Nov 15 2012, 10:53am
"Even this story" [comes to an end] – Heh! Is this interjection for the benefit of a father telling a story to his children?
Actually, I think it's just meant to tell the reader that the end of the tale is coming up, and to be ready for the tying up of loose ends and the arrival "back again" as Bilbo's story comes full circle.
How well do you know your hands and toes?
Well, according to the old saying we're supposed to know the back of our hands particularly well, although it's not something one often gets to test! Hobbits would obviously be expected to know their toes a lot better than we would...
Are they back in this territory [the Country Round]? How large is it? Sam Gamgge know the country a day's walk from home pretty well. Are they now within a day's walk from Bag-end?
Since Bilbo seems to be sufficiently well-to-do to afford a pony (and cart too, if needed), he might be expected to be familiar with a wider circle of country than Sam. With later knowledge from LotR, we might assume that he visited far-flung relatives at times, and presumably he would "drive" (as Frodo calls it, to many modern readers' amusement) when he had a long trip to take. (Even the map of the Country Round with Bilbo's favourite walks could conceivably include walks starting from, say, Great Smials or Brandy Hall. These don't exist at the moment, of course, in terms of The Hobbit, but the potential for them is there in the gaps in our information. And even in The Hobbit we do learn that he has relatives - although they're not the ones he'd be most likely to be on visiting terms with him, it's true!)
The large notice on the gate. Did Bilbo miss this? Or did he realize what was going on before actually meeting the people? Or must we assume a different path, going across the fields – like Bag-End has in The Lord of the Rings?
I don't get the impression he missed the notice, but it does sound as if the gate is very close to the front door so that he takes in the whole scene at once.
Another date – June the twenty-second! Was this exactly a year after leaving Rivendell? Or does it have to do with the beginning of the summer vacations? Did it inspire in any way the future importance of the twenty-second of December?
It's around these dates (in the modern calendar anyway) that the summer and winter solstices occur. I recall that we've talked about the idea of "quarter days" too, which roughtly correspond to the two solstices and two equinoxes, in Tolkien's choice of meaningful dates. But I'm not sure about this one - it sounds like it's just meant to tell us that Bilbo is back in the rigid, date-specific, legalistic and hidebound world of home!
Messrs. Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes. Who appointed them? What would they do with the money they received? And what do their names mean?
Well, if we wanted to fill in the blanks, I'd say that the Sackville-Bagginses, and possibly a few nosy neighbours, would have gone to appeal to the "authorities" - the mayor's office, possibly? - to report this unimaginably strange event, of someone being away for a year, and have Bilbo declared legally dead. The authorities would have appointed the solicitors, no doubt, although maybe they would have allowed Bilbo's relatives to take charge. The money they received would go to Bilbo's heirs, presumably, although as the story tells us poor old Bilbo's stuff was going for "next to nothing". The Sackville-Bagginses only really wanted Bag End itself, plus some of the good stuff, such as the spoons, that they apparently managed to hold onto even after Bilbo came home.
Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes sound exactly like the traditional family firm of solicitors so common in England (the repeated name being a son or other relative of the founder, whose name comes first). "Grubb" is meant to make us think of the verb "to grub", meaning to dig, I'm sure, not the insect type of grub (although there may be a hint of that too, come to think of it!). These seem to be the first of the "natural" names, referring to the hobbit proclivity for digging holes to live in, that are listed in LotR (At the Sign of the Prancing Pony): "Banks, Brockhouse, Longholes, Sandheaver, and Tunnelly.... There were several Underhills..."
Sale to commence at ten o'clock sharp - However, Bilbo was nearly late to his eleven o'clock appointment in Bywater (Roast Mutton). Was Bilbo, as an old bachelor, given to sleeping late – even for his countrymen? Does this justify Bofur's slur of "lazybones" (Queer Lodgings)? Once again – does this measurement of time signify a return to the civilized Shire?
He was late because he'd been up very late the night before, and then spent ages cleaning up after the party. I'm sure he was usually up well before 11. He seems to have been up and breakfasted and catching up on reading his correspondence bright and early on the day we first meet him. As for Bofur's "slur", it sounds more like a typical bit of thoughtless banter to me - and in fact, since we know that Bilbo was awake in the night and aware of something strange and magical going on while presumably the dwarves slept through it, it sounds like an ignorant and unjustified comment on the whole!
The precision of the time (especially the "sharp") tells us we're back in the land of legal niceties, I think - indeed back where Bilbo was at the start of his trip!
…most of the things had already been sold, for various prices from next to nothing to old songs (as is not unusual at auctions). - I love the pharse "to old songs". What does it mean? Did Tolkien coin it? See here.
No, no way he coined it (although I can't seem to open your link) - "going for a song" is a very well-known expression that Tolkien is riffing off. I agree with you it's a very neat little phrase that sums up so much - including the fact that "old songs", which are so important to Tolkien (and now to Bilbo and the reader) are assumed to have no value in the shallowly materialistic Shire. It also echoes exactly the kind of conversation that would have been going on amongst the Shire-folk as they compared their bargains!
(Whew! I'm out of practice answering these long and challenging posts! I'll leave it here for now...)
They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings