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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
**Out of the Frying Pan...** Part V - "Those as can't fly can jump!"


Aug 17 2012, 12:17pm

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**Out of the Frying Pan...** Part V - "Those as can't fly can jump!" Can't Post

"What's all this uproar in the forest tonight?" said the Lord of the Eagles. He was sitting, black in the moonlight, on the top of a lonely pinnacle of rock at the eastern edge of the mountains. "I hear wolves' voices! Are the goblins at mischief in the woods?"

With this begins one of the few digressions, in which the book leaves Bilbo's shoulder: Thorin's confrontation with the Elvenking, Smaug's dream and boast to himself before flying to Esgaroth, and of course the whole chapter Fire and Water – have I left out anything?
The first thing we learn of the Lord of the Eagles is that he is black. This is followed by his having guards, and the whole species having keen eyes and smell, that they don't like goblins, but know the goblins are in league with the wargs.
1. A Black_Eagle? A Crowned_Eagle would seem more likely. Or is this just a description of his silhouette as it appears – somewhat similar to squire's question regarding Gollum?
2. Is there any point in identifying these Eagles with any real-world birds? After all, the largest known bird of prey is the condor, which weighs about one-fifth of a man's weight. No such bird could carry a hobbit far!

It stands to reason that rather than an actual bird, this should be a symbolic one – mythical, or even religious. Rateliff, in pages 219-224 has a long discussion about eagles in Tolkien, among which he mentions Letter 309, in which Tolkien refer to John the Evangelist as his patron saint; as Rateliff points out, in Christian iconography the eagle is John's emblem.
However, this iconography is based on Ezekiel ch. 1; and as I've once pointed_out, the bird in the Bible is a different one – the Old_World_vulture, a larger bird, with no real sense of smell. Which in Tolkien has a different connotation altogether:

And as they stood they saw all the Nazgul gathered togother, hovering above he Towers of Teeth like vultures.

- The Black Gate Opens.

3. Was Tolkien aware of the different connotations? After all, the etymology is clear – the Hebrew word for eagle derives from "eye" – a reference to their great sight, and that of vulture from its bald head. Did he not know Hebrew well enough – or did he ignore philology in this case, preferring to keep the Christian tradition?
However, the description of the eagles has some hitches in it, which would better be postponed to the next thread.

The lord of the eagles… could see the glint of the moon on goblin spears and helmets, as long lines of the wicked folk crept down the hillsides from their gate and wound into the wood.

Hey! Here come the wicked folk! There is no sun to make them wobbly and giddy, so they creep down to the dell – not even looking for the dwarves; after all, the glissade before was quite effective in covering both their trail and their scent.
In the meantime, a forest-fire is taking place – enough to roast alive several hundred wolves (note how this was foreshadowed in the gruesome analogy in Over Hill and Under Hill which Curious_G complained about), and fifteen birds in five fir-trees.
4. Was Gandalf's idea of throwing fireballs successful? Even had the wargs fled, how would the dwarves escape? Should we rationalize it as an attempt to attract the attention of the eagles, or does this destroy the story? Or was this another miscalculation of the wizard's?

Then suddenly goblins came running up yelling. They thought a battle with the woodmen was going on; but they goon learned what had really happened. Some of them actually sat down and laughed. Others waved their spears and clashed the shafts against their shields. Goblins are not afraid of fire, and they soon had a plan which seemed to them most amusing.

5. What do you think of the goblins' reaction? Some laugh at their allies' plight, others seem to challenge and threaten (from a safe distance) Gandalf and the Dwarves, and then they find an amusing plan. What kind of behavior does this remind you of?

Well, if they are laughing, it seems that the wargs will eventually have their revenge:

'Grevious is the fall of your men; but you shall see that at least the wolves of the mountains do not devour them. it is with their friends, the Orcs, that they hold their feast: such indeed is the friendship of their kind.'

- Gandalf to Théoden, The Road to Isengard.

6. Any comments? On the "poetic justice", on the friendship of the kind? Or on Gandalf's heightened language, and the stylistic difference between the two books?

The goblins turn out to be responsible fellows: first they put out anything which might become a wildfire, while others calm the wolves, and others feed the fire next to the trees in which the dwarves are. Then they taunt the dwarves, dancing and singing.
The first song is pretty well known:


Fifteen birds in five firtrees,
their feathers were fanned in a fiery breeze!
But, funny little birds, they had no wings!
O what shall we do with the funny little things?
Roast 'em alive, or stew them in a pot,
fry them, boil them and eat them hot?

