This website is an index under construction for a project not yet finished – a genealogy of the One Ring of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This index includes the nameless in Middle-earth.
I begin with two words already used and build the index by illustrating Tolkien’s usages:
Index. The present incarnation of this yemachine website began with the observation 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 placing an index at the back of Return of the King (an abbreviated version of the long unfinished index of the story that he set out to write). The meaning of an index for Tolkien can be seen in the silent use of one as mediating between a story and a world in his essay On Fairy-stories.
Nameless. Some of the nameless was once named, as in the language of Britain’s ‘aboriginal’ population. Sometimes, the nameless in Tolkien’s writings are unspeakable, heathen acts and masters of necromancy, words an elf-friend will not utter. There is a namelessness that alludes naming, as in the original birthday present given to Gollum.
These first two entries complement and oppose each other. They are the essential elements of a ‘fairy-element’ – those noun-adjective combinations theorized by Tolkien in On Fairy-stories. A fairy-element steps into a word combination as a metaphor, a name that is not a name, token of a primordial struggle between nameless and the index. But this very idea of a fairy-element was born from the concrete if shadowy entity dropped into The Hobbit as a magic ring. This queerest of signs provides a third entry in this index of the nameless of Middle-earth.
Magic ring. Unnamed in conventional indexes of Middle-earth (search generates: ‘see One Ring’), the magic ring was an image of the foundation stone of an ‘anti-index’ theory of naming that Tolkien thought about in the 1920s. This theory might be stated: The name of one property of the bundle of properties of an entity forms the basis of the name of that entity when it adheres with a hidden quality of the index of the bundle that alludes naming. The Hobbit illustrates this theory by picturing this nameless foundation of a name as a gold ring that makes a body invisible. (Nb. After this magic ring became the One Ring whole swathes of Middle-earth fandom began to be eaten up by the invisible index of Middle-earth beneath their feet. Zapped.)