Friday, March 1, 2013

Tolkien's Ashtray

Tolkien’s Ashtray
Bobby Derie

It was a drinking goblet of milled steel, spotted with brown from age, the kind of thing a grandkid might make at shop class. The inside smelt of ashes and tobacco, a tarry residue that clung to the inside of the cup, cracked and crumbled a bit at the edges. Around the outer rim was engraved that terrible spell.

He paid the man what he asked for, and took his prize home.

It was a two-bedroom house, with the second given over entirely to the library, walls hidden by shelves of dark wood filled to bursting gave it a smaller, intimate feel. The trilogy and attendant works, in various editions, held the central portion, but the rest were filled with adaptations, analysis, commentary, volumes of letters, and ephemera; glossaries and dictionaries and investigations for the languages and names, and even foreign translations. Few universities had quite as extensive a collection on the subject as this one. Some were quite scarce, but his needs were modest, and many things could be had with dedication and money.

He set the goblet on a shelf, fetched out the book of letters, and re-read the few sentences which were the only mention of it.

The script was in the strange arabesques of tengwar. The gift of a devoted fan, crafted and given without thought to how poorly the man would receive it, or perhaps the conception of it. In a certain light, it was a gift in poor taste. Simple and forthright, but so crude an effort, so far from the original conception as to be almost a mockery of it. In the darkness he traced the letters. The “terrible words.” The writer had never drunk from it, he had written, but emptied his pipe into it.

He contemplated it, the small steel thread in the tapestry of the whole thing—the languages, the stories and books, his life as a soldier, a scholar, a husband… The writer had never been exactly a mystic in any regard, but he had such consideration for languages, poured so much of himself into the thing. How must it have been, to open the box it came in, and see such a stunted effort, to make physical in some weird aspect that most terrible idea, the words escaped from the page, caught and frozen in steel. For the spell must have been terrible for the writer, it must have held some power, expressed some vast darkness to have taken the place that it did, to have such an effect on him.

Now it was his. He smiled. His precious.


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