Jan 10 2013 1:00pm

The Hobbit Reread: Chapter 8, “Flies and Spiders”

The Hobbit reread on 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 (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 consider Chapter 8, “Flies and Spiders,” in which there are the creeping horrors (and much else besides).


What Happens

The dwarves and Bilbo enter Mirkwood and find it a dark, still, eerie place full of unseen animals and thick dark cobwebs. At the enchanted stream that Beorn had warned them about, they cross by snagging a boat from the other side (thanks to Bilbo’s sharp eyes), but a deer comes and knocks Bombur in. When the dwarves rescue him, he is fast asleep and will not wake.

Carrying Bombur, they walk for several more days and come to a lighter area of the forest, but are disquieted by singing and laughing in the distance. They send Bilbo to climb a tree and look around; Bilbo correctly reports that there is no end in sight, but does not realize the landscape was deceptive.

The dwarves are only momentarily cheered when Bombur wakes up, because he dreamt about a feast with a woodland king and wants only to go back to sleep (the company is out of food). Just as he refuses to walk any further, they see light ahead. After much argument, they all leave the path and find a clearing with elves feasting. They rush in to beg for food, but “[n]o sooner had they first stepped into the clearing than all the lights went out as if by magic.” After finding each other in the dark, they see and try to enter clearings with feasts twice more, first sending Bilbo and then Thorin, but with the same result each time.

After the third time, Bilbo can’t find anyone else and decides to wait until daylight to look again. He wakes from a doze to find a giant spider tying him up. In a desperate fight, he kills it with his sword, and “felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach.” He names the sword Sting and goes looking for the dwarves.

Thanks to a lucky guess, he finds the dwarves and their spider captors. Seeing that a spider is about to kill Bombur, Bilbo throws stones at them, to deadly effect. Hidden by his ring, he taunts the spiders with a song and draws them away. After he begins freeing dwarves, there is a fierce battle, and Bilbo is eventually forced to reveal the ring to the dwarves so that he can draw the spiders away again. The dwarves break out of the spiders’ circle of webs, and thanks to Bilbo’s return with Sting, eventually escape. They rest near an elf-ring but get a nasty shock when they realize that Thorin is not with them.

Thorin had been struck unconscious by the magic of the elf-ring and stayed asleep even through the dwarves and Bilbo battling the spiders, after which the Wood-elves had taken him away. The dwarves and elves had a history of disputes over treasure, so Thorin refused to tell the king their business and the king imprisoned him until he told the truth.



I remembered the creepiness of this chapter, but I didn’t remember or previously recognize three other things: the way it’s also a trip into Faerie; just how big a change it is for Bilbo; and how Thorin being missing is right out in the open the whole time. I’m going to take these in reverse order.

First, the text is quite clear the whole time that Bilbo is rescuing the dwarves that there’s only twelve of them. For instance, when he first comes upon the spiders, it says flat-out that there are “a dozen bundles hanging in a row from a high branch.” But I didn’t notice until my second read of the chapter for this project—the first time, I didn’t register the specificity of that description, and I never bothered to count up the dwarves the rest of the chapter. What about you all? Have you ever bounced up and down on the edge of your seats saying “But what about Thorin?!” I imagine Tolkien was hoping to reward attentive readers or listeners with some extra suspense—well, I don’t know if reward is the right word there. Some people might find it so, while others might find mentally yelling at the rest of the characters too tiring. What did you all experience?

Second, the big change for Bilbo. As a preliminary note, let me just say that I’ve decided to err on the side of caution and take movie comments to my movie post; please do the same. But look at Bilbo in this chapter! He kills multiple spiders, takes the horribly risky and dangerous step of taunting the spiders to get them to chase him—not once but twice—and by the end is holding off the spiders nearly single-handedly in a running battle. I’m not criticizing this change—it seems quite plausible to me, when you consider the confidence-boosting effect of successfully defending his own life all by himself, having to take the responsibility because no-one else can (he’s not shirked responsibility before, though he hasn’t had the opportunity to exercise it, such as when he decided to go back into the goblin tunnels to look for the rest), and fighting non-human and really nasty creatures (who have little experience of swords—I suppose the elves fight them from a distance with arrows). But it’s very marked and very impressive. Go Bilbo!

