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3. The History of the Ring until its finding by Bilbo

The Elves and Sauron became implacable foes and war never ceased between them. Sauron gathered together those of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves that he could and the Nine Rings of the Men. The Dwarves were resilient and tough, and not all of the Seven were retrieved by Sauron. Men proved easier to subvert, and the Nine Kings who wore the Rings of Men all came under the dominion of Sauron and walked under the shadow and dominion of the One as the Nazgul or Ringwraiths.

During the Second Age, the realm of Numenor had developed and become great. During the reign of Tar-Minastir, Sauron fortified the land of Mordor, built the Tower of Barad-dur and strove for dominion of Middle-earth. [10] Sauron hated the Men of Numenor. They had been allied with the Elves and Tar-Minastir gave aid to Gil-galad when the One Ring was forged. Yet Sauron, despite his power, feared the Numenoreans, although it was said that three of the Nazgul (Ulairi in the Numenorean tongue) were great lords of the Numenorean race. When Sauron's terror and mastery over Men had grown great he ventured to assail the strong places of the Numenoreans upon the shores of the sea. These obviously were the Numenorean settlements in Middle-earth.

Pharazon son of Gimilkhad, a restless and ambitious Numenorean, was a leader of the Numenoreans in the wars that were waged in the coastlands of Middle-earth. In these wars he learned of the strength of the realm of Sauron and of his hatred of Westernesse. Upon his assumption of the throne he took the title of Ar-Pharazon and was known as the Golden. With Ar-Pharazon in Numenore, Sauron put forth his might to drive the Numenoreans from Middle-earth and even desired the destruction of Numenor. Ar-Pharazon then determined to humble Sauron, marched upon Middle-earth and commanded Sauron to come before him and swear fealty. Sauron came from Barad-dur, making no offer of battle,

    "For he perceived that the power and majesty of the Kings of the Sea surpassed all rumour of them, so that he could not trust even the greatest of his servants to withstand them; and he saw not his time yet to work his will with the Dunedain. And he was crafty, well skilled to gain what he would by subtlety when force might not avail. Therefore he humbled himself before Ar-Pharazon and smoothed his tongue; and men wondered, for all he said seemed fair and wise.
    But Ar-Pharazon was not yet deceived, and it came into his mind that, for the better keeping of Sauron and of his oaths of fealty, he should be brought to Numenor, there to dwell as a hostage for himself and all his servants in Middle-earth. To this Sauron assented as one constrained, yet in his secret thought he received it gladly, for it chimed indeed with his desire. And Sauron passed over the sea and looked upon the land of Numenor, and on the city of Armenelos in the days of its glory, and he was astounded.;"[11]

The power of the Men of Numenor must have been great, for Sauron still wore the Ring. Yet he did not use it, or they were able to resist it. Indeed he put it aside and left it at Barad-dur, although this is not made clear until a later stage in the text after the Fall of Numenor. I favour the conclusion that the Men of Numenor could resist the Ring. Elendil and Isildur, survivors of the Wreck of Numenor were not cowed by it, as will later become obvious. In addition, Sauron used other weapons in his armoury of evil, for within three years he had become close to Ar-Pharazon, using flattery and knowledge to win hearts. And once the councillors saw the favour that Sauron received from Ar-Pharazon, they began to fawn on him, with the exception of Amandil, lord of Andunie and father of Elendil. Amandil, with three of his servants, later left Numenor and after first steering eastwards went about and passed into the West and nothing more was heard of him. Before he went he had counselled Elendil who gathered the Faithful together and they did not meddle in the evil that Ar-Pharazon was planning.

Ultimately, Ar-Pharazon broke the Ban of the Valar and sailed to Aman, whereupon the Blessed Realm was sundered from the physical world and Numenor was drowned. Elendil, with his nine ships, avoided the wreck of Numenor and sailed on the wings of the storm to Middle-earth. Sauron, who remained in Numenor was filled with fear when the wrath of the Valar was made manifest, but was at the same time triumphant at the thought that he was rid of the Edain. He was taken in the midst of his mirth and his seat and his temple fell into the abyss.

    "But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home. There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure." [12]
    "...... and the malice of the Eye of Sauron few even of the great among Elves and Men could endure"[13]

Elendil, Isildur and Anarion came to Middle-earth like birds on a storm. Elendil landed in Lindon and was befriended by Gil-galad and established his realm in what was later to become the Kingdom of Arnor in Eriador. Isildur and Anarion were borne away southwards and established themselves in Gondor where earlier mariners of Numenor had settled. Their chief city was Osgiliath, and they built Minas Ithil, the house of Isildur, and Minas Anor, the house of Anarion. They shared the rule of the realm and built many works, including Isengard where they made the Pinnacle of Orthanc of unbreakable stone.

