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Tertiary characters in The Hobbit - Balin (long).


Feb 27 2012, 2:14pm

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Tertiary characters in The Hobbit - Balin (long). Can't Post

The most striking thing about the second dwarf we meet, is how insufferably rude he is.


They had not been at table long, in fact they had hardly reached the third cake, when there came another even louder ring at the bell. "Excuse me!" said the hobbit, and off he went to the door… But it was not Gandalf. Instead there was a very old-looking dwarf on the step with a white beard and a scarlet hood; and he too hopped inside as soon as the door was open, just as if he had been invited. "I see they have begun to arrive already," he said when he caught sight of Dwalin's green hood hanging up. He hung his red one next to it, and "Balin at your service!" he said with his hand on his breast.
"Thank you!" said Bilbo with a gasp… "Come along in, and have some tea!" he managed to say after taking a deep breath.
"A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir," said Balin with the white beard. "But I don't mind some cake – seed-cake, if you have any."

I appreciate that Balin expected that Bilbo would know what was going on (The Quest of Erebor suggests otherwise, but problems of inconsistency should laid at the later work's door), but beginning with a comment which completely ignores the host, expressing surprise that he wasn't the first – and the response to Bilbo's invitation is really the limit. I'm sure that had Dwalin not been sitting already inside, Bilbo would have called the police (umm… at least in the first edition, which had policemen in it Wink).
Did Balin expect to be the first? Was he disappointed that Dwalin had preceded him? Or perhaps this was they other way round – because he was such an unpleasant customer on first meeting, Thorin was careful to send Dwalin first?

Well, so enters Balin; and this entrance is surprising, coming from one of the most liked characters in The Hobbit. In the previous discussion of this book I was astonished to find how often some readers took him as the epitome of all that was good in dwarves – usually setting him as a foil against Thorin. My opinion of Thorin is higher than some have, and regarding Balin – well, we'll see.
For an example, he is the only dwarf regarding which Robert Foster (Guide to Middle-earth) offers any character analysis:

Balin and Bilbo became quite friendly in 2941; he seems to have been kindlier than many Dwarves.

Kindlier? Is there any indication, apart of his friendship with Bilbo, of this?

If Tolkien intended Balin to be especially chivalrous, this might be indicated in his name. He is the only dwarf of Thorin's company whose name does not come from Norse legends, but from King Arthur's legends – bearing the name of a renowned and highly praised, but unfortunate, knight. I have tried to find a connection between the legend of Sir Balin and anything Norse, or dwarfish (I suppose I may use this spelling now) – but in vain. Perhaps the name was chosen just because of the similarity to Dvalinn.
Do you think there is any connection between the two characters?

* * *

Unlike Dwalin, Balin is mentioned a lot in The Hobbit – more than any other hobbit, save Thorin. N.E. Brigand once did the statistics.
· He is one of the Dwarves to help Bilbo set the table.
· He pores over Thráin's map, and mentions the dragon which is drawn upon it – missing however the runes. Unlike the drafts, he is not necessarily attempting to deflate its importance.
· As the look-out, he welcomes Bilbo as he enters The Green Dragon.
· On the look-out again, he sees the troll's fire.
· He comes first to help Bilbo; however, he enters the circle of fire where three trolls are whacking at each other with no caution – the trolls see him before he gets to do anything! The other dwarves have at least the excuse that the trolls are hiding out of the light.
· He deflates Bilbo's wishful thinking that the Misty Mountains are the destination.
· With Balin, he is mentioned by name in the Elves' song. This is likely to be just a matter of rhyming – but perhaps one could suggest the brothers were known in Rivendell from the time of Thráin's expedition! What do you think?
· He is the look-out who misses the invisible Bilbo when the hobbit is reunited with his friends. Rather than skulking, he handsomely acknowledges Bilbo's skill and compliments him for it, while claiming this was the first time a mouse slipped by him.
· At the Enchanted River, when the boat gets free, Balin is the one with the presence of mind to sieze it before it floats off down the current. He compliments the 'lads' for their pull (according to Durin's Folk, Óin was actually his junior by a mere fourteen years), and is one of the first boatload to cross.
· On the look-out again, he sees the first of the wood-elves' fires.
· He is the first to grasp Bilbo's plan, and leads the Dwarves' counter-attack on the spiders which results in their bursting through the surrounding circle.
· After finding out about Bilbo's ring, he does not begrudge his trick of two chapters before.
· When the wood-elves capture the dwarves, it is Balin who assumes the leadership when dealing with the Elvenking. However, his tone is very rude, as if calculated to insult.

"What have we done, O king?" said Balin, who was the eldest left. "Is it a crime to be lost in the forest, to be hungry and thirsty, to be trapped by spiders? Are the spiders your tame beasts or your pets, if killing them makes you angry?" Such a question of course made the king angrier than ever…

· He is the first dwarf to be released by Bilbo (who perhaps has by now a soft spot for him) from prison, and watches while the other dwarves are packed into barrels, being the last to enter one. However, he is very fussy about his air-holes and complains he is stifling even before the lid is on (Thorin is the only other dwarf who is said to give trouble).
· On the last way to the Mountain, Balin rides behind with Bilbo, each leading another pony carrying stores (it is remarkable that Tolkien forgot those two extra ponies later, when Smaug speaks of the fourteen ponies the Dwarves brought with them).
· With Fili and Kili (and Bilbo), Balin leads the scouting expedition to the South side of the Mountain, showing the others the Gate and the ruins of Dale, and cursing the crows. It is mentioned that he was a companion of Thorin's on the day the Dragon came.
· He is the only one to accompany Bilbo part of the way down to Smaug's lair.
· When Smaug attacks after finding out the cup was stolen, Thorin leads the dwarves to save Bofur and Bombur; however, he selects Balin, Fili, Kili and Bilbo to remain inside, so that "the dragon shan't have all of us".
· When Bilbo returns downcast after his conversation with Smaug, it is Balin who comforts him for his possible giving the Lake-men away. After that, together with Thorin he reminisces about the treasure.
· When the dwarves accompany Bilbo down and he falls, he cries for help:


"Now what on earth or under it has happened?" said Thorin. "Certainly not the dragon, or he would not go on squeaking."
They waited a moment or two, and still there were no dragon-noises, no sound at all in fact but Bilbo's distant voice. "Come, one of you, get another light or two!" Thorin ordered. "It seems we have got to go and help our burglar."
"It is about our turn to help," said Balin, "and I am quite willing to go. Anyway I expect it is safe for the moment."

Is this a grand moment of Balin's? does he show himself in a better light than Thorin? Curious and_FarFromHome thought so. And does his practical assumption that at the moment it is safe detract for this?
· After getting out through the Gate, Balin leads the company to an old look-out post, which he remembers; he regales the company with a story of how they used to have a guardroom there.
· When the birds flock to the Mountain, Balin wishes for a raven, distinguishing between ravens and crows. The thrush understands him goes to fetch Roäc, who then addresses Balin together with Thorin, as if they were equals.
· He is the first to observe the camp of Elves and Men – possibly as the look-out again (although by now this job should have been divided between the dwarves).
· After that Balin is not mentioned again, until the Battle of the Five Armies. He is one of the four dwarves Bilbo thinks of as possible victims, but survives the battle; he is the first of the Dwarves Bilbo takes his leave from, and the one to speak the words of farewell. And of course, at the very end of the book he comes to visit Bilbo.
Do these justify Foster's estimate that Balin seems kindly? Or does he keep up with the rude impression he created upon first entering Bag End?

