This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may interest only a particular audience.November 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)(
|Rings of Power|
|Plot element from Tolkien's legendarium|
|First appearance||The Hobbit (1937)|
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
(Rings of Power)
|Created by||J. R. R. Tolkien|
The Rings of Power (also known as the Great Rings)[T 1] are fictional magical artefacts appearing in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. Primarily featured in his epic high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings (1954) but also in many of Tolkien's other writings, these magic rings are depicted as the objects essential in the Dark Lord Sauron's plan to rule over Middle-earth as the "Lord of the Rings". All but one of the twenty rings were created by the Noldorin Elven-smiths of Eregion in the Second Age, led by their ruler Celebrimbor under the deception of Sauron, who guided them in their craft under the guise of a fair-looking emissary named Annatar.
When worn, each Ring of Power gives its bearer "the prevention and slowing of decay of time", by granting its wearer an unnaturally long life and rendering things invisible or visible, though it can confer power only according to the measure of each possessor. The Dark Lord had originally intended these rings to subject the Elves to his will and to use their power to gain dominion over the earth. After the rings were forged, Sauron secretly forged the One Ring, a master ring to control the wearers of all the other Rings, at Mount Doom. The Elves hid their rings upon discovering Sauron's motive, and Sauron in turn demanded all the Rings for himself, waging war against the Elves to recover them. He successfully seized sixteen of them, Seven of which were subsequently sent to the Dwarf-lords and Nine to several leaders of Men, hoping to bring them under his sway. The Three, which Celebrimbor had already sent to the Elf leaders in Middle-earth, remained hidden from Sauron. Though the Seven only fueled the greed of the Dwarves, the Nine corrupted the Men, turning them into the Nazgûl, Sauron's chief servants.
The One Ring was wrested from Sauron at the end of the Second Age and subsequently lost. It was found by the hobbit Smeagol, who centuries later lost it in the Misty Mountains. It was in turn found by Bilbo Baggins, who subsequently bequeathed it to his heir Frodo, who took on the quest to destroy it.
Though the One Ring originally appeared in Tolkien's children's fantasy novel The Hobbit in 1937, all twenty Rings of Power are mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, which primarily focuses on the assembly of the Fellowship from all of the races of Middle-earth to aid Frodo in finally destroying the One Ring by returning it to Mount Doom. According to Tolkien, the purpose of the Rings was to give their respective wearers "wealth and dominion over others", though the Three were specifically made to "heal and preserve" Elvendom in Middle-earth. This power appealed most to the Elves, whose gift of immortality made them desire to keep the physical world of Middle-earth unchanged and to delay the inevitable Dominion of Men. Tolkien's subsequent posthumous works, including The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth, give more detailed accounts of the history of the Rings of Power.
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
The Rings of Power were forged by the Elven-smiths (also known as the Gwaith-i-Mírdain) of the Noldorin settlement of Eregion.[T 2] They were led by Celebrimbor, the grandson of Fëanor, the greatest craftsman of the Noldor, working in collaboration with Dwarves from Khazad-dûm (Moria), such as his friend Narvi. Humiliated by the fall of his master Morgoth at the end of the First Age, the Dark Lord Sauron had evaded the summons in Valinor to surrender and face judgment, opting instead to remain in Middle-earth and seek dominion over the people of the Earth, primarily the Elves, for he knew that the Firstborn of the Children of Ilúvatar had the greater power.[T 3] In the year 1200 of the Second Age, he arrived under the guise of a fair-looking emissary of the Valar named Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, offering the knowledge to transform Middle-earth with the light of Valinor.[T 2] He was shunned by the Elven leaders Gil-galad and Elrond in Lindon, but was successful in persuading the Noldor of Eregion, who desired to increase the skill and subtlety of their works while enjoying the bliss of those that had departed.[T 3] With Sauron's help, they set their sights on forging magic rings, creating the Seven and the Nine. While Celebrimbor created a set of Three alone, Sauron left for Mordor in the year 1500 and forged the One Ring, a master ring to control all the others, in the fires of Mount Doom.[T 2]
Once the One Ring was made using the Black Speech, the Elves immediately became aware of Sauron's motive and quickly hid their rings.[T 3] Celebrimbor sought Galadriel, who originally counselled him to destroy all the rings, but Celebrimbor could not bear to ruin them.[T 2] He instead entrusted one of the Three Rings to her, and sent the other two to Gil-galad and Círdan.[T 4][T 5] In an attempt to seize all the Rings of Power for himself, Sauron waged an assault upon the Elves. Desolating Eregion, he was successful in capturing the Nine. Under torture, Celebrimbor revealed where the Seven were bestowed, but refused to reveal the Three.[T 6] Sauron then launched an invasion of Eriador, but Gil-galad victoriously defended the region with the aid of the Númenóreans.
Toward the end of the Second Age, the Númenóreans took Sauron prisoner.[T 3] Sauron dared to accomplish by cunning what he could not achieve by force, slowly corrupting the men of Númenor, leading to its downfall.[T 3] The exiled Númenóreans who survived, led by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion, established the realms of Arnor and Gondor.[T 3] Together with the Elves of Lindon, they formed a last alliance against Sauron, who fell at the hands of Elendil and Gil-galad.[T 3] Isildur then took the One Ring for his own, refusing to destroy it; he was later killed in an ambush, and the Ring was lost for centuries.[T 7] During this time, the Elves were able to use the Three Rings, while the Nine given to the leaders of Men corrupted their wearers and turned them into the Nazgûl.[T 1] The Seven given to the Dwarves failed to subject them directly to Sauron's will, but ignited a sense of avarice within them.[T 3] Over the years, Sauron sought to recapture the Rings, primarily the One, but was only successful in recovering the Nine and three of the Seven.[T 7] During the Third Age, the One Ring was discovered by Bilbo Baggins (in The Hobbit) and a Fellowship was formed to destroy it, led by Bilbo's heir Frodo.[T 8][T 7][T 1] Following the successful destruction of the One Ring and the ultimate fall of Sauron, the power of the rings faded. While the Nine were destroyed, the Three were carried over the sea to Aman at the end of the Third Age, inaugurating the Dominion of Men.[T 9][T 3]
The Three Rings were made to serve a different purpose than the other Rings of Power; Celebrimbor forged them alone in Eregion without Sauron's direct assistance.[T 2] Although "unsullied" by Sauron's hand, they were nonetheless moulded by his craft and were bound to the One. Named for the three elements of fire, water, and air, they were the last rings to be made, and were used by the Elves to ward off the decay brought by time, and to postpone the weariness of the world.[T 3]
When Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger, the Elves became aware of him and realized that he could use the One to control the others. They immediately took off their rings to forestall him. Incensed at his failure to deceive them, Sauron demanded that they surrender the Rings, as the Elven-smiths could not have forged them without his lore and counsel.[T 3] Galadriel counseled Celebrimbor to destroy them, but ultimately suggested that the Three he had made be kept hidden.[T 5] Sauron invaded Eregion and tortured Celebrimbor, who died revealing the whereabouts of all except the Three. Sauron did not discover where the Three were hidden, though he guessed that they were given to the Elvish guardians Gil-galad and Galadriel.[T 2] Only after Sauron's defeat at the end of the Second Age, when the One Ring was cut from his finger, did the Elves begin to use the Three. The rings were later rendered powerless when the One Ring was destroyed at the end of the Third Age, and their respective bearers carried them over the sea to the Undying Lands.[T 3]
Sauron tortured Celebrimbor for the location of the Seven Rings, which allowed him to recover them. He gave them to the leaders of the seven kindreds of the Dwarves: Durin's Folk, Firebeards, Broadbeams, Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks, and Stonefoots, though a tradition of Durin's Folk claimed that Durin received his ring from the Elven-smiths.[T 10][T 2] The Dwarves used their rings to increase their treasure hoards, but Sauron failed to bend them to his will, nor did their rings make them invisible. Instead, Sauron was only able to influence their sense of greed and anger.[T 3] Over the years, Sauron was able to recover only three of the Seven rings from the Dwarves. The last of the Seven was seized from Thráin II during his captivity in Dol Guldur. Gandalf recounts to Frodo that the remaining four were consumed by dragons.[T 7] Before the outbreak of the War of the Ring, an envoy from Sauron attempted to bribe Dain II Ironfoot of the Lonely Mountain with the three surviving rings and the lost realm of Moria in exchange for information leading to the recovery of the One Ring, but Dain refused.[T 1]
Sauron took Nine of the Rings of Power from Celebrimbor and gave them to several leaders of Men. Three of these were from Númenór and one an Easterling. The nine men who used their rings became "mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old." Giving them glory and great wealth, the rings also gave them an unending long life, yet it became unendurable to them. In addition, the rings gave an ability to see things in worlds invisible to mortal men, but these are often phantoms and delusions made by Sauron.[T 3] One by one, each of the Men fell to the power of the One Ring and before the end of the Second Age, all nine had been turned into ring-wraiths -- the Nazgûl.[T 11] Bound to Sauron's will, they became invisible save to him, and became his chief servants.[T 3]
