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**The Gathering of the Clouds** I

Curious
Half-elven


Oct 17 2012, 6:11am

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**The Gathering of the Clouds** I Can't Post


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Now we will return to Bilbo and the dwarves. All night one of them had watched, but when morning came they had not heard or seen any sign of danger. But ever more thickly the birds were gathering. Their companies came flying from the South; and the crows that still lived about the Mountain were wheeling and crying unceasingly above.

"Something strange is happening," said Thorin. "The time has gone for the autumn wanderings; and these are birds that dwell always in the land; there are starlings and flocks of finches; and far off there are many carrion birds as if a battle were afoot!

Suddenly Bilbo pointed: "There is that old thrush again!" he cried. "He seems to have escaped, when Smaug smashed the mountain-side, but I don't suppose the snails have!"

Sure enough the old thrush was there, and as Bilbo pointed, he flew towards them and perched on a stone near by. Then he fluttered his wings and sang; then he cocked his head on one side, as if to listen; and again he sang, and again he listened.

"I believe he is trying to tell us something," said Balin; "but I cannot follow the speech of such birds, it is very quick and difficult. Can you make it out Baggins?"

"Not very well," said Bilbo (as a matter of fact, he could make nothing of it at all); "but the old fellow seems very excited."

"I only wish he was a raven!" said Balin.

"I thought you did not like them! You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before."

"Those were crows! And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well. You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us. But the ravens are different. There used to be great friendship between them and the people of Thror; and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted to hide in their dwellings.

"They live many a year, and their memories are long, and they hand on their wisdom to their children. I knew many among the ravens of the rocks when I was a dwarf-lad. This very height was once named Ravenhill, because there was a wise and famous pair, old Care and his wife, that lived here above the guard-chamber. But I don't suppose that any of that ancient breed linger here now."

No sooner had he finished speaking than the old thrush gave a loud call, and immediately flew away.


Questions:

What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?


Quote

"We may not understand him, but that old bird understands us, I am sure," said Balin. "Keep watch now, and see what happens!"
Before long there was a fluttering of wings, and back came the thrush; and with him came a most decrepit old bird. He was getting blind, he could hardly fly, and the top of his head was bald. He was an aged raven of great size. He alighted stiffly on the ground before them, slowly flapped his wings, and bobbed towards Thorin.

"O Thorin son of Thrain, and Balin son of Fundin," he croaked (and Bilbo could understand what he said, for he used ordinary language and not bird-speech). "I am Rońc son of Carc. Carc is dead, but he was well known to you once. It is a hundred years and three and fifty since I came out of the egg, but I do not forget what my father told me. Now I am the chief of the great ravens of the Mountain. We are few, but we remember still the king that was of old. Most of my people are abroad, for there are great tidings in the South Ś some are tidings of joy to you, and some you will not think so good.

"Behold! the birds are gathering back again to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West, for word has gone out that Smaug is dead!"
"Dead! Dead?" shouted the dwarves. "Dead! Then we have been in needless fear -- and the treasure is ours!"

They all sprang up and began to caper about for joy.

"Yes, dead," said Rońc. "The thrush, may his feathers never fall, saw him die, and we may trust his words. He saw him fall in battle with the men of Esgaroth the third night back from now at the rising of the moon."

It was some time before Thorin could bring the dwarves to be silent and listen to the raven's news. At length when he had told all the tale of the battle he went on:

"So much for joy, Thorin Oakenshield. You may go back to your halls in safety; all the treasure is yours -- for the moment. But many are gathering hither beside the birds. The news of the death of the guardian has already gone far and wide, and the legend of the wealth of Thror has not lost in the telling during many years; many are eager for a share of the spoil. Already a host of the elves is on the way, and carrion birds are with them hoping for battle and slaughter. By the lake men murmur that their sorrows are due to the dwarves; for they are homeless and many have died, and Smaug has destroyed their town. They too think to find amends from your treasure, whether you are alive or dead.

"Your own wisdom must decide your course, but thirteen is small remnant of the great folk of Durin that once dwelt here, and now are scattered far. If you will listen to my counsel, you will not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow. Bard is he, of the race of Dale, of the line of Girion; he is a grim man but true. We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold. I have spoken."


Questions:

Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West? Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?

