It’s difficult to talk about The Lord of the Rings without talking about, well, the rings; crafted by the unsuspecting Elves of Middle Earth under the careful eye of Sauron, who went on to create the One Ring by himself, the Rings of Power were meant to seduce the rulers of the world to evil so that Sauron may control them. The One Ring, which Sauron intended to keep for himself, was linked to all the others and, if it were to be destroyed, the powers of the other rings would fade as well. After the first season of The Rings of Power, it feels apt to go back and look at the history and meanings behind each of these incredible rings.
Destructive, corruptive, and irresistible to the minds of most mortals, the rings were given to the races of Middle Earth by Sauron in the hopes that their leaders would fall to the temptation of the rings and become easier to control. Disguising himself so that the Elves would not recognize him for who he truly was, Sauron persuaded the Elven-smiths, led by Celebrimbor, to forge the rings under his guidance. While 16 of the 19 rings forged were given to the Dwarves and Men (seven to the Dwarves and nine to the Men), three of the rings were forged by the Elves, without Sauron’s touch. These three rings were kept by the Elves, hidden from Sauron, and were created not for war, but for healing and protection.
What Are the Rings of Power and How Were They Created in the Books?
The history of the Rings of Power is long and complicated and the part they play in the fate of Middle Earth is, quite literally, central to the story of The Lord of the Rings. The following is a breakdown of The Rings of Power, from the rings given to the races of Men and Dwarves, to the rings kept hidden by the Elves, and finally the One Ring, made by and for Sauron himself. The 19 rings, also known as the Lesser Rings, were the rings given by Sauron to the races of Middle Earth in the hopes that the temptation of the rings would overtake and bend them to Sauron’s will.
Nine of these rings were given to the race of Men; the men who received these rings became effectively immortal, though their endless life eventually became unbearable. The rings caused them to have visions of Sauron, and eventually, they fell before him. These men became ringwraiths, known as the Nazgûl; servants to Sauron, they possessed incredible power but were completely under his control. Their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, was Sauron’s second in command.
Seven of the lesser rings were given to the Dwarves; though the Dwarves, who were more resilient and hardy than men, did not submit to Sauron. However, the rings cause great avarice to fall over the Dwarves, leading to their collection of vast wealth. The Dwarven leaders who possessed the rings all eventually fell to their greed. The most powerful of these seven rings was given to Durin III and eventually passed down to Thráin II , who lost it when he was captured by Sauron, disguised as the Necromancer. The ring’s curse, however, did not leave the line of Durin once it was taken from Thráin II. Instead, it caused a ‘gold sickness’ among the line of Durin; Thorin, son of Thrain and King Under the Mountain, was infected by this sickness as well.
What About the Three Rings Worn by the Elves?
The last three of the lesser rings were the ones created and possessed by the Elves; called Narya, Nenya, and Vilya, each was associated with an element and possessed unique powers. They were invisible to all save for whoever also bore a Ring of Power.
Narya was associated with fire and had the ability to unite and inspire people, invoking hope in the face of despair. It was given to Círdan, Lord of the Havens of Mithlond, before he eventually gave it to Gandalf. Nenya was wielded by Galadriel. Associated with water, it was radiant; Samwise Gamgee once remarked that it looked as though Galadriel had a star within her fingers, though he was unable to see the ring itself. It had the power of preservation and protection; Galadriel used it to conceal Lothlórien, an Elven forest, from evil. Vilya, associated with wind, was possessed by Elven-King Gil-galad and was the greatest of the three. When Gil-galad died, it was passed on to Elrond. Vilya most likely had the power to heal and preserve, though it is never explicitly stated.
In the series The Rings of Power, these are the first three rings of power to be forged rather than the last. With the light of the Elves fading and the threat of the end of the elves, Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) crafted the three Elven rings to stave off this threat. Made from Mithril and the gold and silver of Galadriel’s brother’s dagger (which game from Valinor), the three rings are indeed unaffected by Sauron’s touch, but have a far different origin.
What Makes the One Ring Different
While the previous 19 rings were crafted with the help of the Elves, the final ring, the ‘One Ring to rule them all,’ was crafted by Sauron alone; with the ability to dominate the other rings, the One Ring was made with some of Sauron’s own power, in order to make it more powerful. Sauron’s goal was to use the One Ring to influence and control the minds of those who wielded the lesser rings. It also possessed all the same powers as the other rings, but to a greater degree. Whoever possessed the ring could also read the minds of other ring-bearers, as well as turn invisible.
By giving the lesser rings to various leaders among the other races, Sauron hoped to dominate their minds and wills, essentially taking over the rest of Middle Earth without war. It would have been an easy victory, however, it did not work as perfectly as Sauron had intended. During the War of the Last Alliance, Isildur, son of Elendil and joint ruler of Gondor with his brother, cut off Sauron’s finger and acquired the ring. Unable to resist its power, he kept the ring until his death; while he was on a journey to bring the One Ring to Elrond, Isildur and his party were attacked by orcs, attracted by the power of the ring. Unable to let the ring go, Isildur witnessed the death of his sons before finally fleeing and falling into a river. The ring was lost and Isildur was killed by orc arrows.
The One Ring was eventually found by two hobbit cousins, Déagol and Sméagol, the latter of which killed the other and took the ring, which slowly corrupted him. Now known as Gollum, he was sustained by the ring for 500 years, until it was taken from him by Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo kept the ring, carrying it with him for the rest of his journey with Thorin and his party of Dwarves on their journey to reclaim Erebor. After, he returned to the Shire, where he eventually passed the ring down to Frodo, thus starting Frodo’s journey and the main story of The Lord of The Rings.
In the end, despite his best efforts, Frodo was corrupted by the ring; after refusing to throw it into the volcanic fissure of Sammath Naur, Sméagol arrived and bit off Frodo’s finger, falling with it and the ring into the magma below; a fitting parallel to Sauron’s own loss of the One Ring to Isildur. Because the rest of Rings of Power were connected to the One Ring, its destruction meant that the powers of the lesser rings died as well.
The rings were curses disguised as gifts; while they brought great wealth and power to those who wielded them, they also corrupted the wearers’ minds and took away their free will, rendering their wealth and power useless. It should be noted that very few were able to truly resist the temptation of the rings, especially the One Ring. Even Galadriel had difficulty resisting the ring, seeing the future she could bring about with its power, as well as the destruction it would cause. It was only Samwise Gamgee who was not tempted at all by the One Ring since he desired no great power or any riches; instead, he only wished for the safety of his friends. As the One Ring was born of evil, it would have been of no use to Sam.