Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


The Hunt For The Ring

In the chapter titled "The Council of Elrond", the history of the Ring is recounted and shared among the representatives of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth. In addition, an explanation and description of the events that followed the release of Gollum from Barad-dur are given to bring all the interested parties (including the reader) up to speed.

At the beginning of the chapter, it says, "Not all that was spoken and debated in the Council need now be told." Tolkien probably anticipated that he would include some details in the Appendices to keep the chapter from being too long. But like "The Quest for Erebor" the manuscripts in this section never made it into the final publishing. "The Return of the King" had already been delayed from release because of the Appendix material that needed working out. Christopher Tolkien states that the manuscripts seemed to have been written "after publication of the first volume but before that of the third, containing the Appendices. It's likely that the text we are about to examine never made it to publication because the good folks at George Allen & Unwin just couldn't wait any longer.

However, due to the diligence of Tolkien's son we get to read it after the fact in "Unfinished Tales". In Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring", the film condenses the circumstances of the journey of the Nazgul out of necessity. In the film version, Gandalf returns to Frodo at Bag End to warn him of the need to flee. The scene is interspersed with the torturing of Gollum with his cries of "Shire" and "Baggins" and the bursting forth of the Nazgul from Minas Morgul. Seemingly, they instantly arrive just as Frodo and Sam set out for Bree.

The more elaborate version is recounted in these shelved writings. It was actually several months after Sauron allowed Gollum to "escape" that the Nine were sent to search for the Ring. The Dark Lord had suspected that Gollum would unwittingly lead him to the Shire and word of his activities would get back to him through his network of spies. The reason Sauron gambled on this tactic was because Gollum had lied to him by saying he believed that Baggins could be found close to where he once dwelled near the Gladden Fields. But Gollum's capture by Aragorn and imprisonment by the Elves put an end to that hope.

He realized that he would have to be more proactive if he was to have any chance of finding the Ring. But he did not want his motives to be perceived by the members of the White Council. So he put together a plan that would allow the Nazgul to begin their mission while at the same time testing Gondor's military strength. In late June of the year 3018 while Gandalf sought answers among the archives in Minas Tirith, Sauron sent the Lord of the Minas Morgul - the Witch-King - with a modest contingency of Orcs to attack Osgiliath. While the forces of Gondor proved tougher than he had hoped, it allowed him the opportunity to cross the bridges over the Anduin in stealth with the Ringwraiths in his company. They had not yet been equipped with steeds and dark raiments. Tolkien writes:
"The Nazgul had been commanded to act as secretly as they could. Now at that time the Chieftain of the Ringwraiths dwelt in Minas Morgul with six companions, while the second to the Chief, Khamul the Shadow of the East, abode in Dol Guldur as Sauron's Lieutenant, with one other as his messenger."
As the attack took place, Orcs from Dol Guldur, presumably led by Khamul, attacked Thranduil's realm in Mirkwood with the intention of recapturing or killing Gollum. The net result was Gollum's escape and eventual arrival in Moria, under the Misty Mountains. In the meantime, the other seven Ringwraiths gathered near Sarn Gebir on about July 17th. Here they were given their raiments and horses. They were secretly ferried back across the river. On July 22nd, they met up with Khamul and the ninth Nazgul. It is not made clear why the Ringwraiths crossed the Anduin in the first place only to cross back to the other side. But one can surmise that it was because the horses were on the western side of the river (have been stolen from Rohan). That path north was also probably easier than having to go around the Dead Marshes and the eastern Emyn Muil.

Khamul informed the Witch-King that the attempt to get Gollum in Mirkwood had failed, leading to the creature's escape. He also told him that prior searches for "halflings" along the Anduin had found nothing. The settlements of Hobbits from which Gollum came had long since dispersed.

