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* * * The Hobbit read-through: Chapter 12 - Inside Information (Part Two)

Roverandom
The Shire


Aug 10, 1:14am

Post #1 of 18 (1100 views)
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* * * The Hobbit read-through: Chapter 12 - Inside Information (Part Two) Can't Post

Enter the Dragon!

I'd like to conclude this chapter with a discussion of one of my favorite characters --- Smaug, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. I'll share some of my own thoughts and ask a few questions, but please feel free to bring up anything you like, with regards to this dragon or dragons in general, the dialogue in this chapter, or the author's characterization of Smaug. The plot has been building to this moment since the very beginning of the story, when Thorin related how Smaug came down from the North (where there were "lots of dragons" and destroyed both the dwarf kingdom under the Mountain and the town of Dale. Just how many dragons are we talking about, here, and where have all the others gone?

Almost two hundred pages later, and we finally get to meet the dragon up-close and personal. Bilbo sneaks into the caverns beneath the mountain, listening to the rumbling of what is compared to "a gigantic tom-cat purring", until he finally sees the monster lit by the glow of his own inner fires. Do you find it odd that, after all of this build-up, we get only a short glimpse of Smaug? In fact, Bilbo's gaze is quickly drawn from the dragon to the golden hoard. More words are used to describe his feelings on seeing the treasure than are spent on what we may have presumed through all those pages to have been the main villain of the piece. Is this something that the author has done by design, and, if so, what effect does it have?

After this first, brief appearance, Smaug is left behind while Bilbo and the dwarves rejoice over the stolen cup. We do, however, have the opportunity to see the theft from the dragon's point of view. I like the fact that we are privy to Smaug's unease and then his molten rage that turns cold and deadly. It serves as a nice preview of what we get from him the next time Bilbo enters the caverns.

"Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear your breath. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!" What a terrific first line. Since he had been introduced in silence, were you surprised to find the dragon capable of speech? What is the literary pedigree of such creatures? Whose voice do you hear in your head as you read his dialogue? For me, it's Richard Boone from the Bakshi Hobbit, but perhaps you prefer Benedict Cumberbatch!

The next few pages follow the cat-and-mouse exchange between Smaug and Bilbo. Both are trying to get information from the other without revealing anything in return. This allows the author to give a recap of Bilbo's adventures, as the hobbit does a little bragging. We are told that "this of course is the way to talk to dragons". Is that idea original to Tolkien, or is their some tradition to support it?

The description of the dragon that was brushed over earlier is now given in spades, by none other than Smaug himself. He compares his various physical attributes to armor, swords, spears, a thunderbolt, a hurricane, and death itself. He exhibits cunning, rage, and no small amount of vanity. In just a few paragraphs, the author gives us quite a bit. Unlike his encounter with Gollum, this riddle contest seems almost too close to call, but Bilbo does manage to get away with his Inside Information.

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.


sador
Half-elven


Aug 10, 7:20am

Post #2 of 18 (1036 views)
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Familiarity breeds contempt [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
"You seem familiar with my name, but I don't seem to remember smelling you before"


Quote
...exclaimed Bilbo, but what he thought inside was: "Old fool!..."

See?


Just how many dragons are we talking about, here, and where have all the others gone?
Well, in post-LotR Middle-earth, Smaug was probably the last, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities indeed. But in the world as envisioned when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, there must have been quite a few.
Something like the balrogs, who became fewer in number as they increased in power and terror.



Quote
the rumbling of what is compared to "a gigantic tom-cat purring"

I quite forgot this comparison. Thank you!


Do you find it odd that, after all of this build-up, we get only a short glimpse of Smaug?
Well, Sauron got less.
But in truth, an antagonist like Smaug cannot be defeated in any way available to Bilbo and Thorin. So there is a limit to how much of an actual encounter he can have with them.


Is this something that the author has done by design, and, if so, what effect does it have?
I'm sure it was by design - and it has the effect of giving Thorin's claims to greatness credibility, showcases the wealth and power of Smaug, and sets up the events of the coming chapters.



