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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
***Fire and Water*** I: Smaug Attacks


Oct 9 2012, 8:14pm

Views: 557
***Fire and Water*** I: Smaug Attacks Can't Post

I’m commenting in this post on the beginning of the chapter to the section break at “...and still no arrow hindered Smaug or hurt him more than a fly from the marshes.” As always, please feel free to comment on other points or to raise questions about things I don’t mention.

This short chapter begins:

“Now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening when he smashed the door and flew off in rage, two days before.”

What do you think of the narrator’s backtracking like this to fill in the events of the story while the dwarves and Bilbo were plundering the hoard in the last chapter? Do you think that this information could have been presented differently? Is this the patronising adult voice talking to children? Could Tolkien have intercut the scenes in this chapter with the scenes from the previous one? What would he gain and what would he lose by doing so?

According to John Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit, Tolkien originally planned to have what became this “Fire and Water” chapter placed before the “Not at Home” chapter. Good decision to switch them around and have “Fire and Water” following “Not at Home”? What does Tolkien gain, what does he lose by putting them in this order?

Descriptions of Smaug

One of the things I value so much about Reading Room discussions is that they force you to look really closely at the way Tolkien writes. What struck me this time around in this chapter are the vivid descriptions of the coming of Smaug, told through the description of lights seen from afar. Imagine these scenes:

The men of Esgaroth are looking out over the lake to the Lonely Mountain in the distance, whose peak is visible from afar. It’s a dark night, but suddenly the mountaintop “flickered back to view; a brief glow touched it and faded.”

One of the men comments, “The lights again! Last night the watchmen saw them start and fade from midnight until dawn. Something is happening up there.”

“Then suddenly a great light appeared in the low place in the hills and the northern end of the lake turned golden.

“Before long, so great was his speed, they could see him [Smaug] as a spark of fire rushing towards them and growing ever huger and more bright....”

“No fireworks you ever imagined equalled the sights that night.”

“He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake; the trees by the shores shone like copper and like blood with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet.”

Why describe Smaug from this point of view and in this way? Do you know if anyone has ever painted this scene?

Battle action

People spring into action in these first few pages. Out of these first paragraphs describing the battle with Smaug, I could point to quite a few sentences that I think work really well, but I’ll just comment on one:

“Every vessel in the town was filled with water, every warrior was armed, every arrow and dart was ready, and the bridge to the land was thrown down and destroyed, before the roar of Smaug’s terrible approach grew loud, and the lake rippled red as fire beneath the awful beating of his wings.”

Here’s what I like about it: the repetition of “every...every...every” insists that this was an all-out effort. No one is singled out by name; it’s a general mobilization. The alliteration (the repetition of initial sounds in a word) in phrases like “down and destroyed” or “roar...rippled red” or “loud...lake” or “beneath...beating” make the sentence sound very forceful and emphatic. Oh, and here’s another light reference: “the lake rippled red as fire” – very vivid description.

What about your favorite sentences in this section? What do you like (or not) about the way the battle is described?

I’ll just point out that the grim-voiced man who turns out to be named Bard springs into action here, but I’d like to comment on this character in the next post tomorrow.

A Bilbo-free chapter

Is this the first chapter in the book that does not involve Bilbo? Is this significant in any way?

And once again, I’m so sorry for not being around to participate in previous weeks’ discussions. I’ll try to do better in the weeks ahead!

Subject User Time
***Fire and Water*** I: Smaug Attacks Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 9 2012, 8:14pm
    Smaug happens CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Oct 10 2012, 10:52pm
        Fall of Gondolin Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 11 2012, 4:45pm
    My Thoughts justbennett Send a private message to justbennett Oct 12 2012, 10:18pm
        The last lucky arrow Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 4:34pm
    The sequence is excellent. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Oct 13 2012, 12:23am
        Bilbo as dragon-slayer Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 4:46pm
    quite a scene Escapist Send a private message to Escapist Oct 13 2012, 12:52am
        Bilbo as author Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 4:57pm
            I think of Bilbo and Frodo as the writers of an original manuscript Escapist Send a private message to Escapist Oct 14 2012, 5:05pm
    Late answers sador Send a private message to sador Oct 14 2012, 3:11pm
        and a late question Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 5:14pm
            All of those you've said sador Send a private message to sador Oct 15 2012, 9:39pm


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