Moonbeams in a Jar

Moonbeams in a Jar

One of the greatest things about fantasy settings are the magic thingamabobs floating around making the world interesting. One of the best moments in a video game is discovering an item with a magical effect. It’s even better in D&D, where magical items are often more difficult to find, despite the impressive list you can put together from all the various source books. Magic items can range from simple and practical (say a bag of holding) to world threatening (as with the famous One Ring). In fact, one of my favorite things about writing is creating memorable magical artifacts to inhabit my worlds.

Continuing with my favorite things, here are the best magical items I’ve encountered in my reading and why they inspire me. This post is medium spoiler territory, read with caution.

5. The Elfstones of Shannara – the Shannara series by Terry Brooks
The entire Shannara series is brimming with magical items, including a staff which can shrink a city and carry it miniaturized and a sword with the power to reveal truth. My favorite piece of Shannara lore, however, are the Elfstones (after which one of the books are named), specifically the blue Elfstones. The Elfstones are exactly what they sound like; little polished blue stones that fit into the palm of a hand. The blue Elfstones have the power to grant wishes. The lore book describes the blue stones as ‘seeking stones’, with the power to locate objects. But they can be used to other ends as well, if the bearer is able to focus their will on that singular purpose.

There are three blue Elfstones. In order for them to work, all three must be used together. They represent the heart, mind and body; and the heart, mind and body must be of one will in order for the Elfstones’ power to function. The stones can only be used by those of Elven descent. They feature heavily in The Elfstones of Shannara where they’re wielded by Wil Ohmsford, who is of diluted elven descent. He struggles for most of the book to make use of the eleven artifacts, though he ultimately succeeds in his quest. Wil’s family line is forever altered after his use of the stones, however. His daughter, Brin, is born with the power of the Wishsong, which allows her to sing her desires into being. Her brother Jair is also affected by the Elfstone’s power in their father’s blood, but less so. His version of the Wishsong only allows him to create illusions.

4. The Room of Requirement – the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I debated including this one. A room is technically a place, but an enchanted room is also an inanimate object and therefore a thing. The Room of Requirement is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a room which holds exactly what you require. Dumbledore first mentions it when he describes a late night incident, during which he required a chamberpot and stumbled into a room full of them. I’m sure I don’t want to know where they all go after being used, but I suppose since the room is magical, it doesn’t matter.

The Room of Requirement features heavily in the later half of the series. In the fifth book, Harry and his friends use the room as a place to practice defense against the dark arts magic when it’s basically outlawed from the school. They’re able to get away with it because they NEED a room in which to hide and do magic, and the people looking for them can’t get in because they don’t share that need. Needing to get into the room to find someone else seems to be rejected by the enchantment as an illegitimate need. The room appears again in book six, when Harry needs a place to hide his potions book, as a massive closet of forgotten and discarded objects. And in book seven it takes the shape of a haven for members of the student resistance, led by Nevil Longbottom, during which time it reminds me of the lost boys’ tree house.

In fact, the Room of Requirement is one of the few things I like from the end of the Harry Potter series (the plot sort of lost me by that point). It’s a clever bit of magic. And it’s never really is explained if a wizard once enchanted the room to behave this way, or if it’s just one of those inexplicable things about Hogwarts which adds to the school’s charm.

3. The One Ring – the Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien
You had to see this one coming (I don’t think there’s any question how huge a geek I am at this point). I loved the Lord of the Rings so much, I even read the entire Silmarillion (it’s basically the fantasy version of the bible). I’ll admit, the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring movie, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why the ring was such a big deal. All it did was turn people invisible. I didn’t understand why that was a power everyone and their brother would give their left arm to get a hold of.

Then I read the books and discovered the true brilliance behind the ring. It’s not just a little band of gold that turns you invisible. It’s pure malevolence in a tiny golden bundle. It has a personality. It whispers to its carrier. It betrays people. It can change its size to slip off a finger. It can lead its carrier into danger and then leave them to die. When they say in the movie that it wants to be found, they really mean that. It wasn’t the idea of power or beauty that twisted Gollum, it was the ring itself. Now that I’ve read the books, I catch all the imagery in the movies. I’m not sure how or why it escaped me the first time.

Interestingly enough, while it seems that anyone can use the ring, and everyone around the ring (whether wearing, or carrying it, or not) can be affected by its power, Samwise Gamgee seemed to be somewhat immune to its effects. It could be that he only carried the ring for a short time, but he was in Frodo’s presence longer than anyone else. My theory has always been that Samwise’s heart is so pure, the ring had no effect on him. For me, Samwise has always represented the ideas of innocence, loyalty and true friendship.

2. The Auryn – The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
By now, I’m sure no one’s surprised to see this book cropping up on all my favorite fantasy lists. It has a lot of my favorites in it (that’s probably why it’s my favorite book of all time XD). The Auryn is the symbol of the Childlike Empress, Fantastica’s ruler. It takes the form of two snakes, one light and one dark, each biting the tail of the other. The Childlike Empress wears Auryn on a chain around her neck. It also appears on the cover of the book The Neverending Story which Bastian steals to read (the book exists within the book). Whoever bears Auryn, speaks for the Childlike Empress and is respected by all beings of Fantastica as her emissary; for nothing can live in Fantastica without the Childlike Empress. Not only does it grant the bearer a certain diplomatic immunity, the necklace protects the bearer from danger. While he wears the Auryn, Bastion is able to stand safely in the presence of Grograman, the Many Colored Death, who reduces all life to sand by his presence.

Auryn bears an engraving on the back which reads: “Do what you wish.” While a human bears the necklace, its power grants their wishes. That sounds simple, but it’s actually complex. This isn’t like the summoning of a desire with the Elfstones listed above. These are wishes of the heart; deep seated desires that the bearer is usually unaware of at first. For instance, Bastian’s desire to see the Childlike Empress allows the night forest of Perilin to grow, and his desire to prove his courage by facing a fearsome creature summons to life the aforementioned Grograman, thus establishing a symbiotic relationship between the desert the Many Colored Death inhabits by day, and the forest which exists only by night while Grograman is turned to stone. The second half of Bastian’s story involves navigating his wishes in order to get back home.

The Auryn has one more power. It isn’t just a necklace; it’s also a place. When Bastian reaches the end of his journey, the amulet Auryn transforms into the gate which takes him home. The snakes become real; guardians of the gateway. Bastian believes if the snakes should ever release each others’ tails, they would destroy both worlds. Inside the place called Auryn resides the fountain which bears the Water of of Life. Drinking from the water grants a pure happiness that never completely fades from those who have tasted it.

1. Need – the Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey
Need is one of those rare, unique objects you spend your entire D&D campaign looking for. It’s the reason why you search the room three times hoping for a higher skill roll. Need is a sword. Only a woman can wield it. In fact, when the sword chooses a new bearer, it displays the words “Woman’s need calls me, as woman’s need made me; and woman’s need I answer, as my master bade me” in the current bearer’s language. When the sword is used by a sorcerer, it grants her the ability to fight like a warrior by taking control of her body and making the movements for her. When the sword is used by a fighter, it will protect her from any form of magical attack. The sword never assists with abilities the bearer already possesses (so sorcerers get no help with magic and fighters get no help with combat). Usually the bearer forges a deep soul-bond with the blade. When the sword is near a woman in need of assistance, it senses the danger and diverts its bearer to intercept. Trying to ignore the need results in excruciating pain for the bearer. Need can also heal the wounds of women, if held long enough, and can dull the sense of pain in her bearer if she is wounded during battle.

Eventually, the sword wakes up and starts interacting with its bearers vocally. It turns out the sword possesses the spirit of a mage who cast herself into the blade to assist one of her students in a time of crisis. While Need is interesting when she can talk, I prefer her in her dormant state, where her bearer has to guess how to please her. Not knowing the full history of an artifact makes it all the more interesting.

Why I love them: I decided to take a different approach to this entry. I usually include separate reasons for each item as to why I chose them. In this case, though, I chose all of these items for the same reasons.

First, they’re all unique in their worlds. You could scour each respective fantasy world and never find another item remotely similar. Each is also fairly unique when compared to other fantasy worlds (with the possible exception of the One Ring. Then again, it’s the original. There may be many copies, but it was unique when its author brought it into existence).

Each of these objects also possesses its own set of rules, some of them very complex. Not just anyone can use these objects to their full potential and often the objects choose their bearer, leaving the decision out of the hands of anyone seeking the object. You can’t, for instance, get into the Room of Requirement if you don’t require a specific thing. Similarly, men cannot wield Need and the One Ring desires to be used by only one person.

Finally, use of these magical objects usually results in a lasting change. The Elfstones, for example, left so much magic in Wil Ohmsford’s blood that it changed his children when they were born. Need bonds herself to her bearer, thus bonding her to the cause of helping women in danger. Later, after her awakening, she’s able to instruct her bearers, imparting genuine skill so the bearer can rely less on her. Drinking the Water of Life from the place called Auryn, and carrying some of it with you, grants you the ability to share the love and joy in life which never quite leaves you. It certainly transformed Bastian.

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