The Hunt for the Ring

From Tolkien Gateway
Unfinished Tales
of Númenor and Middle-earth
Part One: The First Age
Part Two: The Second Age
Part Three: The Third Age
Part Four

"The Hunt for the Ring" is a chapter in Unfinished Tales, a posthumously published work of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Christopher Tolkien. The chapter is a partly published version of a manuscript now held at the Marquette University (MSS 4/2/31-37);[1] other parts of this manuscript and a time scheme have been included in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (see pp. 145, 251-2 for details).[2]


The Hunt for the Ring follows the journey of the Black Riders from the release of Gollum from Mordor until Frodo Baggins's leaving the Shire on 22 September T.A. 3018.

Of the Journey of the Black Riders according to the account that Gandalf gave to Frodo

Though Sauron did not trust Gollum, he deduced that Gollum would, after being released, search for those who stole the Ring from him, and sent spies to follow Gollum. However, before he could get far, Gollum was captured by Aragorn and sent to the Woodland Realm, and Sauron's spies could not rescue him.

Sauron, being now unable to catch Gollum, took another route: to search for the "halflings" who, he had learned, had the Ring. Gollum had not been much help in this, as he both had little clear knowledge and lied about what he knew, saying that the land of the Halflings was near his own former home near the Gladden Fields.

Sauron's spies searched, but due to the vigilance of the Dúnedain and the treachery of Saruman, they found nothing. At last, Sauron chose to send out his mightiest and most loyal servants, the Ringwraiths. In June 3018, Sauron sent forth two assaults: one by Orcs on the Woodland Realm, in the hopes of freeing Gollum, and one led by the Witch-king on Gondor, to test the strength of Denethor. In the latter, after taking Osgiliath, the Nazgȗl were told to begin the search for the Ring. At this time, seven Ringwraiths, led by the Witch-king, were stationed in Minas Morgul, while two, including Khamûl the Easterling, were stationed in Dol Guldur. (A note in the text identifies Khamûl as the Ringwraith who terrified Gaffer Gamgee at Hobbiton.)

Around the beginning of July 3018, the Witch-king and his six companions moved unseen over Anduin, through Anórien, over the Entwade, and into the Wold. A little north of Sarn Gebir, they were clad and horsed, around 17 July. Around 22 July, they met the two Ringwraiths stationed at Dol Guldur at the Field of Celebrant. From them, they learned that Gollum had escaped entirely and vanished. In addition, they said that no Halflings lived anywhere near where Gollum said they did. Passing between Lothlórien and the Misty Mountains, they rode northward.

The Ringwraiths, finding nothing, returned south. In September, they once again reached the Wold. There they met messengers from Sauron who reported the prophetic dream that had come to Boromir, the deeds of Saruman, and Gandalf's capture. Deducing that while none of the Wise had the Ring, Saruman might know where it was, the Ringwraiths rode straight to Isengard.

Two days after Gandalf's escape from Orthanc (20 September), the Ringwraiths arrived at Isengard. Saruman, knowing that his treachery was discovered, did not come forth, but the Ringwraiths did hear his voice. He said that only Gandalf might know where the Ring was, and to seek him nearby. The next day, however, they encountered Gríma Wormtongue, riding to Isengard to tell Saruman about Gandalf's arrival at Edoras. They questioned him, and, being struck by terror, he told them the location of the Shire. From this, the Ringwraiths learned that Saruman did indeed know the location of the Shire, and his treachery was fully revealed.

The Ringwraiths were divided into four pairs, the swiftest of which rode with the Witch-king, through Enedwaith and Minhiriath. On the road, they captured some of Saruman's spies, one of whom had maps of the Shire. Now in the service of Mordor, the spies were sent to Bree.

On the night of 22 September, the Ringwraiths arrived at Sarn Ford. The Rangers attempted to bar their way, but were overpowered. The Black Riders passed into the Shire on the morning of 23 September.

