The Three Rings of the Elves were forged by Celebrimbor alone, and were never touched by Sauron. They were made last, however, and their forging involved some of the arts taught by "Annatar". Thus they too were bound to the One Ring to some extent. They were named Narya the Ring of Fire, Nenya the Ring of Water, and Vilya the Ring of Air; they remained hidden from Sauron. Sauron gave some six Rings to the Dwarf-kings, although according to Dwarvish tradition the Elves already gave another to Durin III. The Dwarves used their Seven Rings to establish their treasure hoards, but Sauron was unable to force the Dwarven bearers to submit. It is believed that the dwarves' natural hardiness, and the fact that it was only the more powerful dwarf lords who possessed them, made them resistant to Sauron's control, yet allowed them to accumulate treasure. The final ring to leave the possession of the dwarves occurred when Thráin II was captured. The remaining Nine Rings were divided amongst those evil-hearted men who saw their abilities increase, and became sorcerers and Kings among Men. They gained longevity but then faded away to become the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, dominated under Sauron's will. The One Ring, secretly forged by Sauron in the heart of Mount Doom, had the power to dominate the sixteen rings owned by Dwarves and Men. His domain over the other rings was incomplete, but he placed a large amount of his own power into it at its forging; a necessity that later led to his downfall at Frodo Baggins' hands. A verse that summarizes the Great Rings and their ownership is an important part of the lore of Middle-earth. It translates as follows:
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 One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Around S.A. 1200, Sauron started to corrupt the Elves. He did not manage to approach Gil-galad and Elrond but he had better luck with the Elven-smiths of Eregion. The Gwaith-i-Mírdain of Eregion were mostly Noldor, and wished to have the same joys in Middle-earth as the Elves who had returned to Valinor. Sauron therefore presented himself as "Annatar", an emissary from the Valar, and tempted the Elves by offering the knowledge to transform Middle-earth.
"Annatar" taught the smiths the knowledge how to create Rings, which would grant the Elves who wear them certain powers. At first the Elves created some lesser rings, which were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown. In approximately S.A. 1500 the Greater 16 were created. When Annatar departed from Eregion, Celebrimbor went on to forge the Three Rings using the knowledge he had gained from him, but without his involvement, and finished them around S.A. 1590.
Sauron then created The One Ring around 1600, alone, in the heart of Mount Doom. Its purpose was to rule over all the other rings, and Sauron put a great part of his power into it. The Elves, upon creation of the One, heard Sauron speak the spell, and realized they had been betrayed.
Advent of Sauron
As soon as Sauron put on The One Ring, the bearers of the Three became aware of him and took them off in fear and anger. They defied Sauron and refused to use the Rings. Seeing this, Sauron attempted to claim the Rings to distribute them to other peoples; he waged War against the Elves, and although the Elves fought valiantly, Eregion was destroyed. Celebrimbor however managed to salvage the Three he created himself and secretly gave them to Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel. They were originally given to the three greatest Eldar in Middle-earth at that time. During the Sack of Eregion, Sauron took Nine Rings and other lesser works from them; but he could not find the rest. Then Celebrimbor was put to torment, and he revealed about the Seven of them.
Sauron then distributed them to Lords who desired secret power beyond their nature, hoping to bring them under his sway; Men who were the readiest to his will, became powerful sorcerers and Kings; and Dwarves who grew greedier and augmented their treasures. As Sauron had to do with ther making, he easily perverted and accursed the Rings, betraying those who wore them.
The Mannish lords who held the Nine were consumed by them and entered the wraith-world, becoming the Ringwraiths, servants of Sauron without will. The Dwarves who held the Seven were largely (but not totally) unaffected, but the wrath and greed brought upon them brought evils that benefitted Sauron. The Three were always held by the Elves, and Gandalf upon his arrival.
During the Third Age, four of the Seven were destroyed during the Dwarves' conflicts with Dragons, and after Sauron's return he recaptured the remaining three, the last from Thráin II. The Nine he took back from his Ringwraiths, and they were still in his possession at the time of the War of the Ring.
