“J.R.R. Tolkien’s works are deeply embedded within a lifetime of mythological and philological scholarship that merges strains of Celtic, Norse, Zoroastrian, Chinese, and Byzantine storylines with his own imagination. At the heart of his Lord of the Rings trilogy is the Dark Lord Sauron, who has made twenty rings of power: Three for the Elves; Seven for the Dwarfs; Nine for the Kings of Men; and One, forged in Mount Doom, which will allow him to control all the nineteen ring wearers as explained by the secret rune verse, ‘One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One ring to bring them all, And in the darkness bind them.’
The ‘Kings of Men’ become the nine (another significant Tolkien number) dark riders—a mounted hit squad devoted to the service of the Dark Lord Sauron. Originally led by the witch-king of Angmar and the easterner Khamu, they were given rings to bind them into obedience to Sauron, and their character, shape, and substance are gradually subsumed until they become spectral Nazgul, ‘ring wraiths.’”
Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.