Tolkien’s Legendarium is one of the biggest, most popular and most interesting fictional universes we have. It is – in a way – the epitome of a fantasy-based universe and served as a prototype for all later similar universes that are part of the fantasy genre. Tolkien’s universe has a lot of mysteries and while some of them are unclear, there are some that are solved but need further clarification. In today’s article, we are going to analyse a hypothetical situation in which Isildur destroyed the One Ring after taking it from Sauron. What would have happened then? Why didn’t Isildur do it? All of these – and some others as well – questions are going to be answered in the paragraphs that follow so be sure to read everything!
If Isildur had decided to destroy the One Ring instead of taking it for himself, the same thing that happened when the Gollum fell in the fires of Mount Doom with the One Ring would have happened – the Ring would have been destroyed and along with it, Sauron and the Ringwraiths.
In today’s article, we are going to talk about Isildur’s connection to the One Ring. You’re going to find out how he had become its owner, why he did not destroy it and what would have happened had he decided to destroy the One Ring then and there, since they were near the flames of Mount Doom. We’ve prepared a fun and informative article for you so stick with us to the end.
How did Isildur get the One Ring?
The story of Isildur’s “capture” of the One Ring is actually the story of Sauron’s defeat, as it was told by Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring and by Tolkien himself in the work “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, which is usually published as an appendix to The Silmarillion. Elrond witnessed Isildur’s fight against Sauron so we bring you his record of the events first:
“Thereupon Elrond paused a while and sighed. ‘I remember well the splendour of their banners,’ he said. ‘It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever, and it was not so.’
‘You remember?’ said Frodo, speaking his thought aloud in his astonishment. ‘But I thought,’ he stammered as Elrond turned towards him, ‘I thought that the fall of Gil-galad was a long age ago.’
‘So it was indeed,’ answered Elrond gravely. ‘But my memory reaches back even to the Elder Days. Earendil was my sire, who was born in Gondolin before its fall; and my mother was Elwing, daughter of Dior, son of Luthien of Doriath. I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories.
‘I was the herald of Gil-galad and marched with his host. I was at the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gate of Mordor, where we had the mastery: for the Spear of Gil-galad and the Sword of Elendil, Aiglos and Narsil, none could withstand. 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.’
At this the stranger, Boromir, broke in. ‘So that is what became of the Ring!’ he cried. ‘If ever such a tale was told in the South, it has long been forgotten. I have heard of the Great Ring of him that we do not name; but we believed that it perished from the world in the ruin of his first realm. Isildur took it! That is tidings indeed.’
‘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.
‘Only to the North did these tidings come, and only to a few. Small wonder it is that you have not heard them, Boromir. From the ruin of the Gladden Fields, where Isildur perished, three men only came ever back over the mountains after long wandering. One of these was Ohtar, the esquire of Isildur, who bore the shards of the sword of Elendil; and he brought them to Valandil, the heir of Isildur, who being but a child had remained here in Rivendell. But Narsil was broken and its light extinguished, and it has not yet been forged again.
‘Fruitless did I call the victory of the Last Alliance? Not wholly so, yet it did not achieve its end. Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed. His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure. Many Elves and many mighty Men, and many of their friends, had perished in the war. Anarion was slain, and Isildur was slain; and Gil-galad and Elendil were no more. Never again shall there be any such league of Elves and Men; for Men multiply and the Firstborn decrease, and the two kindreds are estranged. And ever since that day the race of Numenor has decayed, and the span of their years has lessened.”– The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter II, “The Coundil of Elrond”
Elrond, as you can see, describes both the “capture” of the One Ring by Isildur after cutting off Sauron’s finger and Isildur’s greed, which ultimately led to his demise. The One Ring immediately took control over Isildur and, as Sauron’s evil soul left his body, took care for its own survival. But, with the One Ring still in existence, Sauron was also able to survive, albeit very weak, which is why it took so much time for him to come back. In his essay, Tolkien refers to the events as follows:
“Then Gil-galad and Elendil passed into Mordor and encompassed the stronghold of Sauron; and they laid siege to it for seven years, and suffered grievous loss by fire and by the darts and bolts of the Enemy, and Sauron sent many sorties against them. There in the valley of Gorgoroth Anárion son of Elendil was slain, and many others. But at the last the siege was so strait that Sauron himself came forth; and he wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil, and they both were slain, and the sword of Elendil broke under him as he fell. But Sauron also was thrown down, and with the hilt-shard of Narsil Isildur cut the Ruling Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it for his own. Then Sauron was for that time vanquished, and he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years.
