Welcome back to the chapter-by-chapter re-read of The Hobbit. You can find past posts at the reread index, or you can catch up with our previous re-read of The Lord of the Rings. As always, the discussion will contain spoilers for everything Tolkien (that is: The Hobbit, LotR, The Silmarillion, and various posthumous tidbits); if you haven’t read the book before and would like to remain unspoiled, I recommend reading along with Mark Reads first.
This week, we consider Chapter 3, “A Short Rest,” which is pretty much what it says on the tin.
The travelers make their way anxiously through unfriendly-feeling wilderness, heading for the Last Homely House in the valley of Rivendell. Gandalf eventually leads them to the valley, where singing elves greet them merrily.
In the Last Homely House, they meet Elrond, the “chief” of those “people who had both elves and heroes of the North for ancestors.” He tells them that the runed swords taken from the trolls’ lair are “Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin” (Thorin’s) and “Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore” (Gandalf’s). He also spots moon-letters on the map of the Lonely Mountain, which say, “Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.” Unfortunately, they cannot predict when the next Durin’s Day will be.
The travelers rest, are given provisions and advice, and leave after approximately two weeks “with their hearts ready for more adventure, and with a knowledge of the road they must follow over the Misty Mountains to the land beyond.”
This is a very short chapter, though it still contains a few things of interest.
First, we have as marked a division between unwelcoming and welcoming landscape as one could wish in the opening of the chapter. Before they find Rivendell, they must avoid “unexpected valleys, narrow with steep sides, that opened suddenly at their feet” as well as bogs that may be “green pleasant places to look at” but would swallow their ponies. And then the valley of Rivendell is literally warmer and has “a comfortable feeling in the twilight.”
Next, the elves, who are unsurprisingly less serious than their LotR counterparts. The narrator himself notes that we-the-reader/listener probably think that their welcoming song is “pretty fair nonsense,” which I doubt would surprise the elves given their “tril-lil-lil-lolly” and suchlike. Then there’s the teasing the dwarves over their beards and the gossip; I’ll be interested to see how they compare to the Mirkwood elves when we get there.
Interestingly, Elrond is given something like his LotR stature/nature. He isn’t quite full-out Elrond Halfelven; he’s instead called “an elf-friend” with mixed ancestry, as quoted above, and “the strange stories before the beginning of History” that he’s involved in are “the wars of the evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North,” not anything more epic like, you know, Sauron. But he gets a very emphatic string of comparisons as his personal introduction: “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.” He identifies the swords (though he does not mention them glowing in the presence of orcs, and now I can’t remember if it’s only Sting that does that) and is fortunate enough to find the moon-runes—there’s another instance of luck driving the plot, that anyone should happen to be looking at the map on a midsummer’s eve under a crescent moon.
Speaking of moons: “Durin’s Day.” Thorin, bless his self-important heart, says that the dwarves’ year starts, “as all should know,” on “the first day of the last moon of Autumn on the threshold of Winter.” Durin’s Day, in turn, is “when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together.” At first I was briefly confused by this, because Thorin goes on to say that “it passes our skill in these days to guess when such a time will come again,” and I said to myself, “bzuh, the waxing crescent moon and the sun are basically always in the sky together, because that’s what makes it a waxing crescent moon . . . ?” But then I realized that in context, it must mean actually visible in the sky together, not just present even though they can’t be seen because of cloud cover or whatever. (The dwarves have this visibility requirement in common with traditional Islamic practice, and likely many others that I’m not familiar with.)
Elrond’s house, too, doesn’t change much from here to LotR; indeed, “Many Meetings” flat-out quotes the description here. And in case anyone else gets déjà vu when the narrator here says “Evil things did not come into that valley,” that’s also referred to in “Many Meetings,” by Gandalf when he’s hushing Pippin: “Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same we should not name them.” Which is a nice little compare-and-contrast between the two books; in The Hobbit, the sentiment is the end of a paragraph, full stop, rest and comfort and safety unqualified. In LotR, the characters are physically safe but not allowed to forget the existence of dangers.
There was one bit of storytelling sleight-of-hand that amused me. First, the narrator says,
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave… Yet there is little to tell about their stay.
Then just three paragraphs later, the narrator says, “I wish I had time to tell you even a few of the tales or one or two of the songs that they heard in that house.” I know it’s not technically inconsistent, but the two statements together tickled my fancy for some obscure reason.
Finally: we are now two for two in chapters away from home and references to Bilbo thinking wistfully of his hobbit-hole (“Not for the last time!”). I’m interested to see if there’s any chapter in which he doesn’t, so I’m going to keep track. It’ll go with the dwarf characteristics catalogue, which I have nothing to add to this chapter.
Back to action next week. See you then.
Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog.