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**An Unexpected Party** - 10. A few thematic questions…simple stuff... the Narrator, Social Class, Anachronism, Fairy Tales...
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squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2009, 3:19pm

Post #1 of 91 (737 views)
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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


Morthoron
Gondor


Mar 29 2009, 5:21pm

Post #2 of 91 (305 views)
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Long story made longer... [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Is the narrator male or female?

I had always considered the narrator to be male, and most likely Tolkien.

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

The narration is rather homely and familiar, and a perfect pairing for a tale told by a grandad with a wink and a nudge.

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?

Well, we often view The Hobbit in reference to Tolkien's larger mythos; therefore, the anachronisms are more jarring given the descriptions of life and society in the corpus as a whole. The mention of mechanical beasts at the Fall of Gondolin aside, the technology of Middle-earth certainly predates the Renaissance in real-world terms. There is a reliance on chainmail, swords and bows (no crossbows), and the use of gunpowder by Gandalf and Saruman take on sorcerous proportions ('devilry' is a good term). Even Tolkien took measures to reduce the amount of anachronisms when marrying The Hobbit to Middle-earth material, editing out many but obviously forgetting a few. Really, the Shire itself is anachronistic to the rest of Middle-earth -- a squirearchy more relatable to 18th or 19th century England in attitude and operation than the more medieval lands of Gondor and Rohan.

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

Class is evident in The Hobbit and LotR, but class-consciousness is a modern conception (or at least, politicized to a great extent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). But Tolkien's conservative view of England embraces class distinctions, and such distinctions were readily discernible in the first half of the 20th century, and more accepted in England. In comparison, class is even more pronounced in the works of Dickens or Austen, where a poor or middle-class hero or heroine would never consider pretensions of exceeding their status, or at least they only became successful within the stratified means of society. Class is only a red herring when critics inject a modern and decidedly negative view of the subject where it clearly would not apply.

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

Tolkien would have been upper middle-class. He was not knighted in his lifetime, nor did he achieve the fortune that would be deemed necessary to reach the upper strata of British society.

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?

Yes, Tolkien did have servants, and at least one that I know of in particular. Her name was Arndis but she was known as ‘Adda’ and was a maid for the Tolkiens in the 1930's. The original interview of 'Adda' was published by the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið on February, 28 1999, but I cannot find it on any site on the net. The gist of the interview is as follows (and I thank Lalaith from another Tolkien site for the paraphrasing of the story – the documentation is hers):

‘Adda’, was a doctor’s daughter from the West Fjords, who went to work with the Tolkiens when she was twenty, in 1930. She got the job because the Tolkiens had two mothers' help from Iceland previously, Aslaug and Runa, and Aslaug had been a classmate of Adda’s. Tolkien collected her from Oxford station and greeted her in Icelandic. She then talks about her working conditions – she was meant to be one of the family, but she never had a holiday. The youngest of the children (presumably Priscilla) was in her second year.

She says that the Professor was a really lovely man, very easy and comfortable to be around, he loved nature, trees and everything that grew. The house they had just bought had an asphalt tennis court and the first thing they did was rip it up and put down grass. This is an example of how JRR and Edith hated modern things – another thing they both hated was central heating and boilers.

Edith loved flowers, and not only had splendid flower beds in her new home but kept going back to the old one to get plants. Adda puts this down to English upper class eccentricity – the Tolkiens she says, loved flowers and writing letters. She has lots of letters from them, including decorated Christmas cards from the Tolkien children. The oldest son, Johnny, was now 14 and in the new house he had his own room. The rest (including Adda) kept themselves to the nursery. The lady of the house (Edith) had a difficult nature, she wasn’t sociable and disliked most people. Then Adda talks about how she was meant to come there to learn English and help Tolkien practice Icelandic but Edith got jealous if they talked in a language she didn’t understand. “She was never unkind to me, but she was never a friend either. And she was very over-protective.”

Adda says Oxford was at that time completely class-ridden – professors were a class unto themselves. Edith was also a snob – when the char (cleaning lady) went awol for a fortnight, Edith was furious when Adda decided to wash the doorstep. “You’re one of us, you must never be seen doing work suitable for servants.”
The Tolkiens rarely if ever entertained, and Adda was not impressed with their hospitality...”once a couple who were old friends, just back from many years in India, called round and they hadn't seen them for years, but just gave them tea in the morning room, with only one cake!”

Adda thinks that Tolkien was much more sociable by nature than Edith. She got to know Edith’s lovely old nanny, a Miss Gro (not sure they got this name right) who joked that Edith would always have a migraine whenever there was a university ‘do’. Miss Gro also explained why Edith was so difficult – she blamed their traumatic courtship years. They faced opposition for years and ended up having to practically elope. They had stood firm together against all the odds, even though they may not have had much in common. Adda said Edith spent a lot of time upstairs during the day but didn’t know what she actually did. She was a very promising pianist at the time when she married, had become an organist in a church. There was a parlour in the house which no-one ever went into, there was a piano there but Edith never touched it. None of the children learnt an instrument.

Whenever Tolkien had had a drink or two he was not allowed to sleep in the bedroom, he had to go into the guest room. She couldn’t stand the smell of drink on him. Tolkien was a lovely, comfortable man, didn’t talk much. He always came home to lunch every day, and went into his study after the meal. He would have a bottle of beer and a dry biscuit. Adda was very fond of the children. She took them fishing in a nearby canal, put them in the bath every night and put them to bed, they loved to hear Icelandic folk tales about trolls and such, and often Tolkien would come and listen too. “He took lots of ideas from Icelandic folk stories...and he really believed that all of nature was alive. He lived in a kind of adventure/fantasy world.”

Adda still loves reading the Hobbit (which he started writing at the time she was working for him). Tolkien always wore a tweed jacket and pale grey trousers, but loved to wear colourful waistcoats. And he always wore white tie (tails) at the Oxford dinners. He always wanted to go to Iceland but thought he couldn’t afford it.

Adda eventually left because of the restrictive life she was forced to lead. She got friendly with a girl called Betty, one of Tolkien’s students, who invited her to go punting but Edith never found it convenient to let her go, even on a Sunday. Edith once showed Adda her wardrobe upstairs, it ran along an entire wall and was completely full of clothes. But she never went anywhere at all, except perhaps to the library. She sometimes did go with me and the older boys to a matinee (afternoon theatre performance). The Tolkiens thought the theatre an acceptable leisure activity but hated the cinema, and they really hated the Morris car factory that had been recently opened south of Oxford.

John, at 14, was most like his father. Edith stopped Adda from bathing him. (editor’s note – I should hope so too!) Michael, the next son, was such a beautiful child, that people would stop his mother in the street to admire him. His mother wanted him to be a priest. Christopher was often squabbled over by his parents. He was a rather whiny child, fussy with food. But his father adored him and realised that he needed different handling than the others. Tolkien had started writing the Hobbit while I was there but was really writing it for Christopher, reading him out chapters.

She then says that she had close contact through letters with the family until the war disrupted the correspondence.

H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?

Yes, certainly. All the elements are there, either imagined by Tolkien or reworked from previous mythos (right down to borrowing Dwarvish names from the Voluspa). It follows the themes noted by Joseph Campbell quite naturally.

Read the ongoing serialization of MONTY PYTHON'S 'The HOBBIT', found here:
http://www.fanfiction.net/...y_Pythons_The_Hobbit


batik
Tol Eressea


Mar 29 2009, 5:35pm

Post #3 of 91 (244 views)
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Thanks, squire! Enjoyed the week! [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
A. Is the narrator male or female?


Yes--the narrator is male or female! Wink More seriously--I think I do *hear* a male voice--probably since I know Tolkien is a man plus *he* is telling a story concering a bunch of males (or so I assume. Are all the dwarves male? That's another topic!)


Quote

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


Now researching that would require a lot of time on a Sunday and I do need to get some housework done today! Really, *hearing* the tale-tellers voice does not bother me at all (thinking of the film version of The Princess Bride). Shakespeare's "asides" and a couple of scenes in Blazing Saddles (and to be sure other films that aren't popping into my mind instantly) serve the same purpose for me. It's a hey, we're telling you a story moment. Having my being a member of the audience pointed out to me does not ruin the story or prohibit me from getting back *into* the tale.


Quote

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?

Well, see here's where that "Ignorance is Bliss" idea comes in! None of the items above seem out of place for me since, for the most part, I am blissfully unaware of the history of these things (well, tobacco...that's from the Americas, I think). Since this was primarily a tale for children I suppose Tolkien's use of "coffee, the morning post, the mantle clock, and tobacco" was *OK*--the children would be familiar with such things but may not have questioned their place within this story.

Re: Class issues


Now this one I have more *adult awareness* of but unless there is some kind of discrimination, etc. related to it, I let it pass on by. Enough to say that Bilbo is presented as one of the more 'well-to-do' Hobbits and probably could have afforded servants (who I assume would have been compensated for their work--similar to those in our time who work at minimum wage positions, which is probably another topic).
And, no, no servants here unless I count harassing my sons or nephew into raking the leaves once in a while.

Re: Fairy Tales

A description/definition from facultydotdedotgscudotedu

Quote
Fairy tales, also known as wonder tales or märchen (from the German), are a sub-genre of folktales involving magical, fantastic or wonderful episodes, characters, events, or symbols. Like all folktales they are narratives that are not believed to be true (fictional stories), often in timeless settings (once upon a time) in generic, unspecified places (the woods), with one-dimensional characters (completely good or bad). They function to entertain, inspire, and enlighten us. In these episodic narratives the main characters are usually humans who often follow a typical pattern (as in a heroic quest) that is resolved partly by magic. The fact that these wonder tales still appeal to us attests to their richness and effectiveness as symbolic (artistic) communication.


Hmmm...except for the "one-dimensional characters (completely good or bad)" comment The Hobbit does fit this description. Oh...and the "humans" bit...I guess Hobbit is subsituted for human???

My descriptions:
For non-LotR-ers>>> Fun to read to or with kids and there's lots there for the big folk, too
For LotT-ers>>>>All of the above and it's neat to *know* some of the history.



(This post was edited by batik on Mar 29 2009, 5:38pm)


squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2009, 5:48pm

Post #4 of 91 (272 views)
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Whoa! Thank you very much!! [In reply to] Can't Post

I had never seen this. I knew the Tolkiens had servants, of course, but I had no idea they had been interviewed for biographical info on the Tolkiens.

The idea that Adda never got a holiday sounds very familiar. Even now one can read of nannies and au-pairs and housekeepers from foreign countries, working in the U.S., who are kept virtually as house-prisoners by their employers.

It is notable that Adda was only there to help with the child care. There was also a charwoman - whether full time or not is unclear. The portrait of Edith is not very flattering; I guess we should remember this is a portrait of Edith-as-boss, never the best way to be remembered. For an alternate, and more sympathetic, view, we have Carpenter's biography where for instance Edith is said to have played piano all of her life.

