Mon
Dec 8 2008 8:25am
LotR re-read: Fellowship I.1, “A Long-expected Party”

cover of The Fellowship of the RingAnd now we begin the story proper in the The Lord of the Rings re-read, with book one, chapter one of Fellowship, “A Long-expected Party.”

I begin each chapter post with a “what happens” section for orientation, and then offer whatever comments occur to me. Thus, after the jump, comments on the opening—particularly its transitional nature—and, inevitably, spoilers for the entire book.

What Happens

Bilbo has announced a party for his 111th birthday and Frodo’s 33rd. Ham Gamgee (“the Gaffer”) and various hobbits (including Sandyman the miller) discuss Baggins family history, including the rumors of Bilbo’s wealth, in the local inn. Dwarves and Gandalf arrive for party setup.

The party is held on September 22nd (in the year 3001, according to Appendix B). After food and fireworks, Bilbo gives a speech in which he announces he is leaving and then vanishes by putting on his magic ring (camouflaged by a flash of light by Gandalf). Back at Bag End, Gandalf and Bilbo have an argument over the ring, and Bilbo (eventually, and with difficulty) leaves it in an envelope for Frodo.

The next day, many hobbits come to Bag End to find that Bilbo has left items for some: most useful, some insulting. Merry Brandybuck helps Frodo deal with treasure-hunters. Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins are nasty and disappointed that Bag End now belongs to Frodo, not them. Gandalf comes back after everyone’s been kicked out: he has begun to wonder about the ring, and urges Frodo not to use it, especially not in a way that would draw attention. He then leaves.

Comments

Even before reading Le Guin’s “Rhythmic Pattern” essay, I was really struck by the shifting notes of the opening, as marked with plus [+] and minus [-] signs:

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Bilbo was very rich [+] and very peculiar [-], and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance [-] and unexpected return [+]. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed [+], whatever the old folk might say [-], that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore on [-], but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins [+]. At ninety he was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark [+]. There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing [-]; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.

“It will have to be paid for,” they said. “It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!” [-]

The last paragraph particularly interests me. Of course it’s factually true that Bilbo’s youth is not natural, but I smell a broadly-applicable theme here on the very first page: “It will have to be paid for.” I think this comes out of the themes of virtuous courage and sacrifice that various critics, such as Shippey and Swanwick, have identified. And it can be seen full-circle in the ending: “I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” Or, in other words, someone has to pay for them.

* * *

Since I first read this so long ago, I have no idea what I initially thought of the opening’s pace, and anyway back then I pretty much finished whatever I started. On the re-read, I’ve been generally finding the pace slow enough that I was surprised that many people in a collection of essays said they were enthralled from page one. Yet, looking again at this chapter, I think my problems with the pace don’t actually start until chapter three or so. The shifting notes of the opening would be a good hook, and I’m interested in Bilbo, Frodo, and the mystery of the Ring.

It’s true that my hypothetical first-reading self might be more engaged by the characters if this chapter were not so very exterior. The book’s told in omniscient POV, but to the extent that POV narrows or limits itself from time to time, it seems to me that this chapter starts out from the “POV” of the Shire (with a bit of a dip into the Gaffer), then shifts to Bilbo after his speech, and then to Frodo after Bilbo leaves. But there’s still very little description of the characters’ interior thoughts. The first hint that all’s not well, Bilbo and Gandalf’s conversation when Gandalf first arrives, is dialogue-only, except for Gandalf shaking his head. During Bilbo and Gandalf’s argument about leaving the Ring, the omniscient narrator mentions posture and facial expressions, but that’s all. Perhaps Tolkien didn’t want us to spend too much time in Bilbo’s head because he was leaving; perhaps the nearly camera-eye view increases suspense; perhaps it’s hard to do evil-fueled paranoia in an interesting way; perhaps all three. Frodo’s thoughts are saved for the next chapter, when the transition is complete.

That transition is two-fold, as I said when I initially posted about this chapter: from Bilbo and The Hobbit, to Frodo and The Lord of the Rings. By the end, Bilbo has moved off-stage, his ring has come to Frodo, and we are very suspicious of that ring. In that post, I wondered if the transitional nature of the chapter would be off-putting to those who haven’t read The Hobbit and don’t need it, and if the chapter could have been done with more of a focus on Frodo from the start. People offered mixed opinions on this, but not that many of them, so I’m curious to hear other thoughts on the matter.

* * *

The conversation at the inn is the first time on-screen characters talk; it sets up a pattern of conversations at inns in the first three chapters. The Gaffer, a gardener, is the focus. Through him, we are led to dislike Sandyman, and we are given a hint of a generational dispute when the Gaffer recounts his remarks to Sam: “Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you.” This works in three different directions: it signals the Gaffer’s perceptions about class; it relates to the passing of the generational torch above; and it demonstrates the complacency and parochialism that’s being set up throughout the chapter.

That conversation, for instance, is extremely small-town; Buckland is “away there,” being on a river is “unnatural,” and so forth. The party scene is also very comfortable and rich and happy, until Gandalf intentionally “startle(s) the hobbits exceedingly” with the dragon fireworks display. (I don’t believe there was any known danger at the time, so I can’t say that Gandalf was trying to remind the hobbits of the outside world, but it is very suggestive. And then in a reversal, Bilbo uses it as the signal for dinner.)

Gandalf’s fireworks, we’re told earlier, belonged to a “legendary past”; I think the whole sequence is a nice foreshadowing of the return of legends, good and bad.

* * *

The party, Bilbo’s departure, and the Ring:

The depiction of Bilbo’s speech is also a good example of rhythmic patterns and reversals.

Another thing I had not consciously noted before, Bilbo’s statement of why he held the party at all:

“After all that’s what this party business was all about, really: to give away lots of birthday presents, and somehow make it easier to give it away at the same time. It hasn’t made it any easier in the end, but it would be a pity to waste all my preparations. It would quite spoil the joke.”

More evidence of his strength of character and resilience over the long term, not just when confronted by Gandalf. Also the use of humor as the basis for courage, as pointed out by Tom Shippey in Road to Middle-earth (pages 156-158, revised trade paperback edition). As he puts it, Ragnarök’s “great statement was that defeat is no refutation. The right side remains right even if it has no ultimate hope at all.” However, this Northern courage even in the face of inevitable defeat had a tendency toward heathen ferocity, so Tolkien modified it by centering it on laughter.

(Another critic, Matthew A. Fisher,* sees courage in LotR as the intersection of this and Christianity, specifically Augustine’s views on human nature and grace. After the Fall, humans are born sinners and will naturally tend toward sin. Divine grace, a gift from God, is thus necessary to save people—though there is a tension there because Christians still have to act meritoriously. In other words, even though humans are going to fail, they still have to try. (And may receive unearned grace at the end, like Frodo.))

When the Ring passes, Frodo is strongly tempted to use it when Lobelia corners him. Bilbo has in the past used the Ring to avoid the Sackville-Bagginses, we’re told later. I want to find this significant, but I think it’s nothing more than human (hobbit) nature.

The chapter ends on an ominous, open-ended note:

Frodo saw him to the door. He gave a final wave of his hand, and walked off at a surprising pace; but Frodo thought the old wizard looked unusually bent, almost as if he was carrying a great weight. The evening was closing in, and his cloaked figure quickly vanished into the twilight. Frodo did not see him again for a long time.

* * *

A few random notes:

  • Sam’s stated to be the youngest child of the Gaffer. Somehow I never saw Sam as having siblings before.
  • Loyalty and generosity are the acknowledged and valued virtues of Bilbo, as praised by the Gaffer and shown through his gifts to the poorer hobbits.
  • I’d also forgotten the quiet humor of the narrator, such as the remark that Bilbo “gave away presents to all and sundry — the latter were those who went out again by a back way and came in again by the gate.”

* “Working at the Crossroads: Tolkien, St. Augustine, and the Beowulf-poet,” in The Lord of the Rings, 1954-2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Marquette University Press, 2006.


« Foreword and Prologue | Index | Fellowship I.2 »

38 comments
Eric Braddock
1. EricBraddock
Wow, sounds very thorough! I really enjoyed reading this and am anxious to read what others have to add that are also taking part in the re-read of the story. I have a slight confession to make, I just started to read Lord of the Rings for the very first time and I must say, it's incredible. I'm currently up to Chapter 3, the Ring Goes South. I only read a couple pages a day, but it's a nice little treat that I look forward to, inching my way through the book.

Hearing about this group of you on Tor re-reading has inspired me to start doing small, weekly portraits of characters from the films in my sketchbook, yesterday being the first one. I have them posted up on my blog @ ericbraddock.blogspot.com, so if any one is curious, don't hesitate to check it out and share your thoughts!

Until then, happy reading! I'll be tagging along as well :)
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
EricBraddock, thanks, but we're going to be spoiling the entire darn book in these posts, so if that bothers you, please, save them for when you're finished!
Eric Braddock
3. EricBraddock
Kate- Thank you for the heads up! But no worries, I should've explained that I know the stories, the lore and history of it already, just never actually read the books until recently. I know, sounds kind of backwards, but I was introduced to it in a backwards kind of way. :x
Jo Walton
4. bluejo
The whole first part of the book has a rhythm of conversations in inns, until the inn they don't go to (Golden Perch, "best beer in Eastfarthing") throws it off into the first bit of wild, between there and the Prancing Pony, and then after that there isn't another inn until they get back there.

Sam is the youngest child of the Gaffer, and he also has a lot of cousins, the Cottons. I think they grew up close. In Mordor he remembers playing in the Water with Rosie and her brothers. I also wonder if Sam's mother, who is never mentioned and can't be alive and invisible at the time the Cottons take the Gaffer in, died when he was born so that he has no memory of her.
Kate Nepveu
5. katenepveu
Eric, I look forward to your perspective as we go!

Jo, how did I overlook Sam's mother, or the lack thereof? For that matter, what *about* mothers in _LotR_? Galadriel is a mother and grandmother, but you could barely tell that from the text outside the Appendices. Is any other on-screen character a mother, or even mentioned to have had significant interactions with a mother? I think Faramir recounts a memory of his dead mother, and there's the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen again, but . . . nothing else is coming to mind. Whereas father figures are present in abundance.

(I am suspicious of criticism by biography and thus am not very good at it, so I'll leave it to someone else.)
Andrew Mason
6. AnotherAndrew
How far away is Buckland, in fact?

Regarding mothers; well, by the end of the story Rose is a mother,of course (but if that's the best example I can think of, it rather proves your point).

Oh no, that's not the best example. Lobelia, for heaven's sake. I'm not sure what to make of her, but she does become quite an admirable figure at the end.

Women, quite generally, are notably absent from much of LOTR; but this isn't true in the same way of all Tolkien's works, so I'd agree with you in being suspicious of biographical explanations.
Angela Korra'ti
7. annathepiper
Very much enjoying these posts so far. I've read both The Hobbit and LotR multiple times, but I always enjoy another walk through them, and peeking through another's eyes should be particularly fun.
Kate Nepveu
8. katenepveu
AnotherAndrew: According to the author of the Atlas of Middle-earth, they traveled 73 miles to Crickhollow, though of course that wasn't in a straight line.

And yes, Lobelia! I think I forgot her because in the early chapters she appears with Otho, rather than Lotho.

annathepiper, thanks!
R O T
9. rogerothornhill
This is a wonderful start.

Yes, rereading it recently I was surprised at how much slower the book was than I remembered. In memory, Book 2 of Fellowship came so quickly.

Reading it with two developing minds, though, I'm impressed at how skillfully JRRT lays out the whole world, the way the Book I and Book VI slow to embrace the Shire and the more global passage of time. Rereading it now, I think it may be the most diegetically satisfying introduction of a new mythos I've ever seen, which is probably why it's become a classic.
Kate Nepveu
10. katenepveu
slow to embrace the Shire and the more global passage of time

Interesting point. How did your children find the pace of the opening, especially the bits after chapter two where the story (it seems to me) struggles to get traction? Is the substition of action for plot more satisfying out loud?
Jo Walton
11. bluejo
I've read it aloud all the way through twice, when Sasha was six and when he was eight, and all the pacing and transitions worked perfectly that way. It was as if it had been designed for it. The first time we went straight from The Hobbit and it did it's work of moving deeper from that for him just the way it's supposed to. You're listening to something just like a children's book, and then you're not, but you can't put your finger on when it changed and there are still the same funny hobbits.
Kate Nepveu
12. katenepveu
It's too bad that an audiobook version is so unlikely to work for me, then.

If anyone out there has listened to an audio version, I hope they'll comment on their experience.
Felicity Shoulders
13. Felicity
kate --
I've listened to the unabridged Recorded Books edition, narrated by Rob Inglis, but more importantly (to me) I first experienced the books read aloud. My parents read The Hobbit to each of us when we were five, then waited until they judged me (the younger kid) old enough and read it aloud to the both of us. I was eight or nine, I believe.

Of course it's hard to remember precisely, but I remember the pacing of Book 1 working well as Jo describes -- as a transition from the Hobbit and a deepening of the world. I had been rereading The Hobbit under my own power, and listening to the sadly abridged Nicol Williamson recording, ever since age 5. But Lord of the Rings is much more detailed -- I remember comparing the narrative lengths of the journey to Rivendell with awe -- and the slow initial pace of the book reintroduced the world as that deeper, more detailed, more epic place.

Also, it pleased me a lot as a child because I, like Tolkien's contemporary readers, wanted "more about hobbits". I had already bought in (my parents are mad Tolkien fans and met because they noticed each other reading Two Towers, so I didn't have much of a choice!) and was content to enjoy more hobbits, more Hobbiton, more Shire than I had gotten in The Hobbit. I don't know if that makes any sense, but there you are![/i][/i]
R O T
14. rogerothornhill
They liked getting to know hobbits--and they really loved Tom Bombadil. Surprisingly, they were restless at how long it took to get to Rivendell, which for me is much more of an exciting chase story. I've come to the conclusion that seven year old boys like fight scenes but not necessarily chases, at least in verbal rather than visual mode.
eric orchard
15. orchard
I'm loving hearing the responses young people have had to this book. It's a book that has a really broad audience.

I first read the book as a teenager and haven't read them in a few years so my thoughts are largely in response to the films take on it.

There elements in the book that expressive to the point of being cartoony(to me) like Gandalf's eyebrow's and blue hat. It makes me recall the vividness that is evoked by Tolkien whereas Peter Jackson's take seems much more realistic and starker. The opening tone in both is wildly different. Where Tolkien subtly hints at the gathering shadows Jackson states them boldly.

Knowing what's coming brings a real tinge of sadness to the party and Frodo's life before the quest.

I forgot how much I love the dialogue in the book. Again it seems expressive to me. Maybe it's the up down rhythms you are talking about.

Like Eric, I'm also blogging along with this subject. I'll have my doodles there but nothing like Mr. Braddock's amazing, lush images.
Sam Kelly
16. Eithin
Thus orchard: Where Tolkien subtly hints at the gathering shadows Jackson states them boldly.

I have a lot of trouble detaching the text from the original Pauline Baynes illustrations - the expressive, cartoony quality orchard mentions seems to me to be a perfect fit for her aesthetic. The walled garden quality of all those tiny, wonderful, ordinary things at the beginning of the book gets echoed (and echoed in expanding scale) throughout.

That isn't to say I dislike Jackson's visualization, but it seems to me to lose the sublety and - I hate to say preciousness - delicacy? It's certainly robust, but drawn very finely - of Tolkien's text. This reminds me of a line of his in On Fairy-Stories - "in France they put on jewels and went to court, and in England they became small enough to hide in a cowslip." (Paraphrased - I don't have the original to hand.)
Kate Nepveu
17. katenepveu
Felicity, that does make sense, thanks for your experience. (Great story about your parents!)

rogerothornhill, that's interesting that your boys liked Bombadil so much. I'm not sure I would have expected that, but maybe it's another thing in favor of this polarizing character.

orchard, I think that's partly the medium but also partly symptomatic of the problems I have with the movies. And I'm looking forward to digging more into the dialogue; I do think the character voices are a strength of the book.
Kate Nepveu
18. katenepveu
Eithin, I'd never seen those illustrations before, thanks. I read _LotR_ unillustrated, and the Jackson movies were my first experience with external visuals for that text. I see what you mean about the approach they take, and it reminds me of a kind of tension or contrast between the different scales the book is working on.

(One of my childhood copies of _The Hobbit_ is a coffee-table sized book with many full-color pages; I didn't realize until just recently that it was a tie-in edition of the animated version . . . )
eric orchard
19. orchard
Eithin, I agree on all counts. The Baynes art is wonderful. In Tolkien's letters He is a bit leery of illustration in general(despite illustrating the Hobbit himself) but points to Arthur Rackham and Pauline Baynes as special exceptions. Baynes' faux medieval style allows the imagination to run riot.

This isn't a slight to Alan lee's wonderful art who, along with john Howe, really set the aesthetic for the films.

Kate N-being educated in art it's really wonderful to have you reveal the deeper beauty of the words and dialogue for me.
Sam Kelly
20. Eithin
I've been inspired to start on some illustrations myself - the first is of the firework dragon Gandalf conjures up for Bilbo's party. I haven't coloured it yet, and probably won't get a chance to till next week sometime, but I wanted to do a WIP post in any case. (And yes, my scanner sucks.)

Kate - I had that Hobbit too, I think, though I've still never seen the animated version.
Kate Nepveu
21. katenepveu
I'm loving seeing all the artwork inspired by Tolkien that people are linking to. I have no artistic talent whatsoever--I can draw a straight line, but only with a ruler--so this is completely fascinating to me. Keep it up!

Eithin, I've never actually seen the animated _Hobbit_ either, though we do own it.
R O T
22. rogerothornhill
The animated Hobbit was okay, but the animated Return of the King was much harder to take. It came down to a question of tone. The style was just wrong, even if some of the voice casting (e.g., McDowall) was interesting. But if Mordor isn't scary, or at least depressing, you know you need to change your color scheme at the very least.

Rankin-Bass only got to make RotK because the first film in Ralph Bashki's planned The Lord of the Rings flopped bigtime. It was an honestly imperfect film--it used a slightly revamped version of rotoscoping--but it was definitely worth seeing, especially on a big screen like the Ziegfeld in Manhattan. I remember the retelling of the history of the Ring in the beginning as all shadows and flame, more abstract than you would have expected. I also remember the Ringwraiths as being much more ghoulish in that version than in Jackson's (which I think I seem to like more than most people who've been commenting here).

The two Rankin-Bass movies were issued on VHS at some point, if not DVD, but I can't remember ever seeing a video copy of the Bakshki in any format, at least not in Region 1. It's one of those movies that, if it weren't for IMDb, I might think I hallucinated.
MerryArwen
23. MerryArwen
Thinking about things like transitions, I always find it important to remember the conceit that Tolkien had about this book, which was that it was a manuscript that he was *translating*, not a story he was writing. The introduction goes through stating a whole provenance and composition history for the manuscript he's supposedly editing, transcribing and translating for a modern English audience. (I never realized this until three courses of mediaeval and manuscript studies, and then suddenly I had yet another reason to take delight in the books.)

This is important because it means one has to touch not only on what Tolkien himself was doing with things, but also: who wrote this part of the manuscript? It seems likely that, given Bilbo is supposed to have started most of the Red Book, that a great deal of the initial chapter at least was written by Bilbo, and would carry the signature of his tone on it, and I tend to see that; as we shift more into Frodo's point of view, more and more of Frodo's rather grimmer tone, as compared to his uncle's, gets into the narration.
Kate Nepveu
24. katenepveu
MerryArwen, that's really interesting. I've just realized that one of the reasons the framing device doesn't work for me is that I don't believe Frodo wrote the main text, or indeed that any character did. I can't account for that bit with the fox in chapter 3 (looking at sleeping hobbits and thinking to himself), for instance, as written by anyone but an omniscient narrator.

But I take a related point, that the focal character necessarily affects the tone.
MerryArwen
25. MerryArwen
"I can't account for that bit with the fox in chapter 3 (looking at sleeping hobbits and thinking to himself), for instance, as written by anyone but an omniscient narrator."

I would argue that's Bilbo again - he is precisely the sort of person who would put in a bit about a fox and it all being Terribly Curious. It's exactly the kind of thing his character *would* put in, to my eyes.

