Genesis of the One Ring

Summary of last post:

A long-expected party mirrors The Hobbit and was conceived as the prelude to a story about a descendant of Bilbo Baggins who inherits his magic ring.

Half-way through a second draft of A long-expected party Tolkien breaks off, sets out some notes that establish that the magic ring was made by the Necromancer.

Which is to be read against a reading of the magic ring of The Hobbit (1937), summarized in an earlier post as possessed of a dual function:

On the one hand, a named attribute: (bodily) invisibility; on the other hand, an attribute never named only shown: the magic ring makes a hobbit more recognizably himself.

Now, we can follow the (by no means simple) development of the story in Tolkien’s imagination in three HOME volumes, which reveal that it took our author well over a year to feel his way into his story and see clearly what it was he was writing. It is for this reason that I have described the new hobbit story in this period as simply extending the ghost index of The Hobbit. Nevertheless, the ideas brought to light by the two decisions made in the first week or weeks of writing are so powerful that I wonder if almost all the ideas it took Tolkien another decade to work through are not contained within them.

We stand at the edge of a precipice. Let me reiterate the two basic ideas brought into play at the very beginning of 1938.

A magic ring that reveals people’s essential nature is moved from stage-machinery to center stage.

The magic ring is imagined as made by the Necromancer.

The first idea is highly abstract. An instrument of story-vision, a mirror that reveals but is itself unseen, becomes the subject of the story. Here is a strange revolution of vision, a revolution of subject and object, with peculiar consequences.

The second idea is steeped in far-reaching significance, for the Necromancer had acquired many meanings in Tolkien’s thought and writings by early 1938. If no means simple, this maker is at least quite concrete. 

As the concrete is easier to outline, the next two post (here and here) deal with Tolkien’s second idea and only once the ground that Tolkien stepped onto becomes clear will I turn to the revolution in story vision that is found at the very beginning of the sequel (here and here).