The RINGS of POWER
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.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a believer in the power of myth. He didn't necessarily bestow credibility on myths; but he believed they were indicators of the moral values of the cultures that gave rise to them.
In his great saga of the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil, Professor Tolkien weaves a myth around The Rings of Power - a fiendish plot by the Dark Lord, Sauron, to gain dominion over all the creatures of Middle-earth.
It is allegorical of Tolkien's times in the sense that the evil force believes that 'might makes right', and the side representing the 'good' is factionalised and subject to its own lusts and temptations. The outcome is, by no means, certain. Indeed, it was presumed in Valinor that the Dark Lord could not lose; thus they sent a token to the beleaguered 'friendly' races in the form of the Istari, or Wizards. Yet - compared to the Great Battle that defeated the original Dark Lord to end the First Age, when the armies of the immortals from the West were arrayed against the forces of mind-numbing evil in a massive carnage, when the whole shape of the land-mass of Middle-earth was violently changed - the War of the Ring seems as an afterthought to the Powers in the Uttermost West beyond the seas.
Such is the recipe for mythical license. In Professor Tolkien's stunning epic it is fated that Man should ascend to his place amongst the ancient veterans of the wars of Middle-earth. The rings of the Dwarves and of the Elves fail in their sinister purpose of enslaving those races; but the rings of Men succeed masterfully to the point that those corrupted 'kings' become the generals of Sauron's dark designs, his 'hands' after he loses the power to assume effective material form.
Not long after the fall of Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, his chief disciple, Sauron, conceived a diabolical plot to reassert forever the dominion of evil power. Early in the Second Age Sauron assumed a fair shape and seduced the Dwarves into instructing him in the 'arts' that Aulë, the Vala of crafts, had taught them in distant ages. He had observed how the Dwarves fashioned weapons into which they could forge spiritual powers of strength, courage and faithfulness. His supernatural mind conceived the snare by which he could forever net his enemies: the Rings of Power.
It was Sauron's deceit that he would tempt the Dwarves, Elves and Men with their own lusts to forge great rings by which they could achieve marvelous wonders. All that was required was that they should infuse their rings with their own essence, their own strongest values; undoubtedly he assuaged their doubts by pointing out that they would not lose those 'powers', but would better be able to focus and direct them to achieve more than they could hope to in an open economy of talent; undoubtedly he diplomatically pointed out that no one person could gain ascendance within their race, as there would be more than one ring available to each group.
Sauron cleverly held back from forging the One Ring in those early days; he was the picture of equanimity. He bided his time while the Rings of Power were slowly conceived, designed and through trial and error forged into seemingly perfect instruments. When all the marvelous work was done he retreated humbly to the cracks of Orodruin in Mordor and began the final stage of his ambush. He knew just how powerful the rings of his soon-to-be thralls were - because he helped write the formulas; it only remained for Sauron to gather his vast supernatural powers and by a catharsis of sacrifice, drain them into the One Ring. It was essential that he be prudent with his assets, however, because while he had to insure mastery over the other rings, he could not afford to leave his own person vulnerable to unexpected provocation by his enemies.
The formulas that the Lord of Mordor used have universal foundations. Throughout mythology certain esoteric principles seem to permeate, not the least of which are the value of certain numbers.
Three is a nearly divine number, incorporating opposing principles in 'balance' - the two balanced by the one; it represents the 'family', the power of creation in a mother, a father and their offspring who ostensibly bears the best of the two parents combined. It is fitting - and ironic - that the divinity of three should accrue to the Elves, who were not only born immortal, but were the cherished 'children' of the Valar, and shared nearly equal powers in many things. Indeed, the Elves might have early been divided into three groups, those who elected to depart for Valinor and went - the Vanyar, those who elected to depart for Valinor but were delayed - loosly the Teleri, and those who elected to stay in Middle-earth - the Avari.
Seven could be summed up as a number of 'redemption'; it can be divided into the creative force of four and the divine principle of three. The Dwarves were 'redeemed' by Ilúvatar after Aulë created them covertly prior to the awakening of the Elves; their creation was outside the will of Ilúvatar, and Aulë, in his shame, was prepared to destroy these hapless creatures. He raised his great hammer to crush them while they cowered in fear and begged for mercy. The Supreme Being had compassion on the Dwarves and stayed Aulë's hand. He willed that the Dwarves sleep until after the time of awakening of the Quendi, the first of the Children of Ilúvatar.
Because Aulë was the Vala of crafting and fashioning, the Dwarves were intended to be craftsmen, thus the involvement of the creative force of four; since they were created directly by a Vala, rather than in the process of the will of Ilúvatar, and survived by divine judgment, they enjoyed a special divine destiny, thus the involvement of three.
Nine is a number of man; some modern scholars dispute this evaluation, but a review of ancient cosmologies, including the early Christian church, will confirm this analysis. Nine holds the promise of ten - perfection - just by proximity. The number nine is subject to both six, the only 'evil' number, and three, the divine principle. The nature of man is forever torn between the lusts of pride and flesh on the one hand, and the noble values of a divine nature on the other.
