Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 5

Originally published at Part Time Monster on Feb. 20, 2014 as “Isildur’s Bane: Why Did Isildur Keep the Ring?”

There are two accounts of Isildur and the Ring, one in Elrond’s own words, and another in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. Both accounts agree that Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger and kept it even though Elrond and Cirdan implored him to destroy it. Here is Elrond’s account:

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.(1)

In the next paragraph, Boromir registers his surprise and makes it clear that this story is not commonly known. Then we get this:

“Alas! Yes,” said Elrond. “Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast then 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 therefore whether we would or no, he took it to treasure it. But soon he was betrayed by it to his death, and so it is named in the North Isildur’s Bane. Yet death maybe was better than what else might have befallen him. (2)

Elrond’s story is helpful as an account of the event and the conversation. It doesn’t really tell us much about Isildur’s motive for keeping the Ring, but “he took it to treasure it” suggests the same desire for the Ring we see with other characters who are temped by it. The account from Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, which was authored in Gondor during the Fourth Age, is more useful:

“The Ruling Ring passed out of the knowledge even of the Wise in that age, yet it was not unmade. For Isildur would not surrender it to Elrond and Cirdan who stood by. They counseled him to cast it into the fire of Orodruin nigh at hand, in which it had been forged, so that it should perish, and the power of Sauron be for ever diminished, and he should remain only a shadow of malice in the wilderness. But Isildur refused this counsel, saying: “This I will have as weregild for my father’s death, and my brother’s. Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?” And the Ring that the held seemed to him exceedingly fair to look on; and he would not suffer it to be destroyed. Taking it therefore he returned at first to Minas Anor, and there planted the White Tree in memory of his brother Anarion. But soon he departed, and after he had given counsel to Meneldil, he bore away the Ring, to be an heirloom of his house, and marched north from Gondor by the way that Elendil had come; and he forsook the South Kingdom, for he purposed to take up his father’s realm in Eriador, far from the shadow of the Black Land.(3)

The clear statement that Isildur “would not surrender it” implies that they asked him to do so. I find it interesting that this detail is excluded from Elrond’s account, and that it occurs before they “counseled him to destroy it.” I think it’s clear from the passage that Isildur is under the influence of the Ring – that’s why he finds it “exceedlingly fair,” and why he rationalizes his decision by claiming the ring both as “weregild” and as a spoil of combat.

The thing I wonder about when I read these passages is whether or not Elrond and Cirdan are also influenced by the Ring in some way here. Does the Ring prevent them from being more forceful about destroying it; or is it simply that they are wise enough to know that trying to force Isildur to give it up would have worse consequences than allowing him to keep it? There isn’t enough evidence to say one way or another, so you’ll have to decide for yourself. But clearly, there is a lot more going on in this scene than you’d think from a casual scan of the text, and a lot more going on that we see in Peter Jackson’s adaptation:

This is part of an ongoing series; and I write about Tolkien regularly. You can find my previous posts here, and my Tolkien bibliography here.


1. Fellowship of the Ring p. 256

2. Fellowship of the Ring p. 256

3. The Silmarillion p. 294

Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 3


The_Lord_of_the_Rings_Tribute_by_SilentrageLeonOriginally published as “The One Ring is an Independent Character” in January, 2014 at Part Time Monster.

If you are just joining us, I am reading The Lord of the Rings as a series of encounters between The One Ring and the other characters. I hope to draw conclusions about how good and evil work in Middle-earth, eventually. I have a system of categories that most of the characters fit into, and a timeline for the Rings of Power. In other words, I have done the easy stuff. This week, it gets complicated. My task in this post  is to convince you that The One Ring should be regarded as a character in this narrative rather than an inanimate object.

I am just going to run through most of this stuff without citing it. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. But I think I know these books well enough to do this, and if I start citing at this point, we are going to end up spending two or three weeks on The Ring.

Here is a list of reasons why I think it is fair to read The One Ring as a Character, rather than as an inanimate object or a pawn of Sauron:

1. Once he loses it, Sauron does not know where it is. If he knew where it was, he would not need to search for it. That is simple logic. A king does not search for his pawn.

2. Even though it does not have legs, The One Ring is motile. It slips off Isuldur’s finger in the river, and it obviously gets away from Gollum in The Hobbit. (Read the whole chapter “Riddles in the Dark,” — it  may be the crux of the entire mythology — and even if it is not, it is clear from this chapter that Gollum has no idea he’s lost the ring at the moment he loses it.)

3. It communicates. It does not use words, but it does communicate. Anyone who reads these books from beginning to end should be able to find places where The One Ring is putting thoughts in other characters’ heads.

4. It has its own interests. What it wants, most of all, is to be reunited with its maker, Sauron. But it takes pleasure in tempting people, and in setting friends against one another to the point of violence, and in betraying ringbearers to their deaths. From a certain angle (and I will do an entire post on this at some point), it is a parasite. It feeds on the lives of others.

I believe those three things are enough. 1 and 4 are really proving the same point — the ring is a free agent. The mobility and communication allow it the freedom it needs within the narrative to demonstrate its independence.

I am interested to know what my fellow Tolkien-bloggers think about this before I move on. Do I need to prove all this, or, is my reading here self-evident enough that we can agree on it for now, so that I can start working on Isildur? (From here, we discuss, in order:  Isildur – Gollum – Bilbo. Then things get even more complicated).

For Tolkien fiends who are just tuning in and want more to read: I also have a stand-alone post in which I attempt to begin a discussion of colonialism in Tolkien by paying very close attention to the Orcs.

Here are a few of the best WordPress posts on Tolkien I have read over the last couple of months: Some serious meditations on the nature of Sauron, your quick guide to Dragons in Middle-earth, and What you make, I mar.

Here is a bibliography of the actual books I use to write these posts.

Next: All about Isildur

image: SilentrageLeon/Deviant Art

Throwback Thursday: My First Lord of the Rings Post


I am planning to write a few posts about The Lord of the Rings. This one explains how I plan to read it. From there, I’ll move on to a discussion of the books and then the movies, so this will be a series. I am aiming for three posts (because a trilogy for this would be cool, right?) but it may be that I have more to say about LOTR than I can fit into three posts. We shall see. Here are some assumptions that are important to my reading:

The One Ring is a character. It is not a mere object and it is not simply an appendage of Sauron. It has its own personality and its own interests. The motive of all the other major antagonists – including Sauron – is to gain the ring. 

The trilogy is a series of encounters between the Ring and other characters. This series of episodes is the only narrative structure that matters to me here. Even though there are other things going on and there are characters who are never really involved with the ring, this part of the story gets enough page-time to make my reading work. 

Next, I break the characters into categories and look at how different categories of characters relate to The Ring.

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