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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tertiary characters in 'The Hobbit': Beorn


Mar 13 2012, 9:16am

Views: 2531
Tertiary characters in 'The Hobbit': Beorn Can't Post

"Couldn't you find someone more easy-tempered? Hadn't you better explain it all a bit clearer?"

Beorn is one of those wonderfully (or frustratingly) enigmatic characters that Tolkien seemed just to 'discover' - influenced by multiple threads of the folklore and early literature he knew from his professional work, by his children's likes and dislikes, by family games and jokes, by - who knows what else - but always with his own unique twist. They came into his mind, landed on the page, and only then, as the legendarium grew and took shape, did he try to 'place' them in his world and define them. So what is Beorn? Man under enchantment? Bear under enchantment? In a letter of 1954 to Naomi Mitchison, who was reading page-proofs from 'The Lord of the Rings' ['Letters, no.144, p.178], Tolkien was quite specific:

'Though a skin-changer and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man.'

And in the published story Gandalf tells Bilbo and the dwarves, 'he is under no enchantment but his own', setting Beorn apart from the many fairy-tale characters trapped under someone else's enchantment, which they must somehow break.

... even so, the character as written in 'The Hobbit' leaves a lot of room for question and interpretation.

So here are a few thoughts - feel free to throw in your own:

1. We're told Beorn is a 'skin-changer', both in the story and in the letter quoted above. Why 'skin-changer'? Why not 'shape-shifter' or 'werebear' - descriptions other commentators often use for Beorn, though, so far as I know, Tolkien never does. Are the descriptions synonymous, as people seem to assume, or can you see real differences between them?

2. What do you think 'he is under no enchantment but his own' actually means? Simply that Beorn has the power to change his skin at will - or perhaps that he has placed himself under a self-imposed enchantment.

3. Beorn as an exile. There are a lot of exiles in Tolkien's stories and Beorn seems to be one of them. That image Gandalf gives us of Beorn in bear's form alone on the Carrock by moonlight, looking towards the Misty Mountains and growling to himself, 'The day will come when they will perish and I shall go back' is one of my favourite visual images from the book. But why do you think it is that it's Beorn the Bear who seems to feel his exile, not Beorn the Man? Also, is there any significance in the fact that Beorn the Bear seems to be part of a community of bears while Beorn the Man is very much a loner?

4. When we first meet Beorn he lives alone with only his animals for company, though he has an unusually deep understanding of them which seems to be mutual. He's not a 'wild man' as such - he gardens, cultivates, keeps bees - but he doesn't have humans (or dwarves, hobbits, elves etc.) around him and doesn't particularly welcome them. After the Battle of the Five Armies, we're told, he throws a great feast at his house inviting 'men from far and wide' and goes on to become 'a great chief' in the region, also to father a son. Why the change?

Subject User Time
Tertiary characters in 'The Hobbit': Beorn dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Mar 13 2012, 9:16am
    No enchantment but his own. Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Mar 13 2012, 2:20pm
        Agreed.// telain Send a private message to telain Mar 18 2012, 3:55pm
    Beorn love titanium_hobbit Send a private message to titanium_hobbit Mar 14 2012, 12:19am
        beornings elevorn Send a private message to elevorn Mar 15 2012, 7:09pm
    on were-people telain Send a private message to telain Mar 18 2012, 4:12pm
        It's interesting, isn't it.... dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Mar 18 2012, 4:46pm
    Aaargh! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 19 2012, 1:14pm
        The term 'werebear' Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Mar 19 2012, 4:29pm
            Well sador Send a private message to sador Mar 20 2012, 12:14pm
                Well, well... Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Mar 20 2012, 8:23pm
    Hmmm.... Twit Send a private message to Twit Apr 4 2012, 7:45am


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