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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**An Unexpected Party** - 1. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure

squire
Valinor


Mar 23 2009, 9:09am


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**An Unexpected Party** - 1. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure Can't Post

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Thus begins a famous tale. Welcome to the Second Official Reading Room Discussion of The Hobbit! The first and last one was in 2004. I barely participated in it, having just discovered the Reading Room in the previous month or two, at the end of the second LotR discussion. So this week’s production is a long-expected pleasure for me – and an unexpected one, as I have found myself more distracted from TORn in the past year or so than in the previous four. But how could I resist starting the hobbit off on his journey There and Back Again?

I will, as always, focus on The Hobbit as an independent work that precedes and is quite different from The Lord of the Rings. Some here may recall that I read (or had read to me) the first edition of The Hobbit in my 1960s childhood - the one where Gollum helpfully shows Bilbo the way out. Only in the 1990s when I had kids of my own was I shocked to discover that the book had been rewritten to substitute the evil Ring-crazed Gollum of LotR for his mad but relatively innocent predecessor!

So in general (although I know all about the book’s stylistic evolution, and Tolkien’s later ambiguity about its role in his legendarium) I personally still think of The Hobbit as a brilliant story aimed specifically at older children, with its own theme about growing up, that has little to do with the epic of the Ring that followed it. I am particularly interested in Tolkien’s use of middle-class British nursery story conventions from the early 20th century (also seen in his other children’s tales: the Father Christmas Letters, Roverandom and Mr. Bliss) to build comic contrasts with the more traditional fairy tale elements from Grimm, MacDonald, Dunsany, and older sources that he was professionally familiar with. I especially respond to The Hobbit’s basic identity as a comedy, which is quite strongly established in this first chapter.

You may feel differently! Feel free to add your own perspectives on the book, and even its forthcoming movie adaptation, as you respond to my questions. As always, I ask a lot of questions, without expecting you to answer all of them. Just pick and choose.

I will assume you are reading along. I can only offer synopses and brief quotes of the story, due to the sniper across the street. I plan to cover this chapter in nine posts covering 800-1000 words each, plus some additional posts on general thematic subjects. And so let’s begin.

The opening (see above) coyly introduces the hobbit (an unknown word to the reader, except that it is the title of the book) by where and how it lives: in a “comfortable” hole in the ground. What follows is an elaborate description of the layout of the hole, which follows the conventions of an English country house, distorted into a single tunnel/hallway with endless side rooms.

A. Is Tolkien teasing his first time reader/listeners to imagine at this point that a “hobbit” was a kind of animal, following the beast-fable conventions in children’s literature, for example Alice in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows or the tales of Beatrix Potter?

In early drafts, Tolkien mentioned red lamps to provide illumination, and did not have the window-lit rooms on the left.

B. How can the hole go almost straight into the hill and still be close enough to the outside slope to have an entire series of windowed rooms on one side of the central hall?

The hobbit – we now learn his name is Baggins – has “whole rooms” full of clothes, multiple bathrooms(!), and dining rooms.

C. Is being “very well-to-do” sufficient explanation for this conspicuous consumption? How much money does it take to be “very well-to-do”?

A very clear connection is drawn between being respectable (and rich) and not doing anything unexpected or adventurous. These key words are repeated in this paragraph twice, in opposite order.

D. Is Tolkien satirizing or accepting the literary conventions of British country life that contrast respectability and adventures? Have you read elsewhere of characters so dull that their conversation can be anticipated?

This paragraph also lets us know the entire point and ending of the story, leaving only the moral up in the air.

E. Does it hurt the story, or reassure the young reader/listener, to be told up front that Mr. Baggins will definitely survive his adventure?

In a forced aside, the narrator interrupts himself to explain just what a hobbit is. We finally learn that they are not animals but little people: half human size. They are however not dwarves, lacking especially the beards. They are fat and cheerful and dressy and have the peculiarity of feet so hairy and tough that they do not need shoes.