Third, the trip into Faerie. I’d remembered there was something about elves in this chapter, but mostly my recollection was EEK SPIDERS, so it was very vague. But I had not remembered, or probably even recognized, the way that it’s a classic trip into Faerie of the kind you find in ballads, much more so than Rivendell (here or in Lord of the Rings, and maybe even more so than Lothlorien). I’m not sure if the enchanted stream is a common feature of Faerie in ballads and so forth; my first association is Lethe, but regardless a deer seems a very Faerie-ish kind of guardian. (The Annotated Hobbit says that enchanted streams are common to Celtic myth but cites a Saint’s life as evidence.) Then there’s the hunt for the white deer, and the beautiful but eerie laughing and singing in the distance, and the tempting travelers off the path (I presume, by the way, that it’s the Elves that keep the path clear?) only to vanish, and the faerie rings, and the use of unnaturally-long enchanted sleep. Did I miss any?

I have to say here that I think Beorn and Gandalf did poorly by the company in not telling them about the elves. The narrator says, “Yet if they had known more about it and considered the meaning of the hunt and the white deer that had appeared upon their path, they would have known that they were at last drawing toward the eastern edge.” Well, and whose fault is it that they didn’t know more about it? I realize that in some ways, this whole chapter is an exercise in waiting for the firing of the gun on the mantelpiece that is Gandalf’s last words, “DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!”, but still, it’s vexing when that tension is created artificially.

The last major thing about this chapter is, of course, EEK. Not just the spiders—I actually find them less upsetting when they’re out in the open, probably because after a certain size they no longer read as bugs to my subconscious (yes, I know they’re not technically insects, it’s a catch-all term). It’s the whole atmosphere early on, especially this paragraph about the nights:

The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark—not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch: so black that you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in front of his nose, but he could not see it at all. Well, perhaps it is not true to say that they could see nothing: they could see eyes. They slept all closely huddled together, and took it in turns to watch; and when it was Bilbo’s turn he would see gleams in the darkness round them, and sometimes pairs of yellow or red or green eyes would stare at him from a little distance, and then slowly fade and disappear and slowly shine out again in another place. And sometimes they would gleam down from the branches just above him; and that was most terrifying. But the eyes that he liked the least were horrible pale bulbous sort of eyes. “Insect eyes,” he thought, “not animal eyes, only they are much too big.”

Oh, and then there’s the delightful bit about the “thousands of dark-grey and black moths, some nearly as big as your hand,” that their fires would attract. I always found that part of John Bellairs’ wonderful, scary book The Face in the Frost (now available as an ebook as well as part of a NESFA collection, go read it!) particularly upsetting, whether it’s a homage or a common inspiration. Gah.

And now for some smaller comments:

There’s a little resonance with the trip into the Old Forest in Fellowship, which is also entered through a tunnel. But the Old Forest, being less dangerous, has a hobbit-made tunnel through a hedge, while Mirkwood has “a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves.”

Multiple instances of Bilbo’s luck in this chapter: he woke before the spider finished wrapping him up; he picked the right direction to look for the dwarves after; the spiders didn’t fully close the ring around him when he was first taunting them with song; and a spider had left hanging down a rope to the branch with the dwarves. That is quite a lot of luck in a very short space of time.

The spiders talk and this doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve given up trying to figure out why my subconscious cares when some animals talk and not others in this book.

(Well, okay, the conversation is rather similar to the trolls’, so maybe my subconscious thinks there’s precedent. And now that I think of it, the two situations do make interesting contrasts.)

Bilbo’s song: According to The Annotated Hobbit, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “tomnoddy” as “a foolish or stupid person,” while “attercop” is derived from the Middle English word for spider.

The ancient dispute between the dwarves and the elves regarding treasure and, possibly, payment for work done: this is likely a reference to the Nauglamír, a necklace made by the Dwarves for Finrod, one of the great amoung the Elves. It’s tangentially linked to many major events of the First Age (I lost so much time chasing it backward through The Silmarillion before deciding there was too much to even sum up), but as relevant here, after Beren and Lúthien recover a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, Thingol has the Dwarves set that Silmaril in the necklace, which leads to war and “The Ruin of Doriath” (Chapter 22 of The Silmarillion). In that telling, the principal blame belongs to the dwarves, but Thingol doesn’t help matters. (Gosh, The Silmarillion is so beautiful and so depressing.)

