Nov 22 2012 1:00pm

The Hobbit Reread: Chapter 2, “Roast Mutton”

The Hobbit reread on Tor.comHappy Thanksgiving, those who celebrate, and happy Thursday, those who don’t. This week in the Hobbit reread, we consider Chapter 2, “Roast Mutton.” The usual discussion—including spoilers for all things Tolkien—follows after the jump.


What Happens

Bilbo wakes to find Bag End empty of people but full of dirty dishes. He washes up  and is “just sitting down to a nice little second breakfast” when Gandalf appears, determines that he did not find the note to him on the mantelpiece telling him to meet the dwarves at a local inn, and hurries him out the door to make the meeting on time.

The company rides into unpopulated lands, and, on a windy wet night, find themselves camping in the open with no fire, little food, and no Gandalf, who vanished unnoticed sometime that day. They decide to investigate a light in the distance, since “After all we have got a burglar with us.” Bilbo discovers three cranky trolls, and attempts to pick one troll’s pocket. The purse he lifts, however, objects out loud, and he is caught.

The trolls question Bilbo and then fight over what to do with him, allowing Bilbo to escape. He is unable to go far while he recovers from the trolls’ rough treatment, so he sees all thirteen dwarves come up to the fire, one by one, and get popped into sacks by the trolls—even Thorin, the last, who came prepared for a fight (and who Bilbo does try to help).

As Bilbo watches, the trolls begin to fight again over what to do with their captures, thanks to comments that they each think are coming from the others but turn out to be from a returned, hidden Gandalf. This squabbling lasts long enough for the sun to come up and turn the trolls to stone.

The company finds the trolls’ storage cave and open it with a key Bilbo found on the ground. They take food and bury money; Gandalf and Thorin take beautiful swords, and Bilbo takes a knife. Back on the road, Gandalf tells the company that he left to scout ahead and met friends from Rivendell, where they are heading, who warned him about the trolls and caused him to turn back.



The main thing I noticed about this chapter was its speed, both in the way Bilbo is rushed into the journey and in the fact that the trolls are all the way here in Chapter 2! I had not remembered that they were this early, since Frodo et al. don’t find them again until the last chapter of Book One of Fellowship.

The greater significance of this speed is explained neatly in a timely post by Rush-That-Speaks comparing The Hobbit and LotR, which points out that “It became a meme that you can’t simply walk into Mordor, except that you can, you do, and that’s the only way you get there.” We talked about walking in the LotR reread with regard to Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings” (see this journal post from my attempt at a reread). But Rush-That-Speaks focuses on how walking into Mordor is a choice, particularly for Frodo, who “walks as far as he can with what help he can gather, is wounded beyond bearing, walks out of his own endurance, and is, at the very last, carried when he can go no further.”

In contrast, mostly Bilbo is carried. After being shoved out his front door, “he moves from pony to pony to goblinback to eagle-claw to pony again to barrel to boat to pony.” (The unsteerable barrel is particularly telling, since Frodo later gets to row across Anduin.) Bilbo becomes able to influence events through the means of transportation, but the destinations are outside his control until he comes into his own at the Lonely Mountain.

(Rush-That-Speaks’ post also has a theory about the different treatments of the Ring in the books, but I’ll leave that for you to read, partly because I don’t want to summarize the entire post and partly because I am too Doylist in this matter: for me, the different treatment of the Ring in The Hobbit is sufficiently explained by there only being so much retconning Tolkien could do when he realized what Bilbo’s ring was.)

Thus: Bilbo has very little choice about the start of his journey. Left to himself, he would not have gone: “he was really relieved after all,” and only “just a trifle disappointed,” when he thinks that the dwarves left without him. Gandalf hurries him up so much that he applies no conscious thought to the decision to leave: “To the end of his days Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything that he usually took when he went out.” (I know it all ends for the best and you couldn’t get Bilbo to go any other way, but I still get a bit upset on his behalf at the railroading.) And then when the company spots the trolls’ light, they send him off “before he could explain that he could not hoot even once like any kind of owl any more than fly like a bat.”

So that’s a lot of setup of Bilbo not choosing his own destination. What does it result in? The main thing is he attempts to act as a burglar. Now, I thought someone commented on the last post saying that the very idea of “burglar” as a well-established, professional role was kind of odd, but I can’t find it—regardless, the narrator’s description highlights this:

After hearing all this Bilbo ought to have done something at once. Either he should have gone back quietly and warned his friends that there were three fair-sized trolls at hand in a nasty mood, quite likely to try roasted dwarf, or even pony, for a change; or else he should have done a bit of good quick burgling. A really first-class and legendary burglar would at this point have picked the trolls’ pockets—it is nearly always worth while, if you can manage it—, pinched the very mutton off the spits, purloined the beer, and walked off without their noticing him. Others more practical but with less professional pride would perhaps have stuck a dagger into each of them before they observed it. Then the night could have been spent cheerily.

Bilbo knew it. He had read of a good many things he had never seen or done.

I still don’t know what to make of this as a piece of world-building, but note that “burglar” now includes instrumental violence, which is inelegant but not otherwise worthy of comment. (I should note here that unless I say, “I think this is a lousy / upsetting / unpleasant thing for the character / book to do,” my observations are meant as “huh, look at that, I wonder what it means, let’s talk about it” rather than disapproval, as last post, my tone was apparently unclear to some.)

Regardless, Bilbo has specific (literature-based!) expectations of himself in the role of burglar and decides to try to fulfill them. Starting with a troll is perhaps not the wisest idea, but despite the railroading he is willing to play the role. How this plays out in the middle of the book I don’t recall well enough right now, but I do know that he’s still in the role of a burglar in the biggest decision he makes, handing over the Arkenstone to try to make peace—pushing the boundaries of the role, but still acting through stealth and theft and in a commercial framework. So I think we can see this chapter as beginning as he will go on. Bilbo also shows courage in attempting to help Thorin fight the trolls, and a talent for picking up useful things in finding the key to the trolls’ cave. He doesn’t do a lot in this chapter, because it’s early goings yet, but the seeds of how he starts growing into an active character are here.

* * *

The other major thing I noticed about this chapter is the dwarves coming one-by-one to the trolls’ fire. A few people commented last time about the similarities of the dwarves arriving at Bilbo’s and at Beorn’s, strung out so that they all will eventually gain entry. Since I was wincing along with Bilbo at the awkwardness of his home being invaded, I laughed and laughed when I realized that the dwarves were doing a similar thing here—and getting popped into sacks as a result! My amusement over this makes me perfectly happy to overlook that it doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it—surely by the time half of them had gone and not come back, the rest would decide to change the plan? Or, well, they also seem extremely blasé about Gandalf vanishing without a word, so maybe their sense of danger is calibrated differently than mine. (Yes, I know that they know Gandalf can take care of himself, but still, I’d think the vanishing unnoticed would cause a bit more concern than just “Where has Gandalf got to?”)  But, anyway, the point is: dwarves coming up one by one to get popped into sacks = hilarious.