Miss Gro, Edith's "lovely old nanny" is certainly Jennie Grove, an older cousin of Edith's who cared for her when young, and accompanied her during her peripatetic early life with Tolkien, helping with the children and keeping her company while her husband was away for the war and for work. She and Edith lived in 22 different places between 1916 and 1918! She is described by John Garth as the children's surrogate grandmother. (source: JRR Tolkien Encyclopedia)

By 1930 she was seventy years old, and the hiring of Adda may have been due to Miss Gro's aging; she died in 1938.



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


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 29 2009, 7:10pm

Post #5 of 91 (275 views)
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Yes, thanks indeed! [In reply to] Can't Post

Scull and Hammond seem not to be aware of this article; at least, I can find no reference to Adda in the "Domestic duties" article in the Reader's Guide.

Also, I'm going to add a link to the original post by Lalaith at the Barrow-downs site (similarly, when I quote from TORN on other sites, I include a link back here).

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
We're discussing The Hobbit in the Reading Room, Mar. 23 - Aug. 9. Everyone is welcome!

Join us Mar. 23-29 for "An Unexpected Party".
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


Luthien Rising
Lorien


Mar 29 2009, 9:44pm

Post #6 of 91 (231 views)
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tales out of school [In reply to] Can't Post


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


I don't think so. We can "see" the narrative trajectory of Bilbo's shift from comfort to discomfort more clearly because he begins in so much comfort. Discussions of class in the novel that get into judgment or that try to align Bilbo to some very particular modern-world (20th-century modern or not) class structure seem to me, however, entirely pointless.


Quote
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?


I answered this one second because my thoughts on it derive from the previous comment. Anachronism isn't in question, of course: this is not a different time in our own world, in spite of the outright statement that it is. The Hobbit lacks the deep history in LOTR, in which we have something to draw forward from into a present, thus enabling anachronism. It's just pretend. The details that are clearly those of our own world let the listening or reading child identify: this world is different, but not so much that it's hard to latch onto. And when the "real"-world items have particular significance in our world -- when they signify, for example, luxury (like the toys of Dale) -- they act as short-hand that permits "show" rather than "tell".

It's only in the context of LOTR, through the act of enclosing The Hobbit with it, that these details become anachronisms and therefore objected to. I've come to think that it's better not to enclose the book of this story with LOTR; the story as told in the preface -- told without the narrator or anachronisms -- should substitute. It's not The Hobbit per se that is part of the Middle-earth narrative; it is its story.


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G. Did Tolkien employ household servants? Do you?


I don't know about Tolkien, but when I was growing up, my grandparents did. I assumed as a child that Katie -- who came (and always had) in all day every weekday and sometimes on a weekend when there was a party or the like, whose skin colour was pretty much the opposite of mine and who had her own home and large family -- was family. It is not only the facts about household servants that are sometimes misunderstood today: it's also the nature of those relationships.


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F. What class was Tolkien?


Tolkien's class position was a very modern one, and could thus have been contested in his own mind: he changed class during his lifetime, from working class to the pseudo-upper class of the professoriate (a sort of professional class, a sort of upper-middle class, but with traditional upper-class associations), and even within his own extended family was in a complex class relation.


(Thank you for this week, squire!)




Lúthien Rising
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. / We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

(This post was edited by Luthien Rising on Mar 29 2009, 9:44pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 29 2009, 10:20pm

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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Is the narrator male or female?

Yes. I haven't seen anything gender specific so far.

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

It would be a different book. I think LotR is better than The Hobbit, but it is also very different, and I would not like to lose The Hobbit. Of course, there's more to the difference than simply eliminating the narrator's asides.

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

Do they? Not from me. If you are correct, perhaps it is because LotR overshadows The Hobbit, and some readers get annoyed with the differences.

What are they anachronistic in reference to?

They are anachronistic if we assume that the story is completely pre-industrial, although Tolkien never says it is. They are also anachronistic if we assume that the story is historical, although Tolkien does not invest nearly as much in that conceit in The Hobbit as he does in LotR. I prefer to think that the story takes place in Fairie, with some selected contemporary aspects of English life incorporated into Fairie -- i.e., the parts Tolkien liked, and not the parts he didn't like. It's not logical or realistic to take the good without the bad, but then fairy-tales only have to follow an internal logic, and really shouldn't try to be too realistic. They are built on our desires.

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?

Yes.

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

Bilbo is an object of fun in part because he is part of the landed class, however on the whole Tolkien treats him gently and even makes him look, in the end, heroic. Of course in doing so he also separates him from his class. Thorin fares less well, although his soul is save in the end. I think the most controversial treatment of class may be the characters of Bard, hereditary heir to the throne of Dale, and the Master of Lake-town, duly elected representative. Lake-town exhibits all that a monarchist might consider wrong with the democratic process. On the other hand, Thorin exhibits some of the failings of monarchy, so perhaps it balances out. There's also some vague notion that Bilbo's Tookish blood is better than his Baggins blood, but it's not clear from this story that the Tooks are more aristocratic than the Baggins, or at least not as explicit as in LotR.

I consider The Hobbit far less classist than LotR because it lacks all the emphasis on heredity we find in the appendices of LotR. Without those appendices, I might find that the character of Sam balances out the character of Aragorn pretty nicely. But the appendices undercut the notion of Sam as a lower-class hero, and reinforces the notion of Aragorn as a product of his bloodlines.

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

He was no aristocrat, so perhaps he cannot be classist. He could be an enabler of classism, though. He seems to have inhabited a middle ground, with impeccable education but with the outsider status of a Catholic and a poor orphan. His letters indicate that he was conscious, at least, of the debate over the value of the monarchy, and that he came down on the side of monarchy. But that may say more of his dislike of modern politicians than about his true notion of monarchs.

