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***The Hobbit read-through -General discussion, summing up
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CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 7, 8:45pm

Post #51 of 70 (3040 views)
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Playing favorites [In reply to] Can't Post

"I love all my children/Tolkien sections equally."

With that out of the way, I liked the beginning the most, probably because it's light-hearted, so "An Unexpected Party" through the stay in Rivendell.

"Riddles In the Dark" is a favorite because of the contrast in characters and their riddles, the complexity of the scene, and also because it's so pivotal to LOTR.

If I could special order a re-write by Tolkien, I'd ask him to end the story soon after Smaug being killed, with Thorin becoming king of the mountain and living in peace with his neighbors, and Bilbo going home rich. I can appreciate the story as is, but I think I could also appreciate it without the dark turn of events and deaths at the end.


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Oct 7, 9:09pm

Post #52 of 70 (3042 views)
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Other mentions of the events of the Hobbit in other parts of Tolkien's tales. [In reply to] Can't Post

Such as those that where not in the text of the Hobbit as it was written. I can think of a few of these. There is the part i where we get a sample of the first chapter but more of the point of view from Thorin and Gandalf. Which makes me wonder what other parts of the tale we could have seen from a non-Bilbo perspective.
Or the part where we hear about Gandalf and Thorin meeting in Bree. The further accounts of Durin's folk in the appendixes of Lotr including the Moria sub-plot and some more material about Dragons. I suppose that the meeting of Frodo and Gloin in Rivendell is almost a summing up of events in the wild after the Hobbit. Or even Gandalf's later thoughts about the stragetic reasons for reforming Erebor.


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Oct 9, 10:55pm

Post #53 of 70 (2986 views)
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And one more thing [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf's general stragetic justification for helping out the Dwarves in the quest As mentioned elsewhere. As I understand it, he would have liked to see Erebor restored as a buffer state almost against any outstretched arm from Sauron against the undefended lands west of the misty mountains. Only thing is, I'm not sure that I buy this. Was there really no defences against a potential Mordor army in all the leagues between the lonely mountain and the Shire? As I see it, there would still have been the Dwarves of the iron hillls, the men of lake-town, other men, probably, the
Elves of mirkwood, even mirkwood itself would not have been too easy for any Mordor people to cross, then we have Beorn and his people, the woodmen and of course Rivendell itself.
I think that's a few defences! Although removing a large obsticle like Smaug is an advantage of course.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Oct 10, 1:36pm

Post #54 of 70 (2978 views)
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If Smaug remained in the Mountain [In reply to] Can't Post

The problem was that North Rhovanion was polit. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills were far from any other large settlements of the Free Peoples; nor did Dáin seem to have any close allies among Elves or Men (perhaps there was a small town of Men located nearby from which the Dwarves could trade for food, work animals and other goods).

The Elves of Mirkwood traded with the Men of the Lake, but they did not seem to have any sort of pact for mutual defense. Esgaroth was too small to put up much more of a defense then throwing down the bridge and preparing for a siege. The Elves of Lothlórien were protected by the Ring possessed by Galadriel, but they remained isolated in the Golden Wood.

Without the Battle of Five Armies, Beorn would likely have remained a hermit and would not have united many of the Woodmen and other Men of the Vales of Anduin under him. Bard would have remained a captain of the bowmen of Lake-town while Dale would still be in ruins.

As the Necromancer, Sauron had occupied Dol Guldur in Mirkwood for most of two thousand years. It seems likely that his servants knew of a number of secret tracks through Mirkwood. And marching troops (whether Orcs or Men) around the southern eaves of the Forest would not have been difficult.

Then there is the dragon to consider. Even if Sauron could not convince Smaug to ally with him willingly, he might trick the worm into believing that the Lake-men, or some other group among the Free Peoples of the North, were plotting to rob him; in that way the Dark Lord could set Smaug against his enemies.

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


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 16, 11:05am

Post #55 of 70 (2547 views)
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Does anyone think this was a book about good vs evil? [In reply to] Can't Post

I’m making the comparison to LOTR, which definitely was about that. I am having trouble seeing it in The Hobbit, where is was more about safety vs danger.

I like Smaug, in a way, at least when he’s playing cat & mouse with Bilbo, not when he’s destroying Laketown. But I also think Smaug was content to sleep on his treasure practically forever, and he hadn’t bothered Laketown in generations. I wouldn’t call him evil the way Sauron, the Balrog, and the Nazgul were evil.

What do others think?


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Oct 16, 1:15pm

Post #56 of 70 (2528 views)
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Part of that first sentence got dropped. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The problem was that North Rhovanion was polit.


