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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Hobbit Discussion Chapter II "Roast Mutton"

SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 17 2012, 3:50am

Post #1 of 14 (771 views)
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The Hobbit Discussion Chapter II "Roast Mutton" Can't Post

I thought we might start the week's discussion of "Roast Mutton" with a sustained look at its opening paragraph. The language in this paragraph seems slightly off to me. As usual I believe Tolkien was going for something here that is not immediately apparent, least ways on the surface. Let us consider the text in small bites (the rest of the chapter will not receive such scrutiny, in case it matters) to see if there are any literary special effects in play:


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Up jumped Bilbo, and putting on his dressing-gown went into the dining-room.



What is the effect of the precision or, if you will, miserliness of this line?


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There he saw nobody, but all the signs of a large and hurried breakfast.


Anything strange here?


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There was a fearful mess in the room, and piles of unwashed crocks in the kitchen. Nearly every pot and pan he possessed seemed to have been used.



Are we sure of what we are seeing here?


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The washing-up was so dismally real that Bilbo was forced to believe the party of the night before had not been part of his bad dreams, as he had rather hoped.


Why did Bilbo have to be forced to believe what he remembered and what he was now seeing was real?


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Indeed he was really relieved after all to think that they had all gone without him, and without bothering to wake him up (but with never a thank-you he thought);


In the final analysis, what was important to Bilbo?


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and yet in a way he could not help feeling just a trifle disappointed. The feeling surprised him.


Just a trifle? Then why does the feeling surprise him?

I don't know about you (though I hope to soon enough) but I detect in this paragraph a vibe that Tolkien does not describe overtly. It is literally embedded in the text because of the way he strung words together. I suppose because it is noticeable that it might mean he (as a relatively new writer) was just learning how to evoke something without naming it directly. So what is this effect that Tolkien achieves through word choice and/or the way he presents the scene?


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 17 2012, 3:51am)


sador
Half-elven


Jul 17 2012, 6:30am

Post #2 of 14 (445 views)
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"He wouldn't make above a mouthful... not when he was skinned and boned." [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Let us consider the text in small bites




What is the effect of the precision or, if you will, miserliness of this line?
That he went to bed in clothes.
Or else that he was used to walking around scantily clothed at home.

In either case - these are old bachelor habits, he definitely does not expect having visitors sleeping over.

Anything strange here?
The description of the beds is missing.

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C. Can you imagine a better, clearer image to describe some seriously messed up beds than “looked like they had been recently slept in by perverted kangaroos”? ‘Cause I can’t.

- squire.


Are we sure of what we are seeing here?
Not really. Was the Dwarves' washing up last night a magical kind, which worked for only as long as their spell did?


Why did Bilbo have to be forced to believe what he remembered and what he was now seeing was real?
The hobbit loved visitors - but he never had any drinking-buddies with which to go on such a binge.


In the final analysis, what was important to Bilbo?
That Thorin left him no eggs.


Just a trifle? Then why does the feeling surprise him?
He was too old to Rock'n'Roll; too young to die.
He always thought he had both yearnings successfully repressed.


So what is this effect that Tolkien achieves through word choice and/or the way he presents the scene?
We realise quite clearly that Bilbo is going to be that iconic comic figure, the unwilling adventurer.


"Do you find it strange that the food is strewn about but the clothes of victims are hanging on the walls nice and neat?"
- Finding Frodo.



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Roast Mutton!


Mim
The Shire

Jul 17 2012, 10:10am

Post #3 of 14 (398 views)
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In the cold light of day the Dwarves pass the reality test [In reply to] Can't Post

This first paragraph seems a fairly straightforward mix of the bizzare and the mundane. About the last thing we hear in the previous chapter is Thorin singing. The song is about treasure, the past, places far away and really cements the tone of the majority of the previous chapter. Which is fantasy, adventure, dreamy and that ever present touch of the unreal. The opening of this next chapter is determindly detached from this. This first chapter doesn't mention that the creators of the mess were Dwarves, they're simply referred to as "they." There isn't any mention of where they've gone or why they might have taken Bilbo along. Its just the very standard waking up after a good party the night before and discovering that the mess hasn't magically cleared itself up. Which of course introduces an element of doubt for everyone concerned. We've had a reference to troubled dreams in the ending of the last chapter, its mentioned again at the beginning of this. This is starting to sound worryingly like this could all be a dream...Essentially all the dreaming of glory and riches of the previous chapter is brought to an abrupt halt by the washing up. The secondary significance of this is that the pace changes and we are reminded that a lot more is involved in setting off on a quest than just racing out of the door and heading off, even when there are dragons to be slain there is still washing up to be done.

