18 February 2016

An Observation on The Ring Verse (FR 1.ii.50)

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.

One of the facts of Arda is that Men dwell in this world only a short time, and after death go where none but Ilúvatar can say. It is also true that a 'mortal ... who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness' (2.ii.47).  Thus the power that Men gain from their rings is an alienation of their very nature, unlike the power of the other rings. The rings of Men keep them in Arda, where they do not belong. The Ring Verse acknowledges this difference in its descriptions. Men are defined here by the doom of their nature; Elves, Dwarves, and Sauron by their place within Arda. 


  1. TroelsForchhammer03 March, 2016 04:31

    Can you tell that I'm currently working on my February transactions :)

    Excellent point, thank you!

    It is, in my eyes, typical of the anthropocentric viewpoint of The Lord of the Rings that the focus is on death, rather than on the true key point about the Gift (or Doom) of Men: their freedom.

    Though this is not touched on in details, I would guess that Men are the only race who could do this – only because they have the freedom to shape their lives beyond the Music, do they have the possibility of extending that life (or a semblance thereof – at least they are not dead).

  2. Just came upon the original version of the Ring verse (Shadow, p. 269):

    Nine for the Elven-kings under moon and star,
    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Three for Mortal Men that wander far,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

    The rest is (almost) the same as the final version. Note the 3 and 9 being swapped round for Elves and Men. The appearance of the verse in Shadow marks a definitive point where the idea of Bilbo's ring as *the* ruling ring is set out (the idea appears a little earlier, but is certainly not present in the earlier drafts). I think this early verse complements and enriches the points you make. Men are identified as 'mortal' in their title, although the subsequent restatement of their 'doom' has yet to appear. But while the Elves and Dwarves are indeed identified with particular places in the world, Men are singled out as (as it were) homeless in Arda.

  3. Thank you, Simon. I love the way the Ring verses combines the descriptive lines we're talking about here with what seems to be (a translation of) the actual incantation Sauron used. "Out of the Black Years come the words that the Smiths of Eregion heard, and knew that they had been betrayed: One Ring...bind them."

    You can feel the shift in the meter of the lines, too. The whole history of that betrayal and all the tension of that instant of realization are contained in these verses.