Thu
Jan 24 2013 1:00pm
The Hobbit Reread: Chapter 10, “A Warm Welcome”

The Hobbit reread on Tor.com Welcome back to the chapter-by-chapter reread of The Hobbit. You can find past posts at the reread index, or you can catch up with our previous reread of The Lord of the Rings. As always, the discussion will contain spoilers for everything Tolkien wrote about Middle-earth (that is: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and various posthumous tidbits); if you haven’t read the book before and would like to remain unspoiled, I recommend reading along with Mark Reads first.

This week, we reach the halfway point of the book, Chapter 10, “A Warm Welcome,” in which (almost) everyone but Bilbo is pretty happy for a change.

 

What Happens

Bilbo, invisible on the raft of barrels, sees the Lonely Mountain and does “not like the way the Mountain seemed to frown at him and threaten him as it drew ever nearer.” In the night the raft comes to Lake-town, which is built literally upon the Long Lake and connected to the shore by a bridge. The elves go to feast, and Bilbo gets all the dwarves out, most rather the worse for the wear.

Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo go to the bridge and surprise the guards there. Thorin declares himself King under the Mountain and demands to be taken to the town’s Master. The guards bring him into the town, where the Master and many others are feasting, and Thorin again declares himself. The elves recognize the dwarves as escaped prisoners, but the townspeople acclaim Thorin before the Master can decide who to side with.

The dwarves spend two weeks recovering and being celebrated (though Bilbo has a hard time shaking his cold), while the Elvenking decides to bide his time. Thorin asks for and receives help from the Master in continuing on to the Mountain, to the Master’s surprise, since he thought they were frauds. They set off across the lake “on the last stage of their long journey,” and “[t]he only person thoroughly unhappy was Bilbo.”

 

Comments

A short transitional chapter, setting the scene in Lake-town. I seem to recall that the Master is later shown to be untrustworthy, and the omniscient narrator sets that up here. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with not “think[ing] much of old songs, giving his mind to trade and tolls, to cargoes and gold, to which habit he owed his position.” Nor is it any great sin, as far as I am concerned, for a leader to be more polite to potentially-powerful individuals than their personal feelings would counsel. Yet the overall effect is clearly underhandedness: the new songs about the death of Smaug and presents to Lake-town could be amusing in other contexts, but the smarminess of his dialogue with Thorin puts it over the top for me:

But the Master was not sorry at all to let them go. They were expensive to keep, and their arrival had turned things into a long holiday in which business was at a standstill. “Let them go and bother Smaug, and see how he welcomes them!” he thought. “Certainly, O Thorin Thrain’s son Thror’s son!” was what he said. “You must claim your own. The hour is at hand, spoken of old. What help we can offer shall be yours, and we trust to your gratitude when your kingdom is regained.”

It’s a neat bit of economical characterization.

As for Lake-town, I somehow did not remember that it’s a town actually on the Lake. This is probably because the non-Mountain scenes do not stick with me now that we have arrived; you’ll have guessed that already, from my not being sure what happens to the Master. Being on the Lake strikes me as more wishful thinking than sound defense against a fire-breather, unless you are scrupulous about keeping everything wet (and how annoying would that be, to live in some place constantly damp?). Which, as I recall, will prove to be the case.

I also hadn’t previously recognized that the town’s marketplace “was a wide circle of quiet water surrounded by the tall piles on which were built the greater houses, and by long wooden quays with many steps and ladders going down to the surface of the lake.” I always vaguely envisioned it as a fairly solid thing, and indeed Tolkien’s illustration looks rather rectangular, but it makes sense that the market would have lots of access to the water, since that’s how much of the trade would come.

The reaction of the people of Lake-town is interesting. Well, first, it’s good to know that Thorin can put on an air of majesty when he needs to. (Also, my edition appears to be missing a “neither,” when Thorin says, “But lock nor bar may hinder the homecoming spoken of old.” Unless this is British idiom?) But I was trying to think of any new arrival that would cause me to join “crowds [that] sat outside and sang songs all day, or cheered if any [companion] showed so much as his nose,” and I can’t. This is probably because I am (1) USian and (2) not religious. U.S. non-religious culture isn’t big on long-awaited prophesied returns, at least not that I’ve been able to think of. No King Arthur, no lost heirs to the former royal family. Religious prophecies of return, sure, we’ve got those, but again, not my thing. I’ve been very excited to meet people who I particularly admired or found charismatic, but not because I expected them to usher in a new era even for my town, you know?