There is also a curious mix of eagerness and reluctance on Bilbo's part. Not just in the obvious interjections of his thoughts but in what he does. He gets up quickly...but doesn't get dressed as if he's going out. He looks for his guests...but becomes quickly preoccupied by the state of his pots and pans rather than searching for further signs. He's glad they're gone...but he isn't. Through these contradictions we are slowly following through Bilbo's thought pattern until he comes to the realisation of what they mean by himself and we do too. As well as allowing us to get to know our hero a little better, putting the reader in such close communication with Bilbo's thoughts (without overtly saying that is what's happening) secures the readers link to Bilbo. We are supposed to think like Bilbo, relate to Bilbo and follow him through this story. No getting attached to any Dwarves or to Gandalf. The reader is Bilbo.

There is more of interest to be found as well. As you point out, what seems most important to Bilbo in the end is that he wasn't even thanked for his hospitality. A return to the discussion of manners in the previous chapter. The language is at times not very specific. There are "signs" of a hurried breakfast, it "seemed" as if all his pots and pans had been used. Even in creating something as real as a breakfast mess, there's something a little hard to pin down about the Dwarves. And so on.

I don't think that the noticeable offness of this paragraph really points to any kind of newness or anything like that in Tolkiens writing. What's the point in wrapping up secondary meanings and implications in your text if no one's ever going to find them? If the things I talked about above are there because Tolkien wanted them to be, then he's doing a good job because what he was trying to do has been communicated.


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 17 2012, 6:34pm

Post #4 of 14 (396 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

It's worth noting the close of the last chapter:


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After all the others had ordered their breakfasts without so much as a please (which annoyed Bilbo very much), they all got up. The hobbit had to find room for them all, and filled all his spare-rooms and made beds on chairs and sofas, before he got them all stowed and went to his own little bed very tired and not altogether happy. One thing he did make his mind up about was not to bother to get up very early and cook everybody else's wretched breakfast. The Tookishness was wearing off, and he was not now quite so sure that he was going on any journey in the morning.

As he lay in bed he could hear Thorin still humming to himself in the best bedroom next to him:

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.

Bilbo went to sleep with that in his ears, and it gave him very uncomfortable dreams. It was long after the break of day, when he woke up.

So Bilbo secretly decided not to get up early and make breakfast for the dwarves, even though the dwarves clearly expected him to do so. Perhaps the dwarves felt that in return for making their own breakfasts and letting him sleep late, it was fair to let Bilbo wash up. There's no mention of unmade beds, so perhaps they did that much before they left in the morning.

However, Bilbo mistakenly assumes that the dwarves have left without him. His relief is predictable, as is his resentment of the lack of thanks. But he is surprised to feel a "trifle disappointed" as well. His Tookish side is not entirely suppressed.

The first half of the first paragraph is very visual. We can see Bilbo getting out of bed, putting on his dressing gown, walking into the dining room, seeing all the signs of a large and hurried breakfast, seeing piles of unwashed crocks in the kitchen, and then washing those piles by hand.

The second half of the first paragraph is more about what Bilbo is thinking (that they had all gone without him) and feeling (relief, resentment, disappointment, and surprise about the disappointment). But it is also about suspense, because we know that Bilbo is mistaken and will, in fact, have an adventure -- we have already been told as much in the subtitle, and of course we wouldn't be reading a book about him if he hadn't. So we are waiting for Bilbo to discover his mistake, and for his comic reaction. The whole paragraph sets up the comedy of Bilbo running down the road as fast as his furry feet could carry him without a pocket handkerchief.


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Up jumped Bilbo,
and putting on his dressing-gown went into the dining-room.

Abrupt, visual, glosses over what Bilbo was wearing in bed (presumably pajamas or something respectable).


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There he saw nobody,
but all the signs of a large and hurried breakfast.

Momentary let down, as he comes upon -- nobody.


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There was a fearful mess in the room,
and piles of unwashed crocks in the kitchen.

Comic consequences not normally discussed in adventure stories, the dismal reality of washing up.


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Nearly every pot and pan he possessed seemed to have been used.

Comic hyperbole.


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The washing-up was so dismally real that Bilbo was forced to believe the party of the night before had not been part of his bad dreams,
as he had rather hoped.

Sounds like the Baggins side doing the thinking here.


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Indeed he was really relieved after all to think that they had all gone without him,
and without bothering to wake him up
("but with never a thank-you" he thought);

Still sounds like the Baggins side.

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and yet in a way he could not help feeling just a trifle disappointed.

The feeling surprised him.