F. Hobbits may be considered Tolkien’s most famous addition to the land of fairy tales. But aren’t they just Anglicized leprechauns or some other version of the well-known but hard to spot “little people” of European folk legend? Why do hobbits so famously belong to Tolkien?

Their magic, so called, is the “ordinary everyday sort” that allows them to “disappear” (implied: hide) when they hear “big people” (humans) coming along.

G. Looking ahead, does the hobbits’ “magic” ability to “disappear” foreshadow Bilbo’s acquisition of an “extra-ordinary” magic ring that allows him to do literally what he could already do metaphorically?

Next we learn Mr. Baggins’ name – Bilbo – and about his “fabulous” and “remarkable” mother, Belladonna Took, daughter of the Old Took. The Tooks live just across the Water at the foot of Bilbo’s Hill. They are known for being richer, somewhat less respectable, and more adventurous, than the Baggins family.

H. What do we suppose makes Belladonna so fabulous? Doesn’t the story imply that she had adventures before her marriage?

There is an “absurd” story that a Took once married a “fairy wife” at some point in the past, to explain this trait.

I. Comments on the “fairy wife” explanation for the Tooks’ adventurous traits??

We end here, with Bilbo age about 50, “apparently settled down immovably” in his “most luxurious” hobbit hole. But another basic theme in the story, the conflict between Bilbo’s paternal and maternal temperaments, has been set up nicely.

J. Do you put any weight to the idea that Bilbo represents Tolkien himself, a man torn between the kind of mature and solid academic respectability his Tolkien father would have approved of, and a childlike love of poetry, art, folklore and fantasy that is more prominent in his Suffield mother’s family tree?



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 TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