Thus began the Third Age of the World, after the Eldest Days and the Black Years; and there was still hope in that time and the memory of mirth, and for long the White Tree of the Eldar flowered in the courts of the Kings of Men, for the seedling which he had saved Isildur planted in the citadel of Anor in memory of his brother, ere he departed from Gondor. The servants of Sauron were routed and dispersed, yet they were not wholly destroyed; and though many Men turned now from evil and became subject to the heirs of Elendil, yet many more remembered Sauron in their hearts and hated the kingdoms of the West. The Dark Tower was levelled to the ground, yet its foundations remained, and it was not forgotten. The Númenóreans indeed set a guard upon the land of Mordor, but none dared dwell there because of the terror of the memory of Sauron, and because of the Mountain of Fire that stood nigh to Barad-dûr; and the valley of Gorgoroth was filled with ash. Many of the Elves and many of the Númenóreans and of Men who were their allies had perished in the Battle and the Siege; and Elendil the Tall and Gil-galad the High King were no more. Never again was such a host assembled, nor was there any such league of Elves and Men; for after Elendil’s day the two kindreds became estranged.
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 Círdan who stood by. They counselled 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 as a shadow of malice in the wilderness. But Isildur refused this counsel, saying: ‘This I will have as were-gild for my father’s death, and my brothers. Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?’ And the Ring that he 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 Anárion. But soon he departed, and after he had given counsel to Meneldil, his brother’s son, and had committed to him the realm of the south, 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.
But Isildur was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains; and they descended upon him at unawares in his camp between the Greenwood and the Great River, nigh to Loeg Ningloron, the Gladden Fields, for he was heedless and set no guard, deeming that all his foes were overthrown. There well nigh all his people were slain, and among them were his three elder sons, Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon; but his wife and his youngest son, Valandil, he had left in Imladris when he went to the war. Isildur himself escaped by means of the Ring, for when he wore it he was invisible to all eyes; but the Orcs hunted him by scent and slot, until he came to the River and plunged in. There the Ring betrayed him and avenged its maker, for it slipped from his finger as he swam, and it was lost in the water. Then the Orcs saw him as he laboured in the stream, and they shot him with many arrows, and that was his end. Only three of his people came ever back over the mountains after long wandering; and of these one was Ohtar his esquire, to whose keeping he had given the shards of the sword of Elendil.”– The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”
As you can see, Tolkien’s own narrative account is fully in accordance with that Elrond said, providing further details on the circumstances surrounding Isildur’s taking of the One Ring from Sauron and its consequences.
Why didn’t Elrond take the Ring from Isildur?
Elrond, as an Elf who had already come into contact with the weaker Rings of Power, knew the dangers of the One Ring. He knew that the Ring was immensely powerful and seductive; knowing that the weaker Rings of Power had done to their bearers, Elrond was quite understandably hesitant to take the One Ring.
Also, Elrond seems to have been aware of the fact that whoever should take the Ring from its rightful owner (i.e., not get it, but rather steal it) would succumb to the Ring’s seductive powers much more easily. Isildur had taken the Ring from Sauron – Sauron never gave it to him – and if Elrond had tried to take the Ring from Isildur and destroy it, the same thing would have happened to him, as Isildur never wanted to give up his precious possession. This also explains how and why Gollum was so corrupted by the Ring, while Bilbo wasn’t – while Gollum killed his kin to steal the Ring, Bilbo never stole it, he found it and took it with him, not knowing that he had the most powerful artefact in Middle-earth in his possession (plus, there is the fact that Hobbits seem to be more resistant to the Ring’s powers due to being kindhearted, but that’s a different issue completely).
Why didn’t Isildur destroy the One Ring?
Well, this question is a relatively easy one. Namely, as we could also se from a far more popular example – Frodo’s – when someone had to destroy the One Ring, he would usually hesitate only when the Ring took power over its bearer. Frodo was exhausted and at the last moment, he succumbed to the Ring’s powers and tried to take it for himself, rather than destroy it. And mind you, Frodo was a hobbit – they’re not as prone to fall under the Ring’s influence as other races, especially Men.
Isildur was both a Man and had taken the Ring, rather than received it. Men were lustful for power, they were greedy and if you add the fact that the Ring had more influence over those who stole it, you can easily deduce why Isildur refused to destroy it, despite the urging of his comrades. He was completely possessed by the Ring and he took it with him, even starting to call it his precious at one point, which ultimately led to his own demise.
What would have happened had Isildur destroyed the One Ring?
The answer to our final question is likewise quite simple. Namely, had Isildur not succumbed to the One Ring’s powers and decided – as he should have done – to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom, which were very close by, the Ring would have disappeared and along with it Sauron, whose weakened soul would be destroyed, and the nine Ringwraiths. This, of course, would have made the events from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings quite obsolete, which in turn would have made us poorer for a brilliant literary and narrative experience, so in a way – we’re glad that Isildur did not do the right thing at this moment.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!