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In The Lord of the Rings, the One Ring has many powers which make it incredibly dangerous to anyone who holds it, or even comes within close proximity to it. It inspires jealousy, possessiveness, mistrust, discord, infighting, treachery, betrayal, murder, and hatred.

In The Silmarillion, the Silmarils appear to share many of these characteristics. They provoked Fëanor and his kin to take an evil oath, dooming themselves and the entirety of Arda - and even Aman, albeit indirectly. The Silmarils are the cause of much of the suffering and bloodshed of the Elder Days, and countless Men, Elves, Dwarves, and others die as a result of the Silmarils' effects on all who see them. Really, the whole story of The Silmarillion is a long, mournful tale of the misery and malice created by the Silmarils.

There are other parallels between the Ring and the Silmarils. Sauron desperately sought the Ring, much like his master Morgoth sought the Silmarils (although for very different reasons). Some part of the power of the Ainur was locked in each of these objects. Both the Ring and the Silmarils were, more or less, cursed, and brought pain and suffering upon those who possessed them.

Almost anyone who looks upon the Ring or the Silmarils is overcome with covetousness, to such a degree that, even if they are otherwise decent people, they can be inspired to commit horrible acts and unprovoked violence. Both the Ring and the Silmarils are physically beautiful, but are the catalysts for unimaginable ugliness. Both the Ring and the Silmarils are responsible for the deaths of many great leaders and virtuous people.

And so on. As I understand it, much of The Silmarillion was written before Tolkien began working on The Lord of the Rings; however, The Silmarillion was published years after he died, and decades after The Lord of the Rings was published. And although the One Ring appears in The Hobbit, this was actually a retcon, and the description of the ring in the first edition of The Hobbit is nothing like the description in The Lord of the Rings; in the first edition of The Hobbit, the ring is simply an invisibility device with no apparent evil characteristics. It isn't particularly remarkable, in fact, and there is no indication of the far more sinister qualities associated with the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings.

This begs the question of whether he borrowed some of his own ideas regarding the Silmarils and attributed them to the One Ring. Is there any evidence to support this notion? Did he ever write anything along these lines (presumably in his letters)?


Note: While the Ring and the Silmarils share many of their less pleasant attributes in common, there are also some very obvious differences between them. The One Ring is inherently evil, because it was created by an extremely evil being for incredibly evil purposes. The Ring is almost a physical embodiment of evil.

The Silmarils, on the other hand, were not evil at all. The Elf who made them, Fëanor, became quite wicked later on (as a direct result of having created the Silmarils), but when he was making them, he was a nice enough person. And whereas the Ring was made by an evil being using evil materials in evil ways for evil reasons, the Silmarils were made from the light of the Great Trees of Valinor, which were themselves created by the purest, most un-evil beings in the universe - the Ainur; the materials from which they were made were from Valinor, and were therefore also not evil.

The Ring was always, inextricably and irrevocably evil, and it was always intended to be evil. Of the Silmarils, quite the opposite is true. It wasn't the objects themselves that were evil, but the greed and conceit which they inspired in their creator. If Fëanor hadn't sworn a wicked oath upon them, they would have remained beautiful jewels, and proof of a remarkable feat of craftsmanship, and nothing more.

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  • 1
    Calling Jason Baker, Shamshiel, and Matt Gutting, among others. :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 23, 2015 at 3:15
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    I'm going to say No, but I'll have to put off the answer til tomorrow if then. Jun 23, 2015 at 3:22
  • 2
    Gotta love unexplained downvotes.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 23, 2015 at 5:33
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    Welcome to the club... ;) Ignore it - only way to cope with I found is. +1 from me, though.
    – AcePL
    Jun 23, 2015 at 9:37
  • I have noticed many parallels between stuff in the Silmarillion and LotR, the One Ring being one of them. I'll try to form an answer after a bit of research.
    – Maksim
    Jun 23, 2015 at 13:20

2 Answers 2

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I wouldn't say it's a matter of borrowing elements, as much as a consistent theme, an intertwined theme of creators falling in love with their creations and valuing them over the true Creation (capital C), that of the Creator. These creations continue to exert power over others.

You can find it from the earliest stories up to the latest. Sometime's it's a relatively benign form of hubris, like Aule creating the Dwarves as part of his passion for creation (a sin that is absolved and forgiven, due to his humility and sacrifice), and sometimes it isn't, like Feanor and his Silmarils, which showed Feanor believing his creation of the Silmarils rivalling the creative acts of the Valar, and his pride led both himself and his descendants into ruin.

The same theme is repeated in the second age, both with the hubris of Numenor and its kings who believe they can rival the Elves, and later, the smiths of Eregion and their love of the ring-lore that Sauron taught them.