Subject User Time
**An Unexpected Party** - 1. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure squire Send a private message to squire Mar 23 2009, 9:09am
    Bag-End is like the Brady house entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Mar 23 2009, 2:19pm
        A fairy house for a fairy wife? Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 23 2009, 4:45pm
            Or Xanadu Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 27 2009, 1:53am
                Are you saying entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Mar 27 2009, 2:26am
                    Well.... Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 27 2009, 2:58am
    Well Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 23 2009, 4:42pm
        I think that was the original published version. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 23 2009, 5:55pm
            A balanced revision Luthien Rising Send a private message to Luthien Rising Mar 25 2009, 2:10am
        Hmmm... Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Mar 25 2009, 3:37pm
            Belladonna Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 25 2009, 7:30pm
                Grandma loved to collect it simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 25 2009, 7:36pm
                    Interesting! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 25 2009, 7:40pm
                        Quite so! // simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 25 2009, 7:45pm
                    IIRC, Queen Elizabeth Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Mar 25 2009, 8:29pm
                        I've tried the tea many times :) simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 26 2009, 2:12am
                When my son was a baby Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 29 2009, 1:40pm
    My thoughts Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 23 2009, 5:37pm
        Is that the way Tolkien drew it? Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 23 2009, 6:02pm
            Either that, or... Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 23 2009, 7:04pm
            I'm not sure Tolkien's drawings always match his descriptions. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 23 2009, 9:43pm
                That was a discarded version. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 23 2009, 10:09pm
        Wow! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 23 2009, 9:46pm
            *munch munch* Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 24 2009, 12:17am
                Have another! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 24 2009, 3:16am
                    Thank you so much! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 24 2009, 4:45pm
        He is a rock, he is an island? Entwife Wandlimb Send a private message to Entwife Wandlimb Mar 25 2009, 5:57am
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 23 2009, 5:43pm
    Re: Predictable Conversations entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Mar 23 2009, 6:04pm
    a few opinions...short ones batik Send a private message to batik Mar 23 2009, 10:51pm
    Section C. Mmatmuor Send a private message to Mmatmuor Mar 24 2009, 12:54am
    "In a post in the Reading Room, we began the Hobbit discussion.." weaver Send a private message to weaver Mar 24 2009, 1:40am
    The first paragraph does suggest a much smaller creature. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 24 2009, 5:24am
        As does the comparison of Bilbo's door to a "porthole". // N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 25 2009, 4:27pm
    Any cookies left for latecomers? sador Send a private message to sador Mar 24 2009, 7:16am
        Tolkien as Bilbo: an idea as old as the hills, or at least as old as 1977 squire Send a private message to squire Mar 28 2009, 7:14pm
    I first had the Hobbit read to me in school Jazmine Send a private message to Jazmine Mar 24 2009, 1:27pm
    Some answers simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 24 2009, 3:21pm
    Bilbo Halfelven Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Mar 24 2009, 3:22pm
        Thanks for the link!// Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 24 2009, 4:15pm
    Some thoughts Arwen's daughter Send a private message to Arwen's daughter Mar 24 2009, 4:06pm
        I think you're right about that squire Send a private message to squire Mar 28 2009, 10:00pm
    Nice, fat hobbitses. GaladrielTX Send a private message to GaladrielTX Mar 24 2009, 5:16pm
        I would love a chubby Bilbo in the films to come squire Send a private message to squire Mar 28 2009, 10:14pm
            Absolutely! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 29 2009, 12:59am
            I like that one, too. GaladrielTX Send a private message to GaladrielTX Mar 30 2009, 12:19pm
        The munchkins were just described as little. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 29 2009, 1:29pm
            Thanks for that. GaladrielTX Send a private message to GaladrielTX Mar 30 2009, 12:30pm
    Why a 51-year-old bachelor? Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 24 2009, 7:19pm
        Best of all worlds for a child reader? Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 24 2009, 10:10pm
        50 is not that old! squire Send a private message to squire Mar 28 2009, 10:26pm
            50 to a hobbit Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 29 2009, 12:58am
                But was that true when "The Hobbit" was written? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 29 2009, 1:02am
                    Huh? Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 29 2009, 1:08am
                        Should Bilbo look older in "The Hobbit" than he does in LOTR? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 29 2009, 1:30am
                    I took it so, as a child. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 30 2009, 4:12pm
            Agree whole heartedly sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 29 2009, 1:30am
                Happy birthday, sevilodorf! N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 29 2009, 1:36am
                    Thank you sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 29 2009, 1:44am
                Woot! Time to resurrect Gramma's 50th birthday post. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 29 2009, 1:35pm
                    That is a "timeless classic"! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 29 2009, 6:38pm
            Bilbo's family-free lifestyle Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 9:47am
                Maturity is the death of a child squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 11:58am
                    There's a child in each of us. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 1:13pm
                        At this point squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 1:41pm
                            I think I am doing so consciously, Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 2:47pm
    Quick answer to part A Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 24 2009, 7:36pm
        Did Beorn refer to Bilbo as a bunny/rabbit? Jazmine Send a private message to Jazmine Mar 24 2009, 9:49pm
            Yes, that's right. // N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 24 2009, 11:17pm
            *stands and puts hands behind back, and tongue firmly in cheek* dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 25 2009, 1:23am
                *mods way up*// Luthien Rising Send a private message to Luthien Rising Mar 25 2009, 2:20am
                Very well argued! GaladrielTX Send a private message to GaladrielTX Mar 25 2009, 5:30pm
                    Aww... dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 25 2009, 8:22pm
    An unforeseen party Luthien Rising Send a private message to Luthien Rising Mar 25 2009, 2:06am
    Poor, wandering one Entwife Wandlimb Send a private message to Entwife Wandlimb Mar 25 2009, 4:56am
    The "fairy wife" story is funny Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Mar 25 2009, 5:40pm
    Some late thoughts. Kethry Send a private message to Kethry Mar 26 2009, 9:41pm
        Welcome back! Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 26 2009, 9:54pm
    The Door in the Ground Morrowdim Send a private message to Morrowdim Apr 1 2009, 3:23am
    What a wonderful escort into the journey! grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 10 2009, 11:37am

 
 
 

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