* * *

Some comments on the trolls. They strike me as close to humans in the same way hobbits are: on a different scale, but obviously humanoid in appearance and acting in recognizable social ways. When Bilbo sees the trolls, here’s what the narrator says:

Three very large persons sitting round a very large fire of beech-logs [eating and drinking]. . . . But they were trolls. Obviously trolls. Even Bilbo, in spite of his sheltered life, could see that: from the great heavy faces of them, and their size, and the shape of their legs, not to mention their language, which was not drawing-room fashion at all, at all.

They speak a low-class version of the same language everyone has been speaking so far (I’m not sure if the “translation” conceit applies to The Hobbit and thus whether that’s English or Westron); they squabble with each other (rather amusingly; I particularly liked “calling one another all sorts of perfectly true and applicable names in very loud voices”); they have prosaic names like William Huggins, Bert, and Tom; and they have only one head each—unlike some other trolls, apparently. (The Annotated Hobbit indicates that trolls with more than one head and that turn to stone in the daylight are found in multiple fairy tales; also, Tolkien’s illustration “The Trolls” (which is included in my 75th anniversary edition ebook) is modeled on a Hansel and Gretel illustration from a 1920s fairy tale collection.) In short, they are relatively low on the “monster” scale, as it were, which I suspect will ramp steady upward until we get to Smaug.

* * *

Miscellaneous comments:

  • Early in the chapter, Bilbo tells himself that he shouldn’t “thinking of dragons and all that outlandish nonsense at your age!”, which is “fifty years old or so” per Chapter 1. I’m not sure whether The Hobbit was written with the idea, seen in LotR, that hobbits come of age at thirty-three, so I’m not sure whether Bilbo is middle-aged or merely adult. But if he is middle-aged, that makes him somewhat unusual as a SFF protagonist, I believe?
  • We talked about servants and housecleaning last time, so I must note that Gandalf fully expects Bilbo to dust his mantelpiece daily, and Bilbo doesn’t deny that that’s his usual practice when he’s not washing up for fourteen. Which says to me that he doesn’t have house servants or the equivalent of a cleaning service, though I think sending out laundry might still be reasonable.
  • There’s a sentence of landscape description as they approach troll-country that made me sit up and say, “That’s the same writer who wrote Lord of the Rings.”

    Still the dwarves jogged on, never turning round or taking any notice of the hobbit. Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must have gone down, for it began to get dark as they went down into a deep valley with a river at the bottom. Wind got up, and willows along its banks bent and sighed. Fortunately the road went over an ancient stone bridge, for the river, swollen with the rains, came rushing down from the hills and mountains in the north.

    The “wind got up” sentence might be not entirely grammatically correct, but it feels like Tolkien to me.

  • One of the dwarves, in talking about the isolation of the Lone-lands, says, “They have seldom even heard of the king round here.” I wonder if this is proverbial, as it would be in LotR? It’s just a passing mention, with no narrator explanation, but from what I recall of the later part of the book, it doesn’t feel like there’s a king anywhere that Tolkien later had a better idea about.
  • Finally, I am going to start cataloguing specific dwarf characteristics, to see if I can remember who’s who this time. Thus:
    • Dori and Nori “shared the hobbit’s views about regular meals, plenty and often.”
    • Oin and Gloin are “specially good at” making fire.
    • Balin “was always their look-out man.”

I suspect we get to Rivendell next time, since Gandalf introduces it at the end of the chapter (without explanation yet). See you when we find out.

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.

There and Back Again... Again: The Hobbit Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
1. a1ay
Balin “was always their look-out man.”

Balin, it becomes clear, is by far the most squared-away dwarf in terms of fieldcraft, bravery and so on. He's also the nicest to Bilbo. He's almost as much of a noble as Thorin - he's definitely the second-in-command of the group, or more accurately the platoon sergeant - but he's got a good deal less arrogance about it.
(Wikipedia notes "He was the only dwarf who volunteered to accompany Bilbo down the secret passage to Smaug. Of all the dwarves in the quest, he was the only one Tolkien describes as visiting Bilbo afterwards at Bag End.")

He's a kind of dwarf version of Strider. And, like Strider, he becomes a king.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
I reread this not long after the conclusion of the LoTR reread, and I was also really struck by the speed. It seemed much too early for the trolls, but when you think about all the things that still have to happen it a realtively short book, it's not surprising. And of course, its intended audience wouldn't really put up with chapter after chapter of expositional hiking.

It struck me for the first time that Bilbo's reluctance through most of this chapter is essentially the Refusal of the Call in the Hero's Journey. He spends rather longer in this phase than most heroes, but he does take his first steps away from it, too.

I quite like this bit:
three fair-sized trolls at hand in a nasty mood, quite likely to try roasted dwarf, or even pony, for a change
It's a subtle little inversion that's easy to miss, but the idea that for trolls eating pony is going a little bit farther than eating dwarf tells you something about them.
3. a1ay
Pacing: The time it takes Frodo to leave the Shire in terms of pages (five chapters until he gets to the Old Forest) is significant. The in-story time is even greater - it's literally years after Bilbo leaves the Shire and Frodo receives the Ring that he actually gets moving. (Rightly compressed in the film.) Bilbo, on the other hand, is on the move the next morning.
Eli Bishop
4. EliBishop
"A wind got up": not ungrammatical, just a British expression - maybe slightly old-fashioned, but people still use it.

"A really first-class and legendary burglar": this bit reads to me now pretty much the same as it did when I was a kid, which is that it's not about real crime and violence, it's about a rambunctious kid's idea of adventure with an edge of defiant naughtiness. Substitute "pirate" for "burglar" and it might sound more familiar; if, in a pirate story told to or by kids, you hear something like "He was such a great pirate he could chop off three guys' heads at once!", the response is unlikely to be "That'd be awful if it happened in real life, and a pirate isn't a good thing to be"-- it's just some combination of "Yay!!" and "Ew!!" Of course, the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes sounds a little incongruous when the narrative voice is that of a kindly professor, but I think Tolkien is aware of that and it just makes it funnier.

I think the oddness of hearing "burglar" described as a well-known adventurous profession is also intentional. It fits well with Bilbo's character: he's someone who always wanted to do something crazy and be a little bad, but he's so naive and square that stealing something out of a house is about the most exciting thing he can imagine-- to him, that's pretty much the same thing as being a pirate.

It's also just a nice storyteller's device, where first there's something incongruous that might make the kids think "What-- there aren't any fun stories about burglars-- Gandalf and Bilbo are just weird," but then the narrator plays along and starts talking as if everyone knows burglars are cool, and you get that this is part of the world of the story. And although Tolkien doesn't point this out, a kid who thinks about it a little more will realize that there are fun stories about burglars-- fairy tales are full of them, they're just not called "burglars."
Ian Johnson
5. IanPJohnson
One thing that I recently realized about The Hobbit is that as the characters go further and further east, they're journeying back in time– not in a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey sense, but in a literary sense.

