LOTR: A brief history of the Rings of Power


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 Second Age(SA) is a period of 3,441 years that begins with the overthrow of Morgoth by the Valar and ends with the defeat of Sauron by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.

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 Last Alliance is formed in 3430. In 3441, Sauron is defeated, Gil-galad and Elendil slain, and Isildur takes the One Ring (Return of the King 365).

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).

At roughly the same time Bilbo finds the ring, Saruman learns that servants of Sauron are searching the Anduin near the Gladden Fields (Return of the King 369-70).

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.


image: The-Hobbitmovie.com



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  4. Reblogged this on The Leather Library and commented:
    I could see this form of organization of chronologies in a published volume, which i would surely buy. It should be called “The Annals of Gene’O”. I have always been fascinated with chronologies and if you mix that with Tolkien a beautiful product is produced. I am glad that you have taken the time to create and share this. It provides us with a quick reference of ‘what happened and when did that thing happen’. This is similarly written to the Roman historical chronology by Tacitus rightfully named The Annals of Tacitus. I look forward to your sequel post and I really do wish that this information, written in the way you have written it, exists is a beautiful leatherbound volume.


    1. Thanks so much. I think the chronology is important, and it’s in the texts, but it’s kind of a hassle to dig it out. I wanted it all in one place 🙂


      1. Thats exactly what I was saying. I want a definitive official volume(s) of all the lore starting from before the first age to the beginning of the fourth age.

        I know that you are a professional writer, although it would be a monumental task, you should consider doing one, perhaps even with the blessing of the Tolkien Estate. I have yet to see anyone else attempt this, and by your article it seems like you have the right idea in mind.


        1. That strikes me as a good idea. The Foster book is the closest thing I’ve seen, but it’s an encyclopedia. A definitive history written in contemporary language that treats the canonical texts as primary sources would be a very handy thing to have. Tacitus is a useful model for the concept, I think. I should probably look into this. I could definitely write it.


        2. I cant tell you how happy I am to hear this. My suggestion was just a shot in the dark. I must say you have made my evening:) I hope that you do decide to take up this task. I do believe that you are aptly capable of writing the chronology. I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with this idea in the future


        3. So, just thinking about it a little. What would you consider canon for that project?

          For my blogging, I stick to the Simarillion, Hobbit, LOTR, and, some poetry, such as “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” I don’t really think draft material should be considered (I am thinking about things like Christopher Tolkien’s Historical/Literary analysis). But it occurs to me that some of the Unfinished Tales should perhaps be included.

          I would consider Foster’s book a secondary source, because it is so thoroughly-documented. My wife thinks it’s the best book idea she’s heard from me in years and is pushing me to flesh it out and write a proposal. I’ll also be talking to Diana about this next time we chat.


        4. I am glad to hear this. In regards to what is included I agree with you that the unfinished manuscripts of Tolkien are not canon and can be debated on their relevance since there exists many contradictions.

          I do consider the poems canon, but there will be some difficulty in interpreting the changes in the names of people and places, however with enough thought it can be done. Of course I think on of the greatest resources will be Tolkien’s histories of middle earth.

          I cant wait to see your ideas laid out and perhaps an actually print volume in the future.


        5. Thanks 🙂 I think the first step is to talk it over with Diana, then compile a list of texts. In the meantime, I’ll keep Tolkien as a weekly staple of my blogging – it’s becoming my favorite topic to blog about, and seems to get a good reception.


        6. When I started my blog is was not my intention to talk about Tolkien so often, even though he is my favourite author. Nonetheless, I have found it difficult to talk about anything but Tolkien. I will agree with you that It does get great reception and I have met a great many fellow bloggers, including yourself via this great topic. I look forward to hearing more about your work on this.


    1. Would you put end notes at the end of the post, or put them on a static page so a reader could open them in a separate tab? Just curious. I hate end notes in print because of all the back-and-forth, but I like them online with tabbed browsing.


  5. The post turned out well, and I think the citations are important for this sort of stuff, but I do not like them in-text on a blog. I am toying with the idea of end notes.


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