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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
“Picaresque” – nice!


Nov 18 2012, 1:25am

Views: 2174
“Picaresque” – nice! [In reply to] Can't Post

A. To what extent is the long "silence" a part of the different tone of the Lonely Mountain chapters, with their drama of winning, sharing and defending the treasure – as opposed to the picaresque of the journey from Bag-End to Lake-town?
Well, if “tone” is to be defined by the absence of characteristics as much as by the presence, then I agree that the lack of songs contributes to the different tone of the latter part of the book. What I would observe about your list is that songs in The Hobbit are sung by groups, never by individuals, unless it is Bilbo himself in the Gollum and spider episodes. So the songs seem to be mostly choral commentaries on the action or on the nature of the choruses themselves (“introductory” choruses, you might say). Maybe the answer is just there are no new groups or new choruses to sing by the last part of the book.

“Picaresque” – nice!

B. Do you miss the poetry in the later chapters, or are you thankful for the omission?
I’m not “thankful” that the poetry is missing – I like Tolkien’s verses for what they’re worth, primarily as an enrichment of his story-magic. But I don’t miss the poetry in the latter part of the book because it is an absence not a presence, and the action of the plot is in high gear which satisfies me sufficiently.

C. Is your attitude consistent with your like or dislike of the shift in focus? I ask because some have commented on how they dislike the disparity in tone, and see the first part as far superior to the other – despite not liking the poetry.
I like to think I’m consistent here. The Hobbit and I have been in bed together far too long for me to say I like or dislike one part more than another. To me, it’s one book, for all of its range of tone, pace, voice, point of view, and mythopoeticism.

D. Is Bilbo's shifting attitudes to the dwarves' songs due to a difference between the songs, i.e. a change in the dwarves, or a change in himself?
No, the dwarves’ feelings in both songs are the same, reflecting the part of themselves that focuses on jealously and loyalty. It’s Bilbo who has changed. The Tookish side is well sated by now. He is like the young soldier, after having survived a battle or two, listening to the same patriotic anthem that led him to enlist; he is alive and older and wiser, and the magic is gone.

E. Is it the same change Gandalf remarked upon?
Not the same change, because Bilbo now likes songs, just not the dwarves’ war-songs. But yes, the same change in the sense that Bilbo’s adventure has both matured and poeticized him.

F. Any other comments on the poetry throughout the book – for instance, on which songs are left unrecorded?
In passing, I’d note that we have analyzed the verse and songs of The Lord of the Rings, and similarly discovered that The Return of the King (volume 3) is remarkably song-free.

"The dragon is withered / His bones are now crumbled…"
G. Doesn't this indicate that a lot more time has passed, than the mere six-seven months which actually did?
No, no. The present and future tenses of the verses about the perishability of heroic matters is paired with verses in the present tense on the eternal beauties of nature, joined with comparative conjunctions like “yet” and “still” that correlate with the future. The elves are using the specifics of Bilbo’s quest to make a more general point about mortal vs. immortal life, in the present tense that is used to express general truths:

“The dragon is now dead; the wealth and power won thereby will be dead as well someday; but both now and then and afterwards, nature and the elves will thrive and be happy in this valley without care for such matters.”

You might say the song indicates that a lot more time will pass before heroism is finally dead and buried like the dragons it opposes.

H. Or are dragons so brittle?
Well, Smaug sure crumbled up like the Wicked Witch of the West once a simple but correct solution was applied to the problem. Elrond might not have known how the quest would turn out, but these Elves are surely not surprised by the outcome.

"And elves are yet singing" – note that the elves' song is considered to be one of the constants, despite the myth of the elves' "fading" being already in existence.

I. Is this a slip of Tolkien?
In The Hobbit, it seems to be established in the Rivendell and Mirkwood chapters that Elves are an ongoing part of the mortal world, although they have become much more reclusive since the coming of Men.

J. Or an instance of The Hobbit being independent of the legendarium?
Well, sure. Even in The Lord of the Rings, in the early sections that are most under the influence of being a “sequel” to this book, it seems the Elves are only leaving Middle-earth because of the rise of Sauron that drives the plot of Book I. The “legendarium” was being born in The Hobbit and in the early Fellowship, but the whole First-Second-Third Age structure did not exist at that point.

K. Did the elves merely use "yet" as opposed to Bilbo's journey – in which case, is this a stylistic failure, being out of tune with the rest of the stanza?
I’ll stand on my answer above.

L. Or does Tolkien hint that the elves might have faded indeed, but their song still is with us, permeating the world?
There’s no hint of elves’ fading in the song, as clever as your construction is.

"The stars are far brighter / Than gems without measure…" –
M. …how does this compare to Gimli's accolade of Galadriel's hair ('… which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine' - Farewell to Lórien)?
It mostly makes me realize how consistently Tolkien used a relatively limited vocabulary in his symbolism.

N. Is there a significance to Gimli speaking of the 'gems of the mine', while the elves speak of 'gems without measure'?
No, I don’t think so. Both modifiers are appropriate to their context. Although I would say “without measure” is the weaker usage, clearly chosen for its rhyme than for its added meaning to the poetry. Gimli’s “of the mine” goes with “of the earth”, thus elevating Galadriel’s hair to a heavenly quality alongside the stars.

Also – together with the moon and stars, the fire is mentioned, rather than the sun.

