Gandalf’s curious assertion about a power of the Great Rings

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
I take the fact that there are only 9 Ring-wraiths as 'evidence' (in an absence of evidence way) that the Dwarf rings do not confer immortality and 'wraithyness' on Men.
Perhaps. But it seems more likely to me that Sauron can't or won't create new Ringwraiths without The One on his finger. Perhaps he would have less control over them, and he certainly doesn't want a rival!

Also, there may not be so many good candidates for wraithification in these sadly watered-down latter days. Wraithifying some random guy would probably not create anything like another Witch King, who was powerful and commanding even before he got his Ring. And those who are powerful are more wary these days, too. Sauron might have given it a go with Saruman, if he'd had the chance, but I suspect Saruman would not have accepted a Ring from him. Saruman was definitely a potential rival; he did not want to be a servant or a tool.

Perhaps Sauron wanted to hang on to all the Rings he could, in the absence of The One, for some reason on which Ringlore is silent.

I think the evidence is truly absent for answering any of these questions.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi Jim,

We know that Sauron acquired one of his three Dwarf-rings only after he no longer had the One Ring. However, he could very well have gained two Dwarf-rings while he still had the One. After all, Sauron ruled in Mordor with the One Ring on his finger for 1,662 years before he was taken to Numenor by Ar-Pharazon. Then he was back in charge in Mordor for 121 years before Isildur cut the Ring from his hand. That is 1,783 years during which he held the One Ring, and could well have had one or two Dwarf-rings in his possession. Plenty of time to try those rings on Men, instead of those pesky Dwarves.

You are right, that evidence is absent. I just suggest that the absence of evidence that Sauron re-cycled however many Dwarf-rings he possessed to create more Ring-wraiths from Men, is at least suggestive evidence that those Rings not only did not extend immortality and wraithification to Dwarves, but that they probably did not do that for Men either.

By the way, another puzzling question: How does Gandalf know that Sauron holds three Dwarf-rings?
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
I don't think anything is written about the source of that assertion. I would guess though...

I'd assume that knowledge came from Saruman. As the primary scholar of Ringlore, Saruman would have expended the same effort for the Seven that Gandalf did for the One (the equivalent of studying in Minas Tirith and tracking down Gollum).

And if we doubt his lore, the question would be what Saruman would have to gain by lying about this. It is obvious what he has to gain by lying about the One. It's less obvious here.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Hi amysrevenge,

I like your guess. I would also guess that Saruman, and his study of the rings, is the source of Gandalf's assertion. I also have no reason to doubt it.

However, it just brings up another question: How might Saruman have gained this knowledge? I assume that Saruman would have been unlikely to have received data from Sauron or his allies. So, I guess his sources were dwarvish? There is no evidence that Saruman spent much time with the Dwarves, but perhaps he did?

I cannot think of any other likely source of knowledge for Saruman. Dwarves, however, seem to be generally secretive (language, customs), so I would guess Saruman might have had to get to know them quite well before they would reveal enough of their history so that he could decipher the fates of the Seven?

Anyway, I am now imagining how the tale might go of Saruman inveigling himself enough into the confidence of the Dwarves (which Dwarves?) to learn these things.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
I think Saruman, especially before his full decline, would have been cunning and persuasive and charismatic enough to worm his way deep into the counsels of the Dwarves. Especially if he came bearing riches and/or knowledge of his own.

You're right that there isn't any evidence, but the published timelines aren't full of the comings and goings of Saruman over the centuries. I think we're consigned to imagining might-have-beens.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
By the way, another puzzling question: How does Gandalf know that Sauron holds three Dwarf-rings?
Besides amysrevenge's guess that Saruman told this to Gandalf, we also know that Gandalf himself infiltrated Dol Guldur while Sauron was there. He found Thror in the dungeons and interviewed him! Didn't get much information from Thror (not even his name), just a map and a key, but still, it was an impressive feat. He may have found out a lot more than just the identity of the Necromancer on that trip.
 

Lincoln Alpern

Active Member
And I think there must be some common Westron usage where "mortals" applies only to Men, the Secondborn Children of Iluvatar. That nobody in-world would even think about arguing. Something like how nobody in this thread has objected to the use of "Men" by saying "Oh, so just men then? What about women?" The word mortals can mean "all creatures that die of old age" or it can mean "Men (and their sub-race of Hobbits in some cases)" and context lets you know which is which. Like we all can tell in this discussion that by "Men" we mean the race, and not the gender.
Revisiting this post because it, and Flammifer's response, got me thinking.

