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.

Everyone who has read the Lord of the Rings is familiar with the poem above. I am still making my way through the Silmarillion and will eventually get to reading the Unfinished Tales, which may hold the answer to my question: Is there any significance to the number of rings given to each race or is it just based on the number of kings/lords who ruled each race? Perhaps there is some information somewhere of why Tolkien chose these odd numbers or why the total number of rings is 20? Or perhaps there is no significance at all...

  • That's probably something you'd find in one of his letters. If I had a copy I'd give an answer :-) Jun 27, 2014 at 16:35
  • I was thinking that might be the case. I wish I had a copy of them too!
    – anduril
    Jun 27, 2014 at 16:41
  • @dvk - Yes, almost a direct duplicate. Damn,
    – Valorum
    Jun 27, 2014 at 16:58
  • Looked for a duplicate for so long! How come I never find these...
    – anduril
    Jun 27, 2014 at 17:02
  • 1
    @anduril - One does not simply find a duplicate...
    – Valorum
    Jun 27, 2014 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


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The Three Elven Rings are noted in Of the Rings of Power and the Third age as having been made last, and that Sauron had no part in their making (despite which they were still subject to the domination of the One):

Now these were the Three that had last been made, and they possessed the greatest powers. Narya, Nenya, and Vilya, they were named, the Rings of Fire, and of Water, and of Air, set with ruby and adamant and sapphire; and of all the Elven-rings Sauron most desired to possess them, for those who had them in their keeping could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world. But Sauron could not discover them, for they were given into the hands of the Wise, who concealed them and never again used them openly while Sauron kept the Ruling Ring. Therefore the Three remained unsullied, for they were forged by Celebrimbor alone, and the hand of Sauron had never touched them; yet they also were subject to the One.

So that's the Three, and that's how they were significant, but what of the others?

An important thing about the others is that's there's actually nothing in Tolkien to indicate that the powers of the nine are any different to the powers of the Seven; rather, what differentiates them is the species they were given to, with a Ring of Power having a different effect on a Man to the effect that it has on a Dwarf.

Regarding the number given to each species, there is a note in the Galadriel and Celeborn material in Unfinished Tales as follows:

There Sauron took the Nine Rings and other lesser works of the Mírdain; but the Seven and the Three he could not find. Then Celebrimbor was put to torment, and Sauron learned from him where the Seven were bestowed.

So the Nine Rings that Sauron gave to Men were just the first nine that he had captured, and after having found where the remaining Rings (excluding the Three) were located, those were the ones that he gave to Dwarves.

Therefore the numbers that he gave to each of Men and Dwarves appear to have been based on the order Sauron captured them in - first the Nine, then the Seven - and not much more.

There's further room for some interesting speculation which it's probably worth mentioning to ward off follow-up questions. We know that there were three houses of Elves and Seven houses of Dwarves, which match with the numbers of Rings each had. Were there also nine houses of Men (in total, including the three of the Edain that we know of for certain)? There's nothing in Tolkien to suggest this.

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