The hypothetical textual history of the version of the Red Book that Tolkien would be working out of would be highly complex, and subject to a lot of mediaeval notions of authorship and the necessity of transparency - or complete lack thereof. I tend to take the view that the early chapters - possibly most of the way up to Rivendell - were written down by Bilbo, edited by Frodo at most later on. The subsequent bulk of the text was written down by Frodo, either from his recollections *or* from the recollections of the other hobbits, and of course interspersed with that are things put in by the Gondorian scribe (there's that huge shift in narrative tone between any of the bits about the Three Hunters in Rohan, vs any bits which focus on the hobbits).

One's mileage may of course vary. But the more I examine the framing device, for me, the more it stands up.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
MerryArwen, you've prompted me to look again at the "Note on the Shire Records," for which I thank you.

That says that "This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Wesetmarch." --My emphasis. And then it goes on to talk about the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith with corrections to the Elvish, and the sources of some of the Appendices (Merry and Pippin, mostly) and such. So it seems to me that Tolkien-the-translator is saying that he jigsaw-puzzled together the main text between different versions of the Red Book? Under this conceit, how much would Tolkien-the-translator be using his own discretion to put things together?
MerryArwen
27. MerryArwen
"Under this conceit, how much would Tolkien-the-translator be using his own discretion to put things together?"

Good question! One for which I don't have an answer off the top of my head, because I suspect it would depend on what the general consensus for allowability of that kind of thing would be for his generation of mediaevalist - or the generation his persona, in those notes, is taking on, which might not be his own generation - neither of which I am in any way sure of. These things have (or at least, I've observed in my studies that they have) gone through shifts and changes depending on whether your translator/transcriber is working in 1890 or 1920 or 1960 or now.

If I were to guess, however, I'd say he's probably working on the discretion of his own generation. This means he wants an authoritative voice in his transcription (the notes and commentary of modern, ie within-the-last-ten-fifteen-years transcribers, are often much more tentative and filled with "I think" and "maybe" and "to our best knowledge", whereas those from 1950 are often, in my experience of them, much more with the "and this is the Absolute Truth"), and feel very much empowered to Correct Without Note things that were Obviously Wrong. On the other hand, he would still lean almost entirely on either the manuscript or his supplementary manuscripts for the actual text he was transcribing.

Digging out the Note myself: his wording is slightly ambiguous, and I'd have to check with my wiser professorial heads to see whether it's conventional (and thus they could tell me precisely what it means) or whether he's covering himself, but I would cautiously interpret it to mean that he's working off a copy of what I'll call the Findegil Manuscript, which is a copy of the Thain's book, which is a copy of the original Red Book, plus corrections, annexed material and other volumes of supplementary material, such as (he mentions) the Book of Days (important for letting him do things like tell us what the dates mean or when in the year we are, with a completely different calendar system), etc.

It's also of interest that while he states that FM is an exact copy of the Thain's Book, he nevertheless states that the Thain's Book received a number of "corrections". One of the things that was of most interest to me in my manuscript studies was the mediaeval notion of "authorship" and what kind of "corrections" or translations it was allowable to do without so much as noting that you were doing them - in some cases, wholesale rewrites of something the translator/transcriber thought was "wrong", and if not that, substantial marginal notes and corrections. One of the issues as a transcriber/translator in the modern sense is which version to go with - in this case, the hobbit's misspellings/mistakes, or the Gondorian scribe's notated marginal correction? (assuming the scribe didn't just rewrite it at length).

So I think my feeling would be that (taking an in-universe view of it) the Thain's Book itself underwent alteration as compared to the "original" Red Book, beyond what a modern reader would understand as "corrections of the Elvish", and thus even if the FM that Tolkien is supposedly working off of is a direct copy of the Thain's Book, the FM probably has some significant differences (and I am thinking here specifically of long quoted passages of what are obviously epic poems from the Mark, as well as a few places where the language of the narrator is obviously more suited to a Gondorian scribe than to a Shire-hobbit, even one as well-read as Frodo or Bilbo - significantly, all sections where no hobbit would have been even peripherally present, and thus ripe for "correction" by a scribe who knows his history better) from the original-original Red Book.

All of which stands to the charge that I'm an overenthusiastic mediaeval studies student, but I'm okay with that. I hope I haven't bored you terribly. :3
Kate Nepveu
28. katenepveu
Not at all--I am fascinated and enlightened. Thank you!
Andrew Mason
29. AnotherAndrew
I would have supposed that what we are reading is not straightforwardly a translation - Tolkien has adapted it in places to make it more accessible to a modern audience - but it is based on ancient manuscripts, and sometimes follows them almost word for word, sometimes less so. This is perhaps clearer with The Hobbit than with LOTR - clearly Bilbo did not begin 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit'. But it may explain the fox. (And the steam engine?)

Do we have any indication whether the original manuscript was in first person, or whether Bilbo and Frodo, like Caesar, referred to themselves in third person?
MerryArwen
30. MerryArwen
"Do we have any indication whether the original manuscript was in first person, or whether Bilbo and Frodo, like Caesar, referred to themselves in third person?"

Not that I can recall; either would be entirely plausible, from examples I've worked with of actual mediaeval manuscripts.

"clearly Bilbo did not begin 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit'."

I would say that depends on who Bilbo viewed as his audience, remembering that what we're shown of his work he often saw as above the heads of his fellow hobbits, and rather aimed at a more "international" audience (his poems in Rivendell, etc). I would not at all put it past Bilbo to begin his own story precisely so, hoping that it would spread far beyond the Shire (while at the same time keeping it quite close and privately to hand - I've known people like that.)

The steam-engine I'd class, though, in the same kind of translation as changing "Kalimac" and "Ban" to "Meriadoc" and "Sam", or "Karnul" to "Rivendell", the motive for which he describes in detail in one of the appendices (F? my copy is across the house, alas).
Jo Walton
31. bluejo
OMG, but that's what The Silmarillion really is. I mean it's texts from different times and POVs and slightly contradictory and all pulled together by an editor.
Kate Nepveu
32. katenepveu
Jo: I know, which is why I have a hard time seeing _LotR_ that way, even if Tolkien had that as his intent!
MerryArwen
33. birgit
If Hobbits GIVE presents at their birthday and Gollum was a hobbit, why does he call the ring his birthday present? Did the hobbits at the Anduin have different customs?
Andrew Mason
34. AnotherAndrew
Birgit: I'm fairly sure Tolkien answered that somewhere, perhaps in a letter. The answer is, in essence, if I remember rightly, that Hobbits both give and receive presents on their birthday, but the ones they receive are on a fairly small scale and only from close relations - and, I think, are given at a different point in the day.
MerryArwen
35. guntharr
As a child, I was read The Chronicles of Narnia, many stories by E. Nesbit, and of course The Hobbit and LotR. I later re-read all of these stories myself and enjoyed them immensely.

I have never listened to an audiobook of LotR per se, but became enchanted with the BBC radio adaptation of the story in my teens when it was broadcast on NPR (with a full fledged cast [including Ian Holm as Frodo], music, and audio effects). It truly managed (for me) to capture so much of what was magical in the story, although it did leave out Bombadil and some large portions of the poetry. It was, apart from those changes, quite thorough, clocking in at thirteen hours long.

A few years ago, I was lucky to obtain a copy of Tolkien reading Riddles in the Dark from The Hobbit, and also assorted excerpts from LotR. He has a magnificent reader's voice. Utterly enthralling.
Darrell Cale
36. revtoken
The Fellowship was my first experiance with Tolkein's work. I had not read the Hobbit, or anything else from Middle Earth. I remember being dissapointed with the pacing, but there was still enough in this chapter to start to draw me in, and keep me reading... in the hopes the books would really pick up.

I also remember being really surprised about the inn in this chapter (and the next 2 or 3) in the Shire. When I was thinking of an inn, as I had pulled from context of other fantasy authors, I think of a place that offers rooms, food, and drink to visitor's from other towns and villages, or for people passing though. I was struck that Tolkein would have inns in the Shire, where most of the world did not know existed. I don't really remember why, but that really bothered me when I read this. Now reading through, I have a understanding of the size of the Shire, and understand the need for inns.
Lena Bullens
38. Lena
@33; I believe Smeagol's reasoning was that Deagol finding the ring was a clear sign that it was meant to be a birthday gift for Deagol to give to him.

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