Saturday, July 7, 2018

Rings of Power

"There are many magic rings in this world, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them should be used lightly," says Gandalf when confronting Bilbo at the (for the hobbit-guests) surprising end of his "Long Expected Party".

The Lord of the Rings movies certainly did some tricks of the camera to make the Ring seem bigger and heftier than any ring has any right to be; these, along with tricks to make the hobbits seem shorter, while the men and Elves seemed taller.

And sometimes I look at my wedding ring, and it really is just a thin gold band; it feels like nothing in my hand, and I can easily hear myself quoting Boromir: "Is it not strange that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! ..."

Marriage-jokes aside, it really is a tiny thing, almost weightless in my hand, and yet freighted with such meaning as if it should be heavy to wear. And that's just a wedding ring, no Ring of Power as Galadriel, or Elrond, or Cirdan the Shipwright wear!

Now, the simple gold band of a husband's wedding ring is a perfect image for the metaphor of Sauron's One Ring. First, as I said, it is a tiny, unassuming thing. I've always joked that if I should need to create a "lich's phylactery" or a "horcrux" that the best thing to imbue with a piece of myself would be a pine needle on a forest floor, or a grain of sand on the beach, impossible to differentiate from all the rest. There is an undead creature in one of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books whose soul is bound up in a finger secreted away inside an unassuming pine tree that the hero just happens to find. The less conspicuous the better! And a simple gold band, rather than something ostentatious with runes and gems and all manner of signs of magic is just the kind of unassuming secret thing that I would pour my power into if I were a Sauron or a lich ...

Secondly, metaphorically, Sauron seeks to overmaster everything, and so could be considered to be a bad husband: a man who seeks to control and dominate, to overmaster everything to his will; a tyrant! This is a metaphor, of course, something to be drawn out of the imagery, not something directly allegorized by Tolkien, who hated allegory. Still, there is much to the image--the ring-wearing man, commanding all others to do as he says, rather than working with them toward the end of real justice for all ...

Okay, but I originally started this post to suggest other kinds of rings of power. The ring I wear is so little, but the oath-rings that the Norsemen and their gods used to lay their hands upon were surely not tiny finger-rings, right? I imagine they were arm-rings or torcs--weighty things upon which a man could lay a hand with a real sense of presence.

So why not sometimes describe magic rings as arm-rings or torcs or key rings, or some other kind of ring? E.g.

1) Arm-Ring of the Serpent: a Celtic-type gold ring formed like a serpent and worn around one's upper arm; when worn, it conveys a +2 bonus on saves v. poison; on command, it becomes a viper per the rules, attacking on the wearer's initiative, and when killed reverts to the arm-ring, to be called into viper-form again after one day; similar Eagle- and Wolf-Torcs exist, which provide different specific bonuses and become the animals they represent until killed ...

2) Knotted Arm-Ring: gold lattice in a Celtic-knot-type pattern, it provides from +1 to +3 protection (to both AC and saves ... 1-3 +1, 4-5 +2, 6 +3)

3) Oath Ring: a heavy iron ring worn around the arm, any oath sworn upon it acts as a geas spell for the swearer

4) Torc of Nobility: a well-made golden or silver torc that provides an air of authority. It grants either a +1 to reactions (1-4) or a +2 (5-6).

5) Torc of Thorns: reduces max hp by 2-7 (roll once; no creature can be reduced to fewer than 1 hp by wearing it); otherwise acts as a Ring of Plant Control; and furthermore, grants the power to animate up to two trees per the Treant ability, and to have them fight while concentration is maintained as if concentrating on a device controlling elementals ...

6) Draupnir: or an imitation; be it a finger-ring, arm-ring, or torc, every ninth night it drops nine copies of itself. 1-3 finger-ring worth 25 gp each; 4-5 an arm-ring worth 50 gp each; 6 a torc worth 100 gp each.

Many other such things are possible--why limit "rings" to finger-rings? One could even include ear-rings, nose-rings, and more!