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** Inside Information ** Part III – Interview with a Dragon

Morthoron
Gondor


Sep 26 2012, 4:03am

Post #1 of 8 (1179 views)
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** Inside Information ** Part III – Interview with a Dragon Can't Post

So now, the dwarves and Bilbo were in a really tough spot. Their ponies had been eaten and Bofur and Bombur had been rescued from the valley in the nick of time (although had Smaug eaten Bombur the dragon might have had such a bad case of indigestion that the dwarves could’ve escaped). Insecure but safe for the moment inside the passageway, the dwarves and Bilbo cowered in the darkness until Smaug tired of the chase and returned to his lair.

As often happens when things go bad, everyone begins to look for a scapegoat, and during debate the dwarves began to blame Bilbo for stealing the cup. But Bilbo snidely reminds the dwarves that he was “not engaged to kill dragons, that is warrior’s work.” Bilbo then offers several cutting lines reflecting on the greatness of the dwarves’ ancestors and the vastness of Thror’s magnificent treasure (and by inference, the lesser attributes and penury of Thorin’s band). The dwarves beg Bilbo’s pardon, and defer to the hobbit for advice (Bilbo now becoming the leader of the group).

Trusting his “luck” (and luck is a word used quite often in the past few chapters) and his ring, Bilbo once again volunteers to go down to the dragon’s lair. Naturally, the dwarves think this is an excellent plan, and defer to his death rather than theirs.

1. Bilbo has a lot of incidental luck and many fortunate turns of a friendly card, and the words “luck”, “lucky” and “luckily” appear dozens of time throughout the book. Do you feel that these happenstance fortunate events overshadow the real growth of Bilbo, as his character becomes more self-reliant, inventive, courageous and crafty? It wasn’t luck that beat the spiders, nor aided the dwarves in their escape in barrels from the ElvenKing’s manse.

“Well thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear you breath. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!”

And so begins one of the most memorable dialogues in the book, the battle of wits between Smaug and Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo plays to Smaug’s vanity, flattering “Smaug the Tremendous” and “Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities,” but the dragon is buying none of it: “You have nice manners for a thief and a liar,” he replies (one of my favorite lines).

But Bilbo becomes too cute for his own good. In a litany of clever pseudonyms Bilbo leads Smaug on a bewildering chase through a set of riddles: under hill and over hill, he that walks unseen, clue-finder, web-cutter, the stinging fly, the lucky number, Luckwearer, Barrel-rider, etc.

2. What’s your favorite of Bilbo’s riddling names? Mine is, “I come from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me”.

Smaug plays along or perhaps, as Tolkien infers, dragons actually enjoy deciphering riddles. In any case, Bilbo has revealed far too much to Smaug, and his luck (or his wit) has run out in this instance.

Douglas Anderson in The Annotated Hobbit refers to T.A. Shippey’s comment “that Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug has a model in the poem ‘Fáfnismál’” (The Lay of Fáfnir, or literally “Fáfnir's sayings”), a part of the Elder Edda, in which the hero Sigurth converses with the dragon Fáfnir after Sigurth has mortally wounded the dragon. Like Tolkien’s Hobbitish retelling, Sigurth does not reveal his true name to Fáfnir. Here is an English translation:

…But when Fáfnir crawled over the trench, then Sigurth thrust his sword into his body to the heart. Fáfnir writhed and struck out with his head and tail. Sigurth leaped from the trench, and each looked at the other. Fáfnir said:

1. "Youth, oh, youth! | of whom then, youth, art thou born?
Say whose son thou art,
Who in Fáfnir's blood | thy bright blade reddened,
And struck thy sword to my heart."

Sigurth concealed his name because it was believed in olden times that the word of a dying man might have great power if he cursed his foe by his name. He said:

2. "The Noble Hart | my name, and I go
A motherless man abroad;
Father I had not, | as others have,
And lonely ever I live."


3. What other famous Tolkien tale borrows from the Fáfnismál, and in what manner?

Shippey also mentions that like Fáfnir, Smaug sews dissension among the treasure seekers. Smaug seizes upon the parts of Bilbo’s riddles that he can unravel and warns Bilbo against associating with greedy dwarves. Smaug also discerns that Bilbo being “Mr. Lucky Number” means there are fourteen members of his party, and from Bilbo’s “Barrel-rider” hint he has rightly guessed that Bilbo and the dwarves had the aid of the men of Laketown (or Esgaroth more properly, which D.A. Anderson notes is Elvish for “Reed-lake”, so named for the reed banks on its western shore).

