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The Last Stage, part III - Poetry and Prose

sador
Half-elven


Nov 15 2012, 9:23am

Post #1 of 11 (1479 views)
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The Last Stage, part III - Poetry and Prose Can't Post

  • Let's count:
    In An Unexpected Party, we had two songs, both sung by the dwarves: the lighthearted Chip the Glasses and the serious Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold, which probably sparked Tolkien's imagination for the Misty Mountains adventure (yes, I know Shippey thinks otherwise – but I suspect this is more of a poem inspired by the tales of Hithlum, and in its own turn leading to an adventure).
  • In Roast Mutton there were none. However, Thorin's company is said to sing on the way, and the country becomes ominous when "they came to lands where people spoke strangely, and sang songs Bilbo has never met before" (although he apparently has no problem understanding goblins, Gollum, the eagles and the spiders).
  • In A Short Rest – the famous tra-la-lally song! And another one, no less ridiculous, which Tolkien mentioned but mercifully did not transcribe.
  • In Over Hill and Under Hill, there was the wonderful goblin's song. Where there's a whip indeed!
  • In Riddles in the Dark – no song as such, but most of the riddles were poetry. No-legs is arguable, but all of Gollum's five riddles, and three of Bilbo's clearly are.
  • In Out of the Frying-pan Into the Fire, we had the goblins two songs, Fifteen Birds and Burn, Burn, Tree and Fern (Rateliff, on page 726 of HoH, omits Burn, Burn – I do not know if by mistake, or because he considers it a continuation of the previous one). Trivial and silly, perhaps, but I find them real fun.
  • In Queer Lodgings the dwarves sing another serious song – The Wind was on the Withered Heath.
  • In Flies and Spiders Bilbo makes up two songs, to tease the spiders with: Old Fat Spider and Lazy Lob and Crazy Cob. And quite successful he is at it, too!
  • In Barrels Out of Bond the elves sing two songs – unless you don't count Roll-roll-roll-roll. However, Down the Swift Dark Stream You Go is very nice, and (although the wood-elves don't know it) refers to the dwarves returning back to their homeland (note that Bilbo does not mount a barrel until the song is over!).
  • In A Warm Welcome, we hear of several different songs of competing themes; but we actually read only one which supports the dwarves' agenda, The King Beneath the Mountain.
  • After that – nearly silence. In eight chapters, there is only one song, Under the Mountain Dark and Tall in The Gathering of the Clouds. Despite it being similar to both Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold, which Bilbo liked, and The King Beneath the Mountain, which we know of no disapproval of – Bilbo does not like it. Once again, this is mentioned as competing with the songs of the elves, and the songs seem to influence Bilbo more than all. We've actually heard of the wood-elves singing in Flies and Spiders, but know nothing of that song.
  • Finally, in this chapter we have three: two songs by the elves, and Bilbo's poem Roads Go Ever Ever On, which Gandalf sees as reflecting a change he has undergone.

To what extent is the long "silence" a part of the different tone of the Lonely Mountain chapters, with their drama of winning, sharing and defending the treasure – as opposed to the picaresque of the journey from Bag-End to Lake-town?
Do you miss the poetry in the later chapters, or are you thankful for the omission? Is your attitude consistent with your like or dislike of the shift in focus?
I ask because some have commented on how they dislike the disparity in tone, and see the first part as far superior to the other – despite not liking the poetry.
Is Bilbo's shifting attitudes to the dwarves' songs due to a difference between the songs, i.e. a change in the dwarves, or a change in himself? Is it the same change Gandalf remarked upon?
Any other comments on the poetry throughout the book – for instance, on which songs are left unrecorded?


But we have veered away from our topic, which is the poetry and prose in The Last Stage. I will focus on the poetry; my questions regarding prose will not discuss Tolkien's style here, but rather Bilbo's projected book, and the whole thorny issue of metafiction.

* * *




Regarding the two songs by the elves – the first one ends with a recap of the "Tra-la-lally" chorus, but it follows each of three more serious stanzas: the first speaks of the transitory nature of wealth and power as opposed to the simple beauties of nature; the second of the superiority of the lights of heaven to the precious things found in the earth; and the third call the travelers back home.
"The dragon is withered / His bones are now crumbled…" Doesn't this indicate that a lot more time has passed, than the mere six-seven months which actually did? Or are dragons so brittle?
"And elves are yet singing" – note that the elves' song is considered to be one of the constants, despite the myth of the elves' "fading" being already in existence. Is this a slip of Tolkien? Or an instant of The Hobbit being independent of the legendarium? Did the elves merely use "yet" as opposed to Bilbo's journey – in which case, is this a stylistic failure, being out of tune with the rest of the stanza? Or does Tolkien hint that the elves might have faded indeed, but their song still is with us, premeating the world?

In the second stanza, two points caught my eye:
"The stars are far brighter / Than gems without measure…" – how does this compare to Gimli's accolade of Galadriel's hair (Farewell to Lórien)?

Quote
'… which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine'.


Is there a significance to Gimli speaking of the 'gems of the mine', while the elves speak of 'gems without measure'?
Also – together with the moon and stars, the fire is mentioned, rather than the sun. Any meaning to this?



The third stanza closely echoes the song from A Short Rest - minus the foolish bantering, plus a genuine empathy towards the weary travelers.
What does this shift mean?
Does it in a way "elevate" the song of the earlier chapter, by giving it a wider context, and investing it with a deeper meaning?
Does anything else about this song strike you?


The second song the elves sing is the lullaby "Sing All Ye Joyful". Some short comments:

Quote
The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,
And bright are the windows of Night in her tower


Rateliff suggests that "the moon is in flower" is a hint to Isil's being originally a flower of Telperion.
Is this convincing, or too far-fetched? And if this is supposed to recall the larger mythology, just where is the tower of Night? And why is she female?

Quote
Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!
Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!


Is this a hint at the mythical power of elves to weave dreams for mortals, such as Tolkien enlarged upon in Of Fairy-Stories? Or at the affinity of the Rivendell elves with those of Mirkwood, who did just that?
Considering that this lullaby actually woke Bilbo up – did the elves fail in their stated intention?

And a last thing: I note the archaic language these elves use, which is more pronounced than that of any other speaker in the book: "all ye joyful", the varying places of the word "now" in the song's stiches, the wonderful "The wanderer sleepeth" (which I wanted to use as a discussion title, until I noticed that NEB used it in the previous discussion Frown), the shortened words in "till the wind of the morn", and some others.
What meaning might be attached to this?
Do you like it, or do you find it jarring?
Any other comments about this song?

* * *



Finally, there is Bilbo's first song:

Quote
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea…

This is quite obviously (at least, to my eye) a precursor of the three "The road goes on and on and on" poems in The Lord of the Rings – the optimistic one Bilbo sings upon leaving Bag-end, the more gloomy version Frodo recites upon his leaving, and Bilbo's last version, towards the end of Many Partings. Oddly enough, in his long and fascinating discussion of those three poems, Shippey does not mention this one; however Anderson (note no. 5 to this chapter), compares them. It follows the same metre, but is twice as long as either of them; but perhaps it could be split in two?