G. Did Tolkien employ household servants?

Not live-in servants, that I've heard of, and probably not any, since he always seems to have struggled for money. The real money from LotR didn't come until late in his life.

Do you?

A cleaning lady every two weeks, a mowing service in the warmer months, a handyman from time to time -- I suppose, in a manner of speaking.

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?

Tolkien encourages to think about what a Secondary World says about the Primary World.

H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?

Yes, by any definition I can think of. Only those who insist that mantle clocks and the morning post can't exist in Fairie might disagree, but I'm not aware of people who actually hold such opinions. Certainly that is not Tolkien's definition. The Hobbit incorporates Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation, perhaps more so than LotR. Tolkien's only regret was that he directed it towards children, but that was a matter of preference, not part of his definition, and most fairy tales of his time were written for children.

I. How would you describe it in a few short words to a friend who is interested in reading it?

It's the story of a stuffy, middle-aged, everyman hero who finds himself preparing to confront a dragon, faces all sorts of adventures along the way, and learns to rely on his luck, his wit, and his courage to get him through. I would compare it to The Brave Little Tailor, although Bilbo is far more humble than the Tailor.

Would his or her having read The Lord of the Rings first make a difference in your description?

Oh yes, in that case he would be familiar with Bilbo, and I would say that this is the story of what Bilbo was like before his adventure, when the rest of the hobbits thought he was quite respectable, and the readers probably would think of him as a bore. But I would also emphasize that The Hobbit is not a prequel, but an independent story with its own style written for children and the parents who read to children. It won't work for you if you keep wishing it were more like LotR.

Would knowing your friend wants to get it for his or her children make a difference?

Yes. I'm not sure it's appropriate for every child. I think it is most appropriate for a child who reads well above his or her grade level, or who have a long attention span for hearing bedtime stories without pictures. As children's books go, it's rather epic, and may be too long and wordy for children with short attention spans. Yet it is written to appeal to young children. It seems designed as a series of long, episodic bedtime stories to be read to young children by their parents, and indeed that is how it originated in the Tolkien household.



(This post was edited by Curious on Mar 29 2009, 10:21pm)


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 30 2009, 2:06am

Post #8 of 91 (225 views)
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And another thank-you! [In reply to] Can't Post

This is a fascinating look at the Tolkiens' home life! Do give Lalaith our thanks, this is greatly appreciated!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 30 2009, 2:28am

Post #9 of 91 (234 views)
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This has been fun! [In reply to] Can't Post

Putting down HoME and picking up HoH, as well as the Annotated Hobbit - we're off and running, as our dear Bilbo will shortly be!

I'd always imagined the narrator being Tolkien, and thus, male. His words, and the "anachronisms", help pull us into the story. And if those "personal comments" were ever removed - well, those of us who have read the aborted reworking know that it simply does not have the charm and friendliness of the original!

How to describe this book: it is a fairy tale, with dwarves and evil creatures and wise, helpful characters; but more importantly, it is about the perilous journey of a small person who, along the way, discovers the courage and wisdom within himself.

Thank you for a grand beginning, squire! Have a cookie!




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915


sador
Half-elven

Mar 30 2009, 6:17am

Post #10 of 91 (218 views)
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A few answers, some to the point [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Is the narrator male or female?
I also assume he was male, with no particularly good reason; but Tolkien was male, and if and when I'll read this story to my children, I will be one. Quite like your reasons.

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

And Curious is right - you can't just eliminate the narrator! You have to change the whole fabric of the comedy.
And having a narrator is the best way to right a book about serious subjects, but still keep it a comedy - as Fielding discovered, and was followed by Thackeray. One might put a narrator as a totally incredible character, like Melville did.
By the way, this might not always work - like when the author has simply no sense of humor (like George Elliot). But which literature ever does work well? Even LotR doesn't always, as you take pains for pointing out (and was roundly criticised for it this week).
Anyway, as I don't think Vanity Fair is a children's book, and even Tom Jones isn't - I feel no need to treat The Hobbit as one, and the narrator presents me with no such problem. It is a book children can and do enjoy - but not a children's book.

C. Why do apparent anachronisms in The Hobbit like coffee, the morning post, the mantle clock, and tobacco arouse so many objections from readers?
This is a dangerous type of question. When we discussed 'The Black Gate is Closed', I asked why did so many people object to the movie's portrayal of Frodo and Sam's hiding from the Easterlings, and most of the answers were "Who ever objected to that? I didn't!". Not until NEB's amazing tour of old discussions last week, did anyone raise any serious objection to that scene, and nobody who is in general in favour of the movies did so.
So the anachronisms seem to me as the red herring for critics, far more than class is.

What are they anachronistic in reference to?
Well, if we consider The Hobbit as necessarily consistent with The Lord of the Rings, the anachronisms seem jarring. But the first book doesn't really need to be consistent with the later one (although LotR should be consistent with the Hobbit).

And as far as I understand, The Hobbit was not written with the conceit of being Bilbo's book. Its author is a different character in LotR - the future father who tells his child a bed-time story of old heroes, which Sam mentions in 'The Stairs of Cirith Ungol' (although Sam's storytelling 'dad' is probably a hobbit, and the narrator of The Hobbit is clearly a Man).

Oh! But if we accept my last point - than I have to change my answer to your first question! Sam's narrator is 'dad', so the narrator is clearly male!
Well, no, of course - as I wrote above, The Hobbit does not need to subscribe to Sam's future speech; but I think it does reflect the way Tolkien saw the narrative he was writing, and should apply to The Hobbit as well.

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?
I suppose so, but I'm no expert on fantasy.
The only example I can think of is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court, which I think is a more lighthearted in intent as well as in tone; and anyway, the anachronisms in it are explained as a part of the fantasy.

E. Is class a red herring, brought up for the critic’s pleasure but having no relevance to the story as it’s written?
No; it's a critical part of the story's fabric.

F. What class was Tolkien? Would he be unconscious or conscious of the question, and his choices about writing it in his fantasies?
If I remember correctly, Tolkien wrote or spoke once in favour of a stratified class system, and considered himself as one who should practice reverence towards his betters.

It is likely that I am vaguely remembering (or misremembering) something from Carpenter's Biography, which I found in a library some twenty years ago, but haven't read since.

G. Did Tolkien employ household servants?
As I've read Morothorn's post, I know he did. Before that - I would have probably guessed he did.

Do you?
Do you mean someone who comes once a week to help clean? We do.
As a matter of fact, this has long been a point of contention between my wife and myself. While she thought it was only natural, I felt strongly against it, to the point of suggesting she would go swimming on Thursday night while I cleaned the house. Only after our second child was born, I gave in.
But then I was still a student, and felt it was wrong to have hired help (that's class-conciousness for you!). Now we both work, so I've kind of accepted this as a fact of life; but I hate to think of him as a household servant! If not for Curoius' answer to this question, I would have replied with a simple 'no'.

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?
If we mention Sam in this respect, we should first consider his father, who was the gardener's assistant at the time of The Hobbit.

H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?
Yes; but before OFS was discussed last winter, I never thought about definitions.

I. How would you describe it in a few short words to a friend who is interested in reading it?
A few short words? I couldn't if I tried to! That's simply not me! Blush

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?
Probably.

Thanks for starting us off so well!


"There's more to come yet, or I'm mighty mistook" - Tom


sador
Half-elven

Mar 30 2009, 6:19am

Post #11 of 91 (331 views)
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Fascinating story! Thank you! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

"There's more to come yet, or I'm mighty mistook" - Tom


Elven
Valinor


Mar 30 2009, 10:27am

Post #12 of 91 (203 views)
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Thankyou for a wonderful week and a great beginning ... [In reply to] Can't Post

I have been wandering through the posts everyday, and am loving it!
I cant join in every one of them, some I have no answers too, but Im happy to get my fury feet wet ...

A. Is the narrator male or female?

Ive always heard a male voice telling this story when Ive read it, so I say a male.

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

Not neccessarily better, and I wonder if it would still be as charming and hold the same anticipations for the reader.


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

Im not sure they do. Until you mentioned it in the posts, I was unaware that it may have been a bone of coyention for some.
Though through reading the posts and the thread, its apparent, but I have no objections.


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

I think he would be conscious of the 'system' and the structure. Im sure there were barriers and opportunities he observed in his time in England and abroad. Actually in some respect, I think he saw right through it too - in a cynical and maybe comical sense. I think he had a better sense of what personal individual class was as well as say socially structured class.

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?

I loved reading the story of the servant above.
I suppose Im a servant to others - not a domestic - more like Sam, a gardener and maintenance person (some days of the week Wink).


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?

Here, I think you'll like this book! Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, Trolls, Bears, Dragons, Eagles, a treasure hunt and a unexpected ending ... you take my copy read it and tell me what you think, then read it to Amber, buy her a copy for her birthday, and then give me mine copy back. Wink


Thanks for a wonderful week!
Cheers
Elven x


Swishtail.

Tolkien was a Capricorn!!
Russell Crowe for Beorn!!

Avatar: Liberace - The other Lord of the Rings.

Quote of The Week: The thing is I always write in the morning, and I know that if I go to the Net I won’t write ... you can start in the most scholarly website and end up at Paris Hilton dot com .. GdT


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 30 2009, 2:50pm

Post #13 of 91 (209 views)
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Very interesting. Obviously I didn't read your post [In reply to] Can't Post

before I gave my answers. Adda sounds a little like a long-term au pair, not considered part of the same class as the cleaning lady. But no days off! That does sound like a servant, even if the Tolkiens wanted to pretend otherwise.

I also see now how Tolkien had time for all his writing; no social life! Also no movies, and of course no TV, let alone internet. He did write lots of letters, but many of them related to his writing. And he did nip down to the pub with the boys from time to time, or meet with the Inkings, but again much of that related to his writing.

Also very interesting to see her impression of Oxford as class-ridden. The Oxford dons are a strange class, because they got to their positions at least in part through personal achievement. Of course many of them came from aristocratic backgrounds or they wouldn't have gone to such fine schools, but not Tolkien, and I trust he was not the only exception. Yet they were tutoring the sons and sometimes daughters of aristocrats, and socializing with aristocrats (when there was a "to do"). So they had a good deal invested in the class system, although they themselves were not a part of the uppermost class, and may even have looked down upon some of the aristocratic dullards they tutored.

The idea that Tolkien sometimes had to sleep in the guest room because he had been drinking lends support to my new theory (which Dreamdeer has encouraged and nicely supported) that Bilbo was at least a little drunk in Chapter One of The Hobbit -- not falling down drunk, perhaps, but enough that if he had had a wife he would have slept in the guest room, and enough that he made a rash decision he regretted the next day.

That also reminds me of Baldor, who at a celebration celebrating the completion of Meduseld (where there was undoubtedly much drinking) boasted that he would enter the Paths of the Dead. That in turn reminds me of such boasts in Beowulf, again often accompanied by drinking -- although Beowulf backed up his boasts. Let's just say that bold/rash decisions and drinking seem to go hand in hand in some instances. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't.


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 30 2009, 3:04pm

Post #14 of 91 (204 views)
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You remember correctly. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
If I remember correctly, Tolkien wrote or spoke once in favour of a stratified class system, and considered himself as one who should practice reverence towards his betters. It is likely that I am vaguely remembering (or misremembering) something from Carpenter's Biography, which I found in a library some twenty years ago, but haven't read since.