Tolkien mentions Smaug’s “overwhelming personality” and its effect on the inexperienced, like Bilbo. A “nasty suspicion” grows in Bilbo’s mind as the dragon’s biting words poison the hobbit against the dwarves and his concern grows for his “fair share” of the loot. But Bilbo recovers enough to outwit Smaug himself. Once again, Bilbo plays to his vanity and perceived invincibility, and Smaug gloats:

“My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings like a hurricane, and my breath death.”

4. How does a dragon know about hurricanes? He’s hundreds of miles from the Sea of Belegaer. When was the last time Smaug would have seen a hurricane at sea?

But Bilbo’s flattery allows him to discover Smaug’s weak spot: although the dragon’s belly is encrusted with gems, there is “a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!” With this information, Bilbo wisely decides to run back up the tunnel; unfortunately, he leaves with a parting shot that infuriates Smaug, and he nearly gets fried with dragonfire as he escapes up the passage.

5. Bilbo makes the statement “Never laugh at a live dragon, Bilbo you old fool”, a saying that eventually, we are told, became proverbial. What do you think the closest real-world proverb would be to Bilbo’s saying?

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 26 2012, 11:00pm

Post #2 of 8 (622 views)
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One thing I find interesting [In reply to] Can't Post

Is that this is were Bilbo does the one thing in the journey that made a difference in a major way. Remember that heroic as it is, it doesn't really matter in all of ME if 13 Dwarves live or die by spiders or are locked up by wood-elves. But it is here that Bilbo does do something quite important. He finds out about Smaugs weak spot. And I find it equally ironical that almost as soon as he finds this the text says that no-one credited him for doing so. Though I wonder. Though the general populace maybe didn't maybe Gandalf or some others of the wise did.


sador
Half-elven


Sep 27 2012, 2:17pm

Post #3 of 8 (635 views)
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Bard did. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
To Bilbo he said: "This treasure is as much yours as it is mine..."


- The Return Journey.

A mistake by Tolkien? Probably.

"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



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dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Oct 1 2012, 2:08am

Post #4 of 8 (605 views)
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"...for you are crunchy and good with ketchup." [In reply to] Can't Post

1. That's a good description of Bilbo's growth: he "becomes more self-reliant, inventive, courageous and crafty" with each adventure. He is blessed with some degree of "luck", but it's tied in with his personal traits, and like them it seems to increase as his wisdom increases.

2. & 4. Riddle for a riddle:notice how Bilbo's "names" for himself are matched by Smaug's descriptions of his strengths. I don't have a favorite among the "names", but the one about burying friends alive and drowning them etc. has always seemed to be quite unwieldy.

As for hurricanes - well, there could be two explanations! One is that Smaug recalls such storms from past visits to the shore - probably the Eastern shore, fewer people out that way! The other is that this is a substitution for a less recognizable word from the Red Book, similar to the "whistle of an engine" used earlier.

5. Just for fun, I googled "Never laugh at live dragons", and found this phrase being compared to Shakespeare's "Discretion is the better part of valor"! But I supposed you could also say that it's similar to "Don't spit into the wind" or "Let sleeping dogs lie".


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

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"






titanium_hobbit
Rohan


Oct 1 2012, 2:47am

Post #5 of 8 (602 views)
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burying my friends alive and drowning them [In reply to] Can't Post

As a Christian, this always has struck me as a representation of Baptism, as in full immersion dunking as practiced by Baptists, among others. Baptism is a symbol of accepting new life- of dying to the old self and rising again.

Of course, as a Catholic, Tolkien perhaps wouldn't have had this kind of imagery in his head.

But the death-to-life motif is quite powerful for me.


Hobbit firster, Book firster.


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FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 1 2012, 11:53am

Post #6 of 8 (822 views)
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Hurricanes [In reply to] Can't Post

4. How does a dragon know about hurricanes? He’s hundreds of miles from the Sea of Belegaer. When was the last time Smaug would have seen a hurricane at sea?