Quote
I like the fact that we are privy to Smaug's unease and then his molten rage that turns cold and deadly. It serves as a nice preview of what we get from him the next time Bilbo enters the caverns.

And in his attack on Esgaroth. I like it too!


Since he had been introduced in silence, were you surprised to find the dragon capable of speech?
No. I never expected of him any less than the spiders.


What is the literary pedigree of such creatures?
Prof. Shippey wrote wonderfully about Smaug's character, which I cannot sum up while doing it any justice. So I'll just give the citataions:
The Road to Middle-earth (3 ed.), ps. 86-93
Author of the Century, ps. 36-40
There are some significant differences between the two passages; but for the purpose of your question - reading one of them is, I think, quite sufficient.


Whose voice do you hear in your head as you read his dialogue?
I do not have any such voice in my head. Sorry.


We are told that "this of course is the way to talk to dragons". Is that idea original to Tolkien, or is their some tradition to support it?
Discussed in length by Shippey.
But I must point out that Bilbo has finally learned - after foolishly giving his name to the trolls, and (with disasterous consequences, as seen in the sequel) Gollum, he has finally realized he shouldn't give his name so easily!



Quote
Unlike his encounter with Gollum, this riddle contest seems almost too close to call, but Bilbo does manage to get away with his Inside Information.

That is because this is an antiquated tale - with Bilbo needing to actually go down to look at Smaug, and pry the information by using his wits.
In a contemporary story, one of the bats would be a leaker.

Thank you, Roverandom, for a fun discussion!


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 10, 1:08pm

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The last of the dragons? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Just how many dragons are we talking about, here, and where have all the others gone?
Well, in post-LotR Middle-earth, Smaug was probably the last, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities indeed. But in the world as envisioned when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, there must have been quite a few.
Something like the balrogs, who became fewer in number as they increased in power and terror.


I find it curious that many readers seem to assume that Smaug was the last (or nearly the last) of the dragons of Middle-earth. Really there is no evidence that this is the case and it seems very unlikely to me that the beasts virtually disappeared in just a few hundred years. As Thorin stated, "there were lots of dragons in the North in those days [of Thorin's grandfather]". I see no reason to believe that dragons still dwelt in the Withered Heath and in some of the former Dwarf-holds in the Grey Mountains, though perhaps none as mighty as old Smaug.

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


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 11, 4:00pm

Post #4 of 18 (937 views)
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Bilbo gets cocky - and some other observations [In reply to] Can't Post

[Just in case 'cocky' doesn't translate outside British English, it means 'conceited or confident in a bold or cheeky way.']

Some various late observations - I've been on holiday this week, so only looking in intermittently. Many thanks, Roverandom for taking this chapter from me,so enabling the weeks discussion to be very well led while I did a lot of walking!

Back to Bilbo - I like the suggestions, in Bilbo's dialogue with Smaug that there is some kind of dragon-spell trying to work - Bilbo feels strangely tempted to tell Smaug everything This reminded me of the hypnotic effects that Glaurung (the dragon in Children of Hurin) has. Glaurung also can talk (or at least, is heard and understood by his victims).

But possibly, given that Bilbo is perfectly willing to cheek Thorin Oakenshield at the start of the chapter, he's just got a bit too big for his boots (figuratively - hobbits don't normally wear boots).

Bilbo does, though give away a lot of information in the midst of his clever (or too-clever by-half'?) riddling. And of course he realises this when he turns up back at the tunnel mouth smouldering from his narrow escape and sobering up enough to realise that he has probably betrayed the men of Laketown. Or was it so obvious that the expedition had Laketown support that they were implicated anyway?

Smaug also seems very deft at stirring up doubts in Bilbo - that the dwarves aren't grateful to him (something that has been nicely foreshadowed at the end of the last chapter), and that one-fourteenth of the treasure (if obtained) would be a while pile of trouble. (Whatever mathematical proportion of the treasure Bilbo gets in the end, he solves the cartage problem by only accepting an amount that he can reasonably carry away).

