Thrain's ring and what became of it
The history of the ring in earlier Ages
Those well acquainted with JRR Tolkien's work in The Lord of the Rings will recall the fate of the last of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves. Thrain, son of Thror and father of Thorin Oakenshield became restless after the Battle of Azanulbizar and desired to return to Erebor. Taking only a few companions with him, the Dwarven King was waylaid under the eaves of Mirkwood and taken alive to Dol Guldur. There the Ring was taken from Thrain and there he died but not before a final meeting with Gandalf.
Less well known is the quest led by Gimli and Legolas to Dol Guldur after the fall of Sauron to recover the body of Thrain and any lost treasures of the Dwarves. Though no trace of the deceased King was found, the explorers, with the aid of an escaped Elven prisoner, discovered a vault deep in the ruins of the fortress which contained, among other things, the lost Ring of Durin's Folk.
It was debated by the Dwarven Lords as to whether the Ring should be kept by them again or destroyed. At last it was decided that, since the Ring had been used by the Kings of Old and had not been given to them by Sauron but rather by the Elven smiths directly, it would be kept in memory of their ancestors.
The Ring would only be used sparingly and not by the King but a rather someone of his choosing. It was soon discovered, however, that like the Three Elven Rings, the Dwarf Ring had lost most of its power with the destruction of the One Ring.
What power remained was also of dubious advantage. The Ring drove the user towards pursuing his deepest goal with all his ability. Upon achievement of the goal, however, the Ring would always seem to taint it, usually by exaggerating its possessor's greatest weakness.
The Ring was kept by the Dwarves as they retreated before the growing numbers of Men in the Fourth Age. They kept it when they journeyed across the desert into the wild South when the lands changed and the New Ages began and they were remembered only in legend and rumors set down by the earliest surviving histories.
How the ring came to its current possessor
The quiet road and the night gave the two men a sense of privacy during their animated conversation; a privacy which was broken in mid-sentence by the sound of movement in the bushes. The older man noticed it first and halted. He assumed for a moment it was nothing more than a stray dog or some other animal until the closer examination revealed it was something larger and that there was more than one. The younger man had also stopped in order to determine what had caught his companion's attention. Studying the shadows before him, he was able to make out that at least one of the figures appeared human shaped.
"Who's there!" he called, stopping the chirping of a nearby cricket. The older man raised his cane high into his right hand for use as a club if needed. There was no answer from the bushes and the two companions might have moved warily on without further confrontation had not a car the sped by, providing enough light momentarily for the eyes of the older man to see the bearded face one of the strangers. The stranger knew he had been seen and slowly rose from his hiding place. His height confirmed what the old man already suspected.
"So younewwateyed planned!" the old man shouted. "Very well, it's yours, take it backengoodrinse".
He held his cane out to the younger man who took it, thinking that whatever happened next it would be best if it he had whatever potential weapons were available. The old man pulled opened his overcoat and quickly drew a hidden necklace from around his neck. With a quick throw he delivered the necklace into the bushes.
"There hugo!", the old man continued. "I spose I should thank you!"
The sarcasm in his voice came through clearly despite his slurred speech. Another car raced by, again momentarily lighting the scene somewhat but also decreasing the night vision of all the participants in the encounter. Just then, the other much larger figure emerged from the bushes, startling the two men at the roadside. The larger figure grabbed at the smaller.
"Come on!" it yelled and almost threw its companion over the four foot high stone fence that paralleled the road behind the bushes. The two men at the roadside heard what seemed to be a taunting yelp from the other side of the wall. There was no thought of pursuit. The older of the two stood there with a smile on his face that even in the night the younger recognized was as much an expression of victory as the yelp they had just heard.
"Just students most likely, father".
"If you say so Chris", the other replied, not changing his expression.