For years, I've been under the same impression amysrevenge articulates here about the use of the term "mortals." As Flammifer pointed out, dwarves are also mortal, but it's true that sometimes words acquire a colloquial meaning that's more specific than the technical meaning. Strictly speaking, "mortals" also encompasses all non-sapient beasts and birds and fish as well, and perhaps trees and plants as well. From context clues, we gather the use of "mortals" in LOTR is restricted to "all sapient creatures that die of old age."

Is it also used in some cases that seem to imply the further restriction, "humans (and their sub-race of hobbits in some cases)"? As I said, I've generally assumed as much, but now I'm trying to remember where I came by this impression. I don't have access to the e-text to look up all the uses, and whether we can tell which definition of "mortals" seems to be intended, but I'd be very interested to do so.

If amysrevenge and I are correct in our impression of how "mortals" is used, that should prompt us to ask "why?" Specifically, what purpose is served in the text by including that linguistic distinction.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
From context clues, we gather the use of "mortals" in LOTR is restricted to "all sapient creatures that die of old age."

Is it also used in some cases that seem to imply the further restriction, "humans (and their sub-race of hobbits in some cases)"? As I said, I've generally assumed as much, but now I'm trying to remember where I came by this impression.
The word "mortal" and all its variants appears 63 times in the book (including appendices). The first is on the title page, in the Ring incantation.

The first instance in the main text, very significantly, is in Gandalf's explanations to Frodo in The Shadow of the Past, where he first says the Ring would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it (significantly, this fails to include Elves and Wizards, whom he would add into the same class later on), and then comes to the Rings' life-extension effect on mortals.

The final uses in The Fellowship of The Ring are before Weathertop, in Strider's story of Luthien: "Beren was a mortal man, but Luthien..." and "But she chose mortality, and to die from the world, so that she might follow him..." I would posit that the latter usage strongly implies that only sapients -- Treebeard's "Speaking Peoples" -- can be classified as mortal/immortal. (I will not, now or ever, bring up the can-o-worms questions about how to classify the oddities like Ents. But I will note that in Treebeard's "list" Men are "Man the mortal, master of horses".)
 

Lincoln Alpern

Active Member
Thanks for checking that out, Jim.

I thought about whether to include Ents in my last post, but as you say, that's a too complicated question (ditto dragons).

However, your mention of Treebeard's poem/dictionary of creatures, and the Ring incantation, got me thinking. You quoted the former directly, the latter goes like this:

<blockquote>Three Rings for the Elf-kings (*cough**cough*), under the sky
Seven for the Dwarf-lords, in their halls of stone
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die
etc.</blockquote>

Perhaps the impression I discussed in my earlier post comes from the way "mortal" is so often attached specifically to humans in the (in-universe) lore of Middle-earth. Beren the mortal man is contrasted with Luthien the immortal elf. In Treebeard's poem, humans are contrasted from other creatures because of their mortality, and their mastery of horses (which sounds like a more Rohirrim thing than a human thing, and aren't elves also adept with horses?). And then the Ring poem.

In the second and third cases, humans are especially singled out for their mortality, even though both include dwarves, who also are "doomed to die" eventually from age or disease or somesuch if not by violence.

So it does seem that even though "mortal" can apply to both humans and dwarves and perhaps other creatures, mortality is specifically attached to humans (and, by implication, Hobbits as a human sub-race).

Why might that be? I can think of one potential explanation, though it is only a guess.

Perhaps "mortal" does not simply mean "one who eventually dies of natural causes." Perhaps it has a more targeted, colloquial meaning "one who eventually dies of natural causes and passes out of Arda forever when they die." Dwarves do not leave Arda when they die, they go to Durin's Halls to await the Dagor Dagorroth. Only humans and Hobbits (and Luthien and Arwen) truly leave Arda and go to join Illuvatar upon dying. Also, there are implications that humans are special because Christ will take their form and walk among them when he comes into the world.

Again, just speculation on my part. I feel the evidence is suggestive, but it's by no means conclusive. Still, it's one possible explanation of why the word "mortal" and synonyms for mortality continually pop up in the thumbnail descriptions of humans as opposed to the other races.
 
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