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***The Hobbit read-through -The Clouds Burst: 1 of 3 "Miserable Hobbit!"

noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 9, 11:22am

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***The Hobbit read-through -The Clouds Burst: 1 of 3 "Miserable Hobbit!" Can't Post

Thanks to sador for doing the honours last week, and welcome to this week’s chapter. I want to divide the chapter into three broadly chronological parts:

1) Miserable Hobbit! – today
2) Dain – Tuesday 11
3) The Battle of the Five Armies - Thursday 13th

As usual, I’ll raise some points to discuss, but it won’t cover everything, so if there’s any other point you’d like to discuss please raise it!

The chapter starts with negotiations resuming, which will quickly mean Bilbo facing the music for his decision to give the allies the Arkenstone. As was the case in ‘The Gathering Of The Clouds’ I think that I’ve not previously looked beyond the apparently obvious. My childhood reading was that Bilbo’s intervention was good and ultimately helpful. But on re-reading I’m wondering whether he has either made no difference, or has made things worse. I’ll be interested to see what you think.

The new round of negotiations has some interesting optics. Bard and the Elvenking come forward with ‘an old man wrapped in a cloak and hood [who] bore a strong casket of iron-bound wood’.


Quote
“Is there then nothing for which you would yield any of your gold?”
“Nothing that you or your friends have to offer.”
“What of the Arkenstone of Thrain?” said he, and at the same moment the old man opened the casket and held aloft the jewel. The light leapt from his hand, bright and white in the morning. Then Thorin was stricken dumb with amazement and confusion. No one spoke for a long while.


Why does Gandalf (we’ll find out soon that this old man is Gandalf) have the Arkenstone, not Bard or the Elvenking? Do you see any significance in it being revealed this way, then Gandalf being revealed as it’s keeper?

Thorin is (understandably?) enraged at Bilbo, but (surprisingly?) lets him go without serious harm.

Why does Thorin wish ‘I had Gandalf here’ – for revenge, or for advice?

Does Bilbo make a good case for his choices? To me he seems to defend his right to take the Arkenstone as his share and then dispose of it as he wishes (the narrow, legalistic point) but does not justify why he decided to do this. (If you agree about that) is this a mistake or a missed opportunity?

--

A sort of deal is arranged – Thorin will exchange one-fourteenth part of the treasure for the Arkenstone. It looks very like a ransom arrangement.

What has happened to Bard’s three demands of two chapters ago? To recap they were:
1) recognition of himself as dragon slayer and deliverer of the treasure;
2) Return of the treasures that Smaug stole from Dale, which he claims as heir to Dale’s throne;
3) Compensation for the destruction of Esgaroth.

Is the treasure exchanged for the Arkenstone to be full and final settlement for all three of these claims? (That is, I think, what Bilbo intends). Or is this a separate deal? The ‘real’ answer is probably unknowable, but what matters more in a way is what the different characters are thinking and assuming.

--
There is hesitation on both sides about making the actual gold-for-Arkenstone exchange. Thorin at least is negotiating in bad faith:


Quote
so strong was the bewilderment of the treasure upon him, he was pondering whether by the help of Dain he might not recapture the Arkenstone and withhold the share of the reward.


He also tries to impose some unilateral conditions (‘one fourteenth share of the hoard in silver and gold, setting aside the gems’).

In fact, after Dain arrives, an embassy goes to Thorin to ask about the gold, and receives only arrows – it seems to me that the deal’s off already.

I wonder whether the agreement wouldn’t have broken down anyway over one of very many points – who will judge what one-fourteenth is and which fourteenth is to be handed over, for example? Then there’s the physical problem of getting all that gold and silver out of Erebor without giving the allies an opportunity for a sneak attack (should they be so inclined). Is there enough mutual goodwill for this deal to work out, or is it doomed?

