Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Fantasy contains a plethora of rings: the combination of ornament, convenience of wear, mystic circle-shape and strategic position on a finger (allowing easy aiming, turning, rubbing, etc.) makes the ring a natural receptacle for Magic – although magic rings disconcertingly tend to be irremovable, and/or to slip off at their own whim. Legendarily, Solomon's ring made him all-knowing and able to speak with animals, and additionally bore the sigil with which he sealed up Genies in jars; this ring is discussed in Many Dimensions (1931) by Charles Williams. Invisibility is frequently conferred by rings; e.g., that of Gyges in classic Myth, Agramante's in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516), which also protects against all magic, the One Ring in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) – which like the Ring of the Nibelungs (see Richard Wagner) can also enslave others – Tolkien's Seven and Nine lesser rings, to wear which is Bondage, and the ring in E Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle (1907), which secretly has whatever properties the holder says it has. Wish-granting rings have been endemic ever since Aladdin's accidental rubbing of his ring called up its Genie slave. In Piers Anthony's Castle Roogna (1979) an ambiguous variant ring promises to grant Wishes and claims credit for their fulfilment through the hero's apparently unaided efforts. Yet other rings compel love in William Makepeace Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring (1855), expand into a Portal for Liane the Wayfarer in Jack Vance's The Dying Earth (1950), grant Superhero powers in the Green Lantern Comic and others, offer transport between worlds in C S Lewis's The Magician's Nephew (1955), confer a Technofantasy almost-omnipotence in Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time sequence, and control a wide variety of magics in Roger Zelazny's Knight of Shadows (1989).

Notable non-magical rings include: that of Polycrates, thrown into the sea to propitiate Nemesis (see Fate) and dismayingly returned in the belly of a fish; the ring of Kings worn by Michael Moorcock's Elric; the ring (in fact armlet) of Erreth-Akbe in Ursula K Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan (1971), which when made whole shows the lost Rune of peace; and, arguably, the white gold ring of Stephen R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a focus for the cataclysmic power of Covenant's unbelief. [DRL]

see also: Amulets.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.