The One Ring was forged in secret in the fires of Mount Doom by Sauron himself to rule over the wearers of the other Rings. Only there could it be destroyed. Unlike the other Rings of Power, the One was created as an unadorned gold band, though it bore Sauron's incantation in the Black Speech, which became visible only when heated by fire.[T 7] As the Rings of Power were made under the influence of Sauron, the power of all Rings can only endure as long as the master ring survives.[T 12] Sauron had to imbue much of his strength and will in making it, as dominating the great power of the Elven Rings required a ring of surpassing potency. While Sauron wore the One, he could perceive all that the lesser Rings did. He could see and govern the very thoughts of those who wore them.
Following Sauron's defeat by Elendil and Gil-galad in the War of the Last Alliance, the Ring was cut from his hand by Isildur, who took it for his own as weregild for his losses. He refused Elrond and Círdan's counsel to destroy it.[T 3]
Isildur bore the Ring as an heirloom of his house, but his host was ambushed by orcs in the Gladden fields near the river Anduin. Caught unguarded, he used the Ring to escape into the river, but he was betrayed by the Ring when it purposely slipped off his finger. Suddenly visible, he was shot and killed by orcs.[T 3]
For more than two and a half thousand years, the One Ring remained hidden from all knowledge on the riverbed, until it was discovered by the Stoor hobbit Déagol, accompanied by his friend Sméagol. It immediately ensnared Sméagol, who murdered Déagol and took the Ring for himself. For five hundred years deep within the Misty Mountains, it corrupted him, and he became the creature Gollum, who called the Ring his "precious".[T 7] The One Ring was then found by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins when Gollum lost it.[T 13]
Perceiving it as merely a magic ring, Bilbo brings the One to the Shire and later bequeathes it to his heir Frodo Baggins.[T 7] Made aware by the wizard Gandalf of its true nature as the master Ring of Power, Frodo flees the Shire with the Ring to seek refuge in Rivendell, where the Council of Elrond agrees to destroy it. A Fellowship consisting of nine companions is formed from members of all of the free races of Middle-earth to guide and protect Frodo in his quest. This includes his hobbit friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, Gandalf, the Dúnedain Aragorn, the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas, and Boromir, a man of Gondor.[T 1] The fellowship dissolves midway through their quest, and Frodo and Sam continue to Mordor alone on foot, where they are aided by Gollum, who secretly seeks to take the Ring from them.[T 14] In Mordor, Gollum subsequently succumbs to the Power of the One and betrays Frodo, whom he deceptively leads to be captured by the spider Shelob.[T 15] He is prevented from taking the Ring by Sam, who briefly hides it for safekeeping and later returns it to Frodo.[T 16] Together, Frodo and Sam finally arrive at Mount Doom, trailed by Gollum. Here Frodo finally succumbs to the One and claims it for himself. In the ensuing fight, Gollum seizes the Ring but falls with it into the fires of the mountain, destroying the One Ring and effectively Sauron himself.[T 17]
The Rings of Power were made using the craft taught by Sauron to give their respective wearers "wealth and dominion over others", though the main purpose of the Three Rings was to "heal and preserve". Tolkien explained that the primary power of the rings was to "the prevention and slowing of decay", which appealed to the Elves in their pursuit of preserving what they desire or loved in Middle-earth.[T 18] Tolkien noted in his letters that the Elves can only be immortal as long as the world endures, leading them to be concerned to burdens of deathlessness in time and change. Wanting the bliss and perfect memory of Valinor, and yet to remain in Middle-earth with their prestige as the fairest, as opposed to being relegated at the bottom of the hierarchy in the Undying Lands, they became obsessed with "fading".[T 19] As changeless beings in a changing world, the Elves who remained in Middle-earth, have sought to forge the rings in an attempt to delay the inevitable--the rise of the Dominion of Men.[T 20][T 21] He also pointed out that each ring can enhance the "natural power" of its possessor, thus approaching its "magical aspect", which can be "easily corruptible to evil and lust of domination".[T 18] In The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel explains to Frodo that the Rings can only "give power according to the measure of each possessor" and that before one can use that power one would need to become far stronger, and to train one's will to the domination of others.[T 21]
