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3.1. Unfinished Tales

Before considering the nature of the Ring and the way that it works, it is appropriate at this stage to ascertain if there is any further helpful information contained in what I term the "Apocryphal Writings" of "Unfinished Tales"

"Unfinished Tales" contains four chapters which are of considerable assistance which can provide added insights to some of the matters surrounding the Ring - The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, The Disaster of Gladden Fields, The Quest of Erebor and The Hunt for the Ring.

The History of Galadriel and Celeborn takes us right back to the beginning of the Second Age. It is revealed that Galadriel was perceived by Sauron to be his chief adversary and obstacle, but although he was patient and courteous with her, she treated him with scorn. This antipathy on the part of Galadriel is extant in the Third Age when she comments that Lorien is a bastion against Sauron.

Sauron turned his attention to the Elven-smiths. It transpires that Celebrimbor and his fellow smiths had formed a society or brotherhood and it was this society that was known as the Gwaith-i-Mirdain.

    "Before long Sauron had the Gwaith-i-Mirdain under his influence, for at first they had great profit from his instruction in the secret matters of their craft. So great became his hold on the Mirdain that at length he persuaded them to revolt against Galadriel and Celeborn to seize power in Eregion; and that was at some time between 1350 and 1400 of the Second Age. Galadriel thereupon left Eregion and passed through Khazad-dum to Lorinand, taking with her Amroth and Celebrian." [21]

Then the Mirdain commenced upon the making of the Rings of Power, and Sauron left Eregion in 1500. Celebrimbor had not been corrupted by Sauron, although he had accepted him as what he posed to be - Atannar, the Lord of Gifts. Thus, when Sauron donned the One Ring, Celebrimbor went to Lorinand and counselled with Galadriel. It was later understood that all the Rings of Power should have been destroyed at this time, but the Elves failed to find the strength to do this. It was decided that the Three Rings of the Elves, which had been untouched by Sauron and in the making of which he had no part, should be hidden, never used and dispersed far from Eregion where Sauron thought them to be. Nenya, the White Ring, was given to Galadriel. The Ring of Air (Vilya) and the Ring of Fire (Narya) were sent to Gil-galad in Lindon. [22]

Once Sauron became aware of the revolt of Celebrimbor he gathered together a great force and invaded Eriador in SA1695. The chief goal was to capture the House of the Mirdain, which was accomplished. Celebrimbor himself withstood Sauron on the steps of the great door of the Mirdain, but he was captured. In this way Sauron took the Nine Rings and other works of the Mirdain. But he could not find the Seven or the Three. Celebrimbor was tormented and revealed where the Seven were. This he was prepared to do, for he did not value them as highly as the Three. Concerning the Three, Celebrimbor was prepared to say nothing and he was slain. But Sauron rightly guessed that the Three had been committed to Elvish guardians - Galadriel and Gil-galad. Eregion was ravaged. Elrond established a refuge at Imladris, and aid came from the Elves of Lorinand, led by Amroth, and Dwarves from Khazad-dum, led by Durin. Sauron turned on these foes from the South and drove them back, and the Gates of Moria were shut. Sauron turned to Eriador, purposing to invade Lindon, but he was weakened, having to leave forces behind to contain Elrond.

Aid also came from Numenor and after fierce conflict, Sauron was defeated at Sarn Ford and at Gwathlo. The force besieging Imladris was utterly defeated. Eriador was cleared of the enemy, but lay in ruins.

This fragment clarifies a number of issues. It is clear now that Sauron not only misled the Gwaith-i-Mirdain, but corrupted them to the point that they arose in revolt. Further it is clear that they did this before the making of the Rings of Power. It was by divisiveness that Sauron was able to isolate Galadriel and remove her from Eregion. Thence he could proceed to the forging of the Rings of Power to strengthen his hold over the peoples of Middle-earth. He clearly did not anticipate that Celebrimbor would forge the Three in secret with a totally different power and purpose than the Seven, The Nine and the One. This highlights the issue of the purposes of the Ring and the way that it works, and indeed such an analysis cannot be done in isolation, for an understanding of the One necessarily involves a comparison with the Three, and I shall deal with this in the next section.

A matter that has always raised a concern is how it was that the Elves were able to resist Sauron, given that he had the Ring. There are two issues that arise here. First, Sauron used the Ring as a repository of much of his extant power. The Ring did not give him any extra power above and beyond that which allowed him to control the hearts and minds of the wearers of the Seven and the Nine. It does seem that he could manifest some control over the Three if they were revealed [23]. It is also clear that the Elves were in a better position to resist Sauron and his power as a Maia of Aule than the other races of Middle-earth, so his power against them, be it personally or by means of the Ring, was not as devastating. Similarly, Sauron found it difficult to control the Men of Numenor as easily as, say, the Men of the East. They had greater strength of will and were not, initially, swayed by his blandishments.
Secondly, Sauron used main force in his war against the Elves of Eregion, and in terms of numbers was clearly superior. These numbers obviously were under the control of the Ring and did Sauron's bidding. It was the intervention of the Numenoreans that changed the balance in the favour of the Elves. Sauron's defeat resulted in his retreat to Mordor and the ascendancy of the Numenorean settlements on the Western coasts from about SA 1800, thus making any westward movement by Sauron from Mordor impossible.

