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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 1. – On and on he went, and down and down


Aug 7 2012, 12:29am

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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 1. – On and on he went, and down and down Can't Post

Welcome to this week’s Reading Room discussion of Chapter Five in The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark.” This is a very well-known chapter for reasons that Tolkien certainly did not anticipate when he published The Hobbit in 1938.

More famous than the rest
This chapter all like best.
At its chills and giggles
No bedtime listener wiggles.
But it was altered long ago
What is the secret few now know?

He might have guessed that its latter-day fame would come from the clever suite of rhymed riddle-verses that he invented for Bilbo’s competition with Gollum. Certainly that is what he took pride in at the time, as his letters show. But the answer to the riddle above is what he himself discovered just a few months after publication: that the best device on which to build a sequel to The Hobbit was the magical ring that Bilbo found in Gollum’s cave. Once the ring became the One Ring, Tolkien felt obliged to rewrite large sections of this chapter so that the circumstances of its finding would be consistent with its later stature as the Doom of Middle-earth.

I will do my best to address the fact that there are two “Riddles in the Dark” chapters, one dating from 1938 and one from 1951 – but not today.

Today, we will follow Bilbo from the end of the last chapter, lying unconscious on the floor of a dark cave tunnel, to the point where he arrives at Gollum’s lake.

A. Do Bilbo’s feelings on waking, and his recovery of his equilibrium and senses, reflect what happens when you are thrown violently onto a stone surface?

Bilbo discovers the Ring just at this moment. It is very far from Gollum’s lake, as we will soon see.
B. How did the Ring come to “leave” Gollum (as it is later said in LotR) at this point in the tunnels? Wouldn’t he have heard it hit the stone floor?

Bilbo tries to console himself by thinking of “frying bacon and eggs” back home, but it just makes him more depressed.
C. Why does Bilbo think of a breakfast meal as the answer to a need for “some meal or other”?

Bilbo attempts to smoke “after some time” of being miserable.
D. Where else do we see tobacco used in the story?

E. Is it “politically incorrect” for today’s readers that Bilbo smokes with pleasure (or wishes he could, in this case)?

F. On a minor note, given the major changes we know are coming, why did Tolkien not later edit this part to change “tobacco” to “pipe weed” as the product is called in LotR?

The sword turns out to be an “Elvish blade” with the quality of glowing when evil creatures are near.
G. Why hasn’t Bilbo thought of or looked at this sword before this? Surely wearing a sword “inside his breeches” is going to be uncomfortable enough that one would take it out for sleeping at least, no?

H. Where are the goblins just now, so that the blade glows dimly?

The narrator reassures us that Bilbo is not in as uncomfortable a spot as we readers might think. Hobbits, evidently, are “not quite like ordinary people” with regard to being underground; are tough and resilient physically; and … wait for it, you’d want this if you were buried deep in a mine … they know a lot of old sayings!
I. What’s up with that last bit?

As Bilbo decides to go on, since he knows goblins are behind him and doesn’t know what’s ahead, the tunnel continues downward as it did in the previous chapter.
J. Why are there “twist(s) and a turn or two”?

Bats “whirr” past his ears, so often that he stops being bothered by it. This just doesn’t ring true to me, given the setting (a long narrow tunnel miles from the outside), but I imagine that when I was a kid and didn’t know any better this just added to the suspense.
K. How much of this setting is Tolkien representing from nature, and how much from storytelling traditions?

Bilbo repeatedly imagines monsters in the dark that are not goblins: “Goodness knows what the striking of matches and the smell of tobacco would have brought on him out of dark holes in that horrible place.” “hurry past [side passages] for fear of goblins or half-imagined dark things coming out of them.” “he thought, too, of nasty slimy things, with big bulging blind eyes, wriggling in the water.” (squire’s bolds)
L. Why do we imagine “monsters” in darkness? What is such fear based on?

M. Are children more vulnerable to such writing (I’m thinking of Monsters Inc. now, right)? Why or why not?

More specifically, as he encounters the lake, the narrator takes over and assures us that Bilbo is right: “there are other things living unbeknown to [the goblins] that have sneaked in from outside to lie up in the dark.” “the original owners [of the caverns] are still there in odd comers, slinking and nosing about.” (squire’s bolds)
N. Is this a reference to Gollum, called “slinker” and “old noser” in LotR? If so, isn’t it the shortest foreshadowing on record since he shows up in the next line? If not, who is Tolkien referring to so specifically?

What If?

As a special feature, I’d like to turn to the writing style of The Hobbit – something some readers dislike and some readers cherish, especially in contrast to the later book, The Lord of the Rings. Below I identify some turns of speech that Tolkien uses in this chapter, that I think he would not use in the same way in LotR. You may comment any way you want – or even better, suggest how Tolkien might have rewritten these words, had he decided to complete the infamous 1960 revision of The Hobbit to place it more in the stylistic world of LotR.

1. Just imagine his fright!
2. neither up nor down it could he find anything
3. gave himself up to complete miserableness,
4. it was high time for some meal or other
5. that only made him miserabler.
6. It was not broken, and that was something.
7. Goodness knows what
8. in slapping all his pockets and feeling all round himself
9. It was rather splendid to be wearing a blade
10. he had noticed that such weapons made a great impression on goblins
11. “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
12. his heart all of a patter and a pitter.
13. Bilbo was in what is called a tight place.
14. it was not quite so tight for him as it would have been for me or for you.
15. I should not have liked to have been in Mr. Baggins’ place, all the same.
16. until he was tireder than tired.
17. It seemed like all the way to tomorrow and over it to the days beyond.
18. without any warning he trotted splash into water! Ugh!
19. That pulled him up sharp and short.
20. goodness only knows how many years ago,

squire online:
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Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Subject User Time
** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 1. – On and on he went, and down and down squire Send a private message to squire Aug 7 2012, 12:29am
    1937 geordie Send a private message to geordie Aug 7 2012, 12:32pm
        Thanks! squire Send a private message to squire Aug 7 2012, 5:22pm
            You're welcome - geordie Send a private message to geordie Aug 7 2012, 6:04pm
    Answers sador Send a private message to sador Aug 8 2012, 8:05am
        That does make sense dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Aug 9 2012, 2:01am
    Tobacco, Elven blades and other stuff Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Aug 8 2012, 8:45am
        Smoking in the trenches/tunnels dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Aug 9 2012, 1:55am
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Aug 8 2012, 9:43pm
    Some thoughts Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Aug 10 2012, 2:33am


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