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***The Hobbit Read-through: Chapter 18 - :"The Return Journey" (Part 3 of 3)


Sep 20 2018, 4:03am

Post #1 of 12 (2740 views)
***The Hobbit Read-through: Chapter 18 - :"The Return Journey" (Part 3 of 3) Can't Post

Wintering with Beorn

Tolkien writes that Bilbo faced many “hardships and adventures” during his return to his home, though he was never again in any great danger. The goblins and Wargs had been quelled, but what other hazards do you think the three travelers might have encountered on their way to Beorn’s house?

The hobbit, the wizard and the skin-changer reached Beorn’s home in time for Yule-tide, which Tolkien informs us in the Lord of the Rings appendices (“Appendix D -- The Calendars”) is a mid-winter celebration observing the last three days of the old year and the first three days of the new one. Many men of the region come to feast at Beorn’s house at his bidding. Bilbo and Gandalf remain there for the rest of the winter. Tolkien tells us that the bear-man becomes a great chieftain and rules “a wide land between the mountains and the wood” and that many of his male descendants shared his ability to take the shape of a bear.

Was this Yule-tide inspired more by pagan observances of mid-winter or by the Christian observance of Christmastide? What does Beorn’s actions say about how he has changed since the Battle of Five Armies? Were all the women of Beorn’s line denied the abilities of a skin-changer, or might some have take a different form, perhaps that of a deer or a swan?

In the springtime Bilbo and Gandalf take their leave of Beorn, heading south to reach the road leading back to the High Pass, where the Company of Thorin had been captured by goblins the year before. Here Bilbo utters the line: “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!” as he finds his Tookish side well-satisfied and his greatest desire is to return home.

The appendices provide a likely date for the pair’s departure from Beorn’s house: April 6 (Shire-date) is the New Year’s Day of the Calendar of Imladris and seems like a fortuitous date for starting a journey. Of course Bilbo and Gandalf could have set off earlier, though probably not before mid-March unless they experienced some serious delays along the away (the next chapter has Bilbo and Gandalf reaching Rivendell on March 1).

What adventures might Bilbo and Gandalf have had that spring before reaching Rivendell? Do you think Gandalf found his “more or less decent giant” to help him block up the goblins’ Front Porch? Do you imagine that the pair encountered any goblins at all during their passage?

Finally, how would you compare Bilbo and Gandalf’s travels back from the Lonely Mountain with the return journey of Frodo and his companions from Minas Tirith?

Thank you for your patience and forbearance. Feel free to bring up any questions or points that I ignored or overlooked.

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


Sep 20 2018, 11:29am

Post #2 of 12 (2686 views)
"It were too tedious to tell the tenth part of his adventures" (Sir Gawayne and The Green Knight) [In reply to] Can't Post

Bilbo's long, largely untold journey home reminds me of Gawain's journey in Sir Gawain and the Green knight (which Tolkien certainly knew because he translated it, but I could more readily find this version from Project Gutenburg):

Many a cliff he climbed over;
many a ford and stream he crossed, and everywhere he found a foe.
It were too tedious to tell the tenth part of his adventures
with serpents, wolves, and wild men;
with bulls, bears, and boars.
Had he not been both brave and good, doubtless he had been dead
The sharp winter was far worse than any war that ever troubled him.

Sir Gawayne and The Green Knight:
Trans. RICHARD MORRIS, 1869.

[*Mildly related and probably useless information: 'Wild men' is Morris' translation of 'wodwos', from which, I think Tolkien is supposed to have got 'wood-woses'. ]

Of course, Bilbo has brought his own 'bear' with him. But I wonder whether Sir Gawayne is what Tolkien had in mind for a largely unappreciated winter journey, or whether he needed Bilbo to travel over winter for some other purpose (I don't see any compelling plot reason why Bilbo couldn't stay with his dwarven friends until the weather was better for travel, for example).

Pushing on with this line of speculation, Gawayne also stops for Yule with a gruff but hospitable host who turns out to have more than one guise.

"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


Sep 20 2018, 12:52pm

Post #3 of 12 (2679 views)
Mister Baggins and the Grey Wizard [In reply to] Can't Post

While Tolkien might well have been inspired somewhat by the Middle-english poem, Bilbo's journey home with Gandalf seems to have been much less fraught with peril than was that of Sir Gawayne. Unlike the knight, we are told that Bilbo "was never in great danger again", though I note that Tolkien tells us that there were hardships and adventures on the way back. Surely any goblins, hobgoblins or orcs of the the worst description would have swiftly regretted their actions if they attempted to waylay the trio in the vicinity of the Grey Mountains. They might instead have suffered more from the effects of such natural hazards as a sudden snowstorm in the narrows north of the Forest. My thinking is that the dangers of the road might have been a slightly greater issue for Bilbo and Gandalf traveling by themselves the following spring.

