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Fiver
08-03-2001, 09:05 AM
As per this thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=73343), I now launch a reading/discussion of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel, The Hobbit. I've never participated in one of these book discussions, let alone begun one, so any advice as to structure and pace would be appreciated.

I've got the 60th-anniversary hardcover edition of the book. It's printed on 288 pages of very fine paper and has illustrations by Alan Lee throughout, many of them in color. Thror's map at the front and the map of "Wilderland" at the back are both printed in black and red ink.

Of course, we don't all have to be so fancy, and any edition will do for purposes of this thread. We'll just not refer to passages by page number, okay?

I'm currently halfway through the first chapter, "An Unexpected Party." The dwarves have just finished helping Bilbo put away his dishes and have brought out their musical instruments.

Who's in for this discussion?

Maeglin
08-03-2001, 09:22 AM
If it's Tolkien, I'm in by definition.

Johanna
08-03-2001, 09:29 AM
One notable thing about the Unexpected Party is those very musical instruments. Right there is practically the only mention of musical instruments in Middle-Earth. (Except for the drums of the Woses in the Druadan Forest, but that's another story.) There are many, many songs in Middle-Earth, but no tubas.

Alatariel
08-03-2001, 09:31 AM
What Maeglin said.

Unfortunately, I'm at work, no book handy, but you'll be hearinf from me soon.

Hello Again
08-03-2001, 09:31 AM
I am a huge Tolkein fan, but I'm kinda "eh" on The Hobbit. I didn't hate it, but it didn't change my life or anything either. I have re-read LotR many times but never felt the need to re-read The Hobbit, except to page through the "important scene" -- important to LotR that is.

Are you reading it for the first time?

Dinsdale
08-03-2001, 09:36 AM
SPOILER ALERT!!
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The butler did it.

Bartman
08-03-2001, 10:21 AM
Sure, I'm in. Are we restricting discussion to just the Hobbit or are broader implications in regards to Tolkein's other on topic as well? In addition what about spoilers. Are we to limit ourselves to what Fiver has read or can we wander more freely?

Fiver
08-03-2001, 11:17 AM
Jomo Mojo, you make a good point. The dwarves are depicted in The Trilogy as very pragmatic (if avaricious). Music doesn't seem like something that would interest them.

But their behavior in The Hobbit, especially in "An Unexpected Party," is uncharacteristic. Their impish behavior, what with playing the instruments and singing about cracking Bilbo's plates and all, is more elvish than dwarvish, it seems to me.

I think this is partly because the novel was written for children; it needs this playful scene at the start. Moreover, the song about the dragon's takeover of the Lonely Mountain serves a dual purpose: exposition, and awakening the "Tookish" side of Bilbo that wants to go on an adventure. See here:

...he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.

It's really that paragraph that sets up the rest of the book. And I think it's the mood evoked by the instruments the dwarves are playing, as much as the words to the song itself, that stir Bilbo's adventurous spirit.

rmariamp: I read it several times as a teenager, but this is my first time back in many, many years.

Bartman: I'd like to stay focused on just The Hobbit, although of course we can't discuss it without frequent reference to the rest of Tolkien's oeuvre. And, while obviously I'm not the boss of anyone's reading pace, I'd like us to stay on the same page (pun only partially intended) for discussion purposes.

Howsabout we restrict our discussion to the first chapter until a post from me indicates we've advanced to the next?

Katisha
08-03-2001, 12:51 PM
Count me in! I love the Hobbit -- of course, it doesn't achieve the same grandeur as LotR does, but it's so much fun. :)

Oh, and as for the musical instruments -- there aren't any tubas in TH either! ;) All the ones mentioned are basically OK for the medieval-ish world of Middle-earth... (I did a setting of this song a few years ago. It worked out pretty well, actually...)

casdave
08-03-2001, 12:59 PM
Most folk come to Tolkein through 'The Hobbit' in their early teens but of course it is partway through a much greater whole.

Then they usually go on to the trilogy before finally going on at last to Silmarillion which is really the first in the series and carries the predictions.

Do you think there is anything to be gained doing it this way ? The whole seems to have been written to be approached like this which causes much backtracking and referencing, almost in the manner of a certain holy book in some ways.

Hello Again
08-03-2001, 01:27 PM
it makes sense because The Hobbit is the easiest read (actually intended for children unlike LotR). The Sillmarillion is an unusually dense book and I think most people starting there would be put off continuing! You have to develop that deep and abiding love/obsession for Middle Earth before The Sillmarillion is worth it. Even then, I'm no so sure.

Soup
08-03-2001, 01:27 PM
I've read 'The Hobbit' and LOTR several times, yet I'm still not sure why Gandalf suggested to the dwarves that Bilbo be a part of the mission to take back their mountain. He seems to be putting a hobbit that he is supposedly "quite fond of" in a great deal of danger. Are there any clues to the reason for this in the first chapter?

armedmonkey
08-03-2001, 01:42 PM
<short highjack: Fiver, when my sixth grade teacher(way back when) gave us "Watership Down" to read, I thought it was going to be a Naval Thriller. Imagine my suprise...... Still loved the book, though.>

casdave, I do think the books should be read in that order. I've always thought of The Hobbit as the prologue, the trilogy as the actual story, and the Simarillion as an appendex (along with Unfinished Tales and other "unessential" works).

Anyway, count me in.

-Beeblebrox
_______________
"Bet you weren't expecting to see me again," said the monster, which Arthur couldn't help thinking was a strange remark for it to make, seeing as he had never met the creature before. He could tell that he hadn't met the creature before from the simple fact that he was able to sleep at nights."

KeithB
08-03-2001, 01:59 PM
I'm in, too.

Two remarks:

I think an instrument is mentioned at the end of ROTK when everyone is recovering from the battle at the Morannon. They mention a troubador wandering about singing songs of great praise to Frodo, I *think* it mentions an instrument.

Soup:
I am sure that is explained that Gandalf sent Bilbo because of one of those coincidences that may have been Providential. (Caps intentional) Gandalf was using his Maia foresight and "saw" that there was a bigger part to Bilbo's going than just the adventure to Lonely Mountain. Sorry, I do not have the book handy, but try reading the passage when Gandalf is talking to Frodo at Bag End.

lucie
08-03-2001, 03:22 PM
Back to the instruments, briefly.

I don't have it in front of me at the moment, but I think there is mention of harps in use at Rivendell in FOTR. Very much in passing, not important to what's going on, just setting the scene. IIRC, it is after the feast in Frodo's honor, when he see's Bilbo again for the first time.

Anyway, I read TH at 11 for the first time and moved right in. Tried to tackle LOTR at 13, but was not entirely successful (I didn't understand a third of what was going on, but I sure liked it). Now I've read them all, including the Silmarillion, several times. Happy to jump in on any discussion.

Regarding Gandalf's choice of Bilbo, Gandalf is mentioned to have known several of Bilbo's antecedents, particularly on the Took side, and as KeithB pointed out, he's pretty good at making judgement calls. Hobbits have qualities which make them good thieves, as any D&Der knows, and Gandalf probably saw something in Bilbo that Bilbo would never have seen in himself - interest and ability.

obfusciatrist
08-03-2001, 04:41 PM
I didn't like the Hobbit. Normally that would make me eager to participate, if only to provide a dissenting voice.

Unfortunately, I discovered I didn't like it 15 years ago and haven't been back since. But I will read this thread with interest.

Fiver
08-03-2001, 04:45 PM
I think you called it, lucie. We could assume Gandalf can see the future, but I think ascribing that power to him diminishes his character: Gandalf is wise and intelligent, and a shrewd judge of character. He could see the resourcefulness, the adventurous Took spirit, that lurked within Bilbo, even though Bilbo himself couldn't.

(And Beeblebrox, I never understood how a grassy field could get the name "Watership" either.)

Arnold Winkelried
08-03-2001, 04:48 PM
I always thought that Tolkien didn't have the overarching vision we see in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Silmarillion' when he wrote 'The Hobbit'.

a) In 'The Hobbit' he refers to "goblins" and uses the word "orc" only once or maybe twice.
b) In 'The Hobbit' there is not the "clear-cut" division amongst men, elves, dwarves that we see in LOTR. For example Beorn shows up with no good explanation of how he would fit in that scheme.
c) The elves are not the noble characters that we see in 'The Silmarillion' and 'LOTR'.

To intelligently discuss the book "chapter by chapter" I'll have to go back and re-read it, because knowing the whole story as I do I can't really say what my impressions would be having only read the first chapter. I remember when I read it originally that I thought Bilbo was a fool running out without a handkerchief. (I'm prone to allergies and a handkerchief is a very useful thing.)

unwashed brain
08-03-2001, 05:54 PM
from this page:

http://artists.mp3s.com/artist_song/829/829079.html

"(chorus)
Let me go
Back to my little hole"

The chorus is a reference to Bilbo Baggins' demeanor throughout "The Hobbit." He just wanted to go back to his hobbit hole.

Yes, that's right folks. I made a subtle reference to Mr. Baggins in the Chorus of my (former) band's song, Black Licorice.

hehe...just thought you might find this mildly amusing.

Smeghead
08-03-2001, 07:47 PM
I don't know that I'll have any particularly original ideas, but I'll participate. I just finished rereading this and the trilogy a month or two back.

As my first unoriginal thought, I'll point out that Tolkein had to do a pretty fair amount of 'splaining in the beginning of LOTR to fit the Hobbit into the same world.

Northern Piper
08-03-2001, 08:55 PM
Jomo Mojo, you make a good point. The dwarves are depicted in The Trilogy as very pragmatic (if avaricious). Music doesn't seem like something that would interest them.

Not so!!

From In Moira, in Khazad-dűm:Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.

Bartman
08-03-2001, 09:57 PM
Well I think that part of the reason the Dwarves get a bad rap is we never see them in their homes. We get many views on hobbits (The Shire, Bree); Elves (Rivendell, Lorien); and Humans (Bree again, Rohan, Gondor). The only view we see of dwarves are while they are on quests. In my view this sceen is one of the best on views of dwarves. Like all people they just want to live in peace and prosperity. In this case we see the dwarves just about to undertake a dangerous mission that was taking them from their families and homes. They were risking much, with an opportunity to gain much. I have always view the instruments as the natural way of dwarves being put away, much like a US soldier going to a dance club just before being shipped off to Monte Cassino.

Of course the Hobbit was never originally intended to fit into Middle Earth (which at this time just consisted of unpublished versions of the Silmarillian). So several of the characters are not fully realized. Gandalf is certainly the chief of these. A wizard meant a lot less here than it did later on. Quite a few changes were made after the first print run to get it to fit in with the later books. In this chapter for example Gandalf originally asked for a tomato rather than a pickle. The change was made to make the book seem older as tomatoes are a new world plant. However some anachronisms were still left in, such as Bilbo sounding like a train leaving a tunnel.

As far as why Gandalf choose Bilbo. Tolkien wrote several explanations one of which was supposed to be in Return of the King (RotK) but was edited out. Evidently Gandalf had know Bilbo as a youngster fairly well. And at that age Bilbo had been much more 'Tookish.' Gandalf felt that the Shire would soon need leaders with some 'foreign' experience and thought of Bilbo. Of course Bilbo had settled down quite a bit from his irresponsible youth and become fat and lazy. Of course he almost gets rejected from the outset by Thorin but Galdalf obviously convinces the old dwarf otherwise. At least part of the choice of Bilbo is chance or insight. Gandalf later admits so himself. So not an ability to see the future per say, more of an ability to sense possibilities.

Smeghead
08-03-2001, 10:27 PM
Hmmm. Interesting thought, Bartman. There are definitely hints throughout the trilogy that Gandalf was aware that the time was coming for him to leave Middle Earth. It would make sense for him to start raising up some good leaders here and there. Of course, I doubt that Tolkein was thinking that far ahead when he wrote the first chapter of the Hobbit, but still.

Fiver
08-04-2001, 12:17 PM
I've just finished the first chapter. In the last few pages Gandalf and Thorin talk about the dwarves' loss of the Lonely Mountain to Smaug, and the diaspora which followed.

It made me think of the Jews. I'm sure Tolkien didn't intend this allegory, but it is an interesting parallel. Hebrews = dwarves, Romans = Smaug. Like the Jews, the dwarves were cast out of their home and its former glory and were dispersed throughout the world, getting by however they could and hoping for the day they could go back and reclaim their rightful home. The allegory probably breaks down at that point, though. Unless the Battle of Five Armies = World War II, and since the book came out in 1937, that's not likely.

Alessan
08-04-2001, 01:20 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
I've just finished the first chapter. In the last few pages Gandalf and Thorin talk about the dwarves' loss of the Lonely Mountain to Smaug, and the diaspora which followed.

It made me think of the Jews. I'm sure Tolkien didn't intend this allegory, but it is an interesting parallel. Hebrews = dwarves, Romans = Smaug. Like the Jews, the dwarves were cast out of their home and its former glory and were dispersed throughout the world, getting by however they could and hoping for the day they could go back and reclaim their rightful home. The allegory probably breaks down at that point, though. Unless the Battle of Five Armies = World War II, and since the book came out in 1937, that's not likely.

Considering the Professor's attitude towards allegory, I'm quite sure that the connection is mainly coincidental.

However, I've always noted the similarity between Dwarvish and Hebrew - in consonants, cadence and word structure. The phrase Khazad-Dum, for instance, sounds suspiciously like "Gamad Kadum, or "Ancient Dwarf". Tolkien knew Hebrew, and while most of his linguistics were based on the Anglo-Saxon, I wouldn't be surprised if he threw a bit of his other knowlege into the story.

Plus, you have the beards. And the gold smithing.

Humble Servant
08-04-2001, 09:21 PM
Originally posted by Bartman
Well I think that part of the reason the Dwarves get a bad rap is we never see them in their homes.Right you are Bartman, though it is a bit strong to say the dwarves got a bad rap--remember, they were created by someone (can't remember who) with hubris and good intentions but without proper authority. They are the most secretive and private of the peoples--no one ever sees their women or children either.Originally posted by Fiver
It made me think of the Jews. I'm sure Tolkien didn't intend this allegory, but it is an interesting parallel. Hebrews= dwarves, Romans= Smaug.This is very interesting. I have always thought of the orcs as nazis. From a moral and plot perspective, it is very convenient to have creatures thoroughly evil, who can be slaughtered without compunction and without nagging concerns about the justness of their deaths. If only the nazis had been subhuman so that they too could have been proper objects for heroes to slay in great heaps--alas, the real world isn't quite like Middle Earth.

