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What is the moral of the story in The Hobbit?
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Curious
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 4:15pm

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What is the moral of the story in The Hobbit? Can't Post

First of all, does it have a moral? Maybe not, but likely so. Tolkien was a teacher and a thinker, and he gave up on a sequel to LotR because it was turning into a "mere thriller." So it is unlikely that The Hobbit was a mere thriller.

Nevertheless, I can't quote the moral of the story from the text. Some would point to Thorin's deathbed quote, "'If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.'" But that's what Thorin learned, not Bilbo. Bilbo valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold before the quest started, didn't he?

In fact, Tolkien is quite coy about what Bilbo got out of the adventure. It's clear what he lost -- he lost his reputation in the Shire. It's also clear that he didn't need the treasure he was given; this is not a rags to riches story. He went from rich to richer, but that's not what the story is about. He gained the friendship and respect of elves, dwarves, wizards, and other "such folk," which is nice, but what are we to learn from that?

Tolkien did say "... the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party." What does that mean? Perhaps that he gained a new appreciation for the comforts he already had. But really, one could gain that by spending time in a prison cell.

Perhaps Bilbo gained something from seeing some of the wonders of the world -- including Smaug, who was evil but also wonderous. Perhaps Bilbo gained the quiet knowledge that he had learned to remain calm and keep his wits about him in extreme danger. And perhaps Bilbo gained something from seeing prophecies come true, and acting as an instrument in making them come true.

I think Tolkien addresses the moral of the story, but not in the text of The Hobbit. He addresses it in a speech he gave after publishing The Hobbit, and an essay based upon that speech, called "On Fairy Stories." In that essay he addressed the benefits of fantasy, and listed them as "Recovery," "Escape," and "Consolation." I think Bilbo gained all three.

First there is what Tolkien called "Recovery" -- the regaining of a clear view. Tolkien says "It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine."

Presumably the same is true for Bilbo. It's not just that he appreciates the comforts of home after the discomforts of his trip, it's that he has regained his sense of wonder, and no longer takes anything for granted, even in the Shire. The ordinary road outside his house has become something extraordinary, as Bilbo says in his first poem, spontaneously spoken when he first spies his home near the end of The Hobbit:


Quote
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

Tolkien comes back to this point in LotR. Frodo recites another version of the same poem, one more appropriate to the start of an adventure, then say he must have learned it from Bilbo, or perhaps adopted it from what Bilbo used to say.


Quote
"He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step onto the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'"


So even as Bilbo continued to live in the Shire, he had learned that the road outside his door was just as wondrous as the road by Rivendell or the Lonely Mountain or "under mountains in the moon," because they were all connected.

Now what about the other lessons of fantasy Tolkien mentions in "On Fairy Stories" -- Escape and Consolation? Tolkien defends Escape as a kind of revolt against what we do not like about the world in which we live. Does this apply to Bilbo? Even in The Hobbit we can see that there are some unattractive aspects to the Shire. That unattractive side of Bilbo at the beginning of the tale, his boring, predictable, and mundane personality, was admired and respected by other hobbits. Having shed the shackles of respectability, he also has lost his reputation, and most hobbits now consider him "queer." Bilbo has quietly escaped the expectations of his peers. He has not led a rebellion, as the hobbits do in LotR, but he has personally escaped -- and, in LotR, we will see that he freed a few others.

Finally, what about Consolation? This is where The Hobbit becomes semi-religious in tone. Bilbo has discovered that there is such a thing as Providence, that prophecies can come true, that happy endings are possible. Bilbo has caught, as Tolkien said in "On Fairy Stories," "a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief." Bilbo is no longer afraid.

One might ask what Bilbo was afraid of at the beginning of The Hobbit. After all, he lived in comfort in a peaceful land, so why would he be afraid? But he was afraid. He was afraid of Gandalf, of the dwarves, of what his neighbors would think. He went on the adventure because he was afraid to say "no." And of course we who are lucky enough to live comfortable lives often still live in fear, including the big one, fear of death. All our comforts, all that we do to keep ourselves safe and well fed, all the rules that we follow and the society we keep may do nothing to calm our fears.

In The Shire, Bilbo's courage takes a different form. He doesn't have to talk to dragons or fight monsters or find his way out of goblin caves. But he knows he can, so the petty fear of what his neighbors will think means nothing. Yes, he still uses the ring to avoid unwanted visitors, but he does not care what they think -- if he did he would welcome them, entertain them, and endure them in order to avoid offending them. He lives his life free of fear, and from the outside it may not seem that much has changed. But for Bilbo, and for us, it makes a world of difference.

Of course, there is a big difference between Bilbo and his readers. Bilbo has lived the fantasy, seen the wonders, confronted his fears. We have only read about him doing so. But the point of "On Fairy Stories" is that we can find inspiration in fantasy. We can regain wonder, escape restrictions, and overcome our fears. We know this is true because of our emotional response to Bilbo's story, our intuitive attraction to it. As Tolkien says in the epilogue to "On Fairy Stories":


Quote
The peculiar quality of the "joy"¯ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a "consolation"¯ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, "Is it true?"¯ The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): "If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world." That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the "eucatastrophe"¯ we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater -- it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.



(This post was edited by Curious on Jul 5 2012, 4:21pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 4:25pm

Post #2 of 32 (435 views)
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Multiple morals? [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Common folk often have more courage and good sense than might be believed.

2. Thorin Oakenshield's last words, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

"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


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 4:30pm

Post #3 of 32 (469 views)
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That is what Thorin learned, [In reply to] Can't Post

and I don't mean to dismiss those lessons entirely. But how many of us really value hoarded gold above food and cheer and song? How many of us look down on common folk? These may be comforting things for Bilbo to hear, and for us to hear, but they say more about Thorin than they do about Bilbo, and we, the readers, are more like Bilbo. What did Bilbo learn?


(This post was edited by Curious on Jul 5 2012, 4:30pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 4:42pm

Post #4 of 32 (433 views)
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The first is what Bilbo learned about himself. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
That is what Thorin learned



Also, adventures are often better in the retelling than in living.

"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


imin
Valinor


Jul 5 2012, 4:56pm

Post #5 of 32 (418 views)
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The New Shadow [In reply to] Can't Post

I always thought Tolkien abandoned the sequel to the lord of the rings because it was in an age with no magic/wonder as it was just filled with men. He felt like there was no single source of evil, leading it to become dark and dreary. So it became a thriller in that sense but there were wizards, dwarves and elves in middle earth at the time of the hobbit, as there was evil, so TH is not just a thriller. I feel that Tolkien just didnt think the ideas he had for the new shadow were good enough or interesting enough for him, considering he spent all his life pretty much thinking about mythical events in his ME.


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 5:40pm

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You don't think Thorin learned it as well?// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 5 2012, 6:03pm

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Nice essay Curious [In reply to] Can't Post

I quite enjoyed it. Thank you.

However this seems to me a continuation of the conversation from your previous thread... so you will forgive me if my remarks appear as an intrusion.

You identify (rightly I think) consolation as semi-religious in tone, yet you miss (or ignore) the possibility that "Recovery" and "Escape" may also have scriptural basis. I do like how you expanded on the meaning of escape here:


Quote
Even in The Hobbit we can see that there are some unattractive aspects to the Shire. That unattractive side of Bilbo at the beginning of the tale, his boring, predictable, and mundane personality, was admired and respected by other hobbits. Having shed the shackles of respectability, he also has lost his reputation, and most hobbits now consider him "queer." Bilbo has quietly escaped the expectations of his peers.


(This is where the intrusion may be felt most sharply.) Your words about "recovery" and about escaping the expectations of [others] (especially the bit about Bilbo being held as peculiar) immediately brought to mind something Paul said:

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind... (Rom 12:2);

something that Peter said:

"But ye are a chosen generation... a peculiar people..." (1 Pet 2:9);

and finally in Titus:

"...that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Tit 2:14)

In any case, I do think that The Hobbit has a moral. But the more I dwell on such questions, the harder it is (for me) to accept that Tolkien ascribed to a general morality. Actually, it seems to me, though not entirely subversive, Tolkien employed stealth in order to get certain ideas across. Either that or he expressed such themes in spite of himself.

I do not think this is mere coincidence (if there is such a thing), nor a case similar to what Voronwe described today on the Hobbit Board:


Quote
One could say with a straight face that the green scrubbing bubbles were based on something Tolkien wrote.