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

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Sep 20 2018, 12:54pm)


Sep 21 2018, 5:01pm

Post #4 of 12 (2656 views)
Magic for boys and girls [In reply to] Can't Post

There's no telling, of course, what magical powers if any the women of Beorn's tribe might have had. But this rather helpful website has stuff about Norse and germanic concepts of magic, and I've found them helpful in forming my own personal understanding of how to imagine magic in Middle-earth. And it suggests that there was a division of magic according to one's gender:


The only type of Norse magic that is clearly marked off from other kinds of magic in Old Norse literature is seidr, a form of “high” ritual magic practiced only by women and “unmanly” men such as the god Odin. Men who practiced magic typically delved into the amorphous complex of “warrior shamanism” practiced by initiatory military societies. The Old Norse word galdr, derived from galan, “to crow,”[8] denotes magic that centrally involves the use of runes and incantations, and may have referred to another particularly organized magical system, but, due to the absence of sufficient evidence, this must remain an intriguing speculation.

Norse Mythology for Smart People, Daniel McCoy

"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

N.E. Brigand

Sep 21 2018, 6:07pm

Post #5 of 12 (2644 views)
Isn't that passage from Gawain's outward journey? [In reply to] Can't Post

Rather than his trip home?

(I agree that it's a likely source either way!)

Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.

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Sep 21 2018, 6:35pm

Post #6 of 12 (2652 views)
yes [In reply to] Can't Post

...it's just before Christmas, which he spends with a hospitable knight with a secret, and the knight's more than hospitable wife.

it's a good story. And it's also the one that Alan Garner studied at college and was mystified by why the text was assumed to need so many notes - to him it was pretty easy to understand once one realised that it was in his local dialect (like the Gawain poet, he was from the north-west of England).

"I was reading, voluntarily, the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and I wondered why there were so many footnotes. My grandfather was an unlettered smith, but he would have not needed all these footnotes if a native speaker had read the poem to him aloud.

–a little on a lande · a lawe as hit were; A balg berg bi a bonke · the brimme besyde, Bi a fors of a flode · that ferked there.

This was no Latin creole. This was what I knew as “talking broad’. I had had my mouth washed out with carbolic soap for speaking that way when I was five years old. The Hopi, and other peoples, report the same treatment today.

Hit hade a hole on the ende · and on ayther syde, And overgrowen with gresse · in glodes aywhere, And al was holwe inwith · nobbut a cave, Or a crevisse of an old cragge, · . . .

Every generation needs its voice, but here was I, at home in the fourteenth century, and finding the English of later centuries comparatively alien, unrewarding. “Yon’s a grand bit of stuff,” my father said when I read a passage to him, which he understood completely. “I recollect as Ozzie Leah were just the same.”

“And that’s what all our clothing coupons went on, to get you your school uniform?* ” said my mother. Something had gone wrong.

“Is there any more?” said my father."

The Voice That Thunders, by Alan Garner

*Garner is remembering a time when accent was a potent symbol of class in England. He went to a grammar school & would have been taught to speak received pronunciation.

"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Sep 21 2018, 6:41pm)


Sep 21 2018, 8:07pm

Post #7 of 12 (2643 views)
"...accent was a potent symbol of class in England" [In reply to] Can't Post

It's good to know that's no longer true.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Sep 21 2018, 8:17pm

Post #8 of 12 (2633 views)
Girl-power! [In reply to] Can't Post

I was originally thinking of swan maidens, selkies and the like, but I do like the idea of the women of Beorn's original folk instead practicing a sort of ritual, 'high' magic.

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


Sep 21 2018, 8:45pm

Post #9 of 12 (2632 views)
Interesting that Odin was “unmanly” [In reply to] Can't Post

Being king of the gods and a great warrior and all, I thought he was the epitome of manly.


Sep 22 2018, 7:35am

Post #10 of 12 (2582 views)
Got past the carbolic soap, hopefully [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course one English-speaker still can’t say more than a few words to another without presenting a lot of information about their background, ready for the listener to apply any prejudices.

But there’s a particular variant of a southern English acent that is ubiquitous in radio or tv recordings from the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, and which was (I think) taken to be almost the only form of educated speech. It would be rare to hear that accent now except in theatrical performance.

Certainly nowadays Prof. Simon Armitage can present this programme about Gawain and his translation of it in his native West Yorkshire accent, which I doubt would have been the presentation in Tolkien’s day:


The cinematography of the programme is lovely too, so if you have some or all of the hour needed, I recommend it

"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 24 2018, 9:49pm

Post #11 of 12 (2388 views)
One little thing [In reply to] Can't Post

About the safe return journeys. In Lotr they meet Saruman almost as an afterthought, but he causes trouble later on. In the Hobbit almost as a throway line we hear about the Necromancer. Who causes considerable trouble later on.


Sep 25 2018, 3:32am

Post #12 of 12 (2366 views)
Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

I would point out that the threat of the Necromancer is telegraphed as early as the unexpected party, though we don't get much information about the scope and nature of the threat he represents. The conversation between Gandalf and Elrond tells us more, but still leaves much more unsaid. Also, the complications brought by Saruman are resolved within The Lord of the Rings while the Necromancer doesn't surface again as a problem until years after the events of The Hobbit.

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


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