Thus Sauron, through Professor Tolkien, assigns three rings to the Elves, seven to the Dwarves and nine to men. If the Elves would bring an alliance of their three rings with the nine rings of men, the combined power would equal twelve; twelve is a worldly number, a number of material completion. The combination would provide considerable power to the alliance, but not a match for the supernatural power of one: the One Ring.
One is a number of unity - everything in existence in one principle; but it is also a number of chaos, especially to a worldly perspective. No worldly force can stand in the wake of one. No worldly power can reconcile the chaos of one.
An alliance between the three rings of the Elves and the seven rings of the Dwarves would bring forth the power of ten; ten is a number of divine perfection. It is philosophically questionable whether the worldly races could attain to that number; but Tolkien, the master story spinner, interdicted such a possibility by setting a stubborn enmity between the two races. The Dwarves were a crabby covetous race, yet able to craft objects of great beauty and skill. It is said in one place that the Dwarves could craft great beauty, but they could not conceive of it. They crafted as the Elves designed and directed.
In the First Age the Elven Sindarin King, Elu Thingol, husband of the divine Maia, Melian, commissioned the Dwarves to set one of the Silmaril jewels into a golden necklace already bedecked with gems from the Undying Lands in the West by the Noldor. The Dwarves conceived an evil covetousness for the stunning piece - the Nauglamir - and slew Thingol in his palace of Menegroth - the 'Thousand Caves' - and escaped with the necklace towards their fortress of Nogrod in the mountains of the Ered Luin in the East. However the Elves swiftly regrouped and retook the Nauglamir ere the Dwarves had traveled far. They returned it to the distressed and grieving Melian. Then the Dwarves raised a great force at Nogrod and marched on Doriath, the kingdom of King Elu Thingol.
Melian had already yielded up her natural body and returned to the Eternal Lands to grieve her loss, thus lifting her divine protection over Menegroth and the kingdom of Doriath. The Dwarves descended on Menegroth with great vengeance, and great was the carnage of that battle. Without the protection of Melian or the courage of Thingol, the Elves of Doriath again lost the Nauglamir to the Dwarves amid terrible losses.
At the Ford of Athrad a combined force of Sindarin and Sylvan Elves, with Beren, son-in-law of Thingol and one of the most valiant of Men of this age, counterattacked and slew the Dwarves and reclaimed the Nauglamir. The few Dwarves that escaped were set upon by Ents as they climbed desperately upwards towards their mountain fortress.
From that time forward enmity festered between Elves and Dwarves, enmity that survived all the way into the last part of the Third Age and the War of the Ring.
Thus Sauron felt confident that he had nothing to fear from any alliance of Dwarves and Elves. When the Dwarf, Gimli, joined the Fellowship of the Ring, he represented the lone exception to this evil calculation by the Dark Lord.
Yet it troubled him, no doubt; most especially while he lacked possession of his necessary instrument: the One Ring.
An alliance of the seven of Dwarves and the nine of Men would equal sixteen, which yields seven [1 + 6], still subject to the power of the Lord of Mordor and the One.
But without his Ring, Sauron could only worry...
Of the rings of the Elves
We have developed the power of three, and the Elven rings. Yet we can gain more intelligence from this number value.
The three rings of the Elves were Narya, the Ring of Fire or Red Ring; Nenya, the Ring of Water or Ring of Adamant [white]; and Vilya, the Ring of Air or the Ring of Sapphire [blue].
Three rings: Fire, Water and Air... red, white and blue. Yet undoubtedly something is missing. In most ancient cosmologies the world was comprised of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Yet here 'earth' is left out of the equation. Of course, that yields the number three that was essential for the mythical formula to work. We have already pointed out that four is the creative number.
It may be that Professor Tolkien chose to omit 'Earth' because the Elves were somewhat free of its bonds. While they could be killed, and were buried in the earth like mortals, they were immortal; it was said that their essence removed to the Halls of Mandos, at the farthest Western edge of the world, where they awaited a 'resurrection'. No such promise was clearly hoped for by Men. Fire represents the 'spirit' of life, which the Elves possessed in abundance; Water represents the 'blood' of life, which they were promised forever; Air represents the 'breath' of life, which gives voice to expression; the Elves first called themselves the 'Quendi', because they thought they were the only 'speakers'.
'Earth' represents decay - as well as regeneration. Such was apparently not the fate of the Quendi. Unless the blood was spilt, and the breathing stopped, quenching the fire of the spirit, the Elves need not give any regard to the earth, except as a medium to walk upon or watch things grow from it.
For his part, Sauron seemed mostly to regard Fire; with fire he forged his power into the material world, and with the fire of passion and hatred he kept his enemies at bay for two 'ages'. The fire of the spirit was about all that was left of him by the time of the War of the Ring.
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