Which, in a nutshell, is why fantasies of political agency have such appeal.

But, getting back to the main point: I can intellectually understand the reaction of the townspeople, but I don’t feel it in my gut, I just don’t share that worldview sufficiently. How did you all react?

(The song in the text does seem like it would be fun to sing, at least, though I’m probably assigning much too simplistic a rhythm to it.)

End of chapter tallies: no updates to dwarf characteristics list, which I carry over for ease of reference as usual:

  • Thorin: long-winded and self-important (Chapter 1). Good with a bow and perceiving the possible need for it (Chapter 8). Capable of stubbornness when he perceives his treasure being threatened (Chapter 8).
  • Dori and Nori “shared the hobbit’s views about regular meals, plenty and often.” (Chapter 2)
  • Dori is “a decent fellow” (Chapter 4, 6) and the strongest (Chapter 8).
  • Oin and Gloin are “specially good at” making fire. (Chapter 2)
  • Balin “was always their look-out man.” (Chapter 2)
  • Fili and Kili “had very sharp eyes” and are “the youngest of the dwarves by some fifty years” (Chapter 4), though of the two, Fili is apparently the youngest and has the sharpest eyes (Chapter 8).
  • Bombur is “fat.” (Chapter 4, 6)

Does Bilbo think wistfully of his home in this chapter? Surprisingly, no (8/9). I thought he would have, since the few bits of foreboding about the Mountain are tied to him, but I didn’t see anything. I predict we will return to this in the next chapter, however, since as I recall we descend out of the warmth of this chapter pretty quickly.

Which is appropriate, as we’ve hit a very cold snap here in upstate New York. Stay warm, those of you similarly affected, and have a good week, everyone else; see you next time, “On the Doorstep.”


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.

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56 comments
a1ay
1. a1ay
Also, my edition appears to be missing a “neither,” when Thorin says, “But lock nor bar may hinder the homecoming spoken of old.” Unless this is British idiom?

The "neither" is implied, I think. It's archaic but correct.

I was trying to think of any new arrival that would cause me to join
“crowds [that] sat outside and sang songs all day, or cheered if any
[companion] showed so much as his nose,” and I can’t.

It sounds like accounts of the Allied armies entering a town in France, or the Union Army being greeted by black Southerners during the Civil War...
a1ay
2. Dr. Thanatos
"Nor" a construct common in Shakespeare and older English.

True that American culture doesn't have a tradition of the long-awaited coming other than religious; the idea of a King Arthur or an Aragorn is more of an English/European thing.

I don't see the townsmen greeting of the Dwarves as a liberation thing (as in the Allies coming in or the Union coming into the South). I think more of the pictures of the crowds greeting Lenin on his return to Russia in 1917 with his promise of economic freedoms (not that I'm endorsing him; but he was greeted enthusiastically).

Returning to my pet theme in this re-read, we now meet Men for the first time, and of course there's a song. The song is about the return of the good old days and the achievement of prosperity. Not about revenge, not about secret knowledge, not about prowess in torture. What does this song tell us about the character of Men?
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
But I was trying to think of any new arrival that would cause me to join “crowds [that] sat outside and sang songs all day, or cheered if any [companion] showed so much as his nose,” and I can’t.

The scene I come up with is the following: Imagine that when the Hollywood studio system collapsed, the major motion picture industry had left for foreign parts. Sure, the town would have carried on with the television people, but it wouldn't have been the same. The golden age of Hollywood becomes something that grandfathers tell their grandsons, who are scraping by on table service tips from reality TV "stars" instead of the Great Hollywood Stars of old.

Then, a handful of movie stars from Europe descend on the town, promising to reopen the abandoned movie studios and make major motion pictures in town again. Would they get a parade? Possibly. Tax concessions and sweetheart deals of all kinds? Most surely.

