On Netflix the other night, I saw and then demanded that we watch and then watched the documentary Ring of Fire. Chris asked if it was about Johnny Cash, which was a good question but made me laugh.
Watching this documentary was an exercise in nostalgia for me, as I recall seeing this film in an IMAX theater decades ago. I enjoyed the dated computer graphics and the images of volcanoes and eruptions and earthquakes and lava around the Pacific Rim, the so-called “Ring of Fire.” In my childhood I wanted to be a seismologist; I thought being a volcanologist might be too dangerous (and after seeing another Netflix documentary, Volcano: Nature’s Inferno, in which several volcanologists and volcanic photographers are killed, I feel completely validated in this decision). I shied away from seismology once I realized how much math is involved, but I’m still fascinated by earthquakes, by the stunning realization that the solid earth we walk on is a flimsy and easily re-configured crust on a radioactive sea.
I always find the footage of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 especially compelling. It seems so meant to be that this would happen on the day of a World Series between two Bay Area teams, as though the collective excitement of the nation and the populace channeled into this beautiful and dangerous city had precipitated a disaster. And yet that quake only released about 1/16th of the energy of the big, bad 1906 quake. (A quake I was fascinated by after reading historical fiction novel Earthquake at Dawn, which includes a cameo by Jack London and some impressive photos).
Naturally, after we finished the movie, I had the Johnny Cash song stuck in my head. No, the song is not in the documentary, it was simple association. “I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down and the flames went higher, And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, The ring of fire.” There is some debate about who wrote this classic (Johnny Cash or June Carter) and what exactly it is about, besides the wonderful and sometimes painful course of love. Supposedly June Carter was inspired to co-write this song after reading a lyric about love as a ring of fire in a book of Elizabethan poetry, but as far as I can tell nobody has found said lyric. English majors, any hints?
So, singing this song to myself, I walked around for a couple days and started thinking “why didn’t Tolkien include a ring of fire? It sounds like something he would do.” One Ring to Rule Them All. The Ring of Fire. So I looked it up… and he did make up such a thing!!!
Yes, Narya, the Ring of Fire, was one of three rings of power crafted in secret by an elf silversmith in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Tricked by Sauron (aka the devil) in disguise, this fellow also made the seven rings for dwarf kings and the nine rings for men, all of which were eventually controlled by the One Ring that Sauron had secretly made at a volcano called Mt. Doom. His control turned the dwarf and human owners into bad guys.
The three rings, on the other hand, were powerful and were used as forces for good. Blond Galadriel (cue Enya music) had one, Elrond (aka Agent Smith) had another, and guess who had the third, Narya, the Ring of Fire… our favorite wizard Gandalf!
In the words of Cirdan the shipwright, who gave the ring to Gandalf, “Take now this Ring… for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.”
Like us, carrying the love of God to rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.
The three elf rings oppose the One Ring, which is destroyed by Frodo in the fires of Mt. Doom (aka Orodruin) after three exciting books. I don’t know about you, but my image of Mt. Doom is inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies which used New Zealand volcanoes Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu in the cinematography.
And thus our post comes full circle – literally! Because those New Zealand volcanoes are a fiery gem on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
…and it burns, burns, burns, that Ring of Fire…