Interesting word, "hurricane". It really refers only to storms that form in the Caribbean, so I suppose by rights Tolkien shouldn't have used this word at all, since its origins are in the so-far-undiscovered New World! (According to the OED, it was originally a Carib word, brought to Europe via Spanish and Portuguese.) But it is also used in English, according to the dictionary, to refer to any violent windstorm, so I suppose by that definition it passes muster as a modern-English "translation" of whatever Smaug originally said!

But it's not just Smaug, Thorin is the one who first uses the word when he's describing to Bilbo what the coming of Smaug was like:
"The first we heard of it was a noise like a hurricane coming from the North, and the pine-trees on the Mountain creaking and cracking in the wind." (An Unexpected Party)
Thorin's choice of this word seems particularly appropriate because this is a rapidly-moving windstorm, just as "real" hurricanes are. Smaug uses the word when he's revelling in the idea of how he seems to his victims - he clearly knows and understands how he appears to them, and he's seeing himself through their eyes. So I don't think he even needs to have experienced a hurricane, whether at sea or not, to come up with this comparison for himself. I think he's channelling what he knows his victims think of him.


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



sador
Half-elven


Oct 9 2012, 7:53am

Post #7 of 8 (580 views)
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Late answers [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Do you feel that these happenstance fortunate events overshadow the real growth of Bilbo, as his character becomes more self-reliant, inventive, courageous and crafty?
Well, the Dwarves consider the luck as "his" - a kind of a possession, or special grace allotted to him. Of course it is the confidence based upon his feeling 'lucky' which enables this growth.
Shippey has much to say on this topic, but I don't have either of his books at the moment.

It wasn’t luck that beat the spiders, nor aided the dwarves in their escape in barrels from the ElvenKing’s manse.
Well, he woke up just in time, found the dwarves more or less by guesswork, and chanced to overhear Galion and the Chief Guard.

2. What’s your favorite of Bilbo’s riddling names? Mine is, “I come from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me”.

The ones I remember best are the one you've cited above, and of course 'Barrel-rider'.

3. What other famous Tolkien tale borrows from the Fáfnismál, and in what manner?
Turin.


4. How does a dragon know about hurricanes?
That's easier than most of the first chapter anachronisms, don't you think?

Maybe his spirit chummed with Osse's folk before falling under Melkor's influence, and agreeing to inhabit this uncomfortables, unwieldly body.

When was the last time Smaug would have seen a hurricane at sea?
Okay. He probably meant "the fire-rivers of Thangorodrim". Chalk it down to the narrator/translator making it easy for us.

5. Bilbo makes the statement “Never laugh at a live dragon, Bilbo you old fool”, a saying that eventually, we are told, became proverbial. What do you think the closest real-world proverb would be to Bilbo’s saying?
"Let dogs lie if they are sleepers".


"Bard is known as someone who forebodes gloomy things like floods and poisoned fish. Floods I can see, but poisoned fish? How and why would Bard forebode poisoned fish? Or is this just a slander against Bard?"
- Curious



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CuriousG
Valinor


Oct 11 2012, 12:21am

Post #8 of 8 (727 views)
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Careful speaking to strangers (and dragons) [In reply to] Can't Post

Mine is, “I come from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me”.
Mine too.

I like your comparison of the titles they give to each other and themselves. They both get carried away. I see this as Tolkien's little lesson in the perils of hubris.

Sigurth concealed his name because it was believed in olden times that the word of a dying man might have great power if he cursed his foe by his name.
The thing about Turin was that Glaurung and Morgoth had already cursed his family, so he had nothing left to lose at that point. Tolkien took Sigurth story in a sort of reverse-fate direction.

A “nasty suspicion” grows in Bilbo’s mind as the dragon’s biting words poison the hobbit against the dwarves and his concern grows for his “fair share” of the loot.
Wouldn't you like to turn Saruman and a dragon loose on each other to see who had the more bewitching voice?

5. Bilbo makes the statement “Never laugh at a live dragon, Bilbo you old fool”, a saying that eventually, we are told, became proverbial. What do you think the closest real-world proverb would be to Bilbo’s saying?
Speaking of hubris, I often wonder if Tolkien the author hoped this would become a saying in real life by trying to say it was already. But I'll let sleeping dragons lie.

 
 

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