An exhibit opening Tuesday at England’s National Trust property The Vyne in Hampshire will feature a rather precious object — perhaps even the Precious, as Gollum would have it. The exhibit centers around a “cursed” Roman ring that is believed to have been the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Created in conjunction with the Tolkien Society, the exhibition’s “Ring Room” will tell the fascinating story of the artifact and explore its connections to Tolkien.
The ring, as the Guardian reports, was found in 1785 by a Hampshire farmer plowing his field. It is quite large: almost half an ounce of solid gold, engraved with a crowned head and the words (in Latin), “Senicianus live well in God.” It’s so big that it would only fit on a gloved thumb.
But there’s more to the story: Some years after the ring was found, a tablet was discovered at a Roman mine site in Gloucestershire called the Dwarf’s Hill. On it, a Roman named Silvianus writes that his ring has been stolen, and invokes a curse against the one he knows is responsible: “Among those who bear the name Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens,” the tablet says.
Tolkien’s sources are generally thought to have been literary, including the German Niebelung Saga, from which Richard Wagner also drew, and the Norse Edda. But, as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in the years before “The Hobbit” was published, in 1937, he certainly knew the story of the Senicianus curse. In fact, the exhibition reveals, Tolkien was researching the subject two years before he began work on “The Hobbit.” The archeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, realizing the connection between the ring and the curse, had asked the author to study the etymology of the name “Nodens."
The ring will be displayed at The Vyne with an autographed first edition of “The Hobbit,” as well as a copy of the curse, memorabilia from the Tolkien Society’s archive, and dress-up clothes for children. A Hidden Realm playground will allow children to play in a landscape inspired by Tolkien’s world.