A Shortcut to Mushrooms

On this page I try to draw a path through the index. The pictures drawn on this page will change as I approach my ideal of naming through visual organization.

Sooner or later I will get to grips with painter.net and draw a proper picture. In the meanwhile, some basic pictures in words.

The first picture is titled index name, and is given by Treebeard.

Entish has no notion of a representative title that serves as a name for the whole index. A name in Entish is an entire inventory of a thing or person’s history, the entire index.

A second picture can only be the magic ring as it would appear if it had been slipped into its own pocket.

However this is achieved, our author’s discovery of the Necromancer as the maker of his old central story-element speaks a volume about his bad conscience. This is a confession. At least to the extent Tolkien allowed he felt the desire to hold such a magic ring – and I think this desire spoke directly from his heart. That is what The Hobbit is: an imagination of holding such an object and slipping it from the hand of one owner to another in a deep passage to reveal an essential quality of the person, the secret of a name.

Tolkien’s struggle to write The Lord of the Rings will be bound up in his resolve to discover story-elements that may counter his bad conscience, who takes the form of Sauron the Necromancer, author of the dead. What is good in the imagination of a magic ring?

A third picture is of the mirror held up to the ghost index in 1938 and the premonitions found within.

Mirror was I am sure Tolkien’s guiding methodological metaphor from the first moment he began to write a sequel. At root, it was an idea, hardly thought out: a sequel to The Hobbit would be composed inside out – imagining a new story sequel as a mirror of the original, drawing a new story out of a precise, strange perspective on the old.

A swapping position of magic thing and person. Holding up a mirror to the old story immediately generated a narrative of a long-expected party, announcement of marriage and second disappearance of Bilbo Baggins followed by a second – and this time willed – distribution of the property at Bag-end (recall: the original homecoming of Bilbo). This second time around, Bilbo is to arrange everything himself, and he nearly arranges his own marriage!

Then occurs a first collision. An initial moment in which the movement of composition in a mirror bumps, Tolkien’s pen wobbles, and Bingo the son of Bilbo becomes ‘a nephew’ and a Bolger-Baggins. Bilbo’s prospective wife and the mother of poor Bingo is vaporized as the Necromancer stands up behind the magic ring. Tolkien has just discovered that drawing his characters in the mirror of the magic ring means to bring them face to face with the Necromancer, the lord of the slain and master of unnatural generation. The mother of generation of the story and its various heroes and persons was from this moment, one might say, unnatural. (Hence, a sequel of Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, now happily married, though the Withywindle valley is not happy: a natural generation prior to the monstrosities of the necromancer, a marriage and a ring that endures; although without apparent offspring to placate the old folk.)

So all the good hobbits were imagined from the start in a subtly yet profoundly different perspective to Bilbo Baggins: one original hobbit became many, a generation accomplished by switching focus from the queer Took quality of one, individual hobbit to the magic ring that originally highlighted his queer Took quality but now became a black hole standing invisible in the very center of the story, a magical inheritance only to be seen in a narrative drawn in a mirror.

The magic ring made the mirror reveal it. It drew out Bilbo’s wife and Bingo’s mother, making the Shire out of the discovery of Buckland, where Bingo’s people came from, and then vanished the idea of marrage and natural generation of a son in the case of Bilbo, who was now recognised a bachelor who lived happily to the end of his days.

The magic ring in the original story, by stark contrast, was simply drawn in the reflection of Bilbo Baggins – a material sign the acquisition of which drew out Bilbo’s queer suitability to the role selected by Gandalf, something that showed the dwarves, and us, what Gandalf saw in Bilbo Baggins when he first met an absurd hobbit blowing smoke rings at the beginning of the story.

The ring of invisibility. The moment when Bilbo’s story fortune changes, his stars align, and he steps into the role seen for him by the wizard’s eye of Gandalf.  The magic ring that hid a hobbit and allowed him to reveal his queer quality was now itself at the center of things, utterly invisible unless read in a passing reflection. A picture of composition of the sequel now shows our author with his back to us looking into his world of story but walking backwards as he writes. This original story element is now to become a story in itself, a matter plane to the sight of any reader of The Lord of the Rings yet forgotten as soon as we begin to speak on the story because our words forget this odd, invisible center, the hidden mirror of a ghost story.


Christopher Tolkien’s chronology has one draft and another discontinued half of the first chapter of the sequel, ‘A long-expected party,’ composed before the early page of notes that name the Necromancer. Premonition certainly seems warranted here, for these first chapters dive into the generation of hobbit families and clan gatherings with such vitality that a living background against which the dead world of the wight and the wraith and the Necromancer may step in the next act.

Over the course of composition in the months of 1938, Tolkien found a Barrow an encounter with the undead unlike the Ringwraiths; out of nowhere Weathertop hill became the scene of an unpremeditated encounter when “the Sword of the Necromancer” pierced the flesh of Bingo Bolger-Baggins. Composing Weathertop, perhaps in September 1938, Tolkien again acts on a premonition for he also asserts within it that the story is taking place in history not myth.

All drama of my presentation aside, I think Tolkien simply recognised that Barrow-wights were distinct from Ringwraiths when he wrote the story in the barrow.

A fourth picture depicts an unnamed (in the published stories) aborigine of both hobbit stories, who transforms from an historical native into a nature myth in the sequel.