I mean, think about it. When we start The Hobbit, we're very comfortably located in Edwardian children's literature (I don't know if Tolkien was influenced by it at all, but the initial descriptions of Bag End are so incredibly Wind-in-the-Willows). As the dwarves keep moving east, they start encountering earlier forms of storytelling: the chapters with the goblins are incredibly George MacDonald. Beorn is a little problematic in this schema, but I feel that he works well as a fairy-tale character of the kind that Perrault or the Grimms would have written about, especially with his house all alone in the middle of the woods. (There's a touch of Robert Southey there, too, with the house in the middle of the woods actually being inhabited by bears– or one bear, of a sort.)

When we get to the scenes in Mirkwood, we've reached medieval romance, of the mortals-meeting-the-fairies kind such as Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer. And by the time we've reached the Lonely Mountain, we're firmly in the territory of the ancient Anglo-Saxon and Norse legends. (When Bilbo steals the cup from Smaug's hoard, causing Smaug to go into an unspeakable rage, it's a direct lift from Beowulf, and the scene where Bilbo enters Smaug's chamber and has a long conversation with him has unmistakeable echoes of the legend of Sigurn and Fafnir.)

It's incredibly interesting how Bilbo's story isn't just a journey in space, but in time, all the way through the history of English and Western European fantastic literature. Or at least, I thought it was cool.
6. pilgrimsoul
@Ian 5
Back in time--a great way to look at it.
I was just thinking that Bilbo's reluctance/disappointment was psychologically true to life for those unused to adventure.
7. Thaxll
The description of the "burglar" fits pretty much with the Thief/Rogue archetype that's a part of every D&D adventuring party. The character that's along to scout ahead, open locked doors, disable traps and slip knives into unsuspecting guards' backs.
Genevieve Williams
8. welltemperedwriter
IanPJohnson, I noticed something similar in LotR as well, a sense that as the story moves closer to Minas Tirith/Mordor, it also moves back in time in a cultural sense (compare the clocks in the Shire to manually ringing bells in Minas Tirith to tell the time, for instance).
9. JohnnyMac
One bit in this chapter that I particularly like is the note the flustered Bilbo finds on his mantel piece. It's wording is that of a formal Edwardian business letter but applied to a quest to win a dragon guarded treasure. One line I especially relish is "...funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if the occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for." Some years back, I read (possibly in "The Annotated Hobbit?) someone pointing out that what this actually means is: "If in the course of our business you are killed and if whatever kills you does not eat you, we will bury you."
10. MJB
That's a great point, IanPJohnson.

Unrelated: I did find all the class signals given off by the trolls interesting, after all the establishment of Bilbo's gentlemanliness in the previous chapter. I doubt this was conscious on Tolkien's part, but it is funny after all the discussion about who does Bilbo's laundry to find the workers out in the wilds parasitically living off stolen sheep and ponies, and people!
Ian Johnson
11. IanPJohnson
@8: And the language moves back in time in LotR, too– and it goes back further into the history of literature than even the Hobbit goes.

I'm looking at the language from Book VI, specifically. Like the language in VI.5:

And so they stood on the walls of the City of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air. And the Shadow departed, and the Sun was unveiled, and light leaped forth; and all the waters of Anduin shone like silver, and in all the houses of the City men sang for the joy that welled up in their hearts from what source they could not tell.

And before the Sun had fallen far from the noon out of the East there came a great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings beyond hope from the Lords of the West, crying:

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Anor,
for the Realm of Sauron is ended forever,
and the dark tower is thrown down.

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.

Sing all ye people!

And the people sang in all the ways of the City.

The book may have come out in 1955, but the language is biblical. We're on the walls of Minas Tirith, but from the language, we may as well be in David's Jerusalem.

It's really interesting to read what literary critics thought of LotR when it first came out, just because it was so completely different from the concept of a "modern novel"! There's people still today who can't even see LotR as an example of modern literature, because the language and the style of writing is such a huge throwback.

Not that I mind. I love the fact that LotR, in addition to being one of the fundamental stories of the 20th century, is also a big nose-thumb at the restrictive conventions of modernism.
12. Thomas Flynn
“They have seldom even heard of the king round here.” I wonder if this is proverbial, as it would be in LotR?
It is just a throwaway remark. In the early drafts of the Lord of the Rings there is a King reigning in the city (or land???) of "Ond" (IIRC) - the character that became Strider was a hobbit. If you must retcon it I guess you can read it as a proverb. It was about the time of The Hobbit that Tolkien was writing The Lost Road which I think is when all the Numenor stuff first emerged. It's been a long time since I re-re-re-read The History of Middle Earth.
13. Bander1
This is where Bilbo picks up Sting, a weapon that figures in both the rest of the Hobbit and the LOTR. It seems entirely by happenstance, and the Elven dagger becomes important fairly soon.

I know that I would love to have a device that not only detected my enemies before I could see them, but could also protect me from them. It is quite a useful thing for a Hobbit to have.

Already Bilbo is becoming more of an actual adventurer.
Soon Lee
14. SoonLee
Re;Professional Burglar.

I am once again reminded just how much is owed to The Hobbit & LotR by modern Sword&Sorcery, and roleplaying games from D&D onwards. Bilbo's concept of a burglar is the archetype Rogue character class: sneaky, thieving, and handy at the backstab. Strider is unarguably the archetype for the Ranger character class, and D&D elves are more the Tolkien version than earlier traditions.
15. Bolg
FWLIW, the Burglar inhabits Lord Dunsany's works as well:


I think we can see the truly legendary burglar in Nuth, the one who makes the stories which Bilbo refers to. And he's unsuccessful when it comes to burglary against the Gnoles ...while Alderic is spectacularly unsuccessful against the Ghibbelins ...

"And, without saying a word, or even smiling, they neatly hanged him on the outer wall—and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending."
David Levinson
16. DemetriosX
@7 & 14
Gygax and Arneson borrowed very heavily from Tolkien for the original D&D rules. So much so they got sued and had to make a lot of changes. Hobbits became Halflings, Ents became Treants. It's a wonder they were allowed to keep orcs and rangers by those names. And how did they manage to keep balrogs?

It's not just RPGs either. These four books utterly changed the direction of adult fantastic fiction. Prior to LotR, there were a lot of subgenres, drawing on Cabell, Dunsany, Eddison and a host of others. But for a generation or so, those all died out and nearly all adult fantasy followed Tolkien's model.
Ian Johnson
17. IanPJohnson
To everyone who's commenting about the Rogue/Thief class in D&D being inspired by Bilbo: I feel like it's far more linked to characters like the Gray Mouser. The Mouser has that kind of swaggering, stealthy charisma that I think is emblematic of the traditional D&D rogue.

For the record, I feel like Fafhrd is the ancestor of the barbarian/fighter archetype, and the wizards of Vance's Dying Earth are the ancestors of the various D&D mages (which is no surprise; I mean, the magic system is straight ripped from Jack Vance).

Actually, it seems like the standard four classes are taken from American pulp fantasy, rather than Tolkien. Which isn't to underestimate Tolkien's influence on Gygax-and-Arneson. It was huge. But it was a little bit more in the races and the backstory ("flavor text", if you will), rather than the classes and the mechanics.
Andrew Barton
18. MadLogician
Some of the D&D borrowings introduced errors into people's view of Tolkien's world which influenced the films. The biggest example is that as we will discover later in this book the main weapon of an army of elves is the sword, not the bow. The business of 'elven archers' comes mainly from the character of Legolas, who is not typical of his race.
19. a1ay
5 and 11 are inspired. Nice one, guys.
20. a1ay
I think the oddness of hearing "burglar" described as a well-known adventurous profession is also intentional.

