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Is The Hobbit great but flawed?
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Curious
Half-elven


Jun 27 2012, 4:47pm

Post #1 of 31 (656 views)
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Is The Hobbit great but flawed? Can't Post

And, if so, can we agree upon the flaw?

The problem, as I see it, is that right up until Bilbo discovers Smaug's weak spot, the story is exclusively about Bilbo, the hobbit. Even Gandalf and Thorin are peripheral characters, much more so than the ensemble cast in LotR. It's not just hobbitcentric, it is told almost entirely from Bilbo's point of view.

After that, Bilbo suddenly becomes a supporting character in the story, and not even a prominent supporting character. Even his attempt to end the conflict by giving Bard the Arkenstone does not actually work, and he plays no direct part in the death of Smaug or the final battle.

And although the ending of the story holds my interest, in many ways it seems thrown together. We know nothing about Bard, not much about the Elvenking (we never even learn his name), and until this point Thorin has been a one-dimensional buffoon. Suddenly these three characters, and the conflict between them, become central to the tale, yet we have little reason to empathize with them. But then, before that conflict plays itself out, the battle with the orcs becomes central to the tale. But then, out of nowhere, the Eagles and Beorn come to save the day.

It all feels slapped on to the tale of Bilbo, and unsatisfying for that reason. It's like two different stories, one without a proper ending and the other without a proper beginning or middle, one about Bilbo and one about an ensemble of, frankly, two-dimensional characters.

There are all kinds of things I love about The Hobbit, but I don't think I need to tell you about those. I have never found the ending satisfying, though, for the reasons I discuss. It's not just a change in tone, it's a fundamental change in the nature of the story that leaves me unsatisfied.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 27 2012, 4:50pm)


CuriousG
Valinor


Jun 27 2012, 7:10pm

Post #2 of 31 (307 views)
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Not so sure [In reply to] Can't Post

I appreciate all the things you cite, and sort of agree but disagree at the same time. How's that for a confusing intro?

My sense in reading The Hobbit is that it's a coming-of-age tale, where Bilbo isn't chronologically a youth but is in various ways young and waiting to ripen. That's how Gandalf sees him, and Thorin poetically calls him "child of the kindly West" (or close to that). Bilbo goes from a dull, timid, proper person to someone much braver, more confident, and willing to risk a lot based on his principles, such as rescuing the dwarves from the elven dungeons and giving the Arkenstone to Bard in trying to keep the peace. There was moral complexity in those two significant acts: the first showed great loyalty to his friends, since he himself was free and could have ridden the barrels to freedom without the dwarves. The second seemed a betrayal of his friends, but he was trying to help them by preventing a needless war which would have killed them, so on a higher level, it wasn't a betrayal (Thorin wouldn't agree with me).

Then when Bilbo goes home, he, like Frodo, has been changed and made more worldly, so he doesn't fit in again. Maybe this is Tolkien the war veteran talking about himself, or maybe it's just his observation of how people with a lot of experiences don't fit in among those whose lives have remained stable. Either way, Bilbo has outgrown the Shire and his old self.

So given all that, I think it makes sense that Bilbo becomes sidelined as a character in the Lonely Mountain section of the story and finds events are much bigger than him and beyond his control. That's a coming-of-age realization as well, I think, as one goes from child to cocky teenager to sobered young adult. (He was pretty cocky in fighting the spiders, but I won't press that point too far.) I think the Arkenstone delivery to Bard is highly significant: how often in growing up do we think that we're doing the right thing only to have it go horribly wrong? Sure, that happens throughout life, but it's especially bewildering and shocking when you're going through your teens and early 20s.

Another perspective may be that this was Tolkien himself coming of age as a writer, and he couldn't resist turning a small tale into something bigger. He did the same thing in The Fellowship of the Ring, which was supposed to be a sort of happy travel tale, Hobbit Part 2, but grew into an epic. The Hobbit didn't become an epic, but it grew into a larger story than it started out, and maybe not intentionally, maybe that's just how Tolkien's mind got the better of him.

