With years of reading the books and watching movies, especially with the success of the Peter Jackson movies, the fact the main magical items of The Lord of the Rings are the rings seems straightforward, but thinking about it, it is definitively an odd choice.

Most fantasy novels I’ve read tend to feature more prominent magical items (sword, shields, staffs, armours), most of which have a direct combat related side. Most magical items I can remember from The Lord of the Rings seem to have more subtle properties. This includes weapons and the rings themselves.

Did Tolkien ever discuss his reasons to specifically choose rings, whether it was something that just “happened” or whether it was a fully thought out idea?

  • 1
    The One Ring represents a profound spiritual danger, not personal armament.
    – Lexible
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 23:55
  • I read somewhere that he saw a ring of grime around his bathtub and it inspired him to make the item a ring. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 0:12
  • 4
    I thought it had to do with the practice among the ancient Saxons and other kingdoms in northern Europe of using rings as symbols of power as, and fealty to, a ruler. That would fit with the nine rings for the mortal kings, at least. Someone else might know better than I do, so I'm just going to leave this a comment. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 0:29
  • 1
    The One Ring was created to control others, not to kill them. It's the same reason a CEO has a cell phone instead of a machine gun.
    – Misha R
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 1:20
  • @Buzz There don't seem to be any of JRRT's own words over there, or indeed any explanation of why rings and not something else.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


It was an artifact of the way The Lord of the Rings began as a sequel to The Hobbit.

And what more can Hobbits do? They can be comic, but their comedy is suburban unless it is set against things more elemental.

JRRT, Letter 19, 16 December 1937

If you look at The Return of the Shadow, part 1 of Christopher Tolkien's history of how the LoTR was written, you'll see that

  • Tolkien's publishers, Unwin and Allen, wanted a sequel to what they considered a successful children's book.
  • such a sequel required some things left over from The Hobbit, and of course hobbits.
  • Tolkien didn't consider The Hobbit as important a work as his larger mythology, and so that mythology was bound to creep in.

In The Hobbit, the Ring was just a magical ring that could turn you invisible. But there was a mystery about it: Where did it come from? How did Gollum get it? So Tolkien chose the Ring as a hook to build the story from. In hindsight:

The magic ring was the one obvious thing in The Hobbit that could be connected with my mythology. To be the burden of a large story it had to be of supreme importance. I then linked it with the (originally) quite casual reference to the Necromancer, whose function was hardly more than to provide a reason for Gandalf going away and leaving Bilbo and the Dwarves to fend for themselves, which was necessary for the tale.

Letter 257, 16 July 1964, quoted in the preface of the The Return of the Shadow

Since this was the One Ring to Rule Them All, there had to be other rings to rule. In one of the early drafts of the chapter that became "the Shadow of the Past" in the final LoTR, Gandalf tells Bingo Bolger-Baggins:

In the very ancient days the Ring-lord made many of these Rings: and sent them out through the world to ensnare people.

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