Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Hobbit - Back Again!

Well, here we are at the end.
The final few chapters of our readalong are now in sight and like Bilbo, we have been there and back again.

Smaug is dead - the original quest 'to win our harps and gold from him' has been achieved but the journey is not yet over for dear Bilbo and the dwarves.

Gold-fever has infected the dwarves and the elves and men of the Lake are unhappy with the destruction wrought by Smaug's death.

The Hobbit - German cover
Chapter XVI - A Thief in the Night

Oh dear!
Thorin cannot find the Arkenstone, more dwarves are marching towards Lonely Mountain to add their support to Thorin's defensive plans and Bilbo decides to take matters into his own hands.

I'm not sure if we should be proud of Bilbo for what he does (like Gandalf obviously is) or whether we should consider him to be a traitor to his friends or at least a bit sneaky and underhanded. I had forgotten all these extra bits of drama at the end of The Hobbit, so Bilbo's strategy to mediate a peace was a surprise all over again.

This becomes one of Tolkien's 'for the greater good' moments. Bilbo shows us that he is capable of giving up something precious to him for the good of the kingdom - I'm wondering now, as I write this, if maybe Tolkien was already thinking about The Fellowship of the Ring and how he makes Bilbo give up the ring for the greater good?

Gandalf is his usual mysterious self throughout this chapter. Sometimes it feels like he is being too mysterious for his own good though!

The Hobbit - cover design by Tove Jansson
Chapter XVII - The Clouds Burst

It looks like thing are coming to a head between the dwarves and elves and men. Thorin is furious at Bilbo and things look dire until Gandalf steps in to tell them all of the impending arrival of a warlike group of goblins and wargs. Why did he wait so long to tell them? They could have prepared better for battle if they'd had more notice surely!

New alliances and plans are quickly formed and a battle soon wages at the base of the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo wears his special ring throughout the battle and just when it looks like all will end badly for the dwarves, elves and men, the eagles arrive to help.

Bilbo gets knocked out by a large stone.

So began a battle that none expected.
Chapter XVIII - The Return Journey

Bilbo is feared lost or dead after the battle as no one can find him.

When he regains consciousness, takes off his ring and is found by a man sent out to search for the lost hobbit, he learns that the battle was won thanks to the timely arrival of the eagles and Beorn (my hero!)

Sadly we also learn of the death of Thorin, Kili and Fili (oh no!) in the battle.

This is also a chapter of farewells and praise for Bilbo.

*Thorin's funeral - There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

*Saying goodbye to the remaining dwarves - Good bye and good luck, wherever you fare!

*Parting company with the elves at the border of Mirkwood - O Bilbo the Magnificent! And I name you elf-friend and blessed. May your shadow never grow less.

Bilbo, Gandalf and Beorn then head home the long way around Mirkwood Forest along the plains in front of the Grey Mountains.

They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain.
Chapter XIX - The Last Stage

Gandalf and Bilbo arrive in Rivendell again. The story of their adventures are told and we learn about Gandalf's work to rid Mirkwood and the southern lands of the Necromancer.

Bilbo discovers that you never arrive home again at exactly the same place you left.
The Shire has moved on while he was away. Thinking that he was dead, his relatives are in the process of auctioning off his home and household goods. They are surprised and a little put out by his sudden return!

The end of the story (which I assume was adjusted a little when Tolkien started writing LOTR) foreshadows some of the events to come. But we get our eucatastrophe moment (our sudden and favourable resolution of events; our happy ending) even if it's not exactly what Bilbo thought it might have been at the start of this adventure.

Not far from the road they found the gold of the trolls.
Overall thoughts about my reread of The Hobbit

Firstly I have really enjoyed my leisurely reread of The Hobbit. I would normally read it much faster than the 12 days it took me this time round.
I only read a chapter or two in each sitting, then I'd pause to let it sit whilst pouring over the illustrations.

It was lovely to not feel rushed or pressured to write reviews until I was ready to do so. And I have also had half a month to devout to other reading (for work and other Tolkien related stuff as it has turned out).

As far as the story goes though, I found that the Gandalf we meet in The Hobbit is not the stately elder full of gravitas that we meet again in the LOTR. The Elves also seem to lack that serious-minded reverence that we admire so much later on.

