The Tolkien Ring Network


Network World, June 22 1987, pages 28-32

The Tolkien Ring Network

This short  story,  based  on  J.R.R.  Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, takes
a lighthearted look  at the current state of affairs in the 
communications industry.

by William Robinson, Special to Network World
[reprinted without permission]

     The gathering  storm  brought  them  together.   Each had unanswered
questions, though not  all  feared  what they might hear.  Many knew from
what source the storm  sprang, and though none were certain, some thought
the storm heralded greatness, not destruction.

     The House of Elrond was  honored  by  the  assemblage.  Gandalf, the
greatest of wizards, Frodo and Bilbo  the  hobbits,  Aragorn  and Boromir
representing the men, Gimli the dwarf and  Legolas  the elf were gathered
around a great table, discussing the future of Micro Earth,

     It had been many ages since all the  folk  of  Micro  Earth  were in
Rivendell at the same time, The dwarfs burrowed deep  in  the  mountains,
elves wandered the forests, men plowed the fields and hobbits  ate.  Each
spoke their own tongue, and though they knew a common one,  they  had  no
reason to use it.  Now the rising storm could change all that forever.

     Gandalf looked at the young hobbit seated next to him.  "Bring forth
the Ring," he said.  "It is time all knew its secret."

     Frodo  paused,  as  if  some  unseen  force wished to keep the thing
hidden from sight.  Slowly, he reached into his pocket and drew forth the
plain golden ring,  heavy  in  his  hand.  Forged in the eternal fires of
Mount Doom in ages  past,  the  ring  bore no mark, no sign of its power,
save a line of finely etched runes that only the wise could read.

     Gandalf spoke in a tongue  nearly  forgotten,  reading  the  ancient
words:  "One Ring to rule  them, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring
them all and in the Darkness bind them."

     The Elves present covered their ears and  cried  in anguish.  Elrond
spoke  for  all  his people, saying, "Long ages  have  passed  since  the
language  of  Sauron  was spoken in this hall.   Too  well  do  we  elves
remember our battle against the power of the Blue Lord in the First Age."

     "Indeed," Gandalf said.  "Perhaps we should remind ourselves of that
ancient struggle as we debate our course with the Ring of Power."

     The  bearded  Wizard told the tale of the battle between Sauron  and
the  folk  of  Mainframe Earth.  He spoke of King Sperry the  First,  who
ruled  long and counted many people but in the end could not collect  the
taxes.  He  told  of  the  wizard  Digital,  whose  followers wielded the
powerful magic of VAX  and  PDP.    Burroughs,  the  King of Banking, and
Cyber, Lord of the 60-Bit  Word,  entered  the  tale with many others who
fought beside them.

     "When the battle was over," Gandalf  concluded, "Sauron had not won,
and yet he had not lost.   While  his enemies survived, he would dominate
their destinies throughout the Age of the Big Machines.  All found niches
in which they could survive and even prosper, yet none would ever mount a
serious challenge to the great Power again."

     Frodo  listened intently, The Ring safely back in his pocket.    The
Age  of  Big  Machines  was  fascinating,  but he could scarcely see  any
connection  between  that great battle and the current crisis, At length,
he turned to the aged Wizard and voiced that question.

     Gandalf considered  his  reply for some time.  "Your question has no
easy answer," he  said,  stroking  his beard, "The world has changed, and
the power of the  Blue Lord is not what it once was.  Errors has he made,
errors that may yet be  his  undoing.   he remains more powerful than any
other, and his followers grow daily more numerous.

     "The ring is the key.   Back  upon  Sauron's  finger,  it could bind
together the folk of Micro Earth, ending  the  separation  that now marks
our lives.  Whether the change would be  for  good  or ill.  None can yet

     "In the early years of Micro Earth, all was  at  peace.    The young
Fruit  King  of  Cupertino  ruled beside Commodore Pet, commander of  the
Navy,  and  CP/M of the Eight Bits.  Youthful exuberance was  everywhere,
much  volleyball  was  played at lunch, and many BMW's were driven.   The
Valley  of  Silicon  seemed  unconquerable,  and  the  demand  for  Fruit

     "Far to the East, in a land known only as Armonk, Sauron had built a
device of Power.  He  had  seen the Fruit King prosper and grew ever more
jealous.  Sauron's Machine was greater  than  the  creations of the Fruit
King, and Sauron knew his many minions  would eagerly seek its Power.  He
called  upon  his  500  greatest followers, the Most  Fortunate-ate,  and
quickly did the Machine become their standard."

     "Loudly did Sauron profess his commitment to the wise  God  of  Open
Architecture.    Though  suspicions  remained,  wizards  in the Valley of
Silicon wrote  many spells to add Power to the Machine.  They devised new
Card tricks and worshiped the God of Peripherals."