Tolkien skips quickly over the raven's telling of the tale of Smaug's death, which he learned from the thrush. How much of what we know was told by the raven? Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot? Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?


How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking? Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens? Are the birds just incredible gossips? Do they get anything out of spreading this news?

Do you have any other comments on these passages?



(This post was edited by Curious on Oct 17 2012, 6:16am)


sador
Half-elven


Oct 17 2012, 10:40am

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But first, welcome back!

What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?
It makes it a fairy-tale, or perhaps even a fable. While Tolkien did write in On Fairy-Stories about the human wish to converse with other spieces, in his other books he was quite careful to minimise it. Even Huan is allowed to speak only three times, and in the published Silmarillion there don't seem to be any other occasions (I don't count Thorondor, or Sauron's understanding Draugluin). In The Lord of the Rings there are none, although the fox's thoughts are recoirded, and it is hinted that Fatty Lumpkin could converse with the other horses.

On the other hand, Roverandom is full of speaking animals; and there is the truly delightful Garm in Farmer Giles of Ham, and the North Polar Bear. But neither Leaf or Smith do. (Are the animals in Mr. Bliss sentient? I haven't read it yet.)
This seems like a watershed, doesn't it? And it is curious to see where this puts The Hobbit.

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?
I suppose there is more or less the same basis for the distinction as between eagles and vultures.

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves?
Why can't Giles' mare? But he understood her well enough.

Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?
Didn't it? As far as I remember, it did sing on Durin's Day just before the key-hole appeared.

Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?
Perhaps it is not a problem of the speaker, as one of the listeners - an age-old conceit.

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West?
And not North? Presumably because of the goblins of the Grey Mountains; and no bird (except for crows) would dare the Withered Heath!

Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?
Back home!
I expect that after the maidens were all eaten, Smaug had to feed on the birds. "Nice birds!" As Gollum used to say.

How much of what we know was told by the raven?
I expect only the bare facts were.

Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot?
They all heard it in Inside Information, and Balin even commended him on the discovery!

Did they learn that Bard shot down Smaug because of this crucial information? I doubt it.

Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?

As a rule, he does not seem to be too concerened with what the Dwarves do and do not know.

How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?
He is an old gossip.

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking?
Probably. Didn't Tolkien say so specifically? I think I remember something of the sort, but I don't have the book with me.

Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens?
Well, Bard does not know of Dain until Bilbo tells him.

Are the birds just incredible gossips?
Yes. In middle-earth, they do all the twittering.

Do they get anything out of spreading this news?
Not that we know of.

Do you have any other comments on these passages?
Thorin seems to remember which birds used to live in the area.
And Roac knows Balin - who according to Durin's Folk was seven when he fled the Mountain!

And I wonder whether Thorin's associating with the ravens in preparation for battle is an allusion to Thorfinn Raven-Feeder, which Tolkien must have known about?



"Like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a tale that grew in the telling, beginning as a children's fairy tale and evolving into the epic of fairy tales... The Gathering of the Clouds completes this transition. Unlike a typical children's story, the sides of good and evil are no longer clear-cut: the good peoples that we have been introduced to earlier are preparing to fight a war, and if that war happens, good people will die no matter who wins. Moreover, everyone, the good guys included, have character flaws that bring this situation about... and it is hinted that although the Dragon's body may be dead, his evil will remains to corrupt those who defeated him."
- Beren IV



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


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Oct 17 2012, 4:07pm

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Great questions Curious!

What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?

It is not clear what motivates the animals' efforts to communicate with dwarves, elves and men: are they merely servants or messengers guided by some higher power; or does their urge to communicate outside their species or otherwise involve themselves in the affairs of bipeds come from within?

Tolkien makes it clear that whether or not a given animal is perceived to be sentient depends on a given cultural groups' ability to understand what they are trying to say, or if they are trying to communicate with them at all. On the one hand we have dwarves who claim a history of speaking with birds, and on the other we have a hobbit engaging in anthropomorphosis, but not entirely convinced there is anything to it... until Roac makes an appearance.

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?

They are different species of the same animal, with crows usually being the smaller of the two. Both crows and ravens are considered to be messengers; being carrion birds they often symbolise ill fortune. The Raven is a pregnant symbol throughout history, notably in Norse Legend... but you knew that already.

In the book of Luke we are told to "Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!" The idea that carrion is still providence is a chestnut for spiritually minded folk to wrestle with.