Other Versions of the Story

Christopher Tolkien mentions that four manuscripts exist for this story, all from the same period but slightly different. The previously printed one he calls A. A second version (B) is largely the same. A third (C) takes the form of a plot outline that begins at a later point in the story and introduces some differences. He says that this is probably the last written of the three. Various pages of notes, which Christopher calls D, are largely concerned with Gollum.

In D, Gollum tells Sauron only that "[the Ring] was stolen by a creature named Baggins in the Misty Mountains, and that Baggins came from a land called Shire". Sauron deduces that Baggins must have been a similar sort of creature to Gollum. Gollum would not know the term "Hobbit", as it was colloquial and not used everywhere. He also would not use "Halfling", a word which Hobbits generally disliked. So the Ringwraiths only had two pieces of information to go on: Shire and Baggins. Sauron, however, assumed that the Shire would be near the Misty Mountains and the Vales of Anduin, where Gollum had lived.

Manuscript B elaborates on the journey of Aragorn with Gollum to the Woodland Realm, and also on Sauron's doubts about using the Ringwraiths. After Gollum's release, he disappeared into the Dead Marshes. Since Sauron had very little power in Eriador, he could not send many spies without them being hindered by Saruman's servants. So, he decided to send the Ringwraiths. Though this had advantages, such as the Ringwraiths' enslavement to their Ring, it also had weaknesses. All but the Witch-king could stray by daylight, and all except the Witch-king feared water and were reluctant to cross rivers without a bridge. Since their primary weapon was terror, even when unclad their presence could be felt, and Anduin and other rivers were a large obstacle.

The situation changed when Sauron learned about Gollum's capture. Aragorn captured him on 1 February 3018, and arrived at the Woodland Realm fifty days later on 21 March. The news would not have reached Dol Guldur until after Aragorn had entered Mirkwood, and the commander there would not have sent news to Barad-dûr until he had tried to find Gollum himself. As such, Sauron likely only found out about Gollum's capture by a Man in late April. Though neither Sauron nor his servants knew who Aragorn was, when Gandalf passed into the Woodland Realm, Sauron learned that the Wise also knew about Gollum.

This concerned Sauron, who decided to use the Ringwraiths as quickly as possible. He attacked Thranduil and Gondor at the same time, during which Gollum escaped and the Eastern half of Osgiliath was taken. Here Christopher Tolkien interjects again, commenting that the Ringwraith's fear of water is nowhere else explained, and that J.R.R. Tolkien said that the idea was also "difficult to sustain". He also says that the journey of the Nazgûl up the Vale of Anduin is much the same as in version A, but that the dates in each version are all "slightly at variance both with each other and with [...] the Tale of Years".

Then Christopher Tolkien gives an excerpt from Manuscript D about Gollum after his escape from Mirkwood. Gollum escaped over the Anduin, eluding the Orcs, but he was still hunted by Elves. He wouldn't go near Lórien, and so hid in Moria in the autumn of 3018. After this, what happened to Gollum is uncertain. What he had for food he stole dangerously from Sauron's servants in Moria. Though he had likely originally intended that Moria simply be a way through the mountains, he got lost and arrived at the Doors of Durin not long before the Fellowship of the Ring did. Even had he arrived earlier, he was weak for lack of food and could not have thrust the doors open, so his arrival there was very lucky.

Christopher Tolkien then outlines Manuscript C, which differs significantly and starts after the Ringwraiths' failed journey northward. Arriving at Isengard, in this version they arrived while Gandalf is still there, and in terror Saruman was willing to turn Gandalf over to them. However, when he walked to the top of Orthanc to retrieve him, Gandalf was already flying away with Gwaihir. Returning to the Ringwraiths, Saruman claimed to have forced Gandalf to reveal the Shire's location (which Saruman already knew) and promised to tell Sauron that the Ringwraiths obeyed their master. Convinced that Saruman was still a faithful ally, the Riders immediately rode in the direction of the Shire. Saruman also sent Orcs and wolves to pursue Gandalf, unsuccessfully. This version of the story includes no meeting between Wormtongue and the Black Riders, as the Riders had already left Rohan by the time Gríma was riding back to Isengard. Saruman's lying is revealed not by Wormtongue, but by the spy they captured, of whom more is told.

