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Tolkien's Ring [Illustrated] [Paperback]

David Day , Alan Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Sep 2001
J.R.R. Tolkien had a great knowledge of and love for world mythology and the symbol of the Ring in his work contains a rich and fascinating heritage. Tolkien's Ring is a literary detective work about J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration and sources. It shows how The Lord of the Rings is the result of an ancient story-telling tradition that dates back to the dawn of western culture; and how, by drawing upon the world's primary myths and legends, J.R.R. Tolkien created his own mythology for the twentieth century. Beautifully illustrated throughout by acclaimed artist Alan Lee (creator of the illustrated Lord of the Rings). Tolkien's Ring is an extraordinary journey through the most magical and potent stories the people of our world have ever told me another.

Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Pavilion Books (20 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862055513
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862055513
  • Product Dimensions: 28.2 x 21.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,220,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A mighty achievement, effectively described and celebrated in this lavish, handsomely presented volume." --"Times Educational Supplement" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

David Day is a Canadia author living in the UK and Canada. His highly successful books on Tolkien, including The Hobbit Companion, have brought him world renown, appearing in 14 languages with two million copies in print.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien's Ring 18 April 2003
By A Customer
Tolkien's Ring gives an amazing insight into the legends and myths from which Tolkien gained much of his inspiration to write 'The Lord Of The Rings'.
The book looks at the ring legends of numerous cultures and civilisations, examining, amongst others, Norse mythology,
and how Tolkien used different aspects of these age-old beliefs to create his masterpiece.
It shows how he found the basis for many of the elements in his book: the Ringwraiths, Sauron, Gandalf
(The name Gandalf was given to an Icelandic Dwarf in the 12th Century 'Prose Edda', and literally means 'sorcerer-elf', which no doubt
appealed to Tolkien when choosing the name for his Wizard)
It has amazing illustrations throughout by Alan Lee.
A really fascinating read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Happy boys 22 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fantastic illustrations and gives a lovely context to Tolkein's thinking when writing. Bought as a present and the giftee though it was magic. Will only appeal to those who want to understand Tolkein though,.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The history and mythology that inspired Tolkien 2 Jan 2002
By Bruce H - Published on
This book is a piece of "literary detective work"; it seeks to find the myths and stories that inspired Tolkien in his creation of his three great works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion.
The author states something of a disclaimer at the beginning though:
"In Tolkien's Ring, we will survey a vast body of myth and legend in search of Tolkien's sources. We will look at other rings and ring quests, and we will see where many elements of his epic tale were provoked into existence. However, we should never mistake Tolkien's creative process as a mere cobbling together of ancient lore. Richer and more profound through Tolkien's writing is for the ancient tradition it draws on, Tolkien's art is by no means imitation. The Lord of the Rings is a highly realized and originally conceived novel that has renewed, invigorated and finally reinvented the ring quest for the twentieth century." (page 17)
I think the author correctly identifies the primary time period and location that served as the prime inspiration for Tolkien. To use England as a benchmark, the time period runs from the end of the Roman period in England (406 AD) to the Conquest of William the Conqueror (1066 AD). The location is that is northern Europe; Scandinavia and Germany in particular.
The author also makes some interesting insights regarding metallurgy, the Iron Age, alchemy and ring-based mythology. The ring in that time period (especially in Scandinavia) was a symbol of power (e.g. Kings are "ring-givers") and it became the central symbol of the struggling pagan religions of Europe against the Christian symbol of the Cross. In many of the ring myths, the hero is always questing for a ring, which will provide him the power to rule the world, increase his physical strength, increase his wisdom or provide him with other such powers. This reflects the discovery of iron making; those who know how to make iron had a clear advantage of those who did not. Iron knowledge was thus precious and often kept secret. The knowledge to control and manipulate iron was often combined with magical/alchemical ideas; this led to the idea of the sorcerer-smith.
The Niebelungenlied (a Germanic epic) and the Volsunga Saga (Norse; unknown date. Probably within 400-1000 AD) were the prime examples of what Tolkien called the "noble northern spirit," of Germany and Scandinavia. Tolkien's tale leans more towards to German epic with its sense of morality reinforced by strong elements of Arthurian legend. The idea of a sorcerer/magician as a wandering old man with beard and hat was clearly modeled on the depiction of Odin (to draw a rough analogy; he is the Norse version of Zeus) in the Volsunga Saga.
In reading this book, there were times where I thought the author was really stretching his source material. It may be interesting to investigate the ring mythology of Tibet, but this was not exactly a significant influence on Tolkien. There were other times where the author simply summarized the myth; an entire chapter could go buy without reference to Tolkien or his works. With respect, when I buy a book on Tolkien, I expect to find analysis and discussion OF Tolkien. The author's analysis could have been improved by investigating Tolkien's life; what sagas were his favorites? Why did he like them? Did he read the sagas in the original languages (I happen to know he did, from reading one of his biographies).
The second last chapter is a synopsis of Richard Wagner's huge opera, "The Ring of Nibelung." The author makes the point that every age retells and adapts the ring myth for its own time and that this opera was written for 19th century Germany. However, if the reader has been paying attention to the previous chapters, this is simply a repeat of the previous stories with some changes.