Johanna
08-05-2001, 07:35 AM
In the FoTR chapter "Many Meetings" we read: "As Elrond entered and went towards the seat prepared for him, elvish minstrels began to make sweet music." A few pages later, "But those near him were silent, intent upon the music of the voices and the instruments...." It doesn't say what instruments. But they are there.

Then in the RoTK chapter "The Field of Cormallen" it says: "...and horns and trumpets sang...".

So this is why I said practically the only mention of musical instruments in Middle-Earth. I thought I remembered the trumpets.

The maker of the Dwarves was Aulë the Smith; he made them secretly and hid them from the knowledge of the other Valar until he awoke their forms. Even though they were not fair as the Eldar, eventually they were accepted as "children of Ilúvatar."

Astroboy14
08-05-2001, 10:21 AM
I'm in! I've read The Hobbit and the trilogy maybe 30 or 35 times (when I'm bored I go back to the classics!)... the Sillmarillion bored the SNOT out of me, and continues to do so to this day! IE: I read the first few pages...

My only input so far: IMO, The Hobbit was written as a lark... then JRRT started thinking about it, and came up with the rest if TLR. So, to compare, or even group! The Hobbit with TLR is foolish... there are discrepancies that are the result of writing a novel off-hand and then pondring it for a while and then writing a more in-depth series of novels later...

I have a BA in English! You cannot argue with me! Don't try it! (I'm also drunk right now... but that's incidental...) I know all! I see alll! I understand all!

:D

Astroboy14
08-05-2001, 10:25 AM
Originally posted by Astroboy14
I'm in! I've read The Hobbit and the trilogy maybe 30 or 35 times (when I'm bored I go back to the classics!)... the Sillmarillion bored the SNOT out of me, and continues to do so to this day! IE: I read the first few pages...

My only input so far: IMO, The Hobbit was written as a lark... then JRRT started thinking about it, and came up with the rest if TLR. So, to compare, or even group! The Hobbit with TLR is foolish... there are discrepancies that are the result of writing a novel off-hand and then pondring it for a while and then writing a more in-depth series of novels later...

I have a BA in English! You cannot argue with me! Don't try it! (I'm also drunk right now... but that's incidental...) I know all! I see alll! I understand all!

:D


UM... all I can say about the previous post is what I said before... IE: I'm drunk right now... Sorry!

But I stand behing almost evrything!

I'll pick and choose later which things I stand behind...

But I've read tghe series MANY times... at least 30 or so...

Maybe Ill just stagger off to bed now...

Northern Piper
08-05-2001, 10:46 AM
The maker of the Dwarves was Aulë the Smith; he made them secretly and hid them from the knowledge of the other Valar until he awoke their forms. Even though they were not fair as the Eldar, eventually they were accepted as "children of Ilúvatar."

Aulë made the dwarfs, but he didn't awake them - i.e. - give them the power to act independently. He made them without the permission of Ilúvatar, and when Ilúvatar rebuked him for doing so, Aulë went to destroy them. Ilúvatar then gave the dwarfs independent capabilities to reward Aulë for his submission - all rather reminiscent of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.

Fiver
08-05-2001, 11:04 AM
I've just read the second, short chapter, wherein Bilbo is rushed out of his house without his hat or pocket-handkerchiefs to meet the dwarves and embark on his Adventure.

By the end of the chapter they've met Bert, Tom and Bill, the three trolls, escaped their clutches as they turned to stone, and taken their plunder. This is an important moment in the story, as it's Bilbo's first brush with death, but also because it introduces Sting, the large dagger/short sword used by Bilbo and later Frodo throughout the rest of the stories.

I couldn't help but notice the dialogue used by the trolls. I think it's Cockney, but anyway it's quite a different dialect from that used by Bilbo and the dwarves. It's decidedly working-class speech, with none of the "Good mornings" or "At your service"'s we heard at the Unexpected Party.

Is this classism on Tolkien's part? Well-spoken = good, semi-literate = evil? I shall pay close attention to the speech of the other characters we're introduced to.

Discuss.

Katisha
08-05-2001, 01:01 PM
Originally posted by Astroboy14
My only input so far: IMO, The Hobbit was written as a lark... then JRRT started thinking about it, and came up with the rest if TLR. So, to compare, or even group! The Hobbit with TLR is foolish... there are discrepancies that are the result of writing a novel off-hand and then pondring it for a while and then writing a more in-depth series of novels later...


The impressive thing, though, is how Tolkien managed to work TH into the greater Middle-earth mythos in spite of the inconsistencies. The classic exacple, of course, is what mariamp called the "Important Scene" (Bilbo's encounter with Gollum) which had to be revised in order for it to be consistent with LotR's take on the nature of the Ring. But it wasn't just a simple retcon -- Tolkien (via his literary role as "translator") actually made this inconsistency a part of the larger story. The copy of TH that I have has a preface to this effect -- I assume more recent editions retain it?

As for the accents -- working-class/rural-type accents aren't used exclusively for evil characters. Orcs aren't particularly articulate, either (though the orcs of LotR don't speak the same way the trolls in TH do), but many of the bit-player Hobbits in LotR have distinctly non-upper-class accents, as does Sam Gamgee. Of course, the differences in speech are subtler in LotR, leading to the (IMO unfounded) charge by some critics of Tolkien that all his characters speak alike.

In any case, Bilbo is a "bourgeois" hobbit (yes, I've read Author of the Century; why do you ask? ;)) and most non-human, non-hobbit characters do sound rather posh... ;)

Akatsukami
08-05-2001, 04:24 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
It made me think of the Jews. I'm sure Tolkien didn't intend this allegory, but it is an interesting parallel. Hebrews = dwarves, Romans = Smaug.
He did. (http://www.cabed-en-aras.com/interview.html) Khuzdul (the Dwarvish language) was quite deliberately modelled by Tolkien on Hebrew, which he knew.

Bartman
08-05-2001, 06:43 PM
Smeghead, I wasn't refering to Gandalf leaving but instead to the upcoming troubles. If I wasn't trying to avoid spoilers, I would mention the fact the Gandalf proved correct on this, as the ones who lead the Shire out of its problems were all influenced by Bilbo rather than by local custom (in the Scouring of the Shire). As it is I won't mention it to avoid confusing those who may actually be reading the books for the first time. ;)

Fiver as far as classism is involved I would think not. I have read quite a few essays on Tolkien's supposed racism etc. and they genreally fall far short of the mark. JRR seems to have actually be fairly free from such sentiments especially for a man of his time. That said I think the language of Burt et al. is simply useing a different dialect for comedic affect. Obviously he could have choosen from many. However any step from the more correct English being used by the primaries would probably had the same result. So I don't view this as classism any more than when say the Pythons did it in Flying Circus.

Now for a couple of new observations. It has always seemed to me that Tolkien at this point is gradually taking us away from a more recognizable place to one more removed or remote. The first chapter and part of the second seems to take place in mid 19th century England. The characters eat foods which are reminiscant of the period. There are references to clocks, mantleplaces, steam engines, pocket-handkerchiefs, steam kettles, etc. As we progress in the story we seem to step back in time as much as through a physical space. We approach something that is much older. I have always felt that this was a great method to bring young children into the story. Start at a place that is fairly familiar and work to the less familiar. It no doubt does not work as well now as it did then. But for the 'gentry' children who were likely to be reading his book when it was written Bilbo must have appeared to be a very familiar fellow. What do you all think?

sjc
08-05-2001, 09:06 PM
I am not reading the Hobbit right now but I have read TH, LotR and the Sillmarillion. I have read TH and LotR many times.

For those of you who think The Hobbit is lightweight compared to The Lord of the Rings, I say POOH ON YOU! I disagree wholeheartedly. As for the inconsistancies between the two, I disagree as well. JRRT wrote much of the Sillmarillion before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So he definitely had a base story to start from.

As for the differences in style of the two books, I think that is one of the best things about them. The Hobbit is written from an entirely different perspective from the Lord of the Rings. The same world is being described, it is just being seen by someone (Bilbo) who knows less about the world he is traveling in.

I wish I could express this more clearly, I feel like I am not really explaining myself. I am tired but I wanted to respond to the Hobbit-Bashers among the posters of the SDMB. I'll come back to my arguments (not that I really want to debate this, but I do want to be able to explain why the Hobbit kicks ass.)

Katisha
08-05-2001, 10:20 PM
Originally posted by sjc
As for the inconsistancies between the two, I disagree as well. JRRT wrote much of the Sillmarillion before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So he definitely had a base story to start from.


Indeed, but it's rather well-documented that Tolkien didn't initially intend for TH to take place in the world of the Silm, although he threw in a few proper names (Elrond, Gondolin). This isn't any particular slight on TH, though.

Bartman, I agree, mostly -- hobbits are something of an "in-between" people in Middle-earth. They seem far more "modern" than the rest of ME, but to the reader, they also recall an idealized past...so they bridge the gap between the everyday world and the epic world. (I'm indebted to Tom Shippey's recent book on JRRT for much of this point -- I highly recommend it for anyone interested in literary criticism of Tolkien. It's called J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.)

Johanna
08-06-2001, 12:17 AM
When my kids were younger, I read The Hobbit aloud to them as a bedtime story. When I did the mock-British voices for the trolls, you should have heard them laugh! It was a hit. But even though the three stone trolls make a return appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, the other trolls in LoTR who are still ambulatory do not speak, and they are not comic, they are very, very horrifying. The Olog-Hai. Brrr.

In that chapter, Fiver (are you a Richard Adams fan, by the way?) you get one of the little glimpses of the enormous depth to the backstory. From the troll cache they retrieve magical Elven swords of Gondolin. You can't know what major resonance the name of Gondolin holds until you read LoTR, and you won't get the full story until The Silmarillion. Gondolin was the greatest Elven city of the Elder Days, in the region of Beleriand which sank beneath the sea several thousand years before the Lord of the Rings takes place. To get a sword from Gondolin is heav-v-y. That's why Sting kicked butt everyplace.

slortar
08-06-2001, 09:10 AM
I just came from reading the Silmarillion directly into reading the Hobbit. The change in tone is almost excruciating. Think fingernails across chalkboard.

Plus the inconsistencies are driving me nuts. At one point in the Hobbit, the narrator refers to the lands Bilbo is travelling through as being far from the King. wtf?

There are some neat consistencies, though. Mentioning Gondolin as a source of the swords, for example.

As it is, I keep falling back on the "being narrated by Bilbo" dodge a lot to keep from going insane.

Fiver
08-06-2001, 03:51 PM
Good feedback regarding the working-class accents, everybody. I guess I jumped too quickly to a conclusion regarding the trolls. I will be paying close attention to the accents as I read the rest of the book.

Akatsukami, I don't think we can conclude Tolkien meant the dwarves to be allegorical Jews just because he modeled the dwarvish language on Hebrew. It does make the parallels more intriguing, though, doesn't it?

And Bartman, really good call about the passage from Hobbiton to Rivendell taking the reader "backward in time." Tolkien even describes how the roads get rougher...here, I'll tell it in Tolkien's own words:

Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees. On some of them were old castles with an evil look...This is the first part of the adventure that Bilbo doesn't enjoy, where he realizes adventuring is more than just a pony ride. He's in feudal, Dark Ages Europe now, effectively.

That famous article about Tolkien on Salon.com discussed the sense of melancholy that pervades Lord of the Rings. I think we're seeing some of it here in The Hobbit too.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
08-06-2001, 05:02 PM
Originally posted by Jomo Mojo
One notable thing about the Unexpected Party is those very musical instruments. Right there is practically the only mention of musical instruments in Middle-Earth. (Except for the drums of the Woses in the Druadan Forest, but that's another story.) There are many, many songs in Middle-Earth, but no tubas.

What about the toy instruments mentioned in connection with the Long Expected Party? Well OK, toy instruments aren't the same as real ones, but one would think they have real instruments as antecedents.

Akatsukami
08-06-2001, 05:51 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
Akatsukami, I don't think we can conclude Tolkien meant the dwarves to be allegorical Jews just because he modeled the dwarvish language on Hebrew. It does make the parallels more intriguing, though, doesn't it?
No, Tolkien stated that (see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). I agree, though, that my saying, "Tolkien modelled the dwarvish language on Hebrew, therefore he meant for them to be allegorical Jews" was bogus.

Northern Piper
08-06-2001, 10:13 PM
Similarly, some commentators have wondered if JRR modelled the hobbits on the Jews, in the context of WWII. In the foreward to Fellowship of the Ring, he said that was not his intention, in line with his strong dislike of allegory.

Fiver
08-07-2001, 04:10 PM
On we go to the Last Homely House, where we find mysteriously carefree elves who seem to know everyone's name without asking.

I notice that elves are never described in this, their first appearance in the book. This is very interesting, as there are many conceptions of elves in the public mind: little Keebler-type elves; ethereal fairy-like elves; Elfquest elves. We should have some guidance if we're to picture these fellows in our minds.

But all Tolkien gives us in this regard is to call one of the elves a "tall young fellow." Tall compared to what? The other elves? Bilbo? Gandalf? We just don't know.

How lucky for Thorin and company, that Elrond just happened to study the map with them on the one day of the year when the moon-letters would show up!

Balance
08-07-2001, 05:11 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
How lucky for Thorin and company, that Elrond just happened to study the map with them on the one day of the year when the moon-letters would show up!

Fate at work again, no doubt--part and parcel with the way Bilbo has been swept along throughout the journey. He's in a river already, and the twists and turns in it were set long before he fell in. I always felt that the sense of inevitability at this point plays well against Bilbo's choices later.

Of course, in the context of LotR, it could be the Ring at work, subtly influencing events in its effort to return home.