As to other elements, I think of The Hobbit as being primarily a fairy tale and a children's tale, and it's not something I can analyze much, which is why I haven't volunteered to take any chapters. For better or worse, my reaction to most things is: "that's how fairy tales are written." Hence it's mostly told from his point of view, characters are one-dimensional, the story twists unrealistically but conveniently to keep the plot simple and linear, etc. It's like an old sweater that's comfortable to wear, but if I pull on any loose threads, it falls apart, so I try not to tidy it up and leave it alone.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 27 2012, 8:06pm

Post #3 of 31 (329 views)
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It's more about midlife crisis, I think. It's about coming of age at an advanced age. [In reply to] Can't Post

Bilbo isn't young in age or young at heart, but we know he was different in his youth. Over the course of the book, he doesn't grow up so much as he grows young again, doing all the things he dreamed about as a young hobbit, and even climbing trees, throwing stones, playing hide and seek, playing riddle games, and other youthful activities. But then he takes a different path, the path of his mother's family, not his father's. Bilbo is given a second chance to come of age, and wipes away the choice he thought was set in stone. He rewinds the tape of his life, then winds it forward again along a completely different track. When he returns home he is a completely different person.

His use of the Arkenstone is his masterpiece, the culmination of his apprenticeship with Gandalf the Trickster, and Gandalf personally approves. Nevertheless, it has little effect. Events probably would have proceeded the same way if he had never given away the Arkenstone. It makes all the difference in the world to Bilbo, and little difference in the history of Middle-earth.

Maybe Bilbo is too small to change history. Maybe that's the lesson of Gandalf's last line in the story ("...you're only quite a little fellow in a wide world, after all"). Maybe all of this would have happened more or less as it did with or without Bilbo. But none of that changes my dissatisfaction when the story suddenly shifts focus to an ensemble of ill-developed characters I don't know.

The Hobbit reminds me of the old German folk tale, The Valiant Little Tailor. That's another story of an ordinary man who becomes a hero through a combination of courage, wit, and luck. But it doesn't end with someone else we've barely met swooping in and getting all the glory! It ends with the tailor marrying the princess and becoming a prince, and his angry father-in-law finally giving up the attempt to kill him. The Trickster triumphs.

If Bilbo had chosen to act behind the scenes, and had allowed others to take the glory, that would have been much more satisfying to me. But towards the end of the story, Bilbo becomes irrelevant. It's just disappointing, after all the build up.

And it is a mistake Tolkien does not repeat in LotR, where Frodo and Sam have the central role and Merry and Pippin have significant roles in the endgame. Furthermore, in LotR, to the extent Aragorn does take over, we know him, and have known him since nearly the beginning. Even Gandalf has a character arc in LotR. It is a much more satisfactory ending.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 27 2012, 8:10pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 27 2012, 9:15pm

Post #4 of 31 (300 views)
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Any number of flaws have been pointed out on these boards... [In reply to] Can't Post

Some of them are prettty minor. Tolkien could have dealt with many of them, himself, either by completing his aborted 1960 rewrite or in his later rewrite of 1966. We (the TORn posters) have suggested a number of solutions to most of these flaws.

An early problem is a line given to Gandalf during The Unexpected Party, "And Thrain your father went away on the twenty-first of April, a hundred years ago last Thursday, and has never been seen by you since --" There doesn't seem to be a problem with this until we realize that April 21 always falls on a Friday in Shire Reckoning--never on a Thursday. Well, maybe Gandalf was using the Reckoning of the Dwarves.

Balin and Dwalin were said to have accompanied Thrain on his expedition of 2841, yet Thorin seems to know remarkably little about the journey that ended with his father's disappearance.

Travel times of the company through Wilderland are incredably inconsistent, especially when compared to The Lord of the Rings. However, that might be a flaw in LotR, where it takes days for Aragorn and the hobbits to travel from the river to the site of the three petrified Trolls--a distance that was covered in about an hour in The Hobbit.

It seems unlikely that Gandalf, an Istari who has walked in Middle-earth for nearly 2000 years, can't read the runes on the swords Glamdring and Orcrist. But, perhaps the weapons needed a good cleaning make the letters readable. Or, maybe he only pretended to be unable to read the runes so as to ensure that Thorin wouldn't try to bypass Rivendell (given the opportunity). This might also explain his apparent inability to spot the rune-letters on the map.

I suspect that Estel (young Aragorn) would have received a cameo in the 1960 revision of TH.

Would Tolkien have handled the Ring's effect on Bilbo differently if he had completed his 1960 revision? Well, maybe not any differently than he did when he actually did rewrite parts of TH afterwards.

I'm sure that if Tolkien had completed his 1960 revision of TH, King Thranduil would have been named and Legolas would have been given some sort of cameo or his absence would have been explained.

