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Hobbit Book Discussion Roast Mutton 2

SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 18 2012, 6:37pm

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Hobbit Book Discussion Roast Mutton 2 Can't Post

Continuing our discussion of chapter 2…

Bilbo has completed the washing upfrom the night before (or so he thought) and was just sitting down to a second breakfast by an open window in his dining room, when in walks Gandalf.


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"My dear fellow, whenever are you going to come? What about an early start? – and here you are having breakfast, or whatever you call it, at half past ten! They left you the message because they could not wait."


Gandalf then calls attention to the missed note on the mantelpiece which Bilbo has “never dusted.”

What is Gandalf playing at? What “magic” does he employ to get Bilbo out the door?

…yes “magic,” otherwise why would Tolkien tell us, “To the end of his days, Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything he usually took when he went out;” (Hint: I don’t think Gandalf actually used magic here. But he is relentless the way he toys with and makes use of a couple of Bilbo’s character traits.) By the way, what are those character traits? (Actually one is more of a tendency than it is a trait. It is highlighted twice in the passage above, has been previously, and will be in future.)

Before moving on, are the dwarfs quite as inconsiderate as Bilbo thought? Though he doesn’t comment on it here, what effect might such a realization have had on Bilbo?

Bilbo arrives at Bywater just at the stroke of eleven to find Balin at the inn door looking out for him. At that moment the rest of the company appears from around the corner, riding ponies laden with provisions for the journey. Bilbo and Balin mount ponies and they are off.
Why was Balin at the door rather than astride a pony with the rest of them?

My memory of the party setting off from Bywater is far more expansive than the text (in this chapter) warrants. What did Tolkien do to cause the reader to remember the affair, with the forgotten pocket- handkerchiefs and all, as grander than originally rendered?

The troupe underway, we are treated to Tolkien’s first description of the lands about the Shire, Middle-earth:


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At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business.


In this sparse description of the countryside, what are its important features?

We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What’s going on here?
Also, do you find anything odd about the construction “a dwarf or a farmer?”


The description continues:


Quote
Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before [oh yeah, from the outset the travelers had been singing as they rode]. Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees.


Two shifts occur in the passage above. What are they and why did Tolkien use them?

And just a little bit further for today…


Quote
On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people. Everything seemed gloomy, for the weather that day had taken a nasty turn…


Do castles seem out of place in Middle-earth? Are they an anachronism or did Tolkien use them as he would, say a dragon?

With an eye now to the works of Malory or Chretien de Troyes for instance, is this passage more or less elaborate than those found at the start of other such (romantic) adventures?

On a related note, do the castles look evil because of the way they were built, because of the weather, or is something else going on?

Finally, does Tolkien tap into a bit of xenophobia here? Is it true that mostly he has been describing the land in terms of who lives there since leaving Bag End? If so, why?



(This post was edited by dernwyn on Jul 18 2012, 9:00pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 19 2012, 3:53am

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What is Gandalf playing at? What "magic" does he employ to get Bilbo out the door?


My first reaction is to say no magic, just what Terry Pratchett calls "headology." No time to think or argue, just go. And after all, Bilbo had committed to the adventure the night before. However, I still think he imagines it as a kind of long camping trip, and has no real idea what to expect. The dwarves are nearly as bad.

It is Gandalf who is withholding information from all of them, really, for he should be the one to put a stop to this nonsense. And it is clearly nonsense -- unless Gandalf has a premonition about Bilbo that none of the evidence justifies. Gandalf seems to rely a great deal on luck, and is quite serious about adding Bilbo to the party for luck. Alternatively, maybe to him it is all a great practical joke. He certainly seems to find it amusing.

Of course, I suppose after reading LotR and The Sil, we could speculate that Gandalf might have used his own magic ring, Narya, to rekindle Bilbo's heart to the valour of old. And that is the way of Tolkien's magic. It might be magic, it might not, who knows?


