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Fantasy Rings: The Ultimate Power Accessory

One ring to rule them all...We all know THE Ring. The One Ring to Rule them all. (And if you don’t, then shame on you.) The Ring is so well-known in popular culture that it was the solution to one of Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers mysteries. And just yesterday I saw a meme online that I couldn’t help but ‘Like’ given the current daytime high temperatures in the 100s. (It had a picture of Frodo and said something to the effect of, “I’m not saying it’s hot in my room – but two hobbits just came by and threw in a ring.”) And if you get your fantasy not only from the silver screen, but also from the source material, you probably are aware of the other nineteen rings of Middle Earth.

But Tolkien didn’t have a monopoly on fantasy rings. The finger ring has long been a favorite object with which to imbue special powers. A wedding or engagement ring is a sign of a commitment to a relationship; a signet ring is a sign of political endorsement or power. A ring is portable; stick it on your finger and forget about it, or string it on a chain and wear it around your neck. The physical being of the ring evokes the mystical, the spiritual, the magical; a circle with no beginning and no end, often crafted of some precious substance, and often adorned with jewels or gems. So in honor of the ultimate power accessory, here are a just a few of the lesser-known rings from the fantasy realm.

King Candaules by Jean-Léon GérômeWe really should begin with the Ring of Gyges, given that it is almost impossible not to discuss it without comparisons to Tolkien’s One Ring coming to mind. In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher shows us Glaucon (Plato’s brother) discussing justice with Socrates. In order to prove a point that people only act justly out of fear of punishment for not doing so, Glaucon recounts the legend of Gyges, who started out as a shepherd. But when an earthquake opened a secret cavern, within which Gyges found a magic ring that gave him the power of invisibility, he wasted no time in using this newfound power to seduce the queen, kill the king, and place himself on the throne. Glaucon argues that anyone who found themselves able to turn invisible and act without fear of punishment would act unjustly; but then again, the ancient Greeks had never met a hobbit from the Shire.

Another ring of power from the ancient world is the Ring of King Solomon. Made of brass and iron and divinely inscribed, it was said to give him the power to control both good and evil spirits, or demons. Additionally, four stones set into the ring gave him power over the four elements. The Ring of Solomon is the title of Jonathan Stroud’s fourth book in a series for younger readers about the djinni Bartimaeus, and presents Stroud’s take on the legendary king’s tool for managing cheap supernatural labor. Interestingly enough, the Ring of Solomon is also a term used in palmistry. The line at the base of the index finger, also known as the Ring of Jupiter, is thought to represent possession of leadership qualities and keen judgment of character.

The Magician’s Nephew Redesign by M. S. CorleyMoving forward into the realm of more contemporary fantasy literature, in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, it is the rings of yellow and green that allow Polly and Digory to travel from our world to the Wood Between the Worlds, and other worlds beyond that. Yellow takes the children to the in-between land, and green lets them move from there to places such as Charn and the world that became Narnia. Unlike Tolkien’s Ring of Power (which needed to be worn on one’s finger) or the Ring of Gyges (which was worn and turned inward in order to become invisible), these rings needed only be touched in order for their powers to be invoked. The rings were created by the titular Magician, from dust that he had gotten from his godmother, and he had decided was of Atlantean origin.

While Lewis’ rings were pure and simple tools, for all their magic power, Piers Anthony introduced a ring in his Incarnations of Immortality series that also served as a character in its own right. In Bearing an Hourglass, the protagonist is a man who has taken on the living embodiment of the character of Time. Through a convoluted series of transfers that becomes clearer in later books in the series, Time comes to possess a good demon in the form of a ring shaped like snake. He calls this demon Sning, a contraction of snake and ring. Sning and Time are able to communicate with each other and the snake ring becomes, for all intents and purposes, Time’s friend and ally. It becomes an important source of information, and can even uncoil from ring shape and act as a reptilian defender when its wearer is threatened.

Snake Tail Ring by MichelleChangJewelryOne intriguing aspect of Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality is that there are special tools or gear for each office, such as Time’s hourglass, Death’s horse/car, and War’s sword. Sning is not an official tool of the office of Time, unlike our next fantasy ring. In Patricia Bray’s Sword of Change trilogy, Devlin Stonehand becomes the kingdom’s Chosen One, the defender and champion of the realm. When he is sworn in to this role, a gold ring with a black stone is ‘sealed’ to him, and serves as a symbol of his authority. When he invokes it, it glows red, sometimes blindingly bright, as proof of his right to act in the name of the king and the kingdom. The ring also serves as an alarm, serving to warn the wearer if he is near a sorcerer or a mage. As it turns out, the ring also acted as a target, the beacon to draw the attack of an elemental of darkness sent by an enemy who wanted the Chosen One disposed of, but what kind of magic ring doesn’t come with a little danger, right?

The Chosen One’s ring isn’t the only ring that serves as both a symbol of authority and the source of special powers. The flight rings of the members of DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes (made of Valorium and enabling their wearers to fly through air and space), and the rings of DC’s Green Lantern Corps (the most powerful tools in the universe, they can do almost anything that can be imagined by someone with enough willpower), both might be thought to fit into this category. However, both are more accurately within the genre of science fiction than that of fantasy, so in order to discuss a fantasy ring of this sort, we need to step back from the Silver Age of Comics and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, and look instead to the Golden Age and the Alan Scott Green Lantern.

Green Lantern Ring by Alex RossAppearing in All-American Comics in July of 1940, engineer Alan Scott encounters the Green Flame of Life, a meteor carved into the shape of a lamp some two thousand years earlier. It has since been re-shaped into the form of a railroad lantern, and the Green Flame of Life tells Scott to cut a piece of the lantern into the shape of a ring. With the magical powers of the ring – recharged every 24 hours from the lantern – he becomes a masked adventurer, or what today we would refer to as a superhero. Although later revisions of the DC universe attempt to incorporate the Alan Scott Green Lantern into the science-based continuity, this Green Lantern with his special ring (which was powerless against wood, unlike later incarnations, which had a weakness against the color yellow) derived his powers from magic, placing him in the realm of fantasy.

From the ancient rings of Gyges and Solomon, to the iconic rings of contemporary fantasy literature, to the rings that serve as symbols of authority for everyone from Father Time to comic book characters, this ubiquitous piece of jewelry holds a very special place in our genre.

Title image by MarkWinters.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar Sabrina says:

    You’re forgetting the Great Serpent ring from the Wheel of Time!

  2. Avatar Overlord says:

    Blood rings in Trudi Canavan’s books 🙂

  3. Avatar LJ says:

    In David Eddings Sparhawk series two matching rings, one belonging to the king and the other to his champion, are originally created for the purpose of controlling a magical blue rose/rock thing that basically lets you do anything you want and is possibly a trapped spirit of a star/god that fell to earth?

    Its been a while since i read them i just remember that when the old king dies and his daughter is presented with the ring the kings champion gets mixed up and without realising gives her his ring whilst keeping the kings ring which the princess instantly interprets as a proposal of marriage and gleefully hugs him much to his shock.

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