The Hobbit (1937)

My philological index of The Lord of the Rings identifies a hidden index within a conventional index of names of Middle-earth. This ghost index is the index of the original story of The Hobbit. Key elements of the ghost index are given here. This post explains a small part of the ghost index.


Bilbo Baggins.

property, acquired: magic ring

property, inherited: Bag-End; generic hobbit vanishing magic; Baggins luck; queer Took quality

Visibility. Of body: see magic ring. Of properties: see wizard’s eye, magic ring, dwarves


The ‘magic’ of the original story involves a word play on property and a magic ring that takes its meaning from a linguistic theory of naming.

From the start of the story we are introduced to the idea of visible and invisible properties. We see Bag-End – a property Bilbo inherited from his parents, and we are told that Bilbo’s visible properties (character, qualities) were inherited from his father. But we are also told that he likely inherited from his mother ‘a queer Took quality’ – something initially invisible yet ‘in him’ (Gandalf) waiting for a chance ‘to come out’ (narrator).

When Gandalf first talks with Bilbo he sees the hobbit with his wizard’s eye, discerns his invisible property, and therefore selects him as the burglar on the adventure. The dwarves on first seeing Bilbo doubt the wizard’s word. But when Bilbo emerges from the goblin tunnels with a magic ring hidden in his pocket the dwarves immediately recognize him as ‘a first-class burglar’ – really, they now see that he has ‘in him’ what it takes to play the role of burglar assigned him in the story.

The magic ring is an acquired property (won from Gollum in the riddle game). The magic ring has two properties:

  1. The magic ring is named (and shown) in the story as a ring that renders the body invisible.
  2. The magic ring is unnamed but revealed by the story as a ring that renders invisible properties (inner qualities) visible – allowing the dwarves to see Bilbo with a wizard’s eye.

The ghost index thus points at the source of all the queerness that came out when Tolkien began to compose a sequel to The Hobbit. 

I suggest that the primary property of the magic ring is that which is unnamed and only shown in the story – a ring of visibility, revealing hidden qualities. The named magic ring of invisibility is merely a surface inversion of its real properties.

But this real property of the magic ring is not a standard fairy element (as Tolkien will later dub the magic ring). Rather, it is the imagination within a story of an instrument of philology, a picture of the key to naming as established within a linguistic theory of the index name. For the magic ring is simply an instrument that makes visible the hidden properties of a thing or person on which a name may be hung.

Looking ahead to what I have called the extended ghost index – the sequel in its first year of composition – we see immediately how the real property of the magic ring was to make a new story by way of the new idea (hit upon very soon after commencing composition) that the magic ring was made by the Necromancer:

The magic ring’s invisible property of making visible the hidden properties of a person is a first step to stealing their soul.

Leave a Reply