Oops! That should have read: "The problem was that North Rhovanion was politically divided." Trouble with my keypad left the sentence garbled and I only just caught it!

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


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Oct 16, 1:24pm

Post #57 of 70 (2528 views)
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Good vs. Evil? [In reply to] Can't Post

It is such a story in a manner of speaking, though perhaps not in the conventional sense. Certainly there are evils to be overcome, both externally and internally. Bilbo and the company face wicked Trolls, Goblins, Wargs, spiders, etc.; not to mention Gollum and the dragon. However, they must also struggle with inner demons: Bilbo must decide whether to slay Gollum and later what to do with the Arkenstone; Thorin must overcome his own greed and stubbornness Other characters need to set aside their differences for the common good.

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


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 16, 9:49pm

Post #58 of 70 (2481 views)
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Evil vs hungry vs enemies [In reply to] Can't Post

The goblins seem evil. I'm not sure if the trolls really are evil in the moral sense, or if they are just hungry, primitive brutes. Gollum is evil, but the wolves and spiders--they're hungry and want to eat. The spiders torment their food before eating it, but so do real-world cats, so are cats morally evil?

Then Smaug--it's hard for me to see a sleeping dragon as evil. Re-imagine LOTR where Sauron doesn't invade anyone or send the Nazgul anywhere and just sleeps in Barad-dur: would he be evil? I guess I'm taking a position of, "If they're evil, they have to prove it." True, Smaug destroyed a kingdom and a city and stole a treasure plus he ate plenty of people, so he was evil in the past, but I just never get that feeling in the present. More the sense that he's dangerous and has no pity, but he's not like the dragon Glaurung who casts spells on Hurin's family to make them tormented and miserable. Maybe Smaug is "evil lite."

But good point about evil coming up within the good characters such as Thorin.

More broadly, The Hobbit seems to be about fighting adversaries. The Elven-king is hostile to the dwarves and vice versa, but neither side is evil. I don't think we're meant to find the Elven-king morally evil for imprisoning the dwarves, more that he was harsh, unfair, and an adversary for the protagonists to overcome (but he was still moral enough that he fed his prisoners well and didn't torture them). Otherwise, Bilbo wouldn't have wound up on his side during BOFA. But think of Sauron in The Silmarillion imprisoning Felagund and Beren and sending werevolves to devour their companions one by one: pure evil.


noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 17, 2:50pm

Post #59 of 70 (2404 views)
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It's Interestingly non-binary - no Team Good versus Team Evil [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Quote

All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides', and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot. As people mature they cease to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots.

Virginia Woolf: A Room Of One's Own


I can recall many books, comics and films of my childhood like this: characters were all either 'good guys' for the audience to support uncritically, or 'bad guys' (boo! Hiss!). The division was absolute, easy to see, and the point was to set up Sides so that there could be jolly battles, gallant rescues (even if they involved -eeeew- kissing the love interest, who is basically Miss Hayley Ornamental-Pott); or other nice, uncomplicated our-side-their-side excitement. The nature of the Sides, or how they became Sides, or the compromises inherent in belonging to a Side are unimportant in such works. Gunning down the Legions of Terror is just Jolly Good Fun and Very Manly, and certainly nobody is going to spoil their pursuit of the Headmaster's ornamental pot by thinking:


Quote

“It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would rather have stayed there in peace.”

LOTR TT


Such thoughts can't be allowed in a simple Sides story, because such thoughts make one "cease to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots."

In TH, before we even get to the complications around dividing the dragon's treasure, Tolkien keeps telling us that the Elf King is good (etc.) . I think he has to do so because he's been showing us not a Good King (for a story with two Sides; Team Good versus Team Evil) but a more rounded King who is out for his own good, including locking up our favourite dwarves, and plotting to relieve them of any treasure on their return trip.

Or for that matter, is Beorn 'Good'; or the Master?
And who gets the ornamental pot from the Headmaster - is that who you might have expected?

I think the good-evil binary is an interesting though inevitably partial way to look at TH, as are other possible binaries (danger-safety; ancient concepts of honour - modern concepts of fairness; and so on) .

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


Roverandom
The Shire


Oct 17, 4:30pm

Post #60 of 70 (2390 views)
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Q: What's Black and White...but Grey All Over? [In reply to] Can't Post

A: The Hobbit!

Black and White/Good and Evil describes, as you've rightly said, most adventure stories written for children. If we're to take The Hobbit as such a tale (and we have, myself included, referred to it as such throughout our months of discussion and analysis), then it stands to reason that we should view everyone on Bilbo's "side" as Good and everyone who opposes him as Evil.