Yes, Bard should have been introduced earlier. This could have easily been done by making him the Guardsman who questioned Thorin and Company at the bridge and escorted the party to the Master of Lake-town. This is probably one of the things that Peter Jackson is doing in his version of the tale.

On the return journey, Bilbo reports a very inaccurate account of the White Council and the attack against the Necromancer. One can imagine that the version that Bilbo heard was intentionally generalized to protect the secrets of the Council. Or the sequence might have been rewritten by Tolkien in 1960 if he had persisted in his effort to make TH more consistent with LotR.

"Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house." - Aragorn

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Jun 27 2012, 9:20pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 27 2012, 10:13pm

Post #5 of 31 (278 views)
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I would not classify the role of Bard with these other technical problems. [In reply to] Can't Post

It appears the rest of your list deals exclusively with inconsistencies with LotR, which, as you note, are really problems with LotR, not with The Hobbit, which was written first. But having Bard meet the dwarves at the gate to Laketown would not cure the fundamental problem with the plot of The Hobbit.

The only cure is a complete rewrite, along the lines of LotR, in which Bilbo would have a greater role in the conclusion, and the rest of the ensemble would have more development in the beginning and middle of the story -- but that would fundamentally change the nature of the story. It's really not something that can be cured except by writing a new story -- which Tolkien did in LotR.

I will be curious to see how Jackson addresses this problem. It is possible to give the dwarves more depth, because they are at least present for the entire story. And perhaps, by dividing the tale into two films, he can also give the rest of the ensemble more depth in the second film. There still may be something unsatisfying about Bilbo's near irrelevance towards the end of the second film, though. For example, I wonder if Bilbo will still be knocked out for the entire battle, or whether Jackson may give him some kind of role before the stone hits him.

I also wonder whether Jackson will do anything to lay the groundwork for the introduction of new characters in the first film, rather than waiting to introduce them all in the second. Unlike the book, he is not limited to Bilbo's point of view, and could give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Because I consider The Hobbit a great but flawed tale, I'm not as wedded to the book. I hope I will be able to accept Jackson's changes more readily than I did with LotR. But I could be wrong.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 27 2012, 10:19pm)


Undome
Bree


Jun 27 2012, 10:56pm

Post #6 of 31 (269 views)
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Interesting post! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm rather short on time, but I wanted to throw a couple thoughts into the discussion.....

First, could a lot of what you are calling "flawed" be the unavoidable result of The Hobbit being woven into the larger tapestry of Tolkien's writings? Perhaps the story has to fray around the edge in order to connect with the rest of the Middle-earth epic. In other words, is it possible for the The Hobbit to be completely self-contained, balanced, and "unified" and still mesh with the larger saga? I don't know. It's just my initial thought......

I know what you mean when you say events in the final act feel "slapped on." (You mentioned the Bard-Thorin-Thranduil conflict, but what about all the attention paid to Dain! Who the heck is Dain?! Again, might such unevenness be inevitable when you embed your story inside a larger story?) But in any case, it has always seemed to me that there are a lot of things in Tolkien that feel a little bit hasty or even arbitrary. For example, in LOTR, Aragorn's summoning of the dead army always felt "slapped on" (almost a deus ex machina) in my opinion. And it always seemed a little bit ridiculous that two important prophecies (that the true king would be known by his ability to heal, and that no "man" could kill the Witch King) weren't introduced until shortly before their fulfillment. Shouldn't they have been introduced to the reader much earlier?

That said.... I'm not sure I agree with an assumption in your original question. "Is The Hobbit great but flawed?" Part of me thinks that perhaps the two adjectives necessarily go together. Perhaps for a work of literary art to be great it has to be flawed. By way of analogy..... I think that a perfectly ideal, absolutely flawlessly beautiful woman (or man) would be utterly unattractive.


"It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty."
- Frodo Baggins




Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 12:45am

Post #7 of 31 (273 views)
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I don't see the same flaws in LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

I see different flaws in LotR, perhaps, but not the same, and to my mind not as bad. As Edmund Wilson noted, the biggest flaw with LotR is that it did not even pretend to be for children, but retained many of the characteristics of children's literature. Millions think Tolkien pulled it off; some disagree.

But The Hobbit is much closer to standard fare, much closer to classic folk literature like the Valiant Little Tailor. What it lacks, however, is the continuity of LotR, because at the end Tolkien decided to go in a different direction, a direction that foreshadowed the more consistent style of LotR. It's as if Tolkien started to write LotR before he had finished with The Hobbit.

