Picking up where I left off before Christmas: I have this idea to analyze The Lord of the Rings as a series of encounters between the One Ring and the other characters. Before I begin that task, I think it might be useful to lay out the history of the rings of power so we can get a feel for their historic significance to Middle Earth. My two primary sources for this history are “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” (Silmarillion, 285-304), and “The Tale of Years,” published as Appendix B to LOTR (Return of the King, 363-378).
“Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” is a book of lore written sometime during the Fourth Age, probably by a Dunadan scholar, and after all the participants in the War of the Ring were either dead or departed (Foster 386).
“The Tale of Years” was compiled by the Tooks of the early Fourth Age and kept in their archive at the Great Smials; material gathered by Merry at Rivendell is incorporated into this account, and it is notable for its accuracy (Foster 474).
Together, they provide an account of the creation of the rings of power and a timeline for the existence of the rings in Middle-earth. So, now I will try and piece together an account of the rings of power, from their inception until the eventual destruction of the One Ring. Let’s begin with a timeline, just so we can know how much history we are dealing with here.
The Second Age
The rings of power are forged by Noldorin Elves of Eregion beginning around SA 1500, using skills they learned from Sauron. The three rings of the Elves, the last to be forged, are completed in 1590. Sauron himself forges the One Ring and completes the Barad-dur about 1600; as soon as he puts on the One Ring, the Elves understand his design and remove their rings (Silmarillion 288).
Sauron demands that all the rings of power be returned to him, “since the Elven-smiths could not have attained to their making without his lore and counsel,” but the Elves save the three rings, which had been forged without the direct assistance of Sauron (Silmarillion 288).
From this point forward, a state of war exists between Sauron and the Elves. The conflict culminates in the War of the Elves and Sauron (SA 1693-99). Sauron invades Eriador in 1695; Eregion is laid waste, Celebrimbor slain, and the gates of Moria sealed in 1697; by 1699 all of Eriador is overrun. Sauron is eventually defeated and and driven out of Eriador by the Numenoreans in 1701, but by this time the land is in ruins and the Elves have retreated to Lindon and Rivendell, which is founded in 1697 (Return of the King 364).
In the course of this conflict, Sauron takes all the rings of power from the Elves except the Three and redistributes them to other peoples:
“But Sauron gathered into his hands all the remaining Rings of Power; and he dealt them out to the other peoples of Middle-earth, hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind. Seven rings he gave to the Dwarves; but to Men he gave nine, for Men proved in this matter as in others the readiest to his will” (Silmarillion 288).
The Dwarves use their rings only to get wealth, and the rings make them greedy. The rings of the Dwarves are all eventually either recovered by Sauron or consumed by dragons (Silmarillion 289). The nine are given to mortal kings, sorcerers, and warriors, who eventually become the Nazgul. The first ring-wraiths appear about 2251(Return of the King 364).
Sauron is taken as a prisoner to Numenor in 3262, corrupts the Numenoreans, and convinces them to attack Valinor in 3319, which precipitates the destruction of Numenor (Return of the King, 365); Sauron’s physical form is destroyed at this time (Silmarillion, 290). Arnor and Gondor are founded by Numenorean survivors in 3320, and Sauron returns to Mordor the same year.
The Third Age
The Third Age (TA) is a period of 3021 years from the defeat of Sauron by the Last Alliance to the departure of the keepers of the three rings of the Elves from Middle-earth.
Isildur is killed at the Gladden Fields and the One Ring is lost in TA 2. It is found in the river by Deagol about 2463 (which is also the year the White Council is formed), and Smeagol murders him for it. Smeagol/Gollum hides in the Misty Mountains in 2470; Bilbo Baggins is born in 2890 and finds the ring in 2941 (Return of the King 368-69).
Frodo is born in 2968. Bilbo’s farewell party occurs in 3001, and Frodo leaves the Shire with the One Ring in September of 3018. The ring is finally destroyed in March, 3019, and the last ship leaves the Grey Havens in September, 3021 (Return of the King 372-77).
The period of time from the forging of the One Ring to its final destruction is 4,860 years, and Gollum is nearly 500 years old by the time he loses the Ring to Bilbo.
Next: Encounters with the Ring.