J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring On Display At Estate's Exhibit

J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy Lord of the Rings is filled with fantastical stories of elves, hobbits and wizards. But the ring at the center of his tale may have been inspired by a real ring. Owners of The Vyne, an English estate, say they possess the ring that inspired Tolkien's "ring of power."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In his epic saga of Middle Earth, the English author J.R.R. Tolkien creates a vivid land of elves and dwarfs, wizards and hobbits and at the center of it all is the one ring of power.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "LORD OF THE RING: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING")

IAN MCKELLEN: (as Gandalf) Evil is stirring in Mordor. The ring has awoken. It's served its master's call.

GREENE: Yeah, this is quite a ring. It can make you invisible. It also can create separation anxiety.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "LORD OF THE RING: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING")

ANDY SERKIS: (as Gollum) My precious.

GREENE: Whoa, OK. So it's just that this ring could be real. Now on display at an English estate is the ring that may have inspired Tolkien's books, "The Hobbit," and "Lord of the Rings." We spoke to Dave Green; he manages The Vyne, the estate that houses the ring. Dave Green, thanks so much for joining us on the program.

DAVE GREEN: Thank you very much for inviting me.

GREENE: And so you may really have the one ring to rule them all.

GREEN: Well, it's certainly a ring that may have inspired the story about the one ring. It's a gold Roman ring and less than three miles away from where I'm sitting now and it's a ring that Tolkien at some point was asked to comment on because of its archeological value. And then, less than a couple of years later, he started writing "The Hobbit."

GREENE: When and where was it first discovered?

GREEN: It was found by a farmer who was plowing his field in Silchester, which is an area that's known for its Roman activity.

GREENE: OK. So this ring is found by a farmer in the 1700s and there's an important inscription on the ring. Is that right? What did it say?

GREEN: It says the name of the person we think we owned it at some point, Senicianus, and it says: Live long in God.

GREENE: And as I understand it, the fact that that name was on the ring ties it to something else that was discovered at an archeological dig.

GREEN: That's right. It ties it to the cursed tablet.

GREENE: That's right. There is a cursed tablet that's part of this story as well and it might have also inspired Tolkien. Green says this tablet was found decades after the ring was discovered at another Roman site more than 100 miles away. The curse was apparently inscribed by someone who had lost a ring, calling upon the Roman god Nodens to punish the person who might have stolen it. The name Senicianus is mentioned on both the ring and on this tablet, and Green says that's where Tolkien comes in.

GREEN: Well, in the 1920s, before he was so well known as a writer, Tolkien was actually known in Britain as being a real expert on Anglo-Saxon culture and their linguistics and writing. And so he was asked to comment on how this curse might have been and to comment on who was this god, Nodens. So he was called along to inspect the tablet and would have had awareness of the ring.

Another sort of link in the story which just makes it seem as though this could be very likely is that the area of Lydney where the lead tablet was found was also known as Dwarf Hill and it was said that's where the dwarfs did their mining. And so, again, the story of Dwarfs Hill at Lydney tying in with the idea of a stolen ring, a cursed ring, it all starts to sound rather familiar to me.

GREENE: It does seem to like a hypothesis coming together. How is it that this ring is just now being shown to the public?

GREEN: To be fair, it has been on display before. It was displayed in our library, but to be honest, the day when I thought we really need to make more of this story, I was walking around trying to show somebody where it was. Actually, it was really difficult to spot. And they said to me, you know, what a fantastic story. This is really good. I'm sure the world would like to hear about it.

At that point, it was like, yes, we need to do something about this.

GREENE: You have a ring that might be cursed. Does that cause people to sort of steer clear of it?

GREEN: It's quite funny 'cause everybody always jokes about whether any of us have tried it on and to be honest, I haven't, no. It's my job as the property manager, it's really important that people don't see me almost playing with the collection.

GREENE: Well, thank you so much for joining us and talking to us about this.

GREEN: Nice to speak to you.

GREENE: That's Dave Green - nice name, by the way.

GREEN: Yeah, great name.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: He is manager of The Vyne in Hampshire, England.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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