I don't agree that Aragorn's summoning of the dead army was slapped on. First of all, Aragorn is a central character in the story, with a clear character arc. He doesn't come out of nowhere. There is plenty of foreshadowing of his role, and the Paths of the Dead are a necessary part of that process, of him reclaiming his throne, not because of ambition, but because it is his duty.

Aragorn's trip through the Paths of the Dead also forms a nice trilogy, along with Gandalf's path through the caverns of Moria and Frodo's trip through Cirith Ungol. Tolkien loved the symbolism of dark tunnels so well, he did it three times, for each of his Christ-like heroes.

The specific prophecies you mention may come late in the game, but the theme that prophecies are coming true is consistent throughout the story, from beginning to end. It's also clear that most of the prophecies have been forgotten by many, preserved only by wizards or elves or old wives or, in the case of "no man may kill...", by the Witch King himself.

Finally, I don't think The Hobbit is woven into a tapestry of Tolkien's mythology. The Hobbit borrows one or two things from The Silmarillion, but not in any integrated way, not like LotR. In fact, the story of the hostility between the wood elves and dwarves and their fight over the Arkenstone is more like plagiarism of the story of Thingol and the dwarves and the Silmaril. It's not an attempt to create depth, it's making use of themes Tolkien thought would never see the light of day.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 28 2012, 12:50am)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 1:15am

Post #8 of 31 (445 views)
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Our views differ on Bilbo and the Bot5A. [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't see Bilbo's lack of involvement in the battle as a plot flaw so much as a commentary on his character. Bilbo's role leading up to the battle was to attempt to keep the peace, usuing the Arkenstone as a bargaining tool. Unfortunately for him, his efforts were sabotaged by the early arrival of Dain and his troops (although Bolg and his goblins would have rendered them noot as well). I don't see it as a problem.

On the other hand, introducing Bard earlier allows some of his history to be doled out to the readers/audience as foreshadowing. He becomes more than a deus ex machina brought in at the last minute.


Quote

I also wonder whether Jackson will do anything to lay the groundwork for the introduction of new characters in the first film, rather than waiting to introduce them all in the second. Unlike the book, he is not limited to Bilbo's point of view, and could give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.



I'm not aware of many new characters who won't enter the story until the second film. If you mean 'characters created for the film(s)' then Tauriel will be introduced in An Unexpected Journey while I'm only aware of Alfrid of Lake-town as appearing exclusively in There and Back Again. If you mean characters such as Bard, Dain and the Master then I don't think we need any early foreshadowing of them except for quick, incomplete shots of Smaug as he drove the dwarves from Erebor and moving the introduction of Bard to earlier in the second film.



Quote

I see different flaws in LotR, perhaps, but not the same, and to my mind not as bad. As Edmund Wilson noted, the biggest flaw with LotR is that it did not even pretend to be for children, but retained many of the characteristics of children's literature. Millions think Tolkien pulled it off; some disagree.



Interesting. The way I see it, many elements of classical myth and folktales had, by the nineteenth century, been relegated to elements of children's literature. What Tolkien did was to restore those elements to adult literature and apply them in a new way, thereby co-inventing heroic fantasy as we know it today (with Tolkien responsible for high fantasy and Robert E. Howard and other pulp writers inventing the sub-genre of sword-and-sorcery literature).

"Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house." - Aragorn

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Jun 28 2012, 1:23am)


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 2:29am

Post #9 of 31 (263 views)
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No question, Tolkien resurrected heroic fantasy [In reply to] Can't Post

of the kind Don Quixote parodied hundreds of years ago. In Cervantes' day it dominated the market; by the time of LotR it was so old that it was new, especially since Tolkien's hobbits made it accessible to a modern audience. I call it a flaw only because Tolkien's detractors have never cared for the genre, no matter how popular it has become. I'm obviously not one of the detractors.


squire
Valinor


Jun 28 2012, 3:30am

Post #10 of 31 (236 views)
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Fantasy vs. romance [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm no expert on this, but I thought there was a difference between heroic romance, of the kind that Cervantes parodied, and heroic fantasy which Tolkien seems to have helped pioneer by merging mythological (i.e., "unreal") settings and characters with a modern if romantic novelistic style. I think the difference might be that readers in the premodern era did not perceive monsters, ghosts, or other "supernatural" phenomena as alien to the real world they lived in. By Tolkien's time, a line had been drawn which the authors of romances (now called "novels") had mostly stopped crossing.

