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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 6 (and final!). – “Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!”


Aug 18 2012, 1:39pm

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** The Hobbit, “Riddles in the Dark”** 6 (and final!). – “Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!” Can't Post

Continuing Bilbo’s adventure with Gollum, we are at the point in the ascending tunnel where Bilbo has just discovered that he has Gollum’s magical ring of invisibility. He also now knows that he can escape the caverns if he just follows Gollum to the “back-door”, without Gollum noticing him – the ring will help him get past the goblin guards there.

With Bilbo following Gollum silently, they come to the point where “side-passages” go off to one side or another – which Bilbo had noticed on his way down.
A. What would these tunnels be for? Are they logical aspects of this complex, or are they just plot-devices for “not getting lost/getting lost”?

Gollum gets more nervous, as he is entering goblin territory without his ring, but he finally counts to the correct opening on the left: “Seven right, yes. Six left, yes!” he whispered. “This is it. This is the way to the back-door, yes. Here’s the passage!”
B. Why bother to count on both sides? Doesn’t “six left” get you to the same place as “seven right, six left”?

Looking back at the original writing before the 1947 revision, the scene is almost the same – except that Bilbo is accompanying Gollum openly, because Gollum is voluntarily showing him the way out, in lieu of the lost “present” (the ring) that Bilbo won in the riddle game and is secretly keeping anyway. Along with three paragraphs of new writing, one notes that in the original text he only says:

"One left, one right, two right, three right, two left," and so on.

instead of, in the revision:

“One left, yes. One right, yes. Two right, yes, yes. Two left, yes, yes.” And so on and on.

The additions of “…, yes.” and “…, yes, yes.” and “…and on.” seem unnecessary.
C. Why would Tolkien tweak like this? Does this have to do with some difference between LotR Gollum and Hobbit Gollum?

Gollum stops at the entrance, and tells himself he hasn’t the courage to go in, because he smells “lots of goblins.” Instead he sits, saying “We must wait a bit and see.”
D. This poses a difficult obstacle for Bilbo to overcome, but what is Gollum thinking? What advantage does he gain to sit at the entrance to a tunnel that smells strongly of goblin, when he believes that Bilbo has long gone ahead of him?

Next comes what I think is the most remarkable passage in the chapter, especially in the context of the revision that has been my theme this week (or two). Bilbo moves away from the wall and Gollum senses him – the creature is tense, ready to spring. Bilbo, in desperation, feels he must use his sword to kill Gollum, whether fairly or not. But another emotion stays his hand: a “sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror” at Gollum’s wretched state of being. Then “as if lifted by a new strength and resolve”, he leaps over Gollum (barely missing the overhead stone) and escaping Gollum’s clutching hands, races down the side tunnel. Gollum is left behind, not daring to follow Bilbo, cursing and shrieking, “Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!”

To readers of The Lord of the Rings, this scene is clearly driven by the Ring. As Gandalf explains to Frodo in I.2, it would be the influence of the Ring that tempted Bilbo to stab a defenseless creature; and it would be the influence of the other Powers that used Bilbo’s native goodness to overcome the evil of the Ring and feel pity for Gollum rather than loathing. It turns out – or, it will turn out – that Bilbo’s pity in this one-paragraph moment of decision literally saves all of Middle-earth
E. Would a reader of The Hobbit feel that this level of writing – this penetrating sequence of emotions and inner conflicts – is a bit out of place in The Hobbit, based on how Bilbo thinks and reacts in all his other crises and adventures?

F. How does Bilbo leap so accurately, given that he cannot see Gollum nor the doorway at all?

The contrast between the drama of this scene and the original is quite striking. Gollum fearfully refuses to accompany Bilbo any further, and invites him to “squeeze in” (suggesting that the tunnel’s arch was a good deal lower than it became when the “leap in the dark” was added). Bilbo “said good-bye to the nasty miserable creature” and listened to the “flip-flap of Gollum going back to his boat” until he was gone – only then did Bilbo proceed down the tunnel. I think most readers criticize this as an “anti-climactic” exit for Gollum especially compared to the present writing. But I find it consistent with the entire Gollum episode as originally written, not to mention all the other adventures in the book which have rather reassuring “happy endings” after a moment of danger. Of course, given the changes in the nature of Gollum, and the Ring, in LotR it is at least consistent with the latter book to foreshadow its themes with this Ring-induced mini-play of temptation, redemption, and desperate rage.
G. What do you think? Is this scene as it currently stands out of place where it is, even though the reason for its being here is obvious?

Now Bilbo proceeds with his adventure. This new passage is “low and roughly made”. Bilbo speculates that it is “a bit low for goblins, at least for the big ones” – the narrator contradicts him with the information that “the big ones, the orcs of the mountains” traverse their tunnels while bent low to the ground.
H. When did Bilbo become an expert in goblin types? (In the original, Bilbo does not speculate, but simply proceeds recklessly and ignorantly).

I. Is this the first time the reader is advised that goblins in The Hobbit are also known as “orcs”?

The passage changes slope from down to up, then up steeply, then it turns a corner and descends again.
J. For what reasons may we imagine that the tunnels change profile, finish (rough vs smooth construction) and direction? Are there any analogues in our real world for an underground labyrinth like this?

Bilbo sees a hint of true daylight, and runs at top speed right into an open chamber filled with sunlight coming in through a crack in a stone door left “standing open”. Blinking in the unaccustomed light, he realizes there are armed goblin guards sitting by the door, alert with “drawn swords” and “ready for anything”.
K. Why are they alert? What has been going on since the time the dwarves escaped?

The changes that Tolkien made in this section are entirely stylistic: clarifying, editing or adding words – in short, tinkering. “A “glimmer” becomes a “glimpse”; “scuttling along” becomes “scuttling”; “he suddenly saw” becomes “suddenly he saw”.
L. When Tolkien sent his famous “specimen of rewriting” of this chapter of The Hobbit (Letter #111) to coordinate it with his later work in LotR, were these smaller changes part of that?

M. Would Tolkien have similarly tweaked all of The Hobbit for vocabulary and style, had he known the publishers would be so accommodating?

The Goblins see him before he sees them, and they rush at him with murderous glee. Somehow – was it “an accident, or a last trick of the ring before it took a new master” – he is not wearing it any more.
N. Why ascribe consciousness to the ring now, when it never shows such a characteristic again?

O. What is the point of the ring’s “trick”, if such it was? Does it want to be found by the goblins, or doesn’t it?

Bilbo suddenly feels that same Gollum-feeling of “misery” that he sensed before when sparing the creature’s life. Rather than draw his sword, he puts both his hands in his pockets, and the ring “slipped on his finger” so that he vanishes before the goblins’ eyes. He did not even have to manipulate it.
P. What is the feeling of “fear and loss” that Bilbo is struck by? Does he ever feel this way again in the story?

Q. Is Tolkien’s intention that the readers of The Hobbit should worry about this capricious ring going forward, with its ability to cause “misery” and to slip on and off fingers at its own will? Or is he more concerned that readers of LotR should find this foreshadowing in the earlier book if they look back for it later?

As you might imagine, this too constitutes a change from the original – the last change in this chapter! Bilbo is visible when he enters the chamber, because he has never worn the ring, having accompanied Gollum on the way out. His act of putting the ring on and vanishing to escape the goblins is ascribed to “accident” – because the other possibility, “presence of mind”, would imply wrongly that the hobbit had already become accustomed to owning a magic ring. So it is Bilbo who “[accidentally] slips the ring on his left hand”, rather than searching desperately through both pockets.
R. Why did Tolkien feel he had to do a slight backflip to reproduce this scene of Bilbo vanishing in the face of the goblins, despite the changed circumstances that Bilbo was already invisible thanks to the capricious ring (if you remember, it had already “slipped” onto his finger when he was escaping Gollum back by the lake)?

A Keystone Kops scene follows, with the goblins tripping over themselves to find the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t intruder. Bilbo figures out that he is invisible – evidently not feeling so in any way – and he hides behind a barrel to avoid getting “caught by feel”. Then he makes a break for it, dodging and scrambling, tripping a goblin “who could not make out what he had bumped into”, slipping between legs, and reaching the door which is still just ajar.
S. Is there any scene involving the ring like this in all of LotR? If so, where – and if not, why not?

Trying to squeeze through the narrow opening, Bilbo is trapped by his buttons catching on the door jamb. The sun shines on him, and casts his shadow into the room. The goblins see it and rush for him – he squirms mightily and bursts off all his buttons – and makes off down the steps into the valley of trees outside. The goblins follow, but cannot see him amidst all the tree-shadows, and the sun “makes their legs wobble and their heads giddy.”
T. Why does the sun defeat the ring’s invisibility power?

U. What is the point of focusing on the brass buttons?

And so Bilbo escapes, and that is the end of the chapter!

Thank you for your participation and patience. I apologize for the delay in posting this series and for Sador’s and Elizabeth’s forbearance; I found I had engaged myself to do far too many things this past few weeks, and this chapter with its fascinating dual identity demanded more time than I really had to spare. In closing, I offer the thought that Tolkien to some degree fell into a trap that seems to be besetting the MGM film team this year: he let the very much larger tail known as The Lord of the Rings wag the little dog called The Hobbit.

Unlike Peter Jackson, who included almost no Hobbit hints in his LotR trilogy that could reward a previous viewing of a Hobbit film, Tolkien actually had some options, since LotR had not been published yet. He suggests in his letters that he had been prepared to write his way around the Gollum/ring issue entirely in the relevant chapters of Fellowship of the Ring. In my (perhaps unusual) experience, reading about Gollum in the original Hobbit and then reading about him again in The Lord of the Rings does not arouse as much sense of disconnection as Tolkien feared. All of what it does arouse could certainly have been handled by simply having Gandalf or Bilbo tell Frodo what “actually” happened, as needed, leaving Bilbo's memoirs in the “Red Book” as written!

The real problem could not be explained away, and Tolkien cleverly misdirects his reader during the meandering conversation in “The Shadow of the Past” to get past it:
V. After finding out the “true story” (i.e., the revised portions of this chapter) by interrogating Bilbo, just why did Gandalf, the one person in a position to make the necessary connections, not suspect or investigate the hobbit’s “misery-inducing” ring with a mind of its own until after Bilbo’s going-away party?

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”** 6 (and final!). – “Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!” squire Send a private message to squire Aug 18 2012, 1:39pm
    Orcs acheron Send a private message to acheron Aug 19 2012, 12:58am
    "It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new." dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Aug 23 2012, 1:50am
    It depends if you read the front matter... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Aug 23 2012, 8:30pm
    Late answers sador Send a private message to sador Aug 26 2012, 10:59am


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