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**On The Doorstep** - 3. “The key!” shouted Bilbo. “The key that went with the map! Try it now while there is still time!”

squire
Half-elven


Aug 4, 1:40am

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**On The Doorstep** - 3. “The key!” shouted Bilbo. “The key that went with the map! Try it now while there is still time!” Can't Post

“…And glummer and glummer they became.” That was how our last discussion ended, and I am sorry if you’ve become glummer and glummer as Thursday faded into Friday and still there was no sign of Durin’s Day, I mean, my final post on this chapter. In fact, work revved up and I had to postpone, while claiming ‘dog days of summer’ privileges, or something even sillier, as my own excuse to myself. Again, I apologize.

Anyway… Well, here we are, on the doorstep waiting for something … I mean, here we at the third and final part of this week’s chapter, ‘On The Doorstep’.

Synopsis – 3a.
Finding the location of the hidden door boosted the dwarves’ spirits for just a short time. With their failure to break it open, they become glum again. Now, for the first time, Bilbo is the same way. He sits and looks West and day-dreams about going home – to the dwarves’ puzzlement, since they are used to him taking charge. He does occasionally muse about the stone in the middle of the bay, on which gigantic snails crawl in the bay’s cool shade.

W. Why does Bilbo become as passive and depressed as the dwarves at this point, for the first time in this chapter – or is it the first time in the entire story?

X. Is Bilbo lying to the dwarves, when he claims to be “sitting and thinking” in line with his job of “getting inside”, but is actually sitting and thinking about his hobbit-hole (as he has done earlier in the story)?

The snails on the central stone are said to be “great” and “of huge size”. Looking a little ahead, we will read that the thrush that preys on them is “enormous”.
Y. Why are these animals so large?

Z. Are the huge snails, which crawl “slowly and stickily” along the rock in the mountain enclosure, and which are soon to be smashed by the dwarves’ avian avatar in a magical introduction to access the heart of the mountain, a symbol for the dragon?

AA. Is the “large grey stone in the centre of the grass” another symbolic element? (I am reminded of the pillar that marked the hidden path -- not to even mention Elendil’s tomb in Unfinished Tales!)

Synopsis – 3b.
Thorin and the other dwarves discuss the advancing season: the last week of Autumn begins tomorrow, with winter to follow. Dwalin suggests, since they are getting nowhere with the hidden door, it might be time to send Bilbo with his ‘invisible ring’ right down the Front Gate to ‘spy things out a bit!’ Bilbo, overhearing, is both annoyed at the dwarves’ presumption of his powers, and horrified at the thought of braving the ‘steaming gate’. The next day proves just as boring as the previous ones, and Bilbo spends it in the bay, watching the stone or the western sky. He feels a queer sense of anticipation.

BB. Shouldn’t the dwarves connect the “last week of Autumn” with the Durin’s Day prophecy, the way every single reader has since the book came out?

Dwalin complains that “our beards will grow till they hang down the cliff to the valley before anything happens here.”
CC. What other beard jokes do the dwarves hear or tell on themselves? And what does this kind of gag tell us about dwarven culture?

Bilbo’s own reaction aside, consider the dwarves’ speculation that Bilbo with his ring is a kind of ace in the hole, or secret weapon, who should be effective in some way to get them out of the dead end they find themselves in.
DD. Are they right?

Bilbo’s reaction to hearing this is fraught with self-pity: “It is always poor me … Whatever am I going to do? … something dreadful would happen to me in the end…. I don’t think I could bear…”
EE. Is this a side of Bilbo we’ve seen before, or a change due to this tough situation?

Bilbo the next day mopes about, having hardly slept for fear he’s to be drafted to walk into Smaug’s front door. “He had a queer feeling that he was waiting for something. ‘Perhaps the wizard will suddenly come back today,’ he thought.”
FF. Why does Bilbo think of Gandalf just at this point, and not before?

Synopsis – 3c.
As the afternoon passes, he notes the sunlight on the leaves of Mirkwood far to the west. Finally the sun is level with his eyes, and he sees ‘pale and faint … a thin new moon above the rim of Earth.’ Suddenly he hears ‘Crack! Crack!’ as huge thrush knocks a snail on the big stone. Bilbo gets it. He calls the dwarves together, and they hasten up and down from wherever they were, to hear what he has to say.

Here we must confront the conundrum that is Durin’s Day. In my work as a reviewer for Tolkien Studies I’ve had to follow certain threads of Hobbit scholarship for the past few years, and I’ve found that there is an astronomical sub-field of Hobbit studies that is absolutely focused on figuring out just when Durin’s Day is, both by the internal calendar of Tolkien’s legends, and by our own Earth’s equivalent calendar. I personally don’t find such things interesting, but I would never let that get in the way of a good discussion.
GG. Let ‘er rip: What is Durin’s Day, exactly, in astronomical and calendar terms? Is it a real thing, that can be shown to happen in our own time? Can its date or dates be calculated accurately?

Here are two photos, both taken after sunset, that suggest that even a “thin new moon” is not liable to be “above the rim of earth” at the same time that “the orange ball of the sun” is at eye level on the horizon. They are separated by a significant degree of arc, at least in these pictures, and even the newest visible moon obviously sets quite a long time after the sun does.



And these are taken after the sun has left the sky. In fact I cannot find a photo on the web, even when specifying “Durin’s Day” to get to those special Tolkien fan sites, that shows a thin new moon in the same sky as the sun – apparently because the light of the nearby sun absolutely overpowers the reflected light of the slight crescent. But maybe you have one you can show us?

HH. Is Tolkien describing something he himself had seen? Am I missing something?

Suddenly the thrush appears, cracking open one of the snails on the stone that Bilbo had adopted as his meditation object. Here are two renderings, one in pencil by good old Alan Lee, and one in color by the redoubtable Ted Nasmith.


II. Why a thrush? As opposed to some other bird? Is this a significant species?

JJ. Given the plentiful population of snails, why didn’t any thrushes catch and hammer a snail or two in the past week of the dwarves’ and the hobbit’s camping in the bay?

“Suddenly Bilbo understood.” He yells and waves for the dwarves to come quickly, “forgetting all danger”. They all hurry to him, and even the ones in the valley below yell to be lifted up by the rope hoists. Yet the narrator does not repeat the words from the map – when was the last time we were reminded of the specific conditions for finding the door?
Here it is, for reference:
“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks,” read Elrond, “and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.” - TH III

KK. Are we the reader meant to be ahead of Bilbo at this point, still in the dark, or nodding in sudden agreement, about the fact that the map’s secret message is suddenly in a position to come true?

LL. Were the dwarves below ever hauled up before the door is revealed? Why mention them (with one more dig at Bombur)?

Synopsis – 3d.
Bilbo explains; they all watch the sunset. The sun enters some red clouds, while the ‘little moon was dipping to the horizon’. It was dusk. Suddenly a final ray of sunlight ‘like a finger’ falls on the rock face. The thrush trills, and with a crack a flake falls from the stone and the keyhole appears. They push on the door in vain, but Bilbo summons Thorin, and loudly and frantically reminds him of the key, given by Gandalf back in Bag End. Thorin turns the key, just as the sun and the moon sink out of sight. The door finally gives way and opens to reveal a dark tunnel leading into the heart of the mountain.

Here are three illustrations of one of the most dramatic moments in The Hobbit:


Ted Nasmith, undated


Anke Katrin Eiszmann, 2004


Eric George Fraser, 1977

MM. Which do you like, if any – and why?

NN. Where else, in Tolkien, other fiction, or reality, do we see the trope of the beam of sunlight pointing out an exact detail or secret?

The thrush “gave a sudden trill” as it watched the appearance of the sunbeam, and then the rock flakes away to reveal the keyhole.
OO. Was that part of the magic? If the thrush had not trilled just then, would the thing have happened anyway?

The dwarves quickly push on the still unrevealed door, “trembling lest the chance should fade”, but to no avail. Bilbo yells for Thorin, who has the key, and Thorin “hurries up”.
PP. Why has Thorin not figured this out himself, and dived for the keyhole, key in hand, the minute it was revealed? Why is Bilbo still in charge of, um, thinking?

The drama!
“He put it to the hole. It fitted and it turned! Snap! The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky.”

I’ll ignore the simultaneous disappearance of the sun and moon, and the odd image of evening “springing” into the sky, and ask:
QQ. Why does this passage seem to suggest that, had Thorin not put the key in the hole before the light disappeared, it would have been too late and the door would have remained impassable?

RR. How does the opening of the door compare to the openings of other doors in Tolkien’s writing?

Here is the final sentence in the chapter:
“It seemed as if darkness flowed out like a vapour from the hole in the mountain-side, and deep darkness in which nothing could be seen lay before their eyes, a yawning mouth leading in and down.”

SS. What is the emotional, bodily, sensory, sexual, or spiritual reaction you, or a reader in general, takes away from this, as you close the book for the night, or prepare to turn the page to the next chapter? What is a typical child listener’s reaction?