I think the beauty of The Hobbit, however, is in its Grey-ness. Your point about LotR, as illustrated by that wonderful passage concerning the ambush in Ithilien that ends with Sam's misgivings, might also be made for TH. The narrative operates simultaneously on both levels: fairy tale and grown-up novel. Imagine! An adventure written for children, yet it offers the subtlety of character and motive that we see in the Elvenking and the outright dichotomy of words and actions that we get from Thorin? I think that it's to the author's everlasting credit that he gave us a children's story with such challenging characters.

All this to say that I agree with the thoughts that Good and Evil aren't in play here. Evil is meant to be reviled and opposed by Good, no questions asked. You aren't supposed to like Evil; but Tolkien presents comical trolls, spiders, and goblins as our villains. (If you don't believe me, try reading their dialogue aloud in a suitable accent!) It's very hard to look at Bill, Tom and Bert as Evil. I've said before that Smaug is my favorite character, the more so because of his transcending the traditional Good vs. Evil delineation. To me he is Fagin, Long John Silver, or Harry Lime. You hate what they do, but you can't help liking them.

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


Oct 18, 5:50pm

Post #61 of 70 (2285 views)
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Treasure Hobbit! [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I've said before that Smaug is my favorite character, the more so because of his transcending the traditional Good vs. Evil delineation. To me he is Fagin, Long John Silver, or Harry Lime. You hate what they do, but you can't help liking them.


This started me thinking about TH and Treasure Island. They are both books that a latter-day version of Woolf's headmaster himself might give out as prizes, but both of them are not quite the hearty there-and-back-again treasure quest adventure they first appear to be. Like TH, Treasure Island involves shifting alliances, double-crosses, and (as you mention) Very Interesting Villains. It also goes to show that while some stories for children (not to mention works for adults) are tales of Sides, some aren't.

Stevenson said a propos Romance novels (as he called them):


Quote
Character to a boy is a sealed book; for him, a pirate is a beard, a pair of wide trousers and a liberal complement of pistols. The author, for the sake of circumstantiation and because he was himself more or less grown up, admitted character, within certain limits, into his design; but only within certain limits...Danger is the matter with which this class of novels deals; fear the passion with which it idly trifles...To add more traits, to be too clever, to start the hare of moral or intellectual interest while we are running the fox of material interest, is not to enrich but to stultify the tale.

[RL Sevenson - 'A Humble Remonstrance' which I'm quoting from Peter Hunt's Introduction to The Oxford World Classics edition of Treasure Island (OUP, 2011).]


Hunt goes on to make the point (I'll paraphrase) that in Treasure Island Stevenson DOES manage to run both the fox and the hare simultaneously. For example, as a 'hare' Hunt notes that the 'gentlemen' (Jim's faction, and which a hasty reader might file under 'Good') have motives and use means that are hard to distinguish from those of the pirates.