(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 5 2012, 6:08pm)


Yngwulff
Gondor


Jul 5 2012, 9:34pm

Post #8 of 32 (415 views)
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Morals [In reply to] Can't Post

Being content with what you have or the grass isn't any greener on the other side of the fence, definately rings out to me.
Especially, in light of his own "adventure' in the trenches of WWI.

Also what good is wealth and power in the world, if you are not around to enjoy them with the real important treasures like family and friends.


Take this Brother May it Serve you Well
Vote for Pedro!


Gwytha
Rohan


Jul 6 2012, 6:21am

Post #9 of 32 (389 views)
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What Bilbo gained [In reply to] Can't Post

In addition to those things already mentioned, Bilbo came back a poet.

I wouldn't say there was A moral, but there are a number of messages(or morals, if you will). The ones that stand out for me concern the universality of compassion and that doing what your heart tells you is right is more important than keeping the good will of your comrades.

Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm. -Joni Mitchell

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Curious
Half-elven


Jul 6 2012, 11:56am

Post #10 of 32 (392 views)
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Well, he started writing poetry. [In reply to] Can't Post

Whether he was any good at it is another matter, and there's no indication that the hobbits appreciated what he wrote.

I think the part about following your heart is what I was referring to as Tolkien's interpretation of Escape -- that is, escaping from conformity and expectations, choosing instead the freedom to follow your own heart.

I'm not sure what you mean by the universality of compassion. The goblins, Wargs, Spiders, and Smaug are not compassionate, nor does anyone feel compassion for them.


dormouse
Half-elven


Jul 6 2012, 2:10pm

Post #11 of 32 (398 views)
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You asked what Bilbo was afraid of at the beginning of the story... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and identified Gandalf, the dwarves, what his neighbours would think. I think there's something else there. Bilbo was afraid of himself. He was stifling that little spark of 'otherness' in him that make him actually want to experience all the wonder and the mystery, deep down, though he could not admit it - remember

Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick.

... and the little flicker of disappointment when the dwarves appear to have gone without him which he feels and quickly swallows. By implication his mother Belladonna had had the same spark of wonder in her and had stifled it in marriage.

So I'd say that maybe part of what Bilbo gained was himself. He gained a true understanding of who he was, what he could do, where he fitted. At the start he thought he loved Bag End and the Shire but they were as much his prison as his home - he was clinging to them because he was afraid to let go. But because he did let go and leave, accepting the risk that he would never see them again, at the end they were given back to him in a whole new relationship. He could really love them and see the wonder in them because he had changed and knew himself better and the world better.

I think what I'm trying to say is what T.S. Eliot wrote at the end of the Four Quartets (part V of 'Little Gidding'):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. . .


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 6 2012, 3:07pm

Post #12 of 32 (406 views)
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What's a moral exactly? [In reply to] Can't Post

Is it the same as an inner meaning or 'message'? Because if so, Tolkien makes it clear that even LotR doesn't have (or need) one of those:

"As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none." (Foreword to the Second Edition of LotR)

I think you hit the nail on the head, though, with your references to On Fairy Stories. It's not what I'd call a moral, as such, but Bilbo acts out in "real life" what we can only experience second-hand in fantasy - he visits Faerie. He experiences the world as a place full of magic and mystery - the world, Tolkien suggests in On Fairy Stories, as it might have seemed to the people of long ago, when magic and the supernatural were intricately bound up in the meaning of everyday life - giving everyday things an added dimension that we can no longer access, except through metaphor, poetry or fantasy (this is based on the theory of meaning developed in fellow-Inkling Owen Barfield's book Poetic Diction).

Fairy stories such as The Hobbit are a way for us to get a glimpse of that long-lost "magical" world, and what happens to Bilbo reflects what can happen to us (in a much less concrete and more metaphorical way, of course) when we allow ourselves to be dragged off on an "adventure" in the world of the imagination - like Bilbo, we too can experience Recovery, Escape, Consolation. That's what Tolkien mostly offers, I think. He professes to offer no inner meaning or message. I suppose he would like to think that he has done enough by offering his readers a glimpse of the deeper "underlying reality" that can sometimes be found in Faerie. His adventures teach Bilbo to interact with the world more deeply and appreciate it more fully. If there is a moral, maybe it's that.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Jul 6 2012, 3:49pm

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Tolkien did not like allegory because [In reply to] Can't Post

the message becomes absolutely necessary to the story -- Pilgrim's Progress does not make sense unless you are aware of the allegory. But Tolkien was not hesitant to analyze his own work in allegorical terms, and said that the best stories lend themselves to such interpretations. So no, The Hobbit was not written to send a message, and as I said Tolkien is deliberately coy about how the quest benefited Bilbo or about what lessons the reader should learn, but I think Tolkien would consider it a success if we found the story applicable to the Primary World.


