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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tales and terminology


Nov 18 2012, 9:40pm

Views: 1222
Tales and terminology [In reply to] Can't Post

What kind of lore is specific to these wizards?

Just lore in general, I'd say. They are "masters of lore", that is, of all kinds of knowledge. I'm inclined to think that in this early book Tolkien is using 'wizard' in its more general sense here, equivalent to what he later terms "the Wise".

How does one differentiate between "good" and "bad" magic?

As with "wizard", so with "magic", the terms here seem to be used in a less precise way than in later works. In LotR, there's some discussion about what "elf magic" is, and whether in fact it's magic at all. In On Fairy Stories, after using the word 'magic' rather indiscriminately at first, Tolkien ends by deciding that the proper term for the elvish art of "magic" is really "enchantment", whereas magic, properly so called,
"... is not an art but a technique; its desire is power in this world, domination of things and wills." Good magic, then, would be more or less what Sam calls "elf-magic". Saruman (in LotR), and of course the Necromancer/Sauron, indulge in "bad" magic.

How many white wizards are needed to make the council "great"?

I'm not sure numbers really come into this. I think it's more about the "greatness" of the members than the size of the council. (And I'm willing to believe that the terminology "white wizards" means something more general than the very specific hierarchy of LotR - "white" may just mean "good", and "wizards" may just mean "the wise".)

On a side note: given that an attack was directed at the Necromancer just as Thorin and co. were cruising through Mirkwood, did Gandalf have his own reasons to warn them off a route more to the south?

I've never given much thought to the details of how the two actions might integrate, but I bet Tolkien had!

There is no hint of any Elves, High or others, involved (no Glorfindel!), and Gandalf needs to tell Elrond about this on the way home (again, no Glorfindel!)

It depends how you define "wizards". It hasn't been defined at all clearly in The Hobbit, and so I think there is room for Glorfindel, and even for Elrond himself here. As I"ve argued before, we are not specifically told that "Gandalf needs to tell Elrond about this". We are only told that Bilbo learns about it, when overhearing Gandalf and Elrond discussing it. Tolkien has hidden the identity of the White Council members (assuming he had any idea himself who they were!), but he doesn't literally exclude the possibility that Elrond and/or Glorfindel were involved, as I read the account. Gandalf is telling the whole tale, to a large audience ("there were many eager ears that evening to hear the tale of their adventures")
, so he may well repeat things that are known to some of his audience, since others will want to hear it. I imagine Gandalf doesn't name the White Council members, but I can easily imagine a situation where one or more members of the Council are actually present at the telling of the tale.

Was Elrond on the secret of Gandalf's real mission? Did Gandalf actually report back to him? Was Beorn?

Again, all this remains a mystery - a deliberate one, it seems, perhaps because this is meant to be a glimpse of "unexplained vistas" in the background of the story. We know from LotR that Gandalf is economical with information, so I imagine anyone not actually on the White Council would only receive carefully edited hints and highlights - as we do here in fact!

Do you find this transition convincing? Does it change your perception of The Hobbit? How different is reading The Hobbit with this grandiose backstory in mind, from reading it as a simple adventure story?

I like it, in fact I always like the sense in Tolkien's writing that other versions of every story could be told, in another style, another context, by another witness. Bilbo's own story is a fairytale, but it can also be seen as part of a great myth - it's all in the telling of the tale.

Which reading works better?

Both at once is best of all, for me.

Did The Hobbit as a book benefit, or suffer from being post facto subordinated to its sequel? Would you read it as often as you do now?

I doubt I'd ever have read it if not for LotR. I never came across it as a child. But thinking back to my own kids' enjoyment of it, especially the dragon, I doubt its "subordinated" stature really makes a difference to its core readership.

In Reply To
As is well-known, Peter Jackson intends to incorporate the story of the attack on the Necromancer in his coming films.
Is this a good idea?

Not a good idea if you want a children's fairytale, that's for sure. But of course, The Hobbit really is "subordinated" in the film world. It is only being made because of its "prequel" status.

I had hoped in the early days that Jackson could actually make a light, child-oriented film first, and follow it with a more adult fantasy afterwards that incorporates the Necromancer and the Battle of Five Armies (with flashbacks to moments of Bilbo's adventures to put them into the new context).

In Reply To
Bard seems to have been quite successful as a king; however, it seems that the Lake-town keeps its independence, and prospers under a new Master, after the one we know came to a bad end (see below).

I read this as meaning that the new Master serves under the King, not that Lake-town is independent. It would be similar to the Steward of Gondor serving under the King, or of course client kings like Eomer being subject to the King of Gondor. That's how medieval feudalism would have worked, with towns like Lake-town (or indeed the Shire) having their own Mayor or Master, but still acknowledging the sovereignty of the King.

In Reply To
It might ultimately seem that the Master of Lake-town was just a bad egg:

Bard had given him much gold for the help of the Lake-people, but being of the kind that easily catches such disease he fell under the dragon-sickness, and took most of the gold and fled with it, and died of starvation in the Waste, deserted by his companions.
Does this ring true? After all, immediately after the town was devastated, he already made plans for its rebuilding wouldn't he have preferred to see the town he built in flower?
Where would he flee to? What use would the gold be for him in the Waste, or anywhere else?
Who were those companions? Why did they desert him? I mean, I would understand if they had knifed and robbed him, leaving him to die alone but just desert him so that he dies of starvation?
And if the old Master embezzled all of the gold who paid for the new town which was built?
In short, I feel that Tolkien is trying too hard. And it doesn't succeed. Do you agree?

Perhaps it does feel like trying too hard. Tolkien obviously wanted the Master to get his comeuppance and be shown for the materialistic and greedy person he is. But he doesn't flesh this out enough to make it believable, perhaps. You could make up a story, I guess - that once the Master had his hands on so much wealth he though he could do better than rebuild the old town, and would go and found a new one for himself. Perhaps one outside the realm of Bard, so that he wouldn't have to answer for spending the wealth wisely. Who knows what went wrong after that? It sounds a bit too much like what happened to the property developers who had such a great time with their megalomaniacal plans here in Ireland before they crashed back to earth a few years ago!

I assume that Bard provided more gold for a new Master, and made sure he appointed one who would use it wisely.

Does it make any sense, to lend the mithril-coat to a museum?

It has a nice Victorian ring to it, I find. The joke in LotR, as I recall, is that this precious object just gathers dust there!

What do you make of the reference to Bilbo's young relatives? Are they really that better than the S.-B.s?

Well, first of all I think this sentence reflects Bilbo's own self-deprecating assessment of himself. We shouldn't take at face value that the young relatives only liked Bilbo for the presents, although as we hear in A Long-expected Party, hobbits do enjoy getting them. But the point of the S-B's isn't just that they want "stuff" - it's that they want respect they haven't earned. They have that great English vice, snobbery.

In Reply To
And the anachronism at the very end of the book the tobacco-jar!
Had Tolkien rewritten The Hobbit to the end, would he have changed this very last sentence? Wouldn't this have been criminal?

There's tobacco in the first chapter too, and in fact it comes up a number of times. It's not so much an anachronism as a "different translation". Later, Tolkien would prefer "pipe-weed" to make it clear that it's similar but not identical to what we call tobacco. In The Hobbit, his terminology is looser, both because he's telling a children's story and (probably) because he hadn't worked out his world in full detail yet.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings

Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part IV - Politics and Property sador Send a private message to sador Nov 18 2012, 4:44pm
    Thoughts Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Nov 18 2012, 9:13pm
        I'm not so sure sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 8:43am
            For the most part, I agree... Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Nov 20 2012, 1:02pm
    Tales and terminology FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 18 2012, 9:40pm
        ''wizard' as a general term? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 9:32am
            Hope you don't mind.... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 20 2012, 11:07am
                Not at all, but also yes sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 2:21pm
                    His arm has grown long CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Nov 20 2012, 2:50pm
                    *embarrassed* FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 21 2012, 8:45am
    The magic of politics CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Nov 20 2012, 12:58pm
        Answering without explaining sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 3:48pm


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