Akatsukami
08-07-2001, 05:20 PM
Tolkien undoubtedly meant the Elves to be thought of as like to the Ljosalfar (Light Elves) of Nordic myth. They spent their days in dancing and singing, were noted as weavers, and, although beautiful beyond description, proved to be older than the trees and mountains when tricked into revealing their ages.

Tolkien drew a great deal upon Nordic myth for background (although he also drew upon other sources). Comparatively little of that shows up (in a pure form) in The Hobbit; it may well be considered a more creative (or at least better digested) work than The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion is undoubtedly a greater and more creative work than either, but the long span of time over which it was worked on (more than half a century), and its limited reading appeal (although it should be remembered that it was edited and published after JRRT's death by his son Christopher) probably make it less impressive a work to many.

Bartman
08-07-2001, 05:24 PM
slortar hath said: Plus the inconsistencies are driving me nuts. At one point in the Hobbit, the narrator refers to the lands Bilbo is travelling through as being far from the King. wtf?
There are two explinations I can give you. The first one is that this once again shows how Tolkien initially never intended the Hobbit to tie into middle earth. No more than Farmer Giles of Ham does. If he had the whole story maped out at this time he never would included anything like this. Of course this grates a little, far from what king, Theoden? Certainly there was no known living king who claimed the land in question. The only one who did claim the title and land was not recognized and actually wasn't far at all. As he (Aragorn) was living in Rivendell at the time.

However if you work at it you can come up with a story internal answer. My theory is that the Hobbits looked fondly on the past when they were given the Shire by Aragorn's ancestors. The kings kept the peace. So a saying for the wilds was "far from the king." When the kings and their men were diven off and presumed killed the saying had been in use for so long it stayed in use. By Bilbo's time the origin of the saying had been lost and they continued to use the phrase. The narrator is thus echoing Bilbo's thoughts when he states they are "far from the king." What do you think?

Fiver hath said:
I notice that elves are never described in this, their first appearance in the book. This is very interesting, as there are many conceptions of elves in the public mind: little Keebler-type elves; ethereal fairy-like elves; Elfquest elves. We should have some guidance if we're to picture these fellows in our minds.
I honestly don't know why we don't get a discription at this point. One option would be that he just assumed everyone would have a mental image of fair, small, pointy haired fairies. Keebler and Elfquest are both later additions to the public mind and owe their existance in part to Tolkien.

The other option is that he was already thinking of these elves being related to the Noldor. He had after all already included references to Gondolin. In which case he may have left out a description as his mental image did not agree with that of his readers and he didn't want to jar them

My guess is that it falls somwere in between. Tolkien for all his careful attention to details tended to leave these kinds of descriptions light or even forget them entirely. There is a set of fans which to this day argue about certain scenes and if Balrogs have wings or not, among other things. So it is very likely that Tolkien gave them a brief amount of screen time so to speak and didn't want so show anything other than that they were light hearted and carefree. To keep the pace flowing he may just decided to skip any description. After all it was dark, the charcters are tired. They themselves might not have been able to give a good description.

Humble Servant
08-07-2001, 10:07 PM
Originally posted by Bartman
Keebler and Elfquest are both later additions to the public mind and owe their existance in part to Tolkien. Tell the truth now: did you just stick this in to see if anyone was paying attention? If you mean this, and you can demonstrate just one way in which Tolkien's elves are like the Keebler elves, I'll send you a pack of E. L. Fudge cookies, and then I'll send you over to this other thread where I'm sure your little theory will be greeted with much enthusiasm (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=80741).

The Keebler elves owe their existence in part to Tolkien? I'm crying for humanity here.;)

Johanna
08-08-2001, 04:58 AM
Keebler is a very jarring note in a Tolkien discussion. Cutesy elves was the very sort of thing that irritated him the most!

But as soon as I picked up an Elfquest comic book, their being based on the Tolkien conception of Elves (a noble, terrible, ancient race close to nature, and far more refined than those crude humans) was immediately obvious.

casdave
08-08-2001, 09:04 AM
One reason I think that TH works so well is that the transition from civilised Middle Earth to the rest of the world is that in some ways it parallels the differances between the First and Third worlds today.

At first it seems a bit like an adventure holiday or rough guide to the world type trip but it soon gets serious.

Fiver
08-08-2001, 10:11 AM
Bartman, you little pixie, of course I know Keebler and Elfquest elves came later than Tolkien; my point was that someone coming to The Hobbit will have been exposed to many different concepts with the word "elf" attached to them. It doesn't matter that they came after Tolkien if today's new reader has been exposed to them first.

Tolkien abandons the task of assigning his elves to one of those concepts.

And I'm with Humble Servant: it's on you to explain how Keebler elves were based in any way on Tolkien's elves. They seem to me more like the small, tree-loving, fairy-esque elves that have been in the public imagination for hundreds of years, and which are very unlike the man-sized (we later learned in LotR) elves of Middle-Earth.

Bartman
08-08-2001, 12:40 PM
Well of all the things I've posted this is NOT the one I expected to have to defend. Ok, I overstated here. I was really thinking about Elfquest more than Keebler when I bunched both of them together. I was responding to them as a set and included both of them as part of that set. I didn't really intend to create a thesis on parallels between Keebler and Tolkien. So at this point I should just say it was late and I was tired. However I'm nothing if not argumentative so here goes.

The first obvious link between Tolkien and Keebler is the name, Elves. Prior to Tolkien the only correct spelling was Elfs. Tolkien specifically choose a different spelling to differentiate his dwarves and elves from traditional dwarfs and elfs. In fact he had to fight repetitively with printers as they would correct his meticulous spelling on the press after it had been edited. So they owe the spelling of their name entirely to Tolkien.

The second link is their very existance. Keebler switched to a unified company and advertising in 1966, right in the middle of the Tolkien boom. I find it unlikely that the decision to use eleves right when elves were visible in popular culture for the first time is completely conincidental. Especially considering that they used the improper Tolkien spelling. However Keebler does not have their advertising history online, so that is a guess only.

So I will stand by my original statement Ernie and the others owe their existance in part (however small) to Tolkien.

How's that. ;)

Onto the real issue. Fiver, I think you are right in pointing out the jarring effect that modern readers might experience. As I pointed out earlier however Tolkien does sometimes abandon some descriptions for pacing reasons. At this point elves are very peripheral to the story. Tolkien uses them to allow us to relax after the encounter with the trolls. He uses the same device repetively both in the Hobbit and later in FotR. The reader is taken through a bad scene where the characters are put in danger. Then a lighter scene is put in relieve the tension. In FotR Tom Bombadil fills the same role. And while we do get a physical description of him, I can't think of a more disscused and debated character in the series. There is just a lot of information left out. Why? My guess is because the author wants to keep us in the dark just like the characters. It creates a greater impression of reality. At his point Bilbo is tired, hungry and sore. He is not really paying close attention to these anoyingly happy elves. Certainly if these elves were going be a significant part of the story a greater description would have been provided. As it is they are bit players and thus the spotty information.

On a second note it may have been a case of being too close to the subject. Tolkien certainly knew the Norse myths very well and associated the term elf to some degree with Ljosalfar. I work in a technical field and occassionally use a word that means something very specific only to have it misunderstood by those outside my field. I don't forsee how I am going to be misunderstood until it happens. The same may be happening here. Tolkien no more thought about including a basic description than he did when he said "tree," assuming the same degree of understanding.

That said I'm not sure that especially now he wouldn't be right. Tolkien's vision of elves has been stolen so many times it has become dominant (at least within the fantasy genre). From fiction, to Role Playing (D&D), to video games a kid today would be hard pressed not to have been exposed to Tolkienish elves.

Katisha
08-08-2001, 12:52 PM
Originally posted by Bartman
The first obvious link between Tolkien and Keebler is the name, Elves. Prior to Tolkien the only correct spelling was Elfs.

Sorry, elves has (as far as I can tell) always been the correct plural, and the OED backs me up on this. (There are, however, two plurals of dwarf -- dwarfs and dwarves -- with the former being the more common, but the word elves is not a similar case.)

I'll grant you the Elfquest thing, since portrayals of elves in modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy do tend to owe a great deal to Tolkien, but linking JRRT and the Keebler Elves is a little too much of a stretch.

As far as the description of Elves goes -- doesn't he describe the Wood-elves in Mirkwood, at least a little? I don't have my copy of TH on hand to check at the moment.

Maeglin
08-08-2001, 01:53 PM
Tolkien specifically choose a different spelling to differentiate his dwarves and elves from traditional dwarfs and elfs.

This is untrue, to be sure. Tolkien chose the spellings he did for purely archaizing and linguistic reasons. I am sure Jomo Mojo can back me up if I flake on the details.

Others have remarked that Tolkien was heavily inspired by the ljosalfar of Norse mythology. The plural of alf is not alfs, but alfar. Hence to add a pluralizing -s to elf would sound hideous to Tolkien's ear. Other Norse and Old/Middle English derived words whose plurals end in -ar are pluralized in Modern English as -ves. So to a man like Tolkien, slapping on an -s a la some 19th century German fairy tale would be barbaric and would convey an altogether incorrect meaning.

MR

Fiver
08-08-2001, 03:30 PM
Bartman:Onto the real issue. Fiver, I think you are right in pointing out the jarring effect that modern readers might experience.I'm trying to see where I wrote anything about a jarring effect. Nope, don't see it. What do you mean?

It creates a greater impression of reality. At his point Bilbo is tired, hungry and sore. He is not really paying close attention to these annoyingly happy elves.Oh yeah? Then how do you square that with this paragraph, from right after they've arrived in Rivendell but have not yet reached the house. The elves have been singing to them:
Tired as he was, Bilbo would have liked to stay a while. Elvish singing is not a thing to miss, in June under the stars, not if you care for such things. Also he would have liked to have a few private words with these people that seemed to know his names and all about him, although he had never seen them before.Looks to me like a golden opportunity to describe them. Bilbo has the interest regardless of his fatigue.

Bilbo is many things in this book, and one of them is the reader's representative; he's the point of view character. But he lets us down here.

Katisha, we'll get to the description of the Mirkwood elves in due time. For now let's stay focused on the chapter-by-chapter course.

Journeyman
08-08-2001, 06:48 PM
"Drums, drums in the deep."

The evil inhabitants of Moria used drums during battle.


That, for me, was one of the best parts of any fantasy novel. The sense of fear and foreboding was so well done, especially the scene where Gandalf faces something (we don't find out what until later) that can match his power.

Bartman
08-09-2001, 11:13 AM
I have sinned. Fogive me. As I said the original statement was poorly worded. I originally did not intend to associate Keebler with Tolkien. When I cut and pasted the line from Fiver's post I picked up more than I intended. I was really commenting on Elfquest. Despite my valiant attempt to defend the undefendable, I obviously haven't convinced anyone including myself, and never should have tried. It was meant as a joke but I obviously just dug myself in deeper. Katisha you are correct. I just looked up the entry in the Webster 1829 edition and elves was current even then (however elfs is given as an alternative spelling so I'm not completely off my rocker). I misremembered what words Tolkien had to fight the printers over. I mistakenly mentally grouped elves and dwarves together as similar word constructions. By the way Maeglin, I was argueing that Tolkien prefered the -ves over the -fs and specifically choose -ves. There are enough problems with my post as it is, you don't need to add problems that aren't there. So I beg the pardon of everyone on this thread for this unforgiveable sin. I will try to choose my sentence constructions much more carfully. I will also bring my Tolkien references to work so I have direct access rather than relying on memory. <bows his head in shame> ;)

Fiver hath said:
Bartman
Onto the real issue. Fiver, I think you are right in pointing out the jarring effect that modern readers might experience.
I'm trying to see where I wrote anything about a jarring effect. Nope, don't see it. What do you mean?
Sorry poor choice of words. (I seem to be doing that a lot all the sudden). I was really just trying to agree with you. I think that Tolkien may have made a mistake in allowing the reader to fill in their own image of elves rather than doing it himself. Jarring was a poor word to use. Although if someone had a mental image of say Caliban from Shakespeare as the prototypical elf, happily singing teasing elves might actually be jarring. In any case a good description of elves would have been nice to have at this point.

Quick Fiver read the next chapter so I can leave this embarrassing episode behind. Besides which we need to get new material to shame myself with again.

Fiver
08-09-2001, 12:08 PM
I'd say this is the first chapter that has genuinely scary material in it. The trolls were just a little too comical, but in this chapter we see our first goblins and our heroes' lives are well and truly endangered.

Tolkien doesn't really describe the goblins either, except to say they're ugly. I'm in a slightly different circumstance from the rest of you with my reading, because my edition has Alan Lee's illustrations to help with the imagery (or displace my existing head-pictures). Interestingly, there are three drawings that depict goblins in this chapter, but there were none of elves in "A Short Rest." Maybe Lee didn't feel up to depicting their beauty?

Another observation: We will learn in Silmarillion that orcs/goblins were made in mockery of elves, but here in The Hobbit they seem more like anti-dwarves:

Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty.

In this same long paragraph, we get an implication that these characters are inhabiting the past of our world, not a different one:
It is not unlikely that they [goblins] invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them...but in those days...they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.
This harks back to something I forgot to mention from the very first chapter:I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us.

So, whereas in Lord of the Rings we were unquestionably in Middle-Earth, a parallel world to our own, here Tolkien means to suggest Bilbo et al. are living in the storied past of our own Europe. That's probably a more evocative course to take with this book's presumed juvenile audience, and in fact as I write this I remember being a child, playing outdoors, and hoping to glimpse a hobbit hiding behind a tree somewhere.

In other matters, I think I've caught the first anachronism of the book in this chapter. At least, it's the first one I've noticed. When the goblins come to take Gandalf:
...there was a terrific flash like lightning in the cave, a smell like gunpowder, and several of them fell dead.

We know they have fireworks in Bilbo's world, but obviously they wouldn't call gunpowder "gunpowder," because no guns.

Maeglin
08-09-2001, 12:37 PM
By the way Maeglin, I was argueing that Tolkien prefered the -ves over the -fs and specifically choose -ves. There are enough problems with my post as it is, you don't need to add problems that aren't there.