Even if the deal had been completed, how would it leave relationships between the two refounded new neighbouring kingdoms? How long before Bard’s original three demands resurfaced as an unmet grievance, or the ‘betrayal’ of Thorin becomes one from the dwarf side? I’m reflecting on how real-life grievances between national or ethnic groups seem to resurface eventually – often when someone has been enthusiastically excavating the buried hatchet, to promote their own ends.

I think it could be argued that Bilbo’s attempt at diplomacy has actually made the situation worse. The dwarves begin an attack – what would have been a Battle of the Three Armies – because ‘the knowledge that the Arkenstone was in the hands of the besiegers burned in their thoughts’. Had Bilbo not made his ‘Thief in the Night’ intervention, then perhaps things would have had a chance to settle down – Thorin is besieged by the allies who are in turn blockaded by Dain. Starvation and disease would presumably push someone to either negotiation or combat eventually, but long before that the goblins would have intervened and forced everyone to join against the common enemy. So maybe Bilbo only made Gandalf’s stop-the-war intervention more difficult and risky (and of course, more dramatic within the story).

Bilbo’s intervention, taking the Arkenstone to Bard, looks like a decisive moment in the story. But does it in the end make any difference? For example, would anything have been significantly different had Bilbo not made his move, and had been still with Thorin when Dain and then the Goblins arrived?

A few other arguments should be raised here:

Should we judge Bilbo's actions in other ways as well as 'whether it made a difference in the end'? Are there other aspects of his actions and their consequences we should consider ?

Is it too early too say Bilbo's plan has ‘gone wrong’ or ‘made no difference’?

If the ‘Thief In the Night’ episode doesn’t make any difference, what purpose does it have in the story?

I’ll be interested to read what you think!

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Sep 9, 1:47pm

Post #2 of 18 (364 views)
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Why Gandalf? [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf probably holds the Arkenstone because he is the nearest thing present to a neutral party (despite standing with Bard and the Elvenking). Also, he is well known to Thorin and his companions, though he has not yet revealed his identity to them.

Yes, Thorin does eventually release Bilbo unharmed, but it is a near thing. Only Gandalf's protestation seems to prevent the Dwarf-king from hurling the poor hobbit bodily over the wall. I think that it is clear in context that Thorin would relish inflicting the same treatment on the wizard that he threatens Bilbo with. At the very least, he has some serious words for Gandalf. At this point he does not seem inclined to take advice from his former companion.

I think that Bilbo realizes here that there is little point in arguing the fine details of his case with Thorin. The Dwarf is not in the mood for it and the hobbit recognizes this.

A sort of deal is arranged – Thorin will exchange one-fourteenth part of the treasure for the Arkenstone. It looks very like a ransom arrangement.

That is an accurate assessment; the Arkenstone is being ransomed for a one fourteenth share of the treasure. And, yes, this is a compromise that replaces the previous demands, though one might foresee the issue of the treasures of Dale coming up again in the future. The relief and compensation for the Lake-men and any gifts for the Elvenking will come out of what was to be Bilbo's share.

We could argue that Thorin doesn't feel that the deal reached is legally binding as it was made under duress. Therefore he is prepared to use any excuse to break it and the early arrival of Dain works perfectly for his intentions. If instead the Lord of the Iron Hills had arrived as expected then much would have depended upon his next actions (if not for the intervention of the goblins which makes the whole question a bit moot). Here we might see Gandalf's motive for withholding news of the goblins: If he revealed their coming too far in advance then Bard might have simply used the news as another bargaining chip, whereas Gandalf sees it as a last chance to unite the Free Peoples of the North.

I think that's all I want to say for now.

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


noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 9, 4:10pm

Post #3 of 18 (347 views)
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Gandalf's spoiler (the goblins are coming, but don't tell anyone) [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
We could argue that Thorin doesn't feel that the deal reached is legally binding as it was made under duress. Therefore he is prepared to use any excuse to break it and the early arrival of Dain works perfectly for his intentions. If instead the Lord of the Iron Hills had arrived as expected then much would have depended upon his next actions (if not for the intervention of the goblins which makes the whole question a bit moot). Here we might see Gandalf's motive for withholding news of the goblins: If he revealed their coming too far in advance then Bard might have simply used the news as another bargaining chip, whereas Gandalf sees it as a last chance to unite the Free Peoples of the North.


