LotR: Every Ring of Power Explained
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.
Middle Earth is a really dangerous place for people who enjoy fine-crafted jewelry, let me tell you. You can’t accept a gift from anyone! Well, definitely not from fair strangers who just show up offering to help you make a magical, powerful ring. No jeweler works for free.
Now that Amazon Prime’s Rings of Power series is finally streaming, we’re likely to find out more about the history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mysterious rings of power. How many were there in total and how did they work? We’ll try to pull back the curtain on some of the vagaries of the most coveted bling of the Second Age.
The Creation of the Rings of Power
If we’re talking about the creation of the notorious rings of power, we’ve got to introduce you to Celebrimbor. This Elfen master-smith had fine jewelry in his blood – after all, he was the last (known) descendant of Fëanor, the guy who created the Silmarils.
But unlike his grandfather, Celebrimbor wasn’t covetous of the things he made. He was all about the joy of sharing his art. Once he settled in the land of Eregion, he was quick to form a bond with the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, including their king, Durin III.
During the peaceful days of Eregion’s good times, Celebrimbor and his fellow Elven smiths traded back and forth with Dwarves, learning and sharing much of their similar love of crafting sparkly things. During this time, a fair-faced traveler named Annatar showed up claiming to be the “Lord of Gifts” sent by the Valar to just teach them how to make fancy, powerful things for free.
Mm-hmm, sure, Mary.
Sauron is Revealed
Celebrimbor didn’t trust him, but many of the other Elf smiths did. And with their help, Annatar (who, spoiler alert, is actually Sauron in disguise) created a series of powerful rings to help the leaders of Elves, Men, and Dwarves to rule prosperous kingdoms.
The bad news: Sauron made his own naughty ring to control all the others. The good news: Celebrimbor used his methods to make three powerful Elven rings which were never touched by Sauron’s hands, so they were much harder for him to control. Realizing what he was up to as soon as Sauron put on his own boss-level ring, Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and Gil-Galad hatched a plan to keep the rings hidden from Sauron.
This is, of course, the most famous of the rings of power (and the most trouble-making).
The One Ring was forged in the volcanic crack of Mount Doom called Sammath Naur. Sauron used a large chunk of his own soul to imbue it with the level of power it needed. This tied his life force and his will to the ring.
You probably already know the details. The ring could only be destroyed by the fires wence it came. It also called to its master, and when worn by any old regular person, would turn them invisible. But they would be extra visible to the Dark Lord.
Three Elven Rings
The three Elven rings were initially split between Galadriel and Gil-Galad. Galadriel kept her ring, Nenya, the Ring of Water. Nenya’s powers included protection, preservation, and concealment from evil. After the first defeat of Sauron, the One Ring was lost and the bad guy was presumed dead. Lady Galadriel was then free to use Nenya’s powers to protect her people. And to cast a really beautiful but terrifying visage on anyone foolish enough to try to cross Lothlórien’s borders.
Meanwhile, Gil-Galad, High King of the Noldor of one of the wisest of all Elven leaders, was responsible for protecting Vilya and Narya, the remaining two Elven rings. He would eventually pass Vilya, the ring of air, to Elrond, who used it to protect Rivendell. Narya, the ring of fire, was passed to his lieutenant Círdan, of whom we know very little.
Seven Rings for the Dwarf Lords
We don’t know a whole lot about the specific rings that were given to the Dwarf Lords. We do know that Sauron’s intention to control the Dwarves didn’t go quite as planned – Dwarves are very proud, stout creatures. It’s understood they’ve got a pretty strong Constitution score in any story.
There were seven rings given to the Dwarves in total. One of which supposedly was more powerful than the others, and was given to Durin III by his good Elven buddy Celebrimbor. While the seven receivers of rings aren’t directly identified, we can assume that the rings probably went to leaders of the seven Dwarven clans listed in The History of Middle-Earth: Durin’s Folk, the Firebeards, the Broadbeams, the Ironfists, the Stiffbeards, the Blacklocks, and the Stonefoots.
While the rings didn’t let Sauron control the Dwarves, they did multiply their greed. At the time of the War of the Ring, we know that four of the seven rings had been destroyed by dragon fire. As were the fingers that wore them, probably.
Nine Rings of Men
Ah, men. Just out here wanting power, taking jewelry from any magic user who’s handing it out!
Not a whole lot is known about the nine rings of men, apart from the fact that those who received them became wraiths subject to his will. These men were destined to become the Nazgûl, corrupted by the power of the ring and Sauron’s evil spirit. The wraiths become invisible to all except the Elves that had once lived in the Undying Lands. Or whichever poor unfortunate soul happened to slip the One Ring on their finger. Their power is directly tied to Sauron’s, and so are their poor cursed spirits.
Sauron definitely used his power and influence through the rings to bring about the fall of Númenor. King Ar-Pharazôn himself wasn’t a ringbearer. But there were three of the Nine given to Lords of Númenor, which no doubt helped Sauron with his trickery.