Earlier this month, a small artifact took center stage, bringing a great deal of notoriety to The Vyne, in Hampshire, England. Whilst Her Majesty was dubbed the newest Bond Girl, a gold ring that had been in The National Trust for the better part of eight decades, that had been quietly sitting in a private collection for centuries after being unearthed only a few years after George III lost the American Colonies, was placed on a velvet cushion and proclaimed to be The Ring that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien.
Maybe ’twas, and maybe ’twasn’t, and maybe it is cursed as they say once ’twas done. But it’s no ordinary ring, even if it carries no curse. For one, it’s big — so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb. It’s also in remarkably great shape, with its markings unmolested by the trials and abuses of time. And it was likely referred to in another well-preserved ancient artifact: a tablet found many miles away, cursing the thief, and giving it a story above and beyond simply surviving to the modern age (no small feat).
Nevertheless, it was the timing of Archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler‘s request for assistance in 1929 that catapults this golden bit of history into the spotlight. It is believed that Mortimer discussed this ring with Tolkien, asking for the latter’s expertise. This was in 1929 when Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. The specifics of the consultation supposedly surrounded the etymology of a name: Nodens, a Roman-era Celtic god. It was at a temple dedicated to Nodens in Gloucestershire that the tablet was found upon which a curse was proclaimed on the ring’s thief. The name Silvianus tied tablet to ring.
Shortly after this academic collaboration, the story of Middle Earth began to take shape. And when the exhibit at The Vyne, the estate that houses the ring, opened last week, seemingly every news outlet in Britain published The National Trust’s photo of The Ring, above, making exactly that connection. (Several news links follow at the end of this article.)
But yesterday morning the story crossed The Pond, broadcasting on America’s NPR. Morning Edition host David Greene interviewed Dave Green, who manages The Vyne. In the course of the four minute interview, Greene asks Green if he has actually put on the ring (editorial aside: if you don’t know the ramifications of this, at least know it’s a critical plot point). Well, no. Says the Englishman: “It’s really important that people don’t see me almost playing with the collection.”
And whether it was this ring that inspired Tolkien, or Gyges‘s ring, or Polycrates‘ ring, or any of the other many magical rings of folklore, this ring was what Tolkien was focused on in 1929. And here at FairyRoom, we love when legend and history tangibly collide.
Selected stories, video and radio about this ring and that exhibit: