J.R.R. Tolkien’s worldbuilding didn’t end with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In The Silmarillion and across numerous appendices and stories, he left behind notes that shed further light on the mythos of the One Ring—and the lesser rings of power.
Now, Amazon Studios, in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, is set to release a multi-season series revolving around the creation of these magical rings.
The new series is set thousands of years before the events of LoTR and The Hobbit. And unless you’re a Tolkien aficionado, your knowledge of Middle-earth history (especially the events of the Second Age, which form the basis of this show) might be a little fuzzy.
Fortunately, this handy guide will break down what the Rings of Power are, who created them, and the rings' unique abilities: Everything you need to know before the show premieres on September 2nd, 2022.
Who created the Rings of Power?
In addition to the One Ring, there are 19 influential rings in Middle-earth. They have varying degrees of power, but all ultimately answer to the One Ring.
In Tolkien’s epigraph to The Lord of the Rings, he wrote:
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.
Thus, 20 rings of power were created: three for the elves, seven for the dwarves, nine for the race of men, and one for the Dark Lord to “rule them all."
The creation of these rings has an interesting history. Excluding the One Ring, the other artifacts were forged by the elven smiths of Eregion. This was headed by Celebrimbor, although Sauron had a direct hand in crafting most of them.
By the end of the First Age, the Dark Lord Morgoth had fallen. In the aftermath, Sauron eluded the immortal Valar's attempts to capture him.
Determined to regain control and assert his dominion over Middle-earth, Sauron decided to place his power within several rings. These were then given to various rulers who Sauron presumed would fall under his control.
Pretending to be allied with the powerful Valar, and going by the name of “Annatar” or the “Lord of Gifts," Sauron arrived at the elven settlement of Lindon, but received a cold reception. Thereafter, he traveled to Eregion.
Despite the efforts of Galadriel and Celeborn to stop him, Sauron wormed his way into a friendship with Celebrimbor, a key player in the upcoming Amazon series.
Celebrimbor was the ruler of Eregion, the grandson of Fëanor, and an expert craftsman. Sauron offered the elves valuable advice and instruction, and under his tutelage, they forged 16 rings that bestowed upon the bearers great power.
However, according to Gandalf, these “lesser” rings were mere practice in preparation for a greater project.
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What are the Rings of Power?
The One Ring and the lesser rings of power all have unique properties, and a colorful history spanning the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth.
Seven Rings for the Dwarves
Of the 16 rings originally created, seven were given to the dwarves.
Not much is known about how the rings were passed from one dwarf-lord to the next. The rings increased the dwarf-lord's natural lifespan, and helped them amass vast wealth. It also increased the wearer's greed.
The most powerful of the seven rings was passed down patrilineally from Durin III to his descendants. Then Sauron—disguised as the Necromancer—took it from Thráin II. During the War of the Ring, four rings were destroyed by dragon fire, while three were eventually recaptured by Sauron.
Even without the rings, the hunger for gold continued in the dwarven lineage, with Thráin’s son, Thorin Oakenshield (one of the most important characters in The Hobbit films), eventually succumbing to it.
Nine Rings for Mortal Men
Sauron gave nine rings of power to the leaders of men. These men gained immortality at the cost of their own humanity. One by one, they all fell to the power of the One Ring, transforming into the Nazgûl (also known as Ringwraiths).
The most powerful among them was the Witch-king of Angmar, who was eventually slain by Éowyn in The Return of the King, changing the tide of war against Sauron.
The One Ring
The One Ring, forged with Sauron’s own power, could control the minds of all other ring-bearers. This was part of Sauron’s elaborate scheme to take over Middle-earth without military action, simply by controlling the mind of its rulers.
Just by wearing it, the One Ring could turn the wearer evil, aligning them with Sauron’s need for power and dominance. When Isildur cut off the ring from Sauron’s finger, he had the opportunity to destroy it, but he did not. Corrupted by the Ring, Isildur held onto it till it slipped from his fingers into the River Anduin.
Isildur was later killed by orcs, while the Ring stayed in the riverbed for over two millennia until a hobbit called Déagol discovered it while fishing. Sméagol, Déagol's cousin, murdered him and stole the Ring. Over the centuries, Sméagol became the creature known as Gollum, hiding deep beneath the Misty Mountains.
Much later, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins chanced upon the Ring on a journey to help the dwarves reclaim their homeland. He engaged in a battle of wits with Gollum, and managed to escape with the Ring.
