The ring Narya was one of three made by the Elvish prince Celebrimbor with the aid of Sauron. This particular ring was described as having the following abilities:

  • To inspire and invoke courage from those around the wearer
  • To hide the wearer from remote observation
  • To provide resistance from the weariness of time

Narya was also given to the following in order of ownership:

  1. Celebrimbor
  2. Gil-Galad
  3. Cirdan
  4. Gandalf

The first 3 owners were Elves, destined to be immortal unless slain. Gandalf was a Maia, an immortal spirit. Since all owners were immune to death from time, the 3rd ability to resist the weariness of time would seem quite pointless.

Therefore, was Narya ever intended to be passed to a mortal who would have benefitted from the lack of weariness of time?

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    I don't have my copy of The Silmarillion with me to provide a quote, but the "weariness of time" (not physical aging, but a psychological almost-depression/long dark teatime of the soul) is something that affects Elves and can make them "die." The ability would be very relevant to Elves and possibly unnecessary for Men. – jwodder Aug 9 '15 at 1:43
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    Weariness doesn't mean what you seem to think it does. It usually refers to weariness at seeing the world go by, and countless people and creatures dying. That would wear anyone down. – Wad Cheber Aug 9 '15 at 1:57
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    Particularly immortal beings. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 9 '15 at 16:33
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    I'd like to see a quote on that Narya provides resistance from weariness of time. All I can remember is Cirdan's words to Gandalf: “Take this ring, master, for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill." But that means weariness from work, rather than simply from existing. – Maksim Aug 9 '15 at 20:36
  • Three were used to influence world and people around the users. – Mithoron Aug 10 '15 at 15:53

No, the Elves would not have wanted to give any of the Three to a mortal. There are a couple of reasons why not:

  1. When Sauron was presumed destroyed, the Elves were using them. It's worth remembering why the Elves wanted the Three Rings in the first place (emphasis mine):

    It was in Eregion that the counsels of Sauron [disguised as Annatar] were most gladly received, for in that land the Noldor desired ever to increase the skill and subtlety of their works. Moreover they were not at peace in their hearts, since they had refused to return into the West, and they desired both to stay in Middle-earth, which indeed they loved, and yet to enjoy the bliss of those that had departed.

    The Silmarillion V OF the Rings of Power and the Third Age

    The Elves wanted to have their cake and eat it too; they wanted to stay in Middle-earth, where they were the lords of great kingdoms, but they also yearned for the Undying Lands. Their solution was to use the Rings of Power to, essentially, fake it; as Tolkien says in Letter 131:

    They thus became obsessed with 'fading', the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming – even though they also retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts.


    [M]any of me Elves listened to Sauron. He was still fair in that early time, and his motives and those of the Elves seemed to go partly together: the healing of the desolate lands. Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor.

    The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 131: To Milton Waldman. 1951

    It's not for nothing that the original bearers of the Three (excluding Celembrimbor, who only had them for a short time before giving them out) were great Lords, and Lady, of the Elf-lands: they used the Rings to preserve the memory of the Elder Days, and were still using them right up until the end of the Third Age.

    It's worth emphasizing (as Avner Shahar-Kashtan points out in comments) that, at least as far as the Rings are concerned, this is what the Elves mean by "resisting the weariness of time"1: they want to preserve the glory and beauty of their great works, but Middle-earth is stubbornly insistent in getting on with things.

    From their perspective, giving them up would have the same effect as destroying them, and that's something they're not willing to do except in the face of greater need, as Elrond and Glorfindel say:

    [M]aybe when the One has gone, the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten. That is [Elrond's] belief.'

    'Yet all the Elves are willing to endure this chance,' said Glorfindel, 'if by it the power of Sauron may be broken, and the fear of his dominion be taken away forever.'

    Fellowship of the Ring Book II Chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond"

  2. In the event of Sauron's return, he would use mortals to acquire the Three. This reason is less mercenary; Sauron really wanted the Three:

    [O]f all the Elven-rings Sauron most desired to possess [the Three], for those who had them in their keeping could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world.

    The Silmarillion V OF the Rings of Power and the Third Age

    Because of the natural resiliency of the Elves, he was unable to acquire them in the Second Age. If they were given to Men, however, Sauron would have no such problems; the new, mortal bearers would fall under his dominion just as the Nine did, and then Sauron would have the Three Rings and be the stronger for it. This is considered "non-optimal" by the Elves, who rather want Sauron to keep his grubby mitts off their things.

  3. The Elves don't view the mortal fate as a bad thing. This is an idea that's a little tricky for us, limited mortal readers as we are, but in Tolkien's world death is a good thing. At least it seems like it to the immortals; one particular passage in The Silmarillion goes:

    But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers [Valar and Maiar] shall envy.