But the reasons you suggested were quite wrong. They were not "to differentiate" his elves and dwarves from "traditional" ones, but for purely linguistic reasons. Before you accuse me of creating problems that aren't there, try reading my posts.

slortar
08-09-2001, 01:09 PM
Hey, while we have all the smart Tolkien people in the same room, I have a question:

Since orcs were made in mockery of elves, do they age like men do? Opinions, anyone?

In TH, the only mention of age is of Gollum eating goblin babies, and hardly any at all in LOTR.

KeithB
08-09-2001, 02:58 PM
Originally posted by Fiver

We know they have fireworks in Bilbo's world, but obviously they wouldn't call gunpowder "gunpowder," because no guns.

Um, gunpowder is Tolkien telling *us* what it smelled like. It is not said by any of the characters. Anyway, even if it was said by a character, Tolkien would be simply giving us a term that we are familiar with, like "wizard." He does not call Gandalf an Istari througout the books, he uses the english "wizard."

Johanna
08-09-2001, 11:43 PM
Caliban an elf? Oh, come on. If anything Caliban is more like an orc.

Gandalf being a wizard, he would have had access to all kinds of technology unknown to other denizens of Middle-Earth. Specifically (but unbeknownst to readers of The Hobbit), he held Narya, the Fire Ring, one of The Three. Besides, he was the fireworks expert — what do you suppose powered his fireworks?

Why "dwarves" and not "dwarfs"? Tolkien's keen sense of historical linguistics made him point out that dwarves, strictly etymologically speaking, should be "dwerrows," but since that word would be too unfamiliar to most readers, he substituted dwarves. Perhaps he preferred the (unusual) spelling with v because it's closer to the form with w. The proto-Germanic etymon he had in mind was dwerg.

Off-topic: Tolkien's remark about goblinsIt is not unlikely that they [goblins] invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at oncereminded me I visited the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden today, and one quote from him inscribed there went something like this: "From your body we take the materials to make guns and bombs; from our bodies you produce lilies and roses. How patient and forgiving you are, O Earth!"

Fiver
08-12-2001, 09:25 PM
And here we are in the most important chapter of the book (and in a sense, the most important "chapter" of Lord of the Rings, too). Here Bilbo gets himself lost in the catacombs of the goblins' lair, finds a ring of power on the floor and has his encounter with Gollum.

Much, much later in the narrative (not even in this book, in fact) we learn that Gollum was originally a hobbit himself, before he was twisted and warped (mentally as well as physically) by the Ring. For all the talk about how Tolkien didn't originally intend for this book to tie in with Lord of the Rings, it's interesting to note what he tells us about Gollum and his history doesn't conflict with the later assertion that Gollum used to be a hobbit. I assert that even here J.R.R. was thinking ahead, unless this chapter was among those later heavily edited.

Several of the riddles told by Bilbo and Gollum, according to Tolkien, were "easy." Not for me, a 35-year-old American reading in 2001. So...

1) Are these popular, hence "easy" riddles in England but not the US? Or

2) Were they popular, hence "easy" during Tolkien's lifetime? Or

3) Am I just dense?

Your thoughts...

Fiver
08-13-2001, 10:45 AM
KeithB:Um, gunpowder is Tolkien telling *us* what it smelled like. It is not said by any of the characters. Anyway, even if it was said by a character, Tolkien would be simply giving us a term that we are familiar with,Yes, but Bilbo's the point of view character, and therefore Bilbo's knowledge is his "gold standard" for explaining all that happens in the book. Even when relating events that Bilbo was not present for, Tolkien excuses himself with "although Bilbo didn't know this was happening..." or "Bilbo would later learn that..."

Surely you don't believe anachronistic words wouldn't spoil the mood. Would you have the Misty Mountains described as "taller than any skyscraper?" Would it be okay if Smaug's breath was "like a flamethrower?"

KeithB
08-13-2001, 02:05 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
KeithB:Um, gunpowder is Tolkien telling *us* what it smelled like. It is not said by any of the characters. Anyway, even if it was said by a character, Tolkien would be simply giving us a term that we are familiar with,Yes, but Bilbo's the point of view character, and therefore Bilbo's knowledge is his "gold standard" for explaining all that happens in the book. Even when relating events that Bilbo was not present for, Tolkien excuses himself with "although Bilbo didn't know this was happening..." or "Bilbo would later learn that..."

Surely you don't believe anachronistic words wouldn't spoil the mood. Would you have the Misty Mountains described as "taller than any skyscraper?" Would it be okay if Smaug's breath was "like a flamethrower?"

What other word could he use?

Fiver
08-14-2001, 11:22 AM
I may have skipped a chapter or two but oh well.

So the eagles have saved our company from the goblins and wargs, and deposited them atop the Carrock near (we will learn) Beorn's demesnes.

Gandalf tells the dwarves the detour through the goblin-warren has left them farther north than he'd meant them to be. We know they will come to take the elf-path through Mirkwood, so looking at my map, I reckon they'd originally meant to cross the river at the "Old Ford" and go through the evil forest on the Old Forest Road.

This would have let them miss the giant spiders, the Enchanted River, and the troublesome wood-elves. And there may have been helpful woodmen at the western edge of the forest as well. But of course, this wouldn't have made for an adventure worth reading!

I missed this detail when I read the book as a child. I always pictured the road out of Hobbiton as the same road which passed through Rivendell, over the mountains, across Wilderland to become the elf-path and eventually the entrance to the Lonely Mountain.

I loved this (erroneous) idea back then: that a single road could stretch so far, and go through so many different worlds. I lived next to a similar road, I believed: Highway 78. From where I lived it went east to Athens, and as far as I knew South Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean; and it also went west at least to Alabama, but I pretended it went all the way to the Pacific.

Of course there were no trolls or wizards or Elf-Friends on Highway 78, but to a ten-year-old who'd never even been on a plane, anything I found would have been just as exciting.

That's one of the great things about Tolkien's writing. He didn't write The Hobbit for me, an American boy in the 70s. He wrote it for English children in the 30s. But still it captured my imagination.

Katisha
08-14-2001, 12:34 PM
It's things like that that make me regret not reading The Hobbit until I was 18... ;)

Johanna
08-16-2001, 02:59 PM
Those "easy" riddles would be easy for any scholar who was well-versed in the old Anglo-Saxon Riddle Lore. Apparently riddling was a favorite form of entertainment among the Anglo-Saxons, and some texts survive. Tolkien's expertise in ancient Germanic lore formed the background to the Riddle Game, as with so much else in Middle-Earth.

That said, The Hobbit is plainly more directly influenced by Anglo-Saxon legends than The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. In the two larger works Tolkien fully deployed his powers of subcreation to weave a whole universe that took in a far greater scope than ancient Germanic culture. The Riddermark of Rohan was where Anglo-Saxon influence came through the strongest, however much Tolkien denied that he based it on the Anglo-Saxons: of course he did!

Fiver
08-20-2001, 02:10 PM
(Am I the only one actually reading the book? It seems like most of you are just reacting to my posts, not sharing thoughts on your own simultaneous reading.)

This is the chapter that always creeped me out the most as a kid. And now, again, I see my creeped-outedness was based on a misunderstanding of the text. The spiders in this chapter are large, to be sure, but in context I think they can't be any larger than a suitcase. As a kid I thought they were as big as automobiles. They're still pretty nasty when you consider Tolkien tells us there were over fifty of them, but maybe not quite faint-from-fright fearsome.

Gandalf was offstage in this chapter, of course, because he had to attend to "pressing business away south." So the dwarves had to get on without him, and of course they didn't do all that well: Bombur fell into the enchanted stream and was magicked into a coma, they were all nearly eaten by giant spiders, and then they were captured by the wood-elves.

In each case Bilbo either saved the dwarves outright or managed to lessen the damage for each calamity. This was the first time Bilbo has been truly useful to the party, and this fact is lost on neither Bilbo nor the dwarves. The hobbit who killed and tricked dozens of spiders with stones, Sting and songs is already very different from the clueless fellow who let himself get caught by three trolls some months ago. It's fun to watch his development.

Humble Servant
08-20-2001, 03:37 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
(Am I the only one actually reading the book? It seems like most of you are just reacting to my posts, not sharing thoughts on your own simultaneous reading.)I intended to reread with you, but my spouse [i]packed my four volume set of TH and TLOTR in a box of his books and took it to the attic! The excess of books in our house is completely and entirely his fault, not mine and I've nagged him about retrieving the set for me since you started the thread but he has yet to get off his "I'm tired because I just ran six miles" butt and get it out of the attic for me (I don't know which of the 20 feakin' boxes it's in and he does).[/exhale]

Anyway, your posts are fine for reacting to.:) For instance, you've mentioned the riddles and the giant spiders, both of which are echoed in the Harry Potter books I'm reading with my 8-year old. I'd agree that the riddles are not easy; this again seems to hark to a more "golden" past where even hobbit popular culture had some substance. Riddles as magical tests have a glorious history, of course, back to the sphinx (appropriate because they look two ways--ordinary and surprising); I'd be interested in a sample of a traditional Anglo-Saxon riddle if Jomo Mojo or anyone else has one handy.

And Bartman, I'm sorry if I led you into trouble--I knew you didn't really mean it about the Keebler elves.;)

Balance
08-20-2001, 05:09 PM
Now that I've finally managed to find my copy, I'm catching up--I just finished "Riddles in the Dark" last night. I should be in Mirkwood this evening.

I wouldn't say that the incidents in Mirkwoodare the first place where he was useful, though they certainly mark the point where he finally took it upon himself to get them through their adventures. The first place where he did something particularly significant was in the cave in the Misty Mountains--when he alerted Gandalf to the goblin ambush. I don't have the book with me here to quote, but the text implies that Gandalf needed this warning; granted, Bilbo didn't rescue them with his own two hobbity hands, but he played an important role.

I've been watching for the same major shift in character that you noted, but I have to conclude that (except for a few Tookish moments) that it doesn't really appear until RitD. It's the first occasion when Bilbo is truly on his own--up until then, Gandalf and the dwarves are always around, or have a good idea where he is; he has backup, and that lends a certain sense of security. In RitD, there's no reasonable way in which anyone could be expected to come to his aid; he had to make his own way. The fact that he succeeded in doing so set the stage for his later actions. This is yet another reason to consider RitD to be "the important chapter".

Concerning the riddles themselves:
I found them fairly easy when I first read them (around age 8), but I had a significant edge. I grew up in a family full of fantasy fans, amateur historians, and riddle lovers--some of whom were well-versed in the relevant lore. I had encountered riddles of this type (though not these particular riddles--there was an unspoken agreement not to spoil the game for anyone who hadn't yet read The Hobbit) on many occasions. The form was familiar to me, and the particular mental approach to solving them was well-ingrained. Having sprung my own riddles on many hapless gamers since, I realize that these would make terrible posers for most people.

Fiver
08-20-2001, 09:29 PM
In that case, Balance, maybe growing up in your family gave you some insight into this puzzle: Bilbo taunts the spiders by calling them "Attercop" and "Tomnoddy," and Tolkien tells us "Attercop" is terribly offensive to spiders, and "of course Tomnoddy is offensive to anyone."

Well, not to me, but again I wasn't J.R.R's intended audience. Would a British child in the 30s have known what these words meant?

What do they mean?

Balance
08-20-2001, 10:01 PM
I'm not sure how common the words would have been among children at the time of publishing (or some time before), though I suspect "tomnoddy" lingered on longer than "attercop"--children (and adults) delight in having many different ways to call someone a fool.

At any rate, "tomnoddy" refers to a fool or silly person, and is clearly insulting. I suspect the derivation is partially from "Tom" as a common generic name in Britain (hence the "Tommies" and "Thomas Atkins" nicknames applied to British soldiers at the time--"Thomas Atkins" was used on example forms much the way we use "John Doe"). "Noddy" has connotations of simple or silly characteristics in some usages even today (mainly among hackers--a "noddy" program is one so simple that it can be coded without planning and work properly). If I were to make an EEWAG (etymological extremely-wild-ass guess), I might suggest this meaning of "noddy" could have come from the rocking or "nodding" behavior associated with autism. Alternatively, it might have been made up out of whole cloth by the monkeys flying out of my butt (IOW, I just made that up on the spot ;) ).

"Attercop" is from Old English, and means "spider"--it's derived from the O.E. words "atter" ("poison") and "cappe" ("head"). I suppose the archaic term could have taken on insulting connotations--I wouldn't much appreciate being called a "poison-head"--but it seems unlikely that this would be clear to Tolkiens ostensible audience. Maybe that's why he explained that it was insulting to the spiders. The insult in "tomnoddy" would likely have been much clearer, as implied in the text.

Sheesh. That's enough for one night, I think.

Katisha
08-20-2001, 10:48 PM
Originally posted by Humble Servant
Anyway, your posts are fine for reacting to.:) For instance, you've mentioned the riddles and the giant spiders, both of which are echoed in the Harry Potter books I'm reading with my 8-year old. I'd agree that the riddles are not easy; this again seems to hark to a more "golden" past where even hobbit popular culture had some substance. Riddles as magical tests have a glorious history, of course, back to the sphinx (appropriate because they look two ways--ordinary and surprising); I'd be interested in a sample of a traditional Anglo-Saxon riddle if Jomo Mojo or anyone else has one handy.


Here's a link to all the riddles in the Exeter Book (http://www2.kenyon.edu/AngloSaxonRiddles/texts.htm), with translations if you don't read Old English. (I read OE! Not that well, though. ;)) It does not, unfortunately, give the answers, although I can tell you that the ones that sound like they're about penises are generally about keys or onions or some such thing. ;)

It's also worth pointing out that all but one of Bilbo's and Gollum's riddles are in fact traditional, though sometimes reworded by Tolkien. Tom Shippey points out that Bilbo's riddles are still pretty current (as riddles told by children) while Gollum's hark back to the OE tradition -- but they're two sides of the same coin, and Bilbo is operating within a larger tradition which he doesn't fully realize. This continues the theme of transition from the "everyday" world of the Shire to the rest of Middle-earth.

