blue wizard

June 19, 2021
Simon Cook


For mid-summer I re-launch Ye Machine on gitlab to provide instruction for those who wish to distinguish those hidden marks on rounded stones that spell the hidden spring to open them. 2020 was a hard year, and 2021 has not so far been much better, and I guess I am not alone in wishing to look directly inside the globe of jet-black crystal. So, posts for the rest of 2021 are few and far between, may be supplemented by occasional video demonstrations, and continue to fall under one of three distinguishing marks:

  1. Mark

  2. Stone

  3. Another identifying mark

This is a Stone-post. I begin with an observation of Ring-lore when Mark & Stone were still one: a hidden door appears when it is ajar.

Mark-posts concern the magic of distinction of a shadowy figure who appears on the border of vanishment, as a hidden door closes and opens. Stone-posts take as given that the magic of the Ring is now an operation of opening. On the Doors of Durin and inside the Mines of Moria, Tolkien redraws the magic of the Ring from Mark to Stone. Behind the magic of appearing appears a spell of opening bent to evil, a trick - there is not one but many Rings, and the Many learn to their horror of the One, the Ruling Ring that opens the invisible door to themselves.

Magic ring and One Ring are two readings of Open, Sesame! But once the magic has switched from vanishing a body to the (involuntary) opening of another’s mind, Tolkien substitutes the doors from which the magic ring was derived for another picture he has long been drafting, drawing the view of what is seen inside a self when its door opens as if seen through a Stone. All my work this year is preparatory to a reading of the marks hidden on this Stone.


When, on the old Wordpress version of Ye Machine, I last followed J.R.R. Tolkien in his study of Ring-lore, I paused with him in late winter 1939 at Balin’s tomb in Moria. And here I will remain on gitlab in 2021, as Tolkien did until late summer 1940, when he began to write the story of the War of the Ring as we know it. When he paused at the first Christmas of the Second World War, the new hobbit story was a very different story to the sequel that we know. Only on resumption of writing did Tolkien draw out of his imagination the One Ring, a conceptual birth achieved by remixing The Hobbit with two doors that open onto a vast dwarf-hole inside which is found a significant hole with two doors, one of which is broken.

When the Company arrived at the Doors of Durin in late 1939, aside from Gandalf and Boromir all were hobbits. When Tolkien picked up his pen again in 1940, an Elf and a Dwarf had appeared while Trotter the hobbit was now Aragorn, heir of Elendil, making the new story also the sequel to ‘The Fall of Númenor’ and, thereby, the great tale of the ending of the Third Age in the War of the Ring. And now appeared in the Chamber of Records, besides Balin’s tomb and the old book, a door that was to be broken.

In that seminal late summer of 1940, Tolkien began by reworking various earlier moments as new narrative ideas required, crucially introducing the Council of Elrond, where the historical situation of the Third Age is laid out and the great South of Middle-earth first glimmers on a map. Nevertheless, the story we read today from Bag-end to Rivendell was conceived as a story before the magic ring of the Necromancer became the One Ring on the Doors of Durin and inside the Mines of Moria. When we read it we are in a different story to The Lord of the Rings.

The first book of The Fellowship of the Ring was composed with the idea of telling a story of around the same page-length as The Hobbit. Generally, Tolkien approached sequels by holding the original to a mirror. In this case, his first decision was to follow the same route to Rivendell and over the Misty Mountains but to place around 3/4 of the adventures off-road on that one part of the world of the original story not drawn on the map, namely the semi-civilized lands where policeman on bicycles were seldom seen between the hobbit-hole and the Last Homely House, Rivendell.

What I call the ‘ghost sequel’, the sequel to The Hobbit as envisaged in 1938, has at its core a most curious vision of Tom Bombadil, who answers the magic ring’s first turn to evil as one of the Many Ring-snares of the Necromancer. In fact, Tolkien began to compose a sequel to The Hobbit with the intention of bringing a party of hobbits over their border on the other side of the Shire and into a sequel to a poem he had published in 1934 titled ‘The Adventures of Tom Bombadil’. This pre-War double-sequel of 1938 begins with a long-expected party, and then leads the heir of Bilbo Baggins, in the company of some hobbit friends, just over the border from his new house in Crickhollow: under the Hedge, into the Old Forest and the enchantment of an Old Willow Man, only to be rescued by the voice of an aboriginal spirit of the land who cannot be caught by magical commands, spoken, visible, or hidden.

To appreciate the quite different center of gravity in which the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring was composed, consider how the black rider who appears in the woods of the Shire was taken for a while by the author to be a horsed barrow-wight. The 1934 poem told how Old Man Willow, a badger, and a barrow-wight failed to catch Tom Bombadil, but Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, the River-woman’s daughter, caught one another and were married. The 1938 sequel was imagined occuring a long age later, when Old Man Willow has been stewing in his discontent for time out of mind and, egged on no doubt by the Withywindle River, Bombadil’s mother-in-law, has ensnared all the trees of the Old Forest in a malicious enchantment that now catches the party of hobbits - who are rescued by Tom Bombadil, who cannot be caught even by the magic ring of the Necromancer. Against this imagined story, the unpremeditated appearance of a black rider in the woods of the Shire appears in the first instance a sign of Old Man Willow’s designs to intrude over the Hedge, a barrow-wight on horseback is a sinister sign of another invasion of Buckland by trees!

To my mind, the ghost sequel is the most interesting realm revealed by this biographical division of the map of Middle-earth: here is a realm next door to the Shire, which readers of The Lord of the Rings know well but cannot fathom because it captures a different take on the magic ring of The Hobbit than that born in Moria and revealed to a keen eye in the Mirror of Lórien.

