First in September


September already and time for Oxonmoot, which was early this year and coincided with our meeting rather than marking the Birthday, as has been customary in the past. Hence only four of us met on a lovely afternoon to discuss matters arising from Chapter Four and the start of Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. Happily, though, we also had Carol’s comments to add diversity. Those relating to Chapter 4 are included in our discussion, her comments on the earlier chapters are added as an appendix.

Laura began the meeting with her observation concerning the stone giants that C.S. Lewis includes his own version of stone giants exactly the same scenario as in The Hobbit, in his children’s book The Silver Chair.

Tim remarked that the episode in TH sounds Scandinavian, and stone giants are omitted from The Lord of the Rings, although giants are named as such in The Lay of Leithian. There are giants in Grimm’s Tales and the stone giants may hark back to giants in Eddic lore, or to German storm giants (rübezahl). Tim also noted that in the film Troll Hunter a boulder field is attributed to the actions of gigantic trolls.

Laura imagined the Inklings in the pub telling old stories to each other as well as bits of their own work, and Eileen remarked that they must have been influencing one another.

Laura changed the topic slightly when she picked up Gandalf’s grumpy comment to Thorin on the mountain: ‘Well, if you know of anywhere better, take us there!’ Laura compared this to the World War One cartoon in which a soldier in a foxhole tells his mate ‘If you know of a better hole…’. As Tim and Laura agreed, Tolkien undoubtedly knew this image.

Tim pointed out another of the Tolkienian anachronisms in Thorin’s reference to football, and Laura toyed with the idea of a dwarf 13 against the goblins.

Laura also noted that while the term ‘paraphernalia’ is of Greek derivation, after a string of probably Old English terms, ‘the narrator’s references to ‘rocks and blocks’ is characteristic of the rhyming prose conventionally used in children’s stories.

Continuing the subject of rhyming, Eileen questioned whether Fili and Kili were names in the original Icelandic list. Laura thought they were, and Carol had commented “we have the full company of dwarves which Tolkien said he ‘bagged’ wholesale from the dwarves’ roster in the Elder Edda -Thorin and Oakenshield being joined together from 2 names – Eikenskjaldi which we later learn was given to Thorin at the battle of Azanulbizar against the orcs in the myth. The past peeping through.”
Tim noted that the rhyming names of the dwarves were good for entertaining children, and Eileen remarked that rhyme made them easier to remember.

Tim observed that though ‘unrhymed’ with any other dwarf, Thorin is memorable for his unique name and his ‘surname’.

Eileen thought the ‘Misty Mountains’ was a lovely name. Tim remarked that lots of the peaks have dwarvish names.

Eileen prompted a debate when she expressed an interest in the effect of Bilbo’s dream and the configuration of the crack and the passage way.

Tim thought it had the same creepy effect as the concept of a cupboard/wardrobe door that isn’t quite shut properly so something like the bogeyman could come out.

At this point we discovered a difference in our perceptions of the alignment of the crack. Laura said she had always thought of it being horizontal. Tim and I had always imagined it as being vertical. Laura saw it as opening as the floor slipped down, so opening at floor level. We debated whether the ponies had to hop over, and why the goblins had to jump out (Eileen’s question). Tim replied that it was because they were ambushing the dwarves.

I then noted the inclusion of a ‘political’ statement as Tolkien blames goblins for much of the worst of early 20th century technology. Laura observed that he had probably witnessed the arrival of the first battle tanks, and Carol also commented: “Tolkien gets in a dig at the ‘progress’ on modern weaponry whose antecedents were laid at the goblins’ feet…they had not advanced (as it is called)  so far.’ Tolkien hated the tanks on the western front and aerial warfare too”. Tim remarked that he was having a poke at the industrialists of his time.

Tim then noted that the goblins refer to the cave as ‘The Front Porch’ and Laura wondered about the reference to wicked dwarves who made alliances with goblins. Tim thought this might include Mîm the betrayer in The Silmarillion.

Laura remarked on the Great Goblin’s use of the term ‘persons’, and I wondered if goblins have a similar lifespan to Elves and dwarves. Tim observed that they were not immortal like elves.

My question had been prompted by the goblins’ recognition of Gandalf’s sword which had come from Gondolin. Laura proposed this may relate to the fact that goblins are derived from or cloned from elves, and may they have an archive of swords! Tim likened this to wanted posters.

