May 22, 5:42pm
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. …”
"He semeth elvyssh by his contenaunce"
"Your first line sells the book. Your last line sells the next book."
At least that's what Mickey Spillane says, and he should know.
The chapter is told in a light-hearted way, with the narrator making asides about the difficulty the ‘Tookish’ (adventurous) side of Bilbo’s personality is having emerging from the more stolid and respectable Baggins shell. I felt I was also being invited to smile at Thorin’s tendency to be proud and pompous.
The intrusive narrator was used quite commonly by 19th century novelists such as George Eliot and Leo Tolstoy. David Lodge in The Art of Fiction notes "Around the turn of the [19th] century, however, the intrusive authorial voice fell into disfavor, partly because it detracts from realistic illusion and reduces the emotional intensity of the experience being represented, by calling attention to the act of narrating. It also claims a kind of authority, a God-like omniscience, which our skeptical and relativistic age is reluctant to grant anyone"
The narrator (who calls themselves ‘I’ and addresses the reader as ‘you’) strikes me as a fairly unusual way of writing outside of works for quite small children, and may be quite dated now to boot (or are there many examples I don’t know about?)
The intrusive narrator has returned in post-modern metafiction where the author is not so concerned about realism but rather storytelling and language. In his writing Tolkien explored the same two constructs, as well as concepts regarding history, myths, meaning, etc. that predated today's Poststructuralists such as Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault by decades. Tolkien demonstrates that he is way ahead of his time, and more meaningful and instructive than ever.
Does anyone particularly like or dislike this narrator character,…
I like him.
…and if so would you care to explain why?
He feels homey. I always like it when we meet him again in LOTR when he asks the reader: “Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?” I also liked him in Canterbury Tales and Don Quixote.
I’m a bit baffled why Tolkien includes the longish section in which the dwarves come in a few at a time, and the main detail is the colour of their hoods. It’s probably been a boon for generations of teachers setting comprehension quizzes, but I don’t think it’s working for me. The dwarves here seem like Disney dwarves from Snow White …
Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in Los Angeles on December 21, 1937. It didn’t reach the UK until it premiered in London on February 24, 1938. Thus any connection would seem impossible. And note that since Tolkien’s much noted “heartfelt loathing” for Disney is quoted from a letter dated May 13, 1937 that emotion also would have nothing to do with the film “Snow White”.
– I think it’s the coloured hoods and that the sequence ends in the slapstick of a pile of dwarves on the hall floor, with Thorin having made an undignified entrance. Does anyone who likes this part want to try and explain what I’m missing?
This is a set up for later when Tolkien does a powerful reversal of the narrative technique of “breaking frame”. In Frame Analysis: An essay on the organization of experience Erving Goffman (considered by many to be the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century) defines a “frame” as a set of rules, expectations or stereotypes about a particular situation. In both film and literature artists sometimes “break frame” towards the end of their work to reveal that the story is just actors in front of the screen, or made-up characters in the writer’s imagination. Towards the end Tolkien reverses frame by reorienting the playful children’s story of Bilbo and the Dwarves into something morally dark and tragic. Amazing! Masterful storytelling!!
It reads to me as is this chapter’s Gandalf has a trickster streak, which is one of the ways in which he feels (to me at least) to be a bit different from his LOTR character. A current example is that his way of engineering the start of Bilbo’s adventure (trickery) seems very different to what he does to Frodo (persuasion).
In Myth and Middle-earth Leslie Ellen Jones compares Gandalf with trickster Loki. Both are associated with fire and magic, both set events in motion and then remove themselves from the situation, both are seen as troublemakers, etc. Jones notes that Loki helps or hinders depending on which course of action is most amusing to him at the time. Compare to Gandalf:
”In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.”
BTW the philologist Eldar Heide seems to have solved the puzzle of the meaning of Loki’s name. He found that “loki” seems to derive from the Icelandic word for “knot” or “tangle.” Spiders are sometimes referred to as “loki” in a metaphorical sense as their webs are compared to the fish nets that Loki makes in certain Viking myths.
Note that Pippin compares Denethor to a spider:
There Denethor sat in a grey gloom, like an old patient spider, Pippin thought...
And Pippin compares Denethor to Gandalf:
He turned his dark eyes on Gandalf, and now Pippin saw a likeness between the two…
Thus if Denethor is like a spider, and Gandalf is like Denethor, then Gandalf is like a spider, and so Gandalf is like Loki.
What do you think – does Gandalf feel different to you and if he does, does it matter?
There’s a progression from Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit to Gandalf the Grey in FOTR to Gandalf the White in TTT and to Gandalf the Even More White in ROTK. I’m not sure he transmogrifies as much as simply grows:
Gandalf: Akk! I’m dead! Varda, will you help me? Can you give me more power?
Varda: You don't need to be helped. You've always had the power to save Arda.
Gandalf: I have?
Manwe: Then why didn't you tell him before?
Varda: He wouldn't have believed me. He had to learn it for himself.
Aule: What have you learned, Gandalf?
Gandalf: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn't enough just to want to see Bilbo and Frodo — and it's that — if I ever go looking for Arda’s saviors again, I won't look any further than the Shire’s backyard and for the exaltation of the humble. Is that right?
Varda: That's all it is!
Manwe: But that's so easy! I should've thought of it for you!
Yvanna: I should have felt it in my heart!
Varda: No, he had to find it out for himself. Now that magic ring will take you back in two seconds!
Gandalf: Oh! And Boromir too?
Mandos: Nope, sorry. Boromir stays dead.
Of course there are very many other things we could talk about: from diamond studs to were-worms, to why it’s ‘poor Belladonna’ to the story about the invention of golf.
Or Lilliputians, the Gobi Desert, Wild Wire worms of China, policemen on bicycles, and Bilbo being part goblin, except this is the third edition, right?
Please go ahead and raise any other points about this chapter that you’d like to discuss!
“And mince-pies and cheese,” said Bofur. “And pork-pie and salad,” said Bombur.
“Did you say 'You Shall Not Pass' or 'You Shall Not Sass'?" asked the Balrog.
"I said 'You Shall Not Pass,'” replied Gandalf; "and I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy."
"All right," said the Balrog; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of its wings, and ending with its shadow, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.
'Well! I've often seen wings without a Balrog,' thought Gandalf; `but a Balrog without wings! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’
-The Adventures of Gandalf in Middle-earth Land