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**An Unexpected Party** - 6. “Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”

squire
Valinor


Mar 27 2009, 11:53pm


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**An Unexpected Party** - 6. “Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.” Can't Post

We continue with the first chapter of The Hobbit. The supper and the music are done with, and Thorin calls the meeting to order: “‘Gandalf, dwarves and Mr. Baggins!’” We’ll read to the point where Gandalf produces the map: “‘Now Bilbo, my boy, fetch the lamp, and let’s have little light on this!’”

Thorin begins to speak. He proves to be a gassy windbag. His pompous speech is in after-dinner style, as the narrator agrees: “he was an important dwarf…he would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not known already.”

This is another instance of the stylistic modernity of the dwarves. The Hobbit is often called a collision between a fairy tale adventure and a fanciful bourgeois Englishman (Englishhobbit). By that possibly simplistic description, the dwarves should come under the “fairy tale” rubric. But here as before, we see that the dwarves are quite modern in many ways. They themselves represent a parodic collision between Faerie, and the kind of modern ironic comedy we see in the Keystone Kops, or Gilbert and Sullivan (whose style was called “topsy turvy”. Thorin and Pooh-bah would understand each other).

A. Anyway, that’s my theory. What’s yours, starting from Thorin’s speech?

Bilbo “wags his mouth in protest”, but cannot make a noise, because he is in such shock to be hailed as a “fellow conspirator”.

B. Is this a nod to vaudeville – a popular style of stage entertainment in The Hobbit’s era? Does anyone really open their mouth to express surprise, and move it to make sounds, without succeeding? Or does this stock gesture simply present for an audience the emotion that underlies speechlessness under stress?

Bilbo does finally express (ha ha) himself: he shrieks! In fact, the image is a familiar one to later readers of The Lord of the Rings: “it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel.” Familiar, because it is a reference to railroad trains, like the express train at the Long-expected Party. Such trains were a basic fact of life to a 1930s audience, but hardly part of a world “long ago” when things were quieter, etc.

We will honor our elders in discussion, by drawing a stock question from the FotR Chapter 1 discussion:

C. Is this an “anachronism”???? I dare you to call it a “translation” and suggest what the original written phrase was that the translator chose to render in railroad terms, because the original was unsuitable for a modern audience to understand. Be specific.

Bilbo has a bit of a nervous breakdown. He quakes “like a jelly that was melting” (what does that mean) and then falls “flat on the floor … calling out ‘struck by lightning, struck by lightning!’”

D. Is this an image of shell shock taken from Tolkien’s WW I days?

E. Why “struck by lightning”?

They take Bilbo away and put him in a kind of sanitarium: the sofa in the drawing room, with “a drink at his elbow”.

F. What drink? Alcoholic or not?

Gandalf is obviously mortified, and tries to make the best of it: “excitable little fellow…gets funny queer fits…but as fierce as a dragon in a pinch.” This leads to a comic little injection, somehow getting to the story of the hobbit Bullroarer Took, who was large enough to ride a horse and fight goblins at some (legendary?) battle. He knocked off the head of the goblin king, Golfimbul, which flew 100 yards through the air and went down a rabbit hole. In a phrase beloved to generations of Tolkien fans, thus “the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.”

G. Hmmm…. What do you think?

The dwarves will have none of it. As they point out, it was obviously a shriek of sheer terror, not the kind of noise a professional burglar can afford to make while burgling a dragon’s lair. Gloin asks if there hasn’t been some mistake of address, given Bilbo’s bewildered and confused behavior: “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!”

H. Who called England a “nation of shopkeepers”? Is this a reference to that image, which the English adopted with defiant English pride?

Bilbo has recovered, and overhears this last insulting exchange. Now comes a moment that I have argued is one of the core moments of the book, and is certainly the core of this chapter. His Took side, briefly in charge during the music in the dark, is back again, and takes over completely. He steps forward. He denies knowing anything about any of the business at hand, and suggests that they have indeed come to the wrong address. Nevertheless, as a matter of wounded pride, he will do whatever they have in mind for him: “Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.”

I. As foolhardy as this sounds, is it wounded pride alone that is speaking? Or is Bilbo really interested in an adventure? “The Took side had won”: does that refer to a defense of “dignity” or a desire actually to walk to the “East of East”?

The dwarves remain dubious. They do defend their thronging of Bilbo’s hole: the mark of a “Burglar” or “Expert Treasure Hunter” was definitely on the door.

J. Is a treasure hunter really the same as a burglar? Would a burglar/treasure hunter necessarily request “plenty of Excitement” along with a reward? In the modern genre of the heist film, the expert burglar is determined to avoid excitement – always in vain, to be sure.

Gandalf regains control of the discussion. He defends Bilbo again, saying the dwarves asked him to find them a Burglar, and Bilbo it is – without Bilbo they can risk the unlucky number of a company of 13, or even abandon the quest and go back to coal mining. He adds a further explanation: Bilbo may not seem a burglar yet, he will be “when the time comes.” He has more in him than he knows himself!

K. When Bilbo shuts his mouth “with a snap” under Gandalf’s glare, is that an example of Gandalf’s wizardry?

L. Why does Gandalf feel he has a right to be angry at the dwarves’ suspicion of the hobbit, when Gandalf himself admits Bilbo shows no signs yet of being right for the job?

Finally, the dark comes to its end. Gandalf calls for a light!



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** - 6. “Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.” squire Send a private message to squire Mar 27 2009, 11:53pm
    Anachronism Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 12:06am
        John Rateliff concurs. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 2:34pm
            Although the narrator in The Hobbit Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 28 2009, 3:13pm
                "Narratorphiles"! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 5:34pm
                    Actually, I borrowed that idea Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 9:04am
                        Ah, that post! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 29 2009, 5:46pm
        Going sideways again, or backwards sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 28 2009, 5:10pm
            Hmmm, well-spotted! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 5:43pm
                chinaberries are so much more elegant sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 28 2009, 5:53pm
                    What a great find! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 5:56pm
                In this article, it's categorized as a musical instrument: Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 6:10pm
                    etymology of the word sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 28 2009, 6:15pm
                        *scurries to basement to check OED* Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 6:25pm
            pop-guns?!?! batik Send a private message to batik Mar 28 2009, 5:56pm
    My thoughts Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 28 2009, 1:01am
    A few observations... Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Mar 28 2009, 2:55am
        D'oh! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 28 2009, 4:38am
        Thanks for that McAdoo quote! :-D // Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 2:03pm
        "Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought..." squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 2:24am
            Tolkien wasn't thinking of McAdoo and Harding... Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Mar 29 2009, 11:21am
                'He speaks to me as if I were a public meeting' squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 6:30pm
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 28 2009, 12:06pm
        I love it! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 2:02pm
            Mmm. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 28 2009, 2:10pm
        Disparate comments Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 28 2009, 4:39pm
            Bilbo's dark psyche. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 8:57am
                You said it better than I. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 30 2009, 4:28pm
                I remember that! White Gull Send a private message to White Gull Apr 1 2009, 7:14pm
                    I remember you! Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 8:04pm
                        Actually, I deserve that. White Gull Send a private message to White Gull Apr 2 2009, 5:00pm
                            Well, it's good to have you back now! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 5:04pm
                                Thanks! :)// White Gull Send a private message to White Gull Apr 2 2009, 5:53pm
                            Look for the cookies. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 5:48pm
                                Good tip! White Gull Send a private message to White Gull Apr 2 2009, 5:56pm
                                Darkstone started it. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 10:50pm
                                    Right. I should have looked it up. But Aunt Dora Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 11:39pm
                                        Gingersnaps for Aunt Dora! // Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 11:59pm
        Brilliant! brilliant! squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 2:18am
            Ah, but Tolkien always does that! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 29 2009, 2:57am
                Good points!// Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 6:09am
            Thanks! Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 10:15am
    *takes the dare* dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 2:48pm
        Cookies for you! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 28 2009, 3:53pm
            Mmm...thanks! // dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 5:36pm
        I thought of this one. squire Send a private message to squire Mar 28 2009, 4:15pm
            Okay, then. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 28 2009, 4:51pm
    Some thoughts .... Elven Send a private message to Elven Mar 28 2009, 3:32pm
        Uncle Baggins wants to know more about those steam trains. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 30 2009, 4:59pm
    any connection between 'golf' and "Fingolfin"... batik Send a private message to batik Mar 28 2009, 4:40pm
        As a matter of fact...yes! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 5:50pm
            That figures...and it's fascinating... batik Send a private message to batik Mar 28 2009, 6:35pm
                Dogged determination! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 28 2009, 7:04pm
                *choke!* *snork!* *snicker!* // Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 29 2009, 1:14am
    A few answers, some to the point sador Send a private message to sador Mar 29 2009, 9:18am
    "I am Bilbo! And Bilbo means....er...." Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 30 2009, 5:50pm
    What's a Wild Were-Worm? Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 1 2009, 7:21pm
        It was originally dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Apr 1 2009, 8:46pm
    About the trains FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Apr 7 2009, 10:54am

 
 
 

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