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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 2. – Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum


Aug 10 2012, 10:19pm

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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 2. – Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum Can't Post

Let’s pick up the story with Bilbo splashing to a halt in the lake at the bottom of the mountain tunnel. We have just been warned that “the original owners [of the caverns] are still there in odd comers, slinking and nosing about” and sure enough, the next line makes it real:

Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don’t know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum - as dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face. (Hobbit V)

A. Doesn’t the phrase “old Gollum” convey a kind of folksiness to the character?

He is a “small slimy creature” evidently. Sliminess typifies amphibian creatures, not reptiles or mammals; the slime keeps their skin moist while it is out of the water. I argued earlier in this discussion that C.S. Lewis was wrong to call Gollum a fish-type creature, but I guess I didn’t notice this particular line.
B. Is slimy metaphorical or literal here?

He is “as dark as darkness”.
C. Does this mean he has what we would call black skin (or deep brown, whatever)?

In a bit that is characteristic of a number of creatures in Tolkien, Gollum’s eyes are called “lamp-like” as if they gave off light – which eyes never do, at least in our world. But medieval theorists of sight thought for a long time that the eyes did give off rays of vision. Also, the illusion of illumination that we get when we see some animals’ eyes reflecting a campfire or flashlight back at us in the dark is powerfully suggestive of original generation of light.
D. Again, is Tolkien being metaphorical or literal here?

“He liked meat too. Goblin he thought good, when he could get it.” Clearly, Goblin is one option among many.
E. What other meat does Gollum like?

It seems that Gollum never risks discovery by going up the tunnels to hunt goblins—except that later in this chapter it appears he does after all (otherwise he would not know the way out, to Bilbo’s benefit). Nevertheless at this point in the story the writing is very plain and even emphatic: Gollum never leaves his lake.
F. What do you think?

Speaking of the goblins who “sometimes” don’t come back from the fishing expeditions
G. Why doesn’t the Great Goblin, who seems like a rather responsible monarch, show more curiosity, or guts, in solving this mystery?

Gollum with his eyes “like telescopes” can tell from some distance, that is from his island in the lake, that Bilbo is “no goblin at all”.
H. How does he do that? This place has no light whatsoever.

“Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it’s a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it’d make us, gollum!”

This is Gollum’s opening line, and it lets us know a great deal about him. He doesn’t just attack Bilbo. He doesn’t, on the other hand, address Bilbo. He says “bless us and splash us”, which I have always suspected is an old Christian imprecation based on baptism – more charming than terrifying, like an tetchy old priest or nun might say. He says “my precioussss”, which as I have argued elsewhere is a common nursery endearment that children would find funny coming out of the mouth of a monster. He hisses or lisps, so that precious runs off with three extra s’s – providing another comic sound effect for the reader-aloud. He calls Bilbo “it”, “guessing” that the hobbit is either a feast or a morsel, a large or small meal – confirming that, for all the quaint mannerisms, Gollum is supposed to be a mortal threat who hopes or intends to kill and eat Bilbo. But he uses “choice” and “tasty” which continue the theme of “cute” diction that makes Gollum so odd a villain. All in all, an engaging character who promises us an adventure but who, for many reasons, we can’t take very seriously as a threat to Bilbo’s life.
I. Or not … what do you think?

The “horrible swallowing noise” written as “gollum” is “how he got his name”.
J. Who exactly gave him that name? And does Bilbo really jump to the conclusion that this thing is “named” Gollum, even though the thing never calls himself that?

“He always called himself ‘my precious’.
K. Did Tolkien consider having this guy self-refer as “my dear”, “my sweet”, or “my goodness”, which are near-equivalents? The latter is even more ironical, and also has the same ‘-ss’ ending allowing for the lisping gag.

L. Would a more modern Gollum call himself “babe”?

It turns out that Gollum is “not really very hungry at the moment”, thus explaining his choice to talk to Bilbo rather than kill him on the spot.
M. Is this particularly plausible to you? Because, given the particularly shaky calorie pyramid that Gollum sits at the top of, it isn’t to me.

“I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don’t know where I am; and I don’t want to know, if only I can get away.”

Bilbo’s answer is, if you think about it, just as opaque to Gollum as Gollum’s opening is him. “The dwarves”? “The wizard”? And to jump the gun a bit, in the subsequent book Gandalf complains that Bilbo “very foolishly” gave his full name to Gollum.
N. Isn’t it classic Bilbo to give his full name as a dignified introduction, even in the absurd and panicked situation he is in? Is Gandalf being fair?

Gollum asks what the thing in Bilbo’s hand is, “which he did not quite like”. It’s hard to imagine what Gollum could be thinking the thing in Bilbo’s hand is, other than a (glowing?) sword with the point facing him.
O. Is this over-the-top coy writing?

Once Bilbo identifies it as a sword, from Gondolin, Gollum “became quite polite”.
P. Was it the information that, yes, it is a sword – or the information that it came from Gondolin – that changes Gollum’s approach?

Now Gollum, trying to be polite and “appear friendly”, calls Bilbo “ye” instead of “it” or “he”. He asks Bilbo to “sit and chat” and then proposes that they play at “riddles”. This is presented by the narrator as a kind of stalling tactic on Gollum’s part, until he can figure out what Bilbo is. The questions on Gollum’s mind are: is Bilbo really alone; is Bilbo “good to eat”; and is Gollum “really hungry”. The first is reasonable, but the latter two are just gags.
Q. Are you enjoying Tolkien’s mix of quiet comedy and comfy adventure? How does he achieve the balance – what are his methods?

It seems that Riddles is the only game Gollum has ever played in his life – that he liked to ask them rather than guess them – and that he hasn’t played them since “long, long ago” before he entered the mountain caves after he “lost all his friends”. At that time, he played Riddles with “other funny creatures sitting in their holes”.
R. Does this description remind you more of a kind of slimy Wind in the Willows setting, with Gollum, Moley, Frog and Badger, rather than some riverine Shire as was later retrofitted onto this story?

Bilbo agrees to a game, also desiring to stall until he finds out if Gollum is: really alone, “fierce or hungry”; and a friend of the goblins.
S. Is “pity staying his hand”, so that Bilbo doesn’t just stab Gollum now – after hearing the creature’s opening words be a guess whether he’d be a “feast” or a “morsel”?

It is later remarked that Bilbo automatically knows just what the Riddle game is and how to play it.
T. Is it a common game among English children in Tolkien’s time? I certainly never had heard of anyone playing it when I was a kid in the U.S. in the 1960s and was hearing this story for the first time.

Anyway, the game is about to begin. I apologize for the delay in posting this week. I will try to catch up this weekend!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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”** 2. – Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum squire Send a private message to squire Aug 10 2012, 10:19pm
    ssome reactionsss telain Send a private message to telain Aug 11 2012, 11:21pm
    ssome more reactionsss telain Send a private message to telain Aug 11 2012, 11:41pm
    Bless us and...what? dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Aug 14 2012, 12:30am
    Late answers FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 14 2012, 12:01pm
    A few thoughts dormouse Send a private message to dormouse Aug 15 2012, 2:33pm
    Late Answers sador Send a private message to sador Aug 19 2012, 4:13pm


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