     "The Fruit King's  power  waned,  the  Princess  Lisa died a painful
death, and his new fruit was thought less tasty than the old.  His fields
became full of Mice, and his screens lost their color."

     "Yet the Valley itself shone  as never before.  Its people prospered
and were happy.  Sauron had  limited  their  activities  but had rewarded
them well.  They grew content to  work  on  his engine and soon ceased to
dream of creating engines of their own."

     "Sauron's victory was not complete.  The Fruit  King  did  not  die,
though he came under the thumb of the Cola  Lord.    When  Sauron brought
forth the smaller Chiclets-powered Machine, the Fruit King, his Commodore
and  the wizard Atari destroyed it with little trouble.  Sauron's  mobile
Machine suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Clone Lord Compaq."

     "Sauron  thinks  too  much  in  terms of Mainframe Earth and has not
adapted well to life in the Micro plain.  The price of his Machine is too
high for many, and the legend of his strength carries less weight than in
ancient times."

     Frodo fidgeted.  Frodo yawned.    Bilbo  leaned  over  to  his young
friend and whispered, "He'll answer your question on the next week or so,
don't worry."

     Gimli spoke, interrupting Gandalf.  "What you  have  told  us so far
only confirms what my people believe.  Sauron  has  been  good  for Micro
Earth.  Surely, the existence of the Clone Lords  and the continued power
of the Fruit King show the benevolence of Sauron.   He  is  no  longer an
evil Lord, facing destruction at the hands of the Gods of Antitrust."

     Fire burned in Gandalf's eyes.  "Have you heard  nothing that I have
said?" he asked the Dwarf, his voice full of anger.  "Sauron battles from
within.  He has destroyed the spark of creativity.  He  leads, and others
follow blindly."

     The  Dwarf stood his ground.  "But what  of  the  Clone  Lords?"  he
insisted.    Gandalf  spoke  now  as  a  teacher to  a  well-meaning  but
misinformed pupil.  "They make machines in the image of  Sauron's.   What
independence does that show?  Sauron could eliminate them with ease, were
he  to  change  the  basic  spell by which his Machine is driven.    They
survive by taxing their folk less, not by their wits.  Nay, the  fire  of
innovation burns not  within  them."  He  paused  for  effect.  "And," he
intoned, "you forget the Ring."

     Boromir had stood at  the mention of the Clone Lords.  "Take care in
thy criticism of the Clone  Lords,  Wizard,"  he  said.  "The Clones have
saved us much, and their are  superior  to  those of the Blue Lord.  Yea,
though their innovation may be less, we  gain by their presence.  And you
speak falsely when you declare that the Clones  could be easily destroyed
by Sauron.  So long as the Great Spells  of Lotus, WordStar and dBase may
be cast on the Clone Machines, they can survive any  assault  by the Lord
of Armonk.

     "Indeed,"  Boromir  continued,  "it was the great error of Sauron to
keep  his taxes so high that the Clones could gather strength.   Now,  as
weeds in his garden, they have strong roots that are difficult to remove.
Sauron  may  even  find  a  backlash  on Mainframe Earth, as his 500 Most
Fortune-ate followers discover that the three mystic Blue Runes hold less
magic than was  thought."  Boromir  sat,  satisfied  of  the truth in his

     Gandalf's face was tense.    Frodo  looked  puzzled,  as did many of
those assembled.  Could it be that the Wizard was less wise than they had
thought?  Could his vision be failing him at so critical an hour?  Or was
it Boromir's human frailties that hid the truth from his eyes?

     Aragorn turned to his friend, and spoke  kindly.   "There is much in
truth in what you say, Boromir of Gondor.  Yet one flaw may crack a large
stone.  As time passes, the Machines become more  and  more powerful, and
the  wizards  improve the spells that run them.  If  Sauron  changed  the
Spells of BIOS, the Clones would suffer greatly."

     "As  new  and  mightier  spells of Spreadsheet or Words appeared the
Clones  would find their Machines rendered useless, their powers a shadow
of the  might they once possessed.  And remember Gandalf's warning not to
forget the Ring."

     At the mention  fo  the  Ring,  Frodo snapped back to attention.  He
felt its cold smoothness in his pocket and asked, "What of the Ring?"

     Gandalf took this cue.    "With  the  Ring  fully in Sauron's power,
every Machine on Micro Earth  could  be bound together.  And the Machines
of Micro Earth could be bound to those on Mainframe, Sauron's domain.