(my bolds)


I was wondering why Gandalf doesn't tell what he knows (if anything) about the approaching goblins and wargs. His comments to Bilbo last chapter are vague, but I at least think he does know something about the goblin army. The idea that he thinks it will complicate the negotiations seems a promising area to think about (and shines a better light on Tolkien as a writer than concluding that he has to have Gandalf behave out of character because otherwise it would spoil a surprise he wants to spring on his readers).

I'm now not coming to any firm conclusion about who benefits or suffers most from Gandalf withholding this information - I can see arguments for or against

if Gandalf revealed it now, wouldn't the three armies (dwarves, Men and elves) just be forced to join forces a little earlier?

On the other hand, maybe Gandalf reasons that Thorin would let the goblins defeat the allies, with Dain attacking them immediately after, or some such plan. That would have Dain save the day, turning the course of a battle that the allies were losing (to their inevitable gratitude, with an effect on negotiations). Or maybe Thorin and Dain would not mind the allies having been defeated, if it enabled a Stamford Bridge-like surprise attack by Dain on a goblin army that believed it had won, and was resting after a victory.

Thorin is, oddly enough, the party safest from the goblins, because his fortifications will work as well against goblins as elves or men. But perhaps (pace our discussion about storming Erebor 2 weeks back) the goblins would be content to take whatever casualties were required to overwhelm Thorin and his small force.

Yet another possibility (which I got from NeverFeltBetter's discussion on Thief in the Night) is that Gandalf is giving Thorin a chance to see what 'the bewilderment of the treasure' is doing to him. Arguably (my argument now, based on NFB's comments) Thorin fails that test, and Gandalf counts him out as part of the solution.

I expect there are further possible theories, and it would be fun to read them!

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 9, 8:10pm

Post #4 of 18 (333 views)
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Bilbo's success or lack thereof [In reply to] Can't Post

Did he make things worse? Or did things go wrong despite his best efforts? I haven't convinced myself either way, but I'm tending toward the latter.

On the surface, a deal was finally reached after an impasse and a declared siege, so better a deal than none. But the dwarves were itching for a fight, and I have trouble believing that Dain's army was marching with more peace beads than weapons while singing, "Give peace on earth a chance." And while I think the allies were not itching for a fight, neither were they terribly conciliatory or anxious to kiss, hug, and go home. There was gold in that thar hill, dad-gummit, and everyone felt entitled to a piece of it.

Trying to back up from the story and even forget that Bilbo was a hobbit, I start to see him as "the common man" who is an outsider with a good heart who tries to make the world a better place and finds out that no matter what he does, it's still going to be violent, greedy, and unreasonable. It's almost like the unofficial moral of the story. What happens if you stick to your friends, do your best, act bravely and alone, give up a great treasure, and appeal to everyone's best instincts, kids? Well, in this children's story, you wind up like Bilbo, rejected by your friends and stuck in a battle you have no stomach for and that you did your best to prevent. Sometimes that just happens.

So I'll blame it on fate, and say this was all going to go wrong anyway.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 9, 8:17pm

Post #5 of 18 (329 views)
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Today is my Sunday of ambivalence [In reply to] Can't Post

So I'm not sure if Gandalf is really playing a game of timing here, or if it's the author himself who just wants a big dramatic, almost biblical appearance by a prophet at the start of a battle between "the good tribes," warning them of the "sudden" onslaught of evil which they must all now unite against lest they perish. And thus they are redeemed by providence, for otherwise they would have add Dwarf/Elf/Man blood on their hands, whereas killing evil creatures bears no moral repercussions. I guess I'm in favor of the latter view, that Tolkien was going for a big bang in the plot here, and he pulled it off. I was thrilled/scared on first read that a whole army of goblins & wolves had shown up, so big that it forced the other 3 armies to unite against it, and so big that the outcome was long in doubt.

