“…but the hearts of Men are easily corrupted.” Galadriel has few other words to say in the movies about Isildur, son of Elendil, the warrior who cut the One Ring from the hand of Sauron. Isildur may indeed be famous for his corruption, but there is more history to this Gondorian King and his account of the Ring than one may be able to glean from the movies alone.
At the end of the Second Age Isildur used the broken blade of his father (Narsil) to cut the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s hand, thus ending the battle and (for a time) defeating Sauron. Upon this unexpected victory, Isildur claimed the Ring as his own, realizing Its tremendous power and yet remaining, at first, unaware of Its malicious intent. He took It as a sort of consolation and “weregild” for the grievous losses suffered during the war, including his father, Elendil, and brother, Anárion. Against the council of the High-elven kings (Círdan and Elrond), Isildur did not destroy the Ring, but instead kept It for himself, to be an heirloom in his kingdom.
Not long after the end of the battle, Isildur returned briefly to Minas Tirith. Here he writes his personal description of the Ring:
“It was hot when I first took it, hot as a glede, and my hand was scorched, so that I doubt if ever again I shall be free of the pain of it. Yet even as I write it is cooled, and it seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither its beauty nor its shape…”
He then goes on to describe the fiery writing that faded when it finally cooled, having left the heat of Sauron’s hand. This writing he believed to be in the Black Speech of Mordor, though he never knew what it said. Perhaps the most alarming quote by Isildur is:
“…I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”
This quote is eerily similar to a future bearer of the Ring; someone who very famously refers to It as his “Presciousss.” (…It’s Gollum. The person I was referring to is Gollum, if you didn’t get that.)
Isildur then left Minas Tirith to claim his kingship of the north kingdom of Arnor, while the south kingdom of Gondor was to be entrusted to the heirs of Anárion. As his company journeyed north along the banks of the Anduin they were waylaid by a band of orcs near the Gladden Fields. Isildur and his men were far outnumbered and, though they drove the orcs back once, defeat was eminent. Before the battle had begun, he sent his equire, Ohtar, away with the shards of Narsil. These were delivered to Isildur’s youngest son, Valandil, who was only ten years old and staying at Rivendell at the time. Isildur’s oldest son counselled him to flee and save the Ring, and he did.
Isildur put the Ring on, became invisible, and slipped away from the battle, leaving his servants and sons to perish, though he regretted it before the end. He attempted to cross the river but, as he swam, the Ring changed Its size and slipped from his finger. Orcs then spotted him and slew him with arrows. The orcs were not aware Isildur was in possession of the Ring and neither It nor his body was recovered then. Only three men of that company escaped the Disaster of the Gladden Fields as it was later called, including Ohtar. Few people thereafter knew that Isildur lost the Ring that day and even Sauron was at a loss as to where It had ended up.
It would be another 2460 years before anything else is heard of the Ring, and that fateful chance is the spark to set in motion the events of The Lord of the Rings.