Thu
Apr 4 2013 11:00am

The Hobbit Reread: Chapter 19, “The Last Stage”

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 conclude the reread with the book’s final chapter, “The Last Stage.”

 

What Happens

Bilbo and Gandalf return to Rivendell, where Gandalf tells the story of their adventure and Bilbo learns that Gandalf had helped drive the Necromancer out of Mirkwood. They stay only a week because Bilbo is eager to go home. On the last portion of the journey, he and Gandalf find and split the trolls’ gold. Just as Bilbo sees his own home in the distance, he recites the first instance of the “roads go ever on” poem, to Gandalf’s surprise.

Bilbo comes home to find that he is presumed dead and that his possessions are being auctioned off. No-one has actually moved into his home yet (though his Sackville-Baggins cousins never forgive him for the missed opportunity), but he suffers much inconvenience. He also discovers that he has lost his reputation, but he does not particularly mind: he writes poetry, visits the elves, makes friends among his young Took nephews and nieces, and “remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long.”

The book ends with a visit from Gandalf and Balin “some years afterwards,” while Bilbo is writing his memoirs. His visitors tell him that all is now well, prosperous, and friendly under and around the Mountain. Unfortunately, earlier the Master of Lake-town stole much of the gold Bard gave the town and then died of starvation in the Waste. But the new Master is wise and the Lake-town’s current prosperity causes Bilbo to remark that “the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” Gandalf tells him that he should not be surprised that events had a wide effect, instead of being “just for your sole benefit.” Bilbo laughingly says that he is glad to be, in Gandalf’s words, “only quite a little fellow in a wide world.”

 

Comments

Though there are foreshadowings of The Lord of the Rings here, this is unquestionably a far happier ending. No, home isn’t the way Bilbo left it and he doesn’t fit in any more, but except for the inconveniences of having to be declared alive and trying to get his stuff back, he doesn’t actually care. The only potentially-bitter note is the bad end of the old Master, and even that has no hint of regret at the depths of his fall, the way that Saruman’s end does.

Another small way that this chapter ties into LotR is Gandalf’s speech to Bilbo at the very end:

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

This speech feels a bit out of place to me, especially considering how often Bilbo is described to be very lucky. But the narrator isn’t omniscient (for instance, he doesn’t know Gandalf’s thoughts); perhaps, then, there’s no contradiction between Gandalf’s statement and the descriptions in the rest of the book.

It may also feel out of place because it so strongly connects with the idea of weak supernatural good that we discussed in the LotR reread, that positive influences through magic are often subtle and appear as perhaps nothing more than chance. It’s not something that I remember encountering in The Hobbit before, so the sudden connection made me sit up.

I also note that Bilbo has no regrets about no longer being a mover and shaker, as it were, that he has acquired no taste for political agency. This is not a criticism, it is entirely in-character for him, but I noticed it because the idea of what happens to people who’ve been on adventures when they come home is one that interests me (i.e., could you go back to being a schoolkid after being a King or Queen in Narnia?; see also Jo Walton’s short story “Relentlessly Mundane”).

Back to the beginning of the chapter, now. The Rivendell elves’ song welcoming Bilbo and Gandalf back demonstrates the differences between the elves here and in Mirkwood:

The fire is more shining
On hearth in the gloaming
Than gold won by mining,
So why go a-roaming?

I had forgotten that Chapter 8 sets out the taxonomy of elf-tribes, so this kind of difference had already been hinted at, but now I’m imagining Elrond being disapproving at the Elvenking over the whole escapade, which I find mildly amusing.

There is essentially no useful information about the Necromancer in this chapter. All it says is that “Gandalf had been to a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and good magic; and that they had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the south of Mirkwood.” I don’t remember feeling that I’d been cheated out of a story when I read this bit as a kid; what about you all? Also, Elrond does not think the Necromancer will be banished “in this age of the world, or for many after.” If at the time this was written, Tolkien had already decided that Elrond was fostering the heirs of Elendil (and that the Necromancer was Sauron), this would be a bit of foreshadowing about how Elrond sees the long fight. Of course, all that story is stuck in an appendix in LotR, so it probably won’t help the reader much (yes, I’m still finding that a mystifying choice by Tolkien).