Aborigine: a name found in the early drafts of the sequel but not in the final story. It names the bearer of a title eldest given twice in the story, as recounted in this entry in the Tolkien Gateway index of Middle-earth (accessed April 7 2018):

Eldest was a title for the eldest of all beings. Confusingly, it seems to apply to two different individuals; not only does Tom Bombadil claim it for himself, but Celeborn also uses it to address the old Ent Treebeard. Tom Bombadil’s nature, including what manner of being he is and if he can be considered alive and incarnate, remains unknown. The matter of who is truly the eldest living being in Middle-earth is a mystery.

Celeborn, it must be remembered, warns Boromir and the Company of disregarding the wisdom in what the old wives say of the perilous Forest of Fangorn: Treebeard receives two attributions from the consort of the Lady of the Golden Wood. In both cases, Celeborn is speaking of a place as a person, thinking of the personality that is Fangorn Forest. On different sides of the mountains, both Treebeard and Tom Bombadil are spirits of places, but their aboriginal stories are different. The Ents long ago lost the Entwives, while Goldberry long ago caught Tom Bombadil and has been living as his wife in his house for time out of mind, leaving her old folks stewing in the Withywindle valley.

Signs of confusion and mystery in the index of Middle-earth are for us footprints in the snow, signs of an unnamed mushroom awaiting naming in an index of the nameless in Middle-earth. This presence is named by Tolkien in a telling place. It is the original reply given by his host to Bingo’s question: Who are you, Master? (Return of the Shadow).

I am an aborigine.

Aborigines are a hidden element in the original hobbit story, for hobbits are drawn from a turn-of-the-century scholarly account of Britain’s aborigines. This drawing is in no way required viewing to understand the story, but helped its author picture a nameless quality as he set out to draw out another (Bilbo’s queer Took quality). From an architectural standpoint, Britain’s aborigines were interesting to Tolkien not because Ryhs, the old professor of Celtic, pictured them living in hobbit holes, but because they spoke a language of which, the younger professor believed, the professional philologist could discern no presence in any words ever known to be spoken in the British Isles. Aboriginal is an idea, present if unstated in The Hobbit, of a historical presence with no linguistic trace. Hobbits and Gollum: a real people whose stories may only be imagined.

In the sequel, Gollum’s relationship to Bilbo is utterly reimagined and hobbits are given a migration history and eventually step into the named history of the Old English Rohirrim. The idea of an aborigine is expressed anew in mythical rather than historical dress, first by Tom Bomadil and then, by way of the Elves, in Treebeard.

A living aborigine is a primal presence in the new hobbit story initially because Tolkien wishes to discover a magical being who is more than a peer of the Necromancer. Elves are already a profound aboriginal presence in Tolkien’s stories – a firstborn who made a history of myth that was ending as mortal history began. This mythical perspective on aboriginal words and lives highlights the very odd role the hidden aboriginal nature of Bilbo and Gollum played in The Hobbit, at the heart of a trick enacted just below the surface of the narrative, worked out of the very idea of hobbits as the original dwellers in the British Isles, a people whose blood still runs in the modern inhabitants but who are separated absolutely by language.

One who is eldest names all the index, but his and her own names allude the index. But stories may be told about them. Ancient stories of places and people. Think of Nodens and Sullis. Who can say who is at the bottom of the oldest stories?

The sequel rapidly moves the aboriginal from (pre-) history to myth because, while such historical peoples are an evident fact, to invoke an idea of original language is for Tolkien to pass over the limits of historical (philological) inquiry and to talk in myth.

A fifth picture gives the magic ring to Tom Bombadil, who holds it up revealing his eye looking through it. This picture is given in The Fellowship of the Ring but the name of its meaning belongs in our index.

Goldberry says Tom Bombadil has never been caught. She is modest. But the magic ring of the Necromancer certainly has no hold on him. He is his own master, says his wife, the river woman’s daughter.

Here is the marriage that the magic ring denied Bilbo Baggins. Childless, but enchanted, it remains a love story. Here a magic ring is but a trinket.

Originally, Tom Bombadil drew the limits of the power of the magic ring. He is older than the Necromancer, whose magic rings have no interest to him who sees all that is to be seen. Not Barrow-wight or wights on horses called Ringwraiths, nor even the trees under the spell of the Old Man rooted at the river, enter Tom Bombadil’s home: hobbits may dream aplenty but fear no nightly noises.

After 1939 Tom Bombadil handled in his home the One Ring, and when he held it to his eye had failed to understand it. Tolkien was caught up in some castigation of his initial vision as pacifist in the face of war. Rivendell was reached already by autumn 1938, but a council held there only a year later, once World War II had begun, and here Tom Bombadil was declared peculiar and irrelevant.

But already in late summer 1938 Tolkien had made the crucial adjustment in story, for when as he approached Weathertop he has Trotter mention Elendil and the elf-king making a strong place in days of old he steps the idea of a hobbit story out of myth and into history, at least as these terms were defined by his great 1936 story of The Lost Road (left unfinished when the sequel to The Hobbit was begun). The moment the story was imagined in history the self-evidently mythical Tom Bombadil and Goldberry and Old Man Willow were turned around the washer once more in who they are in relation to us.

An index of art is the only shortcut to a mushroom

Those who prefer the long way round are welcome to jump directly to the bibliography.