A second Tolkien TV video series: ‘the ghost sequel’: imagined in 1938 around a hobbit named Bingo, an evil magic ring, and an old song of Tom Bombadil.
An echo of a hopeful song on the eve of war, a romanticism dismissed in later years as pacifism. Un-vanishing Bingo’s story gives us another Tom Bombadil, an aboriginal face to meet a magic ring no longer aboriginal.
The altered magic ring is calling out strange voices from the countryside, magic deeper and stronger than the magic of the ring, at least in 1938, when Bingo held the Baggins family heirloom and sat in the House of Tom Bombadil.
Method: first identify change in magic ring, then discover what Tom Bombadil was to find out who Bingo is.
Episode one: A long-expected party. Draft composed in the week before Christmas, 1937: it will rain drink and snow food at the magnificent birthday party from which Bilbo Baggins stages his second and final disappearance from his hobbit-hole. Tolkien begins a sequel by putting the original to a mirror: here and gone again, this second time around the property in Bag-end is willed to new owners.
This first draft is self-contained. Tolkien is looking (almost) only at The Hobbit. He knows that Bilbo must produce an heir, but fails to get beyond the startling announcement in his after-dinner speech that he is going away to get married (which is what, we are told, hobbits do directly after they get married – vanish). But In the first instance, Bingo is the son of Bilbo Baggins.
But by the time the magic ring has an origin with the Necromancer, in some notes penned half-way through a second draft of the party, Bingo is Bolger-Baggins is Bilbo’s adopted heir and the vanishing at the long-expected party was that of Bingo, in the second chapter, following the advice of Gandalf in Bag-end in the first chapter to ‘stage a disappearance’ to escape this poisoned heirloom, an evil magic ring that Gollum had wanted to lose.
Episode 2. River stories. This video builds to the ghost sequel, by reading in relation to The Hobbit and each other: (i) earlier Tom Bombadil material, (ii) Return of the Shadow.
Tom Bombadil poem 1934: river-daughter captured; hobbits will enter ancient scene & characters of drama: the river and Old Man Willow; and then return with Tom Bombadil to the house he shares with Goldberry. November 1937 Tolkien contemplating new story about Tom Bombadil (rather than a new hobbit story), and the next month starts a new hobbit story that will step into a story he has already imagined (these chapters written but the once – what we read today is what Tolkien wrote in summer 1938).
Meanwhile… Bombadil and Goldberry’s river story stood in the background as Tolkien rethought elements of The Hobbit in light of the wizard’s revelation that this magic ring was made by the Necromancer and you either lost it or lost yourself to it. As Tolkien wrote four drafts of the long-expected party and then took a party of hobbits across the Shire to Buckland and ready for an adventure in Tom’s land, he was gnawing on Gollum’s bone:
Gollum is unframed by the revelation that his ‘birthday present’ has a malevolent history. The immediate change revision to the first edition is that Gollum’s story of a birthday present is declared a lie. This magic ring could not be both a birthday present and made by the Necromancer (a clue to the meaning of ‘birthday present’ because there is no inherent reason both cannot be true). A story is told of an elf who did in the river under goblin fire when his ring slipped from his finger – Gollum found this ring in the river; he was not then a nameless man but a hobbit named Digol.
And these cavernous thoughts about Gollum percolated into Bingo’s story. As it became clear that Bilbo Baggins was a lifelong bachelor his heir, Bingo Bolger-Baggins, was given his own genealogy (through a second daughter of the Old Took), and his parents drowned on the river in a boating accident.
Bingo and Gollum: one used the magic ring wisely (pranks) and the other did not. But Bingo’s invisibility pranks are also immature and will backfire (Farmer Maggot, Bombadil, Bree) and the story must have had him grow up on the other side of the mountains (that he never reaches), humour measured now with wisdom.
Episode 3. Ghost sequel. (1938). A turn from the person at the center of The Hobbit to the ring itself, and the aboriginal stories of the landscape. An ancient evil is discovered in a Baggins heirloom that demands more than party tricks to deal with. A stay in the house of Tom Bombadil mirrors Bilbo’s stay in the hall of Beorn – the hobbits step into a story. In this story, the black-riders are Barrow-wights on horses, so the adventure in the barrow is also an encounter with a ring-wraith.
Episode 4. Bingo vanishes. In the event of a black rider, Bingo’s party tricks prove insufficient. Nor can Tom Bombadil help on Weathertop. Tolkien now began the first of several journeys There (Rivendell) and Back-again (Bag-end). Bingo’s last known appearance is on the Barrow-downs…
Contrast, once the first phase of writing, to the end of winter, early 1938, got a party of hobbits to the border with Tom’s land, then, when he picked up writing again in the summer, the story much as we know it was rapidly penned – and never subject to the heavy revisions that beset the story in Bag-end and to Rivendel. This is the story Tolkien already had in mind in (November?) when he suggests a sequel that replaces hobbits by Tom Bombadil. Acceding to hobbits, he was now going to bring them into the story of a 1934 poem already in broad sweeps imagined.
But the appearance of a person who lost himself to a magic ring leads to a wraith piercing Bingo with the sword of the Necromancer – which, like a magic ring but quicker, turns him into a wraith (more than the barrow-wight wanted). And on the way to Weathertop, Númenor becomes an ancient history and the world of The Hobbit is sprung from myth.