And then it gave Thorin a chance to redeem himself by appearing on the right side at the right time, finally seeing the point of unity instead of squabbling and nursed grievances. This was a far better way for him to die than being hacked in his own halls by Elves/Men who stormed his walls and overcame his army of 14 to get his gold.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 9, 8:21pm

Post #6 of 18 (330 views)
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Thorin, Gandalf, Bilbo, Reason [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Why does Thorin wish ‘I had Gandalf here’ – for revenge, or for advice?


So maybe this answers my previous question about why Gandalf didn't negotiate in person with Thorin as one of the few he'd trust. He only wants to see him to blame him for his stupid choice of burglars, not to seek his advice. Gandalf would have been a more polished negotiator than Bard, but I doubt he'd be good enough to change Thorin's mind.


Quote
Does Bilbo make a good case for his choices? To me he seems to defend his right to take the Arkenstone as his share and then dispose of it as he wishes (the narrow, legalistic point) but does not justify why he decided to do this. (If you agree about that) is this a mistake or a missed opportunity?

Bilbo certainly does, but being the Voice of Reason when someone is in a near-murderous rage doesn't win you any points, and in fact can just inflame the enraged person more. But Bilbo remains admirable as someone who doesn't sink to Thorin's level.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Sep 9, 8:33pm

Post #7 of 18 (326 views)
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When the good guys are Thieves/Burglars, and we loves them forever [In reply to] Can't Post


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If the ‘Thief In the Night’ episode doesn’t make any difference, what purpose does it have in the story?

I think it makes a big difference in The Hobbit of showing that Bilbo is not only decent to the core, but unlike some decent people, he'll act on his morals, even stake everything on them.

That's good enough for The Hobbit, but it has the added benefit of explaining in LOTR why the Ring has so little effect on him, and also explains why his nephew Frodo, who is similarly in a geopolitical situation way over his head, makes a similarly chivalrous decision to do his best whatever the odds, and despite his inability to control all the outcomes.




noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 10, 8:50am

Post #8 of 18 (295 views)
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A for effort, E for achievement, F for fate? [In reply to] Can't Post

So perhaps what matters is that Bilbo was willing to take the action that seemed best to him for the greater good (as it seemed to him)? And that is still a worthy thing for him to do if he tried to do the right thing for the right reason, even if his scheme was naive and maybe never stood much chance of working?

That seems an entirely workable way of looking at it to me (is that what you meant?).

The issue of Fate is an interesting one. From his Quest of Erebor vantage point, I suppose Tolkien might have been taking it very seriously - the whole of Bilbo's adventure is 'meant' to give the Free peoples a slightly better chance against Sauron by removing the Ring far to the West, finding it a more suitable keeper, and cultivating anti-Sauron regimes around Erebor.

Of course when writing The Hobbit, we know from Tolkien Studies that Tolkien hadn't thought of all of that (though perhaps he would counter that the later realised it had been true all along).

In any case, finding ideas about Fate in stories can be a bit tricky - the storyteller plots the story until it comes out satisfactorily*, and so to a greater or lesser extent they act as a force of Fate for their characters.

--
*Except for odd experiments such as Pilip K Dick plotting a story by use of the I Ching, and feeling he never quite understood the ending...

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 10, 3:00pm

Post #9 of 18 (285 views)
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being the Voice of Reason when someone is in a near-murderous rage doesn't win you any points [In reply to] Can't Post

Good point. In fact, rather than either trying to CBT an angry dwarf king, or just get outa there alive, Bilbo spends his moment telling Thorin what's what:


Quote
‘Perhaps I took it too literally—I have been told that dwarves are sometimes politer in word than in deed. The time was, all the same, when you seemed to think that I had been of some service. Descendant of rats, indeed! Is this all the service of you and your family that I was promised, Thorin? Take it that I have disposed of my share as I wished, and let it go at that!”’


