Nov 18 2012, 4:44pm
The previous time we've discussed The Hobbit was soon after John Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit was published. One of Rateliff's discoveries was that The Hobbit was from the outset conceived to happen in the same world as the Silmarillion legends, and this was discussed extensively in the Reading Room.
The Last Stage, part IV - Politics and Property
We will not touch on this topic here; just mention that the from first drafts, the Necromancer was concieved of as Thú the magician, chief thane of Morgoth, from the very beginning.
My personal suspicion is that as Tolkien wished to pursue this line of Thú – the Necromancer – the Lord of the Rings, and was also working on the concept of Thú – Sauron, the corrupter of Númenor (which rose at about the same time), he combined them by placing the Fall of Númenor before the events of The Hobbit, removing the whole story thousands of years away from the fall of Gondolin and other events hinted at.
This shady, ominous figure is mentioned as the Necromancer in The Hobbit three times: in the first chapter, as an enemy too powerful for all the dwarves combined (Thorin and company shudder at the mere mention of him); at the end of Queer Lodgings, as one they don't want to even come near – saying that even Bilbo knows enough not to need being warned of him!
In this chapter, however, we learn that the Necromancer is not all-powerful; as Gandalf tells Elrond, "a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and good magic", managed to drive him away from his dark tower in South Mirkwood.
What kind of lore is specific to these wizards?
How does one differentiate between "good" and "bad" magic?
How many white wizards are needed to make the council "great"?
On a side note: given that an attack was directed at the Necromancer just as Thorin and co. were cruising through Mirkwood, did Gandalf have his own reasons to warn them off a route more to the south?
As is well-known, the description here is not quite consistent with that of The Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales: there is no hint of Saruman, the "great council" doesn’t sound like only five wizards were ever sent to help the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, and two of whom were already long missing! There is no hint of any Elves, High or others, involved (no Glorfindel!), and Gandalf needs to tell Elrond about this on the way home (again, no Glorfindel!).
Was Elrond on the secret of Gandalf's real mission? Did Gandalf actually report back to him? Was Beorn?
I take it that the mysterious "good cousin Radagast" (per Queer Lodgings) must have been involved, living next to southern Mirkwood.
Did you notice the proximity when reading Queer Lodgings? How long did it take you to do so?
In appendix AIII to The Lord of the Rings, and more fully in The Quest of Erebor (published in Unfinished Tales), Tolkien's solution to the dilemma is revealed. The whole book is put in a wider context: Gandalf the trickster, the wizard who foists Bilbo upon Thorin for his own amusement, thinks nothing of leaving his companions in the lurch when it suits him, and is at least once in mortal fear for his own skin – becomes Mithrandir the Grand Strategist, directing the Defense of the West. Unbeknowest to him, Thorin's mission is actually a diversion, directed at keeping Smaug busy and preventing Sauron from using him to strike at the Northren lands.
Do you find this transition convincing? Does it change your perception of The Hobbit? How different is reading The Hobbit with this grandiose backstory in mind, from reading it as a simple adventure story? Which reading works better?
Did The Hobbit as a book benefit, or suffer from being post facto subordinated to its sequel? Would you read it as often as you do now?
As is well-known, Peter Jackson intends to incorporate the story of the attack on the Necromancer in his coming films.
Is this a good idea? Would the story be seriously lacking, if this element would be missing? And are you willing to accept an entirely original story-line for the attack upon Dol Guldur (which Tolkien never tackled), for the sake of completeness?
Any other comments about the Necromancer? (I am leaving Gandalf and Elrond's exchange of views regarding his future for the next thread)
* * *
Another relic (if I may say so) of the First-age legends is Elrond. From the 1926 Sketch of the Mythology, Elrond's geneology and old history were fixed (with slight variations on whether he was raised by Maedhros or Maglor); however, his fate after the War of Wrath has gone through some changes, together with the developing legend of Númenor (as described in HoME vol. V):
In the first version, Elrond is a man – but he stays in Middle-earth to rule the lingering elves, as he grew to love them. In some unaccounted way, he is blessed with great longevity; so after Númenor is destroyed, he allies with the refugees to defeat Sauron.
Soon afterwards, Tolkien wrote a second version: according to it, being a Man after all, Elrond led the Men who colonized Númenor, and became their first king. After he dies, his descendants were enticed by Sauron to rebel against the Valar; Elendil, the leader of the refugees, who formed an alliance with Gil-galad the Elven-king (the first time either of these names appears) came also from his line.
