The Rings of Power
By Ori’s Quill
This is part two of the trilogy that ties in the Concerns of the White Council, with the power of the Great Rings, and in a future essay will connect the Heirs of Durin with the Lord of the Rings. Those who have not read the books will find this information vital in understanding what may happen in the The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. Those who have read the books might benefit from a review of this information and find some facts intriguing. The essay will demonstrate how Tolkien’s writings are preserved in the movie versions, but again will point out discrepancies. There may be spoilers depending on how much you already know.
The Ring of Tolkien
The fall of 1937 was an important time for Professor Tolkien. Having just completed The Hobbit that spring, and the book ready for publication on the 21st of September, he had set in his head a second novel, about Hobbits, and had already begun the first chapter titled A Long Expected Party (this compliments the first chapter of The Hobbit titled An Unexpected Party). By December of that year, he had completed five different drafts of chapter one. Here we can see Tolkien struggle. He wanted a maturity to his writing, to incorporate the spectacular mythologies brewing in his head that he wrote as early as 1917 when recovering from trench fever and grief of the death of his best friends killed in battle in World War I. He thought of dragon sickness, of Bilbo longing for adventure. But he did not want to write another children’s novel. The story started, stopped, started, stopped, and by 1938 he had drafted seven chapters. Yet still, Tolkien had no sense of connection, of direction. He wrote “The sequel to The Hobbit has remained where it stopped. It has lost my favor, and I have no idea what to do with it.”
Then it came to him. In his scribbled outlines he wrote: “Bilbo’s ring proved to be the one ruling Ring – all others had come back to Mordor: but this one had been lost.” Humphrey Carpenter sums it up best:
“The one ruling ring that controlled all others; the ring that was the source and instrument of the power of Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor; the ring that must be carried by hobbits, or else the whole world will come under Sauron’s domination. Now everything fell into place, and the story was lifted from the ‘juvenile’ level of The Hobbit into the sphere of grand and heroic romance. There was even a name for it: when next he wrote about it to Allen & Unwin (his British publishing company), Tolkien referred to it as “The Lord of the Rings”.
The Power of the One
There is a great importance in understanding what the Ruling Ring of Power can do. It is crucial. For without such knowledge, one cannot understand the relationship between Thorin Oakenshield and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We are all familiar with the qualities of the One Ring. It is a Horcrux (I know, wrong story. But the term fits nicely here). Tolkien writes “he let a great part of his own former power pass into it”. It assured that Sauron could live for eternity through evil domination of others.
The One Ring was made by Sauron in the fires of Orodruin in the year 1600 of the Second Age. This location, so far east from Elves and Men, enabled Sauron to practice the darkest sorceries and fashion the Ruling Ring. Sauron was also a shape shifter. Through his sorcery he took up a new form, revealing the true nature of his evil self.
Because a part of Sauron lived inside the Ring, it is an active controller. It manipulated Isildur, later betraying and having him murdered. The manipulation of Isildur prevented the Ring from destruction at Mount Doom. This assured that Sauron could return. But the Ring made a critical mistake then by having Isildur murdered, for when it slipped off his hand, it slipped into obscurity for thousands of years and could not find a bearer to bring it back to its master. Never again would it take the life of the ring bearer.
It briefly ensnares Déagol and then Sméagol, driving him to murder and insanity. And for four hundred years, the Ring gets stuck in Gollum’s cave. Both in book and movie, the Ring abandons Gollum as he “twisted that nassty young squeaker” goblin. It realizes that Gollum won’t parcel it back to Sauron. It senses a new bearer, a bearer that will bring it closer to its master. That bearer is Bilbo, who just happens to be on the way to Mirkwood, home of Sauron as the Necromancer. The Ring chose Bilbo. It was intended, no accident, and contrary to the depiction in the Fellowship movie.
We then see Bilbo, using the Ring playfully to achieve his tasks. Consider this: Is the Ring using him? Did the Ring lure Bilbo to ask “What have I got in my pocket?” Bilbo was stammering for a riddle, “he scratched himself, he pinched himself; still he could not think of anything” and accidently brushes against the Ring in search for one. “What have I got in my pocket?” The question assured that Bilbo won the contest, though technically it was not a riddle that Bilbo asks.
As he tries to escape Gollum’s assault, the Ring slips onto Bilbo’s finger, thereby guaranteeing safe passage out of the cave. But an even bigger picture emerges. The Ring is on the way to its master waiting in the darkness of Mirkwood. The Ring seems to be controlling the outcome of events.
