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A Study of the History, Symbolism and Meaning of the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth

by David Harvey

1. Introduction

1.1. Purpose

This essay is an examination of the actual and symbolic nature of the One Ring and the part that it plays within The Lord of the Rings.

The One Ring or the Ruling Ring is the central ingredient and focus of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Yet the true nature of the Ring seems to be misunderstood. Is it an inanimate object, vested with magical powers? Or is it more than this? Is it a symbol of the unbridled power of science which has run out of control? Or, if it is a symbol, exactly what does it symbolise? The answers become clear after a study of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings.

To emphasise the unique nature of the One Ring, and the part that it plays within Tolkien's creation, I have also contrasted it with Der Ring in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Not only is such an examination helpful in illustrating the nature of The One Ring but it also emphasises Tolkien's expressed disavowal of a connection or similarity between his creation and that of Wagner.

1.2. Outline

Some of the material and issues covered in this essay have been examined in my book The Song of Middle-Earth[1]. However, it has become clear that the material contained there requires expansion and further commentary.

In this essay I shall examine the history of the One Ring. I shall deal with the making of the Rings, and the One Ring in particular. Then I shall consider the movements of the Ring until it was found by Bilbo. I shall then study the way the Ring works in The Lord of the Rings and examine this in relation to Tolkien's concept of the nature of Evil. Finally, I shall consider the comparison between the One Ring and Der Ring.

It is appropriate to say something about sources of material. I have been of the view that the last word, where there is a conflict between manuscripts or in interpretation, must come from the work published or approved in whole or in part for publication by Tolkien. Essentially, the Canon comprises The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The Letters provide helpful commentary and can be of assistance in interpretation [2]. The volumes of work that have been published over the last ten years or so [3] are of assistance only to provide further explanation or example. If there is a factual or interpretative conflict between this latter work and the Canon, the Canon is to be preferred.

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The Tolkien Encyclopedia
The Art of Tolkien
One Ring to Rule Them All by David Harvey

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