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I don't think Gandalf actually used magic here. But he is relentless the way he toys with and makes use of a couple of Bilbo's character traits. By the way, what are those character traits? (Actually one is more of a tendency than it is a trait. It is highlighted twice in the passage above, has been previously, and will be in future.)

Again, I'm not sure I can guess what you have in mind. But I would say that Gandalf toys with Bilbo's concern about what others think about him, in this case what they will think if he is late. This was also what got him in trouble the night before, where he volunteered because his courage was questioned. Gandalf also toys with Bilbo's Tookish side, which he figures is in there somewhere, struggling to get out.

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Before moving on, are the dwarfs quite as inconsiderate as Bilbo thought? Though he doesn't comment on it here, what effect might such a realization have had on Bilbo?


No, they aren't, since they haven't left without him or without thanking him. This realization had everything to do with Bilbo's sudden run to catch up -- suddenly he was the one in the wrong, not the dwarves, and he rushed to get back in the right.


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Why was Balin at the door rather than astride a pony with the rest of them?

Balin is the lookout man, throughout the adventure. Although Fili and Kili and Bilbo all have better eyesight and act as scouts, so I'm not quite sure why Balin is the lookout. But he is.


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My memory of the party setting off from Bywater is far more expansive than the text (in this chapter) warrants. What did Tolkien do to cause the reader to remember the affair, with the forgotten pocket- handkerchiefs and all, as grander than originally rendered?

You're asking me to read your mind again. I'm not sure why you remembered it as grander than justified.


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At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business.

In this sparse description of the countryside, what are its important features?


Wide, respectable, inhabited by decent folk, good roads, inns.




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We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What's going on here?

It's a one volume story and the Wild is far away from Bag End -- farther than in LotR, where it shows up on the other side of the Hedge. Even when they meet trolls, the trolls are not in their home territory. The real wild starts in the Misty Mountains, and Tolkien moves us briskly towards that goal, with only one or two adventures along the way.


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Also, do you find anything odd about the construction "a dwarf or a farmer?"

It seems an odd pairing, but apparently dwarves are quite common in this area, perhaps as common as farmers. This is a discrepancy from LotR.


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The description continues:


Quote
Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before [oh yeah, from the outset the travelers had been singing as they rode]. Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees.

Two shifts occur in the passage above. What are they and why did Tolkien use them?


First a shift to people who spoke strangely and sang strange songs, then to no people at all and bad roads and hills ahead dark with trees. Tolkien quickly transitions from settled to deserted lands, with a brief stop at strange lands along the way. The deserted lands set the stage for the first adventure.


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And just a little bit further for today.


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On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people. Everything seemed gloomy, for the weather that day had taken a nasty turn.

Do castles seem out of place in Middle-earth? Are they an anachronism or did Tolkien use them as he would, say a dragon?

It's not castles that are out of place, it's Bilbo. Castles in the same story as a dragon are to be expected. Of course, the irony is that no one from these castles will take part in the adventure, if indeed anyone lives in the castles any more. The are just props.


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With an eye now to the works of Malory or Chretien de Troyes for instance, is this passage more or less elaborate than those found at the start of other such (romantic) adventures?

I don't recall the works you mention, but I would guess The Hobbit starts less elaborately or romantically.


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On a related note, do the castles look evil because of the way they were built, because of the weather, or is something else going on?

The castles look evil because it is a fantasy, and evil is externalized. They are large and likely deserted (we were told there are no people in these lands), that's enough for a haunted house or a haunted castle. Also, the weather was gloomy which made the castles look gloomy. No one suggests asking for help or lodging at the castles, probably because they are uninhabited.


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Finally, does Tolkien tap into a bit of xenophobia here? Is it true that mostly he has been describing the land in terms of who lives there since leaving Bag End? If so, why?

Well sure, Bilbo didn't like the unfamiliar at first, so he was more comfortable when dwarves and farmers were around. Along with brief sketches of the inhabitants, Tolkien also describes wide lands moving towards forested hills and then mountains in the distance.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jul 19 2012, 3:56am)


sador
Half-elven


Jul 19 2012, 2:32pm

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What is Gandalf playing at?
Aw, he's just having a bit of fun. "Very amusing to me, very profitable for you..."

What “magic” does he employ to get Bilbo out the door?
The same magic an officer uses to get men to fight: tell people what to do, and don't give them time to think.


By the way, what are those character traits?
To bow down to authority.

Before moving on, are the dwarfs quite as inconsiderate as Bilbo thought?
About as much as they were when washing his dishes the evening before.
They didn't even wake him up!

Though he doesn’t comment on it here, what effect might such a realization have had on Bilbo?
I like Curious' answer.
In fact, I like all of it - but I must add something to earn my keep!

Why was Balin at the door rather than astride a pony with the rest of them?
At first it was to be Dwalin, and then Tolkien decided to emend this - perhpas not to have one of the dwarves too prominent.
So he went ahead and made another one.

What did Tolkien do to cause the reader to remember the affair, with the forgotten pocket- handkerchiefs and all, as grander than originally rendered?
"No time for that either! Off you go!" - a great line.


In this sparse description of the countryside, what are its important features?
The respectability of the country and the decency of the people.


We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What’s going on here?
What would a longer one be good for?

Also, do you find anything odd about the construction “a dwarf or a farmer?”
Why? After Thorin's long speech about the good times they did not need to grow their own food?
Dwarves are hardly farmer - neither in folklore nor in Tolikien. I still wonder what fed the inhabitants of Khazad-dum.

Two shifts occur in the passage above. What are they and why did Tolkien use them?
After the respectable country comes a strange one, and then a lonely one.
The decent people become those whose songs Bilbo doesn't know (alas for orcbane!) and then no people at all.

It's a nice way to make the reader fidget with discomfort before anything really bad happens - a technique which Tolkien will use at the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood and to a certain extent Dale.

Do castles seem out of place in Middle-earth?
He usually prefers 'towers'. If I remember correctly, Durthang was an old castle which became a tower later.
And Imrahil speaks of children in sand castles as the tide rises. So perhaps they are a bit out of place.

Are they an anachronism or did Tolkien use them as he would, say a dragon?
Dragons are anachronistic, too - as the knights of the Middle Kingdom thought, before Chrysophylax came to visit.


With an eye now to the works of Malory or Chretien de Troyes for instance, is this passage more or less elaborate than those found at the start of other such (romantic) adventures?
I don't know, but can't help thinking of Northanger Abbey and Catherine Morland's expectations of the house.

On a related note, do the castles look evil because of the way they were built, because of the weather, or is something else going on?
The book gives us no clue - unless you suspect another mind-messing game of Gandalf's.

Finally, does Tolkien tap into a bit of xenophobia here?

More than a bit.

Is it true that mostly he has been describing the land in terms of who lives there since leaving Bag End? If so, why?
A land and its inhabitants are closely connected, as Sam observes in The Mirror of Galadriel.


"Do you find it strange that the food is strewn about but the clothes of victims are hanging on the walls nice and neat?"
- Finding Frodo.



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Roast Mutton!


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 19 2012, 5:08pm

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Wink
I don't mean for it to be a guessing game... but I admit that I have been playing with perceptions and possible motives (ours, Tolkien's, Gandalfs, Bilbo's) over much. In the next installment I shall try to craft questions that can be answered by drawing on the existing literature about Tolkien (though as I've said I'm at a disadvantage neither being very familiar with Tolkien Studies nor able to catch up in time for this particular book study.)


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Again, I'm not sure I can guess what you have in mind. But I would say that Gandalf toys with Bilbo's concern about what others think about him, in this case what they will think if he is late. This was also what got him in trouble the night before, where he volunteered because his courage was questioned. Gandalf also toys with Bilbo's Tookish side, which he figures is in there somewhere, struggling to get out.