Mortals who take possession of a Ring of Power "fade" much more rapidly; it unnaturally extends their life-span, eventually turning them into wraiths.[T 22] This power can manifest by rendering their material body invisible and making things of the invisible world visible, as half of the wearer is temporarily transported into the spirit world.[T 7][T 18] The One Ring gave Gollum and Bilbo an unnatural long life, while the Nine made the Nazgûl permanently invisible.[T 7][T 23] Immortal beings, however, can preserve their material things over long periods of time, as evidenced when Nenya was used by Galadriel to preserve Lothlórien. Gandalf explained to Frodo that a Ring of Power can "look after itself"--the One Ring in particular, can "slip off treacherously" and take advantage of a situation where it can to go back its master, such as betraying Isildur, Déagol, and Gollum when an opportunity arrives.[T 7]
As the ruling band, the One enabled a sufficiently powerful wielder to perceive what was done by means of the lesser rings, and to see and govern the thoughts of those who wore them.[T 24] Tom Bombadil, the only person unaffected by its power, could see its wearer as a visible being and did not become invisible when he wore it.[T 25] Tolkien notes that forging the One Ring meant that Sauron was obliged to put almost all his own power into it--when worn, it enhanced his power; unworn, it remained aligned to him unless another seized it and took control of it.[T 19] A prospective possessor could, if sufficiently strong, overthrow Sauron and usurp his place.[T 19] As the One was made in the fires of Mount Doom, only there it can be unmade.[T 1] Once destroyed, its power would immediately dissolve, and Sauron would fade to a memory of malicious will. But the Dark Lord never contemplated nor feared it, as the One was unbreakable by anyone other than him and indissoluble unless thrown to the fires of the unapproachable dark mountain, and any prospective possessor would be corrupted by the lust for it, as such that person could not bear to destroy it.[T 19] Samwise, who possessed the One Ring for a limited amount of time, was able to understand the Black Speech of Orcs in Mordor.[T 16]
Unlike the Seven and the Nine, the Three Rings were forged by Celebrimbor without the direct assistance from Sauron, as such the Three can not make their wearers invisible, but can be invisible themselves (except to a ring-bearer).[T 21] The Three have also been shown to summon other powers--Narya can rekindle hearts and inspire others to resist tyranny, domination, and despair; Nenya has been described as a having a secret power that can protect from evil; while Vilya can heal and preserve wisdom.[T 3]
The One Ring had originally appeared in Tolkien's children's fantasy novel The Hobbit in 1937, only as a mysterious magic ring which the titular character, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, had stumbled upon and was left unexplained after the book was published. Following the successful response to the novel, Tolkien was persuaded by his publishers Allen & Unwin to write a sequel.[T 26] Originally intending to give the character another adventure, he instead devised a background story behind the Ring upon remembering its powers of invisibility and used it as a framework to which plot of the new novel will take place.[T 27] He later added several mythical elements from the unfinished manuscripts from The Silmarillion until the first publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1955. His conception of the lore behind these rings were closely linked to his development of the One Ring. Initially deciding as Sauron as instrumental in helping the forging of the Rings,[T 28] Tolkien later briefly considered making Fëanor, who created the Silmarils, as also the maker of the Rings of Power, under the influence of Morgoth, the first Dark Lord. But he ultimately decided on Celebrimbor, a descendant of Fëanor, as its principal maker, under the tutelage of Sauron, Morgoth's chief servant.[T 29]
For a short period while writing a background lore behind the ring, Tolkien was struggling with the idea that the Elven rings must be given a "special status"--somehow linked to the One Ring, and thus endangered by it, but also "unsullied" that it would involve them having no direct connection with Sauron. By the time he was writing the chapter "The Mirror of Galadriel", Tolkien resolved to write that the Seven and the Nine were made by the Elven-smiths of Eregion under Sauron's guidance; but the Three were made by Celebrimbor alone, while Sauron secretly made the One, which has the power over the others, and once the Elves have finally realised what his deception, they immediately hid the Three. He also drafted an idea that upon the destruction of the One, the Three will be freed from being bound to it, but he ultimately decided to discard it. Tolkien's subsequent posthumous works such as The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth also offer additional material relating to creation of the Rings.[T 2][T 30][T 31]
