Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Ring in Fantasy

One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them; One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Any fantasy geek that's read his or her share of lore knows where this quote originates. And he or she knows there's more to the story: there's not just One Ring. There are 20 total:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

And if you've read J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, not just watched Peter Jackson's masterful interpretation of the series, you know these rings pack a powerful punch. They also hint of powers we don't see in the books or on the screen.

My question is, though, why a ring? Why not a necklace? Or a brooch or a button or a earring? (Those do exist, but...) What is so mythical about a ring? You know Tolkien isn't the first to use this piece of jewelry as a foil for a metaphor for power don't you? Here are a few examples:

Classical Antiquity:
The Ring of Gyges was found by a shepherd and could supposedly turn the wearer invisible. He used it to overthrow the king and become ruler himself.

Demonology:
The Seal/Ring of Solomon or Ring of Aandaleeb was purportedly given to King Solomon by the Archangel Gabriel to control demons who were interfering with the construction of God's temple.

Norse Mythology:
The Kingmoor Ring detailed with Viking runes was supposed to ward off sickness.

The plot of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel The Rose and the Ring revolves around a ring that made the wearer beautiful to those who saw him or her.

Piers Anthony presents a ring of wishes in Castle Roogna (a popular theme reflected in modern role-playing games, but GMs tend to be picky on the wording and don't give out pure wishes anymore. The Wish of Bureaucracy may be the worst.)

Forgotten Realms and other d20 role playing games include a variety of magic rings.

Green Lantern's ring that harnesses willpower and the various other colored rings in his universe.

C.S. Lewis' book The Magician's Nephew has rings that allow transportation between universes.

So...why do writers choose rings?

Here are a few of my theories:

  1. It's easy for both friend and foe to see, therefore you can show your power without flaunting it. Or flaunt it if you wish.
  2. It's easy to hide with a glove unless your bling is large and gaudy.
  3. It's easy to access if it needs to be activated (twisted, touched, pressed, etc.)
  4. You can access it without anyone knowing (behind your back, as your arms are crossed, etc.).
  5. As most powerful objects are cursed, it's an easy location to either (a.) get stuck and not come off or (b.) accidentally come off at the wrong moment.
  6. Point and shoot if it's that kind of power.
  7. Rings signify eternity (an unending band of material) and if made of gold or platinum, nontarnishable material. That in itself is powerful.
  8. Depending on the finger where you place it, supposedly you access different power centers in the body (I won't discuss that here. Too much conflicting info out there. Cool stuff, though.)
  9. If you're a bad guy and the plot requires the good guy to get the ring, it's generally a matter of "hack off the finger/hand" and run. Gross, but highly effective as a plot device. Trying to hack off an ear for an earring or grabbing someone's chest for a necklace can get a little slapstick. Works if you're writing comedy, though.
  10. They're in general small. Easy to transport, hide, and steal. Another cool plot device.
But what does this metaphor mean?

Besides being a fashion statement, rings symbolize our tie to something. It may be a person, a memory, a place or whatever else. That tie, though, is powerful. Every time we see that ring, touch it, spin it, hold it in our hands, we think about that person, memory, place, or whatever. It's an eternal band of emotion wrapped around our hearts and minds that we can't shake off even if the physical ring itself is lost or if the ring is no longer worn.

Rings are powerful pieces of modern magic that when used by the right people in the right way can forge amazing bonds. I hate it when I see people blithely throwing rings at each other only to split up a few months later because they now "love" someone else. A ring is supposed to mean a commitment, not just a gushy feeling of, "Ooh, this person is HOT!" 

What does love really mean?

Where am I going with this? 

Next week is October, my birthaversary month. (You read that right. Husband and I married on my birthday.) I have a very special post for my very special person and I can't wait to share it with all of you, too.

Revision isn't just for writing. It's for life, too. And boy, have things changed in 17 years!

What does the ring metaphor mean to you (either in literature or in life)?


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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
True Love = True Revision

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s