7. Roasting, stewing, frying and boiling. That's after the trolls considered making a pie of them, slowly roasting them for later, mincing and boiling, and making a jelly out of them. Isn't this a bit too much for a children's book? Or should we be thankful that Bilbo was spared broiling, pickling, stewing and being made sausages of!


"Go away! little boys!" shouted Gandalf in answer. "It isn't bird-nesting time. Also naughty little boys that play with fire get punished." He said it to make them angry, and to show them he was not frightened of them-though of course he was, wizard though he was.

Commenting on The Hobbit, the author Arthur Ransome took issue with the describing of the goblins as 'naughty boys'. Tolkien (Letters no. 20) agreed the phrase was regrettable, and suggested oaves would be a better word (the plural form would fit well with elves and dwarves). However, in further editions he did not correct it.

8. What do you think of Ransome's criticism? Of Tolkien's reply? Would oaves really work better?
9. Comparing to the description I quoted in the previous post: "You would have laughed if you had seen the dwarves sitting up in the trees with their beards dangling down, like old gentlemen gone cracked and playing at being boys" – isn't the 'boys' motif quite striking here? What do you make of it?

Ignoring Gandalf, the goblins begin a second song:


Burn, burn tree and fern!
Shrivel and scorch! A fizzling torch
To light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!

Bake and toast 'em, fry and roast 'em
till beards blaze, and eyes glaze;
till hair smells and skins crack,
fat melts, and bones black
in cinders lie
beneath the sky!
So dwarves shall die,
and light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!
Ya hoy"

This is a bit more complicated. Perhaps it took the goblins longer to make it up. And they've added baking to the mix!

10. What do you think of the goblins' songs? Consider also Clap! Snap! from Over Hill and Under Hill. How do the three compare to each other? Which do you like best? Why?

I must point out that in The Choices of Master Samwise, the orcs' 'harsh singing' is mentioned, as well as the exclamation ' Ya harri hoy!'; and in the third edition of The Road to Middle-earth, prof. Shippey calls them 'great jokers' (ch. V, note 14). These are the "infantry of the old war" (Shippey again; I think this is based on something Tolkien himself said, but can't find a reference).

11. Are the goblins in The Hobbit essentially different from the orcs in The Lord of the Rings? Or did the naughty boys of this chapter grow up to become the mindless rank-and-file of the Dark Lord's war?



Then Gandalf climbed to the top of his tree. The sudden splendour flashed from his wand like lightning, as he got ready to spring down from on high right among the spears of the goblins. That would have been the end of him, though he would probably have killed many of them as he came hurtling down like a thunderbolt. But he never leaped.

Just at that moment the Lord of the Eagles swept down from above, seized him in his talons, and was gone.

The following paragraph describes the rage of the wargs and goblins, and the eagles' attacking them and picking up the other dwarves. But I want to stop with this last image.

12. In the nick of time indeed! Is this another case of the extraordinary luck which follows Bilbo, Gandalf et. al.? Is Gandalf a widow's son (see the first chapter)? Is Bilbo? Or was it the "sudden splendour" coming from the top of Gandalf's tree that gave the Lord of the Eagles the cue as to where he was?
13. And a last thing – the despair of Gandalf, as well as his fear of the goblins mentioned earlier, seem to be out of line with the wise Mithrandir (or Olórin!) of the subsequent books. Are they so indeed? What would have the 'upgraded' Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings done? What will Jackson's do?

"This chapter seems to be full of movement—slowly and deliberately (then less so) down hills; scrambling up trees-- then up, up, and away into the Eagles’ eyrie; and down, down back to the ground.
Flora, fauna, food, fear, and flight are featured..."
- batik

The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for a somewhat less clever discussion of Out of the Frying Pan-into the Fire!

Subject User Time
**Out of the Frying Pan...** Part V - "Those as can't fly can jump!" sador Send a private message to sador Aug 17 2012, 12:17pm
    Answers and some more questions Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Aug 17 2012, 10:40pm
        Answering your questions sador Send a private message to sador Aug 23 2012, 9:53am
            Yes Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Aug 23 2012, 10:47pm
    About the eagles FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 19 2012, 6:48pm
        New Zealand's Haast's Eagle Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Aug 19 2012, 7:12pm
        Well, sador Send a private message to sador Aug 23 2012, 10:12am


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