35

In the Lord of the Rings it is said

"In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles — yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous.” [LotR I 2 (60)]

There is a clear distinction here between the 20 Rings of Power in the Ring Rhyme (the 7,9,3,and 1) and these other rings. What happened to the "lesser rings"?

  • 1
    Doesn't Gandalf mention somewhere to Bilbo "there are many magical rings, and none of them should be triffled with", or something of the sort. – JDelage Feb 29 '12 at 22:32
  • 2
    Not to Bilbo but to Frodo, in the second chapter of "The Fellowship of the Ring": "In Eregion long ago many Elvin-rings were made ... The lesser rings were only essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles -- yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals." – MLP Mar 3 '12 at 21:53
21

There was almost no canon mention of the lesser rings other than the one quoted.

The only possible mention was Unfinished Tales - allusion to more rings is made when Sauron invaded Eregion to reclaim by force all the rings he had sought to rule by the forging and wearing of the One:

"There Sauron took the Nine Rings and the lesser works of the Mírdain; but the Seven and the Three he could not find."


The lesser rings were mentioned in 2 of the adaptations (src: http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Lesser_rings):

  • Middle-earth Collectible Card Game (1995-1997)

    Several cards describing and depicting lesser rings were released, for example "The Oracle's Ring", "Wizard's Ring", and "Magic Rings" of different power (lore, stealth, courage, etc.).

  • The Lord of the Rings Online (2007)

    Narchuil was one of the lesser rings forged by the elven-smiths. It was worn by Amarthiel.

  • MERP (via ICE) had a few of them as well that the players could find and get into untold trouble. Good fun though. But definitely not cannon. – Sardathrion Feb 29 '12 at 15:47
10

I'm guessing that they went the way that most of the elf-smiths' creations went: some were taken with them when they tired of Middle Earth and went west. Some collect dust in old graves, like the swords that the hobbits found in the burial mounds in the Barrow Downs. Some might be in the hands of old families of Dunedain in Gondor where they are kept as heirlooms from time immemorial. Some might still be buried in Moria.

You can see the Gates of Moria as another example of the work of the dwarves' and elves' craftsmanship, but also as an example of what happened to these works: abandoned and forgotten.

10

Tolkein's letter to Milton Waldman published in the second edition of The Silmarillion has a little more to say.

After Melkor was overthrown and cast out, many of the Elves listened to and made common cause with his former lieutenant, Sauron. At Eregion, they made Rings of Power (number unspecified). The Elves made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, without Sauron's help, though perhaps not free of his inspiration ("almost solely of their own imagination, and directed to the preservation of beauty"). Secretly, in the subterranean fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made the One Ruling Ring. However, the moment he "assumed the One" (wore it? used it?), the Elves were aware of him, and hid the Three, so Sauron never discovered them or sullied them. So far so good. But what of the Seven and the Nine?

In the resulting war between Sauron and the Elves Middle-earth, especially in the west, was further ruined. Erigion was captured and destroyed, and Sauron seized many Rings of Power. These he gave, for their ultimate corruption and enslavement, to those who would accept them (out of ambition or greed).

Sauron seized "many" Rings of Power. We know he distributed sixteen to Men and Dwarfs. The phrasing implies that he distributed all he had ("These he gave"), so perhaps sixteen were all he got. Or perhaps he seized sixteen Rings of Power and a number of lesser rings. But the wording implies that there were other Rings of Power he didn't seize, others beside the Three.

The Three and the One were special. The Three were the works of the Elves only, and were of special beauty and with a specific power directed to the preservation of beauty. The One was the work of Sauron only, and was designed to rule. The others (at least sixteen, by the phrasing likely more), were collaborations.

However, the letter mentions no distinction between the twenty (or more) "great rings" and other "lesser rings".

1

I always assumed that they were still out there, being passed from king to king, which was the true power of the One Ring. A simple ring of invisibility wouldn't be worth much, but a ring that could control all the kings of middle earth would be fairly significant.

If those rings weren't still in circulation, I'm not sure the One Ring would have been anything more than mildly useful.

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