Wait a minute, the Tookish side is still there, trying to get out.

All that being said, your questions lead me to believe you see something I didn't. Sorry if I didn't guess the answers you had in mind.


One Ringer
Tol Eressea


Jul 17 2012, 8:26pm

Post #5 of 14 (353 views)
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Without a choice [In reply to] Can't Post

To summarize this entire passage, I would say it's an example of Bilbo being conflicted with the fact that he has had no say in the matter of whether he is joining the party or not. Everything has sort of been thrown at him, and so when he awakens to find they have left without a word (but plenty of trace), he feels sort of used. Part of him is happy to stay home (note the 'washing-up'), but clearly the Tookish side has other desires ('trifle' 'surprise'), and having been denied that (if only for this particular moment) has left him with a sort of feeling of regret.

FOTR 10th Anniversary Music Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33xJU3AIwsg

"You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain."


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 18 2012, 3:22am

Post #6 of 14 (362 views)
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"...if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!" [In reply to] Can't Post

Not at all Curious, I really like where we are going with this so far.

Now that you mention it, there is a shift from the visual to getting up in Bilbo's head. But even the visual part seems written through the eyes of someone just waking up, someone not sure of what is real.

Mim grasps the heart of what I was sensing in the opening paragraph:


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As you point out, what seems most important to Bilbo in the end is that he wasn't even thanked for his hospitality. A return to the discussion of manners in the previous chapter. The language is at times not very specific. There are "signs" of a hurried breakfast, it "seemed" as if all his pots and pans had been used. Even in creating something as real as a breakfast mess, there's something a little hard to pin down about the Dwarves. And so on.


Just to add, the first line has Bilbo out of bed, robed and in the dining room in one breath. Here is an image of someone in a hurry, perhaps to find out if he had just dreamed the whole affair of the night before. Or perhaps Tolkien deftly creates that sleepy sense of being outside of time while going through the ritual of starting one's day.


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 18 2012, 3:30am)


Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea


Jul 18 2012, 5:12am

Post #7 of 14 (353 views)
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LOL! [In reply to] Can't Post

I have nothing to add but loved reading your responses, especially this:

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In the final analysis, what was important to Bilbo?
That Thorin left him no eggs.


Also, it rocked my world a little to see myself in your footer.Cool

Where's Frodo?


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 18 2012, 1:44pm

Post #8 of 14 (341 views)
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Well, if he were really in a hurry he wouldn't have slept late. [In reply to] Can't Post

And the mess is no dream -- quite the opposite.

However, Bilbo is not himself, as Gandalf later remarks. It is the night before that seems like a dream, and merged with the his uncomfortable dreams, and Bilbo may have gotten up so quickly because he was hoping it really was a dream, and that there would be no sign of visitors at all. Then when he finds the mess, he is easily distracted from the question he should be asking -- what happened to the dwarves? Why would they go to all the trouble of recruiting him, then disappear without a word? Wouldn't they at least leave a note?

Of course, a large part of this is wishful thinking and denial -- perhaps if he treats it like a dream, he won't have to do what he promised. Perhaps if he doesn't look for a note, they really will leave without him. It's not conscious behavior, it's just his Baggins side struggling to assert control, and his Took side reduced to a faint sense of disappointment. Although perhaps his Took side was content to wait, knowing that last night was not a dream, and it was too late to back out.


(This post was edited by Curious on Jul 18 2012, 1:53pm)


Modtheow
Lorien


Jul 18 2012, 5:59pm

Post #9 of 14 (336 views)
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New and experienced writers [In reply to] Can't Post

I see the opening of this chapter in pretty much the same way as others in this thread are describing it, so I don't have much to add about that.

However, I do have some quibbles about your statement here:


Quote
I don't know about you (though I hope to soon enough) but I detect in this paragraph a vibe that Tolkien does not describe overtly. It is literally embedded in the text because of the way he strung words together. I suppose because it is noticeable that it might mean he (as a relatively new writer) was just learning how to evoke something without naming it directly. So what is this effect that Tolkien achieves through word choice and/or the way he presents the scene?


Tolkien was not a new writer by the time of The Hobbit (though he wasn't a widely published fiction writer).

In my view, the fact that a reader notices a vibe, a feeling, an idea in the text doesn't necessarily mark the work as being by an inexperienced writer -- unless you mean that there is too much "telling" and not enough "showing" in this first paragraph? Even the best writers want you to notice what their choice of words and sentence ordering are evoking. So I'm confused by what you mean here. And I have a feeling that I'm not really understanding what you find "slightly off" in this opening paragraph -- what kind of vibe do you detect?





SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jul 18 2012, 7:49pm

Post #10 of 14 (352 views)
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Excellent [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, sorry, I was talking about the mechanics (the special effects) that Tolkien employed in that paragraph.

I agree with you that my comment as stated is provocative -- slightly more so than intended -- and definitely not infused with the praise I usually have for his writing style. (I noticed this while re-reading it only after it was too late to edit it.) Again, sorry about that.

By calling the paragraph "slightly off" what I meant is there is more going on than meets the eye. It is peculiar, but in a good and deliberate way. Again in the opening paragraph we find a density that I believe is easy for the reader (or critic) who approaches the text as merely a children's story to miss entirely. (Yet I don't trust that if I notice it that it is actually there, or that it isn't painfully obvious to everyone else.)

For instance, how does one "see nobody?" And what is the effect of seeing obvious traces of something you do not want to believe happened? Then there is the (uncharacteristically) imprecise statement about all the pots being used. The effect in total, which I believe was deliberate of Tolkien, is to impose on the reader a sleepy (as if just waking up) state of uncertainty about what had transpired the day before. Though there is a narrator, our view is confined to Bilbo's feelings or impressions. When we are witness to the private chiding of himself in the next passage, our affinity with Bilbo is made complete.

(In any event, and again perhaps in defense of the ham-handed comment you highlighted, not having read much about Tolkien outside of this forum I am never quite sure how my perception of his work stacks up against the existing scholarship; this is why my comments often contain the words "might," "perhaps," and so on.)


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jul 18 2012, 7:55pm)


Modtheow
Lorien


Jul 18 2012, 9:40pm

Post #11 of 14 (300 views)
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I'm the queen of "might" and "perhaps"!! [In reply to] Can't Post

Sometimes I drive myself crazy always hedging my statements: "in my view"; "it seems to me"; "it might be" and so on. But no need to apologize for anything! This is supposed to be a conversation, right? Not final written statements that express our views to the end of time! (although that darned search function makes it seem that way sometimes). I like provocative literary questions and I enjoy hashing them out with others. Test my statements against the text and I'll do the same with yours so that we can both clarify our thinking about what we're reading -- I think that's a lot of fun, but even more than that, it's enriched my reading of Tolkien's works immensely. That's how I see it, at any rate. And I think it's a great idea to avoid infusing everything with praise of Tolkien's writing -- I have that tendency to find everything he wrote to be wonderful, but surely not everything Tolkien wrote was perfect!

Anyways, I understand now what you meant by "slightly off." There is a lot going on in that first paragraph, and I wouldn't have seen it if you hadn't slowed down our reading and called attention to the specific details that evoke that sleepy state of uncertainty.


sador
Half-elven


Jul 19 2012, 2:05pm

Post #12 of 14 (288 views)
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`I only wish I had such eyes,' [In reply to] Can't Post


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...the King remarked in a fretful tone. `To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!'



"Do you find it strange that the food is strewn about but the clothes of victims are hanging on the walls nice and neat?"
- Finding Frodo.



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for Roast Mutton!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 20 2012, 11:49am

Post #13 of 14 (289 views)
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Seeing through Bilbo's eyes [In reply to] Can't Post


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Though there is a narrator, our view is confined to Bilbo's feelings or impressions. When we are witness to the private chiding of himself in the next passage, our affinity with Bilbo is made complete.

I think you've picked up on one of Tolkien's favourite techniques. The more I read LotR, the more I notice that it too is told from a hobbit's-eye view whenever possible (and when that's not possible, we often get the dwarf's-eye view). Though indeed The Hobbit has a narrator, and Bilbo is referred to in the third person (i.e. as "he", not as "I"), yet the perspective is often Bilbo's own - as if the narrator is telling Bilbo's story, rather taking an all-encompassing, "omniscient" point of view (although the Hobbit narrator is quite willing to drop in the occasional "omniscient" comment when he feels like it!).


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For instance, how does one "see nobody?"

Good question! I'd never noticed this, because it is after all a standard way of making a negative in English. But in this case, I think it implies something more - it's not that Bilbo "doesn't see" anybody, it's that he "does see" (because he's deliberately looking) nobody (as opposed to the "somebodies" that he expected to see).
Nice catch!


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Jul 20 2012, 2:40pm

Post #14 of 14 (397 views)
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It is even more hobbitcentric than LotR, [In reply to] Can't Post

but the narrator interjects far more frequently, and in select situations we do see from the point of view of other creatures such as the Eagles or even Smaug. And of course at the end of the book Bilbo is totally on the sidelines or not even in the picture for long stretches of time.

 
 

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