According to Christopher Tolkien, the whole Númenor legend was not in existence before 1936; but in a late emendation to the 1930 Quenta, Elrond has a brother named Elros. The latter chapters of The Silmarillion were never re-written; but it seems pretty clear that the final concept, of the two brothers and the sundering of their fates – Elrond as the Lord of the Elves under, and then after, Gil-galad; Elros as the first king of Númenor, was achieved.
Unless Christopher is mistaken, The Hobbit was written and finished while the first concept was still in force, and the emendation to the Quenta was added after 1936.
If Rateliff (mentioned at the top) is right, and at the outset Tolkien did intend to incorporate The Hobbit into his private Middle-earth mythology, I might suggest that if only a couple of generations have passed since the overthrow of Morgoth, the original idea of Sauron going to Númenor to corrupt it might have been conceived as following his defeat as the Necromancer.
But on a second thought, Tolkien had decided that Elrond's words in our chapter "I fear that (the final defeat of the Necromancer) will not come about in this age of the world, or for many after" require the removal of Sauron's defeat further down in time – and making Elrond, who was a man after all, the first king of Númenor.
However, once a sequel to The Hobbit was demanded, Tolkien decided that the Ring, and the Necromancer, needed to be the connection between the prequel and The Lord of the Rings; that meant in turn that the whole Númenor episode needed to precede Bilbo's adventure, and the Three Ages concept. This transformation was completed by the introducing of the idea of the Peredhil and their freedon to chose, and having Elros as Elrond's brother.
Who has been following me so far? If you had, what do you think of my little idea?
To complete the picture, I would quote from A Short Rest a short paragraph which bears on the issue of Middle-earh politics:
He took it (Thror's Map) and gazed long at it, and he shook his head; for if he did not altogether approve of dwarves and their love of gold, he hated dragons and their cruel wickedness, and he grieved to remember the ruin of the town of Dale and its merry bells, and the burned banks of the bright River Running.
It is noteworthy that Elrond grieves especially for Dale. Is this because he was, at this stage, conceived of as a Man?
From the very beginning, Elrond was conceived as the descendant of Thingol. Is this a reason for his "not altogether approving" of dwarves? On the contrary, is this a mild sentiment?
Would Elrond have accepted the dwarves, if they were not accompanied by Gandalf?
Does the later reference to Thingol in Flies and Spiders confuse the issue?
* * *
Well, by the end of this book, the town of Dale is rebuilt, its merry bells are ringing, and trade is flourishing again on the banks of the bright River Running!
In the epilogue, Gandalf and Balin come to visit Bilbo. Bilbo has got gold buttons in his extended waistcoat (probably the precursor of Pippin's joke to Bergil "I am but four feet, and not likely to grow any more, save sideways"), while Balin has a magnificent jeweled belt, and his beard has grown a few inches! Both seem to have done pretty well for themselves since their common adventure.
Did Gandalf? If not, why not?
Was this the first visit of Gandalf after the Quest of Erebor? Why did it take him so long? Does this contradict the impression that he kept a close watch on Bilbo ever since his adventure?
The Tale of Years (appendix B to LotR) states that just over six years have passed: Bilbo returned from his adventure on June 2942, and Gandalf and Balin were visiting him on the autumn of 2948.
Isn't that too short? Or is this Tolkien's way to mitigate the issue raised in my previous question? Or to keep Balin away from Moria for twenty-seven years?
I know that posting links has become a big no-no in the Reading Room; but I have discussed Balin's visit in great length in the last part of this_post, and therefore will not repeat my arguments there. Just to sum up the main questions:
What was Balin, the oldest and most senior of Dáin's relatives, doing in the area? Was he just visiting Bilbo – or did he have another purpose?
I note (which I didn't on Febrauary) that this was late autumn – so Balin must have spent the winter west of the Misty Mountains. Where?
How does the knowledge that Balin would be the one to fall under the spell of the whispers of unrest and go to Moria, influence your perception of him? How did he get along with Dáin?
At the very least, Balin and Bilbo bring wonderful news:
Bard had rebuilt the town in Dale and men had gathered to him from the Lake and from South and West, and all the valley had become tilled again and rich, and the desolation was now filled with birds and blossoms in spring and fruit and feasting in autumn. And Lake-town was refounded and was more prosperous than ever, and much wealth went up and down the Running River; and there was friendship in those parts between elves and dwarves and men.