Also interesting here is that while most of the dwarves in the company actually saw and fought the dragon (and the elves, of course), few if any of the human inhabitants of the town have ever seen the dragon or experienced him as a real thing and not a legend.
a1ay
4. (still) Steve Morrison
Possibly the townspeople are counting on Smaug’s fear of the lake? Falling into it seems to be one of the few things which could kill him.

It just occurred to me how much the Master’s personality resembles that of Horace Slughorn, or rather the other way around. I’m thinking of the scene where Slughorn pronounces a sonorous funeral oration for Aragog while surreptitiously bottling venom for later sale.
a1ay
5. Laura Matthews2
I always just thought the overworked townspeople were just looking for an opportunity to party. Like, whoo-hoo! Day off!
a1ay
6. Gardner Dozois
Against a FLYING fire-breather, living on the lake provides no defense at all, as will become clear in a later chapter.

From when I was a little kid in the '50s, I remember a couple of articles, with really evocative drawings, of how people really DID live on platforms out in the middle of lakes during prehistoric times in parts of Europe, a recent archeological discovery at the time, and I can't help but wonder if Tolkien had seen these same articles, or similar ones.

I get the impression that most of the people in Lake-Town don't believe that there really IS a dragon, writing it off as a fanciful tale the old folks tell, and certainly that most of them have never actually SEEN it, which brings up a question that occured to me more forcefully when reading the next chapter, which is: What does Smaug EAT? You'd think if he was flying around hunting things for dinner that the Lake-Town people would see him fairly frequently; in the next chapter, it's emphasized that the area for miles around the Lonely Mountain is totally devoid of life, the Desolation of Smaug, so what does Smaug do when he feels peckish in the middle of the night, and where does he go to find something to eat?

Tolkien is clearly loading the decks against the Master as soon as you see him, which is a good indication of his prejudices--Tolkien dislikes "commerce" and distrusts those who are engaged in it or those who seek for profit or to become rich, which is why the economics of Middle Earth, particularly in THE HOBBIT, are so vaguely sketched in and often contradictory. He much prefers Bard the Bowman, who, as far as we can tell has done nothing much to contribute to the well-being and prosperity of the town except stand around for his entire life until the second arrives for him to shoot the dragon.
Arghya Raihan
7. Umbar
I don't exactly remember what I thought of that part back when I first read the book, but looking back, I think it was more about the stuff of legend coming true than about political liberation or religious prophecies. The Dragon and the Fall of Erebor are stories that the people of Lake-town are brought up on. Now, suddenly a band of Dwarves arrive (it is quite possible that the people of Esgaroth had never seen Dwarves before) and one proclaims himself King Under the Mountain. It's amazing! I think my reaction was more of that a history and mythology enthusiast than a religious person. It is, I think, more like King Arthur than anything else.

As for the Master's characterization, that bit about trade and cargo and gold is obviously meant to show that he's a shallow, crass, materialistic man with no appreciation for the finer things in life and no sense of wonder. With Thorin's dying speech, Tolkien does assert his position on narrow-minded materialism pretty strongly, so there's that.
a1ay
8. pilgrimsoul
I just felt sorry for the Dwarves. Riding in a barrel down a river sounded kind of fun until Bilbo decanted them. I don't remember who was which, but some Dwarves tried to help the others, some were done in, and some too put out to do anything but fuss.
They all must have felt by then that they deserved the star treatment in Laketown.
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
I think StrongDreams @3 comes closest to what is really motivating the people of Lake-town. Dale was a very prosperous city and much of that came from their good relations with the dwarves under the mountain. I don't recall if it's here or elsewhere, but much is made of the toys and other things made by the dwarves. Over the 170 years since Smaug destroyed both Dale and the dwarf kingdom, the tale has probably grown quite a bit in the telling.

The people of Lake-town likely think that once the dwarves return, they'll all be fabulously rich without having to do anything. Frankly, they don't come off a whole lot better than the Master does in the narrative. I always got the impression that a lot of them really were using the arrival of Thorin as an excuse to skive off work. Remember, too, that Bard -- a true son of the Dalings -- is something of an outsider, considered odd by most other folk.

Bilbo probably doesn't miss his home in this chapter, because he has such a miserable cold. He can't think about anything that feels that good. It could be argued that all the feasting they're getting helps, but he doesn't seem to be able to enjoy it, again because he's sick.
Kate Nepveu
10. katenepveu
I looked this up but there wasn't place in the post for it: re: people not remembering much about Smaug: it's been 171 years since he destroyed Erebor.

Dr. Thanatos @ #2, I think this is where the cautionary tale about greed starts amping up.

StrongDreams @ #3, suddenly I'm imagining if Terry Pratchett had combined _Moving Pictures_ (early motion pictures invade Discworld) and _Guards! Guards!_ (dragon invades Ankh-Morpork), and now my head hurts. =>

Laura Matthews2 @ #5, I like it.

Gardner Dozois @ #6, I can only answer your question about Smaug's diet by positing that as a magical creature, he finds nourishment from his hoard sufficient. And yes, I noticed there was no Bard in this chapter.
Thomas Thatcher
11. StrongDreams
Gardner Dozois @ #6,

You might just as well ask what the Balrog ate hiding at the roots of the Misty Mountains for 3000 years. Yes, it was a maia, but as Tolkien makes clear, being embodied places limitations on the spirit. Some things Tolkien just ignores.

More practically, reptiles have slow metabolisms. Smaug probably eats every couple of decades, which is infrequent enough that the "desolation" can grow back enough at the margins to attract sheep, shepherds, and so forth. It still could have been a generation ago that he last ate.
a1ay
12. Gardner Dozois
The fact that Smaug hordes gold and jewels and precious objects is something Tolkien lifted straight out of folklore, of course, but doesn't really make much sense. Why? What good is gold to a giant flying reptile, especially as he never "spends" any of it for anything else? It's especially intriguing that Smaug knows the "price" of every single object in his horde, to the penny, although in what commercial system and in what medium of exchange he knows it is never stated. Is the value of the object the same now as it was five hundred years ago? Will it be a different value five hundred years further on? In whose money?

Perhaps Smaug is fed in some mystic way BY the horde of gold and jewels, drawing magical nourishment from it as he lies on it. So he doesn't need to hunt in the conventional sense.
David Levinson
13. DemetriosX
@12 Gardner
If you really drill down into Germanic legend, the dragon is often someone who has been transformed by greed and gold lust. For example, Fafnir was originally a dwarf in the Icelandic version of the legend. Somewhere in the Middle Ages they merged with Greco-Roman dragons and maybe Chinese or Persian dragons a little, so you wind up with a flying, fire-breathing, virgin-eating lizard with a lust for gold.

As for what Smaug eats, I'm pretty sure there is mention of him leaving the Mountain from time to time to feed. But he only does it every couple of decades or something. He also wouldn't necessarily have to fly in the direction of Lake-town. Unless he buzzes the lake or some such, they might not notice when he goes hunting.
Alan Brown
14. AlanBrown
Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity. Perhaps by piling it just right, Smaug creates a magnetic field, and gains sustenance from the electrical currents it generates. Or perhaps I am approaching it too much as an SF fan rather than a fantasy fan...
Alan Brown
15. AlanBrown
Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity. Perhaps by piling it just right, Smaug creates a magnetic field, and gains sustenance from the electrical currents it generates. Or perhaps I am approaching it too much as an SF fan rather than a fantasy fan...
Thomas Thatcher
16. StrongDreams
Meh. Hardly any of the economic issues in Middle-Earth make sense if you think about them (not just money but trade, energy balance, etc). What do the goblins of the Misty Mountains eat, for example? It's pretty clear that the nearest human settlements of any size are many days journey away, and after thousands of years the goblins would have wiped out their food source in raids, or the humans would have developed strong enough defenses to repel them. Hard to imagine goblins farming on the slopes of the mountains.

Or, how can Bilbo afford to be a hobbit of leisure if he doesn't have any money (until after the expedition)? Or, how likely is it that a paper document (Isildur's description of the ring) would be readable after 3000 years of storage.

