Items of Lore: Rings of Power, Elvish Swords, and Dwarvish Armor
For Plato, true forms must be considered when selecting one’s “fundamental character.” In order for a person to overcome the pull of an immoral life or the injustice proliferated by unbridled power, a person must understand existence in its true form. Tolkien borrows from these themes most industriously in his lore surrounding the One Ring. Throughout the journey of the fellowship, Frodo and crew are continuously learning of the power, and consequently of the corrupting nature, of the One Ring. The power of the ring, then, is not that it represents the corrupting nature of limitless power, it is that nature intrinsically. The ring functions as more than a symbol, it is an embodiment of sorts. As such, the One Ring hearkens back to Plato’s use of true forms. In the Lord of the Rings, the One Ring is the real object casting maleficent shadows of corrupt behavior across the “cave walls” of Middle Earth.[i]
Tolkien’s use of Platonic Forms does not stop with the One Ring, though. The reader is invited not only to ponder the realities behind power and corruption but also those behind valor and heroism. In the Lord of the Rings, history has played host to an era where true forms are present in the world of the common person. For Tolkien, there are swords and there are true swords, armor and true armor. These true forms usually find their way into the possession of true beings, heroes. Tolkien uses lore and christening to distinguish between weapons and armor that represent the Platonic Forms.
These items of lore are typically the companions (even in the sense that they may actually exist as a type of person in their own right) of the story’s archetypal characters. Gandalf the Gray wields Glamdring, a rune engraved sword that was thousands of years old by the time Gandalf enters into the affairs of the Shire. The sword was discovered by Gandalf in the Third Age along with Orcrist and Sting (a sword later wielded by Frodo in the Fellowship of the Ring) in a troll cave. Andúril is the sword that was forged from the remnants of Narsil (the sword that was broken when Elendil battled Sauron in the Second Age) for Aragorn. In the book, Andúril shines with the light of the sun and moon just like its predecessor Narsil. Finally, but certainly not exhaustively, Frodo has a shirt of Mithril gifted to him by his Uncle Bilbo. Bilbo received the shirt from Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit when they defeated the dragon Smaug. This shirt of mail felt light as silk, but could turn any blade. It was nearly indestructible and worth more than the entire Shire.
All of these fantastic items represent the author’s desire to communicate the urgency and importance of the world that exists beyond our perception. In an age of terror and conflict, when the world was under the threat of devastation, these items of lore in the hands of champions were the hope and the certainty of values and attributes that transcended the dim view with which many perceived the world that surrounded them.