Interested in why Gandalf had taken interest in the Shire, Saruman had a network of spies, including some hobbits, but mostly Dunlendings. One of these Men had been in the Shire, negotiating the price of pipe-weed (which Saruman had begun to smoke) to store in Isengard against war. He had also been tasked with finding out about any notable departures. This was the man the Black Riders captured on his way back to Isengard. Interrogating him, they discovered where Baggins lived, which is why Hobbiton was chosen as a starting point. The Ringwraiths sent this man to Bree, and he was the "squint-eyed southerner" at the [Prancing Pony].

In Version B it is said that the Witch-king did not know whether the Ring was in the Shire. Only a few Riders were therefore sent, and of these Khamûl was to go to Hobbiton. Some were also sent to the eastern borders, rousing evil things, including the Barrow-wights and the trees of the Old Forest.

Concerning Gandalf, Saruman and the Shire

Christopher Tolkien says that papers from this period talk about Saruman's dealings with the Shire and with pipe-weed, and the text he presents is the briefest.

Jealous of Gandalf, Saruman began to visit the Shire, having noticed that Gandalf thought it worth visiting. When he learned about the finding of the Ring by Bilbo, he assumed that Gandalf knew about this all along, which angered him, as he was especially concerned with the Rings.

Gandalf had also often praised pipe-weed, and though Saruman scoffed at this, he soon began to use it himself. He was secretive about it, as he was concerned that he would be ridiculed if it were found out. He also stopped going to the Shire personally, as he had sometimes been mistaken for Gandalf, and had worried that Gandalf might discover his visits. Gandalf had, in fact, discovered them, but considered them harmless.

Several manuscripts include a story describing Saruman's ridicule of Gandalf, which Gandalf laughed off. After Saruman's cold response, Gandalf blew several smoke rings, which vanished when Gandalf tried to grasp them. This may have been a demonstration to show that the Rings would elude him. At the time, Gandalf did not know that Hobbits and the Rings would be connected. If he had, he would not have done what he did. Because of this, however, when the two did become connected, Saruman assumed that Gandalf had known all along and hidden the knowledge from the White Council.

The final comment by Christopher Tolkien says that in the Tale of Years, the entry for T.A. 2851 states that Gandalf urged an attack on Dol Guldur, which Saruman vetoed, and that "it afterwards became clear that Saruman had begun to desire to possess the One Ring for himself". The story suggests that Gandalf already knew this at that meeting, though afterwards J.R.R. Tolkien said that Gandalf's story at the Council of Elrond implied that he did not suspect Saruman of this desire until his imprisonment in Orthanc.

Other parts of the manuscript

The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion includes numerous parts of the missing manuscripts, as well as several drafts, schemes, and a chronology titled The Hunt for the Ring: Time Scheme - Black Riders. Part of these writings covers the events of Manuscript A (in particular the travels of the Black Riders, the parley between the Witch-king and Saruman, the Witch-king rousing the Barrow-wights in Cardolan,[3] the battle of Osgiliath and the travels of Khamûl). However, most writings focus on the subsequent events: Gandalf's escape from Isengard, his taming of Shadowfax[4] and his combat against the Ringwraiths on Weathertop on the night of 3 October, whose fiery lights were seen by Aragorn and Frodo.[5][6] Time Scheme and other versions go as far as the fight between Glorfindel and the Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen; some minor drafts also analyse subsequent events, including the crebain. These writings also analyse the thoughts and the plans of the Witch-king regarding the One Ring and Gandalf; they even refer to the Witch-king being afraid of Frodo, as he invoked Elbereth (a "name of terror for the Nazgûl") and may have slain the Barrow-wight.[7] In addition to the main writings, several (usually brief) drafts regarding the Ringwraiths expand or discuss elements of the plot, such as the identity of Khamûl (originally identified with an Easterling), or the fact that the Nazgûl couldn’t cross the “elvish waters” of the Brandywine.[8]