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Sep 11 2012, 12:55am

Views: 495
Hmm [In reply to] Can't Post

Thorin & Co. hear the sounds of a hunting party far to the north, then see white deer on the trail ahead. All their shots at the deer miss, and their arrows are lost. For four days they carry Bombur, and pass through brighter beech woods and then a broad valley of oak trees. Occasionally they hear eerie laughter and song. Growing desperately short of food, they have Bilbo climb a tree to see how far they are from the edge of a forest. He enjoys the breeze and sunlight, but he sees no end to the trees, not realizing that this is because they are in a low spot.

The deer can of course be explained by the hunting party, but they might have crossed the path at any number of points -- why do our heroes see them just after they've crossed the stream?
I assumed they were disturbed or displaced by the hunt. But they are also a sign that they are entering the more magical realm of the wood-elves.

The narrator says that the dwarves should have realized that the sight of deer meant they were approaching the end of the woods. Explain that. Deer don't live in deep forest - indeed, in Mirkwood, practically nothing wholesome does at this time.

Do the dwarves know that there is an elvish kingdom at the east side of Mirkwood? I assume they do, but Thorin's antipathy towards Elves coupled with his arrogance lead him not to factor them into his plans. I get the feeling he just thinks of them as wafty forest things, not relevant to the real world or likely to pose any problems. He was wrong there.

Should the party call out to the hunters, or to the voices? I wouldn't have advised it....what if the voices were deceptive spirits, trying to tempt them off the path? What if they drew attention of a different sort to themselves? Probably the less shouting the better. Later they all run around in the dark shouting, and get swiftly caught by spiders.

How far do the hunters have to go to reach home, anyway? (The map shows the trail crossing the stream about halfway through Mirkwood.) An Elvish hunting party would be very swift, and the hunt could go on a long time. I imagine they did come from near the king's halls, and the feast was their end -of-hunt celebration.

Why do the elves apparently never use the trail? Not sure where the idea that they don't use the trail comes from.

At the darker west end of the path, the forest was dark and choked with undergrowth. Now under the beeches, there is more light and yet there is no undergrowth. Isn't that backwards? As discussed by everyone else, that's what beech woods are like.

"There was a breath of air and a noise of wind, but it had a sad sound." Why sad? Just pathetic fallacy.

Do the large cobwebs seen earlier in the chapter, Bilbo's fear of large spiders here, and the chapter's very title (not to mention the spiders on the map!) weaken the impact of the giant spiders' actual appearance? Not really. It builds atmosphere quite well, but the spiders are still a suprise.

Here is the description of Bilbo at the tree-top:

In the end he poked his head above the roof of leaves, and then he found spiders all right. But they were only small ones of ordinary size, and they were after the butterflies. Bilbo's eyes were nearly blinded by the light. He could hear the dwarves shouting up at him from far below, but he could not answer, only hold on and blink. The sun was shining brilliantly, and it was a long while before he could bear it. When he could, he saw all round him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and there were everywhere hundreds of butterflies. I expect they were a kind of 'purple emperor', a butterfly that loves the tops of oak-woods, but these were not purple at all, they were a dark dark velvety black without any markings to be seen.

Last week I purchased The Art of Ruth Lacon: Illustrations Inspired by the Works of JRR Tolkien. Ms. Lacon comments on many of her illustrations. Regarding her interpretation of this passage, she writes:

With apologies to Tolkien, these butterflies are painted partly purple, because nothing in nature is such a deep unrelieved black as he describes. 'Black' birds and butterflies often have purple or green sheen, and black cats are very dark brown, if seen with the sun behind their fur. The real Purple Emperor, Apatura iris, a species which does in fact prefer treetops just as Tolkien says, has white and pink markings on wings bordered with black and filled with very dark purple or blue, with the body being black as well. So I painted the Mirkwood butterflies as black and very dark purple, with no markings and white sheen only where the light strikes their glossy forms. Having introduced one set of insects, and needing to have their felatives the spiders in there as well, I decided to add other species. There are earwigs, caterpillars, a dragonfly, a shieldbug, a bumblebee and a beetle, together with two other butterflies, a dark-blue Hairstreak and a dark-green Emerald geometer moth.

What do you think about that? I agree that most black things in nature are actually a very dark brown, blue, purple, green etc, so if she wants to paint her butterflies with purple bits that's fine with me.

In the first chapter, Bilbo remembered that the "mad aventures" that Gandalf would sometimes inspire hobbits to take incuded "climbing trees". Now he gets his chance. (He had been thrown to the top of some bushes back in the fight with the trolls, though.) How "mad" is that (apart from examples like this)? Is tree-climbing something that Tolkien included specifically for children?

For a wealthy, dignified, 50-year-old resident of the shire, it would be considered 'mad' if he suddenly started climbing trees, yes. But I think Bilbo's definition of 'mad' is greatly changed by the time he gets home, and he stops caring at all what the other hobbits think of his behaviour.

Couldn't Gandalf have given them more specific information about how long it would take to travel the forest? Was he deliberately withholding information? I'm sure Thorin & Co. were quite aware of the physical distance they'd have to travel. But you can only carry so much food, and I suppose they thought they might be able to catch some. What they didn't factor in was the depressing darkness, the spirit-sapping influence of Sauron in the forest, and the sheer gloomy despair of the place, which made them lose track of time and space.

Further thoughts on this section? It is strange that Gandalf, at least, didn't think about what might happen if they met wood-elves. Perhaps he just thought they'd all be a bit more polite and the Elves would let them through, if not actually help them.

However my personal theory is that part of Gandalf's plan was that Thranduil would learn of their quest. I don't think Gandalf had an exact plan for how to deal with Smaug - he just wanted to stir up as many people as possible so that SOMEONE would try to kill him, and treasure and feuding is as good a way as any.

Subject User Time
** Flies and Spiders: 3. "the dead leaves of countless other autumns" ** N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Sep 2 2012, 4:03am
    Nice overview, NEB! Morthoron Send a private message to Morthoron Sep 3 2012, 4:36am
    Answers sador Send a private message to sador Sep 4 2012, 6:03am
    on trees and disseminating useful information telain Send a private message to telain Sep 5 2012, 4:55pm
        Letter of "introduction" dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Sep 7 2012, 1:49am
            actually... telain Send a private message to telain Sep 7 2012, 12:51pm
    Hmm Ruinwen Send a private message to Ruinwen Sep 11 2012, 12:55am


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