Eileen observed that it is because goblins have no culture that they call Orcrist (Goblin Cleaver) simply Biter.

Tim confessed that when reading the account of the killing of the Great Goblin he has a Star Wars light sabre moment as Orcrist ‘flashed in its own light’. Tim also thought there is a pre-echo of the Mines of Moria as the dwarves flee and then Gandalf and Thorin stand together. Happily the balrog is absent in this episode!

I led us on into Chapter Five and drew attention to Bilbo’s collapse into misery and the slow process of his recovery aided by discovery of his pipe.

Eileen remarked that there can be a strange kind of joy in relinquishing a struggle and that the relinquishing itself can lead to hope.

Tim thought it was a very human episode, and noted that hope and help come in the reassurance provided by the Gondolin blade.

I commented that Bilbo’s feeling that it was ‘rather splendid’ to be wearing a Gondolin blade lends another aspect to Bilbo’s character. Tim characterized it in terms of the song ‘If you could see me now…’. Eileen elaborated – it would signal him as a warrior.

Laura observed that among the resources to which Bilbo can turn are many ‘wise sayings’ apparently lost to us, but these can get him through. Eileen noted that it is input from the past that changes his mood, and Laura remarked that Bilbo can’t stay calm and wait for rescue.

Finally, Laura noted the title of the previous chapter included the resonant words ‘Under Hill’, and Tim pointed out that the same words are used in Chapter One as part of Bilbo’s address: Mr. Baggins of Bag End, Underhill.

We ended the meeting before Bilbo’s crucial encounter with the Ring and Gollum, so that is where we will begin next time.

Carol’s Comments on previous chapters:

Preface. This preface was written by Christopher in 1987 for the 50th anniversary hobbit and talks briefly about the publication process.
Compare Letter 1964. ‘it had no necessary connexion with the ‘mythology’, but naturally became attached towards the dominant construction in my mind, causing the tale to become larger and more heroic as it proceeded.’

JRRT’s intro states that ‘east’ is ‘at the top of The Map, ‘as usual in dwarf-maps’. There was something in your discussions of the top of The Map being north.

Chapter 1 An Unexpected Party

‘in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’, now iconic in Tolkien circles, but I always expect it to continue with more about hobbits, not holes.

‘The Hill’ the first of many words that simply describe what a thing is, e.g. Lake-town, River Running. I have always admired this simplicity but of course they all have ‘foreign’ names like Esgaroth. The past peeping through. There is no shire in TH.

‘long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green.’ Tolkien’s ecological leanings coming out.

‘good-morning’: here Tolkien uses a bit of philology to show how many meanings ‘good-morning’ can have. When it was used in the first Hobbit film I thought we were going to get something authentic and smiled. Then scowled for the rest of the film.

‘to fetch 2 beautiful seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon…’ Bilbo is not sticking to gender stereotypes, baking his own cakes.

Bilbo is ‘positively flummoxed’.

The first of the songs – situational ‘chip the glasses…’

So far the action has been comical but with the song ‘far over misty mountains cold’ comes the first glimpse of what life is like in the Wild. In the film this is the only memorable bit of music.

So they regard Bilbo as a grocer rather than a burglar but he’ll end up becoming the virtual leader of the expedition because he has common sense.

Chapter 2 Roast Mutton

I’ve often thought that 13 dwarves and a wizard would have cause uproar in Bywater but no mention is made of it.

‘old castles with an evil look’, even in TH Tolkien can’t quite keep away from history in topography.

‘hoot twice like a barn owl and once like a screech owl.’ Hoot it is, for Bilbo doesn’t know how to hoot like any owl.

The trolls: ‘Yes, I’m afraid trolls so behave like that, even those with only one head each.’ these bits of humour are lovely but there’s a gruesome side to this episode that perhaps needs lightening.

Chapter 3 A Short Rest

‘is that THE Mountain? asked Bilbo’. Sam says exactly the same thing in The Lord of the Rings.

‘tired as he was, Bilbo would have liked to stay a while. Elvish singing is not a thing to miss in June under the stars, NOT IF YOU CARE FOR SUCH THINGS.’ for once a rare hobbit likes elvish singing better than food and he was very hungry.

‘the master of the house…’ The mythology creeping in as Elrond is described. And again with explanations of the swords from the troll hoard.