and became enslaved to his will Sauron took their rings and kept them in Barad-dûr as he did with the remaining Dwarf rings and set the Nazgûl to guard them. There is no mention of any of the Nine when the Nazgûl are seen, and most notably when the Witch-King was slain Tolkien does not describe him wearing a ring, nor did either Gandalf or Aragorn express concern about what happened to the ring afterwards. This implies that at the very least the Nazgûl don't wear their rings constantly, although they may sometimes put them on still.
The One Ring
- Main article: One Ring
|“||One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne. In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.||”|
The One Ring, secretly forged by Sauron in the heart of Mount Doom, had the power to dominate the other nineteen Great Rings. Sauron's intent was to command the minds of the other ring bearers through their rings of power. His original intention was for the Rings to be given to Elves of power and influence. Sauron then intended to forge the One Ring which, through the lesser rings, would allow Sauron direct influence over the thoughts of the other ring-bearers. Had it succeeded perfectly, Sauron would have achieved dominance over the Elves with no military action required. However, for this plan to be successful the Ruling Ring would have to be significantly stronger than the other rings, and Sauron put a great amount of his own power into the ring in order to achieve this. As the Ruling Ring, it had all the powers of the other rings, but to a far greater extent, and had some powers uniquely its own. While Sauron's plan didn't succeed perfectly, the existence of the One Ring on his finger meant that the other rings, with which many kingdoms had been built, could not be used safely. Additionally, intentionally or not, Sauron's personal power was greatly enhanced so long as he wore the Ring, giving him military might the likes of which he could never have otherwise achieved.
Unlike the other great rings, the One Ring held no gem and had no intricate designs on it, at least at first glance. To an ordinary layman it would appear as a simple golden band. Heating the ring in even a small fire, however, would reveal part of Sauron's incantation in an elvish script written along the ring. According to Isildur, Sauron's hand was "black and yet burned like fire." (Fellowship of the Ring) He also references how the script was visible on the ring while Sauron wore it. It was virtually indestructible, and no craft or power possessed by the Elves or Gandalf could harm it in any way. It also appeared to have a will of its own (or at least, the ability to independently carry out Sauron's will since it contained a large portion of his being), and could expand or shrink by itself.
It was Isildur who cut the ring off Sauron's hand. He had the chance to destroy the One in the very chambers where it was forged, but was corrupted by the ring. Later it betrayed him, resulting in his death. It was found, 2500 years later, by a Hobbit like creature named Deagol. Deagol was killed by his cousin, Smèagol (later Gollum), who then took the Ring. Smèagol was quickly corrupted, but had a strong physical resistance to the Ring, and "for 500 years the Ring poisoned his mind." Later, a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins found Smèagol living under the Misty Mountains. Bilbo got the Ring by chance, and at the end of all his adventures he still had it. Later the One was passed down to Frodo Baggins, who was forced to flee to Rivendell, chased by Black Riders. He was chosen there to take the chance Isildur threw away: to destroy the One in the fires of Mount Doom. Upon finding Frodo (as he believed) dead, Sam took the ring to protect it. After discovering Frodo alive, Sam returned the ring. Frodo, after a long and difficult journey, ultimately failed in his effort to destroy the One Ring. At the edge of the lava, the Ring corrupted Frodo, and he tried to take it to keep it for himself. Sméagol came up behind him, bit off his finger and the Ring, and fell off the edge into the lava below.
The One Ring was destroyed, and Sauron defeated.
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.
Corf neledh 'nin Ellerain nui venel,
Odo'ni Nauhírath vi rynd gonui în,
Neder'ni Fîr Fírib beraid fíred,
Êr am Morchír bo morn-orchamm dîn
Vi Dor e-Mordor ias i-Ndúath caedar.
Er-chorf a thorthad hain bain, Er-chorf a chired hain,
Er-chorf a thoged hain bain a din fuin an nuded hain
Vi Dor e-Mordor ias i-Ndúath caedar.
Neldë Cormar Eldaron Aranen nu i vilya,
Otso Heruin Naucoron ondeva mardentassen,
Nertë Firimë Nérin yar i Nuron martyar,
Minë i Morë Herun mormahalmaryassë
Mornórëo Nóressë yassë i Fuini caitar.
Minë Corma turië të ilyë, Minë Corma hirië të,
Minë Corma hostië të ilyë ar mordossë nutië të
Mornórëo Nóressë yassë i Fuini caitar.
Shre nazg golugranu kilmi-nudu,
Ombi kuzd-durbagu gundum-ishi,
Nugu gurunkilu bard gurutu,
Ash burz-durbagu burzum-ishi,
Daghburz-ishi makha gulshu darulu.
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
'Daghburz-ishi makha gulshu darulu.