On the other side of the account, Bilbo of course learns Smaug's fatal weakness, about which Smaug is himself oblivious, or cocky. So if the Bilbo-Smaug encounter were a contest, perhaps it it a score-draw.

~~~~~~
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 11, 4:38pm

Post #5 of 18 (939 views)
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What is the literary pedigree of such creatures? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
"real dragons, essential both to the machinery and the ideas of a poem or tale, are actually rare...In northern literature there are only two that are significant...the dragons of the Volsungs, Fafnir, and Beowulf's bane.

Tolkien - The Monsters and the Critics, 1936


Unfortunately I don't know much about either the slaying of Fafnir, nor of Beowulf's dragon. Probably someone else knows more, and if so I encourage them to contribute!.
Some starter notes for expansion or correction are:

Fafnir:
Was originally a dwarf, but turned into a dragon as part of becoming excessively avaricious over a cursed treasure. Fafnir is hunted by the hero Sigurd (=Siegfried) and Sigurd's foster-father Regin. Sigurd kills the dragon, helped by Odin, who appears disguised as an old bearded man to give advice.. Regin plans to kill Sigurd, but Sigurd becomes able to understand bird-language, is warned of the treachery, and kills Regin instead.

Elements in common I see: dwarves, bearded wise-one, treachery (real or feared); timely advice from talking birds.

Beowulf
Many years after his slaying of Grendel and Grendel's mother, Beowulf is an old man, but goes to fight a dragon that is attacking the countryside. The dragon has been quiescent but now has become active again because someone stole a cup from its lair. Beowulf is fatally wounded but one of his knights, Wiglaf, stabs the dragon in a vulnerable spot. Beowulf is able to finish it off just as he himself dies.

Elements in common I see: dragon annoyed by theft of cup; dragon not killed in the way one might expect (by the story's hero). Death of a/the hero of the story.

~~~~~~
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


sador
Half-elven


Aug 11, 6:26pm

Post #6 of 18 (928 views)
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True; but that's not what I've meant. [In reply to] Can't Post

By "post LotR world" I did not mean the Fourth Age, but Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth. In his later writings we find re-working of Glaurung, but precious little others. Scatha the worm, and arguably the cold-drake that slew Dain I - but these two do not justify Thorin's words you quoted, nor do Gandalf's calculations in The Quest of Erebor make much sense, if there were many others like Smaug.

So I think that post-LotR writings do indicate that Smaug was the last dragon, or at least of comparable might and terror.
Obviously, a consustent Middle-earth would need to postulate a few more dragons, and account for how King Elessar and his people dealt with them; but Tolkien never came near ti achiving this consistency.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 11, 9:09pm

Post #7 of 18 (916 views)
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Dragons of Europe [In reply to] Can't Post

Might Tolkien be defining 'northern literature' too narrowly? If we look beyond Scandinavia, aren't there other dragons of legend in the mythologies of the British Isles and northern Europe? What about the dragon slain by Saint George?

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


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 11, 11:15pm

Post #8 of 18 (905 views)
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What did annoy Smaug more? [In reply to] Can't Post

The stealing of the cup or the conversation he had with Bilbo. Oh, and just to mention, interesting delve into Smaug's thoughts with his troublesome dreams.


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 12, 11:24am

Post #9 of 18 (892 views)
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The other dragons [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Might Tolkien be defining 'northern literature' too narrowly? If we look beyond Scandinavia, aren't there other dragons of legend in the mythologies of the British Isles and northern Europe? What about the dragon slain by Saint George?


