Rings of Power

Rings of Power

The Rings of Power in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium are magical rings created by Sauron or by the Elves of Eregion under Sauron's tutelage. Three were intended for the Elves, Seven for Dwarves, Nine for Men, and one, the One Ring, was created by Sauron himself in Mount Doom.

Sauron intended the rings to subvert these races of Middle-earth to his power, since the One Ring was the Ruling Ring that controlled the others. Sauron's plan was not completely successful; for the Elves hid their rings and did not use them while Sauron held the One, and the Dwarves' rings did not respond to the One's control as Sauron expected. But the nine mortal men who wore the Nine became the nazgûl, Sauron's most dreaded weapons.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is largely concerned with the attempt of Sauron to recover the One and the efforts of the West to forestall him by destroying it. The One is destroyed near the end of the War of the Ring when it falls into the Cracks of Doom in Mount Doom. Tolkien is not entirely clear about what happened to the other rings, though he implied that the power of any that survived came to an end. After the War of the Ring, the three Elven Rings were taken by their bearers over the sea to the Undying Lands.



The making of the rings

Tolkien's essay "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" in The Silmarillion gives the background of the making of the rings.[1] 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.

Sauron returned to Mordor, and in his forge in Mount Doom he made the One Ring, imbuing it with a large portion of his power. Its purpose was domination over the other Rings and their powers, and the opening of the thoughts and wills of their wearers to his view and control. However, when Sauron put on the One Ring and recited the formula inscribed on it:

The inscription on the One Ring

Black Speech:

''Ash nazg durbatulûk,
Ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk
Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.''


''One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all,
And in the darkness bind them.''

The Elves became aware of him and understood who he was and his purpose. They immediately took off the Three and hid them without using them. Sauron invaded the West to recover the rings that the Elves had made, and much of the West, including Eregion, was destroyed before he was driven back to Mordor. Sauron recovered the Nine and the Seven, but not the Three, which remained hidden.

The Nine

Later in the Second Age Sauron gave the Nine to powerful men, kings and sorcerers, including three from Númenor,[3] all of whom fell swiftly under the rings' domination. They became the nazgûl or Ringwraiths: spirits of terror whom Sauron could command even without the One. Their lives were extended indefinitely by the rings, and they became Sauron's chief servants, especially during the first part of the Third Age when he was too weak to act on his own behalf.

Any of these Rings of Power seemed to render a man who wore it invisible.[2] 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.

It is not clear whether the nazgûl continued to wear their rings. Tolkien says both "the Nine the nazgûl keep"[4][5] and that Sauron had gathered the Nine to himself,[2][5] though in the latter case his meaning may be metaphorical. When the nazgûl are destroyed, no mention is made of their rings.

The Seven

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).[6] 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.[7]

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 Thrór was killed by Azog in Moria.[4] 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.

The Three

The Three were called Narya, the Ring of Fire (set with a ruby); Nenya, the Ring of Water or Ring of Adamant (made of mithril and set with a "white stone"), and Vilya, the Ring of Air, the "mightiest of the Three" (made of gold and set with a sapphire).

Before the sack of Eregion, Celebrimbor gave Vilya and Narya to Gil-galad and Nenya to Galadriel. Gil-galad later gave Narya to Círdan, and gave Vilya to Elrond shortly before he died.

The Three remained hidden from Sauron and untouched by him. During the Third Age, after he lost the One, they were used for the preservation and enhancement of three remaining realms of the Eldar. Vilya was used by Elrond at Rivendell, Nenya by Galadriel at Lothlórien, and Narya at Mithlond by Círdan. (Note however that the realm of Thranduil in Mirkwood maintained no ring). When the Istari, or wizards, arrived about T.A. 1100, Círdan gave Narya to Gandalf, who bore it until the end of the Third Age.

During the period of The Lord of the Rings, the Three were borne by Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf; but until the end of the book their rings are not seen. Only Frodo, the bearer of the One, sees Galadriel's ring, and only when she draws his attention to it. At the end of the book, these three take their rings, now visible and powerless, over the sea to the Undying Lands.

The One

Unlike the other Rings of Power, the One was unadorned by any stone. It bore only the inscription of the incantation Sauron spoke when he made it, and even that was invisible unless the ring was heated.[2] Though the other rings could be destroyed in dragon-fire, the One could be unmade only in the Cracks of Doom where it was forged.[2]

When Sauron made the ring, he was obliged to transfer much of his power into it so that it could control the other rings, themselves objects of great potency. With the ring, Sauron remained very powerful, and he could use it to dominate the will of others; he very quickly corrupted Númenor into the worship of Melkor and open rebellion against the Valar.

When Isildur cut the ring from his hand, Sauron became much weaker. He required the ring to effect his conquest of Middle-earth, and spent most of the Third Age attempting to get it back.

The ring had a great effect on the human bearers who held it in the interim. It granted them indefinite life; though the effort of living became more difficult as time went on, for it did not grant new life.[2] If they wore it, it made them invisible, enhanced their hearing, and made the shadowy world of the wraiths visible to them. It exerted a malicious influence; Gandalf mentions that though a bearer might begin with good intentions, the good intentions would not last.[2] The Ring would give his bearer a fraction of Sauron's power, proportionate with his strength and force of will. Gollum and Frodo could only become invisible, while Gandalf and Galadriel mentioned that, if they wanted, they could use the "full" power of the Ring, becoming even more powerful than Sauron himself (though they also mention that this in the end will corrupt them). Gandalf explained to Frodo that, with great concentration and training, even he could tap into the Ring's power, but probably at the cost of his sanity.

The One Ring possessed something of a will of its own. Its only accepted master was Sauron himself while its other bearers were not its masters, and it would seek to leave them at opportune moments to return to Sauron. Bilbo warned Frodo of this, and Frodo kept it on a chain so that it would not slip off unnoticed. In the end, the malevolent influence of the ring on Gollum leads Gollum to defy Frodo and take the ring for himself – and in so doing, Gollum falls into the Cracks of Doom in Orodruin where the ring is destroyed. With the destruction of the Ring, Gandalf believes Sauron is weakened to the point that he will never be able to materialize again.[8]


Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film begins with the forging of the Rings of Power and the events of the Last Alliance's war against Sauron, all portrayed in silhouette against a red background.

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring begins with a similar prologue, though longer and more detailed. The three Elven rings are shown being cast using a cuttlebone mold, an ancient primitive casting technique consistent with the book's description of them as "only essays in the craft before it was full-grown". Additionally, Tolkien illustrators John Howe and Alan Lee, employed as conceptual designers for the films, have cameos as two of the nine human Ring-bearers (the future Nazgûl).

See also


  1. ^ a b Tolkien, The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past".
  3. ^ The Enclopedia of Arda, Black Númenóreans.
  4. ^ a b Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond".
  5. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Arda, Nine Rings.
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ The Encyclopedia of Arda, Seven Rings.
  8. ^ Tolkien, The Return of the King, "The Last Debate".
General references

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