Fortunately, the plan is spoiled. Bilbo, Thorin, and Company get past the Necromancer, as we will see in the Desolation of Smaug. How they make it past is speculated at the end of the essay Concerns of the White Council. But they are able to continue their Quest to Erebor, though hindered by other events along the way.
A clever reader may ask, “Might Smaug be capable of devouring the Ring, like the lessor Rings of the Dwarves?” The answer is no. Tolkien writes in Fellowship: “It has been said that dragon-fire could melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is not now any dragons left on earth in which old fire is hot enough; nor was there ever any dragon, not even Ancalagon the Black [see the essay Concerns of the White Council about him], who could have harmed the One Ring, the Ruling Ring, for that was made by Sauron himself.” The Great Ring cannot be harmed by Smaug, which is a good thing, because such an outcome could never produce the great sequel The Lord of the Rings.
We all know that Bilbo returns to the Shire after the Quest (sorry if I spoiled the ending but it is implied in the title There and Back Again). Then the Ring slowly takes hold of him, to dominate. In Fellowship, Bilbo becomes “thin and stretched”, manic and agitated. He wants to roam, and has an obsession with the Ring. In the book, he describes himself trying to put it away, trying to forget about it, and then taking it back out again. He says it needs looking after. The Ring of Power seems to be controlling him. It has dominated his very thoughts, and is manipulating poor Bilbo.
Think back to the Long Expected Party. What if Bilbo never put the Ring on? Would Gollum have been lured to Mordor? Would then the Nazgûl not have been released? Would Orodruin have erupted? The very innocent action of startling stupid Hobbits of the Shire by disappearing set other actions in motion, thereby summoning the Nazgûl to bring the Ring back to its master. The Ring, it seems, is the controller.
Then finally we see Frodo, in his naiveté, take up the burden of ring-bearer (once again, did he make the choice, or did the Ring?) in the Council of Elrond. Is it chance, coincidence, or is the Ring summoning Frodo to take it to Mordor? For eventually Frodo succumbs. The Ring takes him, and had not Sam and Gollum altered the course of events, the Ring would have succeeded in returning to its master.
The Lesser Rings of Power
It might surprise fans who have not read the books that the lesser Rings of Power were made by Elves and not Sauron. The Silmarillion accounts the forging of the Rings of Power by the High Elves of Ost-in-Edhil, in Eregion under the supervision of Sauron who at that time was considered an ally and valued for his knowledge and smithing skills.
“They took thought, and they made Rings of Power. But Sauron guided their labours, and he was aware of all that they did; for his desire was to set a bond upon the Elves and to bring them under his vigilance. Now the Elves made many rings; but secretly Sauron made One Ring.”
This somewhat contradicts the Fellowship movie, which depicts Sauron gifting the Rings to the Elves, the Dwarves, and Men.
The Nine, The Seven, The Three, The One and The One?
As fans of the movies and the books, we are all aware of the Nine Rings of Men, the Seven of the Dwarves, the Three of the Elves, and the One.
Few of us are aware that there is another Ring, dominated by the One. It is not Aragorn’s ring, known as the ring of Barahir, which he bore and is mentioned in the movie Two Towers and Appendix A of Fellowship.
It is a surprising yet obvious fact that the Ring in question was created in the Third Age and its bearer is Saruman. In reading the Council of Elrond in the Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf explains his long disappearance and detainment. He rode to Orthanc to seek Saruman’s council. Gandalf says “I rode to the foot of Orthanc, and came to the stairs of Saruman…he wore a ring on his finger…” Saruman himself declares “For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman the Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colors.”
How can Saruman have a Ring of Power? He openly declares that he made the Ring himself, but how is this dominated by the One? The answer lies in the Palantír, one of the lost Seeing-stones, as read in Concerns of the White Council. This Palantír enables Sauron to control Saruman like a puppeteer
controlling a puppet. Saruman was a vested scholar in Ring lore, spending much time studying the history, myths and legends. This was his undoing. Sauron could easily persuade him to make a Ring and thereby be dominated. So Sauron is using Saruman as another avenue in obtaining the Great Ring. And if Saruman wants the Ring for himself, Sauron has other means of controlling him. In the book The Two Towers, when Sauron appears to Pippin in the Palantír he declares “Tell Saruman that this dainty (a hobbit) is not for him. I will send for it at once.” In other words, Saruman has no chance of obtaining the Ring. Sauron knows completely what Saruman is planning, and will send the Nazgûl to retrieve the Ring should he obtain it.
The Nine Rings of Men
Both the movies and Tolkien account for nine kings receiving the Rings of Power. After that time, Tolkien writes, there were many battles fought especially in the realm of Eriador. The Númenoreans, of the line of Aragorn, became divided and rebellions and upheavals were the zeitgeist of the times. That was when the race of Men was at its most low.
Tolkien gives a date of 2251 of the Second Age when Middle-earth is first plagued by the Nazgûl. Of the nine kings, slowly wariness took over and they succumbed not only to the domination of the Great Ring, but they remained undying. (This contradicts a scene we may see in the Desolation of Smaug, in which Gandalf and Radagast go to investigate the nine tombs of the High Fells. If you are undying, how can you have a tomb? See Concerns of the White Council.) Slowly the nine kings faded and became invisible permanently, and served Sauron forever. For over three thousand years, Sauron commanded the Nazgûl. Their actions were entirely based on his will and domination.
The Three Rings of the Elves
We know of the other Rings of Power the following facts: That each had their own precious or semi-precious gem attributed to them. While the Nine Rings of Men and the Seven Rings of the Dwarves are not described, we do have a description of the Three. There is Vilya, the Ring of Air, whose ring bearer was originally Gil-galad and then he passed the Ring to Elrond. The stone attributed to the Ring is a blue sapphire. The next, Nenya the Ring of Water, whose bearer is Galadriel, has a white diamond. Finally, there is Narya the Ring of Fire, with a red stone, perhaps a ruby. Its original bearer was Círdan, the Shipwright. Its final bearer is a bit of a
surprise for those not familiar to the books, especially The Silmarillion. For in that book it is mentioned that Mithrandir was the last to bear Narya. He bore the ring in secret and swore never to mention his bearing, but it explains why in the movie Gandalf sets sail with Frodo, Bilbo, Elrond, Galadriel (all ring bearers) and Celeborn (contradictory to Tolkien’s writing, for Celeborn remained in Middle-earth and settled in the southern woods and renamed them East Lórien) at the end of the movie Return of the King.
Of the Three, there is evidence of domination; though their bearers have a stronger resistance to the Ruling Ring. The reason for this was that Sauron never made the Three. They were forged to enable the Elves to heal and preserve. They were created by Celebrimbor in the realm of Eregion in the year 1590 of the Second Age. It would take Sauron another ten years to forge the One. By 1693, the three were hidden. In Fellowship, it is written “The Three, the fairest of all, the Elf-lords hid from him, and his hand never touched or sullied them.” The Silmarillion continues that as soon as Sauron put on the Great Ring, the Elves perceived his domination, and promptly removed their Rings from their fingers, thereby reducing the dominating power of the One.
In year two of the Third Age, when Isildur is murdered, and the Ring passed out of all knowledge, the three Rings of the Elves were temporarily released from its dominion. Elrond confirms this in the Council in Fellowship. This is why we see Galadriel actually wearing Nenya in the movie Fellowship. She is able to bear the Ring without Sauron’s oppression.
The Seven Rings of the Dwarves
Originally, Tolkien only created two lines of Dwarves, but later changed that in the 1966 revision of The Lord of the Rings. We lack a historical account of all of the seven founding fathers, but Tolkien names the lines as the Longbeards (Durin’s line), Firebeards, Broadbeams, Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots. Each family line received one of the Seven. The Longbeards or Sigin-tarâg founded the Dwarf colonies of Gundabad and Khazad-dûm and later founded Erebor, as well as colonies in the Ered Mithrin and the Iron Hills. The Firebeards and the Broadbeams founded the colonies of Tumunzahar (Nogrod in Sind.) and
Tolkien writes that Durin III was the first Dwarf to receive one of the Seven in the year 1500 of the Second Age. He was king of Khazad-dûm. His grandfather, Durin the Deathless (who eventually did die at a very ripe old age) was the first of the line of Durin, and founded the kingdom of Khazad-dûm. Durin III had forged a great friendship with the High Elf Celebrimbor, who made the Three Rings of the Elves. The Elves of Eregion, as the realm was known, and Khazad-dûm both prospered as a great trade network was created between the two.
A little trivia, if I may. Celebrimbor, for those who read the books, was also partially responsible for creation of the western door of Khazad-dûm, known as the Hollin gate. He drew the signs on the door, while Narvi the Dwarf carved them out using cirth ithil, moon runes. The seven stars above represent the seven lines of the Dwarves with the central star above the crown being Durin’s. The crown itself is a depiction of an image that Durin the Deathless saw when he gazed into Kheled-zâram (Mirror-mere) and saw on his head a crown flanked by the seven stars. Below that is the hammer and anvil, a symbol of the House of Durin. These are flanked by the trees of the High Elves and the large central star is the House of Fëanor, maker of the three silmarilli in the First Age. Celebrimbor was Fëanor’s grandson, like Durin III was Durin I’s grandson. Unlike the door of Erebor, which requires a key, the door of the Hollin gate needs none. You only need to speak ‘friend’ to enter.
