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** Inside Information ** Part II – Burglar Baggins

Morthoron
Gondor


Sep 25 2012, 1:47pm

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** Inside Information ** Part II – Burglar Baggins Can't Post

Without his handkerchief but with a great deal of reservations, Bilbo made it to the end of the tunnel. And in the cavernous “dungeon-hall” of the dwarves below him – the glow of Smaug! Tolkien comments in Letter 24 (18 February 1938) that the name Smaug is “a low philological jest” in that he borrowed the word from the past tense of the primitive Germanic word Smugan: “to squeeze through a hole”. But even with this unflattering pseudonym, Smaug is perhaps the most famous dragon in literature, and is herein described as a “vast red-golden dragon”. One wonders if Tolkien borrowed the coloration from Y Ddraig Golch, the red dragon of Wales’ royal crest and flag. The description of the dragon’s body also bears a striking resemblance as well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Dragon

1. Would you consider Smaug to be the most famousest dragon of them all?

Bilbo is taken aback by the immensity of Smaug, but is equally amazed by the untold wealth of the dwarves the dragon has hoarded. In The Annotated Hobbit, Douglas A. Anderson comments that the following two sentences contain the only philological remark by Tolkien in The Hobbit:

“To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.”

Tolkien was referring to, as Verlyn Flieger suggests, Owen Barfield’s thesis “that language in its original state was premetaphoric”, meaning that language once existed in a state where word and thing were defined on a concrete basis with no literal, allusive or metaphoric meanings; whereas now language has changed, adding concepts and ideas divorced from the reality of one-on-one description. Therefore, Tolkien literally means that Bilbo’s breath was taken away in a very real sense.

2. Here Tolkien refers to Bilbo’s enchantment and the “desire of dwarves”, almost forgetting the dragon altogether when seeing the immense treasures strewn about the hall. Is this part of the dragon’s curse on the gold?

Bilbo the Burglar steals a two-handled cup, which Douglas Anderson infers is based on the cup-stealing episode found in Beowulf (“Then one day a thief broke into the dragon's hoard and stole a golden cup. He was not a willful thief, but rather a runaway slave who had escaped a cruel master…”, as the English translation reads). Tolkien acknowledges the debt to Beowulf in Letter 25 (16 January 1938), claiming that borrowing the “episode of the theft came naturally”, although not consciously at first. But like the author of Beowulf, Tolkien concluded that there was no other way “of conducting the story at that point”.

“I’ve done it! This will show them. ‘More like a grocer than a burglar’ indeed!” Bilbo crows triumphantly as he steals his way back up the passage with his prize. The dwarves are overjoyed and full of praise at the Burglar’s success (and survival!); that is, until the mountain quakes, the earth shakes and the dwarvish party suddenly remembers their formidable adversary. They have awoken the dreadful dragon and his terrible wrath!

3. The dwarves admittedly had a “weak point in their plans” (as Bilbo reminded them a number of times): they had never made any provisions on killing the dragon and freeing Erebor from Smaug. Does it strike you as odd that the dwarves had no such plan? It seems rather stupid doesn’t it? To travel all that way through dangers uncounted and arrive at Erebor outnumbered and defenseless? Is this a weak link in the story as a whole?

As for Smaug, he is the most interesting character in the whole story (in my opinion). The description of his “uneasy dream” and his concern over not plugging up the little hole that Bilbo had crept through is priceless. Not to mention Tolkien’s description of dragons as a whole having no “real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule”.

4. Is Tolkien making a pointed social comment here - not only of dragons, but real-world millionaires and billionaires who hoard their money and count it to the last penny? He alludes to this further when describing Smaug’s rage as the same as “rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted”.

5. Tolkien’s description of Smaug issuing from the gates of Erebor is interesting because he mentions that Smaug spouts “green and scarlet flame”. Why green and scarlet?

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



Solicitr
Lorien

Sep 25 2012, 3:02pm

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Business plan [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
3. The dwarves admittedly had a “weak point in their plans” (as Bilbo reminded them a number of times): they had never made any provisions on killing the dragon and freeing Erebor from Smaug. Does it strike you as odd that the dwarves had no such plan?


Phase 1: Get to Erebor

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: Profit!



Clearly the Underwear Gnomes are the Longbeards' relatives.


Morthoron
Gondor


Sep 25 2012, 3:27pm

Post #3 of 11 (384 views)
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Underpants Gnomes and their mindless capitalistic endeavors aside... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To
3. The dwarves admittedly had a “weak point in their plans” (as Bilbo reminded them a number of times): they had never made any provisions on killing the dragon and freeing Erebor from Smaug. Does it strike you as odd that the dwarves had no such plan?


Phase 1: Get to Erebor

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: Profit!

Clearly the Underwear Gnomes are the Longbeards' relatives.


Well, it seems rather unbelievable (even in a fantasy) that such a large problem was omitted from the dwarves' plans. After all, both Thorin and Balin would recall firsthand that an entire city of dwarves was routed by Smaug. What could a baker's dozen of dwarves do that hundreds could not?

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Sep 25 2012, 11:10pm

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Don't knock it, the plan worked [In reply to] Can't Post

Eru does move in mysterious ways! And perhaps they needed a dragon-slaying man yeoman to help them.


demnation
Rohan


Sep 26 2012, 1:07am

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Inside Information [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Within Arda, most definitely. As to the real world, I can't really say for sure. Though I harbor a great love for Tolkien and his work, I'm only vaguely aware of his impact on the larger culture. I can say that Smaug is the first dragon that I think of when the topic comes up in conversation.

2. I would say so, considering that beforehand Bilbo didn't seem to care much about the gold. He just wants his eggs and bacon!

3. I don't really see it as a weak link. Besides being amusing, I think it adds a sense of mystery to the story. What are they going to do? How are they going to do it? Turns out, it was a problem for someone else to solve.

4. I believe so.

5. I don't know, but it is interesting. Maybe he has gas? Crazy

Use Well the Days


Morthoron
Gondor


Sep 26 2012, 1:46am

Post #6 of 11 (376 views)
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Green Gas? Like Methane? [In reply to] Can't Post

That's one of those points I hadn't noticed over the decades and many, many readings of The Hobbit. "Green and scarlet flames" - it's even hard to picture. Is that his hot fire and cooler fire? Jalapeno and Habanero?

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



(This post was edited by Morthoron on Sep 26 2012, 1:46am)


Tweezers of Thu
Rivendell


Sep 26 2012, 11:53am

Post #7 of 11 (365 views)
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'Tis a well known fact... [In reply to] Can't Post

...that such scarlet and green gouts of dragonfire are due to the selective consumption of the minerals celestine and barite by said specimens of Draco ignis. A subtype of P-glycoprotein in Draco ignis' upper gastrointestinal tract selectively sequesters strontium and barium salts, extracted from celestine and barite, respectively, into specialized glands. Upon ignition, resulting from draconic epithelial cells packed with extraordinarily exothermic mitochondria, the gut-derived methane is colored scarlet and green.*

Or these colorful flames could be attributed to Magic. Wink

*Strontium and barium salts are used in our primary world to color fireworks.Smile



A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. ~~ Henry David Thoreau




(This post was edited by Tweezers of Thu on Sep 26 2012, 12:00pm)


Morthoron
Gondor


Sep 27 2012, 1:11am

Post #8 of 11 (327 views)
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Well, Thu... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
...that such scarlet and green gouts of dragonfire are due to the selective consumption of the minerals celestine and barite by said specimens of Draco ignis. A subtype of P-glycoprotein in Draco ignis' upper gastrointestinal tract selectively sequesters strontium and barium salts, extracted from celestine and barite, respectively, into specialized glands. Upon ignition, resulting from draconic epithelial cells packed with extraordinarily exothermic mitochondria, the gut-derived methane is colored scarlet and green.*

In Reply To

That is the best line of B.S. I've heard in years....
Ummm...by B.S. I mean Basic Science of course. Wink

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Sep 27 2012, 2:20am

Post #9 of 11 (305 views)
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Jalapeno and Habanero? [In reply to] Can't Post

Makes sense to me; gives more meaning to the "heat" of a dragon's fire. Those oils would have little trouble igniting!

Why the two kinds of flame? Well, one for toasting, the other for roasting...


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"






sador
Half-elven


Sep 27 2012, 2:12pm

Post #10 of 11 (349 views)
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Answers [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Would you consider Smaug to be the most famousest dragon of them all?
At the present, possibly.


2. Here Tolkien refers to Bilbo’s enchantment and the “desire of dwarves”, almost forgetting the dragon altogether when seeing the immense treasures strewn about the hall. Is this part of the dragon’s curse on the gold?
Not quite. The curse is laid on someone after he acquired the hoard, not by the mere sight of it.

3. Does it strike you as odd that the dwarves had no such plan?
Thorin had one - of challenging Smaug to war. The idea of burglary was Gandalf's, and if he had a plan he never bothered to tell them. I expect Thorin did ask him several times, and the wily wizard avoided answering. The fact is that he had no idea, but just wanted to keep Smaug busy while dealing with the Necromancer.

It seems rather stupid doesn’t it?
It does. Not that Gandalf cares a fig about what you or I think, as long as he got his diversion.

To travel all that way through dangers uncounted and arrive at Erebor outnumbered and defenseless?
Not outnumbered.

Is this a weak link in the story as a whole?
Well, any nigh-impossible quest might be a weak link in the story. What about sending Frodo to Mt. Doom?

4. Is Tolkien making a pointed social comment here - not only of dragons, but real-world millionaires and billionaires who hoard their money and count it to the last penny?
Perhaps. But probably only of those upstart Americans; the English magnates are all fine fellows.

5. Tolkien’s description of Smaug issuing from the gates of Erebor is interesting because he mentions that Smaug spouts “green and scarlet flame”. Why green and scarlet?
After the Royal badge of Wales (you asked for this, didn't you?).


"Okay. I'm going to post the entire debate between Bilbo and Smaug. I'm under the Tolkien-spell, so I can't help myself. But you don't have to read it if you don't want to... or need to... because you have it memorized... right?"
- grammaboodawg



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


telain
Rohan

Oct 3 2012, 3:46pm

Post #11 of 11 (601 views)
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hic sunt dracones [In reply to] Can't Post

Would you consider Smaug to be the most famousest dragon of them all?

Difficult question to answer whilst musing on The Hobbit! Dragons are so pervasive in almost every culture that I imagine in different parts of the world, different dragons are more well-known (e.g., Tiamat). Even in British literature Grendel must give Smaug a run for his, ah, money (i.e., hoards of gold and jewels)...


Quote
Bilbo the Burglar steals a two-handled cup, which Douglas Anderson infers is based on the cup-stealing episode found in Beowulf...


I am intrigued by the stealing of the cup. What about it seems so right? If Bilbo had stolen a crown or a vase or whatever, it would not have had the same effect But the fact that it is a simple cup -- something seemingly insignificant -- seems to convey enormous significance. Does it underscore who Bilbo really is (a simple Hobbit with simple tastes)? Does it allude to some larger cultural significance?

Is Tolkien making a pointed social comment here - not only of dragons, but real-world millionaires and billionaires who hoard their money and count it to the last penny?

I think so, but also accessing the mythological dragon (like in Beowulf) that symbolizes the end and subsequent new beginning of a civilization/kingdom/realm, etc.

 
 

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