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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Some answers


Oct 17 2012, 4:07pm

Views: 264
Some answers [In reply to] Can't Post

Great questions Curious!

What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?

It is not clear what motivates the animals' efforts to communicate with dwarves, elves and men: are they merely servants or messengers guided by some higher power; or does their urge to communicate outside their species or otherwise involve themselves in the affairs of bipeds come from within?

Tolkien makes it clear that whether or not a given animal is perceived to be sentient depends on a given cultural groups' ability to understand what they are trying to say, or if they are trying to communicate with them at all. On the one hand we have dwarves who claim a history of speaking with birds, and on the other we have a hobbit engaging in anthropomorphosis, but not entirely convinced there is anything to it... until Roac makes an appearance.

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?

They are different species of the same animal, with crows usually being the smaller of the two. Both crows and ravens are considered to be messengers; being carrion birds they often symbolise ill fortune. The Raven is a pregnant symbol throughout history, notably in Norse Legend... but you knew that already.

In the book of Luke we are told to "Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!" The idea that carrion is still providence is a chestnut for spiritually minded folk to wrestle with.

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?

Being able to understand a language and speak a language are two different things.

Just tossing out an idea here... with Smaug out of the way perhaps it's freer now to reveal where its Loyalties lay? Other than that, perhaps the thrush owed allegiance only to Bard and wasn't concerned about the affairs of dwarves?

Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?

Probably for Bilbo's benefit, and perhaps for the thrush -- perhaps ravens and thrushes communicate in Common like an Italian and a Swede conversing in English?

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West? Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?

That's a lot of carrion to devour (too bad his carcass lay underwater). Perhaps too they are eager to begin the work of restoring the ruined lands around Erebor? Some, for instance the Ravens, might be interested in shiny bits from Smaug's horde.

Tolkien skips quickly over the raven's telling of the tale of Smaug's death, which he learned from the thrush. How much of what we know was told by the raven? Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot? Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?

Don't you hate it when your contributions to a successful venture are forgotten? But not even Bilbo knows for sure that it was his intel that helped Bard down Smaug. Life is like that though... we don't always know how our actions or words affect how larger events play out.

How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?

He seems to be slipping into the role of a prophet here, especially as he speaks of future events. Though at his age, and with his memory (and his father's) he would have enough bits of information to make an accurate prediction. It seems to me that Roac is wise enough to recognize and trust integrity where he sees it.

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking? Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens? Are the birds just incredible gossips? Do they get anything out of spreading this news?

Well there was the payment of shiny things to Ravens that Balin mentioned. Perhaps too if they bring useful information occasionally, they can expect to move about unmolested; Smaug seemed to have established a no fly zone around Erebor while in residence there (another reason the birds 'returned').

Do you have any other comments on these passages?

I just like to see Tolkien do here what he does best, pad the main narrative with back stories and legends.

Subject User Time
**The Gathering of the Clouds** I Curious Send a private message to Curious Oct 17 2012, 6:11am
    Answers sador Send a private message to sador Oct 17 2012, 10:40am
    Some answers SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Oct 17 2012, 4:07pm
    The thrush and its purpose dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Oct 21 2012, 2:50am
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Oct 22 2012, 6:12pm


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