The last chapter is a chapter of speculation on, "The Lord of the Rings." The author seeks to understand why it has become so popular and how the message of the novel can be applied to our times. Thankfully, the author includes this disclaimer:
"That is not to say that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory of our time. Tolkien rightly rejected the allegorical view as too narrow for his tale. He especially abhorred questions of the 'Are Orcs Nazis or Communists?' kind. Tolkien's purpose was both more specific and universal than that." (page 177)
My main criticism of this book is the total lack of documentation. There are no footnotes, no endnotes, and no bibliography. One wonders where the author got some of his ideas (e.g. a legend about Solomon controlling demons) and it would be helpful if the author could have recommended good translations of the relevant epics and other such information.
Reading this book was somewhat difficult for a person who is not familiar with the literature of the "noble northern spirit"; the barrage of unfamiliar names, places, spirits, Gods etc is difficult to keep track of. It is unfortunate that this literature is given almost no time in school curricula compared to the time given to the Roman and Greek mythology. Western civilization is based on Greco-Roman culture and Christianity, but that does mean the literature and culture of the so-called "Dark Ages" ought to be neglected.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "Tolkien's Ring" a tight fit 7 May 2004
By E. A Solinas - Published on
J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" is rooted in mythology. That much is evident if you check out just a few Norse legends, with their gods and dwarves and elves and so forth. But in investigating the legends that lead up to "Lord of the Rings," David Day goes wide of the mark.
He describes the legends about rings and ancient civilizations, dating back to the earliest recorded history. He dips into legends from all times -- the Celts, Arthurian legend, the Norse legends of gods, elves, dwarves and human heroes, the opera "Ring of the Nibelung," and many others. He includes synopses, analysis, and plenty of speculation.
So what does this have to do with Tolkien? Not much, unfortunately. Day flounders in just about every ring-related legend he can find, and cobbles mythical material from every mythology he can get his hands on. Filler makes up most of this . Just because a legend has a ring doesn't mean it's in any way connected to "Lord of the Rings," or that they are in any way the roots of Tolkien's Ring saga.
As a result, this book is a crazy quilt that will drive Tolkien fans nuts. Tolkien famously drew on Norse and Anglo-Saxon legends for his books, but not a lot else. Arthurian legend (a sketchy source itself) is cited too heavily, as is Celtic legend. What does the Celtic ogre Balor have to do with Sauron? Uh, well, they both have one eye... they're powerful... they're evil... bingo! says Day. Connection made.
Day's scholarly ramblings also have a lot to be desired. He paraphrases things from "Lord of the Rings" without telling readers that he is doing so, and offers his speculation as unadorned fact. He even stoops to trashing Christianity despite Tolkien's devout beliefs. Even legends are misquoted, such as his half-made-up descriptions of the silver horse Grani. No sources, no citations. Those familiar with the background of Tolkien's work will be incensed, and those who aren't familiar will be grossly misled.
The saving grace of Day's book is Alan Lee's exceptional artwork, which is elegant and magical as always. But even Lee's wonderful pictures cannot save a fetid, self-important volume with more fiction than fact.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but not particularly well written 4 Jan 2003
By David Hofmayer - Published on
as other reviewers have suggested, the book is attractive because Tolkien fans are ravenous for more materials and this book has Tolkien's name on it in big gold letters. However, I must stress that this is not sufficient reason to buy it:
Pros: comprehensive discussion of the history of the ring as a symbol in lore and of its use in Tolkien. Also fascinating illustrations by incomparable Tolkien illustrator Alan Lee.
Cons: First, to be called Tolkien's Ring, it ought to have more analysis of Tolkien's Ring. On the contrary, it only spends a chapter on that. The title is almost false, so called to attract Tolkien fans. Also, to put it bluntly, Day is boring to read and although the subject matter is interesting, his style is not engaging.
It was a decent read, and i recommend it to anyone interested in the history of the use of rings in lore. But Tolkien fans will not learn anything new or interesting about Tolkien or his work.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Writing Not Suited to the Art 10 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on
David Day, in writing Tolkien's Ring, has seemingly changed Tolkien's written word to suit his purpose. Not only does he make many factual errors about the books by the author of the title, but fabricates evidence and deforms Tolkien.
"Sauron of the Evil Eye," says Day, is comparable to "Balor of the Evil Eye," and so forth. Unfortunately, for Day, nowhere in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is Sauron called such, thus making the comparison useless. And so on. There are too many such twistings of the original text to cite, too many of Day's own extrapolations quoted as the truth in The Lord of the Rings, for my comfort.
On the plus side, he presents an intriguing collection of stories. Yet knowing how he meddled with Tolkien, I cannot help but wonder if the tales I am reading therein are true to the originals.

The main good thing about this book is Alan Lee's fantastic imagery, which once again shows him to be undeniably the greatest Tolkien artist around. Having portrayed everything from hobbits to bigfeet without ever losing the mythic and ageless qualities inherent in his works, he brings a brilliant touch to the images in this book.
If only the same could be said of Mr. Day's text.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about Ring Stories 23 Oct 2009
By jennifermassage - Published on
I think what a lot of reviewers here miss is that it's a book about ring stories. If you like reading up on old stories and connecting themes, this is a good book. If you want a Tolkien rimjob, you're not going to find it here.

I personally found it very intriguing to see the similarities between old stories that came from different areas. The book doesn't put it in that order, but you can see how one ring story influences another through the ages. It's very well written and Alan Lee's drawings are spectacular as always.
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