Sauron began to fear that Saruman might be getting close to discovering the Ring based on what he had seen through the Ithil Stone. The need for speed became more important than stealth and, with the summer now waning, he ordered the Ringwraiths to ride quickly to Isengard. They crossed the River Isen on September 18th, the same day that Gandalf had escaped from the Tower of Orthanc. Two days later, the Nine riders arrived at the gates of Isengard. The Nazgul were not powerful enough to force their way in and called out a challenge to the Wizard. The voice of Saruman responded from an unseen source.

Saruman suggested that they search for Gandalf, who he said had knowledge of the Ring and where it could be found. As the matter of the Ring took priority, Sauron would have to deal with Saruman later. As they head out, they came upon Grima Wormtongue. Theoden's duplicitous advisor had come to warn Saruman that Gandalf had come to Edoras and left on horseback. Out of fear for his life he shared with the Nazgul all that he knew about the Shire and its location (which he had learned from Saruman) since this was where Gandalf was headed.

The Ringwraiths spared Grima's life because their Chief sensed his evil nature and determined that he might likely do harm to Saruman. In addition, he believed that his fear of them would keep him from telling anyone about their meeting (which it did). Heading north, they captured some travelers on the road. Two of them were spies of Saruman (including the "squint-eyed" southerner from the Inn at Bree). They possessed maps of the Shire (provided by Saruman). The Nazgul took the maps and ordered the men to continue on their journey, but he told them they were now in the service of Sauron under the threat of death.

The day before Frodo, Sam and Pippin would leave Bag End, the Riders crossed the southernmost borders of the Shire at Sarn Ford. As the roads were guarded by the Dunedain, they split up to drive them off and a few of them continued ahead north. The Black Captain established a base near the Barrow-downs while the others scoured the area looking for "Baggins". Here he roused the Barrow-wights "and all things of evil spirit, hostile to Elves and Men" so that they would be on the watch for him. This explains the difficulties that the hobbits experienced on their journey through the Old Forest and on the Barrow-downs. Fortunately for them, they had the help of Tom Bombadil.

There is one aspect of the story as outlined in this first draft that doesn't fit into the timeline as given in "The Tale of Years" in Appendix B. That is the encounter of the Nazgul and Grima Wormtongue. He would not have had sufficient time to journey North from Rohan by September 20th as this was identified as the date when Gandalf set out from Edoras on Shadowfax. For this reason, writes Christopher Tolkien, the incident was removed from a later manuscript. And the Nazgul's finding out the way to the Shire was based solely on their encounter with Saruman's spies and the maps that they took from them.

It is curious that Tolkien overlooks the fact that the Witch-King already had familiarity with the lands of the former Kingdom of Arnor. It makes one wonder why he didn't already know where to look for Hobbits. They had already begun settling in the area as early as 1601. The Witch-King dwelt in Angmar and made war on the Dunedain as late as 1975. But if we accept that he completely overlooked the Hobbits during that 374 year stretch that this would prove to be one of his biggest mistakes. Because by beginning his search along the Anduin, he was sufficiently delayed to allow Frodo to leave the Shire in the nick of time.


In reading through Tolkien's "The Hunt for the Ring", it occurred to me that there is one event mentioned in "The Council of Elrond" concerning the Ringwraiths that is noticeably absent from the manuscript. When the representatives assemble in Rivendell, it is the Dwarf Gloin who begins by explaining his presence. He explains, "About a year ago, a messenger came to Dain, but not from Moria - from Mordor: a horseman in the night." If you recall, Gloin explains that this messenger came asking about hobbits and sought their assistance in recovering a ring - "the least of rings" - that was stolen by a particular hobbit. On behalf of Sauron, the messenger offered the Dwarves the Three remaining Dwarf Rings that he had in his possession as well as free reign of Moria in exchange for any "news of the thief, whether he still lives and where."

Dain of course knew the messenger was speaking of Bilbo (who had visited them some sixteen years earlier before settling down for good in Rivendell). The Dwarf was non-committal and the Rider returned for an answer later the next year. Dain again refused to give any indication of a decision and the Rider pledged to return once more by the end of the year and the visit, he assured ominously, would be his last. Unbeknownst to Gloin this last visit would not be necessary. So he sent Gloin with his son Gimli to Rivendell for the dual purpose of warning Bilbo and seeking Elrond's counsel.