Katisha
08-20-2001, 10:56 PM
Sorry to post twice, but since I wasn't very clear, here's the relevant quote:

When Bilbo replies to Gollum's ancient riddles with modern ones, then, the two contestants are not so very far apart. As Gandalf was to say to Frodo many years later (by which time the concept of Gollum had admittedly changed a good deal), "They understood one another remarkably well. . .Think of the riddles they both knew, for one thing." What this suggests, though, is that while Bilbo remains an anachronism, a middle-class Englishman in the fairy-tale world, he is indeed "not quite like ordinary people." The difference is that he has not quite lost his grip on old tradition. Nor, of course, have all "ordinary people." But they have downgraded old tradition to children's tales and children's songs, become ashamed of it, made it into "folklore." Bilbo and hobbits are in this respect wiser. Their unforgotten wisdom puts Bilbo for the first time on a level with a creature from the world into which he has ventured.
Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, pp. 26-27

(I'm not sure this chimes completely with the fact that Gollum was once a hobbit himself -- but he's also very, very old, so the idea works well enough, and as Shippey himself points out, Tolkien's idea of Gollum changed considerably over the writing of TH and LotR.)

Fiver
08-21-2001, 08:27 AM
Balance:I'm not sure how common the words would have been among children at the time of publishing (or some time before), though I suspect "tomnoddy" lingered on longer than "attercop"--children (and adults) delight in having many different ways to call someone a fool.

Right after reading this I did what I should have done yesterday: went to google, typed in "tomnoddy" as a search term, and immediately found this link (http://www.daimi.aau.dk/~bouvin/tolkien/spidernames.html), which includes the following:
Notes in the Annotated Hobbit identify Attercop, Lob, and Cob as being taken from similar words in Old and Middle English for "spider" (indeed, the word for "spider" in modern Norwegian is "edderkopp"). The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Tomnoddy is given as "a foolish or stupid person." (Annotated Hobbit, 170-171) As is well known, Tolkien used "Lob" again later. During the writing of Book IV he wrote to Christopher:
"Do you think Shelob is a good name for a monstrous spider creature? It is of course only 'she + lob' ( = 'spider' ), but written as one, it seems to be quite noisome...It's just some guy's web page, but he seems to know what he's talking about and he referenced Tolkien's actual writings. Interesting.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the modern term "adder" for a poisonous snake also comes from the OE "atter" for "poison."

Balance
08-21-2001, 09:34 AM
Originally posted by Fiver
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess the modern term "adder" for a poisonous snake also comes from the OE "atter" for "poison."

I might have made the same guess, but I'm afraid Merriam-Webster (http://www.m-w.com) doesn't agree--apparently it's from O.E. "n[AE]ddre", which may be related to Latin "natrix" ("water snake").

The "cop" part of "attercop" is certainly related to "cobweb" and possibly to "cap" (as in headgear or in reference to putting a top on something).

Fiver
08-28-2001, 10:15 AM
Sorry for the delay; I've been reading but not posting. I'll try to catch up to myself this week.

I must say the elves act very un-elflike in this chapter. Everywhere else we see elves they are unfailingly Good and Noble, but not here. The Elvenking himself comes across as petty and suspicious, and the butler and watchmen getting drunk and passing out together is not something we see anywhere else in Tolkien's work.

And elves living in tunnels in a mountain? Who ever heard of such a thing?

I guess we see elves living in these circumstances and exhibiting this behavior only because the plot needed them to. For obvious reasons the dwarves' captors couldn't have been goblins or other dwarves; still, making them elves is problematic.

Ah, but the escape devised by Bilbo (and Tolkien) was brilliant! I've always loved the idea of barrels, both for their intended use and as flotation devices. What fun it would have been to be Bilbo (but not the dwarves) in this situation! Riding down a river under a canopy of trees...all he needed was a sixpack and we could call it a rafting trip!

Balance
08-28-2001, 10:38 AM
You or I might enjoy it, Fiver, but remember: Bilbo doesn't know how to swim. Also, he's smaller and lighter than most adult humans, so he'd be prone to getting tossed and battered around more than we would. Bruises and cold water are an unpleasant mix.

The wood-elves have always bothered me as well, although Tolkien does make some excuses for them. They never went over the sea like the others, and are correspondingly less advanced and civilized--they're much more human-like than their kin. As for the king's suspicious and petty actions--don't forget that this was at the peak of the Necromancer's (Sauron's) power in Mirkwood. The forest was becoming twisted, dark, and dangerous as a result, and the king didn't have the power or resources of an Elrond or Gandalf to fight it. It's only natural that he would be wary of attack and suspicious of close-mouthed strangers. It's hard to say, but he seems to have been a much more decent fellow after the fall of Dol Goldur; remember his refusal to go to war over treasure and the immediate assistance he provided to the people of Lake-Town.

The butler and the guard-captain were caught off-guard by the potency of the wine. They were accustomed to drinking a great deal of wine with little effect (c'mon, all elves like to party), and they drank too much before they knew it. I think the Plot Device spiked the wine, too.

slortar
08-28-2001, 12:29 PM
According to the Silmarillion, many elves have a long history of delving and living underground. For example, a group of the Noldor lived in a large underground fortress in Nargothrond (IIRC). In fact, many of the Noldor spent quite a bit of time with Aule, didn't they? Admittedly, it would be strange for wood elves to live in a hole in a ground, it wouldn't be atypical for the species as a whole.

Fiver
08-29-2001, 08:12 AM
Balance, where was it stated in The Hobbit that Bilbo cannot swim? I don't doubt you're right, I just don't know where that was presented.

And what's Dol Goldur? This is the first time I've read Tolkien in at least 15 years, and others in this thread may be reading him for the very first time.

Humble Servant
08-29-2001, 11:29 AM
Thanks for the riddle link, Kathisa, but it is most annoying not to have the answers. Could you recommend a book about the Exeter riddles generally?

I broke down and bought another copy of TH, so now I'm catching up.

Do the colors of the drawves' hoods have any significance? They reminded me of the rainbow of shirts that Gatsby had.

Balance
08-29-2001, 11:37 AM
I may be mistaken about Bilbo--overgeneralizing from the fact that most hobbits (particularly those from the Hobbiton area) don't know how to swim. I'll check tonight, when I've got the book at hand.

Dol Goldur is the Necromancer's stronghold in southern Mirkwood. It was Gandalf's "business away south", although that's not explicitly stated in the book. Again, I can't remember for certain whether or not it's mentioned by name in The Hobbit, but it is mentioned when Gandalf explains why they shouldn't try to circumnavigate the forest--goblins in the foothills to the north, and the Necromancer in the forest to the south. Remember that even Bilbo, sheltered as he was, had heard of the Necromancer (or so Gandalf implied). It was implicit (or so I always thought) that the Necromancer's power was spreading northward, and that was why Mirkwood was so dark and dangerous at the time.

Humble Servant
08-29-2001, 11:38 AM
That would be "dwarves'," you know, that dwindling race of dwarrows who delve and dwell underground. Yeesh.

Fiver
08-29-2001, 12:38 PM
Balance:I may be mistaken about Bilbo--overgeneralizing from the fact that most hobbits (particularly those from the Hobbiton area) don't know how to swim.
Teach me to pay closer attention. Look here in "Riddles in the Dark," when Bilbo encountered Gollum's subterranean lake:"So it is a pool or a lake, and not an underground river," he thought. Still he did not dare to wade out into the darkness. He could not swim...

Dol Goldur is the Necromancer's stronghold in southern Mirkwood. It was Gandalf's "business away south", although that's not explicitly stated in the book.Actually it was (the business anyway, if not the name Dol Goldur), on page 283 of my edition. But since that's further than this discussion has yet progressed, I'll leave it at that for now.

Incidentally, thank you, Euty, for moving the thread to the Cafe. I hope we'll have a livelier discussion now that we don't have to compete with all those "Cut or Uncut?" surveys over in IMHO anymore.

Stratocaster
08-29-2001, 02:23 PM
Originally posted by Balance
Concerning the riddles themselves:
I found them fairly easy when I first read them (around age 8), but I had a significant edge. I grew up in a family full of fantasy fans, amateur historians, and riddle lovers--some of whom were well-versed in the relevant lore.
They were certainly terrible posers for me when I first read TH in high school. I can't recall if I got a single one right. I'm certain I got most of them wrong.

I did find it interesting that you found them easy at 8, since so did my son (I read the book to him during bath times, and we're now up to the Prancing Pony in LotR). He got all but one correct, and he didn't seem to strain too much either. You are supporting my theory--despite your "edge"--that it is acquired mental baggage and pre-conceived notions that make the riddles difficult. They are much more simple for someone innocent.

Although I do consider my boy a particularly clever fellow...

Fiver
08-29-2001, 03:16 PM
Katisha, you said "all but one" of the riddles was traditional, and Bob Cos, you say your son guessed "all but one" of them; is the "one" in each case "What have I got in my pocket?"

Fiver
08-29-2001, 03:39 PM
So Bilbo's idyll concludes as his barrel-barge floats out of the forest and draws near to the Lake-Town. He gets his first glimpse of his company's objective:

And far away, its dark head in a torn cloud, there loomed the Mountain! Its nearest neighbours to the North-East and the tumbled land that joined it to them could not be seen. All alone it rose and looked across the marshes to the forest. The Lonely Mountain!Then he rides on to Esgaroth, a big city surrounded by water. Hmmm...did Tolkien ever visit America? Because this is beginning to sound a lot like Seattle and Mt. Rainier.

It's interesting to see how the dwarves, once released from their barrels, defer completely and unashamedly to Bilbo now. Even regal Thorin, after stretching his cramped legs, asks the hobbit "what next?" as if Bilbo is the only one of the fourteen who could have sound ideas about what to do.

Now the first encounter with the Lake-men is interesting in light of that Salon.com article about Tolkien, which revealed Tolkien was an unapologetic monarchist. Esgaroth is the first democratic society we've seen, and we see evidence of the bureaucracy and small-mindedness that can accompany such. The guards at the gate try to dismiss our company, for example, for no better reason than that the Master of the town is eating supper.

And then when we do meet the Master he's helpful to the dwarves, but only for the base reason that his people are starry-eyed at the possible fulfillment of old prophecies.
As for the Master he saw there was nothing else for it but to obey the general clamour, for the moment at any rate, and to pretend to believe that Thorin was what he said.
There's no nobility in this man, nor any principle. Did J.R.R. see all democracies thus?

AbbySthrnAccent
08-29-2001, 03:40 PM
I'm in. I doubt we'll have anything of substance to add, but I want to follow the thread because the kid and I are reading TH together.

Katisha
08-29-2001, 05:54 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
Katisha, you said "all but one" of the riddles was traditional, and Bob Cos, you say your son guessed "all but one" of them; is the "one" in each case "What have I got in my pocket?"

No -- I should have said "excepting 'What have I got in my pocket?'" I'll have to look it up, but I think the one Tolkien made up was the one that starts "An eye in a blue face saw an eye in a green face."

Humble Servant -- the Exeter Book doesn't actually give the answers to its riddles, but I think most printed editions do speculate as to what they are. There's a Penguin edition translated by Kevin Crossley Holland that seems OK. :)

Tolkien and democracy: he wasn't a big fan of the concept by any means, and Esgaroth is the most extensive portrayal of one in his works (though feel free to correct me on this point if I'm wrong). There are a few letters where he discusses his feelings about democracy, but unfortunately my copy of the Letters is packed up in a box.

I'm wondering if the comment early on along the lines of "they haven't heard of the king around these parts" is also an indication of his attitude?

But then there's the Shire, which as we see in LotR seems to be governed by a Mayor inasmuch as it's governed at all (although strictly speaking it's under the jurisdiction of the King of Arnor and Gondor). Of course, that's getting more into LotR territory, since we learn very little about the Shire in TH...

Lemur866
08-30-2001, 01:00 AM
I'd like to comment on the behavior of the wood elves. If you read the Silmarillion, you'll find that the elves can be right bastards sometimes. Look at Feanor's behavior...stubborn pride, arrogance, treachery, alongside leadership, bravery and craftmanship. In fact, Feanor seems modeled after Achilles.

And then we look at the behavior of Maeglin and his father (what was his name again?). Not the poster, but the character. Not what we think of as "typical" elves, but clearly Tolkien didn't think all elf behavior had to be "good". A lot of this goes back to the Norse mythology, where the idea that the protagonists are good and the antagonists are evil is laughable. Heros are heros not because they are good but because they are great.

And so, elves too have their faults. And elves and dwarves don't get along, due to actions described in the Silmarillion. So it is perfectly in character for the king of the wood-elves to imprison the dwarves. He can do so without being "evil". He is merely acting according to his nature.

Now, the implication that Middle Earth and our world are the same. I think it is clear that Tolkien meant for Middle Earth to be the extreme past of our earth. And the beginning of our earth is the end of the third age and the beginning of the fourth. Tolkien was perfectly happy with the idea of continents changing. The attack of the Numenoreans on Valinor caused the previously flat ME to become spherical, as later mariners proved by circumnavigating the globe.

So...ME is supposed to be our earth. The old poetry and epics that Tolkien loved and used as source material for ME were imagined to be records of the far distant past. Tolkien liked to imagine that he was't inventing ME, but discovering it, uncovering ancient history and stories that had been lost.

missdavis102
08-30-2001, 07:01 AM
I'm in too. I read TH for the first time back when the idea for this thead was being kicked around but before it got started, and I'm going to re-read now (with a more critical eye) and see if I can't add to the discussion.

Joe_Cool
08-30-2001, 12:49 PM
Originally posted by Lemur866
Now, the implication that Middle Earth and our world are the same. I think it is clear that Tolkien meant for Middle Earth to be the extreme past of our earth. And the beginning of our earth is the end of the third age and the beginning of the fourth. Tolkien was perfectly happy with the idea of continents changing. The attack of the Numenoreans on Valinor caused the previously flat ME to become spherical, as later mariners proved by circumnavigating the globe.

So...ME is supposed to be our earth. The old poetry and epics that Tolkien loved and used as source material for ME were imagined to be records of the far distant past. Tolkien liked to imagine that he was't inventing ME, but discovering it, uncovering ancient history and stories that had been lost.

