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* * Barrels out of Bond * * 2: The unseen guest

dormouse
Half-elven


Sep 6 2012, 10:38pm

Post #1 of 14 (603 views)
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* * Barrels out of Bond * * 2: The unseen guest Can't Post

Reading from 'Poor Mr Baggins' to 'the desperate beginnings of a plan.'

Alone and invisible, Bilbo at least has the freedom to explore the Elvenking's halls; even to go outside when the doors open for the elves, though he dare not go far and cannot get back in until the elves return. He feels very sorry for himself, but still has the gumption and the wits to see what he can find out that might help his friends. And by careful eavesdropping he finds Thorin, who had been on the point of giving up, but now sends messages to the other dwarves to say nothing while Bilbo thinks of a plan. Bilbo is far from delighted by this, but in time his explorations lead him to the underground stream, the watergate and the king's cellar. By listening to the elves he learns about Lake-town, the trade that goes on between elves and men and the movement of barrels up and down the forest river. His escape plan is born.

1. Why didn't Bilbo simply appeal to the elves for help?

2. 'If anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr Baggins, alone and unaided' - how important is this moment to the story?

3. Any thoughts on Thorin's changed attitude to Bilbo?

4. 'They all thought their own shares in the treasure (which they quite regarded as theirs, in spite of their plight and the still unconquered dragon) would suffer seriously if the Wood-elves claimed part of it....' How does this make you feel about the dwarves?

5. Parallels are often drawn between Tolkien's experience of the First World War and Lord of the Rings - especially in connection with the relationship between Sam and Frodo, and scenes like the Dead Marshes. It suddenly struck me that there might be another parallel here, in The Hobbit. The burden of responsibility weighs heavily on Bilbo. Gandalf isn't there and can't be contacted; however small and inadequate he feels, Bilbo must take responsibility for his thirteen companions and save them if he can. Seems to me that this has echoes of the position many front line officers faced in the war, Tolkien included. They were young - usually fresh out of school or university - given rank by virtue of their education and social position - it was assumed that boys from good middle and upper class backgrounds would have the skills necessary to command men and take responsibilty for them. No matter how inadequate they felt their men looked the them and they had to get on with it - and they did. Does that make sense?

6. Lake-town, we're told, was built far out intot he water, 'as a protection against enemies of all sorts, and especially against the dragon of the Mountain.' How would being built on a lake protect them against a flying flame-thrower?





mandel
Rivendell


Sep 8 2012, 6:37am

Post #2 of 14 (282 views)
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Answers, I want answers! [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Why didn't Bilbo simply appeal to the elves for help?

Wouldn't the sudden possession of a ring of invisibility be sufficient explanation? Why take the risk of being rejected by the elves - who, after all, have shown themselves to be hostile to the company - when you can creep about unseen?

6. Lake-town, we're told, was built far out intot he water, 'as a protection against enemies of all sorts, and especially against the dragon of the Mountain.' How would being built on a lake protect them against a flying flame-thrower?

This connects up with a question I have about Ch. 14, "Fire and Water." The same idea shows up there unexplained. To protect Laketown from Smaug's attack, the bridge to land is "thrown down and destroyed." And this isn't simply some desperate, futile gesture on the part of Laketown's residents:


Quote
Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men he came over them, swept towards the bridges
and was foiled! The bridge was gone, and his enemies were on an island in deep water-too deep and dark and cool for his liking. If he plunged into it, a vapour and a steam would arise enough to cover all the land with a mist for days; but the lake was mightier than he, it would quench him before he could pass
through.


This passage calls for the same question. Why would Smaug be concerned about plunging into the lake if he can fly? He doesn't seem to feel at all threatened by the people of Laketown. That is, he doesn't seem to suspect for a moment that any of them would be capable of injuring him - as evidenced by his boasts to Bilbo.

If this is right, is Tolkien implying some limitation on Smaug's power of flight?

Unless an explanation can be found in the text, this is a pretty glaring omission. Did Tolkien overlook including some bit of explication that would make sense of these passages? Or, have we overlooked it?


mandel
Rivendell


Sep 9 2012, 3:22am

Post #3 of 14 (267 views)
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Saddened [In reply to] Can't Post

After flipping through the book to find a logical answer, and after finding several online discussions of this matter about the bridges of Laketown, not only am I stumped, but everyone else seems to be as well. The best I've found are gerrymandered retcons. It saddens me to think this, but I think Tolkien just dropped the ball here.

But the responsible thing to do, it seems to me, is to look at "The History of the Hobbit" and figure out if the issue is addressed there - i.e., since it's the most comprehensive study of the book, no?


sador
Half-elven


Sep 9 2012, 3:43pm

Post #4 of 14 (271 views)
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Late Answers [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Why didn't Bilbo simply appeal to the elves for help?
And say what? He tried before.

2. 'If anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr Baggins, alone and unaided' - how important is this moment to the story?

Well, he did that before; but this is the first time he comes to terms with the fact.

3. Any thoughts on Thorin's changed attitude to Bilbo?

Unsurprising. I never thought Thorin was just a haughty dumbkopf.

4. How does this make you feel about the dwarves?

Another racial slur!

Seriously, though, this is the only time in which Tolkien implies this was a joint venture, rather than the twelve faithful followers of the exiled king. Wisely, he didn't pursue this direction.

5. Does that make sense?

I doubt it. I don't think the dwarves really consider Bilbo as their commanding officer, and he has absolutely no training to be so.

If anything, Bilbo is the Connetickut Yankee Sir Boss in King Arthur's court.

6. Lake-town, we're told, was built far out intot he water, 'as a protection against enemies of all sorts, and especially against the dragon of the Mountain.' How would being built on a lake protect them against a flying flame-thrower?

Now this is something Tolkien would know from WWI - from the bombing of the German lines before the attack on the Somme. While it was terrible, it was ineffective (even the worst bombardments at Verdun didn't really wipe out resistance). To conquer a place one must enter it physically.

Also, there is a limit for how long Smaug can stay up in the air and be effective. He would be tired out after some time, and far from home. Think of Glaurung in The Children of Hurin not going after Mablung, who was clearly no match for him - and that without his tiring himself with flying.
Originally, Tolkien even thought that Smaug's demise would be after attacking Lake-town, when he returns all spent to rest in the Mountain. Bilbo was supposed to stab him then, with the dead-tired worm to spent to notice him approach (I'm glad Tolkien rejected this direction, but it makes the point).

And last but not least, Smaug would like to eat the Lake-town folk. For that just burning them is not enough - who wants mere charred bones for supper? Remember Thorin's description of the last days of Dale.


I do not think Lake-town was built that way as a defense against dragons of all things - but making him need to fly near them was not too bad a defensive strategy.

"The portcullis can be dropped right to the river-bed, but, that it's often left open. Why? If this is a fortress and Mirkwood has some very unsavory inhabitants, isn't this rather foolhardy of the elves? Or is it just arrogance?"
- Kelvarhin



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Barrels Out of Bond!


mandel
Rivendell


Sep 9 2012, 6:36pm

Post #5 of 14 (262 views)
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Thanks, sador [In reply to] Can't Post

I still think Tolkien could have done a better job of clarifying these passages. They puzzled me while re-reading TH recently, and after an online search, I discovered that many have had the same puzzled reaction.


elostirion74
Rohan

Sep 9 2012, 7:54pm

Post #6 of 14 (256 views)
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about question 6 [In reply to] Can't Post

Even dragons seem to prefer to conquer a city by entering it; itīs after all easier and less tiresome to go into the city and eat the ones you can catch and wiping out resistance quickly and effectively than flying around and making the city burn.

Second thing I wonder if Tolkien wasnīt giving a nod to the story about the fall of Nargothrond from the First Age, where Glaurung passes the river via a bridge built on Túrinīs bidding and thereby more easily breaks the defences of the city.


dormouse
Half-elven


Sep 9 2012, 9:40pm

Post #7 of 14 (256 views)
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Yes, it's a good point about Nargothrond... [In reply to] Can't Post

.. part of Tolkien's picture of a dragon attacking a settlement seems to have been the approach on foot - via a bridge in both instances. I suppose there's also the business of dragon magic - where the dragon actually speaks to his victims and uses the magic of his voice as Glaurung does with Turin. Couldn't do that on the wing.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Sep 10 2012, 1:32am

Post #8 of 14 (238 views)
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HoH seems to be silent on this [In reply to] Can't Post

I've done a cursory flip-through, and cannot find anything about why a town would be built over the water as a defensive measure against a dragon.