Chronologically, "about a year ago" would have been around October of 3017. By this point, Gollum had already left Mordor and was likely already imprisoned by Thranduil in Mirkwood. We know that the Witch-King did not leave Minas Morgul and receive his disguise and horse until the summer 3018. So who was this messenger? At first glance a good argument can be made that he was the Mouth of Sauron or other such servant of the Dark Lord. But Gloin describes him as having a "fell voice" and that "his breath came like the hiss of snakes", which is characteristic of a Nazgul. It is more likely that the messenger was either Khamul or the other Ringwraith that dwelled in Dol Guldur.

Considering that this qualifies as a fairly significant event in the broader hunt for the Ring, it's odd that Tolkien did not include it as part of this story. This is especially puzzling when you consider that it reinforces the idea that there were at least two Nazgul abroad prior to the attack on Osgiliath.


There is one other section of "The Hunt for the Ring" that concerns the relationship between Gandalf and Saruman and how the Chief Istari came to take such a strong interest in the Shire. Tolkien writes:
"Saruman did not revere him, but he grew to fear him, being ever uncertain how much Gandalf perceived of his inner mind, troubled more by his silences that by his words. So it was that openly he treated Gandalf with less respect than did others of the Wise, and was ever ready to gainsay him or to make little of his counsels; while secretly he noted and pondered all that he said, setting a watch, so far as he was able, upon all his movements."
Eventually Saruman would visit and explore the Shire on his own - in disguise and in secret. There is also one passage that takes place at the meeting of the White Council that Gandalf attended in 2851 (when he first urged an attack on Dol Guldur against the dark force they knew as the Necromancer). Saruman chastises Gandalf for smoking pipeweed during the meeting, belittling his use of "toys of fire and smoke" while such serious matters were being discussed. Gandalf tells Saruman he would do well to try it himself because "it gives patience, to listen to error without anger." However, he gives credit for his possession of the pipeweed to the "Little People away in the West." And while Saruman insists indignantly that he has "no time for the simples of peasants", he is intrigued enough to sample it on his own.

And one of his greatest fears was that Gandalf and the rest of the Wise would discover this hypocrisy and ridicule him for imitating in secret what he himself scorned in public. It was this dread of discovery that drove Saruman to such lengths to hide his activities and dealings with the Shire.

The details of these stories give added depth and understanding to Sauron's overall strategy and plans in using the Nazgul to try and find the Ring before his enemies could. but we see that his initial lack of concern over so small a people cost him dearly. It's too bad that the tales never made it to the Appendices but thanks to Christopher Tolkien they add to our ever-growing understanding of the intricate plot that J.R.R. Tolkien sought to create.

The final step on our tour through these selections from "Unfinished Tales" is "The Battles of the Fords of Isen".


At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aiya Meldi!

Your article is great... I was wondering if I can translate it into Spanish and put it on my blog as reference and/or further discussion.

Good luck!

Nai Eru Varyuva Le.

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would only ask that you include a link back to the post.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger The J.R.R Tolkien Project said...

You are very thorough in you research. I always enjoy reading your blogs.Very informative. Good job.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger PeterFZoll said...

Aragorn captures Gollum February 1 and they arrive in nominally Elvish territory in Mirkwood (presumably Thranduil's halls) 50 days later (page 343 Unfinished Tales). It is odd that neither Dain nor Brand sent Bilbo a message. Equally hard to explain is that Witch King had been in the North for 675 years (1300-1975). There had been Harfoots in Eriador since 1050 and the Shire was settled in 1601. Apparently Sauron neglected to instill curiosity or knowledge in the 9 rings. To be fir, there's no mention of the other 8 Nazgul helping out during that time.


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