Carpenter quotes Tolkien as saying: "'Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire but it's damn good for you.'" See Carpenter's biography, published in 1981, at page 133.

The odd part about this is that he recognizes the flaw in the system -- very few people are really worthy of reverence, or will not let it go to their heads. That's one reason why I separate Tolkien's fantasy from his view of the Primary World -- I'm sure Tolkien was well aware that real-world monarchs are unlikely to be as virtuous or worthy as Aragorn.

But still he created a mythology built around hereditary monarchies, and other kinds of hereditary traits as well. Bloodlines are just so important to Tolkien's mythology that it is hard for me not to call his fantasy classist. It's as if Tolkien devoutly desired monarchs worthy of the office, and made it a part of his utopic vision, even if he recognized that such monarchs only exist in mythology, or perhaps, since he was a man of faith, in Christ the King.



Curious
Half-elven


Mar 30 2009, 3:10pm

Post #15 of 91 (205 views)
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Thank you, squire, for an interesting discussion. [In reply to] Can't Post

I learned a great deal, and had a number of "aha" moments, and developed some new as-yet-untested theories, not only about The Hobbit but also about LotR.

And just so there is no misunderstanding, I quite enjoy it when you question Tolkien's technique or style or intentions. Sometimes I defend him, and sometimes I don't, especially when talking about The Hobbit, which is not, I judge, on the same level of achievement as LotR. I hope you'll find time to continue participating in the discussion.


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Mar 30 2009, 7:55pm

Post #16 of 91 (207 views)
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The servant question [In reply to] Can't Post

As I have just rediscovered, Tolkien does go into detail on what Bilbo has to do to clean up after thirteen dwarves and a wizard have breakfast while he sleeps. He doesn't just throw on a faucet and have at it, he has to draw and boil the water first. Yet he does so quite well without servants to assist him. (Someone well-to-do would most likely buy his firewood pre-chopped from a woodcutter, even as wealthy folks do today when they indulge in fireplaces for the ambiance. Nor would he make his own soap.)

Indeed, as I come to think of him dusting off his mantlepiece (or in this case forgetting to) I get the impression that all he has to do, all day, is housework. Not what you'd expect of a captain of industry, but certainly someone of independent means, living off of an inheritance, can spend all day puttering around the house, maybe taking off a few hours now and then to manage real-estate deals, collecting rents, investments, etc., to maintain one's hoard. Bilbo at this point worships stability; he is neither trying to increase his funds nor let them deplete, but maintaining them exactly as they are. Once one reaches a certain level of wealth, it takes very little time to maintain. He probably has an accountant or broker to handle the details.

Basically, he's his own wife.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 30 2009, 8:02pm

Post #17 of 91 (202 views)
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He reminds me of some bachelors I know [In reply to] Can't Post

who are neater than any women they meet, and the idea of having to live with someone less neat than themselves is a major reason why they are still bachelors. And neat people with money may clean up themselves and hire people to do even more cleaning. Although some of them don't trust anyone but themselves to do the cleaning.


(This post was edited by Curious on Mar 30 2009, 8:02pm)


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Mar 30 2009, 8:44pm

Post #18 of 91 (188 views)
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Thank you [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you for all of the time and effort you put into this week, even if some of the wording occasionally turned me into a platter of steamed vennison. I suppose you had much the same intention as Gandalf, in deliberately using provocative words--to force me to defend my opinions or else reconsider them.

Regarding the servants, I don't mean to say that Bilbo had any political reason not to have servants, just that he's got his life precisely the way that he thinks he wants it, and servants messing around with his inner sanctum just wouldn't do. LotR later gives the impression that the Bagginses have employed gardeners for generations--but in Bilbo's day, at least, they didn't cross the threshhold.

Rather than appearing like an oversight to me, your mentioning the significant absence of indoor servants fleshes out Bilbo's character still more fully for me. He wants to be in control of his own domain. He will go through extra trouble towards that end. He probably, in fact, enjoys housework, the daily tending of and perfecting of his cozy little hole. If he had a cable television, he would probably watch HGTV.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Darkstone
Immortal


Mar 30 2009, 8:48pm

Post #19 of 91 (192 views)
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Well [In reply to] Can't Post

 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 wonder who….


A. Is the narrator male or female?

Male. He’s just too stuffy to be a female.


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

Nope.


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?


It’s the cheap thrill of nitpicking. It’s so much easier to point out faults than to analyze what went right. Most people can’t become writers because of that intolerance of imperfection.


What are they anachronistic in reference to?

The nitpicker’s POV.


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?

And the entire Steam-Punk genre. Not to mention the Steam-Punk subculture.


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?


I think it shows that there’s always a class that trumps another. Bilbo’s bourgeoisie is trumped by Thorin’s kingship-in-exile and his royal retainers, who are in turn trumped by Smaug’s old school barbarian at the gates, who is further trumped by Gandalf’s wisdom-of-the-ages, which is surprised by Bilbo’s own ingenious initiative. Rock-paper-scissors. Or Hobbit-Dwarf-Dragon-Wizard.


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.

Again, I always thought it was like when a king and his court visited the home of a commoner, even a commoner in another land would quickly offer hospitality, no matter how high the king and courtiers held their noses.


F. What class was Tolkien?

England’s Fourth Class, below clergy, doctors, and bankers, but above shopkeepers, innkeepers, and publicans.


Would he be unconscious or conscious of the question, and his choices about writing it in his fantasies?

I’m thinking with Edith’s social ostracism at Oxford he’d be acutely aware of class.