Beautiful! But I note two omissions:
There is no mention of Beorn and the folk he is gathering unto him. Perhaps Tolkien deemed this unnecessary, as it was nearly the last information we read in the previous chapter, and Bilbo has been a witness to what Tolkien called in the plot outlines Rateliff cites "the disenchantment of Beorn" – which I once suggested was a coda to the whole background history of the woodmen and their struggle with the goblins – another political event of importance!
However, how could you explain no mention being made of Dáin, and of Bilbo's other former companions?
Bard seems to have been quite successful as a king; however, it seems that the Lake-town keeps its independence, and prospers under a new Master, after the one we know came to a bad end (see below).
Is this a comment on a king being quite unnecessary to the state's success? When Modtheow led the discussion of Fire and Water, it appeared that the consensus was that Tolkien views warrior-kings as superior leaders to elected politicians – does the new Master suggest a more nuanced attitude?
It is noteworthy that Bard is the first king of Men in these parts: Girion was just Lord of Dale; Beorn will become a chieftain, and Grimbeorn his son is named a "lord of many sturdy men" in Many Meetings; also their relatives, the ancestors of the Rohirrim, were led by the "Lords of the Éothéod", until Cirion granted Eorl the provisional right to call himself king (see Cirion and Eorl in UT). According to appendix A to LotR, even Vidugavia styled himself "King of Rhovanion" – but was never recognized as such!
Is kingship an alien concept to the Norsemen? Was it to the old Germanic and Norse peoples Tolkien loosely based them upon?
Who has the right to bestow the title of "king"? How does Bard achieve it? By popular acclaim? – but Lake-town itself remains independent. Be his heroics? – but surely Beorn achieved no less. By wealth? By a powerful patron, such as Eorl had?
Did Thorin have a bargaining straw – could he offer the Bowman recognition, as well as help in rebuilding Dale to overshadow its rivals? How would Bard react to such an offer?
No discussion of kingship in The Hobbit may be complete without mentioning the throwaway line from Roast Mutton, when the dwarves see from afar the light of the trolls' fire, and debate whether to go in that direction:
Others said: "These parts are none too well known, and are too near the mountains. Travellers seldom come this way now. The old maps are no use: things have changed for the worse and the road is unguarded. They have seldom even heard of the king round here, and the less inquisitive you are as you go along, the less trouble you are likely to find."This line of reasoning would have applied to Mirkwood, don't you think?
Although there they were really starving, so perhaps finding food and trouble is better than finding neither.
Anyway: the sad comment on the repair of the roads in Eriador is beyond our purview, as is the comparison of the statement regarding finding unexpected things with Thorin's directive to Fili and Kili in Over Hill and Under Hill; but the unheard-of king is intriguing.
Who is meant?
Originally, the Shire seems to have been pretty much modeled on rural England – the first edition had as a preceding argument "Policemen never come so far" instead of "the roads are unguarded"! So perhaps Anderson is right in asserting (ch. 2, note 14):
"The King's_peace" is a well-known concept in English law, and "not having heard of the king" might be just a synonym for unruly people.
The mention here of the king is probably not meant to refer to an actual personage but instead to invoke the idea of the king as the theoretical source of justice, law and peace.
Tolkien himself, however, seems to have been unsatisfied with this ambiguous phrase; so in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings (section, 3, Of the Ordering of the Shire) he rationalized it by stating that even after the fall of Arvedui:
…the hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king. For they attributed to the king of old all their essential rules… both ancient and just.
The glaring deficiency of this rationalizing is that this is not said by Bilbo, but by some of the dwarves! In the aborted rewrite of 1960 (in which, if I may say so, the author out-Jacksoned PJ), Tolkien did indeed move this phrase to Bilbo, with an explanatory interjection that such was a common phrase in the Shire (HoH p. 796); but unless we accept this rewrite as "canon", the only internal justification is that either Bilbo or the narrator re-phrased the dwarves' actual words, to a well-known hobbit idiom.