You did guess what I had in mind. What I noticed is that Gandalf (and this is the "magic" I referred to) plays on Bilbo's observance of manners, but also his tendency, owing to his reliance on the language of polite society, to say what he does not really mean.

In the passage I highlighted -- similar to the time Bilbo supposedly invited Gandalf to tea the next day -- Gandalf holds Bilbo to his word (in this case having an early start) when it was quite clear Bilbo was just engaging in a bit of polite banter to bring a current meeting to a close... making a polite excuse if you will. As well Gandalf highlights Bilbo's tendency to call things what they are not; in this case, how could there be such a thing as a second breakfast when the fast has been broken by the first one?

In short the magic is using Bilbo's commitment to etiquette, which Bilbo often uses for defense purposes, to rush him out the door. So "headology" covers it quite well (and I thank you for bringing that reference into the discussion).

Now I must leave the rest of your comments until a little later as I have a pressing engagement.
Wink


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 19 2012, 10:46pm

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It's okay, I'm used the the Socratic method. [In reply to] Can't Post

I majored in philosophy, then went to law school.

Is this the Uncyclopedia's article on the Socratic Method?


elostirion74
Rohan

Jul 20 2012, 7:05am

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some answers [In reply to] Can't Post

What is Gandalf playing at? What “magic” does he employ to get Bilbo out the door?

No magic used. Gandalf is simply exploiting Bilbo's respect for observance of good manners.

Why was Balin at the door rather than astride a pony with the rest of them?

Balin is the company's lookout man, as we will be told later and at this point he's looking out for Bilbo

In this sparse description of the countryside, what are its important features?

The fact that it's a cultured, decent and familiar area.

We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What’s going on here?

Well, there are several things to consider. First thing Tolkien might be wanting to speed things up a bit and get to the bit where the actual adventures begin. Second thing the world of the Hobbit is much less detailed than that of LoTR, it's a fairly simplified version of a world.

We will see at the start of chapter 3 and chapter 4 that Tolkien can provide more elaborate landscape descriptions than he does here, but in the end
the landscape does not occupy the centre stage in the Hobbit, the main focus is the characterization of Bilbo and what happens on his adventures.

Finally, does Tolkien tap into a bit of xenophobia here? Is it true that mostly he has been describing the land in terms of who lives there since leaving Bag End? If so, why?

Since Bilbo is unfamiliar with travelling, he might come off as a bit xenophobic, especially when you compare the description of a land as "respectable" with lands where people simply "speak strangely". But honestly travelling abroad or to other countries was much, much less common in Tolkien's formative years and even at the time he was writing the book than it is today, so most people's concept of the idea of travelling was quite different as well.



Curious
Half-elven


Jul 20 2012, 11:15am

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Hmm. [In reply to] Can't Post


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First thing Tolkien might be wanting to speed things up a bit and get to the bit where the actual adventures begin. Second thing the world of the Hobbit is much less detailed than that of LoTR, it's a fairly simplified version of a world.


I think it is more the former than the latter. I think Tolkien gives us a remarkably clear vision of the landscape from the encounter with the trolls to the Lonely Mountain.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 20 2012, 2:09pm

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Castles and pocket-handkerchiefs [In reply to] Can't Post

What is Gandalf playing at? What “magic” does he employ to get Bilbo out the door?

He just hustles him and keeps him off-balance. Sometimes Gandalf really is a conjuror of cheap tricks! Cool

Before moving on, are the dwarfs quite as inconsiderate as Bilbo thought? Though he doesn’t comment on it here, what effect might such a realization have had on Bilbo?

Not at all. Bilbo had misjudged them (because it suited his "Baggins" side to have an excuse to get out of his promise to them). Once he's forced to admit that he was wrong, he's on the wrong foot - as a fair-minded, polite hobbit, he's now at a disadvantage, one that Gandalf is quick to capitalise on.

What did Tolkien do to cause the reader to remember the affair, with the forgotten pocket- handkerchiefs and all, as grander than originally rendered?

Well of course I can't account for your memory Tongue. But I think there's something very memorable about those pocket-handkerchiefs - such a symbol of middle-class respectability, and very trying to be without!

In this sparse description of the countryside, what are its important features?

"Respectable", "decent" - this is Bilbo's point of view again, isn't it? His Baggins side is feeling reassured for the moment that everything meets his standards of respectability!

We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What’s going on here?

He's letting us see the landscape through Bilbo's eyes. This is all fairly commonplace to Bilbo, it seems, with nothing to upset his sense of what's proper. He's not looking at this landscape very deeply. (He's not in Faerie yet, where his "windows" will get their "cleaning"...)

Also, do you find anything odd about the construction “a dwarf or a farmer?”

Not really, since they are described as "ambling by" on the road. These are travellers on the high road, and I think dwarves, as well as farmers, might be expected to take the road through the "hobbit lands" (the future Shire, I suppose) on their way to sell their goods or whatever it might be, as we also hear of them doing in LotR.

Do castles seem out of place in Middle-earth? Are they an anachronism or did Tolkien use them as he would, say a dragon?

Well, not an anachronism anyway, since they're ruined. Ruined castles are common enough even today of course. But as sador pointed out, Tolkien rarely uses the word in LotR. I think perhaps this word is too connected with ordinary fairy-tales and medieval romances to suit Tolkien's purposes in LotR. I notice that the Prince of Dol Amroth (much more the knight of high romance than most) has a "castle". And Butterbur imagines the King in his "castle" at the end of the story - Butterbur, with his lack of experience of such things, is imagining a kind of fairytale king, with a "golden cup", in a fairytale castle.

With an eye now to the works of Malory or Chretien de Troyes for instance, is this passage more or less elaborate than those found at the start of other such (romantic) adventures?

Hmmm, well. It's been a long time since I read Chretien (although I wrote a master's thesis about him 30-odd years ago!), but I have no recollection of any such scene-setting. In fact, I don't think it's common at all to set a scene in advance like this in real medieval literature. Shakespeare sometimes sets the scene rather like this (for example, the Prologue of Henry V, where he asks the audience to imagine the "vasty fields of France" and the horses "printing their proud hoofs...". Tolkien may be trying to create the feeling of an ancient world, but his audience is modern, and he needs to use modern methods to get us there.

On a related note, do the castles look evil because of the way they were built, because of the weather, or is something else going on?

I think they look evil because they are unfamiliar to Bilbo, and we're seeing them with his eyes. I expect that castles would always look threatening and evil to someone unfamiliar with such sights - the real Norman ones you see in the English landscape would certainly have looked evil to the Anglo-Saxons they were built to intimidate, and they'd have believed they were built by "wicked people" too, I'm sure.

Finally, does Tolkien tap into a bit of xenophobia here? Is it true that mostly he has been describing the land in terms of who lives there since leaving Bag End? If so, why?

Yes, I think it's fair enough to say that Bilbo is more than a little suspicious of strangers (although I like the thought that he listens to their unfamiliar songs - the poetic side of Bilbo is much more open to new experiences than the prosy Baggins side!)


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



One Ringer
Tol Eressea


Jul 21 2012, 9:08pm

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We know, or at least have come to know through his other works, that Tolkien has no difficulty writing descriptive paragraphs. What’s going on here?

Writers are always capable of diversity in their works, even if they don't utilize it. Being that The Hobbit is aimed primarily towards a younger audience and it can still land well with older demographics, there has to be some level of compromise in the writing. There are times where it becomes necessary (if only to himself) that Tolkien writes more thoroughly in the book, such as specific places or things that are key. In cases like this he feels a need to drive the story along much quicker both to his and the audience's benefit. There's even some cases in the book where the narrative shows haste and can't dwell on certain details or events (note towards the end of Barrels Out of Bond).

FOTR 10th Anniversary Music Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33xJU3AIwsg

"You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain."


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 22 2012, 3:49am

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An MA thesis on Chretien? [In reply to] Can't Post

How wonderful! I thought I might get a few hits trawling with that name but, well, let's just say the quality of fishes in these waters leaves me speechless at times.

(Speaking of which, sorry for the late replies and final "Roast Mutton" thread... I've had an unexpected journey of sorts since my last reply to Curious.)

You said:


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Hmmm, well. It's been a long time since I read Chretien (although I wrote a master's thesis about him 30-odd years ago!), but I have no recollection of any such scene-setting. In fact, I don't think it's common at all to set a scene in advance like this in real medieval literature. Shakespeare sometimes sets the scene rather like this (for example, the Prologue of Henry V, where he asks the audience to imagine the "vasty fields of France" and the horses "printing their proud hoofs...". Tolkien may be trying to create the feeling of an ancient world, but his audience is modern, and he needs to use modern methods to get us there.


What I was going for here was the scene-setting, (at least until our attention shifts from the general to the specific, for instance to when Tolkien writes about the mud, Bilbo's soaked clothes, and the tired ponies) focuses almost exclusively on Bilbo's impressions or beliefs about who lives in the land. My recollection of Malory (more so than CdT) is he used the same reasoning (for lack of a better word) when describing the knight's time between leaving Arthur's court to getting to the Roast Mutton of whichever adventure he was writing about. I say reasoning because rather than describing the land itself -- which as you imply had not yet become a standard feature in literature -- he described the people of the land. This may be owing to what Sador highlighted when he shared the Sam's observation: "A land and its inhabitants are closely connected." All of this is a long way of saying, to my mind, it seems Tolkien was taking the same approach, perhaps to tap the flavour of the romances that came before.

Of course there is another side to this, which is where xenophobia comes into play. I am not saying Tolkien was touched by such a thing (not at all). But it seems a common enough assumption that the unfamiliar is wicked. It is subtle, but at the same time the opposite of subtle: how could Bilbo possibly know the castles were built by wicked people? Here too is a reflection of the romances: typically the knight passed by friendly inns, through land inhabited by decent folk (according to whom?) into regions where places of respite grew scarce, unfamiliar castles dark, forbidding or ruined, rather than inviting...

"a dwarf or a farmer," once again Sador came up with what I was getting at: we learned that dwarfs were not farmers so it is a pairing of opposites. At first blush though it seems as if one is described by race the other by vocation.

Finally, as for mind reading ;), it seems to me that Bilbo's departure was grander than written because Tolkien mentions it so often (or at least I recall that he does). By doing so, even for those of us who read the original account, that part of the story is enlarged (or gains significance) in the retelling. Memory is a strange thing.


sador
Half-elven


Jul 22 2012, 7:24am

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Ah! [In reply to] Can't Post


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Next morning after a late breakfast, the wizard was sitting with Frodo by the open window of the study. A bright fire was on the hearth, but the sun was warm, and the wind was in the South. Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tips of the trees' fingers.

Gandalf was thinking of a spring, nearly eighty years before, when Bilbo had run out of Bag End without a handkerchief. His hair was perhaps whiter than it had been then, and his beard and eyebrows were perhaps longer, and his face more lined with care and wisdom; but his eyes were as bright as ever, and he smoked and blew smoke-rings with the same vigour and delight.


- The Shadow of the Past

Is that it?

"Do you find it strange that the food is strewn about but the clothes of victims are hanging on the walls nice and neat?"
- Finding Frodo.



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Roast Mutton!


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 23 2012, 3:21am

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Yes, and later in The Hobbit: [In reply to] Can't Post


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Then the hobbit slipped on his ring and warned by the echoes to take more than hobbit's care to make no sound, he crept noiselessly down, down, down into the dark. He was trembling with fear but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago. He had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages. He loosened his dagger in its sheath, tightened his belt, and went on.


-- Inside Information

A wild question emerges: Is the handkerchief a symbol of anything? (Can't believe I didn't think of asking about this before.)


elostirion74
Rohan

Jul 23 2012, 1:57pm

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you're probably right [In reply to] Can't Post

Already at the start of the next two chapters there are more extensive descriptions of scenery and there is more in chapter 6 and 7 as well. But the level of detail in the description of scenery varies somewhat in the book as I remember. I seem to recall that Tolkien gets more factual and detailed about the actual lay-out of the land once Bilbo gets close to the Lonely Mountain (from the barrel journey in chapter 9 and onwards). But the Lonely Mountain being such a prominent feature of the story, this is only to be expected.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 23 2012, 5:17pm

Post #14 of 20 (468 views)
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Well [In reply to] Can't Post

that thesis was many years ago! I hardly remember anything about it now, unfortunately. I'm afraid I'm one fish that's seriously beyond her sell-by date...

Tongue

A couple of thoughts in answer to your very good points:


Quote
"a dwarf or a farmer," once again Sador came up with what I was getting at: we learned that dwarfs were not farmers so it is a pairing of opposites.

Well, dwarves may not be farmers, but like farmers they dig the earth, and they take the fruits of their labours to market - both travel "on business", as the story says. Unlike the noble dwarves, and the bourgeois hobbit, they work and trade for a living.

And although dwarves aren't farmers, sometimes farmers look a bit like dwarves:

"The habit of building farmhouses and barns was said to have begun among the inhabitants of the Marish down by the Brandywine. The Hobbits of that quarter, the Eastfarthing, were rather large and heavy-legged, and they wore dwarf-boots in muddy weather." (LotR Prologue)
You almost get the impression that hobbit-farmers are a bit "dwarvish" themselves. So maybe dwarves and farmers aren't so much opposites as two types of folk with something in common. Even the "race or vocation" dichotomy isn't quite as clear as it may seem - to hobbits (and this whole scene is described from Bilbo's perspective, after all), dwarves are likely just perceived as folk with a particular vocation that happens to coincide with their race. Not so different, perhaps, from the perception of European Christians in the Middle Ages about the Jewish population in their midst. (Another hint that this is not about race is the implication that any dwarf "on business" who's passed on the road seems to mean as little to our party of noble dwarves as the farmers do to Bilbo.)


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Finally, as for mind reading ;), it seems to me that Bilbo's departure was grander than written because Tolkien mentions it so often (or at least I recall that he does).

Great catch! I never realised that those pocket-handkerchiefs are remembered so vividly because Tolkien reminds us of them so often!

You asked in your post to sador about the symbolism of the pocket-handkerchiefs. Well, in my previous post I called them a "symbol of middle-class respectability", because I recall how middle-class parents would teach their children never to leave home without one. It would never do to be caught having to wipe your nose on your sleeve! And in the days before Kleenex, this was a big deal. Tongue So I'd say that the handkerchief is the ultimate symbol of "Bagginsness" - essential to your middle-class credibility, yet perfectly easy to do without once you stop caring about respectibility.
The child readers of Tolkien's day would have found this quite funny I think - they too probably longed to be able to go out on an adventure without always having to remember to bring their handkerchief...

Cool

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



sador
Half-elven


Jul 23 2012, 6:06pm

Post #15 of 20 (481 views)
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Yes, of course [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
You asked in your post to sador about the symbolism of the pocket-handkerchiefs. Well, in my previous post I called them a "symbol of middle-class respectability", because I recall how middle-class parents would teach their children never to leave home without one. It would never do to be caught having to wipe your nose on your sleeve! And in the days before Kleenex, this was a big deal. Tongue So I'd say that the handkerchief is the ultimate symbol of "Bagginsness" - essential to your middle-class credibility, yet perfectly easy to do without once you stop caring about respectibility. The child readers of Tolkien's day would have found this quite funny I think - they too probably longed to be able to go out on an adventure without always having to remember to bring their handkerchief...