G. Did Tolkien employ household servants?

Dunno.


Do you?

Nah. Servants are too much work.


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?

Certainly people should think about this level of reality in Tolkien if it makes them happy. I think saying how and whether people should think and discuss certain things about Tolkien’s work is itself classicism. If someone wants to think about such a level of reality then by God it’s their right.


H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?

Yep.


I. How would you describe it in a few short words to a friend who is interested in reading it?

A good book, G-rated, some magic content.


Would his or her having read The Lord of the Rings first make a difference in your description?

Yep.


Would knowing your friend wants to get it for his or her children make a difference?

A good book, G-rated, some hints of cannibalism, some magic content, a large battle at the end, some characters die.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



Curious
Half-elven


Mar 30 2009, 9:06pm

Post #20 of 91 (187 views)
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Thorin reminds me of some scam artists of the time. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Again, I always thought it was like when a king and his court visited the home of a commoner, even a commoner in another land would quickly offer hospitality, no matter how high the king and courtiers held their noses.


There are a number of stories of people pretending to be dispossessed royalty from Czarist Russia or some other regime in turmoil, and using it to their advantage in England or the U.S. Think of the Duke and the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn, for example. Of course, some of them really were dispossessed royalty, and some even reclaimed their positions with English financing (such as Louis Napoleon, later Napoleon III of France), but it was sometimes difficult to tell who was a pompous scammer, and who was "rightfully" pompous. Some people might wonder if Thorin is for real, and in a sense he isn't, for he hasn't any idea what to do when he gets to the Mountain.



GaladrielTX
Tol Eressea


Mar 31 2009, 12:14am

Post #21 of 91 (187 views)
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*faint voice from the back of the room* That was me! [In reply to] Can't Post