However, if I come across something later on, I'll post it! In the meantime, I think sador and elostirion have great responses to this question. Smile


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915




mandel
Rivendell


Sep 10 2012, 1:46am

Post #9 of 14 (227 views)
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Thanks, Dernwyn! [In reply to] Can't Post

 


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Sep 10 2012, 1:55am

Post #10 of 14 (236 views)
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Bilbo to the rescue - again [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Why didn't Bilbo simply appeal to the elves for help?

Non-disclosure agreement...and at this point, he would still feel a traitor to the dwarves if he did. Besides, he'd have to reveal his ring, and what if this Elvenking wanted it...


2. 'If anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr Baggins, alone and unaided' - how important is this moment to the story?

Once again, Bilbo is about to save the day - or at least, the dwarves' miserable hides!


3. Any thoughts on Thorin's changed attitude to Bilbo?

Right now he's an admirable hobbit to Thorin; before too long, though, the dwarves will be grumbling about Bilbo and his escape plan, and why then do we not see Thorin defending their saviour? How well he likes a non-dwarf seems to be entirely dependent on his mood. Some friend indeed.


4. 'They all thought their own shares in the treasure (which they quite regarded as theirs, in spite of their plight and the still unconquered dragon) would suffer seriously if the Wood-elves claimed part of it....' How does this make you feel about the dwarves?

Grasping and ungracious! And this is a perfect set-up for what is to come later, when they are besieged within the halls of gold.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915




Noel Q. von Schneiffel
Rivendell


Sep 10 2012, 7:13am

Post #11 of 14 (258 views)
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Humpback whales [In reply to] Can't Post

The truth is, the town was usually defended by humpback whales who were posted as guards all around it. If the dragon attacked, they would shoot at him from their blowholes. Quite a good idea against a fiery dragon. Unfortunately, the Master of Laketown was so greedy that he hadn't paid the whales for months, and they had gone on strike, leaving the city defenseless.



The Glorious Truth of J.R.R. Tolkien
Radiates from his Holy Writings


http://www.tolkientruth.info/


sador
Half-elven


Sep 10 2012, 3:06pm

Post #12 of 14 (202 views)
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You're welcome [In reply to] Can't Post

And welcome to TORn!

As far as I remember, I was also puzzled by this for a long time. I suppose people who haven't been in actual war tend to overestimate aerial superiority; but after the Somme, Tolkien probably thought this was obvious.

"The portcullis can be dropped right to the river-bed, but, that it's often left open. Why? If this is a fortress and Mirkwood has some very unsavory inhabitants, isn't this rather foolhardy of the elves? Or is it just arrogance?"
- Kelvarhin



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Barrels Out of Bond!


sador
Half-elven


Sep 10 2012, 3:08pm

Post #13 of 14 (230 views)
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I think Anderson writes something about precedents for the consruction of Lake-town [In reply to] Can't Post

But no, this was not a specific measure taken against dragons.

"The portcullis can be dropped right to the river-bed, but, that it's often left open. Why? If this is a fortress and Mirkwood has some very unsavory inhabitants, isn't this rather foolhardy of the elves? Or is it just arrogance?"
- Kelvarhin



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Barrels Out of Bond!


sador
Half-elven


Sep 10 2012, 3:11pm

Post #14 of 14 (522 views)
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But what of Chrysophylax? [In reply to] Can't Post

When fleeing from Farmer Giles, my favourite dragon never takes off; wouldn't that be more logical, and ultimately effective?



And that's before asking why the Balrog didn't use his hypothetical wings when fighting Gandalf...

"The portcullis can be dropped right to the river-bed, but, that it's often left open. Why? If this is a fortress and Mirkwood has some very unsavory inhabitants, isn't this rather foolhardy of the elves? Or is it just arrogance?"
- Kelvarhin



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Barrels Out of Bond!

 
 

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