     "Great wisdom has been promised to those who would join with him and
the Ring:  new visions yet unseen,  new  paths yet untraveled, new worlds
open to explore.  Above all, the Ring  holds  the  promise of Power.  The
many Elves of Micro Earth could be linked together,  able  to share their
spells and songs without delay, even over great distances.

     "But  the  Ring excludes those who are not compatible with  Sauron's
plan;  some spells work not on the Ring, and simple folk have been turned
into Wraiths in the deadly embrace fo the new Machine.  The gateways that
open  path  from  Machine to Machine often fail, trapping the innocent in
limbo between."

     Once again,  Boromir  had  heard enough.  "Wizard," he cried, "every
object has many sides, and you reveal but few.  The Traders of Gondor can
use the Ring to  ease  their  way an lessen their costs.  Great groups of
Machines, linked together, will speed  trade  throughout  Micro Earth and
all will benefit.  The Ring  opens  many  doors, and Sauron gains nothing
from our passage into most.  He  forged  the Ring, but we can control its

     Legolas  considered  what Boromir had said.  "I  see  no  difference
between  the great Ring system you describe and the  vast  Machines  that
rule Mainframe Earth," he said.  "The same problems may  arise.   A break
in the link can disrupt many, not just one.  Secrets  can be pirated away
down the dark passages.  The system grows ever more complex, not like the
simple Machines we now use."

     The  elf  continued,  "There  is no gain, only a further loss of the
individuality that is  slipping  like  sand through our fingers.  A giant
collection of simple Machines?    Nay,  I  say that is a great waste.  If
many must speak, let them  use  the  Machines  of  Mainframe.  I dream of
seeing our LAN lush with trees and Fruit, not bound with chains of wire."

     Frodo was again confused.  "I see the advantage for the Traders," he
said, "but of what use is the  Ring  to  simple folk who wish for nothing
more than a warm home and a cold beer?"

     Boromir answered, "Through the Power of the Ring,  common  folk will
be able to bank without leaving their homes;   they  will  have access to
the  Great  Markets  where stocks are traded, and the financial  universe
shall open before them.  Travelers will be able to obtain  rooms at inns,
spare horses or berths on the Wind Ships from their dining rooms.    Many
will be their options."

      Bilbo smiled sarcastically and  whispered to Frodo, "Boromir thinks
a commoner is someone with only one Mercedes."

     Gandalf rose to his feet  and  spoke  in  his most commanding voice,
"The time has come to stop  this  debate and decide our course of action.
We may cast the Ring into the  Cracks of Doom and destroy it, or wield it
and face the consequences, good or ill."

     Frodo spoke, "I will take the Ring to  the  South, toward Gondor and
the Realm of Sauron.  It is a long  journey,  and Destiny will decide our

     Few of the folk around the table had expected such  a statement from
the  quiet hobbit, but quickly they nodded in unspoken agreement:   Frodo
should lead them to the edge of Sauron's domain.  Perhaps then  the great
forces of Destiny would act to show the way.

     As Frodo and Bilbo walked down the stone path to the small room they
shared,  the  elder  hobbit looked at his friend and asked him why he had
chosen this way to travel.

     Frodo walked  on  in silence for a moment, as if concerned only with
not tripping over cracks in the stones.  "I know that the Traders can use
the Ring to great advantage, and all of Micro Earth will be enriched," he
said.  "I fear that  Gandalf  and Legolas are also right, that creativity
and innovation are curtailed by Sauron's scheme."

     "Though no one mentioned it, I  believe  that  fewer new and unusual
spells will be written if the Ring  becomes  the way of things and people
look to share one great spell, rather than  buying their own.  I have yet
to see any advantage for the common folk, but  the  natural  curiosity of
men may bring forth some unknown and useful task.  Most of all, I feel in
my bones that the Ring will come to be used and  thought  of  differently
than anyone now suspects."

     "I will go toward Sauron and the Cracks and hope that along  the way
I am given a sign to follow.  The Ring tempts me.   It  cries  out  to be
worn  and  used.    Another  voice  inside me wishes I had never heard of
Sauron or  his  Ring.    I may destroy it, or I may give it to Sauron and
help him wield  it.  I only fear that I will have to choose before I know
which course is right."

     The two hobbits continued  down  the  path  without  speaking,  both
knowing that further words were unnecessary.  The greatest minds on Micro
Earth had been gathered around that  table,  and Bilbo saw that Frodo had
the farthest reaching vision of all.

     The histories of both Micro and Mainframe  Earths were full of leaps
into the unknown, some successful and some not.   Perhaps, Bilbo thought,
neatness and order should be brought into the chaos.  Perhaps the Wizards
should be made to try rational behavior just once.

     The old hobbit laughed out loud.  And perhaps they  can  teach a pig
to sing.