I agree here. There's lots of stuff on the web saying that it's a completely different world, but there are cues in the text that imply otherwise. The one that leaped out at me while reading FOTR the other day (for the 2nd time! Woo Hoo!) was while they were camping, and he noted that the "sickle" was climing in the sky, with a footnote pointing out that the sickle was their name for the Great Bear, which is of course Ursa Major or the Big Dipper.

Fiver
08-30-2001, 01:06 PM
I don't remember the Big Dipper being referred to as a "sickle;" in The Hobbit Bilbo calls it the Great Wain.

But that doesn't prove Middle-Earth is the past of our world, any more than the presence of ponies and trees in Middle-Earth does. If it were a different but parallel world, it could still have the same constellations.

A better argument is Tolkien's line from the first chapter: I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us.

It's a silly argument, in any case. Whether our own distant past or a parallel world, Middle-Earth is a different world from ours.

Chronos
08-30-2001, 01:20 PM
We know that Middle Earth has the same constellations we have (at least, our Big Dipper, Orion, and the star Sirius), it has the same year as ours, to within a second, and it has a single large moon, comparable to the sun, which cycles in a month of the same length as ours. Even aside from the "historical" connections in the text (saying that hobbits are rarely seen anymore, or that goblins invented many of our modern engines of war), the astronomical data pretty well pins it down.

A note on the Silmarillion, by the way: The Silmarillion itself isn't really dry at all. The Valaquenta, however, which is published in the same volume, is extremely dry. If you've ever given up on the book, pick it up again, and just skip over the first few sections. You'll be glad you did.

Humble Servant
08-31-2001, 10:49 AM
Originally posted by Fiver
It's a silly argument, in any case. Whether our own distant past or a parallel world, Middle-Earth is a different world from ours. Well I wouldn't belabor this, but he is, after all, recommending a morality to us; if we are fundamentally part of his world because it is our distant past, then this morality can be seen as a "natural law" for us, something inherent to who we are, not just parallel to what we are. If they could do great deeds, I can too because we're organically the same--that sort of thing.

Here's a hodgepodge of questions from the earlier chapters I have finished (BTW, I really admire those of you who can remember everything from the Silmarillion and the other works--I can't keep it straight in my head without peeking):

1. How do the stone giants fit into the world? They seem to be good (or at worst neutral) since Gandalf plans to ask them to block up an orc cave.

2. Aren't the wargs scary? I read Willa Cather's My Antonia (which has a horrifying story of wolves attacking a bridal party and the drivers saving themselves) around the time I first read TH, and between these descriptions of wolf packs, my enthusiasm for the reintroduction of wolves into populated areas has gone way done. Why do we have the "lone wolf" as an icon when they are much more dangerous in packs? Is a lone wolf more noble because it doesn't pillage with its pack?

3. Why is the riddle game "sacred"?

4. Beorn and Tom Bombadil seem to play parallel roles in TH and TLOTR. How old is the tradition of a bears meeting ground where they dance? I've seen some old prints of this.

5. "'What! a furrier, a man that calls rabbits conies, when he doesn't turn their skins into squirrels?', asked Bilbo." (From the Queer Lodgings chapter, asked about Beorn.) What does the part about turning their skins into squirrels mean??

6. Am I right in thinking that the orcs use Anglo-Saxon words almost exclusively?

7. Which bee and honey stories am I supposed to be remembering when Beorn's bees are discussed, or what is the symbolism? Clotted cream and royal jelly (combs and honey)--a rich natural feast--yum.

Lemur866
08-31-2001, 11:51 AM
Ah, the "skin changer" joke is just a joke. Bilbo wonders if he turns rabbit skins into squirrel skins.

Chronos
08-31-2001, 11:15 PM
4: Bombadil and Beorn do fill similar roles, but then, so too do Elrond (in both Hobbit and LotR) and Galadriel and Faramir in the trilogy. As someone mentioned earlier, Tolkien always puts "rest stops" in, in between the adventures.

5: I always got the impression that Bilbo was referring to more-or-less fake furriers, of a person who would take cheap furs like rabbits, and cut and dye them to look like more expensive pelts. Such was probably a rather lucrative, if shady, business at one time.

6: They're even more Anglo-Saxon than you noticed. In one of the appendices, Tolkien mentions that he had a great deal of work in cleaning up the language that the orcs used, as they spoke in much the same manner that orc-minded folks still do today.

Fiver
09-04-2001, 01:21 PM
Rather a short chapter this time out, at least in terms of plot happenings: they leave Esgaroth, go to the Mountain and open the door.

The dwarves are such a bunch of jerks! Bilbo has saved all their lives once (from the spiders) and their freedom once (the Elvenking), and now all they can do is sit on the Doorstep and complain that he's not getting the door open for him. Never go adventuring with dwarves, I always say.

I don't understand why the thrush knocking on the stone with a snail shell was what Bilbo needed to realize how to open the secret door.

Hmm, can't think of any other comments. What've y'all got?

Humble Servant
09-05-2001, 09:49 AM
Originally posted by Chronos
5: I always got the impression that Bilbo was referring to more-or-less fake furriers, of a person who would take cheap furs like rabbits, and cut and dye them to look like more expensive pelts. Such was probably a rather lucrative, if shady, business at one time.I thought about this too as I puzzled over it, but why would you turn rabbit skins into squirrel skins?--rabbit is nicer and more costly. Lemur's got it though--the prior sentence talks about Beorn being a skin-changer, so that's the joke. I guess I can take getting whooshed by Tolkien.

I liked the bit about "orc-minded folks" too--a pit-worthy insult for anyone who's read the book.

The thrush was mentioned in the rune letters on Thorin's map: "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the key-hole." Just don't ask how the map maker could enslave a thrush to the task of hanging around Smaug's lair every Durin's Day for 200 years just in case someone showed up and needed to hear it knock.

A chapter where not much happens is OK with me--it's realistic--too many books try for non-stop action. (Not that I'm giving anyone permission to write entire books where nothing happens, mind.)

Fiver
09-05-2001, 10:24 AM
Has it been 200 years since Smaug ran off the dwarves? I don't recall where that was explicitly stated in the book. How long do dwarves live, then?

Obviously I should have paid closer attention about the thrush in the beginning.

Humble Servant
09-05-2001, 10:48 AM
Don't want to get ahead of you if you haven't finished, but I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that a raven shows up in a subsequent chapter who is 150 years old and is only the son of a raven alive at the time Smaug arrived. Also, somewhere (can't find it) Gandalf talks about how it's been 100 years since Throin's father went away and got captured by the Necromancer. So, yeah, we're talking about biblical-type lifespans for dwarves.

Lemur866
09-05-2001, 11:01 AM
Dwarves aren't immortal like elves, but they do have very long lifespans. Although I don't know if their typical lifespan is mentioned anywhere, Tolkien's various chronologies show dwarves living hundreds of years.

Balance
09-05-2001, 02:21 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
I don't understand why the thrush knocking on the stone with a snail shell was what Bilbo needed to realize how to open the secret door.

The thrush wasn't the only cue, either. Just before the bird started slamming that hapless snail against the rock, Bilbo noticed that the sun and the moon were in the sky at the same time--one of the characteristics of Durin's Day (a dwarven New Year's Day on which both the sun and the moon are seen in the sky at the same time, IIRC).

Laughing Lagomorph
09-05-2001, 09:07 PM
According to my handy-dandy "The Complete Guide to Middle Earth", Dain II Ironfoot, Thorin's cousin, lived 252 years, and died in battle at that age! Thorin himself was 195 at the time of "The Hobbit". So the dwarves seem to be easily capable of living active lives well into their third century.

Fiver
09-06-2001, 09:47 AM
What a great chapter! Tolkien drew me in completely and made me share Bilbo's wonder and fear as he gazed at the immense horde of Thror and the immense awfulness of Smaug.

Over the last few chapters I've grown increasingly annoyed with the dwarves, and this continued here. Bilbo returned from his first trip down the passage with the two-handled cup, then holds council with the dwarves:

They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug -- which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out.Hey, no shit! Two hundred years earlier Smaug single-handedly routed the Valley of Dale and the whole Kingdom Under the Mountain, and now thirteen mostly aged dwarves had returned to reclaim it, but apparently gave no thought at all to the rather large matter of how to get rid of the dragon.

They brought no magic poison, no lure to get him out of the Mountain...they didn't even know about the Side Door until their quest was well underway. Were they planning to stroll in through the River entrance and politely ask Smaug to drop dead for them? These Type B adventurers deserve no treasure!

Bartman
09-06-2001, 12:12 PM
Not just the dwarves, everyone seems to live a very long time. Bilbo himself lives well into his second century. Granted the ring helped, but no one thinks too much of his age. Well preserved is what they called him, not a inhuman (inhobbit?) freak of nature. In fact there are indications that hobbits have an expected lifespan of about 1.5 times that of modern men. In addition you have the goblins/orcs. They seem to either be immortal after the fashion of elves or at least very long lived, depending on how you interpret the various quotes. Even men, as long as they have the right ancestors, are capable of living hundreds of years. It seems everyone has extra-long lives. No wonder no one seems to mention/notice the apparent immortality of Gandalf and the other wizards.

I agree fiver, after all it doesn't do to leave a live dragon out of your plans. Which brings up the question, was Thorin insane? There seems to be a pattern here. If you look at his father and grandfather, both seemed to have lost their marbles late in life. All three go on quests to restore the family fortune. All three are acompanied by a small group of loyal attendants. One lost his head (literaly) in Moria. The other ends up a gibbering wreck in the dungeons of the Necromancer. We of course have yet to see what happens to Thorin. For the first two their ring seems to have something to do with it. Could early exposure to the family ring be the cause of such a foolhardy attempt by Thorin? Why the pattern of late life quests?

Humble Servant
09-06-2001, 12:15 PM
I agree--this chapter is one of my favorites. Not only do we get "the splendour, the lust, the glory" of the treasure, we get the riddling talk with the dragon.

The dwarves have feet of clay:

"The most that can be said for dwarves is this: they intended [and are they without fault even on this score when it comes time to pay up?] to pay Bilbo really handsomely for his services....There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much."

Bilbo has feet of clay--he gave away to the dragon the fact that Esgaroth had aided them. Even Gandalf is flawed in a way--he had bad info on the mountain passes and forest paths, and he had no solution when treed by the wargs and orcs. An author who can create something heroic out of flawed materials is an author I will read. If you're perfect, you're not real.

Another neat little thing: Bilbo is said to fight his biggest battle in the tunnel alone in the dark. But after a while, he goes on. The abbreviated quality of this bit, Tolkien's resistance of the temptation to soliloquy, the restraint, is admirable.

Fiver
09-06-2001, 12:35 PM
Well, I think "feet of clay" is maybe an overstatement for some of your examples. It is no failure of heroism that a hero can't foresee every possible consequence of all of his actions, and for that reason I think we may excuse Gandalf for the tree incident and Bilbo for his barrels slip.

But the dwarves are actively foolish, and hard-headed (in a bad way). They are not heroes, indeed. Nice quote to include, Humble Servant.

You know...I hesitate to bring this up, but here we go...the passage you quote, and other parts of this narrative, paint the dwarves as being very much like the typical European stereotype of Jews.

We've discussed Hebrew/dwarves parallels earlier in this thread. I doubt very much this was intentional, but it is an unfortunate coincidence.

Humble Servant
09-06-2001, 03:06 PM
The orcs are Nazi-like, but since they hate everyone and don't particularly single out the dwarves, I don't perceive a strong dwarf-Jewish connection.

To the extent that "feet of clay" implies fatal flaws, I agree it is too strong and retract; I would have said "display human fraility" but that sounded wrong because they're not human.

I don't think Thorin or his grandfather were insane, and his father was only driven to insanity by torture. Dwarves are very clannish, and the entourage thing seems fairly typical--cousins go to war in support of cousins with no questions. As for adventuring in their later years, I believe even Bilbo questions his own sanity on that point; but if they had just bought miatas, we wouldn't have a story.

nonsequitur
09-06-2001, 07:00 PM
Originally posted by Humble Servant
I don't think Thorin or his grandfather were insane, and his father was only driven to insanity by torture. Dwarves are very clannish, and the entourage thing seems fairly typical--cousins go to war in support of cousins with no questions. As for adventuring in their later years, I believe even Bilbo questions his own sanity on that point; but if they had just bought miatas, we wouldn't have a story.

OK I'm home now and have dug up some references. All of this is from Apendix A at the end of Lord of the Rings.
Years afterwards Thror, now old, poor, and desperate, gave his son Thrain the one great treasure he still possessed, the last of the Seven Rings, and went away with one companion only...
He was a little crazed perhaps with age and misfortune and long brooding on the splendour of Moria in his forefathers' days; or the Ring it may be, was turning to evil now that its master was awake, driving him to folly and destruction...
When Thror came to Moria the Gate was open. Nar begged him to beware, but he took no heed of him, and walked proudly in as an heir that returns.
Now ignoring the direct comment that he was crazed. Walking unescorted into Moria is Orc-assisted suicide. He does not seem to be in his right mind and Tolkien assigns blame to the ring.
It was therefore perhaps partly by the malice of the Ring that Thrain after some years became restless and discontented. The lust for gold was ever in his mind. At last, when he could endure it no longer, he turned his thoughts to Erebor, and resolved to go back there...
He of course does not reach the dragon, but is waylayed by the Necromancer. However the description is very similar. In the end his obsession gets him killed.

Now let's look at Thorin
The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again, as he brooded on the wrongs of his House and the vengeance upon the Dragon that he had inherited...and a great anger without hope burned him as he smote the red iron on the anvil.
Once again the heir of Durin becomes obsessive-compulsive. In the end he takes off with 13 companions to avenge himself and his family on his dragon. A certain madness seems to come over his family which cannot be explained away as simple mid-life crisis. So the question remains, was Thorin insane or was he on the way there? And does that explain some of his actions?

I don't know personally. But I think it is an interesting concept to explore.