Is this poem a part of the same set as the three LotR ones – and is this a four-piece or a five-piece set? Or is it just the seed of the LotR poems? Or is the connection merely superficial, justifying Shippey's omission?
How does it compare to them? Both thematically and in concrete images – for instance, are the "wandering feet" of the third stanza the same as the feet which are "eager" in A Long-expected Party and become "weary" in the two others? And what of the destinations of turning to the "meadows green" as compared to the "lighted inn" in Bilbo's last version? Do you like it as much as them, less or more?



Regarding the placing of this poem in The Hobbit – strictly speaking, it is not Bilbo's first poetic improvisation; after all, he made the two spider-teasing bits on the spot.
Is it really different, or were these impromptu taunts already a sign that Bilbo is not the hobbit that he was?
Does Bilbo declaim this poem, or does he sing it according to some tune? If it is not sung, is this different from the other songs in the book?
Considered with the elvish songs – does the poetry in this chapter mark a return to the mood of the first part of the book? Is it a continuation, or even consummation, of the immediately preceeding chapters? Does it foreshadow in any way The Lord of the Rings?
Any other comments about this poem?

* * *



As a matter of fact, as far back as the first pages of An Unexpected Party, the narrator commented that Bilbo "was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe"; and this is specifically connected to his memories of Gandalf's fireworks in in the birthdays of the Old Took. Later, it turns out that he also remembers quite a few sayings of his father – all of which seem of a very prosaic, folk-wisdom quality.
Is the poetry connected to Bilbo's 'Tookish' side, and the prose to the 'Baggins' side? If so, is the 'Tookish' side reasserting itself in the poem he recites before the return home, which the 'Baggins' side wished for at the end of the previous chapter?


But upon coming home, Bilbo starts writing a book – and it seems to be a prose book (as Elrond will mention in the sequel his not yet re-casting it in verse); what's more, it has the pretty uninspiring title of "There and Back Again, a Hobbit's Holiday".
Has the Baggins side won? Or have the two achieved a harmony? Or will they only in the latter book, when apart of being a prose author by his own write, Biblo also become the translator of the three volumes of Translations from the Elvish?

The Grey Havens indicates that Bilbo's book was the beginning of the Red Book, and that The Hobbit is based upon, or derived from, that source. (see also the Note on the Shire Records at the end of the Prologue).
Is there any indication in The Hobbit at this kind of meta-fiction frame, or is the statement here just a throwaway, meant to show Bilbo's progress from one who refuses to listen to adventure tales to one who writes them?
If it is a throwaway, isn't this odd, based on Tolkien's other work – in which he attempted so often to establish the "chain of tradition" through which the stories came to him?


In a way, Tolkien used the Red Book conceit to brilliant effect, when the sequel forced him to reconsider the Gollum episode, and to rewrite Riddles in the Dark – and then wiggle out of the difference between the two versions by asserting that the first version was the one in the Red Book, which however was a false one!
But in that case, isn't Tolkien shooting himself in the foot? Doesn't it make the whimsical all-knowing narrator a fool, for not knowing that he was re-telling a false story?
And what of all the judgments the narrator has passed on incidents and characters – are they reliable? Might they not be prejudiced by Bilbo's need to justify himself, as the fifth chapter was?

And if we take the Red Book conceit seriously just a bit more –
Why are there only eighty chapters in the Red Book? Has Tolkien miscounted, or is there an internal explanation?

Do you like the Red Book conceit at all?

That's all. I'll learn from experience, and not promise the next thread will be a short one. It will be about the politics of Middle-earth, according to the glimpse of them we get in this chapter; I hoped to post in tomorrow, but it might be postponed to Sunday.


"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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


squire
Valinor


Nov 18 2012, 1:25am

Post #2 of 11 (540 views)
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“Picaresque” – nice! [In reply to] Can't Post

A. To what extent is the long "silence" a part of the different tone of the Lonely Mountain chapters, with their drama of winning, sharing and defending the treasure – as opposed to the picaresque of the journey from Bag-End to Lake-town?
Well, if “tone” is to be defined by the absence of characteristics as much as by the presence, then I agree that the lack of songs contributes to the different tone of the latter part of the book. What I would observe about your list is that songs in The Hobbit are sung by groups, never by individuals, unless it is Bilbo himself in the Gollum and spider episodes. So the songs seem to be mostly choral commentaries on the action or on the nature of the choruses themselves (“introductory” choruses, you might say). Maybe the answer is just there are no new groups or new choruses to sing by the last part of the book.

“Picaresque” – nice!

B. Do you miss the poetry in the later chapters, or are you thankful for the omission?
I’m not “thankful” that the poetry is missing – I like Tolkien’s verses for what they’re worth, primarily as an enrichment of his story-magic. But I don’t miss the poetry in the latter part of the book because it is an absence not a presence, and the action of the plot is in high gear which satisfies me sufficiently.

C. Is your attitude consistent with your like or dislike of the shift in focus? I ask because some have commented on how they dislike the disparity in tone, and see the first part as far superior to the other – despite not liking the poetry.
I like to think I’m consistent here. The Hobbit and I have been in bed together far too long for me to say I like or dislike one part more than another. To me, it’s one book, for all of its range of tone, pace, voice, point of view, and mythopoeticism.

D. Is Bilbo's shifting attitudes to the dwarves' songs due to a difference between the songs, i.e. a change in the dwarves, or a change in himself?
No, the dwarves’ feelings in both songs are the same, reflecting the part of themselves that focuses on jealously and loyalty. It’s Bilbo who has changed. The Tookish side is well sated by now. He is like the young soldier, after having survived a battle or two, listening to the same patriotic anthem that led him to enlist; he is alive and older and wiser, and the magic is gone.

E. Is it the same change Gandalf remarked upon?
Not the same change, because Bilbo now likes songs, just not the dwarves’ war-songs. But yes, the same change in the sense that Bilbo’s adventure has both matured and poeticized him.

F. Any other comments on the poetry throughout the book – for instance, on which songs are left unrecorded?
In passing, I’d note that we have analyzed the verse and songs of The Lord of the Rings, and similarly discovered that The Return of the King (volume 3) is remarkably song-free.

"The dragon is withered / His bones are now crumbled…"
G. Doesn't this indicate that a lot more time has passed, than the mere six-seven months which actually did?
No, no. The present and future tenses of the verses about the perishability of heroic matters is paired with verses in the present tense on the eternal beauties of nature, joined with comparative conjunctions like “yet” and “still” that correlate with the future. The elves are using the specifics of Bilbo’s quest to make a more general point about mortal vs. immortal life, in the present tense that is used to express general truths:

“The dragon is now dead; the wealth and power won thereby will be dead as well someday; but both now and then and afterwards, nature and the elves will thrive and be happy in this valley without care for such matters.”

You might say the song indicates that a lot more time will pass before heroism is finally dead and buried like the dragons it opposes.