If he'd said "thief" that might sound less odd. Thieves are romantic. The Thief of Baghdad! The Forty Thieves! A Thief in the Night! And Robin Hood was the Prince of Thieves long before Costner came along.

But a burglar can never be romantic. He's an unshaven, not very courageous man who messes around with dark lanterns and lockpicks and glass-cutters, a sort of criminal plumber. Gilbert & Sullivan complete their puncturing of the pirate myth in "The Pirates of Penzance" by having their hopelessly ineffectual and well-meaning pirates turn their hands to "a little burglary".
Michael Ikeda
21. mikeda

Although there is some support in LoTR for the association between elves and archery, at least for the elves of Lorien and Mirkwood.

In the chapter "Lothlorien" Haldir says "We live now upon an island amid many perils, and our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp."

And in the chapter "Helms Deep" Legolas says "But even more would I give for a hundred good archers of Mirkwood. We shall need them. The Rohirrim have good bowmen after their fashion, but there are too few here, too few."
Jack Flynn
22. JackofMidworld
DemetriosX - they didn't actually have balrogs in D&D, that I remember. Even in the old Monster Manual; the closest they had were the type VI demons and those were called balors, which is probably a "how close can we make this without being sued" thing.

Seems that TSR had a bad habit of assuming what they could use in their books; I remember the original book of deities had a lot of creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos and they had to drop those, too.

Oh, and enjoying the reread very much. I was as surprised as everybody else about how quickly the trolls seemed to show up.
23. a1ay
21: indeed; the party's held at bowpoint, not swordpoint, when it enters the woods of Lorien.
Steven Halter
24. stevenhalter
The other thing the burglar bit shows us is that Bilbo is quite familiar with these tales--another somewhat unhobbitish thing for him to be doing.
He goes out on his own into the troll camp. We see that he is quite good at sneaking and if the purse hadn't been magical, he would have stolen it. Of course, the wisdom of stealing a troll's purse is, perhaps, a bit lacking. And, he does try to help Thorin.
All of this is goo filling in for Bilbo's character.
25. pilgrimsoul
@22 JackofMidworld
When reading your comment about trolls showing up quickly, I thought--what trolls? Everyone is insightful and polite.

Then I realized you meant actual Trolls as in the book. Duh.
alastair chadwin
26. a-j
"...they also seem extremely blasé about Gandalf vanishing without a word..."
I've always read this as a characteristic of Hobbit Gandalf as opposed to LOTR Gandalf who is portrayed very differently. This Gandalf is a wizard and so his occasional diappearances never bothered me. That's what wizards do. They are mysterious as well as subtle and quick to anger.

(Family memory - we used to call my father Gandalf as he would always be striding ahead and 'disappearing' during family walks leaving my mother herding the rest of us and the dog.)

I notice that money is mentioned again, and it's mentioned a lot in the first chapter. I cannot, off-hand, think of any fantasy where money looms so large. Or indeed pocket handkerchiefs. Of course it's all part of the humour of the English middle class hobbit finding himself in a saga.
As a child I loved the dialogue of the trolls, and their names. Now it makes me slightly uncomfortable. There's a touch of (probably unconscious) class snobbery going on there.
Finally, as for images that don't seem to fit with LOTR, reading this chapter yesterday I was struck by the casual reference to castles:
"On some of were old castles with an evil look..."
Maybe it's just me, but old castles just don't seem to fit into the Middle Earth of LOTR.
27. Dr. Thanatos
I can deal with the cockney trolls.
I can deal with the talking purse.

It's still hard for me to accept that this is supposed to believably be the same Gandalf. Gandalf is going to sit in front of the Doors of Moria in about 78 years and call up every phrase to open doors in every language ever spoken in Middle-Earth, and here he looks at what turns out to be one of the more well-known weapons in history (which even Goblins recognize from across a dimly-lit cave) and cannot read Elf-runes that spell out "If found, please return to Turgon."

I understand that Gandalf was originally conceived as a cranky magician type, but it would have been nice if the retrofit had included an update on his scholarly capabilities. Although dealing with a bunch of dwarves who carry an orchestra with them in exile might drive a lot of knowledge into the subconcious...
28. Dr. Thanatos

Wasn't there a mention in VI, 2 (The Land of Shadow) of the old castle of Durthang that sat overlooking the Isenmouth?

Perhaps it's just a word that JRRT preferred in a children's book as opposed to the term he used more in LOTR "fortress"
29. a1ay
Maybe it's just me, but old castles just don't seem to fit into the Middle Earth of LOTR.

What about Weathertop? That's an old ruined castle. Might even be one of the ones they are seeing; it's on the way from the Shire to Rivendell.

The other thing the burglar bit shows us is that Bilbo is quite familiar
with these tales--another somewhat unhobbitish thing for him to be

Well, quite. Bilbo is not nearly as boring and conservative as he thinks he ought to be. He has a poetic streak that comes out from time to time ("from this we can see that Mr Baggins was not nearly as prosy as he liked to believe") and it's not at all unlikely that he absolutely lapped up the stories of famous legendary burglars that his Took aunts and uncles told him when he was a child.

I thought--what trolls? Everyone is insightful and polite. Then I realized you meant actual Trolls as in the book.

Chuckle. "Bilbo crept forwards towards the firelight. Through the trees he could see three huge hulking shapes sitting around the fire.
"It's all the Israelis' fault, Bill," said the first one.
"You're only saying that because you're an anti-semite, Bert," said the second.
"That's just what I'd expect a feminazi like you to say, Tom," said the third."
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
Hi, everybody. I just very cleverly kicked the power cord of my computer and lost responses to over half the comments, so let me compose myself to patience and reconstruct.

a1ay @ #1, I cannot BELIEVE that I forgot that Balin is the one who goes to Moria. O the embarrassment.

DemetriosX @ #2, oh certainly, the books are doing very different things, pacing-wise, and there are things to be said for and against either. And I like the phrase you point out.

EliBishop @ #4, I wasn't referring to "wind got up," I was referring to the "its" that by my grammar (or is this style?) rules at least, is supposed to refer back to something in the same sentence, but by context obviously means the river, which isn't. I like the pirates comparison and also the way that calling the fairy-tale role a burglar both highlights the roots of what Bilbo's doing and ties it into the commerce/greed aspect of the story.

--which, Thaxll @ #7, I think is relevant to why we call it thief or rogue these days, much more glamorous!

--on scrolling down, what a1ay @ #20 said.

SteelyKid, who is four, is a big fan at the moment, though this stems from a specific show (Jake and the Neverland Pirates, for other parents, and gahh but I've just earwormed myself with the theme song AGAIN) which is so mild about what a pirate means that it's almost unrecognizable.

IanPJohnson, pilgrimsoul, welltemperedwriter, regarding the shift in both _The Hobbit_ and _LotR_ backward in time in terms of story form, language, tech -- also forms of government, which partly goes with story form, I guess -- I love this discussion, thank you all. I think this ties too into the relatively normal/non-monstrous trolls in this chapter.

JohnnyMac @ #9, I was falling down on my duties as both re-reader and lawyer when I didn't talk about the mantelpiece note! Thanks for correcting my oversight.

MJB @ 10, Tolkien of all people cannot have unconsciously chosen to give the trolls a particular dialect! Or are you saying that it's potentially insulting (as I see a-j @ #26 thinks)? I'm afraid I don't have enough context to determine that.

Bander1 @ #13, and Bilbo getting a deceptively-powerful sword from a creature's plunder will repeat itself on the Barrow-downs in _LotR_.

Bolg @ #15, the first of those Dunsany tales is _extremely_ meta, my goodness, right up until the unhappy ending! Wow. The long climatic paragraph of the Nuth one is also excellent. But truly Bilbo must've been reading other stories or he would never have dared take up burglary . . .

pilgrimsoul @ #25, indeed, we've never had any problems with 'net trolls here!

a-j @ #26, in fact there are only two castles referenced in _LotR_, and only in passing: in describing the lands around Minas Tirith (Book Five, Chapter 1), we are told "But beyond, in the great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes."; and as Frodo and Sam cross Mordor (Book Six, Chapter 2), "A few miles north, high up in the angle where the western spur branched away from the main range, stood the old castle of Durthang, now one of the many orc-holds that clustered about the dale of Udûn."

--failed to preview on posting and did not see later comments about castles. It's the _word_ that strikes me as un-_LotR_-like; fortress, citadel, ruins . . .

Dr. Thanatos @ #27, yes, not being able to read the runes did strike me as a fairly large later upgrade for Gandalf! Oh well.
Soon Lee
31. SoonLee
Talking purse:

For a magical setting, the examples of items overtly magical are relatively sparse: the talking purse, the elven swords that glow in the dark when orcs are near & the Ring. Bard's Black Arrow (e.g.) didn't come across as particularly magical for a dragon-killing item.
Soon Lee
32. SoonLee
The Kindle version of "Deconstructing Tolkien: A Fundamental Analysis of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit" (Jane Yolen (Author), Edward J. McFadden III (Author), Tom Piccirilli (Foreword)) is currently free on Amazon.
David Levinson
33. DemetriosX
I think you could probably retcon Gandalf's rune problems a couple of ways. He's just run into some of Elrond's people and they've probably told him that they've gotten confirmation that the Necromancer is indeed Sauron and he's gathering power. Gandalf's thoughts are elsewhere, particularly now that he's rescued everybody from the trolls. Maybe toss in that the swords needed a bit of cleaning or something before the runes were clear enough to read and you can excuse it.

It's flimsy and I fully expect Gandalf to properly identify them in the movie, still it's something.
34. Dr. Thanatos

I suppose. Gandalf is suddenly hit with "Necromancer living in tower in dark forest is Sauron? That's so 7,000 years ago" might be distracting. Still, goblins in the dark across a crowded cavern screaming "Beater and Biter" makes it seem like G was in remedial history class at University of Valimar...
35. Dr. Thanatos

I goofed. G already knew that Sauron was the neck romancer; he's the one who found out at the same time he got the map and key from Thrain. I suppose if he ran into some Imladrisians who told him "Hey, G! Did you hear? Sauron and the Necromancer are one and the same just like in the First Age when he used that alias and we never thought about that for the last thousand years" it might have confused him since he was the one who told them...
David Levinson
36. DemetriosX
@ Dr. Thanatos
OK, so maybe it was more like "The Necromancer is moving sooner than we expected. We have to act soon!" Some sort of news that left Gandalf thinking more about what's coming up than a couple of old swords.

Alternatively, he knew damn well what they had (after all he claimed one for himself), but had some wizardly reason for the dwarves not to know yet.

It's weak, but retcons are always weak.
37. Gardner Dozois
The troll scene shows Tolkein dipping into British music hall tradition--a bit low-market for someone in his social position, but still, something he certainly would have encountered and been aware of nevertheless. The comic Cockney accents demonstrate this, as do the fact that they're named things like Bert, Tom, and William Huggins, unlike anybody else in LOTR, or THE HOBBIT for that matter. Except for the fact that they turn to stone, the non-human, monstrous nature of the trolls is also de-emphasized, different from what we see of trolls in LOTR; for all intents and purposes, they might just as well be very large and hulking human thugs, and the scene would play much the same way if it were a human gentleman falling afoul of lower-class human highwaymen and roughnecks, although the human highwaymen probably (probably) wouldn't be talking about eating him and arguing about how to cook him. The social comedy-of-manners element, stuffy and sheltered upper middle-class English gentleman forced out of his comfortable routine and forced to deal with the rough outside world, growing and learning lessons while the humor derives from the incongruity of him in such a setting and his bungling efforts to adapt, is very strong in the first half of the book, up through maybe the scene where they escape from the Elves in barrels. The later sections of the book, especially once they get to the Lonley Mountain, shift tone considerably, becoming much more like the tone of LOTR.

Coming attractions clips and stills seem to indicate that the movie has made the dwarves very fierce and martial looking, bristling with weapons, not at all the comic figures of the early part of the book, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with them being popped into bags one by one by the trolls. They don't look like a bunch that would be easy to do that too, or likely to fall for it.

The magical talking purse is interesting, since I don't think any such magical talking object shows up anywhere else in LOTR. It's strayed over from another type of fantasy altogether, a more comic and whimsical one.
38. Dr. Thanatos

I think the closest equivalent to the talking pure in LOTR is the infamous anthropomorphic fox who chanced upon Frodo and company while they were leaving the Shire, commented on how unusual this was, and left the area. Nonspeaking but we know the fox's thoughts.

This may again represent the whimsical edwardian folklore of Tolkien's youth: cockney oafs, purses that complain when being pilfered, foxes with opinions; note that all are encountered early in the adventure when our mighty heroes are either still in their comfortable home environments or only just left them and have not moved into The Hard Cold World...
Kate Nepveu
39. katenepveu
SoonLee @ #31, 32: is it a reasonable generalization that magic is primarily in the animate rather than the inanimate in _The Hobbit_ and _LotR_? And thanks--the reviews are a bit odd, but it's free so a quick look can't hurt.

DemetriosX @ #36, I have a retcon for you: he wanted Thorin to have a reason to feel positively about Elrond and he didn't know about the moon-runes (yes, I did my first read of chapter 3 today!) so he saved it for Elrond to tell Thorin.

Gardner Dozois @ #37, ah, British music hall tradition--the substance is visible even without knowing that, but it's good to know that it was coming out of an identifiable-to-the-expected-audience tradition.
Soon Lee
40. SoonLee
I'm seeing a lot of comments identifying aspects of The Hobbit that are drawn from various English & British literary & cultural traditions, all of which suggests to me that only Tolkien (or someone very much like him) could have produced The Hobbit. Thanks for pointing out reasons why it is a very English story in feel.
Beccy Higman
41. Jazzlet
Dr Thantos and DemetriosX I think you are being a little unfair on Gandalf, he only half drew one of the swords so even if the runes had been clear he wouldn't necessarily have seen all of them at that point and reading them wasn't a priority, feeding them was! I do think that Dr T you are along the right lines when you suggest that the knowledge was there, but not at the forefront of his mind. When it comes to the goblins recognizing them so easily I don't find that surprising, I'd have thought knowing about your enemies super-weapons would be jolly important, the sort of information taught to young goblins (assuming there are such things) 'if you see someone wielding a sword like this run!'
Beccy Higman
42. Jazzlet
urgh ... that should read 'reading the runes wasn't apriority, feeding the dwarves and especially the hobbit was!'
43. anewname
Comments on various comments:
Didn't the giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk" have a talking purse? That would make it a traditional fairytale item.

Even when first reading The Hobbit at age 13 (and not expecting to like a "children's book"), I was heartened by the idea that one could have adventures at age 50. Hope for us timid souls.

The emphasis on contracts and money in this book is at odds with "children's book" elements like the cozy authorial asides. IMHO the ending of the book can only really be appreciated by someone a lot older than the bedtime-story crowd.

Great comments about the narrative going back in time. Count me as one who loves all the poems and songs.
44. EmmaPease
For other speaking objects, IIRC Turin's sword Gurthang speaks to him just before Turin uses it to kill himself.
45. sps49
Dr. Thanatos @27-

Gandalf recognized Glamdring right away; he merely hesitated at the thought of how much it would bring on eBay.

Emma Pease @44-

Well, Túrin spoke to Gurthang first. Maybe other swords are as shy.

And thank you, Kate, for posting this on a holiday. Few are at work and this shoukd e a great day for .com traffic.
46. (still) Steve Morrison
Here is the original form of the “seldom even heard of the king” line:
Others said ‘These parts are none too well known, and too near the mountains. Not even a policeman on a bicycle is ever seen this way; they have rarely heard of the king even; and the less inquisitive you are as you go along the less trouble you are likely to find’
47. Bolg
Continuing with the Burglary discussion, there's also a short story by HG Wells that I suspect Tolkien had read and enjoyed:

The Hammerpond Park Burglary, with its wonderful beginning:
It is a moot point whether burglary is to be considered as a sport, a trade, or an art. For a trade, the technique is scarcely rigid enough, and its claims to be considered an art are vitiated by the mercenary element that qualifies its triumphs. On the whole it seems to be most justly ranked as sport, a sport for which no rules are at present formulated, and of which the prizes are distributed in an extremely informal manner. It was this informality of burglary that led to the regrettable extinction of two promising beginners at Hammerpond Park.
It was published in 1895, so there's a fair chance Tolkien had read it ....
Birgit F
48. birgit
My explanation for Gandalf's inability to read the runes is that it simply was too dark in the troll cave. Just because he had other things on his mind shouldn't suddenly make him illiterate, and to Gandalf runes should be ordinary writing, not some historical script that only scholars can decipher. The explanation that the swords had to be cleaned before the runes were visible makes sense, too.
49. Dr. Thanatos

That's not bad, but what about all the time between finding the big impressive-looking swords in the cave and getting to Rivendell? In LOTR we learn the time it took and it was not short.

This is the most blatant episode, but IIRC there are other instances in the hobbit where it's clear that Gandalf hasn't signed up yet for those on-palantir courses from University of Phoenix that he's clearly taken before Bilbo's 111th...

Hate to sound obsessed on it, but as I noted at the top this is the thing in this chapter that grabs me by the fea and says "like the movie, just keep telling yourself its just different people with the same names"
David Levinson
50. DemetriosX
@49 Dr. Thanatos
Accroding to The Atlas of Middle Earth, Bilbo and the dwarves took 5 days to go from the trolls to Rivendell, while Frodo & company only needed 2-3 (although there was a forced march in there). I would have expected Bilbo's group to need less time, since they were able to follow the road, while Strider was leading everyone cross-country to try to dodge the Black Riders. Your mantra will come in handy again when we get to the Mirkwood elves. If Legolas grew up in those caverns, why does he not like being underground or think that caves can't be beautiful?

Other burglar stories that Tolkien might have been familiar with would be the Raffles stories by E.W. Hornung. Raffles is smething of an anti-Holmes, and his burglaries are almost always successes.
51. EmmaPease
Frodo's group took to the road after finding the stone trolls. Their last bit of semi cross country was following the trail from the trolls to the road (which according to the LOTR was a few miles which leads one to wonder why the dwarves were so far off the road). They then took to the road and that evening Glorfindel caught up with them.
alastair chadwin
52. a-j
Yes, it's the word 'castle' I found odd, if 'fortress' or 'fort' had been used it wouldn't have jumped out at me on this re-read.
Ah, yes. Definately a music hall influence with the trolls. Also, MR James (albeit a bit earlier and Cambridge rather than Oxford) has at least one comic working class servant in his ghost stories.
Of course, Raffles. Tolkien would almost certainly have read them, they would have at their height of popularity when he was a boy (if I've got the datings right)
53. peachy
I haven't re-read any of them in a while, but as I recall "early FOTR Gandalf" - Bilbo's birthday party etc - is pretty similar to "early Hobbit Gandalf". There's an element of mystery and power, sure, but also a certain good-natured whimsy - the hobbits haven't the faintest clue as to who he really is, and that's entirely deliberate on his part... perhaps he finds it restful to not be Mithrandir for a bit, or perhaps he simply wants to protect the innocence of the Shire as much as he can.
54. Dr. Thanatos

Interesting that you mention the innocence of the Shire. I'd like to throw something out for discussion before our Mighty Heroes move too far down the road from their starting point.

We noted during the LOTR re-read that the nazgul seemed pretty tame at first: scary guys on black horses that didn't rip the Gaffer's throat out for his insolence and ran down the road as soon as they heard horns blowing compared to the truly impressive wraiths that they became just a few chapters later. Elrond commented in the Council that "power there is here in Imladris to resist for a while; power there is of another kind in the Shire."

This may be a good point to look at Bilbo, the ur-hobbit as it were, and ask what is it about him and his home territory that kept the wraiths from just offing everyone who talked back to them, and gives their territory evil-resisting power that Elrond acknowledges--and in fact what is it about these hobbits who backtalk Angmar when Strong Men of Gondor quail in his very presence?

This is the beginning of Bilbo's growth from fat burgher to hero; can we think about this question as we follow him along?
Tim May
55. ngogam
Re “They have seldom even heard of the king round here”: Tolkien retcons this himself, in the prologue to LoTR:
There remained, of course, the ancient tradition concerning the High King at Fornost, or Norbury as they called it, away north of the Shire. But there had been no king for nearly a thousand years, and even the ruins of Kings' Norbury were covered with grass. Yet the Hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king. For they attributed to the king of old all their essential laws; and usually they kept the laws of free will, because they were The Rules (as they said), both ancient and just.
(That is, I think that passage is clearly intended to explain the line in this chapter.)
56. peachy
That's a fascinating question. My understanding is that the Shire was sort of an idealised country England. Sam is such a perfectly idealised pre-modern Englishman - he's not sophisticated, but he's smart and decent and tough and solid. And like all idealisations there's an element of truth at the core.

I'm reminded of a scene in Conan Doyle's The White Company; the archer Aylward & archer-to-be Hordle John are immensely proud of their country & their king, but they're also keenly aware that the difference between England & France is that the king knows he can't get away with being too much of a jerk.
"I am but a poor commoner of England myself, and yet I
know something of charters, liberties, franchises, usages, privileges, customs, and the like. If these be broken, then all men know that it is time to buy arrow-heads."
The development of our five adventuring hobbits, and then the Scouring of the Shire, give that same sort of feel... the Shire is a "nation of shopkeepers" because the hobbits want to be peaceful, and because they're afforded the opportunity by helpful wizards & rangers, not because they're incapable of being warlike.
57. andagain
I still don’t know what to make of this as a piece of world-building,but note that “burglar” now includes instrumental violence, which is inelegant but not otherwise worthy of comment.
I imagine that most children are familiar with the idea that a burglar can be the hero of a story. The title character of Jack and the Beanstalk, for example, is clearly a burglar.

It is all a question of who you are stealing from, after all.
They speak a low-class version of the same language everyone has been speaking so far
Low class villiens, so a low class dialect. You would be startled in a story with a modern setting, if a gang of muggers all had cut-glass accents.
Kate Nepveu
58. katenepveu
anewname @ #43, it's interesting to me how many "kids" stories have endings that only fully resonate with adults. The last Winnie-the-Pooh story (also _Toy Story 3_, which Chad was describing to me today and which sounds similar in spirit), this, probably a bunch more that I'm forgetting . . .

EmmaPease @ #44, Gurthang does indeed speak before it takes Turin's life, which was _super creepy_.

sps49 @ 45, thank the nice folks at who asked me to stick to the schedule when I inquired!

(still) Steve Morrison @ #46, "not even a policeman on a bicycle," what, seriously?

Bolg @ #47, that opening paragraph reminds me of Walter Jon William's SF series about Drake Maijstral, in which Allowed Burglary is, basically, a sport. Williams has re-released them as ebooks; my favorite is the middle one, _House of Shards_.

DemetriosX @ #50, I should give Raffles another try.

Dr. Thanatos @ #54, the books seem to think that the resilience of hobbits is innate, a characteristic of their species, which honestly I don't think very interesting or useful. What do others think?

(peachy @ #56, I admit I would rather have "innate species trait" than "nationalism," but that might be my own peculiarities coming forth.)

ngogam @ #55, well, except that it's a dwarf talking about not hearing about the king, yeah. But retcon aside, I was trying to figure out what if anything it might have meant at the time, and possibly the answer is "it doesn't, it was just something Tolkien wrote down without registering the implications."

andagain @ #57, sure (though it might be interesting!), but muggers in a modern setting are part of my class structure. Again, not criticizing the book for making that choice, but it is a choice, to apply our-world class signals to fantastic creatures, and as such it's worth noting.
David Levinson
59. DemetriosX
@58 Kate
I went through the Raffles stories about 20 years ago. I found them a lot of fun and they even felt a bit younger than they are: more between the wars than late Victorian. Just like his brother-in-law Doyle, Hornung attempted to kill off his most famous character, succumbed to the negative reaction from his fans, and brought him back not quite as good as he was before. But you can get them all free from Project Gutenberg.

As to the innate resistance of the hobbits, it is either stated outright or strongly implied that without it Gollum would have long since been consumed by the ring and Bilbo corrupted. As others have noted, the hobbits were essentially rural English yeomen. Tolkien appears to have taken what he felt was a cultural trait of his nation and turned it into a species trait. It would have been interesting to see what he derived it from had he really explored the origins of hobbits. They are the only race of Middle Earth for which no creation story exists.
60. Dr. Thanatos

I think it's more than just "hobbits are stubborn and feisty when dinner is threatened by goblins." Elrond says that there is a power in the Shire to resist Sauron that is comparable to the power in Imladris. The Nazgul are reduced to being annoying doorbell ringers (so to speak) rather than nasties who would slit your throat for not offering to do it yourself first. What is is about the Shire that keeps the Nazgul from manifesting? It can't be "civilization" because when Witchie rode into Minas Tirith he didn't turn around and leave because Gandalf said "no Baggins here." I find this an interesting and to this point unanswered question.
Carl Garris
61. Rorgloin
Hullo everyone! I've never posted on this site before, but I've followed the Wheel of Time reread and I love The Hobbit so I was excited to read this one. With regards to the phrase "They have seldom even heard of the king around here," I have read the History of The Hobbit (I think that was the title-- I don't have it on me at the moment) which contains Tolkien's attempted rewrite of The Hobbit in the style of The Lord of the Rings. In it, he elaborates on the phrase as something the hobbits had once said when there was still a king in Arnor-- even with the king now gone, it had persisted as a sort of common idiom. Tolkien uses it to show Bilbo's ignorance at the world in that one as Bilbo uses it in conversation (poor Bilbo, if I recall correctly, really gets made out as pathetic in that version. 'twas cool to read though).
In response to 26 a-j, the castles would have made sense through the Lone-lands and the Trollshaws as the kingdom of Rhudaur (one of the splinter kingdoms off of Arnor when it fell) was located in that general area and probably had border castles to protect against Angmar (again, if I recall correctly).
Thanks again for the reread! (And sorry for the rather late comment)
Rich Bennett
62. Neuralnet
Just reread the Hobbit this weekend. Such a fun, fast read and I was surprised how fast the story unfolds in general. Also, didnt remember that there were so many songs in the story. Some general comments re: this chapter... Gandalf just feels completely different than the LoTR Gandalf to me. In the LoTR he seems to be wiser/more powerful than in the Hobbit. But it doesnt really bother me too much here since we want the group to get into some trouble otherwise it wouldnt be much of an adventure. Also, I am struck by how unprepared the company of dwarves and Mr. Baggins are for their trip. They dont seem to have much in the way of provisions and dont really have a plan for restocking along the way. In fact throughout the whole story I get the feeling the dwarves just havent really thought this thing out very thoroughly.

I found this chapter pretty funny, in my head it is a classic slapstick comedy scene. And definitely reminds me of my D&D playing days as a kid.
Aimee Powalisz
63. longhairedspider
If I think about The Hobbit as a book written by Bilbo, he could certainly have made Gandalf out to be a bit slow on the uptake vis a vis the sword, purely for comic relief. Same for the trolls. As for their accents, some of the orcs in LotR had Northern accents, or at least manners of speaking.

And great point about Bilbo being somewhat middle aged! It's nice to have a protagonist that isn't 22 and able to do everything.
Kate Nepveu
64. katenepveu
DemetriosX @ #59, yes, you're right, a creation story for hobbits would be interesting, but on the whole I find myself glad it doesn't exist, and I can't pin down why. Huh.

Dr. Thanatos @ #60, I always thought the power in the Shire reference was . . . what d'you call it . . . a way of referring to the hobbits themselves, not an innate quality of the location, so I cannot help you there. (And I have just spent too long trying to find the quote to be precise, and cannot find it. Help?)

Rorgloin @ #61, welcome! The attempted rewrite of _The Hobbit_ in _LotR_ style still sounds like a *terrible* idea to me, but as an artifact to marvel at, I might too find it cool. =>

Neuralnet @ #62, I suspect when Gandalf vanishes we'll also see that it would have been hard to have a plot without him! And you're right, the dwarves are running a lot of this journey on the "oh, something'll turn up" principle--if you can call it that.

longhairedspider @ #63, on past reads I never really felt that Bilbo was middle-aged; I'll be interested to see if I pick that up more this time around as I start to head in that direction myself . . .
65. Topknot
58. katenepveu

Dr. Thanatos @ #54, the books seem to think that the resilience of hobbits is innate, a characteristic of their species, which honestly I don't think very interesting or useful. What do others think?

Not interesting or useful? It was my understanding that this resilience is why the ring was kept out of the dark ones hands. Was not Gollum originally a hobbit? I seem to recall reading somewhere that the ring was trying to return to its master, and when Gollum would not leave the caverns beneath the mountain that is why it left him, to find someone who would. If not for the resilience of the Hobbits as a race then the ring probably is returned to its master as soon as he starts to excert his influence, and the whole Hobbit and LOTR storeis never happen.
66. Dr. Thanatos

I don't have my books in front of me but I believe it was at the Council of Elrond where Elrond states "there is power here in Imladris to resist him for a while; there is power of another sort in the Shire."

I suspect this refers to the people of the Shire rather than to the location . I mean, where else are there people who would give a Good Morning to Witchie and his buddies without hesitation, and the Nazgul would accept it and leave?

This is more than just the deeply buried courage of the hobbit folk. It's almost as if there's an inherent quality that is resistant to being intimidated (and like bullies, the Nazgul, when meeting resistance rather than "please don't kill me slowly", leave and don't hurt anyone). I think it ties in with what Topknot says.

Also the character growth of Frodo and Bilbo seems to be the exception. The Gaffer and Farmer Maggot don't need to go on a Hero's Journey to resist Evil; they are doing it in Chapter 3.

Perhaps JRRT is saying something about the yeomanry vs the aristocracy .
67. Dr. Thanatos
(drat the brackets instead of parentheses, causing stuff to drop out of my post). Meant to say yeomanry vs aristocracy (that is the opposite of the model he uses for Men, with the tiered nobility of birth going back to the Children of Luthien)
Kate Nepveu
68. katenepveu
Topknot @ #65, sorry, I meant the idea of the strength as a species characteristic, not the strength itself!

Dr. Thanatos @ #66, after a tedious process of searching for "shire" from the very start of the book, I have found it! It's Gandalf not Elrond, in "Many Meetings":
‘I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?’

‘Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes. Indeed there is a power in Rivendell to withstand the might of Mordor, for a while: and elsewhere other powers still dwell. There is power, too, of another kind in the Shire. But all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going. The Dark Lord is putting forth all his strength.’
So we agree that it's something about the people not the locations. Otherwise, well, we discussed the relative non-scariness of the Nazgul early and came up with a bunch of reasons--at least one of which, that they gained strength as Sauron rose, is supported later in the text--but not that it might be something about hobbits, I don't think, which we probably should have given later events.

There may be some class elements, maybe also some connectedness-to-the-earth? But Merry and Pippin are something like aristocrats (right? or have I mucked up my British class signals again?), and Merry has a slight mystic streak, and I become unable to find a common theme/message other than Tolkien's possible national identity or just how they showed up in his head.
69. Dr. Thanatos

Your points are well taken. But I am not sure I agree with the concept of the wraiths growing with the strength of Sauron. After all, Sauron has been growing slowly all through the age. But 2000 years back, when Witchie confronted Glorfindel and Earnur (and boy did I pull that one out of my hat!) he was pretty badass and a scary figure that caused people to quail.

Maybe he got the same temporary downgrade as Gandalf; but I'm still impressed that the ordinary citizenry of the Shire Laugh In The Face Of The Nazgul. If I were to play historic parallels, I would cite the English resistance to the Blitz and standing up to the Nazis. Perhaps its that heroic stance of "we don't care how evil you are, we're not going to put up with that kind of nonsense in this neighborhood" that Tolkien is going for. And an additional message that evil works best when people are afraid of it?
David Levinson
70. DemetriosX
@69 Dr. Thanatos
I think that spirit of the Blitz was probably a major influence on Tolkien's concept of what the power in the Shire was. Keep calm and carry on and all that.

Re Bilbo's age: It might be fair to say that he acts middle aged at the beginning. A bit fussy, set in his ways, etc. As we then learn in LotR that he was in his 50s, it becomes easy to think of him that way. But it should also be remembered that being in his 50s makes him a hobbit in his prime adulthood, the equivalent of a modern human in their 30s.
71. pilgrimsoul
@ Kate 68
You are right about Merry and Pippen. Their families own land and plenty of it plus they are authorities in their regions and receive deferential treatment. I'd classify them as gentry but definitely upper class despite what Tom Shippey says.
72. JohnnyMac
pilgrimsoul @71, as to the status in the Shire of the Tooks and the Brandybucks, keep in mind the narrator's remark in Chapter One of "The Hobbit" that "...the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer."
Kate Nepveu
73. katenepveu
JohnnyMac @ #72, hmm, good point. My first reaction is that respectable in the eyes of the middle class and gentry are not necessarily the same thing.
Kate Nepveu
74. katenepveu
(duplicate post)
75. pilgrimsoul
@ Johnny Mac 72 and Kate 73

Ha ha! Probably just what JRRT himself thought of the upper class back in his day. The Tooks can afford their eccentricities. On the other hand while Pippin is young, Merry is treated with respect by the commons, as the young squire as it were.
Our pal Bilbo has that "Tookish" streak in him.
Beccy Higman
76. Jazzlet
DemetriosX @ 71 I agree, I think that initially Bilbo is potrayed as one of those people that seem to be middle-aged from their teens or younger. It is part of Bilbo's story here that he discovers the vigour he should have at his age.

pilgrimsoul @71 I agree that Merry and Pipin are upper-class, but gentry rather than aristocrats, the equivilent of Sir's rather than Earl's. The Tooks would be the equivilent of a family like the Sitwells, with the eccentricity permited to that class rather than the aristocratic Mitfords (and I find myself a little shocked that I know enough of both families to make the distinction!).
David Lazinski
77. davidlazinski
Although I have enjoyed reading The Hobbit, what dissapointed me is the speed by which the novel went by. I think The Hobbit would of been much better had it been a thicker book made into a trilogy. Anyone who has read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy will find a dramatic change in Tolkien's writting skills. Lord of the Rings was written way much better than The Hobbit. The Hobbit appears to be of a weaker writing skill when compared to The Lord of the Rings because it was Tolkien's first attempt at writting a novel. And that makes perfect sense because he wrote it for his children, he did not have in mind publishing it.
Kate Nepveu
78. katenepveu
davidlazinski @ #77, welcome. There were times when I rather liked the speed of events in this book, and then there were times when I would have liked to see things that happened off-screen. So I guess my feelings are mixed about it.

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