I wonder if Jackson will take this cue, and show us how uncomfortable Bilbo is without a handkerchief, when he's cold and sneezing after his barrel ride. How the fans will be outraged! Laugh
But perhaps, like the contract was miraculously preserved, some of the handkerchiefs Gandalf brought to the Prancing Pony somehow kept dry...

"Do you find it strange that the food is strewn about but the clothes of victims are hanging on the walls nice and neat?"
- Finding Frodo.



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Roast Mutton!


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 23 2012, 7:09pm

Post #16 of 20 (476 views)
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Fresher than you think! [In reply to] Can't Post

but I'll throw some more ice in the bin just in case.Angelic

Thank you for sharing the additional information on dwarfs and farmers. It occurs to me now, that if hobbit farmers sometimes look like dwarfs, perhaps it is a simple matter of not being able to tell whether a passer-by was "a dwarf or a farmer."

"At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or [maybe] a farmer [(it's hard to tell the difference at times)] ambling by on business." (Thank goodness I didn't write The Hobbit! Laugh)

I agree with you that we are left to assume, as it is Bilbo's perspective, that "farmer" implies "hobbit." I wonder if at the time Tolkien fancied Hobbits and Dwarfs to be related somehow, the way Normans of yore and modern English are for instance?

Regarding the handkerchief:

As a recurring motif, it is a way of tracking Bilbo's progress. It triggers a memory, one that comes from our own mind -- and this is where the story expands or contracts -- rather than the text we are reading at the moment it is mentioned.

As a symbol in its own right, your explanation works extremely well I think. In light of your claim, consider the layers of meaning when in chapter 12 Tolkien says that Bilbo "had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages." (There's an essay in there somewhere.) It's these aspects of Tolkien that make it hard for me to accept that he intended The Hobbit only for children (but then standards were different then than they are today).


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 23 2012, 7:14pm)


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 23 2012, 8:05pm

Post #17 of 20 (491 views)
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If he wipes his nose on his sleeve after the barrel ride [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm totally walking out -- wait that ends film one anyway. Laugh


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 23 2012, 8:15pm

Post #18 of 20 (488 views)
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I agree that Curious is correct [In reply to] Can't Post

For what it's worth, I didn't mean to imply that Tolkien's now legendary skill at writing descriptive passages was absent from The Hobbit in total. (If I had I could reasonably expect to be crucified since it is patently false.)

I was commenting only on the highlighted passage, trying to tease out a discussion about the difference between describing the land and making inferences about the land based on assumptions about who lives there. In fact the initial impressions of the land about the Shire tell us more about Bilbo than anything else.

(In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have danced around it so much. On the other hand, when I asked about the countryside's "important features" Lady Far From Home picked up on it straight away.)


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 23 2012, 8:19pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 24 2012, 4:09pm

Post #19 of 20 (486 views)
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I can't imagine it happening, but [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it would be really funny to see Bilbo instructed on how to blow your nose without a handkerchief -- i.e., hold one nostril shut and blow hard, like spitting. Still not perfect, but better than letting it dribble.


titanium_hobbit
Rohan


Jul 26 2012, 8:02am

Post #20 of 20 (529 views)
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that method was used in WW2 [In reply to] Can't Post

to pass secret messages to POWs.

I think it's related to Eric Liddell's story, but one of the Chinese porters/delivery people, would write down the information on a scrap of paper, and roll it up into a pellet which he would place in his nose. This would be blown out of his nose (along with whatever else!) while he was passing through, and which would be retrieved when the guards were'nt looking.

End tangent! I have also witnessed the "blow nose into hand and wipe on something' method, which only encourages you to wash your own hands thoroughly when you've been out in public.

I think if Jackson hasn't got this idea already I bet he's wishing he has! Maybe it would be a good interview question for Martin. :)

TH


Hobbit firster, Book firster.


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