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** Inside Information ** Part II – Burglar Baggins


Sep 25 2012, 1:47pm

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** Inside Information ** Part II – Burglar Baggins Can't Post

Without his handkerchief but with a great deal of reservations, Bilbo made it to the end of the tunnel. And in the cavernous “dungeon-hall” of the dwarves below him – the glow of Smaug! Tolkien comments in Letter 24 (18 February 1938) that the name Smaug is “a low philological jest” in that he borrowed the word from the past tense of the primitive Germanic word Smugan: “to squeeze through a hole”. But even with this unflattering pseudonym, Smaug is perhaps the most famous dragon in literature, and is herein described as a “vast red-golden dragon”. One wonders if Tolkien borrowed the coloration from Y Ddraig Golch, the red dragon of Wales’ royal crest and flag. The description of the dragon’s body also bears a striking resemblance as well:


1. Would you consider Smaug to be the most famousest dragon of them all?

Bilbo is taken aback by the immensity of Smaug, but is equally amazed by the untold wealth of the dwarves the dragon has hoarded. In The Annotated Hobbit, Douglas A. Anderson comments that the following two sentences contain the only philological remark by Tolkien in The Hobbit:

“To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.”

Tolkien was referring to, as Verlyn Flieger suggests, Owen Barfield’s thesis “that language in its original state was premetaphoric”, meaning that language once existed in a state where word and thing were defined on a concrete basis with no literal, allusive or metaphoric meanings; whereas now language has changed, adding concepts and ideas divorced from the reality of one-on-one description. Therefore, Tolkien literally means that Bilbo’s breath was taken away in a very real sense.

2. Here Tolkien refers to Bilbo’s enchantment and the “desire of dwarves”, almost forgetting the dragon altogether when seeing the immense treasures strewn about the hall. Is this part of the dragon’s curse on the gold?

Bilbo the Burglar steals a two-handled cup, which Douglas Anderson infers is based on the cup-stealing episode found in Beowulf (“Then one day a thief broke into the dragon's hoard and stole a golden cup. He was not a willful thief, but rather a runaway slave who had escaped a cruel master…”, as the English translation reads). Tolkien acknowledges the debt to Beowulf in Letter 25 (16 January 1938), claiming that borrowing the “episode of the theft came naturally”, although not consciously at first. But like the author of Beowulf, Tolkien concluded that there was no other way “of conducting the story at that point”.

“I’ve done it! This will show them. ‘More like a grocer than a burglar’ indeed!” Bilbo crows triumphantly as he steals his way back up the passage with his prize. The dwarves are overjoyed and full of praise at the Burglar’s success (and survival!); that is, until the mountain quakes, the earth shakes and the dwarvish party suddenly remembers their formidable adversary. They have awoken the dreadful dragon and his terrible wrath!

3. The dwarves admittedly had a “weak point in their plans” (as Bilbo reminded them a number of times): they had never made any provisions on killing the dragon and freeing Erebor from Smaug. Does it strike you as odd that the dwarves had no such plan? It seems rather stupid doesn’t it? To travel all that way through dangers uncounted and arrive at Erebor outnumbered and defenseless? Is this a weak link in the story as a whole?

As for Smaug, he is the most interesting character in the whole story (in my opinion). The description of his “uneasy dream” and his concern over not plugging up the little hole that Bilbo had crept through is priceless. Not to mention Tolkien’s description of dragons as a whole having no “real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule”.

4. Is Tolkien making a pointed social comment here - not only of dragons, but real-world millionaires and billionaires who hoard their money and count it to the last penny? He alludes to this further when describing Smaug’s rage as the same as “rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted”.

5. Tolkien’s description of Smaug issuing from the gates of Erebor is interesting because he mentions that Smaug spouts “green and scarlet flame”. Why green and scarlet?

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.

Subject User Time
** Inside Information ** Part II – Burglar Baggins Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Sep 25 2012, 1:47pm
    Business plan Solicitr Send a private message to Solicitr Sep 25 2012, 3:02pm
        Underpants Gnomes and their mindless capitalistic endeavors aside... Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Sep 25 2012, 3:27pm
            Don't knock it, the plan worked Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Sep 25 2012, 11:10pm
    Inside Information demnation Send a private message to demnation Sep 26 2012, 1:07am
        Green Gas? Like Methane? Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Sep 26 2012, 1:46am
            'Tis a well known fact... Tweezers of Thu Send a private message to Tweezers of Thu Sep 26 2012, 11:53am
                Well, Thu... Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Sep 27 2012, 1:11am
            Jalapeno and Habanero? dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Sep 27 2012, 2:20am
    Answers sador Send a private message to sador Sep 27 2012, 2:12pm
    hic sunt dracones telain Send a private message to telain Oct 3 2012, 3:46pm


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