* * *

One might suggest that as the story progressed, Tolkien decided to "raise" Balin from the ranks, and make him a proper second-in-command, and a foil to Thorin. Therefore Balin was ultimately thought of as truly the best of the dwarves, but his entrance in the first chapter was not revised, as it could not be done properly without spoiling the effect.
If so, at what stage of the book did this happen? And why was Balin chosen – by which I mean, what in the early chapters could have induced Tolkien to make such a decision?

As much as I would like this to be the case, I am afraid it is not so. To begin with, we never see Balin disagree by deed, word or hint with Thorin; the only one who grumbles against the king's stiff neck during the siege of Erebor is Bombur; and the only others who are said to be uncomfortable are the younger dwarves – Fili and Kili, and possibly Ori as well (assuming that he is the youngest of three brothers – which seems plausible, but as far as I know is never said).
Even more telling, in The Quest of Erebor, Tolkien describes Balin as haughty and insulting, even more than Thorin or Glóin. In Gandalf's words (Unfinished Tales, p. 334):

"...The hobbit I have in mind has ornaments of gold, and eats with silver tools, and drinks wine out of shapely crystal".
"Ah! I see our drift at last," said Balin. "He is a thief, then? That is why you recommend him?"
At that I lost my temper and my caution. This Dwarvish conceit that no one can have or make anything "of value" but themselves, and that all fine things in other hands must have been gotten, if not stolen, from the Dwarves at some time, was more than I could stand at the moment.

Is this conclusive? Or might we think of the Quest as a character-journey of Balin as well? (Won't Philippa Boyens love that!)

However, in the 1960 rewrite, Tolkien added a significant detail: he had Balin suggest the dwarves should take shelter for the night to the south of the road rather than the north, as he did not like the look of the woods. Rateliff comments that apparently Tolkien intended to portray Balin as more perceptive and intelligent than other dwarves, notably Thorin.
Does Balin show similar attributes in The Hobbit as published? How would you evaluate his success as a look-out man?
More importantly, why would the second-in-command, and the oldest member of the company (save Thorin) be the look-out man?
I suppose the previous question enters the realm of fan-fic: memories of being a child in Erebor (note how well he knows the look-out posts – and he was seven when he fled the place); traumas of losing his father in the battle of Azanulbizar; or of having lost Thráin (how come he knew nothing of the Map?); professional pride and vanity, in which case Thorin might be indulging him even if he has passed his prime; distancing himself from the carousing younger dwarves; or even distancing himself from Thorin, to which he sticks out of mere loyalty. Take your pick.
In general, what do you think of Balin's leadership qualities?

* * *

My last question (or topic, to be more exact) of this week (in should have been yesterday – I apologise for encroaching upon Hamfast), is what on Middle-earth possessed Balin to go to Moria?

To begin with, some have suggested that Balin's visit to Bilbo, at the end of The Last Stage, was connected to such plans. I suppose this was the intent of N.E. Brigand's question last time we discussed The Hobbit in the RR; however none of the members who responded rose to the bait. I suppose it would be strange, so soon after the return to Erebor – according to appendix B (The Tale of Years) only seven years, as long as he lived in Erebor before the Dragon came; I still think that my answer back then is the most plausible – that he returned to bring the younger relatives, and other members of the dwarf-communities in the Blue Mountain and throughout Eriador. Surely Thorin's second-in-command would be the natural candidate for this mission!
Do you agree? Or do you have any other suggestion?
Obviously, when Tolkien was writing The Hobbit he had no idea what Balin was up to – but did this visit give him the idea? Or did he just want to give Balin a lucrative "promotion"?

It should be remembered that according to Glóin, Balin at last listened to the whispers that the Dwarves were "hemmed in a narrow place, and that greater wealth and splendour would be found in a wider world" and resolved to go to Moria. Glóin also obliquely refered to the source of these whispers – which could probably not begin before TA 2951, when the Enemy reconquered Dol Guldur – three years after Balin's visit.
But what made Balin listen to these whispers? And why didn't his brother go with him?