It has been commented in both The Silmarillion and the Fellowship, that the Seven Rings of the Dwarves were either destroyed or taken by Sauron. How were they destroyed? By dragons, including Glaurung the Great (See Concerns of the White Council). Appendix B of Return of the King comments: “The Dwarves hid themselves in deep places, guarding their hoards, but then evil began to stir again and dragons reappeared, one by one, their ancient treasures were plundered and they became a wandering people.” A total of four Rings were consumed by Dragons. The Silmarillion states “soon he (Sauron) will be too strong for you even without the Great Ring, for he rules the Nine and of the Seven, he has recovered three.” Fellowship also confirms this: “Seven the Dwarf-kings possessed, but three he has recovered, and the others the dragons have consumed.”
The question is: from which of the three Dwarf lines did Sauron recover the three? Recall that the Firebeards and the Broadbeams founded the colonies of Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar in the Ered Luin. (This is the same Ered Luin that Thráin and Thorin lead the exiles to after the sack of Erebor. Also recall in Concerns of the White Council, that the king of Gabilgathol, Azaghâl, came to the aid of the sons of Fëanor to battle Glaurung the Great:
“In a fit of rage, Glaurung turned on the Dwarf-king, Azaghâl and crawled over him, crushing him to death, but not before Azaghâl plunged a knife in the fire-drake’s belly. Glaurung fled but the wound he received from Azaghâl was not a mortal wound.”)
What we learn of Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar in The Silmarillion is that both Dwarf cities suffered from massive flooding during the fall of Beleriand and were partially destroyed. The exiled peoples wandered and then migrated to Khazad-dûm, and later the Iron Hills, and settled with Durin’s folk. The flooding occurred in the First Age, an age prior to the creation of the Seven Rings, so Sauron could not have acquired the Rings then.
However, in 1980 of the Third Age, a Balrog appears in Khazad-dûm, slaying Durin VI, and the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm fled. We know that the heirs of Durin retained their Ring, but it is possible that Sauron acquired the Rings of the Firebeards and the Broadbeams at this time. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s account of that particular event is not recorded, so this can only be speculated.
Another possibility of how Sauron acquired two of the Rings is during the year 2463 of the Third Age. In Concerns of the White Council, there was an account of Sauron fleeing east to avoid being revealed to the Council too soon: ‘The Council sought clarification on the origins of the Necromancer, some suspecting that Sauron had in fact returned. Their inquiry proves futile, as Sauron senses their approach and retreats east.” It can be speculated that during his time east, Sauron may have encountered the descendants of the Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots. He could have acquired the two Rings during this time too, but again it can only be speculated as Tolkien never discloses how Sauron collects the two Rings of the Dwarves.
Thráin, Thorin and the Last of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves
In part three of this trilogy, we will explore more of the Rings of the Dwarves, how the Ring of the line of Durin is passed to Thráin from Thrór, but not to Thorin from Thráin, and finally how Sauron acquired the third Ring of the Dwarves. We will also explore the ensuing dragon sickness that overcomes Thrór, Thráin and Thorin. It all ties in with the Concerns of the White Council and The Rings of Power. It will explain the rise of the Necromancer and connect Thorin Oakenshield to the One Ring to rule them all.
I leave you to ponder this quote of Gandalf, for it reveals much:
“Nearly all of his ravings were of that:
The last of the Seven“.
Carpenter, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien:
The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Douglas A. Anderson:
The Annotated Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien:
The Return of the Shadow. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
The Treason of Isengard. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
The Silmarillion. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Tyler, J.E.A. The Complete Tolkien Companion. New York: Thomas Dunne Books 1976.
lordoftheringswiki.com, thrainsbook.net, thorinoakenshield.net, tolkiengateway.net
Jackson, P. (Director). (2001). The Fellowship of the Ring. United States: New Line Cinema
(2002) The Two Towers. United States: New Line Cinema
(2003) The Return of the King. United States: New Line Cinema
(2012) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. United States: New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers
deviantart.com, lotrwiki.com, rebrick.lego.com, thalion.ovh.org, thorinoakenshield.net, tumblr.com, tolkiengateway.net, vilya.altwevista.org
Map taken from: J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1994.
Photoshop Assistance: Kelly Ramage
Additional Research and Technical Assistance: Dark Jackal at thorinoakenshield.net