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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**An Unexpected Party** - 10. A few thematic questions…simple stuff... the Narrator, Social Class, Anachronism, Fairy Tales...

squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2009, 3:19pm


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**An Unexpected Party** - 10. A few thematic questions…simple stuff... the Narrator, Social Class, Anachronism, Fairy Tales... Can't Post

Well, that about wraps up our first week of the Reading Room discussion of The Hobbit. Thank you all, each and every one of you, for joining in; and say hey! to all our lurkers – come on in, we’re not intimidating any more, much.

As I said in the beginning, I had intended to do some “thematic” threads after covering the text. No time for lots of additional threads now – I barely got through the week, if you didn’t notice – but I will ask a few token questions for those with a taste for this stuff.

Narrator’s voice

This week we’ve already gotten a few perceptive comments on the narrator of The Hobbit. For instance, Curious commented that the narrator is clearly a part of our Primary World unlike the equivalent voice in The Lord of the Rings. Arwen’s Daughter noted that the narrator makes choices about when the reader will learn something. And someone else (sorry!) pointed out how the narrator has his/her own character, with a point of view, and a limited body of knowledge about the story.

I have always defaulted “him” as a male, but whether that’s because I’m male, I know Tolkien was male, or it’s an English language/social convention, I don’t know. Certainly my mother read the story to me as a kid and I doubt I heard a single word that sounded funny coming out of her mouth.

A. Is the narrator male or female?

Most stories of this kind have a narrative voice, sometimes called the omniscient third person, or something like that (story-experts, pitch in here!). In The Hobbit, for starters, the narrative voice is first person almost immediately - not uncommon in children's literature, or even adventure romances of the period. But then the voice gets folksy and idiosyncratic, and suddenly we have the character of the Hobbit-narrator. To many people, this character is the single most annoying, or differentiating, thing that makes The Hobbit inferior to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is on record as saying himself, years later, that he regretted the “talking to children” tone of The Hobbit – yet when he attempted to re-write The Hobbit in a style more consistent with LotR, he stopped when others told him he was destroying a unique work of literature.

B. If the narrator’s personalized comments were eliminated from The Hobbit, would it be a better book?

Anachronisms

We’ve already started talking about this, of course. It’s unavoidable with this story. Or is it?

C. Why do apparent anachronisms in The Hobbit like coffee, the morning post, the mantle clock, and tobacco arouse so many objections from readers? What are they anachronistic in reference to?

D. Isn’t there a tremendous amount of fantasy literature, both before and after The Hobbit, in which modernity encounters antiquity for both comic and dramatic effect?

Social class

My impression from many of the responses this week is that some modern readers do not like, care about, or understand the distinctions of social class that have been so important in past societies, including early 20th century England. From this point of view, thinking of Bilbo as “upper class”, “rich”, or “well to do” has nothing to do with enjoying the story. Ditto with the dwarves, etc.

E. Is class a red herring, brought up for the critic’s pleasure but having no relevance to the story as it’s written?

Other readers take an interest in finding the implicit messages that this first chapter of The Hobbit conveys about comfort, manners, host/guest relations, and personal interaction, using class as a lens. For instance, I was glad to read some explanations for the dwarves’ behavior in taking advantage of Bilbo’s hospitality, as stemming from their social contempt for him as a hired burglar, no matter how grand his hobbit hole may have been described as for the reader. I’m not sure that’s in the text – one can argue the discrimination is more racial in nature, as Tolkien did in his post-facto reanalysis in “The Quest of Erebor” – but it was new to me and very interesting to think about and re-read for.

F. What class was Tolkien? Would he be unconscious or conscious of the question, and his choices about writing it in his fantasies?

I also was interested how many people assumed that servants were a matter of choice in a pre-industrial household of wealth. It’s arguable that the fantasy precludes servants, or that eliminating them just simplifies the storytelling, but I also think many modern people just don’t like the idea of servants. We see the same reaction in some discussions of Sam’s flexible status in LotR.

G. Did Tolkien employ household servants? Do you? Is the example of Sam enough to raise the question here, or should we not think about this level of reality in a fantasy story unless the author asks us to?

Fairy Tales

I have commented several times this week that one common interpretation of The Hobbit is that of a modern, bourgeois Englishman/hobbit from the Civilized Lands, encountering Faerie (the land of Fairy Tales), as embodied by the dwarves and the many later fantastical characters and situations in the Wilderland. Kind of a “twist” on a traditional fairy tale. But Tolkien argued that the classic fairy tale was always about a mortal who journeyed to Faerie, to experience transformation or recreation. (If I’m getting the gist of “On Fairy-Stories” wrong, please correct me.) And we have already gotten bogged down in questions of just how “modern” the dwarves actually are; and how fantastical hobbits really are.

H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?

I. How would you describe it in a few short words to a friend who is interested in reading it? Would his or her having read The Lord of the Rings first make a difference in your description? Would knowing your friend wants to get it for his or her children make a difference?

Thank you very much everyone! Let’s hit the road for adventure in Chapter Two, covered by Finding Frodo!



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** - 10. A few thematic questions…simple stuff... the Narrator, Social Class, Anachronism, Fairy Tales... squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 3:19pm
    Long story made longer... Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Mar 29 2009, 5:21pm
        Whoa! Thank you very much!! squire Send a private message to squire Mar 29 2009, 5:48pm
        Yes, thanks indeed! N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 29 2009, 7:10pm
        And another thank-you! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 30 2009, 2:06am
        Fascinating story! Thank you! // sador Send a private message to sador Mar 30 2009, 6:19am
        Very interesting. Obviously I didn't read your post Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 2:50pm
    Thanks, squire! Enjoyed the week! batik Send a private message to batik Mar 29 2009, 5:35pm
    tales out of school Luthien Rising Send a private message to Luthien Rising Mar 29 2009, 9:44pm
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 29 2009, 10:20pm
    This has been fun! dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 30 2009, 2:28am
    A few answers, some to the point sador Send a private message to sador Mar 30 2009, 6:17am
        You remember correctly. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 3:04pm
            Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 31 2009, 6:47am
    Thankyou for a wonderful week and a great beginning ... Elven Send a private message to Elven Mar 30 2009, 10:27am
    Thank you, squire, for an interesting discussion. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 3:10pm
    The servant question Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 30 2009, 7:55pm
        He reminds me of some bachelors I know Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 8:02pm
    Thank you Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 30 2009, 8:44pm
    Well Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 30 2009, 8:48pm
        Thorin reminds me of some scam artists of the time. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 30 2009, 9:06pm
    *faint voice from the back of the room* That was me! GaladrielTX Send a private message to GaladrielTX Mar 31 2009, 12:14am
        Yes! Sorry indeed! squire Send a private message to squire Mar 31 2009, 12:26am
    Some comments and some wondering simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 31 2009, 3:49am
        Where and when does "The Hobbit" take place? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 4:40pm
            Sam starting a new business? simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 31 2009, 7:43pm
                It's in the Prologue to LotR. Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 31 2009, 8:35pm
                    I answered to NEB below but simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 31 2009, 11:19pm
                    "On Fairy Stories" simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 3:20am
                        I'm sorry, I can't help but chuckle. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 6:42am
                            Is "Farmer Giles of Ham" a Fairy-tale? sador Send a private message to sador Apr 1 2009, 7:09am
                                I suppose so, although Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 7:27am
                                    Eucatastrophes Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 1 2009, 4:45pm
                                        I don't find Farmer Giles' Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 9:53pm
                                            I find the choice of child very unexpected indeed... Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 4:19am
                                                Yes, but Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 4:58pm
                                                    Noakes is the tragedy Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 5:12pm
                                                        Okay. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 5:18pm
                                                            Maybe different experiences have something to do with it. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 5:29pm
                                                                Fair enough, although Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 5:35pm
                            Not a very good job simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 1:58pm
                                In his defense, Tolkien had a different purpose. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 2:25pm
                                    I have the “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 2:53pm
                In addition to what Curious notes N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 8:52pm
                    A few names and quick thoughts simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 31 2009, 10:44pm
                        Tolkien actually mentions de Saussure. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 11:18pm
                            Yes, there are references but I don't recall "On Fairy Stories" among them simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 2:41am
                        How would you define Faerie? Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 6:58am
                            Few quick words on "Faerie" and "fairy" terms simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 2:22pm
                                Very interesting stuff. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 2:41pm
                                    I'm not questioning the quality of his work! simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 2:51pm
                                        Yes, and that makes sense. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 3:19pm
                            Sea Ania? Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 1 2009, 4:39pm
                                Defining Faerie has nothing to do with origins simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Apr 1 2009, 7:12pm
                                    I miscommunicated. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 1 2009, 7:19pm
                Europe. Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 31 2009, 8:55pm
                Earning Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 31 2009, 10:17pm
                    On spec Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 31 2009, 10:31pm
            "...a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee..." Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 31 2009, 8:52pm
                What is this "Shire" you mention? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 9:05pm
                    Where is Byzantium? Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 31 2009, 9:15pm
                        Past, or passing, or to come. // N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 10:28pm
        A few explanations. Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Mar 31 2009, 9:42pm
            The Gaffer may have been an enabler, Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 31 2009, 10:13pm
            Thank you for all these! simplyaven Send a private message to simplyaven Mar 31 2009, 11:22pm
            Egalitarianism sador Send a private message to sador Apr 1 2009, 6:03am
                Luck and opportunity Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 1 2009, 4:05pm
                    Beautifully said Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 1 2009, 4:19pm
                        The story of Evariste Galois Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 4:52pm
                            Every now and than Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 1 2009, 5:22pm
                        Is it? sador Send a private message to sador Apr 2 2009, 6:29am
                            I could be wrong. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 2 2009, 4:44pm
                                Those graduate-level mathematicians are such cut-ups.// Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 2 2009, 4:50pm
                                    I was raised with jokes like that. Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 2 2009, 5:41pm
                    So you're not such a radical after all! sador Send a private message to sador Apr 2 2009, 7:08am
                        Quite radical in the USA Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 2 2009, 5:02pm
    Man! I never realized this had started... Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty Mar 31 2009, 3:23pm
        Is there really "nothing happy" about LOTR? // N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 3:37pm
        Welcome to the discussion! Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 31 2009, 4:36pm
            The "1960 Hobbit" was published in "The History of 'The Hobbit'". N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 31 2009, 4:50pm
                I suspected as much. Thanks.// Curious Send a private message to Curious Mar 31 2009, 5:00pm
            Thank you! Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty Mar 31 2009, 5:33pm
                What about 'The Field of Cormallen' and 'The Steward and the King'? sador Send a private message to sador Mar 31 2009, 6:43pm
                    Thanks, sador! Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty Mar 31 2009, 10:57pm
            Confirming - and not confirming dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Apr 1 2009, 4:01am
                So I didn't make it up, but perhaps Carpenter did? Interesting. // Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 1 2009, 6:45am
                    And we all believed it dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Apr 1 2009, 10:30am
    I should be grading algebra papers Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 31 2009, 4:59pm
    Class, it's time to turn in your papers. Mmatmuor Send a private message to Mmatmuor Apr 3 2009, 3:11am
    They never eat supper! N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Aug 10 2009, 4:03am
        Supper is like "tea" in 'A journey to the Cross-roads' sador Send a private message to sador Aug 10 2009, 5:39am

 
 
 

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