The Three Rings were made by Celebrimbor after Sauron, in the guise of Annatar, had left Eregion. These were free of Sauron's influence, as he did not have a hand in their making. However, they were still forged by Celebrimbor with the arts taught to him by Sauron and thus were still bound to the One Ring. Upon perceiving Sauron's intent, the Elves hid the Three from him. They were carried out of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, after the destruction of the One Ring.
Commentators have observed that the Three Rings enabled the Elves to halt the passage of time within their realms, especially in Lothlórien where Galadriel wielded Nenya. Others have noted that their power was benevolent, in sharp contrast to the One Ring, and could be used to protect and to heal; and that Tolkien uses the Three Rings to elaborate the angelic and sacrificial aspects of the Elves in the battle between good and evil in the War of the Ring.
The first ring, Narya, was adorned with a red gemstone, which Tolkien states "is set with a ruby".[T 2] It is seen in the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings, along with the other two Elven rings. But unlike them, it is not said what metal Narya was made of. It is described as having the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, domination, and despair (in other words, evoking hope in others around the wielder), as well as giving resistance to the weariness of time.
The name is derived from the Quenya nár meaning fire. It was also called Narya the Great, the Ring of Fire, the Red Ring, and The Kindler.
According to Unfinished Tales, at the start of the War of the Elves and Sauron, Celebrimbor gave Narya together with the Ring Vilya to Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor. Gil-galad entrusted Narya to his lieutenant Círdan, Lord of the Havens of Mithlond, who kept it after Gil-galad's death. According to The Lord of the Rings, Gil-galad received only Vilya, while Círdan received Narya and Galadriel received Nenya from the start.
In the Third Age, Círdan, recognizing Gandalf's true nature as one of the Maiar from Valinor, gave him the ring to aid him in his labours. This is not revealed until the end of The Lord of the Rings, as Frodo reaches the quayside to leave Middle-earth, when "Gandalf now wore openly on his hand the Third Ring, Narya the Great".
The second ring, Nenya, was made of mithril and adorned with a "white stone". The name is derived from the Quenya nén meaning water. It is also called the Ring of Adamant, the Ring of Water, and the White Ring.
The ring was wielded by Galadriel of Lothlórien; its radiance matched that of the stars. Frodo Baggins could see it by virtue of being a Ring-bearer, whereas Sam Gamgee tells Galadriel he only "saw a star through your fingers".[a] It has been noted that "Adamant" means both a type of stone, and "stubbornly resolute", a description that equally well suits the quality of Galadriel's resistance to Sauron.
Nenya's power gave preservation, protection, and possibly concealment from evil because "there is a secret power here that holds evil from the land". However, the facts that Orcs from Moria entered Lothlórien after The Fellowship of the Ring and Lothlórien itself had suffered previous attacks from Sauron's Orcs sent from Dol Guldur indicate that the power of the ring did not constitute military prowess. It was said that, protected as it was by Nenya, Lothlórien would not have fallen unless Sauron had personally come to attack it. Galadriel used these powers to create and sustain Lothlórien, but the Ring also increased in her the longing for the Sea and her desire to return to the Undying Lands.
With the Ring's power gone, the magic and beauty of Lothlórien faded, along with the extraordinary mallorn trees (save the one that Samwise Gamgee grew in Hobbiton). Lothlórien was gradually depopulated, until by the time Arwen came there to die in F.A. 121, it was deserted and in ruin.
The third ring, Vilya, was made of gold and adorned with a "great blue stone", probably a sapphire. The name is derived from the Quenya vilya meaning air. It is also called the Ring of Air, the Ring of Firmament, or the Blue Ring.
Vilya was the mightiest of these three Rings, as mentioned in the ending chapter in The Return of the King. The exact power of Vilya is not stated, though The Silmarillion states that Celebrimbor had forged the Three to heal and to preserve, rather than to enhance the strengths of each individual bearer as the Seven, Nine, and the lesser rings did). Its power of healing may be particularly strong, as Elrond seems to have been the greatest healer in Middle-earth at the time of the Quest.[T 3] The ring may have had the power to control minor elements, given that Elrond was able to summon a torrent of water as the Nazgûl attempted to capture Frodo and the One Ring.
When Sauron laid waste to Eregion, Vilya was sent to the Elven-king Gil-galad far away in Lindon, where it was later given to Elrond, who bore it through the later years of the Second Age and all of the Third.
Jason Fisher, writing in Tolkien Studies, notes that Tolkien developed the names, descriptions and powers of the Three Rings late and slowly through many drafts of his narratives. In Fisher's view, Tolkien found it difficult to work these Rings both into the existing story of the One Ring, and into the enormous but ring-free Legendarium. Some of the descriptions, such as that Vilya was the mightiest of the Three, and that Narya was called "The Great", were added at the galley proof stage, just before printing. The rings had earlier been named Kemen, Ëar, and Menel, meaning the Rings of Earth, Sea, and Heaven.
Gwyneth Hood, writing in Mythlore, explores two Catholic elements of the story of the Three Rings: the angelic and sacrificial aspects of the elves in the War of the Ring. To the hobbits of the Fellowship of the Ring, the elven Ring-bearers appear as angelic messengers, offering wise counsel. To save Middle-earth, they have to accept the plan to destroy the One Ring, and with it, the power of the Three Rings, which embody much of their own power. Hood notes that while Gandalf as one of the supernatural Maiar sent from Valinor is "remarkably unlike an elf", out of the wielders of the Three Rings he is the character who most closely combines the angelic and the sacrificial.
The poet W. H. Auden, an early supporter of Lord of the Rings, wrote in the Tolkien Journal that good triumphs over evil in the War of the Ring, but the Three Rings lose their power, as Galadriel had prophesied: "If you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tide of time will sweep it away".
Hood further writes that Tolkien was suggesting technology such as the making of Rings of Power is in itself neither good nor evil; both the Elves and Sauron (with his armies of orcs) use that technology, as they also both make and wear swords and mail armour, and shoot with bows.
Hood notes, too, that the elves use the power of their rings benevolently, in sharp contrast to Sauron's domineering intentions for the One Ring. Galadriel uses her ring to create a kind of Earthly Paradise in Lothlórien.
Alexis Levitin, writing in the Tolkien Journal, adds that the power for good in the Three Rings is limited in scope, not being usable for war or for dominating others; it can be used for purposes such as to protect a place such as Rivendell or Lothlórien, or to heal.
Halting the passage of time
Commentators such as Kevin Aldrich and David Brin have pointed out that the Elves made the Three Rings to try to halt the passage of time, or as Tolkien had Elrond say, "to preserve all things unstained". This was seen most clearly in Lothlórien, which was free of both evil and the passage of time.
- This appears in many editions as "finger"—which sounds more magical, since it suggests that her finger has somehow become transparent—but The Treason of Isengard, ch. 13, note 34, mentions it as an error.
- This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
- Hammond & Scull 2005, pp. 675–676.
- Hammond & Scull 2005, p. 324.
- Fisher, Jason (2008). "Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why?: Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings". Tolkien Studies. 5: 99–108. doi:10.1353/tks.0.0015.
- Hammond & Scull 2005, pp. 670–676.
- Hammond & Scull 2005, pp. 670–671.
- Hood, Gwyneth (1993). "Nature and Technology: Angelic and Sacrificial Strategies in Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'". Mythlore. article 2. 19 (4).CS1 maint: location (link)
- Auden, W. H. (1967). "Good and Evil in 'The Lord of the Rings'". Tolkien Journal. 3 (1): 5–8. JSTOR 26807102.
- Hood, Gwyneth (1995). "The Earthly Paradise in Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'". Mythlore (80): 139–144.
- Levitin, Alexis (1970). "Power in 'The Lord of the Rings'". Tolkien Journal. article 4. 4 (3).CS1 maint: location (link)
- Aldrich, Kevin (1988). "The Sense of Time in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'". Mythlore. article 1. 15 (1).CS1 maint: location (link)
- Brin, David (2008). Through Stranger Eyes: Reviews, Introductions, Tributes & Iconoclastic Essays. Nimble Books. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-934840-39-9.
- Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina (2005). The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-720907-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, ISBN 0-395-25730-1