H. Or are dragons so brittle?
Well, Smaug sure crumbled up like the Wicked Witch of the West once a simple but correct solution was applied to the problem. Elrond might not have known how the quest would turn out, but these Elves are surely not surprised by the outcome.

"And elves are yet singing" – note that the elves' song is considered to be one of the constants, despite the myth of the elves' "fading" being already in existence.

I. Is this a slip of Tolkien?
In The Hobbit, it seems to be established in the Rivendell and Mirkwood chapters that Elves are an ongoing part of the mortal world, although they have become much more reclusive since the coming of Men.

J. Or an instance of The Hobbit being independent of the legendarium?
Well, sure. Even in The Lord of the Rings, in the early sections that are most under the influence of being a “sequel” to this book, it seems the Elves are only leaving Middle-earth because of the rise of Sauron that drives the plot of Book I. The “legendarium” was being born in The Hobbit and in the early Fellowship, but the whole First-Second-Third Age structure did not exist at that point.

K. Did the elves merely use "yet" as opposed to Bilbo's journey – in which case, is this a stylistic failure, being out of tune with the rest of the stanza?
I’ll stand on my answer above.

L. Or does Tolkien hint that the elves might have faded indeed, but their song still is with us, permeating the world?
There’s no hint of elves’ fading in the song, as clever as your construction is.

"The stars are far brighter / Than gems without measure…" –
M. …how does this compare to Gimli's accolade of Galadriel's hair ('… which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine' - Farewell to Lórien)?
It mostly makes me realize how consistently Tolkien used a relatively limited vocabulary in his symbolism.

N. Is there a significance to Gimli speaking of the 'gems of the mine', while the elves speak of 'gems without measure'?
No, I don’t think so. Both modifiers are appropriate to their context. Although I would say “without measure” is the weaker usage, clearly chosen for its rhyme than for its added meaning to the poetry. Gimli’s “of the mine” goes with “of the earth”, thus elevating Galadriel’s hair to a heavenly quality alongside the stars.

Also – together with the moon and stars, the fire is mentioned, rather than the sun.

O. Any meaning to this?
Your initial analysis proposed that the Elves were comparing “the lights of heaven” to “things of the earth”, but as you see, they are really comparing natural light to reflected light: stars, moon, and hearth-fire to the glitter of gems, silver, and gold. Although we might expect the sun rather than hearth-fire to be the third “good” light, the choice keeps us within the poem’s theme of returning home at the end of the day. Fire, like the color black, is not always a bad thing in Tolkien’s imagery.

The third stanza closely echoes the song from A Short Rest - minus the foolish bantering, plus a genuine empathy towards the weary travelers.
P. What does this shift mean?
Oh, there’s a little foolish bantering – that’s how I read the nonsense about the dragon and the goblin, anyway. Really, I don’t see any shift. Rather, as you say, this is an echo of the earlier song. More exactly, it is a frame – the two songs are the Elves’ commentary on the entire idea of questing and heroism. The differences come from the placement in the story and the context of Bilbo’s journey – the first time he is on his way out, now he is on his way home.

Q. Does it in a way "elevate" the song of the earlier chapter, by giving it a wider context, and investing it with a deeper meaning?
Yes, there is a great deal more moral and ethical commentary in this one, compared to the gaily mocking welcome of the first one. But why not? The book’s “change of tone” parallels Bilbo’s own growth, and the end of the book stands for age’s wisdom compared to youth’s impetuosity at the beginning.

R. Does anything else about this song strike you?
This is practically the only Elven song I can think of where the phrase and (more importantly) the idea of “elf and elf-maiden” occur. It suggests that the Elves have a normal, sexually-balanced society. Odd? No, you’d think, except we never meet or hear of any “elf-maidens” at any other point in The Hobbit, at either Rivendell or Mirkwood. And in The Lord of the Rings, we really only meet Galadriel and Arwen and (by reputation) Nimrodel and Celebrian. They are all royals or otherwise heavily fated exceptions to what I think of as a cheerful, singing and dancing, home-making and child-bearing, “elf-maidenhood” in company with, and of equal status to, your average cheerful “elf”.

The stars are in blossom, the moon is in flower,
And bright are the windows of Night in her tower
Rateliff suggests that "the moon is in flower" is a hint to Isil's being originally a flower of Telperion.
S. Is this convincing, or too far-fetched?

I don’t buy it, but then I haven’t read Rateliff’s commentary. The imagery seems to me to be a somewhat labored attempt to link the emergence of the night’s heavenly lights with that of flowers in the spring.

T. And if this is supposed to recall the larger mythology, just where is the ‘tower of Night?‘
Good question, but I’m not sure it is meant to recall the larger mythology. Again, I smell the desperation of a rhymer (flower/tower) here more than a thought-out metaphor. That said, I like the image of lit windows in the “house of Night”. It seems quite original to me.

U. And why is she female?
Yikes! Who knows? It’s another good question, to which I have no answer. I’m pretty sure it’s not an important point, though. No matter what Tolkien later said, I believe a lot of The Hobbit was “knocked off at a supercharged, fuel-injected, 345-hp Smith Corona before tiffin.”


Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!
Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!

V. Is this a hint at the mythical power of elves to weave dreams for mortals, such as Tolkien enlarged upon in Of Fairy-Stories?
A hint, sure. But the imagery could apply to a mother singing to her child, or just about any other similar situation.

W. Or at the affinity of the Rivendell elves with those of Mirkwood, who did just that?
It’s not an either-or question, since both folk are Elves. But the Mirkwood Elves didn’t sing the dwarves to sleep in the fashion that the Rivendell Elves are clearly doing, or trying to do.

X. Considering that this lullaby actually woke Bilbo up – did the elves fail in their stated intention?

I’m not sure the song woke Bilbo up, despite his joke about the loudness. The writing suggests he woke because he’d had enough sleep. I read recently that it is more common than we realize for agrarian people who have gone to bed when it gets dark to wake in the early hours of the morning, stay awake for an hour or two, and then go back to sleep until light.

That said, the Elves are hardly working on just a lullaby for Bilbo. The first two stanzas are celebratory of the joys of a nighttime revel. Only in the third verse do they change pace and address “the wanderer [who] sleepeth.”


And a last thing: I note the archaic language these elves use, which is more pronounced than that of any other speaker in the book.
Y. What meaning might be attached to this?
I don’t know, but I’ve always noticed it too. It sounds rather like a hymn or a carol (“O Come All Ye Faithful” comes to my mind every time).

Z. Do you like it, or do you find it jarring?
I find it kind of corny and labored, and I have always assumed it was Tolkien’s attempt to create a kind of Elvish “dignity” with which to bade them farewell in The Hobbit.

AA. Any other comments about this song?
I am rather curious about the ode to all the types of trees. Only since coming to TORn have I found that the medievals had distinct ideas about the nature and uses of various tree species, and I now read verses like “Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!” “Sigh no more Pine” and “Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!” with suspicion that I am missing some erudite reference to Tolkienian tree-lore.

I will try to respond to the rest of your questions later.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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sador
Half-elven


Nov 19 2012, 8:57am

Post #3 of 11 (316 views)
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I'm glad you like it. [In reply to] Can't Post

In fact, I was under the impression that I have called the first ten chapters of The Hobbit a picaresque often before - I have long thought of this! But it turns out I did so only once, and then oibliquely.


In Reply To

What I would observe about your list is that songs in The Hobbit are sung by groups, never by individuals, unless it is Bilbo himself in the Gollum and spider episodes. So the songs seem to be mostly choral commentaries on the action or on the nature of the choruses themselves (“introductory” choruses, you might say).


Oh, this is excellent!


In Reply To

I like to think I’m consistent here. The Hobbit and I have been in bed together far too long for me to say I like or dislike one part more than another. To me, it’s one book, for all of its range of tone, pace, voice, point of view, and mythopoeticism.


I agree - and what's more, I think the shift in tone actually follows a pattern (which I'll try to get to on the next thread). It is Curious who usually states that the first part of the book is superior by far to the other.


Quote
It’s Bilbo who has changed. The Tookish side is well sated by now. He is like the young soldier, after having survived a battle or two, listening to the same patriotic anthem that led him to enlist; he is alive and older and wiser, and the magic is gone.


So is the Baggins side the wiser?

Well, I'm sure not; but I agree that Bilbo is quite fed-up with danger.
On the other hand, it could be that with a choice between the dwarves' song and that of the elves outside - the Tookish side prefers deserting, too.


In Reply To

Well, Smaug sure crumbled up like the Wicked Witch of the West once a simple but correct solution was applied to the problem.

Ha!
As did Sauron, by the way.


In Reply To

In The Hobbit, it seems to be established in the Rivendell and Mirkwood chapters that Elves are an ongoing part of the mortal world, although they have become much more reclusive since the coming of Men.


Hmm.
I agree that, whatever Rateliff might argue, even if The Hobbit was at first conceived to take part in the same world as the Silmarillion legends, it then took a life of itself, and might not be consistent with it.
However, the Mrkwood elves are introduced with an account of the Great Journey and the Unwilling elves which stayed behind, so I'm not sure we can detach the two - at least not regarding the elves.


In Reply To
Oh, there’s a little foolish bantering – that’s how I read the nonsense about the dragon and the goblin, anyway. Really, I don’t see any shift.


But that bantering wasn't in the song, was started by Bilbo, and at any case is comparable to the elves' teasing Thorin about his beard and Bilbo about his love for cakes. The bantering in A Short Rest is both more rude, and not modified in any way.


In Reply To
This is practically the only Elven song I can think of where the phrase and (more importantly) the idea of “elf and elf-maiden” occur...


Very good!
Which might be the reason I like Nellas (from The Children of Hurin) so much.


In Reply To

I don’t buy it, but then I haven’t read Rateliff’s commentary.

Haven't you? I'm surprised; as a rule, you've read more than me.


In Reply To
I like the image of lit windows in the “house of Night”. It seems quite original to me.

Yes; although in The Lord of the Rings, the tower of the Rising Moon becomes a place of fear, with a ghastly light that reveals rather than illuminates. Gives me the shivers.


In Reply To
I read recently that it is more common than we realize for agrarian people who have gone to bed when it gets dark to wake in the early hours of the morning, stay awake for an hour or two, and then go back to sleep until light.

That's very interesting. Thank you!

That said, the Elves are hardly working on just a lullaby for Bilbo. The first two stanzas are celebratory of the joys of a nighttime revel. Only in the third verse do they change pace and address “the wanderer [who] sleepeth.”


In Reply To
I am rather curious about the ode to all the types of trees. Only since coming to TORn have I found that the medievals had distinct ideas about the nature and uses of various tree species, and I now read verses like “Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!” “Sigh no more Pine” and “Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!” with suspicion that I am missing some erudite reference to Tolkienian tree-lore.

But no birches (except for the alder).

Seriously, I have been thinking of the Shippey-Fleiger argument regarding the birch in Smith of Wootton Major (in A Question of Time and The Road to Middle-earth), and Shippey always seemed to have a point with the oak-birch dichotomy. But isn't Treebeard compared to an oak or beech? Perhaps Shippey is making too much of it.

Anyway, it is an interesting question - but the thorn is unexpected.


In Reply To
I will try to respond to the rest of your questions later.

I'm looking forward to it. Thank you!








"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 19 2012, 11:26am

Post #4 of 11 (355 views)
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Songs and tales [In reply to] Can't Post

To what extent is the long "silence" a part of the different tone of the Lonely Mountain chapters, with their drama of winning, sharing and defending the treasure – as opposed to the picaresque of the journey from Bag-End to Lake-town?

Maybe the use of songs is a reflection of Tolkien's sense of how they work on our imagination, feed into our actions (by inspiring us), and then become enriched by the actions themselves as they become the subject of new tales.

"Far over the misty mountains cold" is the song that gets Bilbo's Tookish imagination working until it overcomes his Baggins reluctance. The song has also fed the Dwarves' own sense of destiny for many long years. Other songs, whether comic or more serious, add to the general sense of the adventure. But when the adventure proper begins, the songs seem to stop. Only afterwards is there time to absorb the meaning of what has happened, and transform the events into songs and tales of their own. That's what Bilbo's song, "Roads go ever ever on", is doing - he's learned this "elvish craft", and that's what I think Gandalf means when he says Bilbo has changed. (I'm using "elvish craft" as Tolkien uses it in On Fairy Stories, to refer to an imaginative stance, not particularly linking it to the Elves in The Hobbit. Other races are also capable of this elvish craft, the Rohirrim for example after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields ["We heard of the horns in the hills ringing"], and the Dwarves at the start of The Hobbit.)

I don't think it's a coincidence that Frodo and Sam talk of tales just before they intend to go "over the top" into Mordor, and that they turn their own situation into a tale with each other as hero. This is the idea of tale as inspiration to face danger and difficulty, just as the Dwarves (and Bilbo) are inspired by the song we hear at the Unexpected Party. And I think it's also important that we always see the transformation afterwards of heroic events back into songs and tales - whether Bilbo's song in this chapter, or the mention, also in this chapter, that he's writing "memoirs' which are clearly cognate(*) with the book itself.

(* sorry for using a technical term from linguistics, but it struck me as appropriate since so much of Tolkien's thinking seems to be inspired by his philological background.)


Quote
...the famous tra-la-lally song! And another one, no less ridiculous, which Tolkien mentioned but mercifully did not transcribe.

I really have to defend the tra-la-lally song at least a bit from this charge of ridiculousness!. Yes, it's meant to be funny and mocking, but it's also, I think, meant to echo the madrigal of the Renaissance which was often funny or risqué, but still sounded beautiful and maybe even quite "elvish". Here's an example of an actual madrigal with its own nonsense-word refrain. Very sedate and lovely, you might think. But as the Wikipedia article tells us, it full of double-entendre! Not what Tolkien is going for, it's true, but still, I think the elves' song is meant to sound beautiful, even though it's full of mocking words. Or how about this - The Flowers the Bloom in the Spring, from The Mikado. A more modern take on the madrigal with its spring theme and tra-la-la nonsense refrain, and still combining comedy with lovely music. That's how Elves do comedy, I think!