Final Questions (at last!!)
This concludes our weekly chapter discussion. The way is clear to … well, what? But let me ask, in passing:
TT. Did Durin’s Day never happen at any point prior to the dwarves’ arrival, but after the destruction of the dwarf-kingdom? If it had happened already, would the interim keyhole(s), having been revealed to no one rather like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, have 're-grown' its flake of stone to re-conceal itself? Exactly how fated was this moment?

We have already seen that many of the themes and devices laid out here were to be developed and re-used creatively in The Lord of the Rings.
UU. But prior to The Hobbit, had he written anything with this level of suspense, psychology, narrative force, and exquisite magical timing based on hints and clues set down many chapters earlier? I am thinking of the pre-1937 Silmarillion, but the question includes all his other fiction up to this point as well. What has this chapter shown us about how Tolkien plotted and composed this story?

What if I told you that, right up to the final revision (according to The History of The Hobbit), the key to the hidden door had been one of many on a key-ring found in the trolls’ cave after the first adventure on the road to Rivendell? Which is why Bilbo had to remind Thorin that he actually had them, and why (in the original) Thorin has to try a whole assortment of keys before finally, just in time, finding that the smallest one unlocks the mountain’s door.
VV. What was Tolkien thinking, when he came up with and kept that one for quite a long time?

Well, that’s all folks! Sorry again to have been late at the end of the week, but it’s been a pleasure to lead this discussion, and I look forward to reading and hopefully responding to all your answers and thoughts as time rolls on. Take it away, Roverandom, with “Inside Information”, next week!



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Roverandom
The Shire


Aug 4, 4:05pm

Post #2 of 11 (929 views)
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It's All About the Magic [In reply to] Can't Post

The story has been building to this point, with a few distractions and stop-overs, since the unexpected arrival of thirteen dwarves and one wizard at Bilbo's door. Now we finally have the appearance of THE door "on which all of their hopes rested". Both Thorin and Gandalf surmised, long before this moment, that it was a magical door of some kind. Magically revealed runes divulged part of its secret. With all this build-up, perhaps the author decided to pull out all the magical stops at the critical juncture.

Y. Giant snails and enormous thrushes. Larger than normal = magic?

FF. "Perhaps the wizard will suddenly come back today." I'm sure that most children, by now, are expecting Gandalf to provide his usual magical intervention. The author has set us all up, including Bilbo.

OO. The thrushes trill reminds me of the crowing of the cock at dawn, breaking whatever spell has held us through the night.

TT. I like the analogy of the tree falling in the wood. I can picture this happening several times over the years. The finger of sunset, the trill of the thrush, the flake of rock, and then..."OK, everybody, let's clean this up and get set for the next take!"

Some other thoughts, with regards to the perceived audience:

KK. Uncle Narrator is constantly spilling the beans in advance of certain events to make sure we're not too frightened, setting us up to succeed by telling us that we are much smarter than the characters, etc. I think that we are meant to be one step ahead of Thorin and Company when the moment of truth comes.

SS. I read The Hobbit with my daughter every October. It started as a bedtime story when she was little, one chapter at a time. I find the pace of the story perfect for this. Many, if not all, of the chapters end in a similar way --- perhaps not with a true cliffhanger, but definitely with a reason to keep you coming back for more the next night. I'm delighted to say that my daughter and I still read it the same way, even now.

One more thing:

NN. "Belloq's staff is too long. They're digging in the wrong place!"

For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the sill of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 4, 5:50pm

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This is *it* [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with that - after half of the length of the book we're finally on the doorstep, and there’s some tension about who should do what.

I think the dwarves feel Bilbo is The Specialist, and it’s his job to find the way in and burgle. Bilbo feels they ought to be more all in it together. But either way they’re so, so close to having to try again next year; so tensions are rising.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 4, 6:05pm

Post #4 of 11 (911 views)
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There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West... [In reply to] Can't Post

a) For those who like to infer the involvement Of Higher Powers, there lots in this section. In that view it’s significant that Bilbo is looking West, the thrush is a mini-eagle, and the God-beam that points out to keyhole is really a god beam.

b) None of the above is a necessary conclusion- Bilbo looks for outside help for a while, before relying upon himself.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


sevilodorf
Grey Havens


Aug 4, 7:30pm

Post #5 of 11 (909 views)
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Thrush -- [In reply to] Can't Post

Does anyone know how important the thrush is in Anglo Saxon history/literature? There is a poem from the 1200's called The Thrush and the Nightingale.

Perhaps it is simply a bird Tolkien was familar with.

In some literature it is a messenger. A thrush is used symbolically in 1984 which was published after The Hobbit .... and in a poem The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Harding written 1900

Fourth Age Adventures at the Inn of the Burping Troll http://burpingtroll.com
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Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 4, 9:13pm

Post #6 of 11 (874 views)
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"Giant snails and enormous thrushes. Larger than normal = magic?" [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, the Third Age of Middle-earth is meant to be a mythic era, closer to the source of all things than we are in the modern age. Dwarves and some Men can understand the languages of birds. Many beasts and birds are represented by mythic archetypes with magical qualities: Eagles, ravens, horses, demon-spiders, foxes--why not the thrushes of the Dalelands? Though, perhaps not the snails.

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison


alarawany
Registered User

Aug 5, 6:28am

Post #7 of 11 (830 views)
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giant snails [In reply to] Can't Post

amazing post....well done

Graduated from [url=http://www.soran.edu.iq/] Soran University with First Class Degree with Honours in Computer Science







Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator


Aug 5, 9:56am

Post #8 of 11 (817 views)
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When winter first begins to bite [In reply to] Can't Post

Wandering somewhat from your questions, Squire, but this talk of thrushes and snails reminds me of this snippet from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil:

The wind so whirled a weathercock
He could not hold his tail up;
The frost so nipped a throstlecock
He could not snap a snail up.
'My case is hard' the throstle cried,
And 'All is vane' the cock replied;
And so they set their wail up.

(Throstle is an old name for a bird of the thrush family.)

This was supposedly written by Bilbo in the Red Book, perhaps recalling his old adventures and casting them in a more cheerful light.


The Passing of Mistress Rose
My historical novels

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View


(This post was edited by Kimi on Aug 5, 9:59am)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 5, 1:32pm

Post #9 of 11 (795 views)
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Thanks! And then there're the Elves. [In reply to] Can't Post

I only wish I had not neglected the Elves in my previous post, with their seeming ability to commune with all of nature:

Quote
[Gandalf:] 'Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there.'

'That is true,' said Legolas. 'But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.'


That last, though, is not entirely true. Some of the Elves of Eregion accompanied Elrond in the founding of Imladris. The Elvish smiths who reforged Narsil were doubtless of that high race.

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison


sador
Half-elven


Aug 6, 1:23pm

Post #10 of 11 (710 views)
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Live and learn, I guess... [In reply to] Can't Post

W. Why does Bilbo become as passive and depressed as the dwarves at this point, for the first time in this chapter – or is it the first time in the entire story?
Well, that depends on whether the final line of the previous chapter counts as being passive and depressed:


Quote
So one day, although autumn was now getting far on, and winds were cold, and leaves were falling fast, three boats left Lake-town, laden with rowers, dwarves, Mr. Baggins, and many provisions. Horses and ponies had been sent around by circuitous paths to meet them at their appointed landing-place. The Master and his councillors bade them farewell from the great steps of the town-hall that went down to the lake. People sang on the quays and out of windows. The white oars dipped and splashed, and off they went north on the last stage of their long journey. The only person thoroughly unhappy was Bilbo.


X. Is Bilbo lying to the dwarves, when he claims to be “sitting and thinking” in line with his job of “getting inside”, but is actually sitting and thinking about his hobbit-hole (as he has done earlier in the story)?

Quote
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

Only there is no fire out here.

But no, at least not technically. It is no more a dubious stretch than, say, his last question to Gollum.

Y. Why are these animals so large?
Are they really? Or is this just from Bilbo's perspective?

Z. Are the huge snails, which crawl “slowly and stickily” along the rock in the mountain enclosure, and which are soon to be smashed by the dwarves’ avian avatar in a magical introduction to access the heart of the mountain, a symbol for the dragon?
Excellent catch!


Quote
"Old fool! Why there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!"


- Inside Information.

AA. Is the “large grey stone in the centre of the grass” another symbolic element? (I am reminded of the pillar that marked the hidden path -- not to even mention Elendil’s tomb in Unfinished Tales!)
Yes, and the entrance to the Barrow.




BB. Shouldn’t the dwarves connect the “last week of Autumn” with the Durin’s Day prophecy, the way every single reader has since the book came out?
Well, the dwarves haven't read the map a couple of weeks ago, as the reader had.
I also wonder how many of the dwarves did hear Elrond's words - they did mention "perhaps it will be Durin's Day", but this could have simply been because it was considered a special day in dwarvish culture. Unlike Bilbo, the dwarves would be likely to keep a respectful distance.
Thorin, of course, has no such excuse.

CC. What other beard jokes do the dwarves hear or tell on themselves? And what does this kind of gag tell us about dwarven culture?
It's like Jews can and do tell jokes about themselves. I suspect other cultures do, to.
But it says they accept Bilbo, if they let him hear them.