Speaking of elvish history, to my surprise The Annotated Hobbit reports that this chapter was revised in the 1966 third edition—that is, after the edition that rewrote “Riddles in the Dark”—to make the history of the Elves consistent with Tolkien’s later idea that Middle-earth always had a sun and moon. I’m on record as thinking this was a horrible idea, so I’m just glad it was a small passing change.

Finally, this paragraph also says that the Mirkwood elves “neither mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or with tilling the earth.” So are they hunter-gatherers exclusively, then?

A preface to the dwarf characteristics catalog: Chad and I were talking about the last chapter, and he pointed out that the culture-clash isn’t as bad as it could be with regard to the dwarves (in contrast to Beorn), because often Thorin sounds more like a banker than a warrior out of Norse legend. This is a good point—I’ve been neglecting Thorin a bit because I have a hard time getting a handle on his character, but we are told, way back in Chapter 1, that Thorin is long-winded and self-important (“would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not known already.”) What else do we know? He’s proud (but not too proud to beg for food); he’s perfectly willing (sometimes eager) to delegate—though this is true of all the dwarves, given the way they shove Bilbo into danger all the time; he showed good judgment in being ready for the appearance of a guardian of the enchanted stream; and when Bombur is being childish he says things like “We are quite annoyed enough with you as it is.” The dwarves generally talk like that; both Edwardian Bilbo and they use “confusticate,” for instance.

So, let’s do this:

  • 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? Yes (7/7), when he can’t find the dwarves after the third attempt to enter the elves’ circle.

More Elves next time. See you then.

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog.

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Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
This is a very good chapter. Spooky forest, giant spiders and elves--all good things.
I really like the description when Bilbo climbs the tree, blinks in the sunshine and doesn't realize he is in a valley.
Also, yes, he very much goes into action mode here. It is quite believable to me as it is really what he must do and he seems to be quite willing to do what it takes to do the job. We'll see more of this behavior pretty much from here on.
Dr. Cox
3. Dr. Cox
"Tomnoddy" and "Attercop" always amused me as digs to scariness of the spiders and reminded me of something out of Milne, tho' a quick skim of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner yielded nothing similar . . . I'll have to just sit down and read them again :).
Dr. Cox
4. (still) Steve Morrison
Possibly the poem "Daffadowndilly"? Sam uses the word in The Two Towers.
Dr. Cox
5. pilgrimsoul
JRRT expressed puzzlement at readers' opinion that he disliked spiders. And yet here are a bunch of scary preditory ones, there's good old Shelob in LOTR and in the Silmarillion we have the nasty Ungoliant who eats silmarils.
Just saying.
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
Despite the scariness of the spiders, we've gone back over the line into children's book. I suppose that mood fits better with the journey to Faerie and the talking animals.

Your comment on the compare and contrast between the spiders and the trolls struck me, because earlier in the post I suddenly saw the similarities between Bilbo distracting and delaying the spiders and Gandalf doing the same with the trolls. Of course, Bilbo can't rely on an eventual sunrise to save the day and must eventually take matters into his own hands, but he obviously learned something from the earlier encounter. Attercop (which apparently means "poison-head") has cognates in the Plattdeutsch dialect of northern Germany (as I'm sure Tolkien was aware).

The statement that the Mirkwood elves don't mine is rather contradicted in the next chapter by the fact that they live in caves which have clearly been worked and changed by someone. For that matter, we're also told they trade with Lake Town. I think the intent was probably to make them be a) like high ranking nobility who spend all their time in idle pursuits (but they have no peasants and craftsmen) and b) very magical with the hint that they get all their food and whatnot by conjuring it up. Bit of sloppy storytelling there.