Some things just don't bear close technical examination.
Pirmin Schanne
17. Torvald Nom
@16: Why wouldn't the goblins farm? Mordor orks do it, after all.
a1ay
18. Gardner Dozois
WHERE would the goblins farm?, might be more of the issue. Farming on the sides of mountains is very difficult, though it can be done, but the fields would be visible and known, the same if they were in the valleys. As far as we can see, goblin society is completely hidden within the mountains themselves. Perhaps they have vast fields of mushrooms down there, inside the mountain.

All we know for sure about what the goblins eat is that the Goblin King would occasionally have a whim to eat fish, and send some poor hapless goblin down to get some out of Gollum's underground lake.

@13. That connection is still there, at some level, since the Master is later said to be suceptible to dragon lust and sickness, and to have been corrupted by it.
a1ay
19. Confutus
Smaug does seem to have a rather ophidian metabolism. He pretty much gorged himself on the dwarves (and ponies) of the Kingdom Under the Mountain and then curled up to sleep it off. I would guess that after oversleeping for a couple of decades, even he would have been a bit peckish. No wonder he was in such a foul mood when he was so rudely woken up.
a1ay
20. a1ay
The fact that Smaug hordes gold and jewels and precious objects is
something Tolkien lifted straight out of folklore, of course, but
doesn't really make much sense. Why? What good is gold to a giant
flying reptile, especially as he never "spends" any of it for anything
else?

In a discussion elsewhere the conclusion was reached that dragons' hoards are explained by a combination of unsanitary habits and really powerful digestions. Dragons, you see, can digest everything they eat. Flesh, skin, hair, bones, teeth, clothing, even armour. The only thing that they can't digest is anything made of the most unreactive substances in existence - precious metals.

So when a dragon eats a passing dwarf, the only thing left undigested are that dwarf's personal jewellery and pocket change. Which the dragon then, er, passes. Or, like an owl, regurgitates in pellet form.
The advantage of doing this in the lair is that, once you've done it for a while, you have quite a hoard of your victim's undigested gold, which attracts more victims... it's like being a grizzly bear that periodically excretes steaks and beer,
a1ay
21. a1ay
Or, how likely is it that a paper document (Isildur's description of the ring) would be readable after 3000 years of storage.

Papyrus has lasted that long. Vellum or parchment could - there are several vellum and parchment documents that are getting on for 1500 years old.

It's especially intriguing that Smaug knows the "price" of every
single object in his horde, to the penny, although in what commercial
system and in what medium of exchange he knows it is never stated.

Oh, surely Smaug, of all people, would be a firm believer in the gold standard. No fiat money for Smaug!
a1ay
22. Dr. Thanatos
@21 a1ay

Fiat money for Smaug? He strikes me as more of an Alpha-Romeo kinda guy...pity all of his copies of Forbes and Money burn up when he tries to read them
Birgit
23. birgit
From when I was a little kid in the '50s, I remember a couple of articles, with really evocative drawings, of how people really DID live on platforms out in the middle of lakes during prehistoric times in parts of Europe, a recent archeological discovery at the time, and I can't help but wonder if Tolkien had seen these same articles, or similar ones.

Newer research prefers placing the villages at the shore instead of on the water. I always imagined Laketown like the Unteruhldingen museum, which was built when the old theories about villages in the lake were still believed (the first two houses are from 1922).
a1ay
24. Gardner Dozois
@21 Gold standard. Good one!

There's no reason why people COULDN'T have lived on platforms in the middle of lakes, where their towns would have been more defensible (which was supposedly the idea, and would work fairly well except against flying, fire-breathing dragons), but I'm not sure what the evidence is that they ever did. Is there now evidence that they DIDN'T? How would anyone know for sure, one way or the other?
a1ay
25. oliveramy
StrongDreams@ #16 If I remember correctly, Bilbo had quite a bit of money even before he went on his Adventure. He was obviously of upper class, being that he had his own personal gardners (the Gaffer and later on, Samwise as we are told later in the Fellowship.) There's quite a bit of mention of his mother's precious dishes and belongings. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe the Bagginses were quite well off in Hobbit society and quite respectable.
a1ay
26. Dr. Thanatos
@25 oliveramy,

Early on a comparison was drawn between the Bagginses and Tooks, commenting that the Tooks were wealthier. Clearly the Baggins (Bagginses?) were a wealthy family but not in the same range as the Tooks (who got their wealth the same way they got their name. How? They "Took" it!).
a1ay
27. grantimatter
@16 Gardner Dozois: >>Why? What good is gold to a giant flying reptile, especially as he never "spends" any of it for anything else?ow dragons could actually work. The thesis: dragons really existed. They flew by generating their own hydrogen through the reaction of stomach acid with bone (or limestone).

This is why they 1. breathed fire (to vent hydrogen), 2. had hypnotic gazes and soft underbellies (because their bellies were balloons, and they evolved ways to distract potential attackers from striking it), 3. had acidic "blood" and left no physical remains (because they're filled with acid) and, most pertinent to your question, 4. slept on gold hoards (because gold is inert - it wouldn't react with their caustic secretions, which otherwise would create sludge that'd stick to their bodies and make them too heavy to fly).

It's a great argument - one simple mechanism that explains everything that separates legendary dragons from familiar reptiles.
a1ay
28. Dr. Thanatos
@27 grantimatter,

Alternatively, you could argue that dragons collect gold because there are lots of reptiles but only a few dragons. Naturally, as the 1%, they would accumulate all the wealth...
a1ay
29. grantimatter
Huh - it seems like the middle of my comment there got eaten.

The theory there came from The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson - it's a marvelous book.
a1ay
30. grantimatter
@28 Dr. Thanatos,

I wonder if Tolkien's critiquing monetary policy - once gold becomes the thing you want for itself, it stops being a medium of exchange. (So of course that's why a bourgeois passenger is the hero. He circulates! He increases flow between isolated markets! I am so not an economist!)
a1ay
31. Dr. Thanatos
@30 grantimatter,

It is true that the Ring of the House of Durin, as Thror said, "needs gold to breed gold." It would appear that this means that Sauron was a supply-side economist...

This also reflects the economic sensibilities of Horace VanDerGelder, the well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire: "[Gold] is like manure; it doesn't do anyone any good unless you spread it around to encourage little things to grow."
a1ay
32. Dr. Thanatos
The quote properly starts as "(gold) is like manure;"
a1ay
33. oliveramy
Dr. Thanatos @ #26. Thank you for the clarification. And thanks for the laugh as well! :D
Just a thought: since Bilbo is by blood half Took, then one would assume he has some such wealth as a Took. Either way, I would still assume he lived quite comfortably before his Adventure (but so much more lavishly after!)
a1ay
34. Gardner Dozois
If gold is like manure, then Smaug is sitting on a huge pile of--what?

Actually, Bilbo doesn't seem to have lived significantly different after his return as he did before he left--comfortable upper middle-class Edwardian, not "rich," but certainly not worried about where his next meal is coming from, and able to afford gardeners, although he seems always, before and after, to have done his cooking and cleaning up for himself. Maybe he liked doing it, maybe hobbits don't have personal body-servents.
Birgit
35. birgit
People originally thought the stilt houses at lakes in the region north of the alps were in the lakes because they found the remains of the stilts under water. Now archaeologists think that the houses were built on the shore and were on stilts as a protection against floods.
Patricia Lawlor
36. NearToothlessWilder
Tolkien's Lake Town may have been partly inspired by the Irish and Scottish crannogs - artificial islands with buildings on them. See the Wikipedia article on crannog.
a1ay
37. Gardner Dozois
I'm not convinced that the stilt-houses WEREN'T built on lakes, in spite of the recent re-interpretations. It makes a lot of sense defensively. If a maurading tribe shows up, you just throw down the bridge connecting you to land, and make it a lot easier to defend yourself.

I suppose until somebody invents a Time-Viewer, we'll never know for sure.
Alan Brown
38. AlanBrown
Why are people having so much trouble accepting houses on stilts in lakes without historical precedent, when they appear in a story full of dragons, elves and goblins? ;-)
Kate Nepveu
39. katenepveu
AlanBrown @ #38, because we sign up for fantasic beasts and magic but not dodgy archeology?