The Disaster of the Gladden Fields sheds further light upon Isildur's end. He was the first victim of the Ring. In some respects this fragment is more helpful in understanding the way in which the Ring works and provides us with further insights to its nature. I shall cover this in detail in the next section.

The death of Isildur and the ambush of his party took place two years after the fall of Sauron after the siege of Barad-dur. The tragedy of Isildur becomes clear. Assailed by a superior number of Orcs, he sent Ohtar to Imladris with the shards of Narsil. When the Orcs crept forward under shadow of night, Isildur faced the reality of his error and confessed it to his son Elendur. It was suggested that he should use the Ring, but he said:

    "I cannot use it. I dread the pain of touching it. And I have not yet found the strength to bend it to my will. It needs one greater than I now know myself to be, My pride has fallen. It should go to the Keepers of the Three." [24]

Indeed, in the spirit of classic Greek tragedy, it was hubris that was the downfall of Isildur. It was pride that led him to keep the Ring against the counsel of Elrond and Cirdan that it should be destroyed in the fires of Orodruin. This Isildur confirmed in his last words to his son Elendur when he sought forgiveness for the pride that had brought them to their doom. Isildur kept the Ring in a small case of gold, attached to a fine chain. From this he took the Ring and set it upon his finger with a cry of pain, and ran from the ambush to the banks of Anduin, and cast himself into the river. He tried to swim across the river and then north against the current, for "he was a man of strength and endurance that few even of the Dunedain of that age could equal" [25] but inexorably he was drawn towards the tangles of Gladden Fields. He found himself struggling among great rushes and clinging weeds and;

    "There suddenly he knew that the Ring had gone. By chance, or chance well used, it had left his hand and gone where he could never hope to find it again. At first so overwhelming was his sense of loss that he struggled no more, and would have sunk and drowned. But swift as it had come the mood passed. The pain had left him. A great burden had been taken away. His feet found the river bed, and heaving himself up out of the mud he floundered through the reeds to a marshy islet close to the western shore. There he rose up out of the water: only a mortal man, a small creature lost and abandoned in the wilds of Middle-earth. But to the night-eyed Orcs that lurked there on watch he loomed up, a monstrous shadow of fear with a piercing eye like a star. They loosed their poisoned arrows at it and fled. Needlessly, for Isildur unarmed was pierced through heart and throat, and without a cry he fell back into the water. No trace of his body was ever found by Elves or Men. So passed the first victim of the malice of the masterless Ring." [26]

Isildur was one of the great of Numenor and remained Faithful when the majority fell to the blandishments of Sauron and the pride of Ar-Pharazon. The Numenoreans were great in every way - in stature, demeanour, strength, wisdom, knowledge and mana. Isildur demonstrated all these qualities. Yet if there was anything that was a weakness in the Numenoreans it was pride. Pride drove Isildur to choose to retain the Ring after he had cut it from Sauron's hand. From then on he was shackled with that choice. There was pain associated with the Ring - the physical pain of wearing it which went beyond the initial heat it had when it was taken from Sauron. There was, covetousness, the desire to hold it, despite the pain. Even one as great as Isildur demeans himself to the level of Smeagol when he describes the Ring as precious to him. [27]

Whereas the tale of Isildur that appears in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion is brief, the fragment in Unfinished Tales fleshes out the detail, and allows us to understand the tragedy of Isildur. We can see the might of the Dunedain marching north to Imladris, three parts of their journey finished. We are confronted with the sudden attack of the orcs. And from this point, Isildur's foreboding becomes apparent. There is no reason to fear a band of marauding orcs. But he expresses his fear to Elendur. They are caught far from their allies, and they bore "burdens of worth beyond all reckoning". The presence of the Ring could not have been known to the Orcs. They would not even have known of its existence. Only Sauron and the Nine Nazgul were privy to its existence and power. But it was still only two years since it had left Sauron's hand "and though it was swiftly cooling it was still heavy with his evil will, and seeking all means to return to its lord (as it did again when he was recovered and rehoused)"[28].

Such is Isildur's premonition of the end that he gives the shards of Narsil to Ohtar, commanding him to go. The initial attack of the Orcs is beaten back, but there is cunning and fierce and relentless hatred in the orcs, and they fling themselves upon the Dunedain with a reckless ferocity at nightfall.