Lemur866
09-06-2001, 09:20 PM
Originally posted by Bartman
Not just the dwarves, everyone seems to live a very long time. Bilbo himself lives well into his second century. Granted the ring helped, but no one thinks too much of his age. Well preserved is what they called him, not a inhuman (inhobbit?) freak of nature. In fact there are indications that hobbits have an expected lifespan of about 1.5 times that of modern men. In addition you have the goblins/orcs. They seem to either be immortal after the fashion of elves or at least very long lived, depending on how you interpret the various quotes. Even men, as long as they have the right ancestors, are capable of living hundreds of years. It seems everyone has extra-long lives. No wonder no one seems to mention/notice the apparent immortality of Gandalf and the other wizards.


Well, only men of Numenorean blood have extended lifespans, and that is because they are descendents of Elros, the brother of Elrond. Elros and Elrond were half elves, but were forced to chose between the fate of the elves and the fate of men. Elros chose to live with men, while Elrond chose the elves. So someone like Aragorn can live for 200 years, but the average run of men has the same lifespan as present day humans.

Now, the longevity of hobbits. It is true that hobbits seem to live about 1.5 times the age of humans. The oldest hobbit on record was Gerontius Took, who lived to 133, until his record is beaten by....well, we're still reading "The Hobbit" here, so I won't say. And hobbits only attain their full majority at 33, until then they are "tweens", a sort of extended adolescence.

Fiver
09-07-2001, 07:57 AM
You know, the quotes from Tolkien's Letters' and from Lord of the Rings are interesting, but I think we should stay focused on the primary text as much as possible. The Hobbit stands very well on its own.

Bartman
09-07-2001, 10:13 AM
Originally posted by Fiver
You know, the quotes from Tolkien's Letters' and from Lord of the Rings are interesting, but I think we should stay focused on the primary text as much as possible. The Hobbit stands very well on its own.
Fair enough. I was just bringing in the Appendix quotes to establish the pattern for my theory. I have read enough on Middle Earth that I can't seem to keep the larger story arc out of my musings when reading The Hobbit.

Fiver
09-12-2001, 03:36 PM
The dwarves continue their pussy-streak here as Bilbo has to venture down into the darkness all by himself, and can find only Balin even to go partway with him.

In "Not at Home" there's "Not a lot happening," but of course this chapter merely fills in the dwarves' account of time while Smaug was off toasting Esgaroth and getting hisself killed.

Oops, I've gotten ahead. Sorry.

Fiver
09-16-2001, 06:54 PM
This chapter is the building crescendo to the "money shot" of the Battle of Five Armies. It's kind of eerie to discuss this chapter about the death of a town in light of recent events, but let's stay focused and remember this is fiction.

Tolkien's monarchialism and anti-democratic attitudes are in full flower here. The elected Master of Esgaroth gets out of town at the first sign of trouble, while the day is saved by "Bard, grim-voiced and grim-faced," who is a direct descendant of the former King of Dale.

Being a noble descendant allows him, by definition, to understand the tidings brought by the thrush. And to act on them. This guy talks to his arrows, people!

It seems a little unlikely that a single arrow, however well-shot, could have brought down a monster as fearsome as Smaug, but on the other hand I couldn't think of any more credible way to take him out.

Another thing in this chapter continues to puzzle me:

Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men {Smaug} came over them, swept towards the bridges and was foiled! The bridge was gone, and his enemies were on an island in deep water –– too deep and dark and cool for his liking.Uh, Smaug can fly. What difference could it make whether the bridge is out?

Gartog
09-17-2001, 08:39 AM
He can fly? I don't remember reading that. Although If can point out where I will stand corrected.

Isn't Smaug some kind of Early hobbit who was deformed by the ring

[quote]

I have not contributed to this before but have followed the discussion avidly. Thanks for starting this thread, it's fascinating.

Fiver
09-17-2001, 08:58 AM
Gartog:He can fly? I don't remember reading that. Although If can point out where I will stand corrected.

Isn't Smaug some kind of Early hobbit who was deformed by the ringUh, no. You're thinking of Gollum. Smaug is the dragon who stole the Lonely Mountain from the dwarves, and most certainly can fly.

You've been reading along, haven't you?

Gartog
09-17-2001, 09:03 AM
Sorry, you are right not quite sure what I was thinking

Smaug & Smeagol(sp) almost sound the same I think this is what confused me.

Yes I have been reading along. Please forgive me for this dumb question.

KeithB
09-17-2001, 10:23 AM
Originally posted by Fiver


Another thing in this chapter continues to puzzle me:

Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men {Smaug} came over them, swept towards the bridges and was foiled! The bridge was gone, and his enemies were on an island in deep water –– too deep and dark and cool for his liking.Uh, Smaug can fly. What difference could it make whether the bridge is out?

It is difficult to eat people and gather treasure from the air. At some point he needs to land. Hmm. Another parallel to current events, since we have realized that Air Power alone will not work in this War On Terrorism.

Humble Servant
09-17-2001, 11:14 AM
No, you can't run a war-time army by committee or democracy. There's an old saying that we want a bit of arrogant self-confidence in our surgeons, fighter pilots and relief pitchers, but I happen to agree with the Master that I do not necessarily want to be ruled by a fighting man in peacetime--I also don't want to be ruled by a petty, self-interested, jealous fool or a stupid mob. There are other choices, of course, such as a system of checks and balances which separates military and civil power and judicially preserves minority rights from majority idiocy.

I also admit to a sensitivity to businessman bashing such as the Master receives here. He deserves to be bashed, of course, as the self-serving politician he is, but all businessmen are not the same.

I love TH, but this read of this chapter left me flat--the simplistic cliches leapt out.

Quickly reprising the Thorin sanity issue--I disagree that there is any so-to-speak genetic diposition to insanity in his family, except to the extent that all dwarves have gold lust. Insanity caused by the ring or torture is non-organic. Thorin is not insane. Hey, as Fiver points out, Bard talks to his arrow--are we saying he's insane too? At least he doesn't name it like everyone else names their swords. Anyone want to explain the prevalency of magical objects as anything other than the furniture of an imagined world?

Fiver
09-17-2001, 11:21 AM
Yes, but KeithB, he's not out for treasure; he just wants vengeance against Esgaroth for giving aid and comfort to his adversaries, Bilbo and the dwarves.

(Wow...it's looking more and more like current events!)

Balance
09-17-2001, 11:32 AM
Back to the matter of the bridges...Smaug can fly over, of course, but he may be reluctant to do so. The lake is dangerous to him ("The lake was greater than he..."), so if he should somehow be forced down, he wants a long runway and a route back to dry land. Smaug was angry, but he was still cautious.

On Thorin's sanity: It may be that the ring's influence drove his father and grandfather towards madness, but Thorin didn't have the ring. It was taken by the Necromancer. Thorin's exposure to it would have been indirect and far in the past. There's also the sticky question of defining insanity--is the definition the same for dwarves? Judging by descriptions of their craftsmanship, and their dedication to their arts, many of them might be prone to behavior that would be considered obsessive in humans. Thorin, lacking the artistic outlets normal for his race (mining coal and doing basic ironwork don't allow for much creativity), may have simply redirected that focus to another goal.

KeithB
09-17-2001, 12:17 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
Yes, but KeithB, he's not out for treasure; he just wants vengeance against Esgaroth for giving aid and comfort to his adversaries, Bilbo and the dwarves.

(Wow...it's looking more and more like current events!)

Maybe not *treasure*, but notice that I also said "Eat People", it has to take a lot of protien to fill up after a 100 year sleep.

Laughing Lagomorph
09-17-2001, 08:32 PM
Originally posted by Balance

There's also the sticky question of defining insanity--is the definition the same for dwarves? Judging by descriptions of their craftsmanship, and their dedication to their arts, many of them might be prone to behavior that would be considered obsessive in humans. Thorin, lacking the artistic outlets normal for his race (mining coal and doing basic ironwork don't allow for much creativity), may have simply redirected that focus to another goal.
Well put, B. This is more or less how I have always interpreted Thorin's actions. Dwarves definitely tend toward obsessiveness, at least by modern human standards. They also are notorious for never forgetting a wrong. For Thorin, re-taking Erebor became his singular goal due to his lack of other outlets, and his dwarvish desire to revenge a wrong done to his family.

Fiver
09-25-2001, 10:58 AM
Here, of course, we see the dwarves, and especially Thorin, reach the nadir of honor. Asked for little more than some cash to help rebuild the Lake-Town, Thorin reacts with belligerance.

How many times does Tolkien describe Bard as "grim?" Count them! Read these last few chapters aloud and make it a drinking game with your friends! You'll all get drunk.

KeithB
09-25-2001, 11:44 AM
Well, never ask a dwarf for money.

However, what if they would have asked for labour and supplies to rebuild the town? Would Thorin & Co. been more amenable?

Humble Servant
09-25-2001, 02:32 PM
Thorin is also called "grim" in the second to the last paragraph of the chapter. The word is clearly intended as a compliment when applied to Bard, yet has negative connotations when applied to Thorin.

I just cannot help reading with current events in mind. Look at how the natural allies bicker among themselves--Thorin is insulted by the assumption of the elves and men that they will be recompensed only by force. The elves and men are probably not wrong to make this assumption, but showing up with an army does not help negotiations. It is right to set aside "principles" (such as giving nothing to people who have so little faith in you as to "ask" for "charity" while armed) and to be willing to give up much for peace with reasonable people. Backing down from principles with orcs, however, and treating them as worthy of negotiations, is a very bad idea. I will say it again: the world would be a much simpler place if our enemies were all orcs, not humans. The situation also reminds me of the reparations claims we have heard recently from Nazi victims and the descendants of slaves. Men and elves were victimized by Smaug who killed and consolidated treasure indiscriminately. There is now no way to "justly" divide the treasure because there is no way to "track" it and people are dead and records lost. Any reparations must be made on an ad hoc basis: maybe there should be reparations, but no one will get exactly what the niggling laws of inheritance and property would ordinarily demand because an extra-legal force (Smaug) has swept legalities aside. The only possible response is likewise extra-legal.

Fiver
09-25-2001, 02:54 PM
Must it be extra-legal, Humble Servant? Don't you think the law firm of Grubb, Grubb & Burrowes could sort things out?

Balance
09-25-2001, 04:29 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
Must it be extra-legal, Humble Servant? Don't you think the law firm of Grubb, Grubb & Burrowes could sort things out?

Maybe, but the resulting document would be couched in the proper (to the hobbit way of thinking) formal language and niceties, and no one would ever be able to read it. Even the Ents would get bored and give up on it before they figured out who was to get what.

:D

Chronos
09-25-2001, 08:10 PM
Of course, if hobbits were to handle the apportioning, none of it would matter, anyway, since most of the treasure would get so passed around as mathoms and birthday presents that nobody would be able to keep track of who really owned what.

Humble Servant
09-25-2001, 09:30 PM
Maybe, but the resulting document would be couched in the proper (to the hobbit way of thinking) formal language and niceties, and no one would ever be able to read it. Even the Ents would get bored and give up on it before they figured out who was to get what.:D Do we have a sample of a hobbit or other legal document in any of the collateral works? I'm trying to remember the stuff from the Red Book and the other "sources" Tolkien used. One would think that such a document, properly reproduced and framed, could be a big seller. I know I'd like one.

Fiver
10-12-2001, 08:31 AM
Well! Sorry it's been so long since we continued this, but I've had a few distractions. Let's see if we can't knock this out soon.

Poor old Bombur never rose above the level of oafish comic relief in this book, did he? He's one of very few among the thirteen dwarves who got a distinct persona, and unfortunately it's almost all negative.

Always described as fat and lazy, it's Bombur who fell into the Enchanted River and became a burden to the rest of the Company; it's Bombur who was too fat to climb up to the Doorstep and had to be hauled up on ropes when Smaug attacked.

And in this chapter, it's Bombur is talked into leaving his watch, allowing Bilbo to commit his "treachery."

I've noticed it's part of a larger pattern in Tolkien of picking on fat people. Look at Fredegar Bolger in Fellowship of the Ring, for example. It's troubling.

But on to the meat of the chapter, of course this is where Bilbo truly becomes a hero, by turning over the Arkenstone. He betrays Thorin but serves the greater good, including Thorin in the long run. The potential for this sort of behavior is, I believe, the real reason Gandalf recruited Bilbo for this adventure.

It may be Bilbo's plucky Took side that saw him through to this point, but I daresay it's his steadfast Baggins side that leads him to this choice.

Humble Servant
10-12-2001, 10:17 AM
Let's tot up Bilbo's criminal/immoral acts:

1. Stole 1 Arkenstone.

2. Lied to Bombur.

3. Took advantage of Bombur's weaker will.

4. High Treason.

Well at least he's an honest burglar.

Why exactly can we forgive Bilbo so easily? Are we mere pragmatists who like the end result? Are the "technicalities" (his right to a 14th share) enough to get him off the hook? Does his willingness to go back and face the consequences make it a kind of civil disobedience? Talk about shades of gray!

Fiver
10-12-2001, 12:43 PM
I would challenge your assertion Bilbo's done anything that calls for forgiveness. He's seen that Thorin has crossed some sort of a line, and is trying to set things to rights.

He knows and is friends with the dwarves. He has seen the charity and hospitality of both the Elves and the Men, and he understands this is a disagreement among Good Peoples that should not descend into war.

He's doing what needs to be done. "WWGD" may even have gone through his mind.

Humble Servant
10-12-2001, 03:05 PM
I'm such a lawyer sometimes--technicalities make my heart beat faster.:)

I'm sorry I was disingenuous in my prior post--I think that the "technicalities" and Bilbo's "civil disobedience" are the reasons I "forgive" him so readily (by "forgive" I mean continue to have sympathy for him, not "absolve him from sin").

Morally, I reject relativism and "the end justifies the means." If treachery is wrong in some cases (for instance if Bilbo had betrayed Thorin to orcs), it is wrong in all similar cases. The different ends are not what makes the treachery in favor of Bard et al acceptable but treachery in favor of the orcs wrong; IMHO, the difference is in the technicalities.

First, Bilbo's duties to Thorin and Co. arise principally from friendship. Technically, there is no oath of loyalty to a king or quasi-political leader here. So my charge of treason is a straw man. Bilbo acts in a way that he believes to be in his friends' ultimate best interests. "Tough love" if you wish.