Sauron prepared for war against the Eldar and the Men of Westernesse and the fires of Amon Amarth, Mt. Doom, were awakened again. Sauron gathered a great strength of his servants from the East and the South and among them were some of the high race of Numenor. Two of these were Herumor and Fuinur who had risen to power among the Haradrim.

Sauron attacked Gondor and took Minas Ithil. He destroyed the White Tree of Isildur. But Isildur escaped, taking a seedling of the Tree with him and he sailed from the mouths of Anduin seeking Elendil. Anarion held Osgiliath and drove the forces of Sauron back to the mountains, but the respite was brief as Sauron gathered his forces again.

In the meantime Elendil and Gil-galad united and made a League known as the Last Alliance and they marched east into Middle-earth gathering a host of Elves and Men. They halted for a while at Imladris, crossed the Misty Mountains and marched down Anduin and engaged Sauron on Dagorlad, the Battle Plain, before the Gates of Mordor. Of the hosts of the Last Alliance Elrond said,

    " I remember well the splendour of their banners.... (i)t recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled....... I was the herald of Gil-galad and marched with his host. I was at the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gate of Mordor, where we had mastery: for the Spear of Gil-galad and the Sword of Elendil, Aiglos and Narsil, none could withstand. I beheld the last combat on the slopes of Orodruin, where Gil-galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him; but Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the Ring from his hand with the hilt-shard of his father's sword, and took it for his own."[14]

The siege of Mordor lasted seven years before this great battle. Many sorties were sent by Sauron, and Anarion was slain in the valley of Gorgoroth. At the end, "the siege was so strait" that Sauron himself entered the fray. It is said that he wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil and they were both slain. I do not believe that he wrestled in the commonly understood sense, for in such a form of combat Elendil and Gil-galad would be weaponless. "Wrestled" in this context must mean "fought" or "struggled" in its widest context, both physically and mentally.

Clearly the combined strength of the magnificent Men of Numenor and the High Elves of Gil-galad could resist the enormous power of Sauron incarnate wearing the Ring, although obviously the Ring could dominate lesser Men. After Sauron was defeated he "forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years."[15]

And so the Ring passed to Isildur. If it had been destroyed, the power of Sauron would have been forever diminished, and he would have remained a shadow of malice in the wilderness.

    "Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast into Orodruin's fire nigh at hand where it was made. But few marked what Isildur did. He alone stood by his father in that last mortal contest; and by Gil-galad only Cirdan stood, and I. But Isildur would not listen to our counsel.
    "This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother," he said; and whether we would or no, he took it to treasure it.""[16]

Isildur returned to Minas Anor where he planted the last sapling of the White Tree in memory of Anarion, and instructed his nephew Meneldil before leaving him to rule the Southern Kingdom. Whilst he was at Minas Anor he made a scroll discovered by Gandalf, who, forsaking the chase of Gollum, came to Gondor and received grudging approval from Denethor to examine the old books of lore at Minas Tirith. Isildur wrote of the Ring as follows:

    "The Great Ring shall now go to be an heirloom of the North Kingdom; but records of it shall be left in Gondor, where also dwell the heirs of Elendil, lest a time come when the memory of these great matters shall grow dim.
    It was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it. Yet even as I write it is cooled, and it seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither of its beauty or its shape. Already the writing upon it, which at first was as clear as red flame, fadeth and is now only barely to be read. It is fashioned in an elven-script of Eregion, for they have no letters in Mordor for such subtle work; but the language is unknown to me. I deem it to be a tongue of the Black Land, since h!~=âs foul and uncouth. What evil it saith I do not know; but I trace here a copy of it lest it fade beyond recall. The Ring misseth, maybe, the heat of Sauron's hand, which was black and yet burned like fire, and so Gil-galad was destroyed; and maybe were the gold made hot again, the writing would be refreshed. But for my part I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain."[17]

But the Ring betrayed him.

Isildur rode north to take up Elendil's realm in Eriador, but he was overwhelmed by a host of orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains. They came upon his camp between Greenwood and Anduin near the Gladden Fields. Isildur had mistakenly thought that all his foes had been overthrown and he placed no guards, and nigh all his people were slain.

    "Isildur himself escaped by means of the Ring, for when he wore it he was invisible to all eyes; but the Orcs hunted him by scent and slot, until he came to the River and plunged in. There the Ring betrayed him and avenged its maker, for it slipped from his finger as he swam, and it was lost in the water. Then the Orcs saw him as he laboured in the stream, and they shot him with many arrows, and that was his end." [18]

From then, effectively until Gandalf established that the Ring held by Frodo was in fact the One, the Ring passed out of knowledge and legend. Saruman, at the time of the return of the Shadow to Dol Guldur and the formation of the White Council, began to study the lore of the Rings of Power, their making and their history. This was for his own purpose, for, as it later turned out, Saruman himself coveted the One. But he dissembled and lulled his fellow members of the White Council.