How the ring came to its previous possessor
John Ronald believed he could remember how and when the Ring was passed to him though he was only three years of age at the time. It was in the last years of the last century near the dusty South African frontier town of Bloemfontein. Isaak, the family servant, told the lad that he was taking him to see someone very important. Young John Ronald was very fond of Isaak and delighted to be carried pony back by him on the long (for Ronald) journey to Isaak's native Kraal. At the Kraal was a large assembly of other Africans: all tall like Isaak, except for the children and one much shorter man with a long beard. The short man spoke to the others in the Kraal in their own language.
After much ceremony and feasting the man approached the boy just as the sun was setting and addressed him in English. Much of what the man told him the boy had since forgotten but he remembered the man giving him the Ring and telling Ronald that he 'would teach them of us'.
Young Ronald took the Ring happily. He remembered his first look at it in the orange light of the setting sun that shone the same color as the flames of the large bonfire that had just been lit. The sun then disappeared below the horizon and a sliver of a new crescent moon could be seen in the western sky.
How the previous possessor came to be there
Christopher had been pleased his father had come to visit but now he had begun to worry. His father had always been an unusual individual and proud of it. Had it been otherwise, Christopher believed, his father would never have achieved such success as a writer. On this visit, however, John Ronald was acting more unusual than was usual.
Since his earliest childhood, Christopher could remember his father relating to him tales of the world he had created. It was a tale of this world, published some fourteen years earlier under the title of The Lord of the Rings, that had brought his father world fame. However, the tale he was now hearing as they sat in Christopher's office in New College at Oxford was among the most amazing his father had ever told.
John Ronald seemed to be telling him that Middle-earth was not his creation after all. He thought it only part of his father's peculiar humor but as it began to grow late Christopher felt the joke was being carried a bit too far.
"This is all very amusing father", Christopher told him. "But you seem to have forgotten that I've read many of the drafts you've written and seen your work evolve from its beginnings to its present form".
"The writing's mine" the elder Tolkien replied. "But the Idea, Chris, the Inspiration; that wasn't my own doing. I was chosen for that, you see.
"Yes, inspiration and talent are gifts of the Lord, of course. We have discussed this before."
"Well, ultimately it most likely was our Lord - but more immediately it was one of his other Children in the form of a Dwarf."
Christopher listened as his father told him of the Ring he had acquired as a young boy. He explained how it had allowed him to see things no one else noticed: the adder in Africa; land mines at the Somme whose detection saved the lives of himself and his men; the many old manuscripts hidden in secret cavities of ruins - manuscripts that had lain undiscovered for centuries.
"Of course, I simply didn't stumble upon these cavities. I was led to them by clues; most often in the manuscripts themselves but on occasion I found a subtle rune scratched upon a tree or something of that variety. Once right here in the Botanical Garden!"
Christopher now thought he knew what his father was up to. He was simply expanding on the concept of being 'translator' that he had begun in the prologue and appendices of The Lord of the Rings.
"All right, father. Well it's certainly past time for dinner. Let's go down to the Bird and Baby for reminiscence sake. It seems rather appropriate."
The conversation continued over dinner. It was here that Christopher became even more worried. He had hoped that the joke his father seemed to be indulging in might mean he was finally nearing completion of his next major work, The Silmarillion. Now, however, he learned his father intended to rewrite the entire manuscript.
"I don't understand, father. The legendarium is beautiful as you have it. I don't see the need to rewrite it all simply to include a heliocentric solar system. Not after all this time!"
"But I must include the new information, don't you see? The Sun revolving around the Earth is just a N^uuml;menorean legend. The Elves knew better. I has to be accurate, Chris. To leave the Legends with such imperfections is simply unacceptable."
"And you say this is based on something you only recently discovered?" Christopher asked.
"Yes, and it was the last new text I will discover. I know now that I have all the information I need to complete the Legends. The Ring led me to the manuscripts but it also has kept me from working on them until I had everything down perfectly. Now it has been seventy years and it is time to give up the Ring."
"Give it up? I always thought the ring was grandfather's. How do you mean to give it up?"
"Apparently, I have to throw it away" Ronald replied.
"Throw it away! Come now father, couldn't you just give it to the Ashmolean?"
The evening's discussion caused Christopher to order malt whiskeys along with their usual pint. He still held on to the hope that this was all an elaborate charade of his father's but in the back of his mind the fear was growing that John Ronald was becoming senile.
"All right father, I suppose you could show me these runes you say led you to one of your discoveries?" Christopher asked hoping to end the joke.
"Splendid idea. It's quite dark enough. The runes show up much better in the dark if you're wearing the Ring. Ready for a walk to the Botanical Garden?"
As they left a tall figure who had been sitting quietly in the corner got up and followed them out.
How the current possessor came to be there
Those that saw them together - which was quite often - were struck by the remarkable pair they made. Both were American Rhodes Scholars: extroverted, energetic, intelligent and popular but completely different in physical appearance. Bob was only four feet nine inches in height. With his bearded face he had been described by some as one of the gargoyles of Oxford which had popped off one of the buildings and come to life.
His friend William was tall (six feet two), athletic (he played on the University's basketball second team) and considered handsome. They had both arrived at Oxford that autumn for the Michaelmas term and immersed themselves into the University scene. This included frequenting the local pubs. The Turf Tavern was their favorite but this evening William had decided to visit the Eagle and Child. Not recognizing anyone on his arrival, he ordered a pint and took a seat in the corner near the fireplace.
After overhearing the Tolkiens' conversation William followed them out of the pub and rushed over to the Turf Tavern where, as he expected, he found his friend Bob.
"You've got to come with me to the Botanical Garden!" William urged his friend. "I ran into JRR Tolkien at the Eagle and Child and he and this other Don are up to something there."
"JRR Tolkien at the Botanical Garden; yeah, very funny Bill," answered Bob. "If I had a dime for every time someone's called me Bilbo the last couple of years I'd have it made."
"No, I mean it!" William pleaded excitedly. "It was hard to make out quite what they were saying but I think they have something hidden in the Garden. If we hurry we can get there before them!"
William's enthusiasm and apparent sincerity persuaded Bob. Together they rushed over to the Garden and took a strategic spot in the bushes near the entrance, arriving well before the older men.
What occurred after the ring changed possession
William and Bob ran across the darkened lawn, stopping only when they felt it impossible for them to have been followed. It took a bit longer for Bob to recover from the exertion then his taller friend. When he did, however, there was obvious irritation in his voice.
"All right Bill," he huffed. "I don't know if that was JRR Tolkien or not but you owe me at least a beer over this."
"That was him all right" William answered. "I don't know how he saw us in those bushes!"
"What did he throw at us?"
"Get this. It was a neck chain with a ring on it! I got it right here." He lifted the ring for Bob to see.
Bob burst out laughing. "So JRR Tolkien threw a ring at you. That's some souvenir! You are one lucky dude Bill."
William laughed along. "Yep and from now on this ring is going to be my good luck charm. And if it takes me where I want to go, you're coming with me Bob," he added, his Southern accent becoming more pronounced than usual.
Twenty-seven years later, William Jefferson Clinton sat in the Oval Office of the White House as his old friend Robert Reich informed him he would be resigning as Secretary of Labor after the forthcoming election. The President tried to dissuade him. The polls indicated it was very likely he would be re-elected and if so he would miss his friend's presence and conviction during cabinet meetings in the next term.
"Bob, your resignation's the toughest one I've had to accept yet." he told him. The President then loosened his tie and collar and pulled out a chain from around his neck. On it was a ring with three beautiful gems: opal, beryl and pearl.
"Remember when we got this Bob? I sometimes think of returning it to the Tolkien family but it really has been my good luck charm over all these years." Bob nodded.
"I hope it keeps working for you, Bill" he said. He then added smiling "Didn't Napoleon say that it was better to be lucky than good?"
"Hey, I'm both!" Bill laughed.
The two said goodbye and President Clinton made his way to the White House Cafeteria for a snack. A young, dark-haired women sat at a table reading a book. She smiled at the President as he entered. He looked at the book she was reading: The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien.
"So you like Tolkien?" he asked her smiling back.