Addendum to the dewarf characteristic list: Balin is "very old-looking... with a white beard". (Chapter 1)
Dr. Cox
7. wiredog
DemetriosX @6
IIRC, In LoTR Gandalf tells Legolas that Dwarves helped build the Wood Elves home. And not trading much is not the same as not trading at all. Thus the barrels on the river.
Dr. Cox
8. sidereal
I suspect the giant spiders speak because they are descended from Shelob, who in turn is a child of Ungoliant. Ungoliant was an evil spirit in spider form, not an actual spider, so perhaps something of that was passed on to the descendents, allowing them speech even though normal spiders do not.
Dr. Cox
9. Laura Matthews2
I missed Thorin when Bilbo began to give orders and neither he or the dwarves deferred to anyone "higher up." Even when a really smart lieutenant comes up with an idea, the ranks will turn to the colonel for final approval. So that's when it was obvious to me that Thorin was missing.
Dr. Cox
10. JohnnyMac
Two points:

First, one of the things I find interesting about this chapter is the way in which Bilbo goes, not just from a comic figure to a heroic one, but from an Edwardian gentleman to somebody much more like a saga hero.

"Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back in its sheath.

"I will give you a name," he said to it, "and I shall call you 'Sting'."

Certainly any Edwardian gentleman worthy of the name would have sought to rescue his companions, fighting giant spiders if necessary, but he would have been much more likely to write to "The Times" afterwards, complaining about the slackness of the authorities in dealing with the problem of outsized arachnids in our public forests, rather than ritually naming the weapon with which he slew the monsters.

Bilbo is changing from the highly respectable and comically out of place Mr. Baggins of Bag End to someone much more in keeping with his grim surroundings. Any Viking era bard would have been happy to celebrate his deeds in a song about Bilbo Spider's Bane, slayer of monsters, wielder of the deadly elvenblade 'Sting'.

Second, count me among those who was completely fooled the first time I read "The Hobbit" and who was shocked when Dwalin asked "Where is Thorin?".
Dr. Cox
11. Gardner Dozois
Peter Jackson's going to have fun filming this chapter, isn't he? Fighting with giant spiders! Breathtaking escapes!

Between Beorn's hall, the trek through Mirkwood, fighting the spiders, being captured by elves, and escaping (plus quite possibly ringing the Azog storyline in again), I wonder if they'll even GET to the Lonely Mountain by the end of the second movie? I could easily see the second movie ending with them all starting at the Lonely Mountain looming ominously on the horizon.
Beccy Higman
12. Jazzlet
I don't remember when I realised Thorin was missing on my first read or in fact, listen, but this time through I realised as soon as I read 'twelve' bundles that someone was missing and thought it must be Thorin as soon as the dwarves were released as we heard nothing from Thorin and had he been there we certainly would have!

One thing that struck me is that we are not given a clear idea of how big the spiders are; 'great spider', 'giant spider', 'spiders huge and horrible', but spiders small enough to be killed by a good hit from a stone a hobbit could throw accurately. I had forgotten the horrible intelligence of the spiders, working out where Bilbo must be from the trajectory of the stones and together weaving webs to trap him.

I was a little surprised to read the discourse on the various kinds of elves, it doesn't seem to me to fit this story at all, and I wonder is it part of the retcon to fit with the whole Middle Earth history?

Also yes Kate! Thorin obviously a bank manager, don't know why it never occured to me, but now you mention it I am seeing him as Arthur Lowe playing Captain Mannering in 'Dad's Army'. Which probably won't mean anything to people who are not British.
Dr. Cox
13. Dr. Cox
@Jazzlet, I'm not British but I've seen a few episodes of "Dad's Army" (Hooray for PBS!) and know what you mean . . . same pomposity in both characters :).
Dr. Cox
14. Dr. Thanatos
Another interesting thing in this chapter:

Is this the first time we see Bilbo composing a poem/song?

Returning to a previous theme, do we learn about his character from this? He is faced with spiders and he composing a song that says that he's not afraid and that the spiders are rather silly. This seems a hobbity response, as opposed to Men (who might sing of the joy of slaying spiders), Dwarves (who would sing about how much they wanted revenge on the spiders for past slights) or Elves (who would undoubtably sing about how much better the spiders were back in the Olde Days...).

Dr. Cox
15. Gardner Dozois
I'm not sure how big the spiders in Tolkien's novel are supposed to be, but we KNOW how big the spiders in the movie version are going to be, because we've seen them already in the first movie. Shelob-sized, more or less. Going to make it a little more unlikely that Bilbo could defeat one with a single thrust. I wonder if they're going to talk?

Rereading these chapters makes it obvious that Thorin is supposed to be considerably older than they show him as being in the movie.
Dr. Cox
16. Dr. Thanatos
And since we know JRRT's connection between song and creation and power, is it a coincidence that Bilbo's first time making a song corresponds to his first time as an action hero?
Dr. Cox
17. Gardner Dozois
As an example of the tightrope they have to walk in these movies between the aesthetics of a children's story and the aesthetics of the LOTR movies, while Bilbo MAY lure the spiders into chasing him, I doubt very much that he's going to do it by making up a nonsense rhyme and singing it mockingly to them. It would just look too silly on the screen, much like Tom Bombadil capering around and singing would have.
Dr. Cox
18. EmmaPease
According to the appendices, Thorin was 195 during the events of the Hobbit. Fili and Kili are 82 and 77. Balin is 178; Dwalin is 169. Gloin is 158; Oin 167. Dain is 174. Gimli was 62 (and considered too young to go); he would have been about 140 during the LOTR. 250 was considered old age for dwarves (Dain died at about that age and it was considered remarkable that he fought so well) though Dwalin lived well into his 300s.

So Thorin was the oldest in the company.
Dr. Cox
19. Bolg
Actually, after re-reading The Hobbit several times, I came to the conclusion that Tolkien had written the Elvenking as the one who had been involved in the dispute with the Dwarves - that is, the Elvenking was Thingol himself. That he hadn't settled on a hard-and-fast chronology for his mythology yet, and that he hadn't originally intended The Hobbit to intrude that far into it. Naturally, when Beren turned up was left hanging ... but the Elvenking has no wife and no children - visible - in this story, so he could fudge the issue later.

That intrusion of course first came about with the pillaging of the Trolls's cave and the discovery of the elvenblades from Gondolin, and then deepened with meeting Elrond at the Last Homely ("Homelike", for American readers) House in Rivendell.
Dr. Cox
20. a1ay
Between Beorn's hall, the trek through Mirkwood, fighting the spiders,
being captured by elves, and escaping (plus quite possibly ringing the
Azog storyline in again), I wonder if they'll even GET to the Lonely
Mountain by the end of the second movie

The title of the second one is "The Desolation of Smaug", so I suspect that it will end with the dwarves sitting on the doorstep - and maybe with a cliffhanger of Bilbo going down to meet Smaug for the first time...

He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an
empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back in its sheath.

"I will give you a name," he said to it, "and I shall call you 'Sting'."

I am kind of wondering whether this bit is autobiographical - written as it is by an Edwardian gentleman who was whisked away from his comfortable home into a nightmare wilderness where he had to learn to kill with edged weapons.
David Levinson
21. DemetriosX
@20 a1ay
The revelation of the back door seems like a good stopping point. It's a success and a moment of peace, not unlike where the first movie ends. OTOH, another possibility could be after they all get chased inside the mountain and Smaug smashes the back door.

As for Bilbo naming his sword, I don't know how autobiographical it is. But it is the reemergence of the Bilbo Gandalf claims to have known as a boy. It's the Bilbo who liked old adventure stories and knows that naming your sword is the done thing.
Dr. Cox
22. Gardner Dozois
@20--Yes, there is almost certainly a strong autobiographical element both in THE HOBBIT and LOTR. In both, a comfortable upper middle-class Edwardian gentleman is compelled to leave his cozy home and go on a dangerous journey into a hostile world beyond his usual boundaries, and in both he ends up fighting with edged weapons against creatures who are trying to kill him. In LOTR, we have the addition of a struggle against a dark force that is trying to conquer and destroy the world as the protagonist knows it.

It's not a stretch to see this as an analogy, deliberate or not, for being forced out of a comfortable life and sent to fight with edged weapons in the trenches of World War I, probably the defining moment of Tolkien's life, as war usually is. In LOTR, a band of sworn comrades fighting together against evil are worn away one by one by attrition of one sort or another, and Tolkien has been quoted as saying that by the end of World War I, all of his friends were dead.
Dr. Cox
23. a1ay
Tolkien has been quoted as saying that by the end of World War I, all of his friends were dead.

He wrote it in the preface to LOTR, in fact. "One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead."
Dr. Cox
24. Kadere
I'm kind of surprised at it's lack of mention, but one of my favorite passages of the whole book is when Bilbo climbs the tree and sees all the butterflies. I find that whole thing really beautiful, and well contrasted with the mirkiness which is Mirkwood Forest. I also think that the animated film version does this scene very well. But yeah, love that part, and how Bilbo keeps it to himself.
Beccy Higman
25. Jazzlet
Kadere, Bilbo did try and tell the dwarves and 'They did not care tuppence about the butterflies ...'

Dr Fox, not just the pomposity, but the grit underneath too.

Dr Thanatos, good point about Bibo's creation of song and development into a 'bigger' person.
alastair chadwin
26. a-j
Count me amoung the 'didn't notice Thorin was missing' camp. Only on this re-read have I noticed how fair Tolkien is with at least two references to twelve dwarfs and there being thirteen present.

The crossing of water=entry to fairyland
This pops up in 'Sir Gawain & the Green Knight'.
"The Annotated Hobbit says that enchanted streams are common to Celtic myth but cites a Saint’s life as evidence"
To be fair, my understanding is that many of the lives of the early Christian saints were based on pre-Christian Celtic stories so the use of a Saint's life is not as odd evidence as it may sound. St Brigid is, or at least was, commonly thought to be a Christianised version of a Celtic goddess, Brigia if memory serves.
Kate Nepveu
27. katenepveu
Hi all,

My work status is BEARS so I'm going to be super-quick, but I do not forget you all!

pilgrimsoul @ #5, how JRRT could be _surprised_ that anyone would think he didn't like spiders is beyond me!

DemetriosX @ #6, thanks for the Balin addendum, and perhaps the distinction is that they don't work underground to obtain materials but just to make living spaces?

sidereal @ #8, though Shelob doesn't talk on-screen in _LotR_, though I'm nearly positive she can, which shows the genre difference again.

Laura Matthews2 @ #9, well-spotted!

JohnnyMac @ #10, good point, though I feel that Bilbo doesn't go too far in this direction and will be keeping an eye on this.

Gardner Dozois @ #11, I am entirely unable to predict what the movies are going to do to this, pacing-wise, with the added storylines, but yes, Mirkwood should be right up their alley if only they can refrain from schlock horror overkill. (Also @ #17, taunting yes, probably singing no.)

Jazzlet @ #12, the elves taxonomy was in the first edition--I only just realized _The Annotated Hobbit_ had a full list of all revisions in the back. (D'oh!)

Dr. Thanatos @ #14, my thoughts are, yes, I agree. =>

EmmaPease @ #18, thanks for doing the math!

Bolg @ #19, I assume your reasoning is based on subsequent chapters? Frankly I doubt it, but I think the key thing for me would be whether he's depicted as on a par with Elrond--so far I don't get that impression, and if he's Thingol he ought to be.

Yes to the autobiographical influence, everyone, thanks.

Kadere @ #24, I felt I had to omit the butterflies because the summary was already long (by my standards, that is). But it is lovely.

a-j @ #26, I don't doubt that the Saint's life is part of Celtic legend, but that it involved Faerie, sorry for not being clear.
Dr. Cox
28. Gardner Dozois
I get the impression that the spiders in Mirkwood are about the size of medium-sized to large dogs (which is quite large enough for a spider, for all practical purposes). The spiders we see in THE HOBBIT, though, are Shelob-sized, which is going to make them harder to kill, particularly with a thrown stone.

Rereading the chapter where they go to Rivendell, which is another perfect example of the tightrope they have to walk in the movie between the aesthetics of a children's book and the aesthetics of the LOTR movies. You'll notice that in the movie of THE HOBBIT the elves don't dance around singing "tra-la-la" and "ha ha!" and calling Bilbo "my dear," but rather are the quiet, dignified, mystical elves we've already met in the LOTR movies. Along the same lines, Bilbo may well taunt the spiders and throw stones at them to draw them away from the dwarves, but he's not going to SING, or call them silly names.

I don't think the spiders are going to talk either. I'm pretty sure Shelob didn't.
Dr. Cox
29. Bolg
@27. katenepveu

Actually after reading HoME then re-reading The Hobbit. Reading HoME brought to my attention just how fragmented his mythology's chronology and goegraphy was at the time he wrote The Hobbit. Turning Doriath into Mirkwood wasn't such a big problem when Doriath hadn't become so well defined.

Then of course when he got to writing The Lord of the Rings, he separated the two, and retconned the Elvenking into Thranduil, Elu Thingol's subordinate, and Elrond into Luthien's great-grandson.
Beccy Higman
30. Jazzlet
Shelob was certainly able to communicate as she and Gollum had the deal that he brought her 'tit bits' and was allowed to plunder the remains after she had finished with them. Gollum goes to tell her he has present for her when he Frodo and Sam are part way up that awful stair near Cirith Ungol ...
Dr. Cox
31. JohnnyMac
Some thoughts on Thorin:

Our gracious hostess is certainly on the mark when she describes Thorin as "...long winded and self important." and, also, stubborn. It occurs to me that one reason for Thorin acting thusly is that he is (in his own mind and those of his followers), tho in exile, the rightful King Under the Mountain. History teaches us that being an exiled King is a difficult job. The world in general tends to regard those who claim a crown without actually possessing lands, subjects or, at least, a small army with attitudes ranging from polite skepticism to coarse mockery. A natural reaction to this is to become insistent (often stubbornly so) on proclaiming one's dignity and importance.

As to Thorin being long winded and sounding more like a banker than a Norse warrior, I would suggest that Tolkien probably had plenty of experience with prolix pomposity in the natural course of his academic career. I am sure he spent far too many hours in meetings, trying to look attentive, while various deans and department heads and vice chancellors droned on...and on...and on...
Dr. Cox
32. JohnnyMac
I like Dr. Thanatos's comments @14 &16 about the significance of Bilbo being shown for the first time making up a song/poem. When we encounter Bilbo again in the LOTR we are given many examples of his making up poems and songs; ranging from cheery hobbit ditties celebrating such simple pleasures as walking with friends, drinking beer and having a hot bath to audaciously composing and reciting a poem about the hero Earendil before Elrond and his household.

Tho Bilbo's song mocking the spiders has the immediate and practical purpose of enraging and distracting the monsters so his comrades can escape, I think the illustrious Dr. T. is quite right in pointing out the connection between Bilbo acting both as poet and as hero.

We will see another example of this in the last chapter but I will leave that until we get there.
Dr. Cox
33. Narmitaj
On the "close friends dying" - in the last couple of weeks I read John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War, which goes into these friendships in considerable detail.

Tolkien had three close friends from his schooldays - Christopher Wiseman, Geoffrey Smith and Rob Gilson - who were all members of their own private society (called TCBS, for Tea Club and Barrovian Society), and they all thought they would go on to do great things. They went off to various universities, but then the Great War came along in 1914.

Two, like Tolkien, joined the army. Gilson was killed on the first murderous morning of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, leading a platoon across No Man's Land and getting killed by a shell within an hour and a half of the start of the battle, becoming one of the 20,000 British soldiers killed that day, which, unsurprisingly, is known as the worst day in British military history.

Smith was a bit unlucky. He had made it through months of horrendous Somme stuff and had been promoted, which delayed an expected period of home leave. On 29th November 1916 he was in charge of a unit fixing roads behind the front lines, but a German howitzer four miles away landed a shell near him and shrapnel and dirt hit him. He was able to walk to the medical station to be dealt with, and to write home to his mother that he expected to be home for Christmas. But he got infected, gas gangrene set in and he died within five days.

Wiseman joined the Royal Navy and was at the Battle of Jutland (a sort of disastrous victory for the British, who lost 14 ships and 6000 men - more than the Germans lost - but maintained control of the North Sea) but survived that and the war. He became a school headmaster and outlived Tolkien by 14 years, dying in 1987 at 94.

Those were his closest friends, but there were lots of other people JRRT knew from school, university and his army service who also died. Garth says 243 former pupils of his school, King Edward's, Birmingham, were killed (there's a pic of the rugby XV with Tolkien and Wiseman; two of that team were killed); and 141 former members of his Oxford college, Exeter.

And of course Tolkien could have easily died, too, in some some shell blast or sniper shot - on average, about 450 British service personnel were killed every single day for the four years three months or so from August 1914 to November 1918, and front-line junior officers were a particular target. His unit was held back on the first few days of the Somme but then got sent forward. As a signals officer he was in the thick of things for four months, getting messages back to HQ from the front line, and receiving orders... In those days no radios, so they had to lay cable as they advanced, or send runners, or pigeons.

Lucky for him (and us) in October 1916 he got trench fever, blood poisoning caused by infection by lice... it could be fatal, causing heart failure, but for him it meant a long stretch at home convalescing. He later also got gastritis, which also prevented him doing anything more than home service guarding the coast.

So his last couple of years in the army were relatively unfraught - but according to Garth, Tolkien's unit, the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, was obliterated in May 1918, nothing more being heard from them after one battle. The only survivors were an officer and 16 men who had been held back in reserve.
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
Bolg @ #29, okay, thanks. I'm going to continue to think of the Elvenking in this book as not Thingol, then. =>

--edit: actually on looking again at the passage I _do_ in fact think the elf-king here is spoken of as being the same as who'd refused payment before! I think familiarity with _The Silmarillon_ was misleading me, because the text is reasonably clear. I sit corrected!

--edit 2: this has led me to a realization regarding the movie, which is in comments to that post because of spoilers.

JohnnyMac @ #31, interesting point about the effects of exile on Thorin! I'll keep an eye on this.

Narmitaj @ #33, thanks for the biographical details--I checked that book out of the library last re-read and discovered that I wasn't actually so interested in biography as to read a whole book, so your summary is much appreciated.
Dr. Cox
35. Gardner Dozois
Just reread this chapter, which reinforces my guess that the spiders are no bigger than a large cat or a small or at best medium-sized dog. Since it's already been established in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY that they're Shelob-sized instead, bigger and bulkier than a hobbit or a dwarf, or even a man (looked like they would have been bigger than Radagast), that's going to make it very difficult for Bilbo to credibly kill one with a thrown stone, or to slaughter dozens of them with Sting, as he does in the book. This whole scene is going to have to be rethought for the movie.

As somebody else said upstream, the Elvish butler who gets drunk and falls asleep is probably not going to work either, not if the Wood-Elves have anything of the same aesthetic as the Elves of Rivendell.
Andrew Kopittke
36. mendosi
Thorin as Captain Mainwaring indeed; very apt.

This chapter has always been, for me, the one that stands out in my mind when I think of The Hobbit. A very evocative chapter with the enchanted stream, the dark wood and the fight with the spiders.

I do confess to being a little disappointed in our dear company that they weren't able to successfully navigate the wood without the help of Gandalf. Of course it turns out alright in the end, and it would have made for a boring story if they simply followed the path, but it certainly taps into the theme of the dwarves and Bilbo growing from a general lack of preparedness and lack of competence at the beginning of the book.

Things are looking up soon, though with (spoiler) the barrels!
Dr. Cox
37. Shauna&25-8
In the defense of Bombur- he was hungry, badly hungry, starving hungry. His last memory was of hobbit banquet and dreamt of elven feasts. I think they still had food before the fall. And you may have noticed as you reread the book that Thorin and several others are very cruel to him when he wakes up, such as indirectly calling him mad, threatening to leave him behind, and saying that "It's no joke to carry you, even with short commons." I guess they forgot that it was no joke for him to fall into the enchanted river, and wake up feeling weak and wobbly in the legs.

Have you ever been starved? Of food? Of kindness? That was how Bombur felt then.
Bombur is the dwarf, who, along with Bifur, fought like mad during the troll battle.
He had the courage to speak up against orders when he was tired of going last.
He kicked a giant spider in the face.
He was one of the three dwarves to not fall to the gold sickness.

And you call him childish?

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