Gwytha
Rohan


Jul 6 2012, 7:24pm

Post #14 of 32 (355 views)
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You don't consider Bilbo a poet? [In reply to] Can't Post

You must be an elf!

I take your point about "universal compassion." I was attempting to be succinct and just came out muddled I guess. (ponder ponder). Still not sure how to express the principal that Bilbo was expressing when he made off with the Arkenstone. So lets just leave it at it's better to listen to what your heart tells to do you even if it means being regarded as a traitor to your comrades. Not the whole point of the story, but the one that struck me the most upon first reading(though at age 11 I would have been even less articulate in expressing it).

My office Tolkien scholar thinks if there's an overalll message it's "Never despair." He thinks that's from Tom Shippey. Whence ever it came, it rings true to me.

Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm. -Joni Mitchell

Photobucket


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 6 2012, 7:37pm

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Relevant [In reply to] Can't Post

Galaxy Quest reference.


dreamflower
Lorien

Jul 6 2012, 10:08pm

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That's a wonderful analysis [In reply to] Can't Post

And a good examination of what Bilbo gained from it. I love the way you apply "On Fairy Stories" to TH-- lots to chew on!

But when we talk about the "moral of the story", we do not necessarily mean what the protagonist gains from his adventure, but the lesson that the reader may take away at the end. There are a number of such lessons in TH.

1. Simple values are more important than material gain. (The lesson Thorin spells out for us.)
2. Never underestimate the courage of a humble and compassionate heart. (Bilbo was braver than he knew, and felt kindness and pity for his comrades and for those who were victimized by the dragon.)
3. We miss what we don't have. (When on his Adventure, Bilbo missed his home; when he returned, he missed Adventure.)
4. Pride goeth before a fall. (Smaug's vanity was what got him killed.)
5. The small and meek can confound the powerful. (The lesson we learn in both TH and LotR.)

There are a lot more morals to this story, but these are the ones that stand out for me.


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 7 2012, 1:00am

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I think that the reader is more like Bilbo than like Thorin. [In reply to] Can't Post

And certainly more like Bilbo than like Smaug. How many of us are heirs to dragon hoards, born to be King under the Mountain? How many of us are as powerful as Smaug? It's great that Bilbo taught something to Thorin before he died, but I'm more interested in what Bilbo taught himself, because that is more relevant to the readers.

Does Bilbo miss adventure? I'm not sure about that. I don't really see any sign of it in the text. Maybe in LotR, although even there he waits a very long time to satisfy that urge. But in The Hobbit, we are told he is quite content at home.


dreamflower
Lorien

Jul 7 2012, 1:45am

Post #18 of 32 (335 views)
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Re: I think that the reader is more like Bilbo than like Thorin. [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh, I certainly think the reader identifies with Bilbo more than Thorin and certainly more than Smaug! Still, in classic tales with morals, it's not always the characters you identify with or even like that teach the lessons. Many of the lessons are of the negative sort, and taught by the antagonist, or at least by a non-sympathetic character instead. In TH we have both sorts of lessons, those taught us by Bilbo, and those taught us by others.

Perhaps I was mistaken in drawing on Bilbo's future actions, since we are only discussing TH. My only excuse is that I see the two stories in a continuum-- possibly because unlike many readers who read TH in early childhood, and then only encounter LotR when they are older, I was older when I first read them (15), and I read TH and then immediately afterward began LotR. I read all four books in a span of less than ten days, and it only took that long because I had to wait for RotK to be returned to the library. So in my mind they tend to be one story-- even though I do know that they were not originally intended that way.


