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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room: **The Gathering of the Clouds** I: Edit Log


Oct 17 2012, 6:11am

Views: 491
**The Gathering of the Clouds** I

Now we will return to Bilbo and the dwarves. All night one of them had watched, but when morning came they had not heard or seen any sign of danger. But ever more thickly the birds were gathering. Their companies came flying from the South; and the crows that still lived about the Mountain were wheeling and crying unceasingly above.

"Something strange is happening," said Thorin. "The time has gone for the autumn wanderings; and these are birds that dwell always in the land; there are starlings and flocks of finches; and far off there are many carrion birds as if a battle were afoot!

Suddenly Bilbo pointed: "There is that old thrush again!" he cried. "He seems to have escaped, when Smaug smashed the mountain-side, but I don't suppose the snails have!"

Sure enough the old thrush was there, and as Bilbo pointed, he flew towards them and perched on a stone near by. Then he fluttered his wings and sang; then he cocked his head on one side, as if to listen; and again he sang, and again he listened.

"I believe he is trying to tell us something," said Balin; "but I cannot follow the speech of such birds, it is very quick and difficult. Can you make it out Baggins?"

"Not very well," said Bilbo (as a matter of fact, he could make nothing of it at all); "but the old fellow seems very excited."

"I only wish he was a raven!" said Balin.

"I thought you did not like them! You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before."

"Those were crows! And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well. You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us. But the ravens are different. There used to be great friendship between them and the people of Thror; and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.

"They live many a year, and their memories are long, and they hand on their wisdom to their children. I knew many among the ravens of the rocks when I was a dwarf-lad. This very height was once named Ravenhill, because there was a wise and famous pair, old Care and his wife, that lived here above the guard-chamber. But I don't suppose that any of that ancient breed linger here now."

No sooner had he finished speaking than the old thrush gave a loud call, and immediately flew away.


What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?


"We may not understand him, but that old bird understands us, I am sure," said Balin. "Keep watch now, and see what happens!"
Before long there was a fluttering of wings, and back came the thrush; and with him came a most decrepit old bird. He was getting blind, he could hardly fly, and the top of his head was bald. He was an aged raven of great size. He alighted stiffly on the ground before them, slowly flapped his wings, and bobbed towards Thorin.

"O Thorin son of Thrain, and Balin son of Fundin," he croaked (and Bilbo could understand what he said, for he used ordinary language and not bird-speech). "I am Rońc son of Carc. Carc is dead, but he was well known to you once. It is a hundred years and three and fifty since I came out of the egg, but I do not forget what my father told me. Now I am the chief of the great ravens of the Mountain. We are few, but we remember still the king that was of old. Most of my people are abroad, for there are great tidings in the South Ś some are tidings of joy to you, and some you will not think so good.

"Behold! the birds are gathering back again to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West, for word has gone out that Smaug is dead!"
"Dead! Dead?" shouted the dwarves. "Dead! Then we have been in needless fear -- and the treasure is ours!"

They all sprang up and began to caper about for joy.

"Yes, dead," said Rońc. "The thrush, may his feathers never fall, saw him die, and we may trust his words. He saw him fall in battle with the men of Esgaroth the third night back from now at the rising of the moon."

It was some time before Thorin could bring the dwarves to be silent and listen to the raven's news. At length when he had told all the tale of the battle he went on:

"So much for joy, Thorin Oakenshield. You may go back to your halls in safety; all the treasure is yours -- for the moment. But many are gathering hither beside the birds. The news of the death of the guardian has already gone far and wide, and the legend of the wealth of Thror has not lost in the telling during many years; many are eager for a share of the spoil. Already a host of the elves is on the way, and carrion birds are with them hoping for battle and slaughter. By the lake men murmur that their sorrows are due to the dwarves; for they are homeless and many have died, and Smaug has destroyed their town. They too think to find amends from your treasure, whether you are alive or dead.

"Your own wisdom must decide your course, but thirteen is small remnant of the great folk of Durin that once dwelt here, and now are scattered far. If you will listen to my counsel, you will not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow. Bard is he, of the race of Dale, of the line of Girion; he is a grim man but true. We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold. I have spoken."


Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West? Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?

Tolkien skips quickly over the raven's telling of the tale of Smaug's death, which he learned from the thrush. How much of what we know was told by the raven? Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot? Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?

How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking? Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens? Are the birds just incredible gossips? Do they get anything out of spreading this news?

Do you have any other comments on these passages?

(This post was edited by Curious on Oct 17 2012, 6:16am)

Edit Log:
Post edited by Curious (Half-elven) on Oct 17 2012, 6:12am
Post edited by Curious (Half-elven) on Oct 17 2012, 6:13am
Post edited by Curious (Half-elven) on Oct 17 2012, 6:16am

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