Here we enter to the realm of fan-fic – there is nothing I know of by Tolkien which could answer this. So I'll just throw a few suggestions:
Did Balin want to get away? Was he upset by Dáin's reign?
What might have caused that – was it because Dáin was younger? Because he did not participate in the hardships of Thráin and Thorin? Did Balin resent Dáin's returning to the Iron Hills after the Battle of Azanulbizar, or even Náin's coming late to the war?
Once Thorin, Fili and Kili were dead – did Balin expect to be the next in line of succession? Would a second cousin of the last king invariably take precedence over the third cousin, or was there some process of election? Did Dáin become king as the next-of-kin, as the savior of the Kingdom, or simply as the leader of the majority of fighting dwarves?
Even if the succession was natural – how did Dáin feel about his most famous and rich subjects not having known him for years? Wouldn't he prefer to be surrounded by his own trusted followers from the Iron Hills?
Was Balin's mission to the West a success? Did his diplomatic skills improve since Thorin's days, or did Dáin regret not having sent Dwalin? Or was it too successful – after all, Balin did acquire considerable clout among the young dwarves!

All these could be attributed to the same whispers mentioned above – perhaps Balin was especially vulnerable. But other reasons could be suggested:
Let's consider Balin's relationship with Fili and Kili. The three of them (with Dwalin) are the first to arrive and to help Bilbo, and he also commends the two younger dwarves (with Óin and Glóin) for their "good pull" at the Enchanted River. Later, he takes them upon the scouting mission and the three of them are singled out by Thorin for staying safe while Bofur and Bombur are rescued.
Was there any special connection? Might Balin, as their senior kinsman, have been the guardian or tutor of these two?
Could he be a similar guardian to Thorin III? Was he passed over – because of some tension as suggested above? Or was he simply broken and unmotivated after the death of his two protégés?
Or might his fascination with Moria been old and deep-rooted? Did it begin at the battle of Azanulbizar, after which Thráin wanted to re-enter the old kingdom? Or did his adventure with Thráin lead them near Moria? After all, it is not so far from Dol Guldur, where Thráin eventually died!
I should have asked about Lothlórien (which is also in the vicinity) but I'll refrain.

So Balin went to Moria, and was lord of that realm for five years. It is striking that he took up his seat in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and that when he was finally shot when looking alone in Kheled-zâram.
Why did he go alone? Was this a kind of a death-wish? Did the Lord of Khazad-dûm always go there alone? Or were the dwarves simply careless, after several years of quiet? In fact, were they troubled at all after they first conquered Moria? Or were they usually harried by Orcs? Might this have been the reason Balin took his seat in the Chamber of Mazarbul – because it could hardly be attacked from the East, was out of the way and was near the Bridge to escape in case of need? Note that the last stand was after the Orcs managed to take the Bridge and the Second Hall.
Now I really must ask – did Celeborn and Galadriel not know at all of the dwarf-colony? Is this even plausible?

Well, this surely was long enough. However, if I forgot anything important, please add.
And thank you to all who have/will responded or lurked!

Subject User Time
Tertiary characters in The Hobbit - Balin (long). sador Send a private message to sador Feb 27 2012, 2:14pm
    Lord of Moria Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Feb 28 2012, 9:23am
        Yes, I know sador Send a private message to sador Feb 28 2012, 3:25pm
    Late thoughts FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 3 2012, 2:57pm
        Well, had it been only that sador Send a private message to sador Mar 4 2012, 4:52pm
    And even later thoughts on Balin's entrance Nienna Send a private message to Nienna Mar 3 2012, 6:55pm
        Of course! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 4 2012, 5:44pm
    Perhaps Dwalin should have been the look-out? telain Send a private message to telain Mar 6 2012, 9:32pm
        That's an interesting idea! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 11 2012, 3:43pm
    Balin's initial greeting isn't that rude if you assume Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 8 2012, 8:10pm
        I don't think that helps. sador Send a private message to sador Mar 11 2012, 4:01pm


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