Cool


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



CuriousG
Valinor


Nov 20 2012, 7:48am

Post #5 of 11 (331 views)
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Tour de force [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent article, sador, even by your own high standards!

I'll try not to repeat squire and FarFromHome, though I am wont to plagiarism when I can get away with it.

Frequency of songs: I'd never noticed them disappearing later in the book, though I can say that in general, I skip over Tolkien's songs anyway. I don't think they're bad, but they just don't seem to do much for me as a reader, unless they're funny--I really like the dwarves singing in Bag End about breaking all of Bilbo's plates. Do you suppose they stole his silver spoons during the ruckuss, instead of Lobelia? Anyway, given how much Tolkien likes adding in songs and poems, it is surprising that he doesn't put some into the later chapters. Even though the action and drama intensify, I can think of a couple of places where they might have worked naturally enough, such as Bilbo singing in his mind to keep up his spirits as he went down to Smaug's lair, and the dwarves singing songs of victory when they reclaimed the dragon hoard. So my question is: do you suppose the omission of songs was deliberate on JRR's part, or was he just so focused on other aspects of writing the chapters that he didn't think of adding songs/poetry?

Is Bilbo's shifting attitudes to the dwarves' songs due to a difference between the songs, i.e. a change in the dwarves, or a change in himself? Is it the same change Gandalf remarked upon?
It seems a little odd that Bilbo doesn't like the songs later in the story, specifically in Esgaroth. He's like a wet blanket on the party. But I think this is Bilbo growing up from his earlier version of "gee whiz, adventure!" to a more skeptical "now that we're at the end of the road, isn't this adventure going to stir up a lot of trouble instead of gold and glory?" I think he's becoming more insightful about things, which culminates in his trying to mediate between the different races to prevent a war.

"The stars are far brighter / Than gems without measure…" – how does this compare to Gimli's accolade of Galadriel's hair (Farewell to Lórien)?

Quote
'… which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine'.
Most people, including me, would never make that connection--bravo!

Is the poetry connected to Bilbo's 'Tookish' side, and the prose to the 'Baggins' side? If so, is the 'Tookish' side reasserting itself in the poem he recites before the return home, which the 'Baggins' side wished for at the end of the previous chapter?
I think it's clear by the end of the book that the Tookish side has grown very large and become a permanent fixture of Bilbo's personality, and it coexists with his Baggins side that resettles comfortably in Bag End. He has become a mixture of prose and poetry and is no longer the somewhat dull, predictable (but respectable!) hobbit we first meet. I think Gandalf expects that when Bilbo gets back to the Shire, he'll revert to his Baggins self, so he's surprised and pleased to see that the Took hasn't died out in him upon his return.

Has the Baggins side won? Or have the two achieved a harmony?
More harmony than either side winning. If the Baggins side truly won, Bilbo would dedicate the rest of his life to fitting in and being respectable. But "harmony" might not be the right word. In the beginning of LOTR, Bilbo is tormented inside. Is this entirely from the Ring, or is he unable later in life to make peace between his Baggins and Took characteristics, or is the Ring exploiting those differences as his weak spot?

Move a little further, and the Bilbo we see in Rivendell seems entirely Tookish: he's traveled the world again, and has no intention of going back to live in the Shire, preferring to live with outlandish folk and study foreign languages and non-hobbit things. Any victory the Baggins side has upon his return to Bag End is not going to last.

Do you like the Red Book conceit at all?
Verily forsooth. That is to say, yes and no. Or more simply, no. [from Goodgulf in Bored of the Rings] I should stick with yes and no. In some ways I think the Red Book conceit makes the story more self-contained, and there's a charm in thinking that everything we know comes to us from hobbits. Since most of the trilogy and The Hobbit is told from the perspective of the hobbits, that makes plenty of sense. But there are times when trying to make it work not only seems forced, it fails altogether for me. And that's fine. I think it would diminish the story if I was truly supposed to believe that it was like fairy tale movies where a book opens and closes at the beginning and end of the movie--that device seems to simplify things too much.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 21 2012, 10:20am

Post #6 of 11 (316 views)
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In Reply To
It seems a little odd that Bilbo doesn't like the songs later in the story, specifically in Esgaroth. He's like a wet blanket on the party. But I think this is Bilbo growing up from his earlier version of "gee whiz, adventure!" to a more skeptical "now that we're at the end of the road, isn't this adventure going to stir up a lot of trouble instead of gold and glory?"

I think that scepticism you describe is exactly what's changed Bilbo's attitude to the song. In Bag End, he was borne away by the great vision of adventure and romance in faraway places. Now, although the Dwarves' song is "much like the song they had sung long before in Bilbo's little hobbit-hole", it doesn't bear him away any more. Now it makes his heart sink. The first time, Bilbo was "inside the song", you might say. This time, he's on the outside, held back by his doubts and fears - the song is being sung to lighten Thorin's mood, and no longer speaks to Bilbo. Instead, he's now much more drawn to the Elves' songs, which still do have that magical effect of bearing him away to somewhere else: "...elven-harps and of sweet music; and as it echoed up towards them it seemed that the chill of the air was warmed, and they caught faintly the fragrance of woodland flowers blossoming in spring." But the Dwarves' music doesn't work its spell on Bilbo now - perhaps because he knows too much?


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


Nov 21 2012, 10:50am

Post #7 of 11 (331 views)
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Thanks for the links! [In reply to] Can't Post


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I don't think it's a coincidence that Frodo and Sam talk of tales just before they intend to go "over the top" into Mordor, and that they turn their own situation into a tale with each other as hero. This is the idea of tale as inspiration to face danger and difficulty, just as the Dwarves (and Bilbo) are inspired by the song we hear at the Unexpected Party. And I think it's also important that we always see the transformation afterwards of heroic events back into songs and tales

I agree. More of this in the fifth thread, about preophecies.


In Reply To
I really have to defend the tra-la-lally song at least a bit from this charge of ridiculousness!. Yes, it's meant to be funny and mocking, but it's also, I think, meant to echo the madrigal of the Renaissance which was often funny or risqué, but still sounded beautiful and maybe even quite "elvish".


I was hoping someone will bring up the madrigals! Perhaps I should have linked to Finding Frodo's thread in this year's discussion.
That said, I still don't quite like this song.

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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


squire
Valinor


Nov 22 2012, 6:13am

Post #8 of 11 (354 views)
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*What* goes ever on and on? [In reply to] Can't Post

BB. Is this poem (“Roads go ever on and on”) a part of the same set as the three LotR ones – and is this a four-piece or a five-piece set?
The main difference that I notice is that Bilbo’s song in The Hobbit is a clear recapitulation of his recent adventure: each line in the first stanza is a reference to some point in his journey to Erebor, and each line in the second refers to his return while looking back to his adventure. That explains the two-stanza structure: “There” (stanza 1) and “Back Again” (stanza 2).