The Hobbit was written with a younger audience in mind and it was Tolkien's first published book (therefore he was still processing his ideas about faerie stories in general and the workings of Middle Earth in particular). Gandalf was also a much younger man in The Hobbit. The cares and worries of the LOTR are still years and years away for everyone concerned.

The Hobbit was Bilbo's coming of age story, but the time in between could be seen as Gandalf's coming of age. The knowledge he gains about the Necromancer/Saruman and the Dark Lord, Sauron changes him and ages him.
The Hobbit - Greek cover
The whole thing about luck and choice really struck me with this reread.
Tolkien's religious beliefs (and Gandalf's comments) would suggest that Bilbo's luck was not really luck at all. Everything was actually predestined by some higher being - the all powerful, Eru in this case.
You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit

Which is all good and fine, but where does individual choice and free will come into this? If everything was preordained by Eru, then Bilbo had no choice about joining in the journey, he was destined to find the ring, therefore destined to join the quest from the start.

From my extra-curricular reading I understand that Tolkien himself believed in a god that operated outside of time (although what that actually means or how one would know that in the first place, I cannot say), so perhaps that might explain the confusion I have about what he was implying about destiny and free will during these passages.

The Hobbit - Portuguese cover
I hope you've enjoyed your reading of The Hobbit as much as I have this month. Everything about The Hobbit is much simpler and more straight forward than what is to come in the LOTR. It's a gentle introduction into the life and times of Middle Earth.

I remember feeling quite nostalgic about these earlier Middle Earth days the first time I read LOTR. That same sentimental feeling washed over me this time around as I read the final words in The Hobbit. I didn't want those golden happy peaceful times in The Shire to end. For me, the eucatastrophe was tinged with regret.

However the roads go ever ever on...
...but not for Bilbo. He does indeed remain very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long but his days of road trip adventuring are over for now.

If you missed any of my The Hobbit check in posts, find chapters

Our next journey through Middle Earth concerns hobbits once again, but this time we travel on with Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry.

Are you ready to join us in The Fellowship of the Ring?

Please add the links for your reviews on the #HLOTRreadalong2017 Master Post and don't forget to visit each other's blogs when you get the chance.

2 comments:

  1. "As far as the story goes though, I found that the Gandalf we meet in The Hobbit is not the stately elder full of gravitas that we meet again in the LOTR. The Elves also seem to lack that serious-minded reverence that we admire so much later on."

    I agree that there is quite a change in perspective between the two works.

    One way to look at The Hobbit as compared to The Lord of the Rings is to see the former as written by Bilbo from his point of view and the latter as written by...someone else (no spoilers!). That would help explain the innocent and naive perspective in one, and the more mature perspective in the other.

    In fact, Tolkien himself supports this in "The Quest for Erebor" in Unfinished Tales. In this short remembrance, Gandalf explains exactly how he came to help Thorin in his quest and why he chose Bilbo for their company. It's a fascinating read for that alone, but Gandalf also explains that The Hobbit is written solely from Bilbo's point of view:

    "But you know how things went, at any rate as Bilbo saw them. The story would sound rather different, if I had written it. For one thing he did not realize at all how fatuous the Dwarves thought him, nor how angry they were with me. Thorin was much more indignant and contemptuous than he perceived. He was indeed contemptuous from the beginning, and thought that I planned the whole affair simply so as to make a mock of him. It was only the map and the key that saved the situation."

    I think Tolkien recognized his own change of tone from one book to the other and wrote "The Quest of Erebor" in part to explain it. The silliness of the elves and the light-heartedness of Gandalf can be attributed to Bilbo's naive outlook on life.

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    Replies
    1. That also matches how Frodo initially views Gandalf in the beginning of LOTR - a master of firework displays and mysterious appearances!

      It's only as their journey progresses that he begins to appreciate all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Bilbo on the other hand, acknowledges Gandalf's extra-curricular activities, but doesn't care to look more deeply into any of it.

      I guess it's possible to have multiple reasons at play to explain the differences between the books - Tolkien's first book, child audience, Bilbo narrator, more peaceful times etc.
      A childish, naive narrator can still reveal a lot via their ignorance (think Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird). Bilbo alludes to Gandalf's more serious purpose without realising he is doing so. We, the reader, also only 'see' it during a reread thanks to our foreknowledge of what's to come in LOTR.

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