    The Silmarillion III Quenta Silmarillion Chapter 1: "Of the Beginning of Days"

    A much-later conversation, between the Elves of Eressëa and the Men of Númenor, further indicates just how much of a gift the Elves view death:

    The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die. Yet that is to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfilment of their being. They cannot escape, and are bound to this world, never to leave it for so long as it lasts, for its life is there. And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die. But that was not at first appointed for a punishment. Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness. Which of us therefore should envy the others?

    The Silmarillion IV Akallabêth

    There's no sensible reason for the Elves to provide mortals with a means of extending their lives, because to the Elves that's the worst thing you can do as a mortal.

1 That isn't to say that the Elves don't get personally weary from time; in Middle-earth they do, but largely because, as Wad Cheber points out in a comment on the question, they watch the cycles of the world go on while they themselves remain unchanged. Ultimately this is why (some of) the Elves yearn for Aman, where there is no natural decay. But the Rings aren't meant to resist that sort of personal weariness, except as a side-effect of preserving the other things the Elves value.

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    The mighty frog strikes with his hammer again with another outstanding answer: +1 :D – Often Right Aug 9 '15 at 2:01
  • Excellent answer. I would only stress, perhaps, that "weariness of time", to elves, isn't personal weariness, but resistance to change itself. Resistance, here, is preservation of their lands, their nature and their way of life. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Aug 9 '15 at 4:09
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan Fair point; added a note – Jason Baker Aug 9 '15 at 16:42
  • the Elves, who rather want Sauron to keep his grubby mitts off their things. – user11521 Aug 9 '15 at 23:33
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    +1, a very brilliant answer! Thank you Sir Croaks-A-Lot =) – user35594 Aug 11 '15 at 22:32

As Wad Cheber's comment indicates, it's not about granting immortality. "Weariness" has a particular meaning to the Elves. Indeed, from the Elves' point of view, mortals would not have need of that particular power: Men die and leave the world, and so they aren't around long enough to become "weary".

Elves become weary of the world because they're immortal. Things change, and they don't; they're doomed to "fade", to preserve the old days only in memory. We see the Elves trying to cling to the past before their "fading" time (and indeed Galadriel uses her ring to achieve exactly this kind of stasis in Lothlórien), and a remark in the Silmarillion says that even the Powers (Valar, but we can infer also the Maiar) will envy the fate of Men, becoming weary of immortal life before the world ends.

As for Narya specifically, we can speculate that it helped Gandalf remain faithful to his mission; if he became "weary", it might have taken the form of being jaded, or even just bored. In such a case he might have turned aside to other things, like Radagast, or else being sick of foolish mortals he might have tried to force them, like Saruman.

This is of course just speculation; I include it only to suggest how all its powers might have been of aid to Gandalf (as Círdan no doubt intended).

  • You make a very valid point, thank you for your fantastic answer! +1 – user35594 Aug 11 '15 at 22:33

Would the Elves have considered giving Narya to a human?

The short answer is "no".

There are any number of reasons why the Elves would refuse to give one of the Three Rings to a mortal. The Elves think of us as rather unreliable, immature, selfish, power hungry, and prone to making catastrophically bad decisions, and frankly, they are probably right. Consider our track record:

  • We began to worship Morgoth almost as soon as we entered the world. Some Elves, just after they were awoken, were misled by Morgoth, but very few of them worshipped him. Later, we proved to be equally willing to obey Sauron.

  • A good number of the Elves knew better than to trust Sauron from the beginning. The few who gave him the benefit of the doubt did so with serious reservations, and they refused to let him take part in the forging of the Three Rings. As soon as Sauron put the One Ring on, the Elves with the Three realized it, and hid the Three until such time as Sauron was defeated and the Three were safe to use. Humans, on the other hand, accepted the Seven Rings without hesitation, and were immediately turned into Nazgûl.

  • We were stupid enough to let Sauron talk us into invading Valinor - where the gods live - in an attempt to conquer the Valar and Maiar, and take immortality by force.

  • When Sauron was defeated in the War of the Last Alliance Between Elves and Men, Isildur took the One Ring to Mount Doom, and with Cirdan and Elrond standing there shouting "GET RID OF IT, STUPID!", he decided that destroying the most evil being in the world was less important than having a pretty new Ring. This meant that the world was doomed to repeat the process at a later date. The fact that the Elves ever spoke to us again is testament to their patience and forgiveness.

On the idea that mortals might benefit from being exempt from the weariness of time:

Humans are already exempt from the weariness of time. We don't live long enough for this to become an issue.