O. Any meaning to this?
Your initial analysis proposed that the Elves were comparing “the lights of heaven” to “things of the earth”, but as you see, they are really comparing natural light to reflected light: stars, moon, and hearth-fire to the glitter of gems, silver, and gold. Although we might expect the sun rather than hearth-fire to be the third “good” light, the choice keeps us within the poem’s theme of returning home at the end of the day. Fire, like the color black, is not always a bad thing in Tolkien’s imagery.

The third stanza closely echoes the song from A Short Rest - minus the foolish bantering, plus a genuine empathy towards the weary travelers.
P. What does this shift mean?
Oh, there’s a little foolish bantering – that’s how I read the nonsense about the dragon and the goblin, anyway. Really, I don’t see any shift. Rather, as you say, this is an echo of the earlier song. More exactly, it is a frame – the two songs are the Elves’ commentary on the entire idea of questing and heroism. The differences come from the placement in the story and the context of Bilbo’s journey – the first time he is on his way out, now he is on his way home.

Q. Does it in a way "elevate" the song of the earlier chapter, by giving it a wider context, and investing it with a deeper meaning?
Yes, there is a great deal more moral and ethical commentary in this one, compared to the gaily mocking welcome of the first one. But why not? The book’s “change of tone” parallels Bilbo’s own growth, and the end of the book stands for age’s wisdom compared to youth’s impetuosity at the beginning.

R. Does anything else about this song strike you?
This is practically the only Elven song I can think of where the phrase and (more importantly) the idea of “elf and elf-maiden” occur. It suggests that the Elves have a normal, sexually-balanced society. Odd? No, you’d think, except we never meet or hear of any “elf-maidens” at any other point in The Hobbit, at either Rivendell or Mirkwood. And in The Lord of the Rings, we really only meet Galadriel and Arwen and (by reputation) Nimrodel and Celebrian. They are all royals or otherwise heavily fated exceptions to what I think of as a cheerful, singing and dancing, home-making and child-bearing, “elf-maidenhood” in company with, and of equal status to, your average cheerful “elf”.

The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,
And bright are the windows of Night in her tower
Rateliff suggests that "the moon is in flower" is a hint to Isil's being originally a flower of Telperion.
S. Is this convincing, or too far-fetched?

I don’t buy it, but then I haven’t read Rateliff’s commentary. The imagery seems to me to be a somewhat labored attempt to link the emergence of the night’s heavenly lights with that of flowers in the spring.

T. And if this is supposed to recall the larger mythology, just where is the ‘tower of Night?‘
Good question, but I’m not sure it is meant to recall the larger mythology. Again, I smell the desperation of a rhymer (flower/tower) here more than a thought-out metaphor. That said, I like the image of lit windows in the “house of Night”. It seems quite original to me.

U. And why is she female?
Yikes! Who knows? It’s another good question, to which I have no answer. I’m pretty sure it’s not an important point, though. No matter what Tolkien later said, I believe a lot of The Hobbit was “knocked off at a supercharged, fuel-injected, 345-hp Smith Corona before tiffin.”

Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!
Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!

V. Is this a hint at the mythical power of elves to weave dreams for mortals, such as Tolkien enlarged upon in Of Fairy-Stories?
A hint, sure. But the imagery could apply to a mother singing to her child, or just about any other similar situation.

W. Or at the affinity of the Rivendell elves with those of Mirkwood, who did just that?
It’s not an either-or question, since both folk are Elves. But the Mirkwood Elves didn’t sing the dwarves to sleep in the fashion that the Rivendell Elves are clearly doing, or trying to do.

X. Considering that this lullaby actually woke Bilbo up – did the elves fail in their stated intention?

I’m not sure the song woke Bilbo up, despite his joke about the loudness. The writing suggests he woke because he’d had enough sleep. I read recently that it is more common than we realize for agrarian people who have gone to bed when it gets dark to wake in the early hours of the morning, stay awake for an hour or two, and then go back to sleep until light.

That said, the Elves are hardly working on just a lullaby for Bilbo. The first two stanzas are celebratory of the joys of a nighttime revel. Only in the third verse do they change pace and address “the wanderer [who] sleepeth.”

And a last thing: I note the archaic language these elves use, which is more pronounced than that of any other speaker in the book.
Y. What meaning might be attached to this?
I don’t know, but I’ve always noticed it too. It sounds rather like a hymn or a carol (“O Come All Ye Faithful” comes to my mind every time).

Z. Do you like it, or do you find it jarring?
I find it kind of corny and labored, and I have always assumed it was Tolkien’s attempt to create a kind of Elvish “dignity” with which to bade them farewell in The Hobbit.

AA. Any other comments about this song?
I am rather curious about the ode to all the types of trees. Only since coming to TORn have I found that the medievals had distinct ideas about the nature and uses of various tree species, and I now read verses like “Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!” “Sigh no more Pine” and “Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!” with suspicion that I am missing some erudite reference to Tolkienian tree-lore.

I will try to respond to the rest of your questions later.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part III - Poetry and Prose sador Send a private message to sador Nov 15 2012, 9:23am
    “Picaresque” – nice! squire Send a private message to squire Nov 18 2012, 1:25am
        I'm glad you like it. sador Send a private message to sador Nov 19 2012, 8:57am
    Songs and tales FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 19 2012, 11:26am
        Thanks for the links! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 21 2012, 10:50am
    Tour de force CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Nov 20 2012, 7:48am
        Good point FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 21 2012, 10:20am
        Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 1:17pm
    *What* goes ever on and on? squire Send a private message to squire Nov 22 2012, 6:13am
        Nice analysis! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 6:21pm
        Truth and fiction FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 23 2012, 11:36am


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