I wish to compile an index for a book that is not finished. The book is my own, but it concerns the making of a story by an author: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The index of my book attempts to name the nameless in Middle-earth. There is an element of folly in this enterprise.
I begin the index with two names already introduced and use the index to illustrate Tolkien’s usages:
The two words of our embryonic index complement and oppose each other. Our index is a tropy cabinet of names, each name a prize from a hard-fought encounter with the presence of namelessness in Middle-earth. But when we confront the two names directly the one with the other further names spring into view as intermediaries between them, in the first instance: monitions and stories. But let us begin with each of the two virgin entries in turn.
The Nameless. My blog posts began with this name and immediately revealed several sub-entries, and no doubt many more await the reader in Middle-earth. Sometimes, the nameless in Tolkien’s writings is the unspeakable, acts in a heathen play of necromancy that a God-fearing soul will not put into words. Looking in quite the opposite direction, the Book of Genesis is a never named yet foundational source of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, far more fundamental than Plato’s Atlantis, which is half-named but better known as Tolkien’s Númenor. Again, some of the nameless was once named, as in the original birthday present given to Gollum or any of the names spoken by the people who first lived in the British Isles. There is the namelessness of a queer quality that directs the selection of a defining quality of an entity in the giving to it a name. And when we turn with Tolkien to the sequel of the story of Bilbo Baggins, we find a namelessness that alludes naming.
If nameless is the first entry in our index, the second is the word index itself. The present incarnation of yemachine began with the idea that the idea of an index is a central yet rarely named element of Tolkien’s thought.
Tolkien’s first book, A Middle English Vocabulary (1922), is in the nature of an index, while our author took the unusual step of making an index for his story (found at the back of Return of the King). On Fairy-stories makes silent use of the idea of an index as mediating between a story and a world, as discussed on the page naming the nameless. In the original story of Bilbo Baggins we may discern an index theory of naming compatible with ideas we find in Tolkien’s slightly earlier Nodens and in the Philosophy of Grammar (1924) of the Danish philologist Otto Jespersen. This index theory of naming includes as its final proposition:
- The name of one property of the bundle of properties of an entity is conventionally accepted as its name because it adheres with a second quality, a queer quality, something hidden in its index that alludes naming.
So baldly stated, this proposition is my distilled reading of the original story of The Hobbit. It distills the story found when the revision of the riddle game to make the story we know was quite inconceivable. I begin with this account of an index that I read as implicit to The Hobbit as published in 1937, and also the observation that the essay On Fairy-stories composed as Tolkien crafted a sequel, contains an implicit idea of an index as mediating link between world and story (the art of fantasy makes the illusion of a world behind a story by making the index appear as something existing in itself, independent of the story).
Now, we are already focusing on ideas of our author in the two decades from around 1927 when we begin with his note on Nodens. We cannot tell the story of Tolkien’s imaginative life in these years without pausing on the poem he penned for C.S. Lewis in 1931, Mythopoeia, some lines of which are even quoted in the great essay on fairy stories that appears to provide the view of the poem as it were by magic carpet. Here is the main part of one verse:
Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen –
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh,
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars: …
Monition. A warning of impending danger; as in: premonition.
When we open the pages of On Fairy-stories we are flown back and forth around certain monitions until we begin to perceive a great story spread out below us.
A story makes sense of monitions, revealing a hidden source of knowledge of the world: showing – as dim echo or picture – the hidden qualities in the world on which our names adhere.
Always, Tolkien strives to reveal the name of the nameless while profoundly aware that all his efforts rest upon an original, mythical namelessness.