I think that quote from Monsters and Critics shows that Fafnir and 'Beowulf's Bane' are definitely legitimate literary precedents for Smaug. It would be arguable that Tolkien doesn't sincerely mean that these are the only two dragons worth serious consideration - someone could argue that, in an essay about Beowulf, he's narrowing the field for rhetorical purposes. Or maybe all other contenders would be waved away as not essential, northern, literary or significant enough (Tolkien has given himself a lot of criteria!)

~~~~~~
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


Roverandom
The Shire


Aug 12, 11:37am

Post #10 of 18 (894 views)
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More Smaug, Please! [In reply to] Can't Post

NoWiz, your comments reminded me of some other thoughts that failed to come up in my (overly long) original post:

Smaug as Saruman

Think about everything Smaug says in the wonderful exchange with Bilbo. As you noted, he is very good at stirring up doubts. It's easy to put that down to the effects of the "dragon spell", but couldn't we also make a case for just good debating skills, ala everyone's favorite fallen wizard? In the world of Tolkien, sometimes what we mortals think of as "magic" is just folk being themselves.

Smaug as the Palantir

While examining the conversation, ask yourself this: is anything that Smaug says a lie? I think that's what makes him so persuasive. He's able to use, perhaps "twist" is a better word, the truth to gain the advantage. Very Art of War. Use your opponent's strength against him. Smaug's words have pretty much the same effect on Bilbo as visions in the palantir have on Denethor. And, since the Big Kahuna himself is behind the propaganda that comes through the wire on the palantir, maybe I should have labeled this section "Smaug as Sauron". Speaking of ultimate villains:

Smaug as Lucifer

Bad guys with horns, living underground, associated with fire? Okay, maybe I'm stretching too far for this one, but this chapter has always put me in mind of something one of my college professors said about Paradise Lost. A story of Good and Evil can't have Good winning in a breeze. You have to give Evil some of the best lines in the dialogue to make it seem touch-and-go about the outcome. Smaug makes a strong case, after all, and we see the results in Bilbo's doubts.

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 12, 12:46pm

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Excellent [In reply to] Can't Post

I do think that Smaug is a little like Saruman - not only in his ability to find and use someone's weakness (for which, also see The Ring) but because his motives are understandable, if not laudable. I think Bilbo feels the pull of the treasure quite clearly - it's easy to imagine wanting to own it just for owning it (as opposed to say, the uses to which it could be put). Similarly, when Smaug notices the stolen cup it's not that he can't afford the loss, it's the attack on his pride and status that causes him to fly into a rage (just as it's pride that gets Saruman into trouble and prevents him accepting help out of it).

I think it's much more interesting to have a villain with understandable motives than a creature that only exists to be a thing that will be difficult to kill.

~~~~~~
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


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 12, 12:55pm

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Dragon Legends [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think that quote from Monsters and Critics shows that Fafnir and 'Beowulf's Bane' are definitely legitimate literary precedents for Smaug. It would be arguable that Tolkien doesn't sincerely mean that these are the only two dragons worth serious consideration - someone could argue that, in an essay about Beowulf, he's narrowing the field for rhetorical purposes. Or maybe all other contenders would be waved away as not essential, northern, literary or significant enough (Tolkien has given himself a lot of criteria!)


It might be that most other European legends concerning dragons are either too bound up in Christian mythology and imagery or too intermingled with eastern traditions to have been useful to Tolkien. As you state, the main characteristics of Tolkien's dragons do derive primarily from Fafnir and the dragon of Beowulf.

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


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 12, 1:11pm

Post #13 of 18 (884 views)
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Dragons in English local legend [In reply to] Can't Post

This is a set of notes from the essay on Dragons in 'The Lore of the Land', a guide to England's legends, Westwood and Simpson, Penguin Books 2005. While I hope my bullet points help this discussion, I heartily recommend reading the original essay and book. Judging from the index, it collects about 30 legends that are about a dragon.

Dragons (or dragon-like creatures) appear in folklore of many cultures, including the two earliest recorded mythologies (Babylonian and Indian).

If Celtic Britons told dragon-slayer stories, there is no written evidence - the Germanic tales (Beowulf and the Volsung Saga) are the earliest literature.

Dragons have long been associated with burial mounds and buried treasure- in place names usually, the folklore often now being lost.

In religious art and saint's legends, a dragon stands for Satan or demons (following Revelations 23 in which Archangel Michael fights a serpent, also Mark 16:18 and Luke 10:19). So many saints have legends involving overcoming dragons or serpents.

In military and heraldic symbolism the dragon stands for valour and menace hence Uther Pendragon (Arthur's father), and the use of dragons as a heraldic device.

Dragons in local English legends differ from myths, heroic epic, and saints tales. Usually there is a lot of detail tying the story to the particular place - e.g. the dragon fell on that hill over there, or was slain with the old axe you can still see in the local church or stately home.

There are only two places that claim an association with St George's famous battle (Brinsop in Herefordshire and Dragon Hill in Berkshire). More usually the dragon-slayer is someone with local associations. Often they are a member of (or the fonder of) the local family of the aristocracy, and the victory may 'explain' how land or titles were added to the family fortune. Or, the dragon-slayer was a working-class local lad. In that case rewards are not so much dwelt upon. The dragon-slayer, whether noble or common, frequently dies in his moment of triumph.

If the hero is from the gentry, the climactic battle with the dragon is often fairly formulaic. But there are many stories in which the dragon is defeated in some ingenious manner using 'eccentric weapons or elaborate tricks'. There is often an element of poetic justice, in which the dragon is defeated in part by it's own greed or strength etc.

~~~~~~
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

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Aug 12, 1:15pm)


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 12, 1:13pm

Post #14 of 18 (877 views)
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Seems possible! - and meanwhile, I simultaneous-posted about local English dragon legends// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

~~~~~~
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


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 12, 1:16pm

Post #15 of 18 (882 views)
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Monsters as Challenges [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think it's much more interesting to have a villain with understandable motives than a creature that only exists to be a thing that will be difficult to kill.


That has long been an issue with many D&D monsters only existing as challenges for the player-heroes to overcome, with little if any thought given to their place in any given adventure.

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


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 12, 2:00pm

Post #16 of 18 (876 views)
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I wonder whether this crosses-over with the 'literary pedigree' subthread? [In reply to] Can't Post

Perhaps this is to do with Tolkien appearing to dismiss a lot of other dragons

I'm thinking that if the monster functions only as a sufficiently difficult challenge, then maybe a dragon could be swapped for some other challenger that is similarly impressive (or has equivalent stats, in D&D). If so, then the dragon is not 'essential' - it could be replaced by some other monster, or an evil knight etc. without much effect on 'the machinery and the ideas of a poem or tale'

~~~~~~
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


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 12, 2:23pm

Post #17 of 18 (869 views)
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D&D Monsters [In reply to] Can't Post

Many dungeon masters do put thought into their adventures and their campaign world, with challenges appropriate to the setting and the player-heroes. Even DMs who present more by-the-numbers adventures cannot just open the Monster Manual to a random page, declare this is what your party is fighting, and present a consistently satisfying game. That is a good way to establish a reputation as a 'Killer DM', but it is not a good technique to keep a group of players coming back to your table.

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


CuriousG
Half-elven


Aug 13, 7:13pm

Post #18 of 18 (818 views)
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Smaug, Saruman, and people [In reply to] Can't Post

Enjoying all the comparisons between the S-folks, which didnít hit me before.

The one thing I was also thinking was that while I appreciate hearing Smaugís inner thoughts, thereís never anything that makes me think heís distinctively a dragon vs. a human in a dragon suit. In particular, I think of how the Orcs and Elves in LOTR seem like stand-apart races based on their dialogue and their hopes, desires, fears, etc., but Smaug sounds like a regular human tyrant. Which I donít fault Tolkien for, just an observation.

Maybe thatís all the more reason that I now seem him as a proto-Saruman, his voice dripping with guile. I like Roverís point that he doesnít actually lie, he just twists words, manipulates feelings, and instills doubt.

All the same, does anyone see Smaug as sympathetic in the sense that they feel any loss when he dies? I donít, but I sorta did with Saruman in the sense that Saruman was a fallen person who missed his chance at redemption.

 
 

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