Tolkien's Tale Bears Ring of Truth: Set in Tolkien's Own Mythical Middle-Earth, the Lord of the Rings Thrillingly Contrasts the Ageless Desire for Freedom and Peace with the Unquenchable Lust for Power and Control. (Cultural Currents)

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Once upon a time, in a far-off land long ago, a simple farmer found a golden ring inside a cave. He found to his delight that the ring had the power to make him invisible when he was wearing it. After the farmer discovered the golden ring's magical property, he realized that he could use the power of invisibility to acquire anything he wanted. He became a messenger to the king, and took advantage of his visit to, the palace to seduce the queen. Subsequently, the pair plotted against the king, murdered him and took his kingdom.

No, the protagonist of this story isn't Gollum or Isildur or Bilbo or Frodo, and the ring in question wasn't forged by the Dark Lord Sauron. Yet there is little doubt that this ancient legend -- of Gyges and his magic ring -- was part of the inspiration for the dominant theme in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.

Plato's The Republic recounts the story of the Ring of Gyges, as it was told by Glaucon to Socrates. Glaucon argues that men are inherently unjust, and are only restrained from unjust behavior by the fetters of law and society. In Glaucon's view, unlimited power blurs the difference between just and unjust men. "Suppose there were two such magic rings," he tells Socrates, "and the just [man] put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely what he liked out of the market or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point."

J.R.R. Tolkien, in focusing his tale on a magic ring like Gyges', wrote perhaps the most brilliant and richly rendered portrayal of power and corruptibility ever conceived. Tolkien's ring, like Gyges', corrupts, and enslaves, even as it offers its owner invisibility and the temptation of unlimited powers. In both tales, the ring may be viewed as a metaphor for power and its corrupting influence, and the point may be summed up by Lord Acton's famous dictum. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Roots of the Ring

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born in 892, was shaped and influenced by many of the 20th century's signature events. An idyllic rural English boyhood gave way to the horrors of World War I, where Tolkien' saw. most his friends cut down in bloodbaths like the battle of the Somme Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings during the Second World War and completed the trilogy in the 1950s, but always denied that the work was an allegory inspired by, the dark armies of Nazim or Communism. In stead, he insisted, the book was a myth and epic incorporating universal themes of good and evil.

From a very young age; Tolkien was a scholar as Well as an eccentric, the best British sense of the term. Because of his linguistic aptitude Tolkien learned various European tongues, like Finish and Celtic, and even invented a few languages of his own fascinated with northern. European epic literature and mythology, Tolkien began thinking about writing epic myth himself.

Tolkien's initial foray into full length book writing the straight forward fairy tale The Hobbit, grew out of worlds doodled on a page margin one day, which became the first line of his first novel: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." The hobbit, Baggins, is one a race diminutive furry-footed folk, who live in underground., dwellings in a blissful, agrarian land known as the Shire. At one point in the story Bilbo; lost in a labyrinthine cavern and pursued by an evil recluse named Gollum discovers a golden ring Just as Gollum is about to overtake him, Bilbo accidentally slips the ring on his finger and Gollum rushes past without seeing him. …