At the point where the road northward from Isengard to Rivendell meets the way over the mountain pass to Lothlórien the company pauses on its journey for a whole week. This is the parting of the three keepers of the Elven Rings made by Celebrimbor of Eregion in the Second Age. Vilya, Nenya and Narya. Sauron had no part in their making and so they were not under the control power of the One Ring and yet their fate was inextricably linked to the Ruling Ring made by the same lore, the sharing of skill and of knowledge between Celebrimbor and Sauron when the Dark Lord’s intention was not yet known.
Or were there clues enough for the Wise to guess at what Sauron wished to do? Certainly Galadriel and Gil-galad refused his embassies but Celebrimbor received him. In Unfinished Tales Tolkien tells us that Celebrimbor “desired in his heart to rival the skill and fame of Fëanor”. The old Prayer Book of the Church of England counsels us against following “too much the devices and desires of our hearts”. This is wise advice and calls for rigorous self-examination. Celebrimbor was far too upright and honourable to betray his people and friends for the sake of his desire but his desire made him ready to do as Sauron wished and to give him aid in making the Rings of Power.
In this desire even Galadriel was not without blame. When it became clear at the moment when Sauron forged the One Ring in the Cracks of Doom at Orodruin in Mordor that he wished power only for himself she counselled Celebrimbor against destroying the lesser Rings; the Nine, the Seven and the Three. Already she possessed Nenya and by it she was able to create Lórinand that was to become Lothlórien, the most beautiful land in all Middle-earth. Her desire was for the beauty that she was creating and she did not wish to give up her Ring for destruction. As a consequence even though Sauron never found the Three Elven Rings he was able to capture the Nine in his war against Celebrimbor and to give them to mortal men so creating his most terrible servants, the Nazgûl. For a time the Seven, rings of power given to the Dwarf Lords, were free from his grasp, but eventually he held them too.
Celebrimbor’s desire, and Galadriel’s share in it, had led to the forging of the One Ring, to the creation of the Nazgûl and to the diminishing of the dwarves. Although the Elven Rings enabled Galadriel to create the beauty of Lothlórien, Elrond the beauty of the valley of Rivendell and Gandalf to stir up the hearts and wills of the free peoples of Middle-earth they were too much linked to the evil of the Ring of Power to survive its destruction.
Saruman spoke of this in his encounter with the Ring-bearers. “I did not spend long study on these matters for naught. You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine.” As always Saruman’s knowledge was less complete than he believed and his wisdom almost entirely absent but one thing is true and that is that with the destruction of the Ring the power of the Three is at an end and with it much of the work that they achieved. Lothlórien and Rivendell must diminish. Much that is beautiful in the world must come to an end.
Would it have been better if the Ring had not gone to the Fire? The Wise had already been faced with this choice and rejected it. The Ruling Ring had such power to corrupt that it was impossible to keep safely and to use it would have been catastrophic. Never again would the path of withholding be followed. At last the Wise knew what they must do. The Ring must be destroyed and their life in Middle-earth must come to an end.
Saruman in his bitter envy thought of this as an accidental outcome of the destruction of the Ring. He could not imagine that his enemies were prepared to give up so much and to do it freely. And he most certainly did not anticipate the grace that will be shown to the Ring-bearers. After all it was a grace that he himself had long ago rejected.
10 thoughts on “The Passing of the Three Elven Rings of Power.”
I like the connection you make to Saruman’s failure to understand that they chose to make this sacrfice, With all his knowledge, his ambition blinded his understanding. He’s right. They did pull down their own house when they destroyed his, but he cannot imagine their knowingly doing that any more than Sauron can imagine that anyone would want to destroy the ring.
It has just struck me that Saruman does as he always does. He makes himself the centre of everything. The destructive of his house was important but, compared to the destruction of the Ring, quite minor. It is the destruction of the Ring that leads to the end of the work done by the Three Elven Rings and most certain not the destruction of Isengard.
And, sharing Merry and Pippin’s exasperation here (!) Saruman seems to have forgotten about his efforts to seize the Ring and the capture of the young hobbits. Not to mention his contemptuous assault on the Forest of Fangorn. But how can we expect him to take responsibility for any of his past deeds when he is in such misery now? Except… it will only be by doing this that he can begin the road to redemption.
Agree with Tom. That’s a great catch.
Paradox: On the one hand, “Nothing is evil in the beginning.” On the other, Lothlorien and Rivendell and the Silmarils and pretty much everything else created by the Elves have that evil thread in their subcreation.
Thank you so much for this thought! I was thinking about exactly that yesterday. How the greatest beauty in Middle-earth, Midgard the land of our sojourn, is inextricably linked to the greatest evil. It has only been in my current reading of The Lord of the Rings for this blog that this hss come home to me and it has been about 50 years since I first read it and fell in love with it.
I wonder if we are in the paradoxical relationship between Original Blessing and Original Sin. The first (“Nothing is evil in the beginning”) when taken alone is lovely but cannot deal with the reality of evil in the world. The second (a dominant theology in recent centuries) is equally incapable of dealing with the beauty and goodness of and in the world.
Once again I am in awe of the depths of Tolkien’s work. He solves no problems in The Lord of the Rings but neither does he rob us of hope. Just like Sam at the end of the tale we prepare to shoulder our responsibilities as bravely and as lovingly as we can while knowing that if there is ever to be any resolution of the paradox it can only come as gracious gift.
If we make by the law in which we’re made, it is no accident that it is in the attempts of sentient creatures to create things that we most resemble our maker, and that we most run the risk of falling. Melkor emulates Eru, Aule imitates him. As Ulmo keeps telling the Elves, don’t love too much the work of your hands.
The biblical text that comes to mind as I read your comment is “God so loved the world that he gave…” I cannot imagine Melkor, Sauron, or Feanor for that matter, ever linking making, loving what you make, and giving.
“Thus ere the Valar were aware, the peace of Valinor was poisoned. The Noldor began to murmur against them, and many became filled with pride, forgetting how much of what they had and knew came to them in gift from the Valar. Fiercest burned the new flame of desire for freedom and wider realms in the eager heart of Fëanor; and Melkor laughed in his secrecy, for to that mark his lies had been addressed, hating Fëanor above all, and lusting ever for the Silmarils. But these he was not suffered to approach; for though at great feasts Fëanor would wear them, blazing on his brow, at other times they were guarded close, locked in the deep chambers of his hoard in Tirion. For Fëanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.”
“Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor.”
What a wonderful line that is! “He seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.” Thank you so much for taking the trouble to share it.