DD. Are they right?
Well, without the ring he would not be able to creep down the secret way with impunity, would he?

EE. Is this a side of Bilbo we’ve seen before, or a change due to this tough situation?
Had I not known better, I would speculate that it is the influence of The Ring.
But I obviously know that in The Hobbit it is still the mere ring.

FF. Why does Bilbo think of Gandalf just at this point, and not before?
He did occasionally. At the beginning of the previous chapter, Gandalf is also mentioned. This is just Tolkien's way to remind us of him.





(Once again, I've availed myself of your kind permission to omit answering a question. But it was one that we have discussed at length, in this very read-throgh)
HH. Is Tolkien describing something he himself had seen? Am I missing something?
Well, these pictures were taken today - so I hope they were taken somewhere with no light pollution, which is so common today.

II. Why a thrush? As opposed to some other bird? Is this a significant species?
I don't know. But your question brought Kimi out of lurkdom, which is a Good Thing in itself.

JJ. Given the plentiful population of snails, why didn’t any thrushes catch and hammer a snail or two in the past week of the dwarves’ and the hobbit’s camping in the bay?
Watership Down is just across the corner; as long as it was warm, the rabbits were feeding it.

KK. Are we the reader meant to be ahead of Bilbo at this point, still in the dark, or nodding in sudden agreement, about the fact that the map’s secret message is suddenly in a position to come true?
It is a clue to the attentive reader.

LL. Were the dwarves below ever hauled up before the door is revealed? Why mention them (with one more dig at Bombur)?
I suppose they were hauled up and let down regularly.






MM. Which do you like, if any – and why?
I'm not a fan of either. I don't like the pictorial image of a direct sunbeam. It even took me time to get used to Munch's moonbeams - and neither of the artists comes near to his talent.

NN. Where else, in Tolkien, other fiction, or reality, do we see the trope of the beam of sunlight pointing out an exact detail or secret?
The corssroads in Ithilien. Beautiful!

OO. Was that part of the magic? If the thrush had not trilled just then, would the thing have happened anyway?
As we will see later, the thrush is an active character. I expect he knew exactly who the dwarves were, and trilled for their edification.

PP. Why has Thorin not figured this out himself, and dived for the keyhole, key in hand, the minute it was revealed? Why is Bilbo still in charge of, um, thinking?
True, this is a bit of over-the-top drama.
Maybe Thorin was among those hauled up from below. I don't expect he sat on the doorstep and moped all day.

QQ. Why does this passage seem to suggest that, had Thorin not put the key in the hole before the light disappeared, it would have been too late and the door would have remained impassable?
More drama.

RR. How does the opening of the door compare to the openings of other doors in Tolkien’s writing?
It does involve an action of Thorin's.

SS. What is the emotional, bodily, sensory, sexual, or spiritual reaction you, or a reader in general, takes away from this, as you close the book for the night, or prepare to turn the page to the next chapter? What is a typical child listener’s reaction?
Well, I never thought of this in those terms! Should I thank you?
But I usually wonder about the dark vapour flowing out of the Mountain - is it the reek of Smaug? Shouldn't the dwarves, or Bilbo, have felt it? After all, this passage leads more or less directly to the dragon's bed.





TT. Did Durin’s Day never happen at any point prior to the dwarves’ arrival, but after the destruction of the dwarf-kingdom? If it had happened already, would the interim keyhole(s), having been revealed to no one rather like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, have 're-grown' its flake of stone to re-conceal itself? Exactly how fated was this moment?
Who could tell? We are supposed to assume that it is fated.

UU. But prior to The Hobbit, had he written anything with this level of suspense, psychology, narrative force, and exquisite magical timing based on hints and clues set down many chapters earlier? I am thinking of the pre-1937 Silmarillion, but the question includes all his other fiction up to this point as well. What has this chapter shown us about how Tolkien plotted and composed this story?
Some elements of the tale of Beren and Luthien come close. Beren coming just in time not to be killed, but to retrieve the Ring of Barahir, his happening upon Luthien, Luthien and Huan coming to Tol Sirion just after Felagund died.
But I agree that this scene seems to take the cake.

VV. What was Tolkien thinking, when he came up with and kept that one for quite a long time?
That was not the last of his bad ideas he had in his projected plotlines, but discarded when actually writing the book.
I will mention another one when I get to write down the next discussion I am scheduled to lead.



Thank you, squire, for leading us this chapter!




Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator


Aug 6, 9:19pm

Post #11 of 11 (672 views)
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:) :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


The Passing of Mistress Rose
My historical novels

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View

 
 

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