The trick, of managing both hare and fox, I suppose, is to not let the hare get in the way of the fox hunt and confuse a reader who is not sufficiently sophisticated to manage hares, but can enjoy foxes. I'd argue that Tolkien also manages this 'fox and hare' trick in TH. Readers for whom 'character is a sealed book' can manage with dwarves, elves and so on as tropes that enable us to follow the fox only and get on with the story as a kind of romance novel. But there's more to it than that for readers who are also able to follow the hare.

~~~~~~
"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 Oct 18, 6:04pm)


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 7:25am

Post #62 of 70 (2233 views)
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Not really, but I like your observation [In reply to] Can't Post

I´m pleased to hear you are better able to see TH as a story in its own right - I think it´s much easier to properly enjoy the story if one doesn´t constantly compare it to LOTR.

I also believe the same holds true for the Silmarillion. If you approach it hoping to repeat or having a similiar experience like you´ve had with LOTR, you´re bound to get disappointed or annoyed.

Over the years I´ve come to appreciate more and more Tolkien´s versatility and variety, how he was able to write different kinds of stories with their own distinct charm. It´s a quite remarkable feat and not very common.


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 8:12am

Post #63 of 70 (2225 views)
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great question - chapter 9 - 11 is my favourite section [In reply to] Can't Post

I enjoy this section among other things because of the deft way Tolkien handles questions like local politics and popular sentiment, the importance of power relations built on trade and the agendas of the various main characters (chapter 10). Those are unusually realistic elements to insert into a children´s story/adventure story and I like how it sets up the conflicts seen later and gives room for many nuances in how we perceive the leading characters. We´re given the opportunity to understand the skills and points of view of the various characters instead of simply judging them. The reader also gets to see the more theatrical nature of human nature, which I also found quite unusual and interesting in a children´s adventure story. All of this also leads to very interesting questions and dilemmas later on that makes the Hobbit a book worth re-reading rather than just letting it stay on the shelf.

Another thing I think Tolkien executes superbly in this section is showing realistic reactions and mood swings in people´s emotions. I´m thinking for instance of the change from the euphoria of Lake Town to the somber mood of the dwarves in the desolation of Smaug, or the feeling of inertia and hopelessness when they´re sitting and waiting on the doorstep. Or how the dwarves go from singing Bilbo´s praise to being more and more inclined to give specific "dirty" jobs to BiIbo. I don´t think I would have enjoyed the Hobbit as much as I do if it was less realistic in describing how people are likely to behave or feel in specific circumstances. Seen from a conventional perspective the Hobbit is often a decidely unheroic tale, which also makes it a richer and more rewarding story.


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 8:30am

Post #64 of 70 (2224 views)
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a few thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

I don´t know if I have any opinions on the dwarves as a unit - certainly they are introduced at the outset to make the story more magical. The most distinct aspect of the dwarves is their propensity for mining and craftmanship as well as their possessiveness in regards to the things they have made or inherited. Otherwise their behaviour is very realistic and quite human, it´s easy to like them, understand their actions and identify with them.

We don´t get inside the dwarves´ head because the story is seen from Bilbo´s perspective. The author at times tries to explain their motivations, but this is seen from the outside and from a traditional authorial position rather than by getting inside their heads.


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 9:07am

Post #65 of 70 (2220 views)
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What about you? [In reply to] Can't Post

Do you have a favourite section? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 9:12am

Post #66 of 70 (2221 views)
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Why are you not over fond of the Gimli type of dwarves? [:)] [In reply to] Can't Post

What is it about them that doesn´t appeal to you? I´m curious, since I find it easy to like both Gimli and the type of dwarves we see in the Hobbit.


noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 19, 12:40pm

Post #67 of 70 (2209 views)
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"a quite remarkable feat and not very common" [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Over the years I´ve come to appreciate more and more Tolkien´s versatility and variety, how he was able to write different kinds of stories with their own distinct charm. It´s a quite remarkable feat and not very common.


I agree - I can think of more writers who produce either many similar books in the same setting, or move from one setting to another. Probably that is in part because of the realities of the publishing business - have a success with one work and the publisher is likely to ask for more of the same. That's quite separate to authors' proclivities, limitations and how they go about their work. For some authors (and for multi-author teams if a large commercial venture is planned from the outset) a lot of early work goes into establishing and maintaining consistency and 'canon': that's in contrast to how Tolkien worked.

We've touched a few times upon Tolkien's attempts to square TH more with LOTR - given those it seems as if he wasn't fully comfortable with the gap between the two, but couldn't solve the problem (or in the end decided it didn't require a solution).

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


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 1:13pm

Post #68 of 70 (2203 views)
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Tolkien was a perfectionist... [In reply to] Can't Post

In his later years he became more and more preoccupied with creating order and consistency, probably also fuelled by his work trying to prepare a Version of "The Silmarillion" for publication. He also regretted how he deliberately addressed the readers in the Hobbit.


Luckily Tolkien had someone to confer with who could put his desire to align the Hobbit more with LoTR into a proper perspective (it's mentioned in one of his letters), and he understood that it would be better to just abandon the project.


elostirion74
Rohan

Oct 19, 1:38pm

Post #69 of 70 (2198 views)
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I'm inclined to opt for alternative 3 [In reply to] Can't Post

I find it hard using words like subversive about Tolkien's work, but in the end I think it's the mix of the more regular folk tale conventions and a range of new elements which is the reason underlying TH's enduring success.


One of the new elements I think Tolkien introduced was providing a contrast between a civilized modern character the contemporary public could identify with and an older, more heroic world. As for the enduring success of TH, besides the effect of the popularity of LoTR and the films etc, I think The Hobbit contains an unusual amount of realistic motivation and conflicts for a children's book and fairy story. Perhaps this makes the story more distinctive and easier to re-introduce to new audiences?


noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 19, 4:54pm

Post #70 of 70 (2165 views)
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Why 1960s hippies found Tolkien groovy? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
"It's a social movement, quintessentially romantic, the kind that recurs in times of real social crisis. The themes are always the same. A return to innocence. The invocation of earlier authority and control. The mysteries of the blood. An itch for the transcendental, for purification."

[An unnamed San Francisco psychiatrist interviewed by Joan Didion as part of her piece 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' (1967), which is an account of some time spent in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco considering 'the hippie phenomenon'.]


quintessentially romantic
return to innocence
invocation of earlier authority
mysteries of the blood
An itch for the transcendental, for purification.

I think I can see those ideas in TH and LOTR - maybe that is what appealed?

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

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