The Hunt for the Ring
| Unfinished Tales|
of Númenor and Middle-earth
|Part One: The First Age|
|Part Two: The Second Age|
|Part Three: The Third Age|
"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; other parts of this manuscript have been included in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, see pp. 145, 251-2).
 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 found had the Ring. Gollum had not been much help in this, as he both had little clear knowledge and lied about what he knew, and so lied, saying that the land of the Halflings was near his own former home near the Gladden Fields.
Sauron's spies searched, but partly due to the vigilance of the Dúnedain and partly due to 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 the taking of 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 (a note in the text identifies Khamûl with the Ringwraith who terrified Gaffer Gamgee at Hobbiton), were stationed in Dol Guldur.
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 found that Gollum had escaped entirely, and vanished. In addition, they said that no Halflings lived anywhere near where Gollum said they had. So, 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, messengers from Sauron regarding the prophetic dream that had come to Boromir, the deeds of Saruman, and of Gandalf's capture. Deducing that while none of the Wise had the Ring, Saruman might know where it was, and 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. Through this he also discovered 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. They were sent to Bree, now in the service of Mordor.
On the night of 22 September the Ringwraiths arrived at Sarn Ford. The Rangers barred their way, and they were overpowered, and the Black Riders passed into the Shire on the morning of 23 September.
 Other Versions of the Story
Christopher Tolkien mentions that there are four manuscripts for this story, all from the same period but all slighty different. The previously printed one he calls A. A second version (B) is largely the same, but there is a plot outline (C) which begins at a later point in the story and introduces some difference. He says that this is probably the last written of the three. He also says that there are various pages of notes, largely concerned with Gollum, which he calls D.
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 also 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 the 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 to 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 each to their Ring, they also had weaknesses. All but the Witch-King could stray by daylight and all except the Witch-King also feared water and were reluctant to cross rivers without a bridge. Also, since their primary weapon was terror, even when unclad their presence could be felt, and Anduin and other rivers were a large obstacle.
However, the situation changed when he 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 woudn'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 Ringwraith's failed journey northward. Arriving at Isengard, in this version they arrive while Gandalf is still there, and in terror Saruman was willing to yied Gandalf to them. However, when he walked to the top of Orthanc to retrieve him, Gandalf was already flying away with Gwaihir. As such, he lied, giving him knowledge which he already knew about the Shire's location, and telling them that he would tell Sauron that they obeyed. This convinced the Ringwraiths that Saruman was still a faithful ally, and the Riders immediately rode in the direction he said. He also sent Orcs and wolves to pursue Gandalf, unsuccessfully. As such, in this version of the story, there is 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 whom they captured, of whom more is told.
Saruman, being interested in why Gandalf had taken interest in the Shire, had a network of spies, some hobbits but most 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 figuring out if there were 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 an initial starting-point. Sending him to Bree, this man is identified with 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, and due to this evil things were roused, including the Barrow-wights and the trees of the Old Forest.
 Concerning Gandalf, Saruman and the Shire
Christopher Tolkien says that there are papers from this period which talks about Saruman's dealings with the Shire and with pipe-weed, and the text he presents is the briefest.
Saruman, in jealousy of Gandalf, began to visit the Shire, since he noticed Gandalf thought it worth visiting. Thus, 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 privately himself. He was secret about it, as he was concerned that if it were found out then he would be ridiculed. He also stopped going to the Shire personally, as he had sometimes been mistaken for Gandalf, and had worried that Gandalf discovered his visits. Gandalf had, in fact, discovered them, but he was still concerned that his knowledge of the Shire could be dangerous.
It several manuscripts there is a story, describing Saruman's ridiculing of Gandalf, and of Gandalf's response. In it, after Saruman's cold response, he blows several smoke rings, which he grabs and then he vanished. This may have been a demonstration to show that the Rings would elude him. Though he 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 hid 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 says 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 new this at that meeting, though afterwards J.R.R. Tolkien said that Gandalf's story at the Council of Elrond implied he did not suspect Saruman of this desire until his imprisonment in Orthanc.