What Are the Rings of Power? (And Other Questions)
Published on August 22, 2022

What Are the Rings of Power? (And Other Questions)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an upcoming prequel series to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, premiering soon on Amazon Prime Video. But you might be wondering: what exactly are the Rings of Power? How is the new series connected to The Lord of the Rings? Should you watch (or read) The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit before watching The Rings of Power?

These are all excellent questions, and we're here to answer them—or attempt to! While showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have revealed some details ahead of the premiere, we don't know everything yet. Some of the explanations here are guesses based on what we do know. We'll also do our best to connect the answers to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, films/books that you're probably more familiar with.

Note: there may be spoilers for The Rings of Power ahead!

But let's get to the questions!


When is The Rings of Power set?

Time on Middle-earth is divided into ages: the First Age, the Second Age, and so on. We know that The Rings of Power is set in the Second Age, which lasted 3,441 years. For context, The Hobbit begins in the year 2941 of the Third Age and The Lord of the Rings begins in 3001 of the Third Age. This means that The Rings of Power takes place (approximately) between 3,000 and 6,500 years before The Hobbit.

The Second Age is filled with important events, many of which will be covered in The Rings of Power. Some of these events include:

  • The founding of the Elvish realm Lindon, where a young Elrond lived. (Yes, that Elrond. He was only 58 years old at the beginning of the Second Age.) Lindon included the Grey Havens, the port where Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond departed Middle-earth at the end of The Return of the King.
  • The creation of the star-shaped island Elenna and the founding of the realm Númenor. The first king was Elros, the half-elven brother of Elrond. It was home to the Númenóreans or Dúnedain, humans with elven ancestry who lived extraordinarily long lives. (You may remember that Aragorn is a Dúnedain, as mentioned in The Two Towers.)
  • Sauron gained power, settled in Mordor, built his tower (Barad-dûr) and crafted the One Ring.
  • The height of the dwarven realm of Khazad-dûm, also known as Moria. (You may remember the Mines of Moria from The Fellowship of the Ring.)
  • The founding of another Elvish realm, Eregion, where most of the Rings of Power were forged. Galadriel and Celeborn lived there for some time.

This means that you don't need to watch The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to understand The Rings of Power, because it's a prequel series. But we do recommend watching them because going in with some knowledge of names and places can only help. We also recommend reading the books because they're fantastic!

Left: the One Ring being destroyed in Mount Doom; Right: the Fellowship fleeing in the Mines of Moria

Left: the One Ring being destroyed in Mount Doom; Right: the Fellowship fleeing in the Mines of Moria (New Line Cinema/WingNut Films)


What is The Rings of Power based on?

Unlike The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, which were adapted from the books by Peter Jackson, there is no "Rings of Power" book. Instead, the source material is mostly based on the appendices from The Return of the King, which include a great deal about the history of Middle-earth. There are other bits and pieces of history sprinkled throughout the books, including the songs. (While The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings took place in the Third Age, many of the songs reference events that happened in the Second Age or earlier.) This source material will provide the framework for the stories in The Rings of Power, along with original content by the showrunners and writers.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a lot about Middle-earth itself, including his personal notes, letters, and a series of historical stories. These would later get revised and compiled into The Silmarillion by his son, Christopher Tolkien. It's important to mention that The Rings of Power won't be based on any of this content, which is still owned by the Tolkien estate.

Left: three rings for the elves; Right: seven rings for the dwarves

Left: three rings for the elves; Right: seven rings for the dwarves (New Line Cinema/WingNut Films)

With that out of the way, let's get back to our main topic:


What are the Rings of Power?

The Rings of Power are the 20 rings forged by elves and Sauron. You may remember them getting mentioned in the opening monologue of The Fellowship of the Ring:

"It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the dwarf lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and will to govern each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made."

In the First Age of Middle-earth, the elves (temporarily) defeated Sauron and he disappeared for a while. He returned in the year 1200 of the Second Age, this time in disguise as "Annatar", a name which meant "Lord of Gifts". Instead of fighting his enemies in the open, his plan involved corrupting them with the Rings of Power. Elrond and the elves of Lindon sensed that something was wrong with this "Annatar" and refused to work with him. The smiths or metal-workers of Eregion, called the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, fell for the disguise. (Galadriel was in Eregion and distrusted Annatar as well, but they clearly didn't listen to her.) Sauron/Annatar taught the smiths how to make rings that were somewhat magical, and these came to be called the "lesser rings". But by the year 1500, they had forged 16 Rings of Power. The Rings of Power gave their owners magical powers, hence their name. But because Sauron/Annatar was involved in forging them, they contained a part of his evil essence and were inherently corrupted.

