tookish

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,

To find our long-forgotten gold.


I am not sure what form this will all take. This is part of why I was holding off for so long in my rereading. I knew I wanted to respond somehow, but I was not sure how. Do not grow dependent on these entries (As I am sure my loyal readers are prone to do). My response could turn into something else entirely. Or I may just stop doing anything beyond the task of reading. Or more yet, I may just stop reading. We shall see. Or I shall see, and perhaps you shall be spared.

The Hobbit is not the Lord of the Rings. It is a children's book. Although sadly, the present state of children's literacy generally puts The Hobbit out of the reading level of most people while they would still be considered children. It is not a children's book because it is set in a fantasy world with dragons and dwarves (not dwarfs), though many might argue that point. As Tolkien himself says, people's inclination towards the fantastic is generally regardless of age; if they like such stories when they are younger, they also enjoy them when they are older (referring to On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien; a fantastic little essay/lecture; he says far far more than what I just paraphrased and far far better). It is a children's book because it is simple, light-hearted, whimsical, a large dose of humor, etc. None of these properties are exclusive to children's books but he writes it all for the sake of a child to be able to comprehend. When he came to write the follow-up, The Lord of the Rings, he would actually struggle immensely with finding the voice for his sequel as it began to mature on him, and it greatly hindered the initial pacing and plotting.

I do not intend to cast The Hobbit in a lesser light because of its childness, though I do greatly prefer its sequel. I just mean to say that it is a different thing altogether. I know many people who loved The Hobbit and could not read The Lord of the Rings, and vice versa.

I do wonder how they plan to change The Hobbit for its theatrical reproduction to match the tone of The Lord of the Rings movies, so as not to disappoint movie-goers who are expecting another glorious epic in the coming years. I imagine the story will get stripped considerably of its light-hearted air. And they will also be adding quite a bit of material to fill out the two movies they plan. If these posts continue, I will probably remark far too often about the movies, which is precisely one of my greatest frustrations with them. They take over the public's conception of a story, rather than the source.

Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party

"I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!"

I am definitely watching closely at the free will of Bilbo as I read the story. In a story where the small naive character gets carried off into a grand adventure it is quite easy to make the main character removed from the resolution of a conflict. Or in other words, he gets saved a lot (this was a major frustration with Andrew Peterson's first book). I of course know how The Hobbit handles this, but I will be paying special attention to it this read through.

In the first chapter, Bilbo is completely without want of adventure. Well he has his hints of Tookishness, but they are mostly dormant. And so adventure needs to find him.

Enter Gandalf. I was thinking about Gandalf quite a bit through out this read, since he is the mover in this chapter. What is his purpose, and why would he be justified in picking Bilbo for the task at hand?

Well the second question is somewhat easy, though it is just opinion on my part. Tolkien plays with Gandalf having premonitions. At this point, I would imagine Tolkien just thinks of Gandalf as a man who has magic of some kind and is thus a wizard. He is wise, certainly. But he is certainly not what he would become once Tolkien fleshed his world out. But still, most of Tolkien's "magic" is fairly subtle. The way I like it, as I am not much of a powers guy. And so premonitions seems to be a major quality of those who have some kind of magical connection, again more so in The Lord of the Rings but this shows the kinds of inclinations Tolkien is prone to. Thus, Gandalf chose Bilbo, because he has some kind of premonition. It also certainly has to do with his Tookish ancestry etc., but still, it would take a heavy dose of discernment and some kind of premonition to pick a fellow that screams and falls over at the mention of danger. As said by the wizard, " 'I have chosen Mr Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.' "

As for the first question, what is his purpose. Well like I mentioned before, he is the mover. I am first answering this question more from a literary point of view than from within Tolkien's sub-created secondary world. This is the oft-used adventure falling into the protagonist's lap yarn. But what explains Gandalf showing up at Bilbo's door. Well nothing, really. And I suppose that is a point in itself. The adventure comes knocking at the door, unexpectedly as the chapter describes it. Sure, The Lord of the Rings gives there a bit of a logical foundation, because Tolkien made sure to attempt to justify everything to an amazing extent in the sequel, but in The Hobbit the wizard just shows up, and Bilbo gets picked up and put into an adventure.

I could attempt to sweep these into metaphors about the sources of adventures in real life, but I do not think I will. Adventure is of course one of the biggest themes of The Hobbit, so it will come up more.

Other notes:
There are various points that I wonder if Tolkien would have preferred he had gone a different route. He drops a couple lines here and there that would later handicap his story. I especially wonder if he later wished he could separate Middle-Earth from our own world. I know for certain he regretted naming the dwarves and Gandalf using dwarf names from the Voluspa.

There is already mention of the Necromancer which becomes much bigger in the sequels. I wonder what precisely Tolkien intended with the Necromancer bit that is underlying the whole story as he wrote The Hobbit. I doubt it was anything nearly as big as it turned out to be.

I love that the hobbits area is made up of The Hill, The Water, and the Country Round. It is the only hill, water, and country they will ever know and thus to them it is all there is. There is no other hill to find, no other water to explore, no other country to traverse. Then of course Tolkien had to go and make their land much more established and name it all up in the sequel.

Withered Heath... I had completely forgotten about this. I must have noticed it as some point in the past, but proceeded to forget it every time. I would assume this was only ever mentioned in The Hobbit.

Gandalf gets the best lines.

Kili then Fili. Backwards in the alphabet. Got it.

The movies will have a hard time with the 13 dwarves. People generally don't like a mash of indistinguishable characters. It is much easier to ignore in the book, when they are intentionally an ambiguously distinguishable group.

It is bad that I know the names of the 13 dwarves better than the 7 dwarfs?

And finally, my favorite quotation. It could have been the song leading up to this, but instead I went with the song's effect. There are little hints of the beauty of Tolkien's language in here. And hearing pine-trees... sounds like something I would say. But I just love the picture of how adventure comes to our minds and all our Tookish qualities come out. But then the dangers and dragons come to our realization and we fall back into our simple Bagginsy ways, all safe and comfortable. It also parallels what Tolkien's own song does for his readers. Well minus the greed part.

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

3 comments:

Stuart said...

Don't worry, I always expect nothing and am always pleasantly surprised in return.

The Venerable Monster said...

That bit in the beginning reminded me of a quote I stumbled upon at one point:

"No book is really worth reading at age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty...Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a timetable."
— C.S. Lewis

Oh, and since I read through these archives of this recently, I dug back through to find these four:
http://www.pvponline.com/2001/03/page/5/
Which also reminded me of our discussion about reading books the other day.

AedonTor said...

to Stuart: well then you would have a hard time with trust.

to Ben: shouldn't you be doing finals stuffs rather than digging through archives and quotations, heh. Muchos gracias.