Having penned in 2020 a brief critical note on J.G.A. Pocock’s reading of Tom Bombadil as ‘England’, I hope soon to return to the 1934 poem to trace Tolkien’s post-Hobbit reflections on the grammar of holes, but not before at least setting out the foundations of Ring-lore in Victorian Chalk-lore in a first Mark-post.

This first post on the Chalk Mark is a careful if wild reading of a passage in A System of Logic (1843), by John Stuart Mill. I hail Mill as the founder of the (confused) Chalk-lore of suburban Orientalism, which became fashionable towards the turn of the century but was reviled by the intellectual aristocracy and is today rendered obsolete by the (coherent) Middle-earth Ring-lore of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mill founded suburban British Orientalism by holding up a mark chalked on a door in a story in the Arabian Nights, comparing it to a proper name, and then defining a proper name in the image of Sesame, that is, as an expression in the world that - by way of a mental chalk mark - opened a hidden door to a hole in the mind (wherein which might be found concrete information about the bearer of the name Sesame).

Mill’s literary insight was brilliant but his exposition of Chalk-lore so confusing that nobody seems to have seen what he was saying before Tolkien, who remixed the original story as The Hobbit to clarify what Mill was saying, what he was forgetting to say, and where he was confused. With the publication of this story in 1937, or at least with the publication of its sequel soon after the end of World War II, suburban Orientalism was no longer recognizable, for the story from the Arabian Nights had given the English scholar and artist a key to the lost ancient stories of the North.

Stone posts are rare, perhaps to the point of singularity, because the kernel has already been set out in my essay on Tolkien’s Apprenticeship. The paradox of stones in Middle-earth is that they somehow provide a dominant metaphor for keen-eyed vision of ‘the other side’: the metaphor of a philologist watching an archeological colleague reading some ancient inscription on stone. The metaphor rests on the unspoken imagination of tiny marks on the stone long ago engraved by cunning hands, now barely legible because faded, or perhaps because craftily hidden by the ancient craftsman. A stone is a window onto meanings long ago lost in time.

Tolkien’s vision of the Stones of Middle-earth is bound up in his conception of the art of the North as remembrance, the telling of the stories of the glorious dead. This conception of his own art, learned from the author of Beowulf, finds its opposite in Necromancy, the black art that attempts not to gaze but to step into the lost world of the past, generating monsters through intercourse with the dead.

In this opposition is the view between the two Mythical towers of Middle-earth, the Elf-tower to the west of the Shire, from the top of which can be seen the sea, housing a Seeing-Stone that, singularly, looks only into the West, and the Dark Tower of the Necromancer, out of which a Lidless Eye looks inland to distinguish, identify, and control all it sees. Here too is the reason why the Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky have each their proper stone, for where a mortal who wears a Ring of Power gains long life (before fading) the Three, which were made before the One and were never touched by Sauron, preserve the Mythical realms of the Second Age into the Dawn of History, the Third Age of Middle-earth, where the Magic of the Rings of Power preserves an Enchantment bound to fade forever once the One is destroyed. The vision of the stones is a looking back long through ages of forgotten time.

The seed of the Seeing Stones of Middle-earth is found in 1933 lecture-material, where a biographical story of the making of Beowulf tells how the Anglo-Saxon poet took some stones from a pile in an unused patch and made a rock garden; the friends who come to visit, enchanted by the stones, fail to even notice the man’s design; a queer fit comes over them and they turn over the stones, step on the flowers, and dig holes in the lawn searching for ancient deposits of coal.

The stones are already an enchantment: the foolish friends are esteemed scholars, whose vandalism at a garden party suggests drink, drugs, or worse… The moral is not (as a generation of university gimboids have declared) forget history and tune in to the art, but rather, and as Tolkien’s regular Oxford lectures on Beowulf show to spectacular effect, learn how to handle the historical stones properly if you wish to say anything about art, and learn to recognize art is you wish to attempt history!

My vision for 2021 is to step from Gollum’s cave through the door that is broken to locate the hidden door of the Palantír that sits on the desk in my own house (I see it now, even as I write, but with as yet no trace of a mark discernible on its smooth rounded surface; I dare not risk fire).

The door that is broken is on the far side of the Chamber of Records in Moria, a door not seen in the 2001 movie, but breaking in the story when Gandalf meets his match and he and the Balrog on the other side of the door lay counter spells of closing and opening (the situation before the Doors of Durin has turned around - now the wizard speaks to close a door!). Gandalf speaks a Word of Command, and the door - and the wall around it - breaks and collapses, blocking the hole.

As the door breaks Gandalf starts to taste his own medicine. The wizard who began the adventure of Bilbo Baggins by scratching a queer sign on his door stumbles on the riddle that Celebrimbor spelled on the Doors of Durin: words from another age, whose meaning changed when Sauron spoke the Ring-verse and the elvish smiths of Holin knew they were betrayed. Celebrimbor says, Speak Friend, but standing before his signs is one who bears the One Ring, while the one who speaks, the wizard himself, (secretly) wears one of the Three Rings that Celebrimbor made for the Elven-kings under the sky. Gandalf opens one door to close another, before looking Durin’s bane in the face.

The Doors of Durin and the door that is broken rework the original winning of the magic ring by lucky riddle in Gollum’s doorless hole. With the breaking of the door the story does not leave holes behind. But the One Ring opens the door to the hole that is the mind, and such holes and their doors are invisible. So, many pages out from Moria, just as the wizard returns, the One Ring starts to appear between two towers, its magic of opening consummately woven into a picture of mutual gaze between many minds within many towers housing Stones, within one of which a vision of red flame kindles inside a dark orb of crystal…

My Stone-post will draw the marks on the round stone that reveals how to open the door to see the hole inside the dark crystal, where the blue fire kindles.