By contrast, the one-stanza version he sings at the beginning of his new journey in LotR is open-ended. It concludes, “whither then? I cannot say”. More significantly, it celebrates the idea of the Road itself, as a symbol of exploration and growth, where the Hobbit version refers to “roads”, not “the road”, which are a means to an end. It seems clear that Bilbo, after he returned Back Again, internalized the idea of his great adventure and became enamored of the idea of journeying rather than the goal of a journey.

You say that Frodo’s version when he begins his journey in Chapter 3 of FotR is “more gloomy” but there is only one word that is changed: “eager feet” have become “weary feet”. Is that enough for us to project “gloominess” onto Frodo’s mood, compared to Bilbo’s? I get the feeling of resignation instead. The difference is that Frodo is on the Road by compulsion, not free will as Bilbo was when he abandoned Bag End for one more lark to the East. But in both hobbits’ songs the emphasis is on the predetermined nature of the route combined with the uncertainty of the outcome.

Bilbo’s reprise in RotK is clearly the flip side of his (and Frodo’s) verse at the beginning of the epic. The gag is that the elderly Bilbo finally accepts that his journeying days are over. His feet are “weary” now, as Frodo’s always were. But although we might propose that Bilbo’s two verses, beginning and end, are the equivalent of his two-stanza composition in The Hobbit, there are a couple of differences. One, the LotR verse is more thematic. In it, the Road is a metaphor for Life, not just Adventure. After all, in LotR, Bilbo has not been the hero, but simply a long-lived hobbit who initially defies but finally accepts his mortality. Two, and very interestingly, Bilbo in LotR turns away from the Road in favor of an Inn, not his homely Hole and Lands which were his final destination at the end of his Hobbit verse. The image of a “lighted inn” where he will meet his “evening-rest and sleep” suggests to me that the hobbit expects that Death will not be a final fate, but simply a rest on a new journey on a truly distant Road.

CC. Or is it just the seed of the LotR poems?
Well, it is the seed, but it also stands perfectly well on its own.

DD. Or is the connection merely superficial, justifying Shippey's omission?
Of course this is not a superficial connection. Tolkien developed the more ambitious poem from the ideas and themes contained in the more limited and specific earlier one – just as he did with the two books overall.

EE. How does it compare to them?
I defer to the mini-essay recorded above.

FF. Both thematically and in concrete images – for instance, are the "wandering feet" of the third stanza the same as the feet which are "eager" in A Long-expected Party and become "weary" in the two others?
Third stanza?? I think there are two eight-line stanzas, but maybe you are calling out the quatrains instead? In any case, of course the feet in question are the same: the traveler’s feet.

GG. And what of the destinations of turning to the "meadows green" as compared to the "lighted inn" in Bilbo's last version?
Again, I’m already on it. See above.

HH. Do you like it as much as them, less or more?
I like the LotR sequence better. It’s more developed and sophisticated. The Hobbit verse is rather primitive by comparison – primitive in the sense of propounding simple, basic thematic images from the story and from Tolkien’s basic poetic vocabulary.

Regarding the placing of this poem in The Hobbit – strictly speaking, it is not Bilbo's first poetic improvisation; after all, he made the two spider-teasing bits on the spot.
II. Is it really different, or were these impromptu taunts already a sign that Bilbo is not the hobbit that he was?
It’s not entirely clear that Bilbo is improvising when he crests the rise and sees the Hill in the distance – although I admit it is a valid interpretation. Still, the doggerel that he spouts at the spiders are not in the same class as the well-structured and balanced lines of “Roads go ever on and on”. We might almost assume that Bilbo, as a member of a more oral culture, could come up with the spider verses just from his natural training in composition, but that this poem required more art and craft – enough to be begin qualifying him as a poet and to merit Gandalf’s exclamation.

JJ. Does Bilbo declaim this poem, or does he sing it according to some tune?
Well, the text says he “said” it. Since Tolkien is not averse to saying when something is being “sung”, I assume Bilbo was reciting rather than singing.

KK. If it is not sung, is this different from the other songs in the book?
Ah – “verses”, not “songs”, if your question is to make any sense. But then, yes – good point. Only the Riddles are recited in the sense that this verse is; everything else in verse form is sung in this book, it seems.

LL. Considered with the elvish songs – does the poetry in this chapter mark a return to the mood of the first part of the book?
No. The whole point of the Elves’ more complex songs, and of Bilbo reciting poetry, is to emphasize that the mood of the beginning of the book cannot – and should not – be recovered.

MM. Is it a continuation, or even consummation, of the immediately preceeding chapters?
No, because as you have noted, there is very little verse in the preceding chapters – being at the height of the adventure.

NN. Does it foreshadow in any way The Lord of the Rings?
Quite the opposite. Like all the rest of the ending of The Hobbit, the point is to shut down the adventure and absorb its consequences into a “happy ever after” ending. There is no “foreshadowing” of the LotR at all in The Hobbit, that was not imposed on it after the fact of LotR being written. It’s hard, but it can be done: read The Hobbit, and don’t think of LotR at all. Try it, it’s fun and easier than you may think!

OO. Any other comments about this poem?
I’m good, thanks.

PP. Is the poetry connected to Bilbo's 'Tookish' side, and the prose to the 'Baggins' side?
I’m not sure you’re contrasting “prosy” and “prosaic” correctly. I think “prosy” in the narrator’s comment about Bilbo’s flight of poeticism about the fireworks is meant to convey the idea of plain speech. So despite his professions of being uninterested in adventures Bilbo is capable of picturesque rhetoric, i.e., romance and poetry even if rendered in prose (unversed speech).
But to say that Bilbo’s father’s sayings are prosaic is simply to say that they are commonplace and well-known. It doesn’t mean they don’t have color and imagery – that’s exactly what they do have, and Bilbo’s fondness for them might suggest solidity and attraction to tradition, but it also might suggest an attraction to metaphor and imagery.

QQ. If so, is the 'Tookish' side reasserting itself in the poem he recites before the return home, which the 'Baggins' side wished for at the end of the previous chapter?
I don’t think it’s all such a see-saw matter as you are implying. Through his adventure Bilbo experiences integration, a combining of the Took and Baggins, rather than displacement of one by the other.

[Bilbo’s book] seems to be a prose book [with] the pretty uninspiring title of "There and Back Again, a Hobbit's Holiday".
RR. Has the Baggins side won?

The mundane title is calculated to sell in the hobbit market, you might say. (I believe it is actually a little joke on Tolkien’s part about the typical titles given to memoirs in his day.)

SS. Or have the two achieved a harmony?
Now you’re getting it, boyo.”

TT. Or will they only in the latter book, when apart of being a prose author by his own write, Bilbo also become the translator of the three volumes of Translations from the Elvish?
We’re getting pretty far afield from the Bilbo who returns to his Hole from his adventure with the dwarves and Smaug, aren’t we? Would you like to speculate that, if Translations from the Elvish is the book we know as The Silmarillion, then the earlier parts having to do with the Elves and the Eldar represent Bilbo’s Tookish side, while the later tales of the adventures of the Edain (Men) represent the Baggins side, thus achieving your above-noted “harmony”? Cuz I wouldn’t.