According to Philosophy professors Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson, the Rings of Power can be seen as a modern representation of the relationship between power and morality, remarking that it portrays an idea that "absolute power is in conflict with behaviour that respects the wishes and needs of others". They also observed that several of Tolkien's characters have responded in different ways when faced with the possibility of possessing the One Ring--characters such as Samwise Gamgee and Galadriel have rejected it; Boromir and Gollum were seduced by its power; and Frodo Baggins, though in limited use, ultimately succumbs to it; while Tom Bombadil can transcend from its power entirely. They also noted out that for Tolkien, the crucial moment of each character in the story is the moment in which they are tempted to use a Ring, a choice which will determine their fate.
Writer Isaac Asimov wrote that the Rings of Power can also be seen as a symbol of industrial technology. In a literary documentation of Tokien's mythological works, David Day observed that there is "a sense that those who possessed the rings were destroyed by their own desire of wealth and power" and characterized the rings' mastery of the world as an "illusion", and that "the ring comes to enslave its owner." Though Tolkien himself had explicitly denied such interpretations are allegorical, he also admitted that it can be applicable to an external situation and recommended it as an examination of "placing power in external objects".
Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings begins with the forging of the Rings of Power and the events of the War of the Last Alliance against Sauron, all of which are animated in a silhouette against a red background using rotoscope.
The forging of the Rings of Power opens the prologue of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film series, primarily with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). In the film, the Three Elven Rings are shown being cast using a cuttlebone mold, an ancient primitive casting technique. These were given to Gil-galad (portrayed by Mark Ferguson), Círdan (Michael Elsworth), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Tolkien illustrator Alan Lee, employed as conceptual designers for the films, had a cameo as one of the nine human Ring-bearers who would later become the Nazgûl, while Sauron (Sala Baker) is seen forging the One Ring at the chamber of Mount Doom. The One Ring was also shown to have the ability to adjust in size to the finger of its wearer, such as when it became smaller to fit Isildur (Harry Sinclair). In the extended version of the film, Galadriel also properly introduces Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, to Frodo. In the concluding sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), the final wearers of the Three Rings--Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel, appear openly at the Grey Havens wearing the Three, with Galadriel proclaiming the end of its power and the beginning of the Dominion of Men.
Four Rings of Power have also appeared in Jackson's The Hobbit film series. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the One Ring was found by Bilbo Baggins (portrayed by Martin Freeman). In the extended version of the succeeding film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), Gandalf discovers that Sauron took the Ring of Thrór from Thráin (Antony Sher), who revealed in a flashback scene his possession of the Ring during a siege of Moria. In the concluding film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), Galadriel (Blanchett) reveals Nenya in rescuing Gandalf (McKellen) from Sauron (Benedict Cumberbatch), aided by Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Weaving), who is wearing Vilya, the Ring of Air. In the film's extended edition, an Orc tries to cut Narya, the Ring of Fire, from Gandalf's finger before being rescued by Galadriel.
In the gameplay of the 2014 video game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the player controls a Gondorian ranger named Talion, who is imbued by the wraith-like spirit of Celebrimbor. In the game, Celebrimbor recalls how Sauron had deceived him into forging the Rings of Power. Continuing the narrative in its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Celebrimbor (using Talion's physical body) forges a new Ring of Power free and unsullied from Sauron's influence.