Palantir

Palantír

I need to be able to fade in and out different elements in the crystal ball. For example, while the green elongated circle is eclipsed by Weathertop and then marginalized and protected, by way of the touch of a tree in Lothlórien the spirit of Old Man Willow is found in the forest that devours the orcs outside Helm’s Deep (not yet drawn).

At any rate, the above diagrams a fair amount of The Lord of the Rings (it does not yet have Fangorn or Rohan). It is the story as seen in a Palantír, or in Galadriel’s Mirror, depending on whether you wish to look from above (into the water) or from the side (into the crystal ball). The yellow circle at the center is Galadriel’s Mirror. The circumference of the outer circle is deceptive – this is the shore of Middle-earth but not the frame of the picture; the blank space all around is the shoreless sea. The story concludes, at least as Master Samwise Gamgee told it, with Bilbo and Frodo passing with the elves and the Stone of Elendil from the white tower that is the large circle on the western edge of Middle-earth, out of the picture to the other side of the western ocean.

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On the origins of the Palantír two stories are told. From one perspective the Mirror of Galadriel is the magic ring of The Hobbit. It is the sign that contains the rest of the story within it. This is seen more readily in the fairy element of the sequel, in which the three ships that Frodo sees in the water frame the history of the Third Age. The framing of the story by the magic ring is seen only from inside the story and as such is almost invisible. It is felt rather than seen in the queer magic worked in the passage from the mountains over the river to the house of Beorn, after which Bilbo Baggins steps from domestic to heroic hole-dweller as he returns to interview a live dragon.

Mirror and Seeing Stone revisit the original magic object that is a sign that turns the story inside out – viz. the magic ring that was Gollum’s birthday present. All three are very finely crafted, but ultimately the magic ring was not only the first but, with a subtle yet almost invisible significance, wins the crown. The Mirror shows how all things might once have been good, while the Stones, which in the story always involve mystical communion with Sauron, show how good becomes evil. Yet both are essentially commentaries on the original magic ring that Bilbo Baggins finds and then wins from Gollum in a game of riddles in the dark.

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From a second perspective, what is now a Palantír began – and remains – a rock garden.

Tolkien made an enigmatic metaphor of Beowulf: a tower with a sea view. Before that he had given a more illuminating picture. The old and ancient stones found in an unused lot were made, not into a tower but a rock garden. This poet is a modern gardener, one of us. If we start talking of The Lord of the Rings as a tower we are going to get lost in his art, but the rock garden is a term of his art not complicated by becoming a story-element in The Lord of the Rings.

Below is a drawing of the first three stones set down to make the rock garden of the very first phase of writing in the new year of 1938. Two phases of writing bring the story by the close of this year to Rivendell, twice. This drawing shows Tolkien’s idea toward the end of March. He has set down 3 stones. As with Beowulf, the monster is at the metaphorical center (this is not yet a map of Middle-earth). The three stones:

  1. The Hobbit (queer sign green with gold ring)
  2. Sauron the Necromancer as recently delineated in ‘The Fall of Numenor’ (black center)
  3. ‘The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,’ 1934 poem, (green elongated disc between Bag-end and the Necromancer)

New Hobbit Story

What now follows is not so much an addition of elements to the sequel as a drawing out relationships between the three stones.

The day after a party of four hobbits sets out from Bag-end, the story takes what Tolkien in a letter of March 1938 called an “unpremeditated turn”: they encounter a black rider (black diamond) in the woods of the Shire. Here is one who has passed through another magic ring, but the evil spell vanishes with the sound of elvish laughter and song (blue triangle) and a night spent in the trees above Woodhall.

Servant of Necromancer on your doorsep

The next day, as the emerge in the Marish after cutting across country to avoid the black riders,  on the way to the farmhouse of Maggot, Bingo Bolger-Baggins tells of an elftower to the west of the Shire that shone white in the moonlight when he saw it, and from the top of which, it was said, one could see the sea.

Two Towers

With this white elftower we also have Middle-earth as we know it, for just as the Shire has the flat Marish so Middle-earth has the tower of 1936 myth and essay, looking over the sea, with the meanings discovered in each understood only by way of the other.

A tower of northern art, built by elves, and the Dark Tower of the Necromancer, who wants his magic ring back.

Tolkien has not yet brought his hobbits to the house at Crickhollow, where they will have hot baths and resolve to try the Old Forest the next morning (which adventures Tolkien rapidly told when he picked up his pen again in late summer). We are in March 1938, as the very first phase of writing. Tolkien does not yet know that the appearance of the Ringwraith would upset his initial vision of a sequel to the stories of both Tom Bombadil and Bilbo Baggins. Here we have a primordial vision of Fairie written in full flower and hardly changed even after the story moved on to a different track, a story never finished now serving as an introductory excursion. With the story of Tom Bombadil we are seeing The Hobbit with the frame of Numenor not yet dominating our vision.

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Autumn 1938. On Weathertop (blue cross) the Ringwraiths upset the meaning of Tom Bombadil and change the vision of the story.

Weathertop

The story on Weathertop was set down basically in the form we know it around autumn 1938, but only crowned in a late typescript when Aragorn names the ruins of a tower that once housed a Stone on the top of this flat conical hill. When Bingo Bolger-Baggins is pierced by the Sword of the Necromancer the story steps into a mutual gaze with terror. The song of Tom Bombadil dispelled the Barrow-wight but was protected by closed borders with this magic of the eye.

After Weathertop the depth of the story began to be sounded, found eventually by Gandalf at the bottom of the Mine, after which he wandered out of thought and time and came back a different wizard. Gandalf did not survive Weathertop, let alone Bingo Bolger-Baggins, the heir who vanished as first Sam and then Frodo stepped into place. What was revealed was a mutual gaze into the abyss of murderous hate, which was met in the Eye and some more in the Mirror of the Lady in Lórien.

Orthanc & Mirror of Galadriel

I think the Seeing Stone of Orthanc that appears in the story at the close of writing 1942, when Tolkien began a break of writing of over a year, is Tolkien’s picture of how he imagined his story.

This imagination reflects his ideal model in Beowulf and his wish to distinguish his own contribution from that of his master – both artists began with a mass of unused stones (most of which Tolkien found only because the Anglo-Saxon poet had claimed them) and made a metaphorical rock garden. But in 1936 Tolkien had discovered by way of his myth of Númenor that the Anglo-Saxon poet’s rock garden was better seen as a tower made of the stones. Tolkien takes a different step by discovering his rock garden in a clear basin of water and again in a dark crystal ball.

As in the Mirror, in the Stone we find the vision of Sauron: the eyes of the necromancer and the Eye of Sauron.

The Eye

He put the two back together at the end of all things, or at least the story, in a footnote to an appendix that told how the elftower housed the Stone of Elendil that looked only over the sea, and told in the Prologue and another appendix how the story we are reading derives mainly from the Red Book, long housed in the new hobbit colony of Undertowers to the west of the Shire.

The Lord of the Rings