blindfolded guides

but when the robber gave him another piece of gold he began to think he might remember the turnings if blindfolded as before. This means succeeded; the robber partly led him, and was partly guided by him, right in front of Cassim’s house, the door of which the robber marked with a piece of chalk.

I love this image. A robber partly leading, partly guided by one who has been to this house before but then as now, blindfolded. Tom Hillman has reminded me of Bilbo’s ‘finding’ the Ring in his pocket in his conversation with Gandalf at Bag-end. The event has transpired –  it is marked with chalk – but how it transpires is by sleepwalking.

Le Guin named Tolkien’s two hobbit stories ‘walking stories,’ in which we travel step by step from Bag-end to a (different) distant solitary mountain.  A story, Tolkien thereby indicates, passes over no passage of significance. As such, a story contrasts with our normal ways of being in the world and understanding it, in which, like Bilbo with the Ring in his pocket, we often fail to see what happens before our eyes.

A glimpse of an unseen passage resonates with what Tolkien saw as the limits of analysis – a mode of mental travel in which we move from A to B with little sense of how or what is in between. Analysis disguises its passage, and Tolkien has a way of turning our gaze to passages we habitually make without remark.

Tolkien had a knack for finding such passages by himself, arriving thereby before a ‘house,’ which he then draws with some craftsmanship. So did his mind mysteriously lead Bilbo into Gollum’s cave, and a hobbit into myriad other queer situatons, all of which marked places then became the scene for a conversation, an encounter, an interview with an occupant.

The present series of posts began with an entire thread penned by the late halfir, who mined his own distinctive seam in the Moria of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Something of what it has felt like to travel on halfir’s path is captured by the image of the robber lead by the blindfolded cobbler.

And I would like to invoke these lines from the Arabian Nights to bring praise to John Rateliff, and through his efforts, Verlyn Flieger, and to honour my fellow contributors (Jeremiah Burns, Tom Hillman, Richard Rohlin, and Oliver Stegen) to (only) one of the many essays in this new volume (which may one day reach me in Israel, whereupon I may discover what the other essays in the volume have to say).

I’m composing this post after reading three masterful yet still draft chapters on the One Ring composed by one of the above, in the midst of intensely interesting discussions with Patrick Curry on Tolkien’s enchantment, and with many fond memories of talking with other Tolkien fanatics, of whom I give a special place to Sue Bridgewater. With all of these named people, and many others, I have had similar experiences of walking as one of this pair, in conversations alternating roles, at one time the robber and at another moment the blindfolded cobbler.

Such communication that I enjoy between diverse people, not the best of us still living, is always an instance of walking hand in hand with another, taking it in turns to guide one who has been there before but is sleepwalking and to guide by walking as in a dream oneself, together searching out another of Tolkien’s chalk marks.


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