“What have I got in my pocket?”: Tolkien and the tradition of the Rings of Power

— Thomas Honegger

25 August 2021 | Journal of Tolkien Research, Volume 13, № 1, 1

The question of where Tolkien found his inspiration for the One Ring has occupied fans and scholars alike for decades, and many rings real, fictional or legendary have been proposed. My paper takes a fresh look at the evidence and provides an overview of possible sources of inspiration from contemporary literature and archaeology. My research suggests that there was not one single source of inspiration but rather three rings that served as models, each of which contributed an important element to Tolkien’s concept of his One Ring. These models are: The Ring of Gyges, the Ring of Charlemagne, and Wagner’s Ring. The last of these is of central importance since Tolkien seems to have developed his One Ring in opposition to and as a critical re-write’ of Wagner’s Ring of Power.

This paper is based on my contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition Ringe der Macht’ (2019), published as Tolkien und die Tradition der Ringe der Macht.’ In Harald Meller, Susanne Kimmig-Völkner, and Alfred Reichenberger (eds.). 2019. Ringe der Macht / Rings of Power. Internationale Tagung vom 09. Bis 10. November 2018 in Halle (Saale). Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle. Band 21.1 (2019). Halle (Saale): Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte, 227 – 24

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