Bilbo later bequeathed the Ring to his cousin Frodo in his will. Guided by Gandalf, Frodo and his friend Sam traveled all the way to Mount Doom on the quest to destroy the Ring with the fires in which it was forged.
Celebrimbor’s Three Rings for the Elves
The three rings forged by Celebrimbor were the last to be made, and named after the elements of fire, water, and air. Each had a specific gemstone and various healing properties, as follows:
- Narya, the Ring of Fire: The Red Ring was set with a ruby. It was given by Celebrimbor to Círdan, Lord of the Havens of Mithlond, who later gave it to the wizard Gandalf sometime in the Third Age.
- Nenya, the Ring of Water: Nenya, also known as the White Ring or the Ring of Adamant, was made of a fine, silvery metal called mithril and set with a white stone. It was worn by Galadriel, who used its regenerative abilities to preserve the glorious elven forest of Lórien.
- Vilya, the Ring of Air: The most powerful of the elven rings, Vilya was set with a glimmering sapphire upon a gold band. Also referred to as the Blue Ring or the Dominant Ring, it was wielded by Gil-galad of Lindon, who passed it on to Elrond in Rivendell.
What Are the Rings' Powers?
All the lesser rings had certain powers, but were ultimately linked to the One Ring. Except for the three rings forged by Celebrimbor without Sauron’s knowledge, all the other rings bestowed immense power and greed upon the bearers, affecting them to varying degrees.
The 16 Lesser Rings: Greed and Power
The leaders of men wielding the rings all succumbed to Sauron sooner or later, becoming wraith-like beings that remained loyal to the Dark Lord. Initially, when they wore the rings, they beheld phantoms and visions of Sauron and turned invisible (except to the elves, wizards, and the wielder of the Master Ring). The rings also extended their lifespan, and made life unbearable for them.
Linked to Sauron, the rings slowly stripped away their wearers' consciousness until they became mere vehicles of the Dark Lord’s will. Their strength was also proportionate to Sauron’s own—so as Sauron’s power grew, the Witch-king of Angmar was able to match Gandalf in strength.
However, the effects of the rings were less severe on dwarves. As a tougher race than men, the dwarves were able to resist Sauron’s will, although the rings still made them lust for gold. The seven rings also increased their lifespans, but did not turn them invisible.
The Three Rings of the Elves: Healing and Preservation
Celebrimbor’s rings had limited powers, and together were not strong enough to withstand the might of the One Ring. However, they all had specific qualities that helped heal and preserve the elven kingdoms after the ravages of war:
- Narya, or the Red Ring, evoked hope in the wearer and those around them. It inspired others to resist tyranny and rekindle their hearts with fire.
- Nenya, or the White Ring, helped Galadriel to preserve the beautiful land of Lothlórien and cloak it from evil.
- Lastly, Vilya, or the Blue Ring, the most powerful of the three, possessed healing abilities. It also helped the wearer control elements, and possibly bestowed them with wisdom and foresight.
The One Ring: Absolute Power and Mastery Over All
Finally, the One Ring, forged by Sauron, allowed the wielder to control the minds of all other ring-bearers. Nearly indestructible, the Ring could only be unmade in the fires of Mount Doom. It virtually corrupted all those who wore it, extending their lifespans and turning them invisible, greedy, and aligned to evil.
As the Ring transported the bearers to the spirit world, it also allowed them to see other aspects of the invisible realm. Even Frodo was corrupted by the Ring. He chose to keep it for himself until Gollum bit it off his finger and plunged into the fire, killing himself and destroying the Ring.
The only character in the series to remain completely unaffected by the One Ring was Tom Bombadil. He could see the wearer of the ring despite its invisibility, and he himself remained visible while wearing it. As the humble caretaker of the Old Forest, he had no wish to seek power or dominate others, and as such, the Ring could not corrupt him.
Thus, the Rings of Power in Tolkien’s works are an excellent metaphor for power and domination. This allowed the author to explore the nature of good and evil, and whether raw power (as symbolized by the One Ring) could itself be a corrupting influence on the living.
Tolkien himself wrote that The Lord of the Rings was a study about "placing power in external objects." The fact that the rings all have different effects on their bearers, be they dwarf, man, hobbit, elf, or wizard, showcases how power can be used to both dominate and preserve. It also demonstrates that corruption can be resisted if one’s inner will and innate strength of character is strong enough.
Explore intrigue, deceit, and the nasty power politics spurred by the rings when the much-anticipated Rings of Power series debuts this September.
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