Hardly 'going to the balcony' as William Ury, the win-win negotiations guy calls the technique of inhibiting your actions in order to think of a wise response. On the other hand, had I just been shaken like a rabbit, I doubt I'd do any better!

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


sador
Half-elven


Sep 12, 12:04pm

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Just one comment: [In reply to] Can't Post

I must say in advance that I will have hardly any time in the coming weeks, so I apologize and thank you for organizing this discussion.


Is it too early too say Bilbo's plan has ‘gone wrong’ or ‘made no difference’?
Well, Bilbo himself will later have this kind of thoughts. But one really useful came out of this episode - the terms have been set. After the Battle of Five Armies, there is a simple basis to agree upon.
Otherwise, the bickering would inevitably have begun again.


(This post was edited by sador on Sep 12, 12:05pm)


sador
Half-elven


Sep 12, 12:08pm

Post #11 of 18 (205 views)
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Qutoing Smaug, of all people. [In reply to] Can't Post

One thing Bilbo might be doing is trying to clear his own conscience.


And did you note, that Thorin's free gift (the mithril coat) was never demanded back? Does this mean that Thorin was at the bottom honourable - or did it never occur to him until Bilbo was safely away?


noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 12, 12:21pm

Post #12 of 18 (201 views)
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Does this mean that Thorin was at the bottom honourable [In reply to] Can't Post

I think so - he just wants what is his (as he sees it). Of course, 'what is his' is a bit debatable.

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 12, 12:25pm

Post #13 of 18 (200 views)
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the terms have been set [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that's a good point. Unless I'm mistaken, Thorin did technically agree to the one-fourteenth of the treasure for the Arkenstone swap, so it gives Dain a simple agreement to honour. But I expect we'll discuss all that next week.

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


squire
Half-elven


Sep 12, 9:21pm

Post #14 of 18 (168 views)
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The mithril coat was not the mithril coat back then. [In reply to] Can't Post

Thorin does call it "the first payment of your reward", but it's not clear how much he values it.

For one thing, all the dwarves have just armed themselves in similar mail-coats and weaponry, which were freely available "from the walls". We can infer that there were far more of these than the 13 dwarves needed. Then Thorin's coat is gold-plated; his new axe is silver and his belt is crawling with rubies; it's not as if Bilbo's coat is fancier than the others.

Add to this that Bilbo's coat and helmet, having been made "for some young elf-prince", can't possibly be worn by a grown dwarf, and it seems clear that Thorin is giving Bilbo a freebie, not a treasure worth everything in the Shire. That bit came later, in LotR, and there's not a mention in The Hobbit of anything like it. Bilbo's coat is surely beautiful, being of dwarvish make, but it's merely a child's play-weapon in Thorin's eyes.



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noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 13, 1:47pm

Post #15 of 18 (130 views)
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Mithril [In reply to] Can't Post

I suppose that, at the time Thorin gives Bilbo the armour, the dwarves don't yet know that Smaug is dead. Their plan at this point is presumably to carry off all they can before Smaug returns and then to get away. If the coat is a first payment, and the total payment (not yet reached) will be 1/14th of all they can carry off, then it can't be worth much more that what the other dwarves put on. But that's using logic, which has to bow to storytelling sometimes. And in any case Tolkien hints strongly that the dwarves are a bit overwhelmed - examining the treasure as if Smaug's return was not expected, and needing Bilbo to move them back to reality. So possibly 'logic' wouldn't be Thorin's mode of thought just then.

I like the idea, myself, that the hoard is so fabulously rich that some comparatively piffling item from it would nonetheless be worth more than the price of an estate the size of the whole Shire. But I see that it's all inconsistent with Gimli's shocked reaction in Moria (LOTR), saying that the coat was 'a kingly gift'. That doesn't' sound to me as if there were many things in the hoard that fine.

