Hello, my friends,
This fall I have been re-treading the paths of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. My brother is taking a Socratic discussion course on these works and I leapt at the opportunity to reread them. As I finish each book, I will share with you the thoughts that come to me as I read. These are my raw musings—stuff of the kind I inscribe in my book journal. However, they will have a Socratic/philosophical feel. I have been so steeped in this method of learning that my reflections are more or less naturally deep. Of course, one blog post is hardly enough to contain a comprehensive list of all my thoughts for each book, but I fear it must do. I know many of you have read these books for yourselves. I welcome you to share your own random bookish reflections in the comments.
The other parts in this series can be found via the links below.
We begin with The Hobbit.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”1 Every particle of this first chapter is delightful: from our introduction to Mr. B. Baggins Esquire, through Gandalf’s “Good morning” visit and the midnight council with the dwarves after a very eventful tea. Tolkien’s simple humour is a pleasure: his use of parentheses contributes to the informal, conversational, and almost gossipy style.
Despite the deficiency of general hobbit respect for the illustrious Took-clan (it appears that however discretely the family smothers reports of their adventurous relatives, word leaks out), it seems they are nevertheless held in a sort of awe for being unquestionably wealthier than the Baggins family. I am sure the unity of the two families through the marriage of Belladonna Took to Bungo Baggins was welcomed by the Baggins family: they retained their respect and gained a fortune.
The Rivendell of The Hobbit is the Rivendell that always remains in my mind. The starlight, the hush of the river, the shimmering laughter and the musical voices of the Elves…These are the elements that have endured since my first introduction. After more experience with Tolkien, it seems peculiar that he would apparently lower his Elves to the office of singing nonsensical poetry in treetops. However, as I read further, I notice how undeveloped Middle-earth is at this stage. Tolkien is only beginning to see its potential depth.2
I am fascinated by the word skriking.3 I shall have to write a blog post about it. (Though I suppose this will now not be necessary, as those of you reading this will probably go now to look “skrike” up for yourselves.)4
It is astonishing how much Bilbo must pick up the slack after Gandalf leaves Thorin & Co. on the edge of Mirkwood. He rescues them from spiders and the halls of the Elvenking, and is the one who urges the dwarves to leave Lake-town and continue their quest to the Mountain. Bilbo is the only member of the company who seems to recall the Moon-letters on Thror’s map, not to say the only member who goes to visit Smaug in his lair (Fili and Kili “looked uncomfortable and stood on one leg”5). Bilbo indeed shows great maturity when given responsibility.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”6 Until just a while ago, I remembered this quote as spoken by Elrond. The fact that it is actually spoken by Thorin is a beautiful piece of character work and all the more meaningful when one considers his past behavior.
It is laughable to me to think of Elrond as a possessor of handkerchiefs!7 This is one spot where Tolkien sacrifices the antiquity of the Elves for the English-ness of Hobbits.
2Tolkien does allow for these merry Elves in The Lord of the Rings. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Samwise Gamgee describes the different Elves of Rivendell: “Some like kings, terrible and splendid; and some as merry as children.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 1
3“The yells and yammering, croaking, jibbering and jabbering; howls, growls and curses; shrieking and skriking, that followed were beyond description.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 4
4Update: Read my post “On ‘Skrike’” here.
5Ibid., Chapter 12
6Ibid., Chapter 18
7“[Bilbo] mopped his face with a red silk handkerchief—no! not a single one of his own had survived, he had borrowed this one from Elrond…” Ibid., Chapter 19