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magic ring

So I’ve now written the script for the sixth Hobbit video and with that drawn my research into The Hobbit to a close. The fourth video, almost finished, shows how The Hobbit draws on Ali Baba, the fifth reconstructs the original riddle game, which brings to light how different the original story was from The Hobbit that became the introduction to The Lord of the Rings, and the sixth episode shows how the original magic ring was imagined by drawing as a fairy-element the fantasy that Tolkien perceived in a couple of philosophical and linguistic theories of names and naming.

And  with that my long research project draws to a close. A couple of years ago I finished a book-length manuscript on the making of The Lord of the Rings. But I put it on hold because I saw that my starting-points were still hazy. This led into two long detours, the first culminating in my ebook on Tolkien’s study of Beowulf, which was published nearly a year ago, the second into a study of The Hobbit as it was before it was eaten by its own offspring.

And now that I know what the magic ring is, or at least what it originally was, I could now finish off the book on The Lord of the Rings.

The trouble is I am now filled with a monstrous lethargy. What drives me are unanswered questions. When I do not know an answer I obsess night and day, writing this and writing that, and cannot rest until I have cleared things up. But now I have cleared things up. I see the whole story of how a queer Victorian theory of proper names inspired the imagination of the magic ring, how the magic ring became the One Ring as Tolkien turned to his religious faith in the face of the rise of Nazism, and how his study of Beowulf culminated in seven towers and seven seeing-stones. And I am not sure if I can be bothered to write it up.

The one thing that might induce me to make all this stuff public (and it is not as if more than a handful of people ever read what I write) is that my children have really enjoyed making The Hobbit videos, and so there is some motivation to carry on with the videos after we finish this Hobbit series, moving into the tale of Númenor and finally to the making of The Lord of the Rings. After all, the great and endless summer holiday from school is approaching and the choice seems to be either making videos or going crazy…

Riddles of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

The online meme is, or was, ‘why did Gandalf not get the eagles to fly them direct to Mount Doom?’

This is a question posed by orcs who see jet planes and think of engines and magic. It is a completely genuine question, but asked from a Dark Tower. The question as found in the mirror, which is not asked by twitter users but was posed by Tolkien late in composition, as he wrote The Taming of Smeagol:

Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along {? without further}…if asked

Pencil note, HOME 8, The War of the Ring.


The Apprenticeship of J.R.R. Tolkien (Ye Machine, 2018) was published on August 29. But this is the first announcement. There is simply no point competing with The Fall of Gondolin (August 30). This shade has proved welcome, though, because I’ve found myself unable to break the loop of patching. In fact, with this second ebook, I appreciate  that electronic release of an essay is not like release of a printed edition and is like a beta online program release. Having set my 29.08.18 release date in stone I now find myself seeing room for improvement everywhere I look.

The main patch – for which I apologize to the three or so people who have purchased the book – has been the section titled Biblical Myth in Part Two of the essay. But I am not sure I can do more than add patch upon patch (though every time I look I see the phrasing should be improved!)

My problem is that I have only just begun to appreciate how seriously Tolkien read the Book of Genesis. Until I can place my feet on the ground in the relations between his ‘Silmarillion’ stories, his reading of fragments of ancient northern stories, and his reading of the generations between Adam and Abraham, I can do no more than patch. Here is a paragraph recently inserted that is simply a temporary patch:

There is an *idea* of myth to be discovered in Tolkien’s literary sequels to the story of the Fall, but we will fail to reach it unless we recognize the textual basis of his meditations. The focus on ideas that is the chosen path of this essay falls easily into Protestant presuppositions, in which we approach the Bible as a book translated into our own language and assume that each individual alone may interpret the words on the page – a reformed manner of reading that has become a basis of modern literary criticism. But Tolkien knew the words of the Bible in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as English, and he was evidently aware also of some at least of the many and varied traditions of commentary on each of the verses of a book that – it cannot be doubted – he believed was true. We are walking here at the very center of things, the crucible where everything emerges, and all that limits the view are the limitations of your guide, who can read only his native language and knows little of the great commentaries on the Book of Genesis by which both Tolkien and the old poet before him were fixing their imaginations.

When I talk of Protestant presuppositions I have in mind myself, in virtue of paternal inheritance and a higher education at one of England’s ancient universities, and also a friend who champions personal reflections on The Lord of the Rings and thinks of what he does in terms provided by modern literary theory. As a general rule of the kind of conversations I find myself having, however private, such presuppositions are widespread, inevtitably brought to the table, legitimate, in no way necessarily associated with the Necromancer (as I now apologize for having suggested), and ultimately inseperable from our free will and our relationship to the words that we speak to one another. My point is only that this enthusiastic Protestant tradition of reading is in certain respects quite at odds with Tolkien’s, who naturallly consults what past authorities have to say about a verse of Scripture and sets out his own reading in conversation with the living and the dead.

I have a sense that there is a whole conversation between two halves of North America in which science is pitted against Creationism and religious identity turns on a criteria of literal truth applied to the Book of Genesis. This is a conversation that completely passes Tolkien by, which is not to say that he might not find himself in uncomfortable arguments about the literal truth of, say, the Flood (or the drowning of Atlantis). But he really did not spend much time on asking himself about the truth of the biblical stories; that was not for him an interesting question – they were true, whatever that might mean. Where he began was a puzzling out of strange stories that seem to hide their meanings.

What I call Protestant presuppositions, and recognize in myself as well as many others who I converse with, embraces a fine individualism that runs the risk of not noticing, let alone coming to appreciate, our own inherited and native traditions. Tolkien’s meanings seem to me wrapped deeply in the learning of the learned of more than two millenia. While we may be happy to wonder alone in Middle-earth, and while the richness of our individual experiences as readers of The Lord of the Rings cannot be denied, I think we are missing the point if we do not admit from the get go that what is so wonderful about this reading experience is a recognition that we are not alone (and just what that means, as my friend well knows, is the more helpful question to ask).