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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Last Stage, part I - "And elves are still singing"


Nov 12 2012, 12:55pm

Views: 2557
The Last Stage, part I - "And elves are still singing" Can't Post

Well, it appears that this discussion should be headed by a disclaimer: it was prepared some time in advance, and therefore could not be cut to size to fit the taste of the would-be participants; after all, I have joined these boards five years ago, and my models for discussions were formed back then.
Nobody is obliged, of course, to answer any of the questions, or any at all. Any comments regarding the chapter are welcome at any point – whether or not you've read the opening post.

* * *

Welcome to the new discussion of The Last Stage! This is the final chapter of The Hobbit, in which we have the final pay-off of Tolkien's remarks at the beginning of the book:


This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours' respects, but he gained - well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.

Bilbo's return home was never at doubt; however, Tolkien had left open the question of what, if at all, he had gained from the experience. We still need to return to this question.
I am planning on five threads – the first two covering the events described in this chapter, on the way to the Shire and back in it; and three regarding more general topics: poetry, politics and providence.

* * *


It was on May the First that the two came back at last to the brink of the valley of Rivendell, where stood the Last (or the First) Homely House. Again it was evening, their ponies were tired, especially the one that carried the baggage; and they all felt in need of rest. As they rode down the steep path, Bilbo heard the elves still singing in the trees, as if they had not stopped since he left; and as soon as the riders came down into the lower glades of the wood they burst into a song of much the same kind as before.

With this paragraph, the Last Stage of Bilbo's journey begins. It gives a sense of the completing of a cycle. It is just over a year since Bilbo set out – as Gandalf told Thorin, Thráin has left on "…the twenty-first of April, a hundred years ago last Thursday", and Bilbo is on his way back.
As Douglas Anderson notes (ch. 1, no. 50), this is the second time in the book in which a precise date is mentioned. Does this give the impression of returning to the civilized world? Or is the original mention too comic to produce such an effect?
Where else in the book are dates mentioned? What is the effect of them?
Bonus question: has Anderson made a mistake?
"the Last (or the First) Homely House"! Is this side-comment just an, err, homely joke? Or does it have any deeper significance?
I will discuss, G-d willing, the elves' songs in a later thread this week. But at the moment, I must note the ponies! Bear them in mind, we'll return to them below.


Then the elves of the valley came out and greeted them and led them across the water to the house of Elrond.

So they had to cross the bridge again! Was it the same bridge as before? Was there only one way to the House of Elrond? (compare The Ring Goes South) Is this safe, for a refuge which might be besieged (and according to The Tale of Years, actually was)? What would have happened had Smaug fund the valley, and alighted upon the bridge?

Anyway, they get down to Rivendell, and tell their marvelous tales, with all necessary spins and embellishments (ok, perhaps without them).


Gandalf it was who spoke, for Bilbo was fallen quiet and drowsy. Most of the tale he knew, for he had been in it, and had himself told much of it to the wizard on their homeward way or in the house of Beorn.

Indeed. For most of the tale, Bilbo was an active participant, or at least a spectator; while Gandalf would only know what he was told.
Why didn't Bilbo tell the story himself? Has he grown bashful or timid again? Does he just pale into insignificance next to the charismatic wizard? Or is he taking advantage of having someone else do the talking?

Bilbo doesn't fall asleep, as he needs to listen to some parts he didn't know; Gandalf tells (or reports) of the White Council, and the expulsion of the Necromancer from the tower, which the sequel names Dol Guldur.
We must return to this in a later thread; but the present post only focuses on Bilbo. Just one question:
The tale is described as being told in bits and pieces, so Bilbo kept awake. Did Gandalf interweave his own adventures with Thorin's, like Jackson probably will? Does this make any narrative sense, or is it just to keep Bilbo awake? Or did Gandalf add other bits of information, which we know nothing off?
And also: Is this the way Bilbo learned that the Old Forest Road Beorn recommended led to no good end? Did Gandalf tell about his way to the Mountain, and was it on the eastern side of Mirkwood?
Just for the fun of it: Rateliff speculates that had Throin and Bilbo followed the path to its end, they would have encountered the fearsome Mewlips. Surely a UUT more fitting to the Reading Room than a serious study!
But to make something of it: Did Gandalf encounter the Mewlips on his way north? Might this be the source of the hobbit tradition, which led to the inclusion of the poem in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil?
Ah well, next time we'll speculate of Princess Mee as the fairy wife one of the Tooks had. Let's stop being ridiculous, before this gets out of hand.

When Bilbo wakes up late at night, he acts offensive towards the noisy neighbours:


"Well, Merry People!" said Bilbo looking out. "What time by the moon is this? Your lullaby would waken a drunken goblin! Yet I thank you."
"And your snores would waken a stone dragon - yet we thank you," they answered with laughter.

That put him back in place! Or did it? He goes back to bed cheerfully. But anyway:
Do you find any significance in this banter? Do the drunk goblin and stone dragon ring any bells?


Weariness fell from him soon in that house, and he had many a merry jest and dance, early and late, with the elves of the valley.

Does this sound right? Aren't the elves too – well, large, and agile, and graceful for him?
For myself, I can't help thinking of the wedding scene in The Pickwick Papers (ch. 28):

However, there was no time to think more about the matter, for the fiddles and harp began in real earnest. Away went Mr. Pickwick - hands across - down the middle to the very end of the room, and half-way up the chimney, back again to the door - poussette everywhere - loud stamp on the ground - ready for the next couple - off again - all the figure over once more - another stamp to beat out the time - next couple, and the next, and the next again - never was such going; at last, after they had reached the bottom of the dance, and full fourteen couple after the old lady had retired in an exhausted state, and the clergyman's wife had been substituted in her stead, did that gentleman, when there was no demand whatever on his exertions, keep perpetually dancing in his place, to keep time to the music, smiling on his partner all the while with a blandness of demeanour which baffles all description.

At last, Bilbo gives Elrond "such small gifts as he would accept ". What? Where did he get them from? And starts on his way home.


"There is a long road yet," said Gandalf.
"But it is the last road," said Bilbo.

I just love this reply! Do you?

I also love the description of the river, "swollen both with the melting of the snows at the approach of summer, and with the daylong rain".
They find the place where they've buried the trolls' gold. Bilbo tries to give it all to Gandalf, who refuses.

So they put the gold in bags and slung them on the ponies, who were not at all pleased about it.

I find this the narrator's best aside in the book. Any more fans of it?
Or any discussion of the ponies in The Hobbit?
And, applying a silk handkerchief borrowed from Elrond to his face, Bilbo comes back home. Next time, we'll see what he finds there.

"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

The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!

Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part I - "And elves are still singing" sador Send a private message to sador Nov 12 2012, 12:55pm
    Is this the last chapter SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Nov 13 2012, 4:13am
        Me? Plunge? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 13 2012, 12:29pm
            "Last (or First)" SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Nov 13 2012, 3:57pm
                directional? telain Send a private message to telain Nov 19 2012, 4:00pm
                    "Last Decent House" sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 7:41pm
                        yes! telain Send a private message to telain Nov 21 2012, 5:07pm
    Just one thought... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 18 2012, 4:40pm
        An "elvish dream"? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 19 2012, 9:06am
    Elves. Hmph. CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Nov 19 2012, 10:44pm
        I saw two shooting stars last night / I wished on them but they were only satellites sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 8:17pm


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