Amazon Studios The Rings of Power is four months away. We want all Spoilerites to have the best viewing experience possible and have the widest knowledge base about the Second Age of Middle-Earth. This is a weekly Let’s Get Nerdy article series highlighting a different piece of Tolkien I think you need to know about!
In past articles I have answered the question:
- What Are the Rings of Power?
- What is Númenor?
- What is the Second Age?
- Who are the Harfoots?
- Who is Prince Durin IV?
- What is Khazad-dûm?
- Who is Celebrimbor?
- What is the Last Alliance of Men and Elves?
- Who is Elendil?
- New Pics! Who are Bronwyn and Theo?
- What is Rivendell?
- The Rings of Power First Reactions Are In!
- What is Lindon?
I’ve evoked the classic Tolkien poem a lot over the course of Let’s Get Nerdy and since we’re going to dive into the rings given to the humans of Middle-Earth I’ll give just a quick reminder of where we are exploring today:
“Nine for mortal men doomed to die…”
These Nine Rings are often referred to as “The Lesser Rings” (along with the Dwarven Rings), having been
forged following the “Three Rings for the Elven Kings” (Nenya, Narya, Vilya), and brought into Arda by both Celebrimbor and Annatar.
I see a Let’s Get Nerdy! feature on Annatar coming in our very near future.
What most people know about the Nine Rings is they transform their bearers into the Nazgûl (also known as the Ringwraiths, Úlairi (in Quenya), The Black Riders, and The Nine because nothing in Tolkien lore is allowed to have one single solitary name!), leaving them “doomed to die”. The transformation from good to evil is so complete the Nine Kings not only go from being mortal human beings to immortal demons, but their names are completely transformed as well. Once the Kings of Humans have fallen they are known as:
The Witch-king of Angmar, The Dark Marshal, Khamûl The Easterling, The Betrayer, The Shadow Lord, The Undying, The Dwimmerlaik, The Tainted and The Knight of Umbar.
And under these monikers the legendary Kings of Humans become servants to the Dark Lord Sauron.
What’s interesting about the idea of the Nine Kings of Humans is we know very little about them before they fall to the darkness at the hands of Sauron. Their service in Tolkien’s mythology is in their full villain role. In fact, of the Nine Kings (NINE! 9! A not insignificant number of characters!), readers only get two descriptions and titles of two (TWO! 2!), characters:
- The Witch-king of Angmar was a dark Numenorean.
- Khamul the Easterling.
Here is where I’ll remind you in most of Tolkien’s writings “dark” is synonymous with “evil” rather than “dark hue” as we would read it with a contemporary mind. Beyond these descriptions we are left with nothing but allusions to heavy ties back to Númenor and other descriptions like “kings”, “sorcerors”, “power”, “position”, “might”, and the implication that the Kings not from Númenor are from Southern Kingdoms.
If you’re interested in doing further reading of your own most of the information about The Ringwraiths comes from The Unfinished Tales rather than The Silmarillion.
Given the focus we know The Rings of Power is going to have on Númenor I think this is very fertile ground to till. There’s a real opportunity to impress some humanity upon some of the scariest creatures to come out of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. Give these men names, families, and personalities just in time to break the audience’s hearts.
“Why were these nine rings so destructive?”
An excellent question. Particularly in a post-Lord of the Rings culture we’re using to seeing humans beings as heroes in Middle-Earth (Aragorn, Faramir, Éowyn), and it feels very pointed in that line we started this piece out with: “Nine for mortal men doomed to die…”
Human beings are some of the only in Middle-Earth who suffer death and when they die no one knows where they go – the same as human beings in our world. It’s a scary thing. Sauron knew that. Remember earlier when I mentioned Celebrimbor and Annatar forged the Nine Rings? By having his hands in the crafting Sauron was able to exercise control over the bearers. What do you promise powerful people afraid of death and obsessed with legacy?
What is one of the most tragic aspects of the Ringwraiths?
And, as I’m sure The Rings of Power will show us, it is this fear and corruption which leads to the fall of Númenor. Before the fall of the Nine came the upswing. When the Nine Kings were first bestowed with their Nine Rings their power and affluence skyrocketed and, much like Bilbo Baggins, their aging arrested, and they were bestowed powers of sorcery – fairly a-typical for human beings in Middle-Earth. Being humans – fallible and weak compared to the other beings of Arda – each King fell to the illusions (and delusions), of Sauron until they were warped to eternal servitude.
It remains unclear per Tolkien’s oeuvre whether or not The Ringwraiths retain their Nine Rings after being drawn to Sauron or whether The Dark Lord collected the Nine Rings and kept them in his fortress at Barad-dûr as we know he did with the Dwarven Rings (also counted amongst “the Lesser Rings”).
What I think could be most interesting about the Nine Rings in The Rings of Power (besides the expansion of the King’s humanity), is a reimagining of the costume design. The black cloaks are sleek, simple, and iconic, but if they’re going to be in a position of larger prominence I can’t wait to pause the episode, get really close to the screen, and see how much nuance and details the costumers can put in there!
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