Celebrimbor, the leader of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, didn't entirely trust this Annatar, either. By 1590, he had secretly forged 3 more Rings of Power by himself. Unlike the other rings, these 3 weren't corrupted because Sauron wasn't involved in their making. In 1600, Sauron forged the One Ring, which controlled the first 16 Rings of Power. But while it couldn't control the later 3 rings, their power was still tied in some way to the existence of the One Ring. Unfortunately for Sauron, forging the One Ring meant that everyone could sense that he was behind the other rings—and that "Annatar" had betrayed them all.

Celebrimbor hid the 3 rings in 1693 and the elves and dwarves went to war against Sauron. In 1697, Sauron defeated Eregion, killed Celebrimbor, and took the 16 rings. He gave 9 of them to humans and 7 to dwarves. For the rest of the Third Age, there were victories and defeats on both sides while Sauron concentrated his strength in Mordor. In 3441, a combined force of elves and humans finally defeated Sauron and Isildur took the One Ring for himself instead of destroying it.

Top: nine rings for the humans; Bottom: the Nazgûl, under the control of Sauron

Top: nine rings for the humans; Bottom: the Nazgûl, under the control of Sauron (New Line Cinema/WingNut Films)


What happened to the Rings of Power?

The 9 rings given to humans turned them into Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, under the control of Sauron. It is unclear if the Nazgûl still possessed the rings at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf said that they still wear them, but Frodo didn't see the rings when he was attacked. Some other sources mention that Sauron took them back.

Of the 7 rings given to dwarves, 4 were consumed by dragons and 3 were retaken by Sauron. One of the 3 was known as the Ring of Thrór. Thrór was the King Under the Mountain when Smaug drove his people from Erebor, as depicted in flashbacks in The Hobbit. Thrór's son, Thráin, was captured by Sauron and the ring was taken from him. Gandalf eventually found Thráin, who gave him the map and key of Erebor, which started the events of The Hobbit.

Remember the 3 rings that Celebrimbor forged by himself? Tolkien went into more depth with those:

  • Nenya was worn by Galadriel. She used its powers to maintain her realm, Lothlórien.
  • Vilya was initially worn by Gil-galad, a relative of Elrond who died in the Siege of Barad-dûr, the battle shown at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Vilya then passed to Elrond.
  • Narya was initially worn by Círdan, a shipwright of the Grey Havens, who passed the ring to Gandalf.

At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, these 3 rings went with Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf into the West.

That leaves the One Ring, which was worn by Sauron for nearly two millennia, until it was cut from his hand by Isildur at the Seige of Barad-dûr. Isildur was killed only two years later and the ring slipped from his finger, as you may remember from flashbacks in The Fellowship of the Ring. The One Ring was lost for more than two millennia, from year 2 of the Third Age until it was found by Déagol around the year 2,463. Of course, Sméagol/Gollum immediately murdered Déagol for it. He held the ring until 2941, when it was lost to Bilbo. From there, Bilbo gave the ring (reluctantly) to Frodo, and Gollum regained it for seconds before it was destroyed at Mount Doom. In the meantime, it was also briefly held (but not worn) by Gandalf, worn by Tom Bombadil (in the books) and carried by Samwise Gamgee for two days (and briefly worn by him in the books).

Left: Gollum tries to save the One Ring; Right: the Grey Havens in Lindon, with Círdan at the far right

Left: Gollum tries to save the One Ring; Right: the Grey Havens in Lindon, with Círdan at the far right (New Line Cinema/WingNut Films)

We hope this answers at least some of your questions about The Rings of Power. If you have any others, please let us know in the comments!


The Lord of the Rings Gifts

The Lord of the Rings Gifts

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Wyatt Edwards
Wyatt Edwards

Wyatt Edwards is the Internet Wizard at Fun.com, where he is lead editor and writes about superheroes and pop culture. He is an avid toy collector and a yearly judge for The Poppies, an industry pop culture collectible award.

What’s fun for Wyatt? Playing Dungeons & Dragons, making wild guitar noises, and buying ridiculous toys that might look good on a shelf someday. He seriously has way too many hobbies. You can find him on Twitter @whatandwyatt.