Bilbo’s renouncement of greed has stuck: he tries to give all the troll gold to Gandalf. Gandalf insists that they share—saying that “You may find you have more needs than you expect”; does he have an idea about the legal troubles awaiting Bilbo or is he just being very careful? And though Bilbo acquiesces, it still reads like a small but significant character development moment. As does his “mopp[ing] his face with a red silk handkerchief” that he borrowed from Elrond: at the start of the story, he ran out of Bag End without any handkerchiefs; as he went down into the Mountain for the first time, the narrator made a point of saying that “He had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages”; and now he has one again, showing that he’s truly coming back home.

I’m afraid that I’m going to have to leave analysis of the “Roads go ever ever on” to those with any poetry sense, as all I can find to say about it is that it’s a signposted demonstration of how Bilbo’s changed. On another language note, I liked that the firm conducting the auction of his possessions is “Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes”; whether those were lawyers or auctioneers or what, Tolkien obviously had no high opinion of them.

Appendix B to LotR puts Balin and Gandalf’s visit in 2949, eight years after the main events of the book. Balin enters Moria a whopping forty years later, which probably explains why Tolkien aged him down from being “very old-looking” in chapter 1, to being seventeen years younger than Thorin in the family tree in Appendix A of LotR. (He’s still a very respectable 226 when he goes to Moria, which I think is getting to be elderly for dwarves, judging by the rest of that family tree.) There’s no hint that any of this is coming, of course, because that would be entirely out of keeping with the tone of this ending. (And now I want to reread the Moria section of Fellowship. “He is dead then. I feared it was so.”)

Enough small notes. What do I think about the book as a whole, at the end of this reread?

Well, I haven’t discovered that I like it better, or even nearly as well as, The Lord of the Rings. But I didn’t expect to, so this doesn’t distress me. In terms of its relationship to LotR, I enjoyed finding some of the same themes and plot elements, like different species needing to work together or pieces of the Battle of Five Armies, as well as things like the occasional bit of beautiful landscape description or the careful setting-up of a big plot element like the death of Smaug.

Some things didn’t hold up as well to scrutiny, particularly the baffling conduct of the dwarves at points and the sheer number of times in which Bilbo is lucky. But I liked Bilbo and Gollum and Beorn and Smaug, and the fall of Thorin still resonates strongly with me on some fundamental level.

And I was delighted to learn more about the cultural contexts and mythologies that informed the book, and its textual history, and all the other information and reactions that you all were kind enough to share with me in comments. On the whole I do think I like this book better now, which is certainly the preferred outcome, and it’s partly because of your thoughtful and enthusiastic discussions. Thank you very much.

So my last questions to you all, for now: what did you think of the ending, and how does the whole book look to you now? I will keep an eye on comments here and in the older posts, and I imagine I’ll see you all again in December to discuss the next movie. I look forward to it.


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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38 comments
William Frank
2. scifantasy
Whoa, thanks for the link to "Relentlessly Mundane." Jo has a great take on that.

In return, I provide two other links to similar stories, only not with the uplifting ending:

XKCD's "Children's Fantasy": http://xkcd.com/693/
Seanan McGuire's "Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage": http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/new/new-fiction/crystal-halloway-and-the-forgotten-passage/
Dr. Thanatos
3. Dr. Thanatos
I have to keep reminding myself that the Hobbit and LOTR were imagined at different points in JRRT's creative arc and do my best to avoid trying to reconcile them (Gandalf 1.0 vs 2.0 for example).

I was always intrigued that the Rivendelves sing a very different style of song on the return journey. Perhaps because Bilbo has a different world perspective at this point? It seemed less silly and more thoughtful.

And to conclude my arc about songs that represent peoples, we finally got a Hobbit song (after getting songs that introduce dwarves, elves, goblins, and men). I will note momentarily that the Hobbit-song is at the end of the book, as if we are not ready to know what Hobbits are all about until the end, when perhaps Bilbo has a better understanding. Roads, and adventures, and dragons, and High Fantasy are all okay, but what you want at the end of the day is your home and bed. Now Bilbo understands it and we are ready to hear it; this is what Hobbits stand for.

Another note: Corey Olsen has pointed out that our first encounter with High Elves in Fellowship (the dudes in the Shire) shows them to be making jokes and being a bit less serious than we might expect if our only experience was meeting Elrond or Galadriel. He then notes that Rivendell was a refuge with a bunch of High-Elf refugees, and maybe what we're seeing here is that the Noldor can be quite silly when they put their mind to it, and maybe "Tra-la-la-lally come back to the valley" is Noldor who haven't gotten around to doing their nightly "Elbereth Gilthoniels" yet...

Thanks again for the re-read and your unbelievable patience and tolerance. Thanks also to all the new friends met here as well as Maglor the Elf-King, Smeagol (both of him), Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrow, and the Personal Injury Firm of Gothmog, Gothmog, Shelob, Angmar, and Gothmog. It's been a great ride and I look forward to the next discussion!
William Frank
4. scifantasy
...Damn, my first comment was flagged for spam and I didn't see it, so I resumbitted. Two copies in moderation queue. My bad.
Birgit
5. birgit
This chapter is simply called "The last chapter" in German.
The first elf song in this chapter is again missing. If I counted right there are 3 missing songs in the whole book.
Dr. Thanatos
6. Ser Tom
OK, now that I'm caught up with this here thing at the very end I have a few overall comments on the book itself. First, thank you, Kate, for your insights and efforts throughout the re-read. To answer your end of post questions, the ending feels like a wonderfully appropriate re-establishment of Bilbo's status quo, with maybe a little difference to reflect the growth he'd undergone. Now, the whole book, I have a few observations.

First, Gandalf comes off as an enormous jerk to me. He shanghai's Bilbo out of his comfortable life and simply sets him off on this adventure without so much as a "by your leave". Then, twice, he vanishes on some wizardly errand while the dwarves and Bilbo have to contend with near fatal encounters. Three times if you include the seige of the Lonely Mountain. Not very helpful. Still, I get the impression that Gandalf knew quite a bit more about the situation than he let on. When he reveals himself at Lonely Mountain he intimates that he had foreknowledge about all that was going to happen. This makes his statement in this chapter that Bilbo was not, after all, the center of the universe somewhat suspicious. I get the distinct inpression that Gandalf engineered the whole thing precisely with Bilbo in mind. If not soely for his benefit, then surely with an eye to the One Ring.

Secondly, the dwarves. What a sorry pack of incompetents. It struck me as quite silly how utterly useless they were at many points in this story. If not for Bilbo they would never even have made it past the trolls.

Finally, there is something about that thrush. I seem to dimly recall the Rankin/Bass movie setting things up in such a way that one can infer that the thrush was Gandalf in disguise. I may be misremembering that, but that's a thought that bubbled up at the time I read the post for that chapter.

There, I've said my piece. Make of it what you will.
Steven Halter
7. stevenhalter
I've always liked the ending. It does settle Bilbo down to a happy and somewhat less staid life than he had at the start of the book.
The parallel of home not quite being the place you left is here as in LOTR, but obviously to a lesser and less dangerous extent.
The hints of the Necromancer were intriguing. I wanted to go on more adventures with Bilbo and that actually put me off Frodo a bit the first time I read LOTR.
Dr. Thanatos
8. Ser Tom
Oh, one more thing. Did any one else feel somewhat cheated that after all they went through, our adventurers didn't even square off against Smaug? All they did was hide in a side tunnel while Smaug flew off and got taken down by someone else. One could argue that they really didn't earn their treasure at all. They just happened to be in the position to take advantage of someone else's heroics.
Kate Nepveu
9. katenepveu
Hi, all. I did end up re-reading the Moria chapters last night after writing this, and I mourned Balin a bit more, but I was so swept away by those chapters' awesomeness and tension that I didn't spend as much time thinking about him as I expected. (Also: lighting trees on fire to fight Wargs, and dwarf gates that can be made to open only under very specific conditions, and may even still need keys. No, self, you do not have time right now to reread _LotR_ post-_Hobbit_, not even quickly for your own purposes.)

Dr. Thanatos @ #3, so it's interesting to think about different creative points to think about different hobbit songs in _LotR_--Bilbo's (interminable) epic about Earendil, Sam's troll song, even Frodo's variant on this one. Expanding conceptions of Hobbit-ish-ness, perhaps?

And you're welcome, though I don't feel I've needed to deploy particular quantities of either patience or tolerance!

birgit @ #5, that's really too bad about the missing songs; I don't love them but they are definitely part of the text.

SerTom @ #6, welcome! It's hard for me to tell how much to suspect Gandalf of engineering things at this point on the development of Middle-earth. His little speech was not revised after the first edition of _The Hobbit_--I forgot to bring my _Annotated Hobbit_ home last night to check--so it wasn't brought into line with the forthcoming _LotR_ the way "Riddles in the Dark" was, but I just can't be sure what he's referring to. As for the thrush, I don't think there's any textual evidence to support the idea that it's anything but what it seems in the book, as opposed to any adaptation.

and @ #8, well, it was mostly their treasure to begin with; I don't expect the police to keep my stolen property just because I didn't track it down myself, after all. But I might be saying this only because I wasn't bothered by Bard doing the dragon-killing.

stevenhalter @ #7, I seem to recal that a bunch of people had the same reaction of wanting to spend time with Bilbo, not Frodo, when they too started _LotR_. Me, I was just so young that the increased complexity and slower initial pace of _LotR_ was too much for me then.
Dr. Thanatos
10. Lsana
I don't have much to add, except that I too felt cheated by not hearing more about the Necromancer. When I finished the Hobbit, I ran off to read LoTR, because my parents told me that I'd hear more about the Necromancer there. Which I did, after a fashion, but I still regret not hearing more about the stories that were told about him when everyone believed that he was just a regular evil magician rather than the penultimate evil in Middle Earth. That may be part of why my inner fangirl is squeeing so hard at these movies.

Anyway, I also wanted to comment just to say thank you for the re-read. It's been a great ride. I don't suppose you're planning to do a Silmarilion re-read next? (Just kidding. But I would definitely read it if you did.)
Kate Nepveu
11. katenepveu
Lsana @ #10,thank you for the compliment, but I am definitely not doing a _Silmarillion_ reread because it makes me very cranky. Future plans of a non-Tolkien nature are up in the air at the moment, though as I said, I expect to be back for the movies.
Dr. Thanatos
12. Lsana
katenepveu@11,

Gottcha. Though it's interesting that you see The Silmarilion as a treatise on "why humans suck." I've always thought of it as a treatise on why elves suck.
Dr. Thanatos
13. Lektu
Lsana@12,

« it's interesting that you see The Silmarilion as a treatise on "why
humans suck." I've always thought of it as a treatise on why elves suck.»

Couldn't agree more.
Dixon Davis
14. KadesSwordElanor
Katenepveu et al.

Of course I discover the action right at the end. Great job. Wish I had gotten in on things earlier. I would love a Silmarillion reread (or maybe pick some parts :). I could argue The Tale of Beren and Lúthien is even better than LOTR.

Ser Tom @ 6

It is tempting to come to such a conclusion about Gandalf. But there is no way one of the Maiar would have been able to orchestrate things on such a grand level. And if Gandalf already knew Bilbo would find the one ring he sure did waste a lot of time trying to discover it was the one ring.
Alan Brown
15. AlanBrown
Kate, Thanks for leading us through the fun reread!
For myself, at this point in my life, I find myself more satisfied with the Hobbit than with The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps it is because, as a reader, I have grown tired of stories where The Fate Of the World Hangs In The Balance!!!!!! So a tale of a nice, exciting adventure, and how hard times and uncomfortableness are also found to be part of adventuring, followed by years of quiet and happiness for our hero, sounds pretty good to me. And a little whimsy is a lot more enjoyable than the ponderous seriousness of the Big Issues of Fate.
And finally, it didn't bother me that Tolkein did not tell the full story of the Necromancer--I don't mind stories that don't explain every little detail. The fact that there are things going on outside our viewpoint helps make the world seem much larger than the tale at hand, and makes the whole world more compelling and interesting. In these days of prequels and backstory and special editions, people seem to have forgotten that sometimes, you should leave some things to the imagination, and what you don't say can be as important as what you do say.
Kate Nepveu
16. katenepveu
Lsana, Lektu, tell me more about _The Silmarillion_ & elves sucking?

KadesSwordElanor @ #14, welcome even now at the end (fortunately not, the end of all things). _The Silmarillion_ definitely has a lot of great moments, and I always think about Beren and Luthien when I wish that Arwen did more in_LotR_.

AlanBrown @ #15, there are definitely times when I am in the mood for smaller-scale fantasy and whimsy. And yes, though some things that Tolkien left out I wish he hadn't, the tantalizing sketches of other things are part of the fun, too.

If you don't require created worlds, one of my favorite recent series is Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series; the first book in the US in _Midnight Riot_ and in the UK is _Rivers of London_. First-Person Smartass police procedurals with magic users as a hidden institution in the Metropolitan Police, attempts at making scientific explorations of magic by the protagonist, British humor, really delightful and diverse characters, excellent feel for London. The series has plot problems but I don't care, I love the characters and the voice so much.
j p
17. sps49
I may have noticed supernatural oversight first in "Riddles in the Dark", but it does happen in a few other books. The Belgarion books had the Prophecy (which did long-term planning better than the Sardion, surely), and the Wheel of TIme has- well, the Creator, or whoever runs the Horn of Valere, or just someone who speaks in ALL CAPS.

Kate, I love your stuff here, but you make us wait too long in between!
Kate Nepveu
18. katenepveu
scifantasy @ #2, now that you're released from the spam filter--thanks for those links! It is obviously a problem that much interests people who love portal fantasies.
Kate Nepveu
19. katenepveu
sps49 @ #17, I cannot respond to your entire comment without huge spoilers for the last Wheel of Time book!

I'm guessing that all this supernatural guidance in English-language fantasy evolves out of the polytheistic deities of Europe, yet the version we get in_LotR_--as opposed to the explicit meddlings of the Valar in the First Age--feels different in a way that is, yes, likely one of the things the Belgariad is riffing off of.
Dr. Thanatos
21. Dr. Thanatos
Regarding the Silmarillion and suction:

Who pulled the Elves out of their natural environment, where they proceeded to go bad?
Who pulled the Edain out of there natural environment, where they proceeded to go bad?

This book is about how the Valar suck!
Dr. Thanatos
22. Gardner Dozois
I thought the ending worked very well. Tolkien was good at endings. The last line of the actual text part (as opposed to the Indexes) of THE RETURN OF THE KING strikes me as one of the best last lines I've ever read, and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so.

I find it hard to believe that Gandalf could have known that the One Ring was in a deep cave in the middle of the Misty Mountains, which gives him an absurd amount of omnescence, which he doesn't demonstrate elsewhere. Even if he did know the Ring was down there, that he could have manipulated from afar this long series of coincidences and hairsbreadth escapes so that Bilbo happened to come into possession of the Ring and escape alive to bring it up into the sunlit world is even more absurd; an inch either way in a number of instances, and Bilbo is dead and Gollum keeps the Ring under the mountains. If Gandalf knew that Gollum had the Ring and knew more or less where he was, he'd have had a much better chance invading the mountain the way he invaded the Necromancer's lair and finding Gollum himself. But obviously he doesn't know about Gollum, or, at this point, the significance of the Ring itself. And as KadesSwordElanor points out, Gandalf spends a great deal of time in LOTR becoming suspicious of what the Ring is and learning about its origins, decades worth of time, in fact, which by itself is enough to disprove the idea that Gandalf was arranging events so that Bilbo came into possession of the Ring. If he knew back then that it was the One Ring, he certainly wouldn't have left it on Bilbo's mantlepiece for decades while he consulted learned scrolls, but would have tried to do somthing about it long before. So Gandalf is not providing the supernatural oversight here, if such there is. It's possible that some Higher Power than Gandalf is providing supernatural oversight, subtly arranging things and setting things in motion a certain way so that thousands of years later they fall out one way rather than the other, but that requires a very powerful supernatural entity indeed, far above even Gandalf's level.

In reality, of course, the entity providing supernatural oversight is the author.

I enjoyed THE HOBBIT the first time I read it, I enjoyed it the second time I read it, and I enjoyed it this time around. It's over-stating by a good margin to call it a "great book," but it's a very fine example of the kind of thing that it is, and blazed paths that hundreds of other authors, and not just authors of children's books, have subseqently followed, to their benefit. It deserves respect for that, for all of its flaws, and some of its flaws can be at least partially forgiven because it was the one breaking new ground; later authors learned from its missteps and thus avoided some of the same mistakes.

I'm looking forward to the next movie, although I'm sure that many things in it will provoke howls of outrage from the Faithful. I'm also pretty sure I'll enjoy it.
Dr. Thanatos
23. pilgrimsoul
The ending worked for me, but I'd read LOTR first, so it made sense that Bilbo had come home but had also changed significantly.
Count me in for a Silmarillion reread. But maybe start with the Unfinished Tales?
Terence Tidler
24. libertariansoldier
Who sucks? Compare:
Men--Hurin, Tuor, Barahir, Beren
Elves--Feanor, Maeglin, Feanor's sons

The sun will rise again.
Dr. Thanatos
25. Bolg
The Hobbit's ending worked for me. I could well understand that back in Bilbo's home town, things weren't standing still while he was off having his adventures, after having mysteriously disappeared while under the influence of that (nefarious) character the Wizard Gandalf.

I for my part loved the poems.

Another thing to remember - Tolkien was a fan of Rider Haggard's African novels, apparently, and the events in The Hobbit mirror the average Rider Haggard story - ignoring of course the fact that Gandalf is Quartermain with magic and a staff ...
Dr. Thanatos
26. Gardner Dozois
Of course, in most subsequent fantasy, Gandalf, with his magic and his staff and his sword, would have been the protagonist of the story. It was part of Tolkien's peculiar sort of genius to make the protagonist instead a humble little mild-mannered fellow, practically powerless, whose greatest ambition is to be left alone in his comfortable home and have some tea and seed cake. It's as if the protagonist of Haggard's KING SOLOMON'S MINES was one of the native bearers who barely gets a line of dialog, and who mostly watches Quartermain's heroic adventures from a distance, off on the edge of things somewhere. Imagine THE HOBBIT with Gandalf as the main character, or LOTR with heroic Aragon as the main character, and even if the overall plot remains roughly the same, the feel of it would be very different indeed. That's one reason why I've never been able to get far into THE SILMARILLION. No hobbits to provide a wry, humanizing perspective on the heroic goings-on. Instead, the heroic/mythological stuff is right upfront, and becomes rather boring, like reading a dry, detailed history book about a country that never existed.
Rob Munnelly
27. RobMRobM
By the way, Kate, I'd like to add my thanks and congrats for an interesting re-read experience. I haven't posted much but I've read and enjoyed. Thanks also to all of the posters for their contributions.

Rob
Dixon Davis
28. KadesSwordElanor
GardnerDozois@ 26

I appreciate you insight and agree with a great deal of what you say. I am a big Tolkien fan but I am not a blind-everything-he-does-is-perfect fan boy. I am genuinely curious about what you think are his missteps.

I also get what you are saying about the Silmarillion. You have to be a pretty big fan to trudge through some of that stuff. I can say from experience it is a much better audio book. But I encourage you to read or reread (listen too) The Tale of Beren and Lúthien.
Dr. Thanatos
29. Lsana
katenepveu@16,

Partially it's what libertariansoldier@24 said: we're told that many men fought for Morgoth's side, but we don't actually see any of them, at least in the Silmarilion proper. The men we do see are almost universally heroic. Whereas the elves...there are some heroic elves, no question, but they're also the ones causing all the problems. In addition to Feanor, Maeglin, Feanor's sons, etc. we also have Thingol (whose selfishness in the manner of Beren and the Silmaril caused the destruction of his kingdom), Turgon (who made a beautiful kingdom, but also made all of its people prisoners), Maeglin's father (whose name I can't remember but who was unquestionably a creep), even Galadriel (extremely proud and something of a bitch). The elves here make Boromir and Thorin look like paragons. If the elves in LoTR seem better than humans, it's just because all the flawed ones are dead by that point.

But the other part of it is the nature of elves vs. the nature of humans. Elves are made like the Ainur, only lesser. They're inferior angels. Whereas humans are something different and have talents no one else has. We're the only ones with the capacity to change the world. No, we don't always use that talent wisely, but sometimes (Beren, Tuon, and I would argue Earendil) we do.
alastair chadwin
30. a-j
First off, may I also add my thanks to katenepvue for this. Re-reading The Hobbit chapter by chapter week by week rekindled my deep love for this book which had become jaded from too many speed throughs. So my great gratitude for bringing me back to one of my favourite books.

As to the ending, agreed that Gandalf's sudden hints of greater things seems misplaced. It's the only point in which I can perceive Tolkien's ret-conning. The lack of details about the Necromancer didn't bother me, the story was about Bilbo and the dwarves but I remember liking the idea that there were other stories going on around them.

I think it was Tom Sheppey (and apologies to whoever it was if I'm wrong and for probably getting his name wrong) who said something along the lines that LOTR is not a sequel to The Hobbit, it is rather a seperate thing that quarried The Hobbit for its materials. I cannot agree more.

As I've said before, I came to The Hobbit (aged about 7) before LOTR (about 14) and prefer the earlier book. This is, of course, partly nostalgia, but also The Hobbit rests more comfortably with me. I particularly enjoy the gentle teasing and mocking of motifs from legend etc that will subsequently be taken with total seriousness in LOTR. But that's me and my taste and isn't great we have both books. As Bilbo says at the end: "Thank goodness!"
Dr. Thanatos
31. Red Skelington
Just de-lurking to say thank you for this- it made me re-read the book myself, for the first time in probably a good 20 years, which in turn made me make a summary of the Hobbit in charts & graphs:

http://tobiassturt.tumblr.com/post/46060970025/the-story-of-the-hobbit-as-told-through-charts-i

...which I thought some of you might like
Dr. Thanatos
32. JohnnyMac
First, my thanks to you, Kate, for this rereading. It has been loads of fun and, what is more, has given me some new insights into a story I treasure (and considering that I have read it many times over almost half a century, that is no small thing).

I always liked the ending of "The Hobbit". When I was a child I think it simply satisfied my desire for the happy ending. And looking at the story as an adult it feels right because it is an ending in accord with Bilbo's character. If he had been turned into Bilbo the Bold, halfling ranger roaming the Wild in quest of adventure it would have felt contrived, artificial, not a "true story". He begins the story as Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a highly respectable hobbit and ends it still as Mr. Baggins. No longer quite so respectable but one who has been "There and Back Again".

Comparing "The Hobbit" to "The Lord of the Rings" I think it is easy to see that they are both the work of the same artist but on a vastly different levels and scales. I do not think it takes anything away from "The Hobbit" to recognize the simple fact that it is a childrens story. It was and is a story told for the worthy purpose of entertaining children.

"The Lord of the Rings" is a epic novel. In scale and sweep and subtlety it is an order of magnitude beyond "The Hobbit". And yet, without "The Hobbit" and its modest commercial success would LOTR have ever been written, let alone been published? I doubt it.
Dr. Thanatos
33. JohnnyMac
Thinking about the relationship between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", I think it is worth quoting from another story of Tolkien's: "Leaf by Niggle":

"Niggle was a painter.
...He had a number of pictures on hand; most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill. He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different.

There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture."

According to Tolkien's "Introductory Note" in "Tree and Leaf", this story was written in 1938-39 when he was just beginning the years long struggle to write "The Lord of the Rings". I think it is fairly clear that (as others have pointed out before me) that the leaf = "The Hobbit" and the Tree = "The Lord of the Rings".
Kate Nepveu
34. katenepveu
Hey, all.

Regarding _The Silmarillion_ and suckitude, what I meant to say is that it's about how it sucks to _be_ human, and indeed, active suckitude falls to the part of the Valar.

Bolg @ #25, I did not know that, though I am unlikely at this point in my life to pick up any of H. Rider Haggard's books.

Gardner Dozois @ #26, interesting, and of course they would be very different stories from a different character's POV, but still Bilbo and Frodo do become central despite their lack of ambition--is perhaps the real distinguishing characteristic from today's fantasies of political agency that they go _back_ to having little influence on events afterward? (Also: some of the dryness of _The Silmarillion_ I have a weird fondness for, as in, I used to reread the first two chapters when I couldn't sleep.)

RobMRobM @ #27, you're welcome, and thank you.

a-j @ #30, I'm delighted to hear that the reread has had that effect for you. (And because you asked, it's Shippey.)

Red Skelington @ #31, that is very cool! Did you do the data extrapolations, financial etc., yourself?

JohnnyMac @ #32, again, delighted to hear it. And yes, Bilbo has changed, but in ways that make sense and feel true to him.
Dr. Thanatos
35. Dr. Thanatos
Speaking of the movies, the presence of Bolg leading an army raises interesting possibilities.

Are his soldiers to be referred to as Bolgers? And if so, are any of them overweight? Would there be an army of Fatty Bolgers marching in lockstep towards the Lonely Mountain? A creepy mental image indeed.

On a different topic, some of the more obscure History Of Middle Earth writings note that Durin I, first dwarf to awaken, did not awake at Khazad-Dum and look in Mirrormere. He awoke under Mount Gundabad. Which is now known as the Northern Capital of the Goblins. Another reason for orc-dwarf emnity, occupying what would be considered sacred Dwarf space?
Dr. Thanatos
36. Red Skelington
katenepveu @34 Thanks very much - some of the data I sourced from elsewhere - the lovely financial stuff came from a great article by Michael Noer for Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelnoer/2012/04/23/how-much-is-a-dragon-worth-revisited/), some of the distances and numbers in armies came from various conversations online by people with far more admirable powers of concentration than mine and some of it is just flat out facetious (seriously, what is the economy of the elves? What do they trade for the Dorwinion wine? It's mystifying).

But I did work out some of it for myself - the discovery that the two places that there are most mentions of specific foods by name (so not mealtimes or generic 'food') are Bag End and Beorn's Hall makes absolute sense and really marks them out and homely places, for of comfort and plenty.

It's actually part of a larger experiment I'm trying about telling fictional stories through data visualisation - there's a slightly more satirically aimed Fantasy map: http://tobiassturt.tumblr.com/post/35001411234/cartomancy-part-of-my-on-going-experiments-with that perhaps got a little too obsessional for it's own good, but by golly it was fun to put together...
Dr. Thanatos
37. Azeari
Any chance you might extend the read-through to include The Quest of Erebor? I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on it.
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
Azeari, vexingly, the library copy I have of _The Annotated Hobbit_ does not include it. But I do have a copy of _Unfinished Tales_ at home, so I will investigate and report back!
mark Proctor
39. mark-p
I will join in adding my thanks to those all ready given.
I haven't had much useful to add but I has been interesting reading and I have gained insites into the book that I wouldn't have thought about just reading it by my self.

My Library has finally had its copy of The Annotated Hobbit returned after the reread has finished.
The Quest of Erebor was good to read (especially as in a way its new a bit of the Lord of the Rings I get to read for the first time). It was interesting to see how Tolkien attempted to fit The Hobbits story more closely in with the lotr. And I found the foot note at the end quite funny something like: no attempt was made to explain presence of the dwarves musical instutements at Bilbos house.
Dr. Thanatos
40. (still) Steve Morrison
Add my belated thanks, both for this reread and the LotR one. I wasn’t able to comment much for a time because of a repetitive motion injury (it seems all right now). Fortunately there weren’t many interesting differences in the drafts for this chapter; originally the Sackville-Bagginses were the Allibone Bagginses, and that’s about the biggest change.

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