By LOTR (I suppose), Tolkien has other concerns - I assume he wants to remind us that Frodo has highly effective armour (because it is about to be tested), and then I think the episode functions to prepare us for the orc fight over the mithril coat, which allows Frodo and Sam over the Mordor border.


On a literal level, my 2e Hobbit text does call the coat 'mithril' - was this one of Tolkien's 2e changes for consistency with LOTR?

My other random thought - there's some generosity, or self-control or something in Thorin not demanding Bilbo strip and get away with nothing other than his surrendered Arkenstone. It seems to me that such a mean impulse that might overcome another person in Thorin's position, who would want the armour back as a 'point of principle', even if Bilbo was wearing something far less spectacular.

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


squire
Half-elven


Sep 13, 5:37pm

Post #16 of 18 (99 views)
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To answer just the question about the occurrence of 'mithril' in The Hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

As you've guessed, it is a second edition emendation for consistency with Lord of the Rings. The original text is:
"With that he put on Bilbo a small coat of mail, wrought for some young elf-prince long ago. It was of silvered steel and ornamented with pearls, and with ornamented with pearls, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals."
One secondary question I've always been curious about is the idea that a "young elf-prince" was the intended recipient of this coat. Is that consistent with Tolkien's later thoughts about the youth of royal Elves: that in the few early years before their growth to a taller height than a halflng, and certainly before their millennia of adult life, their father the King would commission a hideously expensive mail-coat for them - not to fight in, presumably, but to pose in, perhaps for the royal family portrait that preserves the briefest instant in the life of a family that will live until the end of the World?



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noWizardme
Valinor


Sep 13, 7:10pm

Post #17 of 18 (85 views)
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In the days that elves were smaller... [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that - i was trying to work out which edition 'mithril' first appeared in, but I was finding 'A Brief History of The Hobbit' a bit unclear on that point. Not Rateliff's fault - I've been trying to dip into the book at need, instead of giving it proper attention first.

Rateliff does note that Tolkien added 'young' (to 'for some young elf-prince long ago' ) in pencil as a correction to his draft. This makes Rateliff wonder whether Tolkien was still sometimes thinking of the elves as smaller than modern humans when he first wrote this passage (something that would be consistent with his early 'fairy poetry'.)

In the real world, I believe that a number of suits of armour made for children survive. I don't know to what extent these were for play, portraits or parades, and to what extent they were deadly serious. Medieval noble boys would train as warriors throughout what we'd consider school age nowadays, I think, and perhaps it was important to have proper armour to get used to the weight and how it moved? (Quite likely someone on this board will know all about this!) Actual military service could start pretty early - 'The Black Prince', (who was an heir to the English throne who never became king), was given a command at the battle of Crecy, aged 16. He was personally involved in the fighting, at one stage being knocked to the ground and only saved by his standard-bearer.

If so a modern parallel to buying child armour might be parents who buy good quality smaller-sized musical instruments for a child, on the grounds that a poor quality one will make learning much more difficult and hold the kid back. The stakes would obviously be higher then, if one was trying to help the young prince to survive on the battlefields of the future, and to show the impressive fighting skill needed to impress followers.

But elves would be different to historical humans perhaps - maybe there were likely to be millennia to learn combat skills having reached full size, rather than being wanted on the battlefield before being full-grown.


Whoever the elf princeling was, the commission was presumably never delivered. I expect fan fiction authors have had some fun with the possible explanations.

~~~~~~
Now you dwarves must be careful with that machine with a rotating cutting tip or reciprocating hammer or chisel, used for making holes - it's not a drill, y'know!"


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 13, 10:56pm

Post #18 of 18 (68 views)
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Maybe Gandalf did tell them [In reply to] Can't Post

Or at least hinted. But maybe the parties where too locked in their negotiations to listen. At least at that time!

 
 

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