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 don’t often make comments anyone remembers so when I do I figure I should take credit. ;o)

~~~~~~~~

The TORNsib formerly known as Galadriel.



squire
Valinor


Mar 31 2009, 12:26am

Post #22 of 91 (182 views)
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Yes! Sorry indeed! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for speaking up and getting your kudos! Here's the link to the hard-to-find post, and here's what you said:

...I’ll note that this unusual introductory phrase also sets up the character of the narrator and brings him to the reader’s attention. The narrator actually has personality traits. He’s the cranky grandpa who longs for a romanticized view of times past (peace and quiet and the beauty of the countryside) (without, of course, taking into account the more unpleasant aspects like disease and lack of modern conveniences). We also see later that he’s enthusiastic and excited about Gandalf and his history. “Gandalf! If you had only heard….” So he has a personality of his own.




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


simplyaven
Grey Havens


Mar 31 2009, 3:49am

Post #23 of 91 (183 views)
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Some comments and some wondering [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Is the narrator male or female?

Male.

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

No.

Anachronisms

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

That's what I wonder. As far as I know anachronism means sometime out of time (mainly) as it comes from two Greek words which mean precisely that. I really don't see why the so called anachronisms mentioned below would be anachronisms... Crazy I would have never thought of these as out of time, place, etc. They seem to suit the Hobbit really well.

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?

On the first question - I had no idea there were any objections, not to speak of many objections. I have never heard any. Why would these items be objected? And this brings me to your next question - I ask the same - why are they anachronistic? Do we know when the Hobbit happened? Do we know what the hobbits produced at this time - paper, maybe? After all ancient Egypt had paper, I doubt the Hobbit happened earlier if we are referring to our world timing. However, I don't refer to our calendar. What is important to me is that tobacco, mantle clock and all the rest nicely finish the image I have in my mind of this particular hobbit and I absolutely don't see how these details are anachronistic.


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?

There is although I don't see it this way.

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.

My impression is that many modern people pretend to not understand class differences. I personally do. Even more, I think they are still important, there are still circles in society and therefore, I enjoy the story as it was written taking for granted that each word is important and if Bilbo was created like that, it should have meant something.


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

Is a "red herring" some kind of RR slang or is it just the fish? Cool In any case, I answered above - I trust the author that whatever was written had a purpose and a meaning the exact way it was written.


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

Upper middle. Professors today are also considered a separate class and yes, I mean here too. I happen to have a professor in the family and can tell how teaching assistants are not invited to the glamorous parties organized by professors. So, yes, professors in North America consider themselves a class of its own too. Same here. In the university I attend, there are 20-25 of the oldest professors who have formed some kind of society between themselves and it seems quite a challenge to be accepted there (I'm not speaking of myself, I'm a student). I was intrigued to learn similar things about Harvard but I haven't seen it with my own eyes. I have seen it in different European countries though - four countries to be precise.

I don't really understand how one could be unconscious about one's own class and situation in the society... Crazy


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?

Tolkien did. My family did. I also do. Sadly, my economic situation at this point doesn't allow me to hire more but hopefully in the near future this will change. By the way, I remember when I was a child our housekeeper was considered an absolute treasure and she was porbably the most respected person in the house. Therefore, I really don't understand all this servants/masters sensitivity. When I clean the house, do I have to feel lower class than my husband?

The example of Sam has always sounded very much like overreacting to me. As well as much of all this class talk. Sam was a gardener. I also had a gardener. He was much better than me in tendering the flowers. There is a person for each job. If Sam felt his attachment went further than gardening, it was his personal choice. If he felt he shouls cook, clean, look after, carry, etc. - it was his choice. Therefore, I consider reality what was written in the way it was written and fantasy - what comes up to the mind of the reader without being said by the author.


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.


Tolkien was right and it was not his own conclusion but part of thousands of pages of work on fairy tales history - fairy tales are about mortals journeying to Faerie.


H. Is The Hobbit a fairy tale?

No. According to the charcteristics of fairy tales it is not. The Hobbit is built on the foundation of traditional folklore tales (European I mean here as I've studied them particlularly although the pattern applies to African folklore tales too, and to some Asian as well) and repeats the pattern very closely.


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?

Good tale, especially for smaller children who are not vivid readers yet. Vivid readers would have most probably read some better ones already. If the person has read LOTR, I would be cautious speaking of the Hobbit. To me the difference in levels is quite significant between the two works. Of course, if he/she gets it for the children it would make a difference - if children are up to 7-8 years old and don't read too much or simply stick to children books (which I wasn't doing and it wasn't beneficial for my perception of the Hobbit at the time).

Culinary journey through Middle Earth continues! Join us on the Main board!

I believe


sador
Half-elven

Mar 31 2009, 6:47am

Post #24 of 91 (177 views)
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Thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post

As Gandalf said, it is good not to be wrong on all points! Wink

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The odd part about this is that he recognizes the flaw in the system -- very few people are really worthy of reverence, or will not let it go to their heads.

It depends on what you consider a flaw. In a meritocracy (which many modern democracies profess to be), what you mention would indeed be a deadly flaw.
But the downside of a meritocracy is the perpetual struggle to be the head of the pack. Every achivement is immediately translated into the shallow terms of political preponderance. Which I'm sure is what Tolkien despised in modern democracy.
Worse than that, it leads to a never-ending unrest. Once people are used to feeling equal to each other, and considering that equality should be also material and social equivalence, everybody starts looking at each other's plates, and being more concerned with what the other person has - rather than appreciating, we become envious and tend to belittle (as Darkstone noted two threads above, about nitpicking critics - although I say so as shouldn't, you might be thinking).

The ideology of the class system is stability - it's about each person knowing his position in life, and doing his job in the best way he can. It's about harmony rather than equality, as harmony brings peace and content while equality brings strife. A well known parable speaks about the different people in a society as the various organs of the body.
Of course, such an ideology requires a belief in the system. This can be achieved by suppression and brainwashing (see Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for an utopic, secular example), or by a true belief in the order of things - in fact, a religious belief.
I'm sure Marx was right about the social function of religion (as he usually was, whenever he proverbialy stood Hegel on his head - Hegel actually does look better that way!), but as a materialist dedicated to agitating social unrest, he didn't think much of the harmonic ideal. His utopia was the euality of a matchbox.

But Tolkien was religious - and once you believe that all men are ultimately equal before God, you should bother yourself less with social status. Why should my neighbour's plate affect the salvation of my soul?
Of course, people are not like that, even religious ones - but that is an effecet of our have tasted the Tree of Knowledge.
So yes - acknowledging your position in the world is damn good for you, because then you can work for the greater harmony which would be the glory of God; and that's regardless of how worthy the squire is.
But as he also ate from the same frobidden tree, it might wrongly inflate his ego, leading him to the sin of pride. It is damn bad for him, if he is unworthy. But that's a flaw in the squire, not in the system.

"There's more to come yet, or I'm mighty mistook" - Tom

(This post was edited by sador on Mar 31 2009, 6:51am)


Compa_Mighty
Tol Eressea


Mar 31 2009, 3:23pm

Post #25 of 91 (163 views)
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Man! I never realized this had started... [In reply to] Can't Post

And I already missed one of the most interesting chapters. It looks like you conducted a thorough discussion. Well, we couldn't expect any less from you. Wink

As for the overview I gave to the thread, I just would like to add a few things: that the narrator is not in first person, which would necessarily mean he would be telling his own story. He remains an omniscient narrator (albeit a bit oppinionated).

I would say it's a he. References to golf, trains, beer, smoking and newspapers would necessarily speak of a man in 1937.

The 1960 Hobbit sheds some light to the possibility of a different narrator, and it is done quite succesfully, I must say. Jokes and anachronisms are reduced to the minimal, and it seems quite coherent.

The beginning of The Hobbit is written in the spirit of the purest British Fairy Tale. Bilbo's descrption is quite similar to that of Mr. Darling in Peter Pan (not doing anything unexpected). Funny and "cute" sentences are all over the chapter, and you cannot help but relate the golf story with elements such as Wendy's mother's kiss hiding in the corner of her lips. Newer tales like Potter continue this tradition: Harry was grounded under the stairs, and couldn't come out until the summer vacation; Muggles don't accept that their keys aren't lost, they simply shrank.

However, it does not end like a typical fairy tale, as Tolkien's Epic Germanic background gradually kicks in.

Overall, is it a fairy tale? Yes, it is, much more than Lord of the Rings, an archetypical Legendary Epic (à la Ilyad) or The Silmarillion, a heroic, larger than life mythical collection of stories (à la Popol Vuh, or even Hesiod's Teogony).

As a conclusion, I would like to add that this first chapter contains the whole "charm" of the story, which is the very thing that makes The Hobbit a children favorite. Realism slowly beats charm as the pages pass, but there was so much charm in the first chapter, that it lasts until the greedy death of Thorin, allowing you to remember The Hobbit as a "happy" book, in contrast to Lord of the Rings, which has nothing happy about it.

Would it be a better book if it had stayed consistent with the later tone, or even to that of the Lord of the Rings? Most likely yes. But it would be less popular, it would appeal to a smaller audience, and it would lose its fairy tale-like quality.

Thanks, squire! Better late than never.

Here's to Del Toro becoming the Irvin Kershner of Middle Earth!

Essay winner of the Show us your Hobbit Pride Giveway!

(This post was edited by Compa_Mighty on Mar 31 2009, 3:24pm)

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