Title: The Iron Ring
Author(s): Lloyd Alexander
Illustrator/Photographer: Ismael Espinosa Ferrer
Publisher and Year: Puffin, 1997
Number of pages: 280
Genre: Fantasy, Fable
Descriptive Annotation: At the beginning of “The Iron Ring” young king Tamar is awoken in the middle of the night by a surprise visitor, King Jaya. King Jaya challenges Tamar to a game of dice. At first Tamar wins, but at the end his luck turns and Tamar loses and is bound to King Jaya- an iron ring placed on his finger as a symbol of his indebtedness. When Tamar goes to bed, he wakes up and no one in his palace remembers King Jaya coming to visit. Tamar is part of the warrior caste and feels honor bound to go in search of Jaya. Along the way Tamar gets into a series of adventures and picks up traveling companions along the way. Among these are Mirri, a cow heard, an eagle named Garuda, his loyal advisor Rajaswmi, Hashkat the King of Monkeys, and Adi-Kavi a royal crier who once lived in an anthill. Along the way Tamar and his ragtag band of companions meet a King who was dethroned by a usurper. They lend their support to the King and he gains back his kingdom. Tamar has an encounter with a man from the lowest caste and discovers that despite what he had been taught the man was very wise, and a human just like any other. Finally, the group finds their way to King Jaya. Jaya turns out to be a god-like being who has been shape shifting, effecting the lives of each character in the story in a different way. Tamar decides to return the ring to Jaya and declares it has no hold on him anymore. Jaya offers to grant a wish to each person in the band. Tamar wishes to overturn the caste system but Jaya says that only Tamar can do this. Tamar and his friends return to his Kingdom at the end of the book to restore peace and prosperity.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: “The Iron Ring” utilizes complex language. Because this is a book set in India, numerous Hindi names are used; all of the characters have fairly complex Hindi names. I found the myriad of Hindi names hard to follow at times as I read the book, at times I would have to go back and look up characters or words in order to follow what was happening. At the beginning of the book there is a List of Characters and Places with pronunciations and definitions. Throughout the book there are a series of songs the characters sing to each other that rhyme. The characters within the book are not diverse racially; they are all Indian as the book is set in India. The caste system is analyzed, and the main character finds that caste does not define the human experience, and resolves to end it in his own kingdom.
Interdisciplinary Connections: This book would work well in a Social Studies unit about India. Because the book is set in India, there are a lot of references to caste and Indian culture and traditions. Additionally, this book would work well in a unit about fables or folklore from around the world because it is told in a fable like fashion.
Other Information: I liked this book but I did not love it. Because the book was told as a series of fables it was very easy to put down from chapter to chapter. There wasn’t a huge push to continue on through the book from chapter to chapter because the plot was not always connected between chapters. I think this book would be great for students who are interested in India. There is a ton to learn about India from this book. Additionally, I think certain chapters of this book could stand alone as short stories to read.