Tough Travelling: Jewellery
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, we’re looking at JEWELLERY in Fantasy. No, not just that one. Here’s what DWJ had to say on the matter…
Jewellery. The Rule is that it all has magical purpose. The Management takes the very reasonable line that no one is going to wear or carry something just because it is pretty or beautifully made. Your pendant will always be an AMULET, your brooch a TALISMAN, and your necklace will be of CRYSTAL, which will enable you to communicate with distant friends. If you pick up a piece of Jewellery by the roadside or in a MARKET it will, whatever it looks like, turn out to have some MAGIC. Take care, however. By far the majority of Jewellery is EVIL or, if not Evil, will have conditions attached to its use. For instance, a Ring can either put you under the influence of the DARK LORD or grant wishes while ageing you ten years for every wish. In Fantasyland, even Jewellery you have owned for years will turn out to be something of this kind. If you are lucky, your mother’s Ring will merely bring out your latent TALENT. But don’t bank on it. Be careful particularly of Jewellery pressed upon you by a dying stranger.
A big thank you to Nils, Taya, Julia, Jonathan, Theo, and Beth for their recommendations…
My first choice would have to be The One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, which was one of the most powerful Rings ever made by the Dark Lord Sauron.
Beth: Anyone surprised??
Nils: It was created in the fires of Mount Doom, with the purpose of increasing Sauron’s own power, and to allow him to have ultimate control over the other Rings of Power, which were in the hands of men, elves, and dwarves. The One Ring would essentially give Sauron the means to spread his tyranny and dominance over all the races of Middle Earth. That is why destroying it is so paramount in The Lord of the Rings.
Taya: I prefer the Ring of Barahir…
Nils: My second choice would be the witcher medallion in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series. Each medallion is shaped to represent the school a witcher comes from, and our main protagonist Geralt wears one carved into the likeness of a wolf’s head. The medallion is said to be sensitive to magic, vibrating and tugging on its chain when spells are being cast or if magical monsters are nearby. Giving our witcher Geralt warning of danger, and time to prepare. This magical pendant is said to be given to every young witcher who has passed the Trial of Grasses, but I haven’t actually read far enough in the series yet to discover what happens during these trials.
Actually, now that I think about it, I think the reason I like the Ring of Barahir is that it’s not magical. So, yeah, not really on topic here. But I like that it serves a purpose as a symbol, but a secretive one. The average hobbit isn’t going to know its importance or meaning, and that meaning has actually expanded beyond the original (simply an heirloom) due to the struggles of those particular heirs. It’s gone way beyond a mere piece of jewelry. It’s interesting that it’s powerful in a way the One Ring isn’t, just like the fleeting lives of the race of men are meaningful and impactful in a way the elves or other long-lived beings can’t be.
*pretty sure I’ve just spewed a bunch of nonsense*
Nils: Not at all Taya! It’s a great choice, after all it’s the ring Elrond gave to Aragorn I believe, so like you said it holds a wealth of history and meaning.
Theo: We’re talking Tolkein and we haven’t mentioned Silmarils yet?! Like the one Earndil the Mariner wears wrought into a circlet around his head, capturing the light of sun and moon – of the twin trees themselves. The Noldor were all but destroyed in their struggle to recover the Silmarils from Morgoth, and the host of Valinor broke up the entire continent of Beleriand in the final battle to recover them. In fact, isn’t there a bit of a Tolkein penchant for having wars fought over bits of bling, you know “the ring thing that launched a thousand ships?!”
There is a very important talisman in JA Andrews’ A Threat of Shadows. I can’t really say much about it without spoiling the plot, so I’ll stick with – just go on and read the book! It’s the first of a finished trilogy, and also available as giant omnibus, and I do love them.
Beth: Thanks for bringing us away from Tolkien, Julia!
A quite original use of this trope appears in Tim Powers’ Declare, in that it’s not a specific piece of jewellery but it’s the metal forming a geometrical shape that gives it its power. Declare features quite terrifying djinn, which act much like Lovecraftian monsters. One of the ways to protect oneself from them is by the use of the Egyptian symbol of the ankh or key of life. Any metal formed into this shape will fascinate a djinn, drawing its deadly attention away from you. But being a property of the shape of the metal, it doesn’t much matter what it’s made of, so in one imaginative scene the protagonist saves himself by fashioning a coat-hanger into the shape of an ankh. I of course wear an ankh pendant at all time to protect myself from djinns, but it’s good to know that should I lose it, there’s always the coat-hanger option as back up.
Godpieces – no – no chortling at the back and I did not misspell them. But Peter Newman’s Deathless trilogy has these jewelled items at its heart. I can’t remember a clear description of them and they aren’t really worn, but they are assigned to individuals, or rather to individual souls. Having your soul tied to a godpiece is what makes you immortal. Although your body may die, the link to the godpiece allows you to be reincarnated into the body of a blood descendent of your last body. These are precious and rare items, with each of a handful of noble families having just seven. In extreme circumstances of treachery or disloyalty a godpiece may be re-assigned by a family high lord to another person, or even destroyed, cutting off the traitor individual’s path to resurrection. Always assuming they were a traitor of course 🙂 The notion of heirs being bred specifically as spare bodies (their own soul is crushed out of existence when the deathless one is reincarnated into the body) puts immorality into the foundations of this world of demons and castles floating on gem encrusted rocks.
Given that I’m struggling to come up with ideas of enchanted jewellery (as opposed to enchanted weaponry – of which there are bucketloads) I might just sneak in a self-reference. In Lady of The Helm (book one of the Bloodline trilogy) the ruler of the Salved Kingdom carries a jewelled ankh with a gem that glows red or pink to track the life of his/her closest blood relative and heir. It flares with a burst of intense heat if the current heir should die. On the death of the ruler, it pulses in brightness to lead the king’s attendants to the heir’s location – a sort of iAnkh with a “find my heir” app.
C. S. Lewis loved a bit of magical jewellery too! Before we had the wardrobe, the magician and Jadis were able to travel between worlds using magic rings (magician buried his in the garden, above which grew a tree, which was cut down and made into… a wardrobe!). It’s been a while since I read The Magician’s Nephew, but I think they were different colours? I don’t remember why though…
Magic jewellery also turned up in Voyage of the Dawn Treader (one of my favourites of the Chronicles). Every diligent fantasy fan knows not to pick up mysterious jewellery hidden amongst a horde of gold on a desolate island, right? Unfortunately for Eustace, he didn’t; and the magical bracelet he greedily dons turns him into a dragon.
Our SPFBO 6 Semi-finalist Forged in Shadow by Megan Haskell features a number of different pieces of magical jewellery; Llewen, handmaiden to the princess, is able to charm various pieces to have different effects. Although sometimes a little confusing in how exactly it worked, having ear cuffs or brooches that could give you a boost in charisma or make you difficult to see is a fun idea!
Nils has also reminded me that there’s a magic pendant in the book we’re currently buddy reading, Hannah Whitten’s debut novel For the Wolf. It isn’t clear at first why a certain priestess wears a piece of the Wilderwood on a necklace, but it becomes clear that nothing good can come of it…
Next month, we’ll be taking part in Wyrd & Wonder’s #TropeTuesday and looking at our favourite CHOSEN ONES.
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