At a meeting between Elrond, Mithrandir and Saruman, Elrond commented,

    "In the hour that Isildur took the Ring and would not surrender it, this doom was wrought, that Sauron should return."
    "Yet the One was lost," said Mithrandir, "and while it still lies hid, we can master the Enemy, if we gather our strength and tarry not too long."
    Then the White Council was summoned; and Mithrandir urged them to swift deeds, but Curunir spoke against him, and counselled them to wait yet and to watch.
    "For I believe not," said he, "that the One will ever be found again in Middle-earth. Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed." [19]

Elrond was not so confident and expressed the Gandalf the fear that the One would be found, and then war would arise again, and in that war the Third Age would be ended. Elrond was pessimistic, fearing a second darkness, unless an unforseen event delivered victory.

But in his secret thought Saruman desired that none other should find the One, so that he might wield it and order the world to his rule. He had studied the works of Sauron to defeat him, but in that study he came to envy Sauron as a rival. Saruman was of the view that if Sauron became manifest once more, the Ring would seek its master, but if Sauron were driven out, the Ring would remain hidden. Thus, Saruman was prepared to allow Sauron's power to develop, hoping to forestall the White Company and Sauron, and be ready when the Ring should reappear.

He set a watch upon the Gladden Fields, but the servants of Sauron in Dol Guldur were searching there as well. It was clear that Sauron was aware of Isildur's end, and that the Ring was not in the hands of the White Council or their allies. Saruman withdrew to Isengard and fortified it

    "and ever he probed deeper into the lore of the Rings of Power and the art of their forging. But he spoke of none of this to the Council, hoping still that he might be the first to hear news of the Ring. He gathered a great host of spies, and many of these were birds; for Radagast lent him his aid, divining naught of his treachery, and deeming that this was but part of the watch upon the Enemy.
    But ever the shadow in Mirkwood grew deeper (and)
    Therefore at last the Council was again summoned and the lore of the Rings was much debated; but Mithrandir spoke to the Council saying:
    ' it is not needed that the Ring should be found, for while it abides on earth and is not unmade, still the power that it holds will live, and Sauron will grow and have hope. The might of the Elves and the Elf-friends is less now than of old. Soon he will be too strong for you, even without the Great Ring: for he rules the Nine, and of the Seven he has recovered three. We must strike." [20]

Saruman assented. He wished to see Sauron expelled from Dol Guldur, which was near the River, so that he should have leisure to search there himself. But Sauron anticipated the activities of the White Council and cunningly fled from Dol Guldur and re-established himself in Mordor.

Unknown to all, the Ring had indeed been found, and was abroad, for in the year that Dol Guldur was assaulted, Bilbo Baggins the hobbit found the Ring in the depths of the Misty Mountains by the lake where dwelt Smeagol Gollum.

Long before, but long after the disaster at Gladden Fields, Smeagol and his friend Deagol were fishing on the Great River near the Gladden Fields where there were great beds of irises and flowering reeds. It was Smeagol's birthday. Smeagol got out of the boat and went nosing about the banks, but Deagol remained in the boat. Suddenly a great fish took the hook and Deagol was dragged out of the boat and into the River. He let go of his line and his attention was attracted by something shining in the riverbed. He grabbed it, surfaced and swam to the bank. He looked at his prize. It was a beautiful golden ring which shone and glittered in the sun. Smeagol had been watching from behind a tree and demanded the Ring from his friend, claiming it as a birthday present. Deagol protested, saying that he had already given Smeagol a present, and said that he would keep it. With that Smeagol strangled the hapless Deagol and took the Ring because the gold looked so bright and beautiful. He put the Ring on his finger.

He returned home having hidden Deagol's body and discovered that no one could see him, for the Ring made him invisible. He used the Ring to find out secrets and put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses. He became sharp-eyed and keen-eared for all that was hurtful. The Ring had given him power according to his stature. He became unpopular with his family, and ultimately his grandmother expelled him from their home. He wandered, cursing the Sun, and ultimately found his way, like a maggot, into the heart of the mountains. There he lived by an underground lake, surviving on fish and the odd orc who may have strayed lost to his lair. One day he misplaced the Ring, leaving it on a path at the edge of his lake. And there it was found by Bilbo Baggins.

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The Tolkien Encyclopedia
The Art of Tolkien
One Ring to Rule Them All by David Harvey

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