I think the problem here is a simple misunderstanding resulting from the different perspectives Elves and Men held on life and death. Elves are immortal; Men are mortal. Ironically, each viewed the other with envy, and it wasn't uncommon for each to view their own longevity as a punishment, or at least a burden. Since we, the audience, are human, it is only natural that we understand the human viewpoint rather than the Elvish one. We, like the Men of Middle-earth, are destined to live for a brief moment of time, and then blink out of existence; because we are fully aware of this, we might be tempted to dream of the alternative, and paint a rosy picture of immortality. However, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; therefore, it would be advisable to consider the issue from another perspective.

Both in-universe and out-of-universe, Tolkien refers to human mortality in two ways: "the Doom [occasionally "curse"] of Men" and "the gift [from Eru Ilúvatar] of Men". The former sounds worse than it is; Tolkien is fond of using words in their archaic senses, and the archaic meaning of "doom" is "fate, judgment", which may or may not include a negative connotation. The latter term is unquestionably positive in tone. Mortality is a gift, something we should be thankful for. And it is telling that of the two terms, Tolkien uses the latter far more often. In fact, when the phrase "the Doom of Men" is used, it is almost always by a human character, not by Tolkien himself as narrator.

Here are some examples of the way Tolkien describes mortality in his world:

It is one with this gift of freedom that the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, and depart soon whither the Elves know not. Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful. For the Elves die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return.

But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar*, which as Time wears *even the Powers [i.e., the Valar] shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought forth evil out of good, and fear out of hope. Yet of old the Valar declared to the Elves in Valinor that Men shall join in the Second Music of the Ainur; whereas Ilúvatar has not revealed what he purposes for the Elves after the World’s end, and Melkor has not discovered it.
- The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 1: Of The Beginning of Days

The doom of the Elves is to be immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when 'slain', but returning – and yet, when the Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to 'fade' as the Followers grow and absorb the life from which both proceed*. The Doom (or the Gift) of Men is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world1. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not explained mythically: it is a mystery of God of which no more is known than that 'what God has purposed for Men is hidden': a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves...

The 'Elves' are 'immortal', at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death...

Only the 'immortals', the lingering Elves, may still if they will, wearying of the circle of the world, take ship and find the 'straight way', and come to the ancient or True West, and be at peace.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #131

1 Note that Tolkien here refers to human mortality as being both a gift and a doom, whereas he refers to Elven immortality exclusively as a doom.

But the view of the myth is that Death — the mere shortness of human life-span – is not a punishment for the Fall, but a biologically (and therefore also spiritually, since body and spirit are integrated) inherent part of Man's nature. The attempt to escape it is... silly because Death in that sense is the Gift of God (envied by the Elves), release from the weariness of Time.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #156

The Elves represent, as it were, the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men. That is: they have a devoted love of the physical world, and a desire to observe and understand it for its own sake and as 'other' – sc. as a reality derived from God in the same degree as themselves – not as a material for use or as a power-platform. They also possess a 'subcreational' or artistic faculty of great excellence. They are therefore 'immortal'. Not 'eternally', but to endure with and within the created world, while its story lasts. When 'killed', by the injury or destruction of their incarnate form, they do not escape from time, but remain in the world, either discarnate, or being re-born.

This becomes a great burden as the ages lengthen, especially in a world in which there is malice and destruction. Mere change as such is not represented as 'evil': it is the unfolding of the story and to refuse this is of course against the design of God. But the Elvish weakness is in these terms naturally to regret the past, and to become unwilling to face change: as if a man were to hate a very long book still going on, and wished to settle down in a favourite chapter. Hence they fell in a measure to Sauron's deceits: they desired some 'power' over things as they are, to make their particular will to preservation effective: to arrest change, and keep things always fresh and fair.

The 'Three Rings' were 'unsullied', because this object was in a limited way good, it included the healing of the real damages of malice, as well as the mere arrest of change; and the Elves did not desire to dominate other wills, nor to usurp all the world to their particular pleasure. But with the downfall of 'Power' their little efforts at preserving the past fell to bits. There was nothing more in Middle-earth for them, but weariness. So Elrond and Galadriel depart. Gandalf is a special case. He was not the maker or original holder of the Ring – but it was surrendered to him by Círdan, to assist him in his task. Gandalf was returning, his labour and errand finished, to his home, the land of the Valar.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #181

The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race [i.e., Men] 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race [i.e., Elves] 'doomed' not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #186

In this mythical 'prehistory' [i.e., The Silmarillion] immortality, strictly longevity co-extensive with the life of Arda, was part of the given nature of the Elves; beyond the End nothing was revealed. Mortality, that is a short life-span having no relation to the life of Arda, is spoken of as the given nature of Men: the Elves called it the Gift of Ilúvatar (God). But it must be remembered that mythically these tales are Elf-centred, not anthropocentric, and Men only appear in them...

This is therefore an 'Elvish' view... It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death — not being tied to the 'circles of the world' – should now become for Men... a divine 'gift'... since its object is ultimate blessing... a 'mortal' Man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one. To attempt by device or 'magic' to recover longevity is thus a supreme folly and wickedness of 'mortals'. Longevity or counterfeit 'immortality' (true immortality is beyond Ea) is the chief bait of Sauron – it leads the small to a Gollum, and the great to a Ringwraith.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #212

As for the Elves. Even in these legends we see the Elves mainly through the eyes of Men. It is in any case clear that neither side was fully informed about the ultimate destiny of the other. The Elves were sufficiently longeval to be called by Man 'immortal'. But they were not unageing or unwearying. Their own tradition was that they were confined to the limits of this world (in space and time), even if they died, and would continue in some form to exist in it until 'the end of the world'. But what 'the end of the world' portended for it or for themselves they did not know (though they no doubt had theories). Neither had they of course any special information concerning what 'death' portended for Men. They believed that it meant 'liberation from the circles of the world', and was in that respect to them enviable. And they would point out to Men who envied them that a dread of ultimate loss, though it may be indefinitely remote, is not necessarily the easier to bear if it is in the end ineluctably certain: a burden may become heavier the longer it is borne.
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #245

To highlight the different viewpoints of Elves and Men, we have this passage from The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen; Arwen admits that she had previously believed that men were "wicked fools" for their failure to appreciate mortality; now, as her husband is dying, she finally realizes how agonizing it can be.

'"Nay, dear lord," she said, "that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenóreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive."

'"So it seems," he said. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory, Farewell!"
- The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

So why do Elves think mortality is a gift? Consider the issue from their perspective.

Elves are inherently devoted to the natural world and the animals and plants that inhabit it. They love living things, and in many cases, they grow to love humans as well. Their purpose in life is to nurture life, preserve the natural world, and foster growth. They are compelled to heal the wounds of the world around them.

Time passes, and the Elves don't grow old; yet they are made to watch as the things they love age, wither, and die. The trees, the birds, the deer in the forest, the men they come to care for; they all die, while the Elves continue living. This is bearable for some time, and the millennia wear on.

The world is constantly changing, but it is in the Elves' nature to prevent change, to preserve things as they are. This is obviously a losing battle, even with the Three Rings. A small corner of Middle-earth might be kept as it is, as Galadriel managed in Loríen, and Elrond in Imladris, but the larger world cannot be held in stasis; change, decay, death - nothing can stop the circles of the world.

After some time - perhaps 4,000 years, perhaps 10,000, perhaps 100,000 years - the burden of all the death and decay, the endless repetition of the cycle of life, becomes too much to bear. The Elves, being immortal, know that for them, there is no escape from the circles of the world. They can't expect to be released from the wearying ordeal, so the only option left to them is to depart Middle-earth entirely and seek respite in Valinor. Only there, in the Undying Lands, can they find solace from the heartbreaking procession of life and death. Only there does everything remain as it is, forever.

To Elves, immortality is a burden at best, and at times, it must feel like an outright curse. Everything they love, outside of each other, grows old, becomes frail and weak, and ultimately dies. The accumulated sense of loss and heartache must be torturous, especially for beings who are more attuned than any others to the hurts and of the world. They feel the pain of the living things around them, and they take on the sorrow of the suffering they have witnessed.

From this perspective, it is perhaps easier to understand why Elves envy us for our mortality. Their own experience leads them to focus on the blessing of being released from the circles of the world. They see it as a liberation. They have no experience of the fear of imminent death, or the bittersweet emotions of loving someone and knowing that you will soon be parted from them by death. They, like us, are inclined believe that "the grass is greener on the other side".

We don't experience the pain of being forced to watch the world around us decaying and dying, being renewed, maturing, and dying again, age after age. From our perspective, it is clearly preferable to live forever, or at least, to live longer, and have some control over the time at which we leave the world.

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    Absolutely awesome answer, thank you! I'm surprised you barely got any votes so take mine! +1 – user35594 Aug 11 '15 at 22:34
  • @suchiuomizu - I don't think that's right. The elves were misled by Morgoth just after they awoke, which suggests that he was still free at that time. My memory might be wrong, but that's how I remember it. The Valar didn't realize that the elves were awake until many years later. – Wad Cheber Sep 4 '15 at 1:42
  • I was right - from Tolkien Gateway: "Melkor was the first to learn of the Awakening. He soon began sending evil spirits among the Elves, who planted seeds of doubt against the Valar. It is also rumoured that some of the Elves were being captured by a Rider if they strayed too far, and as later turned out these were brought to Utumno and twisted into Orcs." – Wad Cheber Sep 4 '15 at 1:43
  • "the Awakening happened in the precise moment when Varda finished creating additional stars in the night sky. She had just left the council of the Valar, and was afraid that the Firstborn would come in darkness, and that Melkor would find it easy to subvert them" – Wad Cheber Sep 4 '15 at 1:44

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