Okay, I'm not actually sure it is dodgy, or that it wouldn't be plausible even if it didn't have historical precedent, but it's interesting to discuss influences and history is neat in and of itself. But I see your smiley so you knew that. =>
a1ay
40. (still) Steve Morrison
AIUI, the reason is geological; dating of the stilt communities showed that they existed at a time when the water level was much lower, so that they were located in marshland.

Rateliff’s book does discuss the issue. He points out that the sentence “The rotting piles of a greater town could still be seen along the shores when the waters sank in a drought,” is reminiscent of an archeological site with multiple towns at different levels – Lake Town I, Lake Town II, etc. (In fact, the first such site was discovered when the level of Lake Geneva sank to an unusual depth.) Also, he notes that most of the real-life sites were destroyed by fire, and that Tolkien probably had that in mind as a parallel.
a1ay
41. Gardner Dozois
It wasn't dodgy archeology when Tolkien wrote it; it was rather Cutting Edge stuff then, in fact.

I'm still not covinced. I've seen Anazai communities in the American Southwest where extraordinary lengths were gone to to make them more defensible, putting the houses up on an overhung shelf on a four-hundred foot cliff where the only access from top or bottom was via hand-and-footholds cut in the rock; lake houses on stilts would be a sensible defensive use of the landscape they had to work with, four-hundred-foot sheer cliffs probably being in short supply in that region.

But we'll never know for sure.
a1ay
42. a1ay
he seems always, before and after, to have done his cooking and
cleaning up for himself. Maybe he liked doing it, maybe hobbits don't
have personal body-servents.

Way back in the Chapter One discussion I noted that hobbits don't have the human lust for bossing other people around - major plot point in "Lord of the Rings", of course, but it's noticeable that well-off Edwardian gentleman Bilbo doesn't have any servants, which looks odd to us even now but in the 1930s would have stood out a mile.

Living on an artificial platform in the middle of a lake is an excellent defensive idea, and you can still see the artificial islands built thousands of years ago in Scottish loch. They're called crannogs (for those of you also reading A Song of Ice and Fire who are wondering what Howland Reed the crannogman was). If anything, building an entire island seems even more work-intensive than just building a platform on stilts.
a1ay
43. grantimatter
> Living on an artificial platform in the middle of a lake is an excellent defensive idea,

...Especially if you want water around to jump into when fire comes from the sky.

Where I'm from, we remember a place called "Stiltsville" that sprang up at the foot of (rather upscale) Key Biscayne. That was mostly a place for people who wanted to live cheap/free on "land" that wasn't owned by anyone... because it was water.

The Laketown stilts might also have developed merely to help catch the goods from the Wood Elves (which seem like they should be more "gifts from faery" than they're made out to be in the book, don't they?).
Kate Nepveu
44. katenepveu
a1ay@ #43, wow, Wikipedia on crannogs has some of the longest cite-strings I've seen. ("In contrast, relatively few crannogs have been excavated since the Second World War, although this number has steadily grown, especially since the early 1980s and may soon surpass pre-war totals.(6)(11)(22)(24)(40)(41)(42)(43)(44)(45)(46)(47)(48)(49)(50)") (edited to replace brackets with parentheses, because the markup system eats brackets)

grantimatter @ #43, hmm. Mostly the gifts from Elves in Middle-earth aren't very "gifts from faery," are they? Possibly looking in Galadriel's Mirror? But otherwise . . .
a1ay
45. Dr. Thanatos
Kate,

Some of the gifts from elves in Middle-Earth seem a bit mundane but consider the Phial; the lembas; the cloaks that have a concealing property without having to invoke Three Brothers; the rope that unties itself when called; the unsinkable boat that may or may not have made it past Rauros; the swords that glow like a glowstick when orcs are around; and then think of the trinkets from Valinor like the palantiri, the Knife that Only Breaks When Stuck in Morgoth's Headband, etc. Not flashy faery gifts, but having subtle properties of faery that come out when needed and least expected...
Kate Nepveu
46. katenepveu
Right, right, but they aren't perilous or prone to vanishing in the morning, that kind of thing.
Thomas Thatcher
47. StrongDreams
Remember the discussion in LotR where -- I think Sam -- asks if the cloaks are magic and Galadriel says, "what is magic?" To the elves, cloaks that blend in with the surroundings, good climbing rope and unsinkable boats are just superior craftsmanship. And I'd even say that while the light captured in the phial is clearly of divine origin (being the light of the Two Trees created by Yavanna), the act of capturing the light in usuable form is, to the elves, merely good craftsmanship.

And really, the closer you get to "magic" (Galadriel's mirror/fount, the palantir) the more perilous they are.
a1ay
48. grantimatter
@Kate : I was actually thinking of the way elves are introduced in Mirkwood - the travelers stumble into a feast, very Rip Van Winkle, all the lights go out, Thorin vanishes in the elf-ring....

It's not *exactly* an oh-we're-among-the-wee-folk, but it's a little more like that than the interactions in LotR. (We're even told the elves' wine is unusually strong - another Van Winkle echo.)

So taking that as a starting point, it's a little weird that there's a human outpost down the river that somehow does business with them. Not directly, not *in person*, but by having goods sort of appear in the river.

From an average Laketowner's perspective, it must feel like their ancestors opened a trading concession with will-o-the-wisps, almost. Are we ever told how the humans pay the elves for all this stuff in barrels?
a1ay
49. Dr. Thanatos
Kate,

The only perilous things that vanish in the daylight are:

1) The Morgul-blade. Not Elvish directly but based on corrupted Elf technology?
2) The Blade of the Barrow-downs. Perilous to our friend Witchie and vanished in the sunlight after sticking the pointy end in. Also based on Elf technology as adapted by the Numenoreans.

Seems the perilous/vanishy thing is a factor of someone other than an elf using elf-craft. Philosophically interesting...
Kate Nepveu
50. katenepveu
grantimatter @ #48, alas for your theory the elves do go to Lake-town. When Thorin appears they protest that he was an escaped prisoner.
a1ay
51. grantimatter
Oh, right! They do, don't they. Hmph.

Anyway, it does seem like the stilt buildings might make good sense as a cargo-catching strategy.
a1ay
52. Elros
Wayyyy late on this reread, but having fun none the less!

On the Lake-townians being enamored with the Dwarves.
1) Lets all keep in mind that in general they were probably very bored. No TV, no great SF to read, nothing much to do. All of a sudden these legends that no one really believes seem a bit more powerful. To give an example, I have TV and great SF books to read, but I still got myself a powerball ticket the other day ($600 million!). I didn't win. I knew I wouldn't win. But the $2 day dream was well worth it. For the Lake-Townians, they probably dont really believe the Dwarves, but gosh darn it, its fun to day dream! Especially when it gets you out of work.

2) Back in the "day" people LOVED strangers! Even a fairly busy trading port like Lake-Town probably loved strangers. Has anyone been in a small town for a few days and all of a sudden you're in a diner and a stranger says to you "oh, you're that guy from out of town"? Another personal example to drive home the point. I lived in a mud hut in Lesotho (southern africa) way up in the mountains. I was a white American. The children would stand at my door all day everyday for two years just to see what I was doing. I was a celebrity simply because I was "strange" and "new". In our society we take for granted the power of new strange things. We see it every day. When you dont have that, it really is the highlight of your week/month/year.
Kate Nepveu
53. katenepveu
Hi Elros! Thanks for commenting. And perhaps even Lake-town usually saw the _same_ traders?
Joseph Ash
54. TedThePenguin
sorry, old thread, but I have useful comments!!!! :)

Thanks for the read Kate, its fun to follow.

The barrels going to lake town were EMPTY, so the elves GOT goods from the town, and presumably paid for them, not the other way around. Making the town rich, etc.

About cities on the water, Venice anyone? Explicetly put there (EVERYTHING on wood piles/stilts) to be more easily defensible.
Kate Nepveu
55. katenepveu
TedThePenguin @ #54, sorry to have lost track of things, and also, but Venice wasn't dealing with flying enemies! =>
Joseph Ash
56. TedThePenguin
No worries, this was a dead thread anyway, I actually really appreciate that you responded at all.

And yes, I know they didnt have to fight off fire breathing dragons in Venice. I was just giving the example along side all of the other real places that were being mentioned.

Also, complete randomness: I am from Guilderland, its always cool to me when I find someone on the internet that is close to where I have lived.

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