Six of us assembled. We were temporarily without Ian and Carol’s comments (owing to her being unwell) but we first considered the matter of advertising for new members, and adverts are now in place as far as possible. Tim and Claire (who was on a flying visit) had kindly agreed to help with placing the ads.
So we moved on to begin the discussion of The Hobbit, postponed from previous meetings. We only dealt in any detail with the Map and Chapter 1.
Tim began by asking why the Map at the start of the book is oriented as it is rather than with North at the top.
I suggested it related to the map’s primary or cultural purpose, which was to record the way of finding the Door in relation to other landscape features.
Chris wondered if it was because this orientation makes it easier for publication? Angela, however, thought it could have been altered.
Laura compared it to the Mappa Mundi in Hereford cathedral which is oriented around Jerusalem because that was the focus of Christendom. This then posed the question ‘when did the orientation of maps change’.
Tim thought it was the result of explorations by historical figures such as the Portuguese Henry the Navigator, and Arabs like Ibn Batuta, who made more detailed maps.
After our geographical deliberations, I asked if the authorial interventions in the text created a problem? Laura considered that it fits with the knowledge that the story originated as a narration to children, and with the comfortable Edwardian context evoked by the narrative itself.
Eileen and Angela both agreed that the interventions were acceptable in a children’s book, although Eileen remarked that it would otherwise seem patronizing.
Everyone considered that the interventions were more acceptable as written evidence of oral storytelling.
Tim pointed out that the book is notionally written by Bilbo and pretends that he is speaking an original oral narrative.
Angela went on to comment on the inclusion of ‘lasses’ in the list of adventurous hobbits, but Laura added that although Belladonna Took is included, the narrator explains that she never had any adventures after she married.
We turned briefly to the matter of anachronisms, and Tim noted that Bilbo’s words, as author, have to be ‘translated’ for us, and anachronisms such as the ‘pop gun’ are equivalent to a ‘best guess’, or best attempt by the ‘translator’ to render the original in terms we can understand.
Eileen remarked that she found many of the characteristic traits of Bilbo endearing and enjoyable, citing his reluctance to go with the dwarves, and continuing reluctance to be away from home. She compared this to the reluctance of children to do things.
Tim picked up Gandalf’s pedantic response to Bilbo’s ‘Good morning’. And Laura noted the detailed description of Gandalf’s clothing, wondering at the nature of the ‘silver scarf’ and whether it was a gift from Galadriel, another example of her weaving! Angela questioned whether it was made of mithril?
Tim remarked on the scale of the feasting in Bag End, comparing it to the ‘lashings of…’ in other children’s stories, but in fact perhaps recalling the kinds and amounts of food that might not have been always available to the family.
Eileen commented that the stores in Bilbo’s pantries made her think he would be alright in the event of No Deal! More seriously, she wondered whether Tolkien was writing during a time of food scarcity.
Laura and Angela noted that Mabel Tolkien was impoverished after her husband’s death and Tim proposed that Tolkien may have been harking back to his own childhood.
I thought, after the fun and extraordinary variety of the feast, the poem changes the mood of the chapter. Tim observed that the change begins with the dwarves’ music. Laura commented on the mix of instruments and Angela remarked that the clarinet was first used by Mozart.
Tim proposed that only small harps would be carried around and Laura suggested they would be like Celtic harps or the lyre-like Anglo-Saxon harps.
Laura remarked that the singing in the film owed something to Russian Orthodox music, while Tim noted that in the film that music is closest to the book.
Tim also remarked on the moment when Bilbo is no longer under the ‘spell’ of the dwarvish song and ‘shudders’ as he comes back to his own reality.
Angela observed that Frodo is similarly torn between home and adventure.
Tim wondered if it serves as a premonition for Bilbo of dragon wrath over the Shire, if it is disturbed, which itself prefigures the Scouring of the Shire and the effect of Mordor.
Laura observed that Bilbo’s repetition of ‘struck by lightning’ when he trips is gibberish because he is under stress.
Jumping ahead, Angela remarked on the dwarf artisans of Dale and the acknowledgement of their return in The Lord of the Rings, and Eileen commented that she was surprised at the inclusion of Gollum in this story. Chris and Eileen briefly discussed whether Gollum kills only for food, and whether it was only imps, or full sized orcs.
With that we ran out of time. Our next meeting will continue with Chapter 2.