Before joining the Reading Room and learning of all these possibilities, I had always assumed that this was indeed a dwarvish saying. In the Blue Mountains, Thorin was somehow known, and had some status; in the Iron Hills, and even in Lake-town, he was honoured; Beorn and the Elvenking knew his name. However, earlier in Roast Mutton, when passing through decent hobbit-lands, they met "now and then a dwarf or farmer ambling by on business" – but nobody seems to recognize the exiled Durin's Heir, to do homage or even doff his hat to the rightful king of the senior house. Bilbo might be well-content, but the dwarves were probably not half-pleased with that. So in the Wild – what hope of succor do they have?
A last possibility which needs to be considered, is to take Anderson's suggestion a bit further, and suggest that "the king as the theoretical source of justice, law and peace" need not be a theoretical king, but a higher moral authority. Let's say the Elder King (which in The Lord of the Rings stands for Manwë, at least according to the index). Not having heard of him means no sense of goodness and righteousness. Compare Genesis 20:11.
Which possibility do you prefer? Or maybe a combination of several? Are they mutually exclusive?
What do you think of Tolkien's later rationalization? Does it work? What does it say of him, that he felt the need to provide a context for this short statement?
I note that the word "king" is not capitalized. Does this refute my last suggestion? Or Anderson's?
How does this bear on the larger theme of kingship in The Hobbit?
Any other comments on this theme?
* * *
It might ultimately seem that the Master of Lake-town was just a bad egg:
Bard had given him much gold for the help of the Lake-people, but being of the kind that easily catches such disease he fell under the dragon-sickness, and took most of the gold and fled with it, and died of starvation in the Waste, deserted by his companions.Does this ring true? After all, immediately after the town was devastated, he already made plans for its rebuilding – wouldn't he have preferred to see the town he built in flower?
Where would he flee to? What use would the gold be for him in the Waste, or anywhere else?
Who were those companions? Why did they desert him? I mean, I would understand if they had knifed and robbed him, leaving him to die alone – but just desert him so that he dies of starvation?
And if the old Master embezzled all of the gold – who paid for the new town which was built?
In short, I feel that Tolkien is trying too hard. And it doesn't succeed. Do you agree?
A minor point – the Sackville-Bagginses seem to have caught the same disease, but not as bad; Tolkien comments on it with a wry understatement:
On their side they never admitted that the returned Baggins was genuine, and they were not on friendly terms with Bilbo ever after. They really had wanted to live in his nice hobbit-hole so very much.I love this! Do you?
Is this the germ of the later activites of Lotho, as told in The Scouring of the Shire?
It is refreshing to see, how well Bilbo has escaped from the disease. Taking the Arkenstone and withholding it might have caused an acute case – but once he surrendered it to Bard, not even using it to cut himself a good deal (as evidenced by his returning to wake Bombur up), he apparently was free.
Is this what enabled him to leave Frodo the Ring so relatively easily?
There remains to be seen how Bilbo disposed of the other treasures he has gained on the way. We have already discussed the trolls' gold. But regarding his real treasures:
His sword he hung over the mantelpiece. His coat of mail was arranged on a stand in the hall (until he lent it to a Museum). His gold and silver was largely spent in presents, both useful and extravagant - which to a certain extent accounts for the affection of his nephews and his nieces. His magic ring he kept a great secret, for he chiefly used it when unpleasant callers came.
Why did he keep the sword, but not the mithril-coat?
Does it make any sense, to lend the mithril-coat to a museum?
As you might know, at first this was just an ordinary coat of mail, as evidenced by the way Tolkien refers to it here. This surely should have been changed had The Hobbit been rewritten – but as far as I remember (I don't have LotR here), in An Unexpected Party Tolkien did mention Bilbo retrieving it from the mathom-house in Michel Delving.
Was this a mistake, not to delete this reference?
And by the way, what happened to the accompanying helm?
What do you make of the reference to Bilbo's young relatives? Are they really that better than the S.-B.s?
And the reference to the ring – is this really a harmless way of avoiding unpleasant callers? Or does this need to be secretive and anti-social have an ominous substratum to it?
Two very last items which have to do with Bilbo's property:
In most editions of The Hobbit which I've seen, Tolkien's own drawing of the entrance hall of Bag-end is reproduced.
Any comments on this drawing?
And the anachronism at the very end of the book – the tobacco-jar!
Had Tolkien rewritten The Hobbit to the end, would he have changed this very last sentence? Wouldn't this have been criminal?
The last post will have to do with prophecies, and providence. It will be far shorter than this one and the previous one.
"As all things come to an end, even this story..."
Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand
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