The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Completed c. II 1590. Passed into the West with Gandalf 29 September III 3021
Origins
Made by Celebrimbor and the Mírdain of Eregion
Meaning
Probably 'fiery (ring)'1
Other names
Titles

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About this entry:

  • Updated 23 February 2019
  • This entry is complete

The Three Rings of the Elves

One of the Three Rings of the Elves, forged by Celebrimbor in Eregion in about the year II 1590. Narya, like each of the Three Rings was set with its own distinctive stone and was associated with its own natural element. In Narya's case the Ring held a bright red ruby, and was known as the Ring of Fire. It was also called the Third Ring, perhaps because it was forged last of the Three, or perhaps because it was the least powerful.2

Like the other two Rings of the Elves, Narya had the power to hold back the passage of time, and also the capacity to fill its bearer and others with vigour and stave off weariness. Its connection with the element of fire is perhaps also seen in a more literal sense in the abilities of its later bearer Mithrandir (or Gandalf), whose magical feats were often associated with fire.

History: The Second Age

The Rings of Power forged in Eregion were made with the assistance of a guide and teacher named Annatar, but the Three Rings were made by Celebrimbor after this teacher had departed from Eregion, and were free of his influence. Through them the Elves discovered that 'Annatar' was in fact Sauron, and that he had made a Ruling Ring for himself to enslave the bearers of the other Rings. Unable to destroy the Three Rings,3 the Elves instead sent them into hiding. Two of the Three Rings, Narya and Vilya, were sent north into the keeping of King Gil-galad in Lindon.

Gil-galad passed Narya on to be kept by Círdan the Shipwright, though there is some uncertainty about when he did this. Some sources suggest that Círdan received the Ring as soon as it came to Lindon, though others indicate that Gil-galad held both Narya and Vilya until the time of the War of the Last Alliance. However he came by it, we can be sure that Círdan was the Keeper of Narya at the time of the defeat of Sauron and the end of the Second Age.

History: The Third Age

After the War of the Last Alliance, Círdan returned to the Grey Havens in the North and kept Narya there in safety. A thousand years passed, during which the malice of Sauron slowly began to grow in the World once again. In about the year III 1000, a series of emissaries came out of the West and were received by Círdan as the master of the Grey Havens. These were the Istari, wise and powerful beings sent to Middle-earth to help fortify Elves and Men in their resistance to the growing threat of Sauron's return.

Among these Istari was one whom the Elves named Mithrandir (and who would later be known to Men and Hobbits as 'Gandalf'). Círdan saw Mithrandir as the wisest and greatest of the newly arrived emissaries, and he chose to pass on the Ring Narya so that the Wizard could use it to aid the people of Middle-earth and help build resistance to the newly arising Enemy. Among the other Istari was one known as Curunír (or later as 'Saruman') who perceived Círdan's granting of Narya as a slight, fostering a distrust that would later grow to become a dangerous enmity between the two Wizards.

Over the next two thousand years, Mithrandir bore Narya in absolute secrecy, so we know almost nothing about the part it played in his work in the later Third Age. He was known to be especially adept with magical abilities involving fire, and Narya - the Ring of Fire - seems to have played some part in this special aptitude, though the details of this connection remain unclear.4

Narya was finally revealed in the time after the War of the Ring, when the Keepers of the Three Rings were freed from the threat of Sauron's Ruling Ring, and could bear their Rings openly. The Three Rings did not, however, remain in Middle-earth for long after Sauron's defeat. All three Keepers (Gandalf bearing Narya, with Galadriel and Elrond) carried their Rings aboard the White Ship and sailed out from Mithlond across the Great Sea, never to be seen in Middle-earth again.


Notes

1

The -ya ending is normally used to form adjectives, so nár 'fire' becomes narya 'fiery'. However, in Aldarion and Erendis (Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth II 2), Tolkien apparently uses -ya as a diminuitive ending, so the alternative meaning 'little fire' is possible.

2

It is evident that the Three Rings did not all hold equal power to one another, but their relationship in this regard remains unclear. Nenya the Ring of Water is called the chief of the Rings, but Vilya the Ring of Air is called the mightiest. Narya the Third Ring is never singled out like this, implying that of the three it had the least native power.

3

After discovering Sauron's intentions, the choice to simply destroy the Three Rings (and indeed all of the Rings of Power) would seem to have been the most prudent course of action. We're told that the Elves were unable to do this, but it's not made clear exactly why not. According to The History of Galadriel and Celeborn in Unfinished Tales, they 'failed to find the strength'. The precise meaning here is uncertain: it may mean that the Elves physically lacked the means to destroy the Rings, or that they could not find the strength of will to unmake the Rings of Power they had forged.

4

Tolkien is explicit that there was a connection (for example, see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 301, in which he draws a direct connection between Narya and Gandalf's special skill with fire, including his extraordinary fireworks). On the other hand, The Hobbit puts this ability down to simple study: 'Gandalf had made a special study of bewitchments with fire and lights...' (The Hobbit 6, Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire). Of course, it's entirely possible that Gandalf's special interest in fire and lights was driven by his possession of the Ring of Fire, so there's no reason to see these accounts as contradictory.

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 23 February 2019
  • This entry is complete

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