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?

Being able to understand a language and speak a language are two different things.

Just tossing out an idea here... with Smaug out of the way perhaps it's freer now to reveal where its Loyalties lay? Other than that, perhaps the thrush owed allegiance only to Bard and wasn't concerned about the affairs of dwarves?

Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?

Probably for Bilbo's benefit, and perhaps for the thrush -- perhaps ravens and thrushes communicate in Common like an Italian and a Swede conversing in English?

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West? Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?

That's a lot of carrion to devour (too bad his carcass lay underwater). Perhaps too they are eager to begin the work of restoring the ruined lands around Erebor? Some, for instance the Ravens, might be interested in shiny bits from Smaug's horde.

Tolkien skips quickly over the raven's telling of the tale of Smaug's death, which he learned from the thrush. How much of what we know was told by the raven? Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot? Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?

Don't you hate it when your contributions to a successful venture are forgotten? But not even Bilbo knows for sure that it was his intel that helped Bard down Smaug. Life is like that though... we don't always know how our actions or words affect how larger events play out.

How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?

He seems to be slipping into the role of a prophet here, especially as he speaks of future events. Though at his age, and with his memory (and his father's) he would have enough bits of information to make an accurate prediction. It seems to me that Roac is wise enough to recognize and trust integrity where he sees it.

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking? Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens? Are the birds just incredible gossips? Do they get anything out of spreading this news?

Well there was the payment of shiny things to Ravens that Balin mentioned. Perhaps too if they bring useful information occasionally, they can expect to move about unmolested; Smaug seemed to have established a no fly zone around Erebor while in residence there (another reason the birds 'returned').

Do you have any other comments on these passages?

I just like to see Tolkien do here what he does best, pad the main narrative with back stories and legends.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Oct 21 2012, 2:50am

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The thrush and its purpose [In reply to] Can't Post

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?

I think that, in order to play his role in the prophecy written on the Map, the thrush was in a way "under orders" to make no contact with the dwarves until the fulfillment of his purpose.

Once the dwarves did open the door, did he only keep them under surveillance - perhaps there was more that he knew about, regarding the emergence and eventual death of Smaug? If so, then of course he would still have to keep his silence!

And once more I wonder what other hidden runes might have been written on that Map...


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

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"






Curious
Half-elven


Oct 22 2012, 6:12pm

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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

What do you make of animal sentience in The Hobbit? It seems widespread -- what are the implications?

It seems to me that if animals were really sentient and could communicate it would have huge implications. Yet in The Hobbit animals talk yet are still generally treated like animals -- except by Beorn.

Why the distinction between ravens and crows? Is there any primary-world basis for the distinction? Mythological basis?

I think it's the voice, the size, and the intelligence. However, ravens are also more associated with carrion, so sometimes they are the evil birds.

If the thrush can understand Common, why can't it speak Common to the dwarves? Why didn't it try speaking with the dwarves before now?

The thrush in The Hobbit is almost like the Eagles in LotR -- so selective in its actions, and yet so important and providential, that it almost seems like an instrument of the Higher Powers -- or a convenient device of the author.

Why does the raven use Common when the thrush did not? Aren't the dwarves able to understand the raven's bird speech?

The use of Common in fantasies, like the use of universal translators in science fiction, should never be examined too closely.

Why are the birds gathering back to the Mountain and to Dale from South and East and West? Why does Smaug's death cause them to gather?

I suppose they are just gossips. It's a wonder the Giant Spiders didn't show up, too.

Tolkien skips quickly over the raven's telling of the tale of Smaug's death, which he learned from the thrush. How much of what we know was told by the raven? Did the dwarves learn anything about Bilbo's role in the discovery of Smaug's weak spot? Why did Tolkien gloss over this point?

I'm guessing Bilbo's role was not known, since no one commented on it.

How does the raven know the character of the Master of the Lake-men and of Bard?

Again, birds gossip.

Is there another bird speaking to the Elvenking? Does the thrush return to Bard and tell him what happens? Are the birds just incredible gossips? Do they get anything out of spreading this news?

Since the elves and men are surprised to see the dwarves, they apparently did not get advanced warning from birds. I'm not sure why not. Perhaps they didn't think to ask.

Do you have any other comments on these passages?


No.

 
 

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