Next, Bilbo has rights under a contract with the dwarves. What does "a 1/14 share of the treasure" actually entitle Bilbo to? Since the contract is vague and open to interpretation, the charge of theft also is shaky (Bilbo as he well should be is uneasy on this point), but standing on his strict legal rights in a questionable case is enough to remit legal liability here, throwing us back to the obligations of friendship only, as discussed above.

The hardest charge I think is the one you raised initially, Fiver, Bilbo's lies to the poor dumb fool Bombur. Could he and would he have been justified in telling Thorin the same bald-faced lie? Could he have gotten down without implicating Bombur in things? Wasn't he a bit proud of being able to get past the elves' sentries? I think this is something I appreciate Bilbo less for--not a crime, but a moral fraility. (Which is NOT a bad thing--as I said before, I have little empathy with people who are perfect.)

All the technicalities are of course just technicalities from Thorin's perspective--Thorin doesn't appreciate that he has crossed a line and that Bilbo's actions are out of ultimate friendship. Nonetheless, Bilbo's willingness to admit what he has done, to face Thorin and to protect Bombur demonstrates to Thorin the depth of Bilbo's belief that Thorin is not acting properly and forces Thorin to look inward (the goal of civil disobedience).

Well, I now feel like a total geek for writing a legal analysis of Bilbo's actions.[sheepish grinnie here]

Laughing Lagomorph
10-12-2001, 08:48 PM
Originally posted by Fiver

He's doing what needs to be done. "WWGD" may even have gone through his mind.

Help me out, here. Does "WWGD"=What would Gandalf do? Funny!

Chronos
10-13-2001, 03:53 PM
Heh, it's about time this thread came up again :).

If you ask me, Bilbo's actions were perfectly justified. Since he's offered a "fourteenth share", I think it's reasonable to assume that each of the dwarves were to receive that same proportion. Either the Arkenstone is worth less that a fourteenth of all the treasure, in which case he's voluntarily short-changing himself by letting it stand for his entire share (well, that and his mithril-shirt), or it's worth more than a fourteenth, in which case whoever got it (even Thorin) would have been cheating the others, in a sense. The fact that he feels guilty about it anyway just says that much more about Bilbo's character.

I can also see some parallels with a similar event in Lord of the Rings. Thorin tells Bilbo to take his pick of his share of the treasure-- and he does. Later, Theoden tells Gandalf to take his pick of the horses of Rohan-- and he does. If you mean to exclude something, say so. If you let someone have their pick, don't be upset when they pick the best.

Firx
10-13-2001, 09:04 PM
Originally posted by Chronos:
Thorin tells Bilbo to take his pick of his share of the treasure-- and he does. Later, Theoden tells Gandalf to take his pick of the horses of Rohan-- and he does. If you mean to exclude something, say so. If you let someone have their pick, don't be upset when they pick the best.

Actually, I think Thorin specifically mantions that the Arkenstone should be considered his.

Now the days passed slowly and wearily. Many of the dwarves spent their time piling and ordering the treasure; and now Thorin spoke of the Arkenstone of Thrain, and bade them eagerly to look for it in every corner.
"For the Arkenstone of my father," he said, "is worth more than a river of gold in itself, and to me it is beyond price. That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and with-holds it."
(From the beginning of Chapter 16, "A Thief in the Night")

Bilbo already has it when Thorin says this, but he knows that Thorin doesn't, and presumably never did, consider the Arkenstone up for grabs. Also, even before Thorin says this, Bilbo knows from Thorin's previous descriptions that the Arkenstone is important to him.

Rysdad
10-14-2001, 01:07 AM
I don't really have much to add to this other than I bought The Hobbit for my son a few weeks ago, and he loved it. (He's 10.) It's the longest book he's read so far. He finished it, so I bought him the trilogy. He's on Fellowship of the Ring now.

It'll be interesting to see how the LotR movie compares with his view of Middle Earth when it comes out in December.

Chronos
10-14-2001, 03:43 PM
Even with Thorin's claims to the Arkenstone, I still say that Bilbo was in the right. If we look at his contractual obligations, then he has a right to his own pick of his share of the treasure. The dwarves agreed to that before Thorin specifically claimed the Arkenstone, so Bilbo's prior claim would take precedence. Thorin's (and the other dwarves') previous discussions of the Arkenstone didn't (so far as we know) lay any specific claims, so they also don't matter, contractually speaking.

On the other hand, we might look at Bilbo's obligations as a friend. In this case, not only does he not have an obligation to not take the stone, but he has a positive obligation to take it. Him taking the Arkenstone was no more a theft than a friend taking a drunkard's car keys. Thorin and company were almost literally drunk on their newly-recovered wealth, and were verging on self-destruction, so Bilbo did what was necessary to prevent that.

Firx
10-14-2001, 04:32 PM
Fair points, Chronos. I'm not trying to say that I think Bilbo was in the wrong, either contractually or as a friend trying to prevent harm. All I mean to say is that I don't think he is contractually justified in his laying a claim to the Arkenstone either.

Granted, the contract says he should get 1/14 of all treasure (if any), but it doesn't say that he gets to pick it for himself, or that his choices can't be contested.

So I agree that he has done the right thing, I just don't think it's fair to say:
If you mean to exclude something, say so. If you let someone have their pick, don't be upset when they pick the best.
and use that to justify his taking of the stone.

Fiver
10-16-2001, 09:22 AM
Here we go: the famous Battle of Five Armies. Whee!

It must be terribly hard to write a battle scene; I'm sure I couldn't. I would think a common trap for writers would be to reduce the armies to forces of nature: wind or waves lapping over each other, forgetting that individuals are making decisions about tactics and strategy.

I think Tolkien does well enough at this here, with his detail about the goblins being led into a crotch between flanks of the Mountain and then assaulted from the higher ground.

It's interesting to imagine this chapter without the goblins and wargs conveniently arriving when they did. If they'd been only a day late, there would already have been a battle: Dwarves vs. Elves and Men, and whichever armies survived that would be easy pickings for the bad guys, despite the help of the Eagles. Providence plays a big role in Tolkien's work, doesn't it?

Humble Servant
10-16-2001, 10:50 AM
Which exactly are the 5 armies we're talking about? There's dwarves, men, elves, orcs and wargs. Why don't the eagles count as an army too (the wolves count)?

"Many a fair elf that should have lived yet long ages merrily in the wood" lay dead.

"I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing."

This is pretty good pathos--many cut-rate fantasies ignore the horror of death and war or apply it only to the bad guys.

And Fiver's right again about having to remember that people make decisions in battle--despite providence/forces of nature, a combo of human action and chance are almost always necessary; or, even if fate controls, that doesn't excuse humans (and non-humans too) from acting.

Even in the midst of misery, Tolkien doesn't forget humor. The use of the words "uncomfortable" and "distressing" are terrific understatements, and I can just see the little Hobbit dancing around ridiculously before he gets conked in his thick little skull. Life's just a mixed-up bag of a bunch of different emotions all at once, isn't it?

Also, just what was Gandalf thinking about as he sat there on the ground?

Fiver
10-17-2001, 11:48 AM
This just occurred to me last night: if we held to a strict legal interpretation of "right" and "wrong," then not only would we have to return the Ring to Sauron, but he might even have grounds for a lawsuit against Isildur's estate for cutting off his hand and stealing the Ring.

(Yes, I know there was a war on when the Ring was taken. Work with me here.)

At this point I'll go on and 'fess up that not only have I finished reading The Hobbit, but I've even reread The Fellowship of the Ring besides. I bring this up because I've been thinking about Gloin's long conversation with Frodo at Elrond's house. Gloin has more dialogue there than he ever got in The Hobbit, right? I'm not sure Gloin had any lines at all in the first book.

Of course, the dwarves are painted in broad strokes, almost as broad as Snow White's dwarfs who were named after their dominant personality traits:

Thorin's regal and irascible.
Gloin and Oin are good firemakers.
Fili and Kili are young.
Balin is friendly to Bilbo.
Bombur is fat.

Hmm. We don't really learn much at all about Bifur, Bofur, Dori, Nori, Ori or Dwalin, do we? Beyond some basic family relationships (and even there, I think Bifur, Bofur and Bombur were some combination of brothers/cousins, but I don't know how exactly they're attached to each other).

Chronos
10-17-2001, 12:47 PM
Well, if you really want all the family details, it's all laid out in one of the appendices, but that might be in LotR, rather than The Hobbit. I don't think it adds much, though. That was one of the advantages to LotR: Even though there were almost as many main characters (9, as compared to 15), they all had at least a few identifying features. Granted, a lot of that was due to the racial diversity: Legolas was the elf, Gimli was the dwarf, etc. In The Hobbit, it's more a matter of Gloin was the dwarf, Bofur was the dwarf, Dwalin was the dwarf...

As far as the Five or Six armies go, Beorn was also there, and was almost an army unto himself. Ironically, he was, in a sense, a Force of Nature, though not one as unthinking as wind or waves.

Fiver
10-30-2001, 04:13 PM
Alas, poor Thorin! For some reason, reading his death scene and his farewell words to Bilbo make me think of Harlan Ellison. Yes, I know I'm a freak.

And I can admit I got a little teary-eyed at that scene. Less for the loss of Thorin, but more for the warm sentiment Bilbo seems able to inspire in the hardest of creatures. There is more about him than anyone knows, to paraphrase Gandalf.

I wonder where the female goblins are? Tolkien doesn't mention any, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're absent. I'm asking in this chapter because I wonder if any fought in the Battle of Five Armies.

I just realized that Bilbo's treasure was given to him, not by Dain and the other dwarves, but out of the fourteenth share given to Bard. Given that these "small chests, one filled with silver, and the other with gold" (plus the trolls' treasure) were still enough to fund a comfortable life for Bilbo (and later Frodo) for the next eighty years, then the treasure of the King Under the Mountain must have been vast and fabulous indeed.

Fiver
10-31-2001, 02:27 PM
And so we come back at long last to the Last (or the First) Homely House.

I get the impression that Bilbo's trip home took almost as long as his outward journey. And there were more adventures too, we just weren't told about them.

Bilbo and Gandalf had a long stay with Beorn, then another long stay with Elrond. I like to imagine they also stopped at Bree, and even took rooms at the Prancing Pony for a while, before they headed on back to the Shire.

Isn't it ironic, that after Bilbo's short career as a burglar, he arrived home only to find his hole essentially being burgled itself? That just now occurred to me.

Then, in the last couple of pages, we have a very nice visit from Balin years later. It's sort of sad to read this with foreknowledge of events to come; we know Balin is probably on his way to re-establish the Mines of Moria, where he'll meet a bad end within just a few years.

Humble Servant
11-01-2001, 02:19 PM
Just popping in to bid this thread farewell.

"Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?"

So, volitional acts and mere chance do not dictate or negate preordained events. Exactly what force is driving events in JRRT's world? Who made the prophecies? JRRT, of course--and none better for to have done it.

Chronos
11-01-2001, 03:42 PM
Y'know, I never made the connection that it was the same dwarf who visits in the end, and died in Moria. I guess it's the same thing I mentioned earlier, about all the dwarves looking the same: I had previously read it as "One of the thirteen visits Bilbo. One of the thirteen dies in Moria".

Dangit, that is depressing!

Katisha
11-01-2001, 04:47 PM
Yeah, it took me a while to pick up on that -- and yes, it's very depressing. As is the part where we learn of his companions' fates in Moria, because some of those were our friends from TH, too.

Fiver, I always loved Thorin's dying words to Bilbo: "Farewell, child of the kindly West. There is more good in you than you know. If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now." (Apologies if I left something out -- I'm quoting from memory.)

Fiver
11-01-2001, 10:28 PM
You came pretty close, Katisha, and yes, it's a great bit of dialogue. Thorin ended well, no matter his poor choices in the last couple of days of his life.

Chronos, I always knew it was Balin in both places, but this was the first time I realized Balin's visit to Bilbo must have been on his way to Moria: the distance between the Shire and the Lonely Mountain is so great that Balin probably wouldn't have crossed it for any lesser reason, notwithstanding his fondness for Bilbo.

I like it. It shows that Tolkien was thinking of that scene in The Hobbit when choosing his cast for the failed retaking of Moria. He knew Balin needed to be part of it.

Having events and characters tie everything together like that helps us to view the four books as one story over a great scale of time.

And with that in mind, here's something I noticed for the first time in my most recent rereading of The Fellowship of the Ring. At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf reveals that Isildur didn't die and lose the Ring right after taking it from Sauron. First he went back to Gondor and wrote a scroll about it.

In that scroll, Isildur described the Ring as precious. Chilling, isn't it?

Chronos
11-03-2001, 01:10 PM
And with that in mind, here's something I noticed for the first time in my most recent rereading of The Fellowship of the Ring.Now hold on a moment here... Is this going to turn into a Lord of the Rings thread now?

Because if it is, count me in!

I had noticed the "precious" thing, on my second reading, I think... You'll note that when Frodo starts obsessing over it, he uses the same word.

Fiver
11-03-2001, 07:16 PM
Yes, and Bilbo called it "precious" as well. Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo...I'd just never noticed Isildur used it too. That Tolkien guy knew what he was doing, didn't he?

No, I don't think this should turn into a Lord of the Rings thread; isn't it long enough already? We should start a new one.

But thank you all for participating. I've enjoyed it.

Fiver
Your humble servant.

Laughing Lagomorph
11-03-2001, 08:42 PM
Originally posted by Fiver
...Balin's visit to Bilbo must have been on his way to Moria: the distance between the Shire and the Lonely Mountain is so great that Balin probably wouldn't have crossed it for any lesser reason, notwithstanding his fondness for Bilbo.


I don't know, Fiver. The chronology in the back of LOTR says the visit took place in 2949, or seven years after Bilbo returns home. Balin doesn't leave Erebor for Moria until 2989. The Fellowship doesn't get to Moria for another thirty years after that. Its easy to forget that a fairly big chunk of time takes place between "The Hobbit" and the quest for Mount Doom, basically a normal human lifespan. Also, going from Erebor to Moria by way of the Shire is a huge detour!