“The Grey Havens” indicates that Bilbo's book was the beginning of the Red Book, and that The Hobbit is based upon, or derived from, that source.
UU. Is there any indication in The Hobbit at this kind of meta-fiction frame, or is the statement here just a throwaway, meant to show Bilbo's progress from one who refuses to listen to adventure tales to one who writes them?
Two responses here: One, yes. The Hobbit is clearly suggested at the end as being Bilbo’s memoirs. It’s not as important or meaningful as the Red Book gag in LotR, because The Hobbit is not meant to convey the idea of the passing of an Age of Legend. In fact, its purpose is the opposite of LotR’s in this sense. It tries to convince us that we still live in an Age of Legend, if we just open our eyes and our minds. Two, I don’t think we should confuse memoirs with tales in the sense of fictional compositions. Bilbo’s memoirs are “factual” in the sense of having really happened (in Bilbo’s world, if you want to make that distinction). The point isn’t that Bilbo goes from refusing to listen to (or rather, to believe) apparently fictional adventure tales to “writing them”, as if he had begun writing fiction. The point is that Bilbo refused to believe in adventure tales, and then lived through an adventure and wrote it up truthfully – learning thereby that “tales” are more likely to be factual than we would like to admit.

VV. If it is a throwaway, isn't this odd, based on Tolkien's other work – in which he attempted so often to establish the "chain of tradition" through which the stories came to him?

It’s not a throwaway, as far as I understand your question. So the oddness isn’t.

In a way, Tolkien used the Red Book conceit to brilliant effect, when the sequel forced him to reconsider the Gollum episode, and to rewrite Riddles in the Dark – and then wiggle out of the difference between the two versions by asserting that the first version was the one in the Red Book, which however was a false one!
WW. But in that case, isn't Tolkien shooting himself in the foot?
Well, he certainly never explains how the two different traditions both made it into print in the 20th century, when both are supposedly based on ancient sources edited by the same “discoverer”. In other words, Tolkien seems to want to differentiate between “There and Back Again” as a manuscript/book, which he found and edited first of all in the late 1930s; and the “Red Book of Westmarch” with Gondorian addenda, which he found and edited in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But in the LotR story (not the Hobbit story), the “Red Book” is “Bilbo’s Book”. As far as we can tell, Bilbo’s “memoirs” as per The Hobbit were never actually published, despite the implication in The Hobbit that they would be. His “book”, as Merry tells us, is hard to get hold of and has really only been read by Frodo and (maybe) Gandalf.

XX. Doesn't it make the whimsical all-knowing narrator a fool, for not knowing that he was re-telling a false story?
I wouldn’t go that far. I prefer to reflect on Gandalf’s folly for not investigating Bilbo’s ring when it was clearly a Ring of Power from the beginning.

YY. And what of all the judgments the narrator has passed on incidents and characters – are they reliable?
Absolutely. I trust the narrator implicitly. He is smart and knowledgeable, and he is not Bilbo. All I don’t do is compare The Hobbit to the accounts of the same events in The Lord of the Rings.

ZZ. Might they not be prejudiced by Bilbo's need to justify himself, as the fifth chapter was?
As I implied above, what you’re saying here just doesn’t make sense. A manuscript tradition that proposes the parallel existence of two manuscripts/books, both by Bilbo, with two differing stories about his encounter with Gollum and the ring, is not credible or suggested by the clues in the writing.

AAA. Why are there only eighty chapters in the Red Book?
Oh, wow. I don’t know. How does the chapter count of the Hobbit and LotR compare to that number?

BBB. Has Tolkien miscounted, or is there an internal explanation?
Still waiting.

CCC. Do you like the Red Book conceit at all?
I “like” it for its cleverness. I don’t hold the author to it, as if he has made a mistake wherever the conceit fails to work.

Thanks for the excellent questions and presentation this week!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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sador
Half-elven


Nov 22 2012, 1:17pm

Post #9 of 11 (294 views)
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Thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I really like the dwarves singing in Bag End about breaking all of Bilbo's plates. Do you suppose they stole his silver spoons during the ruckuss, instead of Lobelia?


The dwarves? No, of course not. However, Bilbo took the opportunity when he was "recovering from his fit" to steal their music instruments! That would show Gloin!


In Reply To
So my question is: do you suppose the omission of songs was deliberate on JRR's part, or was he just so focused on other aspects of writing the chapters that he didn't think of adding songs/poetry?


I'm not sure. From my limited knowledge, I think light-hearted verse came easier to Tolkien, even if he tried to write serious poetry. So perhaps your second suggestion is correct.


In Reply To
I think Gandalf expects that when Bilbo gets back to the Shire, he'll revert to his Baggins self, so he's surprised and pleased to see that the Took hasn't died out in him upon his return.


Interesting. I always took the surprise to be somewhat feigned. I admit, though, I don't have any good textual basis for this assumption.


In Reply To
In the beginning of LOTR, Bilbo is tormented inside. Is this entirely from the Ring, or is he unable later in life to make peace between his Baggins and Took characteristics, or is the Ring exploiting those differences as his weak spot?


Tolkien intended it to be the Ring, of course. From this chapter, there is no hint that he will ever be unhappy - it rather seems that he will live happily and in content to the end of his days (although it is up to us to guess whether he will ever get married).






"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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


sador
Half-elven


Nov 22 2012, 6:21pm

Post #10 of 11 (297 views)
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Nice analysis! [In reply to] Can't Post

A couple of comments:

In Reply To
More significantly, it celebrates the idea of the Road itself, as a symbol of exploration and growth, where the Hobbit version refers to “roads”, not “the road”, which are a means to an end. It seems clear that Bilbo, after he returned Back Again, internalized the idea of his great adventure and became enamored of the idea of journeying rather than the goal of a journey.


That's an interesting thought.
If so, what do you make of the "Let other follow it who can!" in the last version? It doesn't sound like "journeying" in general.


In Reply To

“eager feet” have become “weary feet”. Is that enough for us to project “gloominess” onto Frodo’s mood, compared to Bilbo’s? I get the feeling of resignation instead.

Maybe "gloominess" was inexact. But I don't think mere resignation would account for the weariness.


In Reply To
The image of a “lighted inn” where he will meet his “evening-rest and sleep” suggests to me that the hobbit expects that Death will not be a final fate, but simply a rest on a new journey on a truly distant Road.


Wow!
I never thought of that. Thank you!


In Reply To
We might almost assume that Bilbo, as a member of a more oral culture, could come up with the spider verses just from his natural training in composition, but that this poem required more art and craft – enough to be begin qualifying him as a poet and to merit Gandalf’s exclamation.


That sounds reasonable. And pretty much like something FarFromHome would write.

(But in that case it wouldn't "sound"; I don't know whether to make the metaphor consistent)


In Reply To
The whole point of the Elves’ more complex songs, and of Bilbo reciting poetry, is to emphasize that the mood of the beginning of the book cannot – and should not – be recovered.