And of course Tolkien did not invent even the modern heroic fantasy; he famously popularized it by making his particular contribution to the genre a masterwork of art.



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titanium_hobbit
Rohan


Jun 28 2012, 5:13am

Post #11 of 31 (231 views)
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tunnels and growing up [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Aragorn's trip through the Paths of the Dead also forms a nice trilogy, along with Gandalf's path through the caverns of Moria and Frodo's trip through Cirith Ungol. Tolkien loved the symbolism of dark tunnels so well, he did it three times, for each of his Christ-like heroes.


Bilbo also has a journey through several tunnels, involving a very interesting death to life moment in returning from the dead-end of the lake to the goblin 'back door' on the other side of the mountains.

He also has a death to life moment in fleeing up the tunnel from Smaug's toe-hair-singeing (and worse) flames back to the dwarves, and the dwarves and Bilbo must go through the tunnel and out, once Smaug has destroyed the secret door.

The Hobbit is as rich in symbolism as LOTR, I think.

I would definitely land on the "Bildungsroman" interpretation of Bilbo's journey (boy to man) rather than a mid-life crisis tale.

Hobbits are perceived by others in the novel as children, even when they grow up, unless they undertake a rite of passage. These adventurers become the leaders in the community- the grown ups.

See Frodo and Sam as mayor, Pippin and Merry as leaders in the battle for the Shire, and even Old Took was adventurous before he became Thain. The Tooks, leaders, were also adventurers.

TH


Hobbit firster, Book firster.


Have you explored all of TORN's forums?


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 11:12am

Post #12 of 31 (211 views)
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I didn't say he invented it. [In reply to] Can't Post

I said he resurrected it. And the heroic romance with which I am familiar is filled with fantasy. If the readers of the time did not perceive it that way, that doesn't change how it reads. C.S. Lewis, for example, compared Lord of the Rings to Orlando Furioso, an Italian epic poem which supposedly takes place in the time of Charlemagne, but according to Wikipedia "wanders at will from Japan to the Hebrides, as well as including many fantastical and magical elements (such as a trip to the moon, and an array of fantastical creatures including a gigantic sea monster called the orc, and the hippogriff)." Orlando Furioso was referenced several times in Don Quixote.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 11:21am

Post #13 of 31 (237 views)
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Oh yes, The Hobbits is full of tunnels. [In reply to] Can't Post

The path through Mirkwood is also a kind of long, long tunnel, and the escape via barrels could be viewed as a kind of rebirth -- cramped, wet, dangerous, undignified, and uncomfortable. But then Bilbo already had to squeeze out of a tight tunnel entrance when he escaped the goblins. Perhaps his rebirth came before the dwarves', and in Mirkwood he acted as the midwife.

I would not mix up the transformation of the four hobbits in LotR with the transformation of Bilbo in The Hobbit. They are different stories. Bilbo regains something he thought he had lost. In LotR, because of Bilbo, the four protagonists never lost it. Instead, they start from where Bilbo left off. And the Shire, too, is transformed.


Mim
The Shire

Jun 28 2012, 2:28pm

Post #14 of 31 (242 views)
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Flawed, but only when it comes to following convention... [In reply to] Can't Post

I think my first reaction to the specific flaws you point out is that, to me, they only seem to be flawed if you're particularly wedded to some kind of conventional narrative structure. We do, as readers, naturally expect to follow our hero through the narrative, because that's how it normally goes. You can generally, with some confidence say who a story is about and if a story is a specifically about a person then of course, it only makes sense for them to play a vital role in climaxes and conclusions of that narrative. However, I don't feel that The Hobbit is much interested in following that kind of covention. I almost feel as though Bilbo is side lined at the end for a specific reason.

In a lot of ways, The Hobbit seems something like an inverted narrative. The main plot, Thorin's reclaiming of his treasure and the wider political (if we can call them that) implications of that is pushed into the background. Then, what would in plenty of epic narratives simply be a subplot, Bilbo's personal growth and all of the bildungsroman elements that have already been pointed out, is in the spotlight. So already, we have something a little odd going on here narrative wise. That oddness is increased by the nature of the very bildungsroman elements that have already been discussed, Bilbo is not a youth maturing, he is a mature individual becoming more youthful and through that maturing into a new individual? Whatever it is, it isn't the standard. So then, when we lose our hero towards the end of the book I'm not exactly surprised because from the very beginning The Hobbit doesn't seem terribly interested in being conventional.

It seems to me that The Hobbit ends in a way which may not be satisfying from a literary or a reader perspective, but I think it is what I'm going to liberally call a more realistic ending. To have Bilbo take a more active part in the slaying of the dragon I don't think would be very believable. We have seen him be unusually brave, cunning and he's fought off spiders. Yes. We haven't seen anything that would make it likely that he could slay the dragon himself, or indeed by any help what so ever in a fight against anyone who knew what they were doing. So to me, it just seems as though this is Tolkien being realistic about the capabilities of his hero. Hobbits are brave, sturdy, they're not great warriors. Not even in The Lord of the Rings.

As for the other characters, Bard, the Elvenking. To have Bard introduced earlier, to have him in some round about way brought into contact with Bilbo before it is his time to play is role again isn't terribly realistic. It is something we would find more satisfying in literature, but it isn't necessarily the way real events go. It would be a stretch. Equally, the Elvenking is unlikely to have ever become intimately acquainted enough with Bilbo for us to be able to follow him and keep Bilbo around at the same time. It could be done, obviously, which is partially why I think it wasn't done for a reason.

I think it is worth thinking about this lack of convention and this strange shot for realism (i'm using the term loosely) in relation to Tolkiens desire to create a mythology. This isn't meant to be a literary tale, this isn't about writing a bildungsroman, or a traditional epic it is about creating a new branch of mythology. So these events must be true, hence the need for some kind of realism. It is a new mythology, so it isn't held to any kind of convention either, it can make its own. We lose Bilbo at the end of the narrative, because it was never really about him, it was about these great world events. We have viewed them through the lens of Bilbo and then, view those great events that he was only ever really there to help bring into motion.

Ultimately what I'm trying to say and to show, not very well I am aware, is that The Hobbit may not be perfect in literary terms but I'm not entirely sure it was ever meant to be. I think what you call flaws, are at least partially intentional.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 2:54pm

Post #15 of 31 (223 views)
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But LotR flouts convention more successfully, and more consistently. [In reply to] Can't Post

As in The Hobbit, in LotR the hobbits circle around the conventional plot, Aragorn reclaiming his throne. But Aragorn, unlike Thorin, still has a character arc. For attentive readers, despite the fact that we do not get into his head, he gradually becomes a three dimensional character, and most readers (not all) learn to care about him even though the story is generally hobbitcentric. Yet Tolkien also figures out how to give the hobbits a plausible heroic role in the narrative, comparable to the role of Aragorn. Frodo and Sam carry the Ring to Mount Doom, and Merry kills the Witch-king. Even Pippin saves Faramir and stabs a troll.

Most of The Hobbit fits quite well into conventions set by stories like The Valiant Little Tailor, until Bilbo is pushed off stage by unfamiliar characters at the end. It would not violate the internal consistency of the tale for Bilbo to be given a more central role in the last few chapters. On the contrary, I think it violates the internal consistency of the tale for Bilbo to suddenly have no role. This is not a tale set in the Primary World, and it makes no sense to suddenly become "realistic" and say that hobbits can't help, not even hobbits who can turn invisible.

Several secondary characters were introduced late in LotR, but they were all given more personality than the Elvenking or Bard or Dain. Yes, Tolkien wrote a longer story in LotR, but if he is going to introduce major characters late in the tale perhaps he needs more pages in order to make it work.

I agree that Tolkien may have intentionally strayed from convention in The Hobbit, but I still consider it a flawed attempt, perfected in LotR.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 28 2012, 2:58pm)


Mim
The Shire

Jun 28 2012, 4:25pm

Post #16 of 31 (197 views)
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Well if we're comparing it to LotR... [In reply to] Can't Post

...then it's a whole different ball game.

I agree that LotR also flouts convention. I think it does it differently. I think its plot structure is a lot more complicated, Tolkien is playing with different things in LotR. So I wouldn't necessarily disagree with the statement that Tolkien perfected what he was trying to do in The Hobbit in LotR. Though I think developed and expanded what he was trying to do might be neareer the mark.

The removal of Bilbo at the end is not so much saying Hobbits can't help, its more that they can't help with precisely what is happening at the end of the Hobbit. I maintain that it would seem extremely far fetched for Bilbo to slay the dragon, or to be particularly active in any of the fighting. The difference between Bilbo doing something like that and Merry's involvement in the killing of the Witch-King is that Merry has been on a much longer jounrney by the time he comes to do that. Merry has seen and been involved in more fighting. Its fairly logical to assume that he's picked up some skills along the way. The killing of the Witch-King is the act that he has been developing towards. Bilbo, has only been actively involved in fighting spiders. It would seem like quite a large leap for him to turn into a competent fighter. Bilbo is styled, from the very beginning as a thief. His role is fully defined. He isn't the warrior, the dragon slayer...he's the thief. The ending seems consistent with that. He fulfills that role. To suddenly give him another role, would, to me, be a violation of the internal consistency.