It is an ingredient of tragedy that the tragic protagonist not only carries within himself the tragic flaw that is his undoing, but that he perceives that flaw and recognises it. Isildur does just this. He recognises that his pride in taking the Ring is his undoing. He has this great repository of power, yet he is powerless to use it. He who mutilated Sauron, the second King of the Two Kingdoms, is but an ordinary man. He faces defeat by night at the hands of Orcs. He has led his faithful followers to their doom. He realises that he is responsible for the death of his sons. And he must abandon his comrades in an effort to save that very thing that has led to his downfall. Isildur's tragedy is complete at the point when he takes his leave of Elendur and places the Ring on his finger. We see at that moment a reminder of his former greatness when the star he wore upon his brow, "the Elendilmir of the West could not be quenched and suddenly it blazed forth red and wrathful as a burning star. Men and Orcs gave way in fear; and Isildur, drawing a hood over his head, vanished into the night."[29]

The power of the Ring to seek out its Maker is further emphasised in the comment that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring but not by its Maker.

    "There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur's hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Deagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!
    Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ringmaker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." [30]

This tantalising comment suggests that in opposition to Sauron there is a power at work, but Gandalf only hints at the nature of the power, and any part that he may have in it as an agent of that Power receives no comment. What ever the "something else at work" was is not clear, and unless the reader is familiar with "The Silmarillion" the cosmology of Arda is a total mystery. What, then, is meant by the reference to "more than one power at work". Certainly the Ring was at work, and Sauron had also arisen. Is there another power? Is that power Gandalf? If not, is Gandalf an agent of that power and is he privy to its strategies.
This is further enlarged upon in The Quest of Erebor contained in "Unfinished Tales".

In "The Hobbit", it is the Quest for the Dragon's Gold that is the principal goal. The finding of the Ring by Bilbo, although an important part of the story, does not have the great meaning and significance that becomes apparent in "The Lord of the Rings". The elimination of Smaug as a possible tool of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur is an underlying agenda of the Quest. But was the finding of the Ring something that had been planned by Gandalf? In The Quest of Erebor, Gandalf comments as follows:

    "In that far distant time I said to a small and frightened hobbit: Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker, and you therefore were meant to bear it. And I might have added: and I was meant to guide you both to those points"[31];

and on the choosing of Bilbo;

    "I dare say he was "chosen" and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo......(H)ow would you select any one Hobbit for such a purpose?.....I had not time to sort them all out; but I knew the Shire very well by that time, although when I met Thorin I had been away for more than twenty years on less pleasant business. So naturally thinking over the Hobbits that I knew, I said to myself 'I want a dash of the Took....and I want a good foundation of the stolider sort, a Baggins perhaps.' That pointed at once to Bilbo. And I had known him once very well, almost up to his coming of age, better than he knew me. And now I found that he was "unattached" - to jump on again, for of course I did not know this until I went back to the Shire. I learned that he had never married. I thought that odd, though I guessed why it was; and the reason that I guessed it was not the one that most of the Hobbits gave me: that he had early been left very well off and his own master. No, I guessed that he wanted to remain "unattached" for some reason deep down which he did not understand himself - or would not acknowledge, for it alarmed him. He wanted, all the same, to be free to go when the chance came, or he had made up his courage."[32]

It is clear that Gandalf did not encourage Thorin's quest with the purpose of finding the Ring. That it was found came as a result of a number of events, all of which were meant to happen. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, but not as the result of any underlying direction from Sauron. Was the Ring, then, searching for its Master? That does not appear from the text, although the Ring does have that property [33], and Sauron was re-gaining his strength in Dol Guldur and preparing his fastness in Mordor. Quite clearly, the strategy or Grand Design was the Will of Iluvatar and Gandalf was an instrument in that he put the people in place to fulfil the design. A further question which arises from this is that of the intervention of the Valar or the Deity in the affairs of Middle-earth. At the Wreck of Numenor the Valar put aside their Guardianship and called upon Iluvatar. Upon the bending of the World and the Sundering of Valinor (the spiritual realm) from the Circles of the World (the material realm) the Valar have no direct contact with Middle-earth. They will not accept the Ring if it is sent to them [34]. Only the Elves (and a select few mortals) can regain Valinor by sailing the Straight Road [35]. If the Deity takes a part in the affairs of Middle-earth, it must be in a most indirect way. The reason is that all the activities of free people are governed by the right to choose. This is an essential part of the morality of Tolkien's world [36]. The Deity cannot force a person to act in a particular way. To do so would be to act in as tyrannical a way as Sauron. At all times free people must be able to choose what actions they will undertake, even although the action may be wrong, detrimental or fatal to themselves and others. The opportunities to exercise that freedom of choice occur all the time. From time to time they may be momentous. When Bilbo found the Ring, he had an opportunity to kill Gollum. He did not do so, out of pity. Thus his finding of the Ring was directly coloured by this choice. Had he killed Gollum, his finding of the Ring would have been tainted to his detriment, and possibly to the detriment of the future of Middle-earth. Similarly, we see Frodo exercising the power of choice in Sammath Naur when he says "I do not choose to do this thing." (my emphasis). At this point the whole fate of Middle-earth hangs in the balance, and the dire consequences of Frodo's choice are averted by the action of Gollum, whose presence at that point is as the result of a number of choices that have been made throughout "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"[37].

This freedom of choice seems to allow Evil to gain sway where the wrong choice is made, but there is a balance that exists within Tolkien's world, and that is that Evil carries within itself the seeds of its own downfall. This concept, and the nature of choice and temptation, will be examined in more detail in the next section.

The Hunt for the Ring deals with two versions of the Journey of the Black Riders and their search for the Ring after it became apparent that it was abroad, and an account of some of the dealings of Saruman in the Shire.

We find an interesting reference to Gollum, who is described as;

    "Utterly indomitable he was, except by death, as Sauron guessed, both from his halfling nature, and from a cause Sauron did not fully comprehend, being consumed himself by a lust for the Ring." [38]

Gollum hated Sauron even more than he was terrified of him, perceiving in Sauron a rival for the Ring. He actually misled Sauron to believe that the land of the Halflings was near to places where he had dwelt beside the banks of the Gladden. This insight to Gollum's character reveals a strength of will that is extraordinary, and probably derives from his hobbitish ancestry, since Gollum's people are described as related to the Stoors.39 That he should attempt to mislead Sauron is even more extraordinary and demonstrates the depth of the desire that Gollum had to recover the Ring. Quite clearly this was not perceived by Sauron, he himself being consumed with a lust for the Ring as well. Thus a flaw in one who is evil does not allow him to perceive the true nature of another.

The other interesting information contained in this fragment is that which relates to the Nazgul. We learn, for example, of the disposition of the Nine, and the name of the Nazgul second to the Witch-King - Khamul, the Shadow of the East. But of more significance is the way in which the Ring dominates the Nine. They had no will but Sauron's "being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held."[40] and;

    "they were quite incapable of acting against his (Sauron's) will, and if one of them, even the Witch-king their captain, had seized the One Ring, he would have brought it back to his Master......(A)ll except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight; and all, again save the Witch-king, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or cross streams unless dry shod by a bridge. Moreover their chief weapon was terror. This was actually greater when they were unclad and invisible; and it was greater also when they were gathered together."[41]

It is noted by Christopher Tolkien that the reason for the fear by the Nazgul of water was not explained, in that it is not clear how they crossed other rivers which lay in their path such as the Greyflood which had a dangerous ford formed by the ruins of a bridge. The Rider (Khamul) who pursued the hobbits to the Bucklebury Ferry was aware that the Ring had crossed the river, but the river was a barrier to his sense of movement. At the Ford of Bruinen only the Witch-king and two others, with the lure of the Ring straight ahead of them, dared enter the river. The others were driven to it by Glorfindel and Aragorn.

May I suggest an explanation for the fear of the Nazgul of water. It seems to be tied in with the ancient view of the four elements - earth, air, fire and water - the ancient backbone of all things of this earth. The Nazgul were inhabitants of the shadow world, the world of the spirit, and existed in only a semi-corporeal plane in the material world. This being so, some elements of the natural world must be inimicable to them. In the case of the Nazgul, water is one. But of significance, and which seems to have been overlooked, is fire. Aragorn arms himself and the hobbits with fire on Weathertop [42], and it is with burning brands that Aragorn and Glorfindel drive the Nazgul into the waters of the Bruinen. An additional factor is, of course, that Glorfindel reveals himself in his spiritual guise. Were it not for the fact that there is evidence that the Nazgul fear fire and water, I could not sustain the hypothesis. But it seems clear that, perhaps unconsciously, Tolkien devised two of the basic elementals as a form of opposition to the Nazgul.

The History of Middle-earth series and especially those books dealing with the development of The Lord of the Rings [43] primarily demonstrate how the various ideas began and were developed over the years of the book's creation. In terms of providing insights to the mind of the creator, the process by which his creation was realised and the way in which he worked, the books are invaluable.

However, it is not appropriate for this essay to gather together, for example, the references to the way in which the idea of Isildur developed as the first person apart from Sauron to hold the Ring, and lose it. The matter is fully covered in The Lord of the Rings with supplementary material in Unfinished Tales. Furthermore, I have already in this essay commented in the value of "The History of Middle-earth" as a secondary source. Therefore, in the discussion which follows, I shall refer from time to time to material that appears in "The History of Middle-earth" where it assists to explain or elucidate matters which are dealt with or referred to in the Canon. [44]

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