And in the third age, we have Saruman, falling for the same traps that Celebrimbor, Feanor and Aule did before him, and without Celebrimbor's caution, Feanor's brilliance or Aule's humility to balance it.

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  • I'll agree with this answer. I'm not aware of any specific references from Tolkien or his son Christopher about the One Ring being directly influenced by the Silmarills. Rather, it seems to be a reoccuring theme of people (that term used in the most general sense) being obsessed with their creation or something that holds power. By the way, in the Hobbit there was the Arkenstone, that had a very similar grip on the dwarves.
    – Maksim
    Jun 23, 2015 at 20:03
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    Keeping in mind that it's not the Silmarils that do harm, it's the Oath. Jun 23, 2015 at 20:27
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    @MattGutting, was the Oath responsible for the deep desire to have and keep a Silmaril, like it happened to Thingol and the dwarves? By the way, Tolkien's earlier versions of the Silmarillion suggested that when Luthien (in her mortal form after being released from Mandos along with Beren) wore Nauglamir that had a Silmaril set in it, she aged more quickly than normal. That could have been due to the curse of Mim, but could also be due to the effect of the Silmaril.
    – Maksim
    Jun 24, 2015 at 8:26
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    Yes, as I read the published Silmarillion the Oath was responsible for all the ill effects of the Silmarils. Jun 24, 2015 at 10:25
  • +1 for the last two paras only.. nicely explained.. Jul 13, 2015 at 10:15
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I cannot show from writings, but I suspect it was the reverse, that Tolkien borrowed at least a property of the Silmarils from the Ring. Specifically, wanting to keep it forever. From The Silmarillion, chapter 20, Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad:

From Doriath came little help. For Maedhros and his brothers, being constrained by their oath, had before sent to Thingol and reminded him with haughty words of their claim, summoning him to yield the Silmaril, or become their enemy. Melian counselled him to surrender it; but the words of the sons of Feanor were proud and threatening, and Thingol was filled with anger, thinking of the anguish of Luthien and the blood of Beren whereby the jewel had been won, despite the malice of Celegorm and Curufin. And every day that he looked upon the Silmaril the more he desired to keep it for ever; for such was its power.

It is true that the Oath caused the ruin of Doriath, not directly from Thingol's refusal to give up the Silmaril, but Thingol ought to have recognized that peril. After all, all the Noldor came to Middle-earth to pursue the Simarils, after Morgoth, so why would they not attack a lesser entity?

The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954, and The Simarillion was created before, during, and after it was published. Without the writings, as the OP requested (which I don't have) I cannot establish an exact timeline. But I have always had the feeling this aspect bled over from his work on establishing what the Ring would do and how it would work. The previous, accepted answer is in accordance with this theory, and I certainly agree with that accepted answer.

Creators wanting to possess their creations, however, is not consistent in Tolkien's legendarium, so just because something is created or very valuable doesn't mean the possessor must want to keep it for ever. A few such examples:

  • The Ring of Barahir - Arvedui gave it to the chief of Lossath without compulsion (Return of the King, Appendix A)
  • The Eldar gemstones, which they "hoarded them not, but gave them freely, and by their labour enriched all Valinor" (The Simarillion, Chapter 5, Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Edalie
  • Cirdan freely gave his Ring of Power to Gandalf because he thought he would make great use of it (Return of the King, Appendix B, The Third Age)
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  • But the Silmarils preceded the Ring by decades! They were first written about in the 20s, while the Ring took shape only while writing LotR after 1939.
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 16, 2023 at 18:50
  • I do not dispute that. But it is likely the main features were determined first: how they were made, that they captured the light of the two trees, were indestructible, and that Melkor would steal them. From what I read in the texts, it seems like possessiveness was tacked on. Since it was written over decades, I suspect this was a later part. Nov 16, 2023 at 19:12
  • Well, our own history is certainly full of examples of great treasures that the owners cheerfully gave up claim to after they were stolen. And certainly possessiveness of wealth is uncommon. The story that grew into the Silmarillion certainly developed and changed, but it's hard to imagine Tolkien waiting long to add motivations of greed, possessiveness and revenge to a story out of Northern myth.
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 16, 2023 at 20:09
  • @MarkOlson Our history is certainly different from LotR. In Middle-earth, one may, like dwarves, covet wealth and beautiful items, or not, as elves aspire to (and sometimes fail). Consider that if the words "And every day that he looked upon the Silmaril the more he desired to keep it for ever; for such was its power" were left out, the story would be essentially the same. I think after writing so much about the Ring the shiny gold glowed around the image of the Silmarils in the eyes of the creator, even unconsciously. Nov 16, 2023 at 20:17
  • 'Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves, and another among Men.'
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 16, 2023 at 20:34

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