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 7 2012, 2:44am

Post #19 of 32 (312 views)
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One of the main things I learned [In reply to] Can't Post

the last time we analyzed The Hobbit chapter by chapter is that it is indeed its own story, almost completely independent of LotR (with the exception of revisions, mostly to "Riddles in the Dark," made after LotR was finished).


dreamflower
Lorien

Jul 7 2012, 3:17am

Post #20 of 32 (325 views)
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Story externally [In reply to] Can't Post

Story-externally, you are most certainly right! Having read The History of The Hobbit I do know that JRRT certainly had it in mind for TH to be a stand alone story. But story-internally, I tend to take all of it as an organic whole, and find that it can be informed with a great deal of originally unintended foreshadowing.

In other words, the Bilbo of TH is also the Bilbo of LotR, and his story carries over from one to the other. You can understand TH and enjoy it and never touch LotR, but if you do, you will find he's the same person.


Gwytha
Rohan


Jul 7 2012, 4:33am

Post #21 of 32 (341 views)
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Heh heh [In reply to] Can't Post

That's a fun movie I haven't seen in awhile. Thanks for reminding me about it.

Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm. -Joni Mitchell

Photobucket


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 7 2012, 12:14pm

Post #22 of 32 (337 views)
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It's tricky, though, interpreting TH based on LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

Frodo is different from Bilbo, Gimli different from Thorin, Legolas different from the Elvenking, Aragorn different from Bard. Orcs are different from goblins, Shelob is different from the Giant Spiders, What is more, Gandalf in LotR is different from Gandalf in The Hobbit, the Eagles in LotR are different from the Eagles in The Hobbit, and Sauron in LotR is different from the Neuromancer in The Hobbit. Only Gollum in the revised version of The Hobbit is the same as Gollum in LotR -- but if you go back to the original version, he is different.

Is Bilbo at the end of The Hobbit the same as Bilbo at the beginning of LotR? No. In The Hobbit there is no hint of the ring being the Ring, and therefore no hint that Bilbo may suffer from the Ring's taint. So no, just as the ring is different from the Ring, so Bilbo in The Hobbit is different from Bilbo in LotR.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jul 7 2012, 12:17pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jul 7 2012, 5:46pm

Post #23 of 32 (348 views)
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'Tolkien invented Cyberpunk? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Sauron in LotR is different from the Neuromancer in The Hobbit.

Ha! Evil

"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


Yngwulff
Gondor


Jul 7 2012, 10:29pm

Post #24 of 32 (288 views)
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Tricky? Perspective is key [In reply to] Can't Post

Not if you look at it from Bilbo's view at the time. His innocence and naivity at the time are key, because he'd been sheltered in the Shire his entire life. Everything seemed bigger and badder as well as more dangerous at the time.

Not to say there wasn't real peril involved, but in comparison to Frodo, Bilbo wasn't bearing the fate of the whole world on his shoulders thus the slight distinction, ie an Adventure as Bilbo called it vs a Quest such as Frodo undertook.

For the Dwarves however it was a quest and much more serious an undertaking to them, but not so much to Bilbo and he did not bear the weight of such a responsibilty as the Dwarves.
.


Take this Brother May it Serve you Well
Vote for Pedro!

(This post was edited by Yngwulff on Jul 7 2012, 10:32pm)


dreamflower
Lorien

Jul 7 2012, 11:00pm

Post #25 of 32 (298 views)
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Re: It's tricky, though, interpreting TH based on LotR [In reply to] Can't Post

But you see, story-internally, Bilbo IS Bilbo. Yes, JRRT ret-conned TH in order to make the Ring his Macguffin in LotR. But that is story-external; in other words, it has to do with the author's decisions about writing the story.

When you look at a story-internally, then you are looking at from the POV of the characters who lived it. Bilbo went on an Adventure, and came home somewhat changed by it. To outward appearances the change was only minor by the end of TH. Yet the new story, LotR, opens on Bilbo somewhat over sixty years later. He's changed even more than he had. Why? It's clearly more than just age, and soon we learn it's the Ring.

And so the Bilbo of TH is the Bilbo of LotR. He is ready for another Adventure, to leave the Shire, to return to the places of his first Adventure and to retire to Rivendell-- all of these elements-- Gandalf, Dwarves, Rivendell, the Lonely Mountain-- were relevant to the first story, and except for the last one are relevant to the new one, which features Frodo, not Bilbo. But Frodo was raised (partly) by Bilbo, and so his actions and behaviors are also part of the story-internal connections between TH and LotR.

As I said, none of this changes the story-external factors of what JRRT wrote and why. Those factors are simply irrelevant to any story-internal examination.

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