Nothing is known of the fate of the lesser rings, made as essays to the craft, but, according to Gandalf, still dangerous for mortals that might have found them.
The One was lost and refound until it was destroyed in the Crack of Doom. With its destruction, the existing Rings were freed from Sauron's control, but may have lost their power altogether. They were presumably buried in the ruins of Barad-dûr, or perhaps simply faded, while the (powerless) Three were taken with their bearers to Aman.
Powers and Properties
The Rings of Power all had certain common properties. The Elves of Eregion created the rings to preserve their lands, attempting to make them as beautiful as Valinor. Thus, a primary power of the rings was to prevent and decelerate decay and change. The rings also increased a bearer's own natural powers, seemingly granting 'magic' abilities.
Additionally, the One Ring, along with the Seven and the Nine, had the ability to tap into the Unseen at different degrees. The One could completely shift the wearer to the Spirit World, rendering the material body invisible to mortals. The Nine and the Seven were so strongly under Sauron's control that they could cause the wearer, especially Men, to fade and turn into a wraith under Sauron's domination.
The Dwarves however were more resistant to most of these effects. They mostly suffered under an increased lust for gold, which provided occasion for quarrels among themselves. They used their rings to increase their treasure troves; the treasure hoards of these dwarves drew the mightiest of dragons and opponents.
The Three did not make their wearers invisible (though a wearer could make the ring itself invisible). A wearer of one of the Rings of Three gained the power to heal and preserve, in many different ways, whatever they controlled. Galadriel's and Elrond's Rings allowed them to fend off Sauron and protect and preserve Lothlorien and Rivendell. Narya also had the power to inspire hope and courage in others.
For The One to have the ability to control The Three, it was necessary for Sauron to allow a significant amount of his power and will to flow into it during its forging. As it was the Master Ring, whoever mastered the One also had control over the other rings, the works done through them, and also could perceive and control the thoughts of anyone wearing another ring. But Sauron never managed to do so, because as soon as he wore it upon his finger, the Elves became aware of him.
The wearer also was able to understand speech in languages the wearer did not know, or at least able to understand the Black Speech.
Any bearer could use its power, though it would take time, determination, skill, and knowledge to do so. However the Ring corrupted the heart and mind, making its wearer obsessed with it.
Other versions of the legendarium
In one draft it is said that the Rings of Power transformed their bearers into wraiths, thus creating elf-, goblin-, men-, or dwarf-wraiths.
The Rings were the background story as fleshed out by Tolkien, out of the Ring that appeared in The Hobbit. The lore of the Rings (especially the One) are often compared to the "Ring of the Nibelungs" although Tolkien denounced any direct inspiration.
Portrayal in adaptations
1978: Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings
In the introduction of the movie, the Rings are portrayed as a purely Elven conception and creation, which the Elves generously gave to the Dwarves and Men. It was when Sauron 'learned of the Ring-making' when he forged the One Ring. It contrasts the canonical account according to which the Rings were always a part of Sauron's plan. Sauron distributed them to the Dwarves and Men, after the Elves turned against him. 2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
In the introduction, narrated by Galadriel, the 19 initial Rings were shown being given to the Elves, Men, and Dwarves. The introduction states that all of these ring-holders were deceived by Sauron, who created the One Ring to rule them all. 2017: The Lord of the Rings Online:
Alongside the One Ring and the Three, names are also given to the Seven and the Nine: The Seven rings of the Dwarves are given as Taurya, Sindya, Tínya, Tulcya, Úrya, Vanya, and Angya (the Ring of Durin). The Nine rings of Men are named Sâkhla, Adâsh, Orôm (the ring of the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur), Jûru, Mêbat, Khânto, Sapthân, Nitîr, and Ûri (the ring of the Witch-king).
FAQ of the Rings by Stan Brown
Who Were the Rings of Power Made For? by Michael Martinez
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