Perhaps The Hobbit did need to be a little bit longer, I'll concede to that. A short paragraph on the Elvenking might have been nice. Personally though, I was satisfied with what we learnt about Bard.


squire
Valinor


Jun 28 2012, 4:33pm

Post #17 of 31 (219 views)
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Tolkien Furioso [In reply to] Can't Post

"[Fantasy:] If the readers of the [Middle Ages] did not perceive it that way, that doesn't change how it reads [today]"

Forgive my bracketed interpolations done for clarity of discussion. That is a very interesting statement, don't you think? Certainly I would agree with you that Tolkien only "resurrected" what we now call fantasy, if we can redefine past genres however we wish. Is fantasy whatever we want it to be, no matter how the authors and their readers perceived the material at the time? Is the "science fiction" of H. G. Wells now fantasy, because the science is absurd?

Is the Bible "fantasy" yet, to go a little further? We know Tolkien did not think so - he regarded the Bible as truth. It was to the Bible that he compared his fantasy writing as serving somewhat the same purpose (distance and recovery, etc.) but written by Man the subcreator not God the creator. Yet many secular-minded readers today, I guess, might see the Bible as simply another work of fantastic subcreation... Should they do so, or is it just too early? (I do not mean to be offensive on matters of faith here, merely trying to piece together the limits of generic redefinition over time.)



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Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 5:04pm

Post #18 of 31 (196 views)
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Actually, Tolkien did consider the Gospel story the greatest of all fairy tales. [In reply to] Can't Post

But he said it in a respectful manner, and also considered the essential details historically true. So I think he would say it both is and isn't fantasy. I think Tolkien made a distinction between fairy tales and science fiction, though, because the latter looks to the future, even if it did so in a completely outdated fashion. Fairy tales and legends both look to the past, but legends are more likely to weave in a bit of history. I think, though, that they use that history to serve the purpose of the tale -- they add it to the soup, as Tolkien would say.

Before the Enlightenment, I don't think people were as prone to distinguish between literal and figurative truth as they are today. The lines between fact and fiction, history and legend, legend and fantasy, all were blurry. Beowulf includes many historical characters and a non-historical story. Homer's Odyssey is, apparently, pure fantasy, and yet Homer's Iliad may have some historical foundations -- we may never know how much of it is based on history. Charlemagne was a historical character, while King Arthur probably was not, yet both of them gave rise to similar tales. Can we categorize all the Arthurian tales as fantasy and the tales of Charlemagne and his court non-fantasy just because Charlemagne was real? I don't think so.

Getting back to the Gospels, most historians consider Jesus a historical character, yet even believers usually admit there are discrepancies among the Gospels. John, in particular, has a completely different time line than the other three. And there are arguably discrepancies between the Gospels and the tales of Jesus told by Paul in his letters. To some extent, legends did grow up around Jesus after his death, and many Christians do not take the miracle stories literally. Even those who do have a hard time making the chronology work for all four Gospels.

But Tolkien also discounted the idea that primitive peoples were more gullible than modern peoples, and really believed, for example, that frogs could turn into princes. There's no reason fantasy could not exist in ancient times. Perhaps people were less obsessed with the distinction between literal and figurative language, but they still knew that frogs did not literally turn into people.

And what about the intent of the author? Even in an age when people might have believed in miracles, didn't someone know when they were making up fiction? Didn't the author of Orlando Furioso know? What about the author of Genesis? Although, in the case of the stories written in the Bible or by Homer, it's possible that they were handing down an oral tradition and were not the original authors of all of the stories.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 5:19pm

Post #19 of 31 (196 views)
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Tolkien does write a nice mini-background for Bard. [In reply to] Can't Post

Indeed, in some ways we know Bard better than many of the dwarves who have been there all along. But it's nothing on what he does with Aragorn in LotR, or with Gimli.

Bilbo became a trickster like Gandalf, and if Bilbo was to be given a larger role in the ending, it would be through trickery. We see some of it already, with the discovery of Smaug's weak spot and the use of the Arkenstone. The story could have continued in that vein, if Tolkien had chosen. The Valiant Little Tailor did so from beginning to end, and there are many similar stories of triumphant tricksters. The Thief of Baghdad is another. Look at how Gandalf used invisibility to kill the Great Goblin. Why couldn't Bilbo have done something similar?


CuriousG
Valinor


Jun 28 2012, 6:19pm

Post #20 of 31 (189 views)
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Hobbits as fighters [In reply to] Can't Post

Just on a tangent, I think a flaw in LOTR is that in Moria, Sam, who had zero sword training that we know of, was able to kill an orc who tried to kill him. That's just never been plausible to me. Even Merry vs the Witch-King had the hobbit make one and only one stroke from behind; that wasn't a sword fight of any kind.

By contrast, you make a good point about Bilbo being able to fight spiders but not the dragon. Even at his best, Bilbo wasn't a great physical hero, and we don't see him getting any battle training during the journey, so having him take on Smaug even with a bow and arrow (or a well-thrown rock) would have been very implausible. That's why I think Tolkien needed to give that role to someone else who had experience with weapons, hence Bard (though a dwarf could have done it too).


CuriousG
Valinor


Jun 28 2012, 6:23pm

Post #21 of 31 (168 views)
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Agreed on Paths of the Dead [In reply to] Can't Post

Curious is right about the foreshadowing of Aragorn taking the Paths of the Dead, but for whatever reason, that part of the story feels slapped on for me. Maybe because we only read the first part in real time and the second and larger part in hindsight with Gimli as narrator. Or maybe it's something else. I just find that it's not a part of the book I enjoy that much and not a part that I go back to reread. Somehow it doesn't fit the rest of the story for me, whereas the other tunnel ventures (Moria and Shelob's Lair) are excellent both in plot and in character development--those are parts I love rereading.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 6:38pm

Post #22 of 31 (160 views)
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There are no hobbits there. [In reply to] Can't Post

It really is tangential to the hobbits' story. Similarly, Aragorn's romance with Arwen takes some people by surprise, because we learn so little of it before the wedding.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 28 2012, 6:47pm

Post #23 of 31 (193 views)
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Sam killing an orc in Moria [In reply to] Can't Post

sets the stage for his role in rescuing Frodo later in the tale. It may be unrealistic, but I don't think we learn exactly how he manages to kill his assailant. It's possible that the orcs were focused on Frodo, and Sam struck from behind. Or maybe the orc was distracted by the immense abilities of the rest of the party. It's no fun attacking a party that includes Aragorn, Boromir, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli, and he may just have overlooked Sam as a threat.

I agree that Bilbo could not have killed Smaug himself, but perhaps he could have more purposefully arranged for Smaug's weak spot to be revealed, and he could have done more against the orcs with the aid of his ring of invisibility.


imin
Valinor


Jun 28 2012, 7:12pm

Post #24 of 31 (160 views)
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I always saw Sam as strong for a hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

He was mentioned as being stout or sturdy i think and he does have a physical job - digging drainage ditches is hard work and i imagine in that time with no machines sam would have to do it under his own steam.

I also dont think you need training to kill someone/orc. Did the orcs receive training or just given weapons/made weapons themselves and told to get on with it?

the orcs of moria also werent very big, still taller than sam but height isnt everything when it comes to strength or bravery.

In my mind i always thought it wasnt quite a straight one on one between the orc and sam but more sam coming from the side and getting him, for me it wasnt a flaw but was showing that there is more to hobbits than one would have thought. made me feel like i was there with them.


Mim
The Shire

Jun 28 2012, 7:56pm

Post #25 of 31 (155 views)
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It's a big cast of characters [In reply to] Can't Post

It would have had to have been a very long and confusing book if we were to get full characters of all of the dwarves. Which isn't out of the realms of possibilities with Tolkien I know, but long just doesn't seem to be what he was going for in The Hoibbt.

I've been struggling to think of a good scenario in which Bilbo uses trickery to kill the dragon and I'm having difficulty coming up with it. It's established in the tale that Smaug can, to a certain degree, detect Bilbo even when he's wearing the ring. So it's not like Bilbo can sneak up on him and stab him or something, which I imagine he wouldn't be strong enough to do anyway. Most things I can come up with would have taken time and a lot of help, neither of which Bilbo really had. Tolkien could have come up with something I'm sure, but I find it difficult to imagine a credible ending in which Bilbo plays a very active role in killing Smaug.

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