I tend to agree.


In Reply To

I’m not sure you’re contrasting “prosy” and “prosaic” correctly.

You're right. I stand corrected.


In Reply To
I don’t think it’s all such a see-saw matter as you are implying. Through his adventure Bilbo experiences integration, a combining of the Took and Baggins, rather than displacement of one by the other.


But Tolkien describes it as such - up to the end of the previous chapter.


In Reply To

Would you like to speculate that, if Translations from the Elvish is the book we know as The Silmarillion, then the earlier parts having to do with the Elves and the Eldar represent Bilbo’s Tookish side, while the later tales of the adventures of the Edain (Men) represent the Baggins side, thus achieving your above-noted “harmony”?

No.


In Reply To
The point is that Bilbo refused to believe in adventure tales, and then lived through an adventure and wrote it up truthfully – learning thereby that “tales” are more likely to be factual than we would like to admit.


I accept that.


In Reply To
I wouldn’t go that far. I prefer to reflect on Gandalf’s folly for not investigating Bilbo’s ring when it was clearly a Ring of Power from the beginning.


All right, but that's a different question.
And if we take the information Tolkien added in The Tale of Years and The Istari into account, it seems that his even more glaring folly was trusting Saruman. That guy has Traitor written all over his words and actions, in a far worse way that Jackson's Wormtongue.
In fact, this is a problem with most of Tolkien's re-thinkng - whenever he rewrote his earlier tales to make them tally with the later ones, he sacrficed subtlety for consistency.


In Reply To

Absolutely. I trust the narrator implicitly. He is smart and knowledgeable, and he is not Bilbo. All I don’t do is compare The Hobbit to the accounts of the same events in The Lord of the Rings.


Okay. I don't - at least not when he tries to explain in passing motivations of minor characters. He does that too seldom, and never seems to care about others than Bilbo.
You might say (perhaps even correctly) that I abuse my knowledge of Tolkien's later change of mind to impose my own agenda on the book.


In Reply To
A manuscript tradition that proposes the parallel existence of two manuscripts/books, both by Bilbo, with two differing stories about his encounter with Gollum and the ring, is not credible or suggested by the clues in the writing.


I don't think you've proved that. As you've said, there is no explanation to the two different, ah, tradition of the fifth chapter.
And even without that, once we accept Tolkien's conceit about the 'manuscripts' and his statement that the source for The Hobbit was Bilbo's book, which included false information - a slighter prejudice might have entered other chapters.
It's not that the clues aren't there; it's just that you refuse to play along. We all make our choices just how much to follow the author's lead when reading.


In Reply To

I don’t know. How does the chapter count of the Hobbit and LotR compare to that number?


19+62=81.
The neatest internal explanation was to assume that Fire and Water was derived from a different manuscript, as no hobbit was a witness. But most likely it was just a mistake.
I remember Christopher Tolkien mentioning it somewhere in HoME, but I don't remember his suggested answer.


In Reply To
I “like” it for its cleverness. I don’t hold the author to it, as if he has made a mistake wherever the conceit fails to work.


I won't say a mistake, but a failure to keep up with his ambition. If nobody else reads this, we two can agree that Tolkien was not always successful.


In Reply To
Thanks for the excellent questions and presentation this week!

Thank you! Such answers make all the involved work worth the while.

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 23 2012, 11:36am

Post #11 of 11 (1263 views)
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Truth and fiction [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for some very interesting reading here. Just a couple of thoughts inspired by a few of your comments...


Quote
...tales in the sense of fictional compositions.

"Tales" in Middle-earth are never fictional really, are they? They are all "true", in the sense that they are attempts by the characters to put real (from their perspective), remembered events into words. I'm trying to think of any deliberate "fiction" in Middle-earth. Sam's song of the troll, perhaps?


Quote
I’m not sure you’re contrasting “prosy” and “prosaic” correctly. I think “prosy” in the narrator’s comment about Bilbo’s flight of poeticism about the fireworks is meant to convey the idea of plain speech. So despite his professions of being uninterested in adventures Bilbo is capable of picturesque rhetoric, i.e., romance and poetry even if rendered in prose (unversed speech).
But to say that Bilbo’s father’s sayings are prosaic is simply to say that they are commonplace and well-known. It doesn’t mean they don’t have color and imagery – that’s exactly what they do have, and Bilbo’s fondness for them might suggest solidity and attraction to tradition, but it also might suggest an attraction to metaphor and imagery.


Nice argument! In fact, I don't think there's a clear line to be drawn between the forms of poetry and prose in Tolkien's writing - or even between the forms of 'speaking' and 'singing'. It's all one continuum, it seems to me, which is perhaps why "songs and tales" often go together as if they are just variants of the same thing. It's the content that matters, so as you say, anything with heightenend language ("picturesque rhetoric", "color and imagery", "metaphor") belongs to the category of "songs and tales", as opposed to the prosaic, superficial language that Gandalf calls Bilbo out for in the first chapter - phrases like "Good morning" and "I beg your pardon" that are ossified and meaningless - unless, like Gandalf, you take the trouble to look behind the cliche and dig out their real meaning. By that criterion, Bilbo's father's sayings could go either way - it all depends whether they are experienced as fixed formulas or living metaphors. As we see for example with Ioreth's "old wives' tale" about kingsfoil, one of Tolkien's little pleasures is in showing how a real, living meaning can be dug out of apparently dead old saws.


Quote
Well, he certainly never explains how the two different traditions both made it into print in the 20th century, when both are supposedly based on ancient sources edited by the same “discoverer”. In other words, Tolkien seems to want to differentiate between “There and Back Again” as a manuscript/book, which he found and edited first of all in the late 1930s; and the “Red Book of Westmarch” with Gondorian addenda, which he found and edited in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But in the LotR story (not the Hobbit story), the “Red Book” is “Bilbo’s Book”.

Here's one explanation (from the Prologue to LotR):
"This account Bilbo set down in his memoirs, and he seems never to have altered it himself, not even after the Council of Elrond. Evidently it still appeared in the original Red Book, as it did in several of the copies and abstracts. But many copies contain the true account (as an alternative), derived no doubt from notes by Frodo or Samwise, both of whom learned the truth, though they seem to have been unwilling to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself."
I don't imagine Tolkien the "translator/narrator" finding and editing two different books, but finding one collection of various manuscripts, perhaps bound together into a single "codex", that it took him years to figure out (including "translation" of this previously-unknown language, of course). So he started by translating what looked like a fairly self-contained story before going more deeply into the contents of the "book" and finding other versions of the same events as well as a lot of other context and backstory. (Although his hints in The Hobbit suggest that he'd already done some work on the bigger "legendarium" as well.) If you allow for the fact that medieval books are notoriously difficult to find your way through, consisting as they often do of assorted manuscripts in different hands and from different periods, all bound together, I think it's fair to cut Tolkien the scholarly "translator" some slack - there's enough stuff there to justify most of any ordinary scholar's career!

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


 
 

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