As I informed two weeks ago, I’m participating in The Hobbit group read hosted by Writers’ Bloc. I am answering questions from week 2 and 3, most of which pertain to important plot details. (I remember that time, not too long ago, when I said I would post the second and third week’s Hobbit questions by Thursday. Is today Thursday? No, it is not Thursday; it’s Friday.)
You are warned: if you continue reading this post and have NOT read The Hobbit, spoilers will taint your eyes, misery will suck every ounce of joy from you, and bad things will happen.
- 1. If you’ve already read the LoTR (or for that matter seen the film) what do you make of The Hobbit so far as a prequel to that book?
I must say that I have disappointingly little — or nothing, really — to add. The LoTR trilogy continues to sit on my to-read list untouched, and it’s been over five years since I watched any one of the films. (As an expected result, I sadly do not remember much. Well, except for the beginnings of a short-lived Orlando Bloom crush, but no one needs to hear about that.) As far as prequels go, however, I do enjoy reading the adventure that brought Bilbo and the ring together — it’s the main reason I first picked The Hobbit up.
- 2. I haven’t found the writing in The Hobbit overly descriptive, it’s written almost in a way that takes it for granted that the reader will bring a certain element of knowledge to the reading. Have you enjoyed Tolkien’s style of writing? Does it make it easy for you to imagine the world that he’s come up with?
When I consider that high fantasy and I don’t get along too often (mostly due to preference — tone, language, and feeling familiar with a foreign world), I take a pleased stance in respect of Tolkien’s style here. I can’t compare anything found in The Hobbit to LoTR, the latter of which I’ve been told contrasts the first with a heavier tone and more descriptive passages. I do like to see a writer who knows how to paint using words, but I also enjoy this fun, readable quality we’re given that leaves some aspects for readers’ imaginations to build. Still, it goes without saying that Peter Jackson helped create a large majority of what I picture (such as the general forested scenery and elves), and it’s impossible to separate from his vision.
- 3. Well, it’s been far from an easy journey. The stretch through Mirkwood was particularly hazardous – although I’m a bit puzzled about the names – Flies and Spiders. Spiders yes, but flies? Anyway, given the situations that they’ve faced so far, which one would be your worst nightmare?
I venture to guess that the dwarves are symbolic of trapped flies in this chapter. (Does anyone agree?) Bilbo is also a bit of a pesky fly, isn’t he? In the sense that he is such a nuisance to the spiders, and fortunately so! Tolkien probably did not intend Bilbo to represent one of the flies, perhaps, but it was a little thought I had when reading.
My worst fear is indeed the giant spiders. Baby spiders smaller than pencil erasures distress me, so I think it is likely that spotting any arachnid larger than, say, a wolf spider (and I am well aware that gargantuan bugs exist on this planet), I’d die of a fear-induced heart attack. I run around the house with a shoe in one hand and hairspray in the other at the sight of anything creepy and six-legged, which is enough to trouble my sleep. I certainly don’t need to think about giant spiders attacking and eating me.
- 4. In Chapter VIII, “Flies and Spiders”, there is a moment when Bilbo kills his first giant spider, and something in him changes – he seems to make this dramatic and instant transformation from whiny, annoying hobbit to heroic slayer of beasts of burden. Do you think this transformation is too quick or forced, or too unrealistic (as far as realism goes in a forest with giant spiders)?
Bilbo’s sudden burst of heroism reads hastily, and I don’t mean to say that Tolkein’s writing shows shoddy execution. Rather, Bilbo’s thought to save his friends comes about quickly when we compare it to his more hesitant side. It’s a quick transformation, and I think the side of Bilbo that craves adventure is to blame. Bilbo, your Took is showing, but please let it stay. This character development is a wonderful departure from his reluctant self that prefers to whine about wishing to drink tea in a cozy chair at home. The brave and more self-reliant change is a welcome one, which struck me as sudden, yes, but not forced. Reading this chapter was like witnessing Bilbo grow into his potential for me, and I’m quite glad for it.
- 5. On the topic of heroism, it seems a major idea in this book is that anybody can be a hero – Bilbo is a very ordinary person, living and longing for an ordinary life, yet he does have heroic traits in him which appear when they are finally needed. Do you agree with this idea? Can anybody be a hero? Could you rise up if you were put into this situation, or is there even a way of knowing without putting yourself into such a situation?
Interesting question, and — though slightly off-base — it reminds me of a discussion I had in a sociology class some years ago. We had just covered Milgram’s experiment and were considering how many of us would speak against authority to oppose injustice (despite possible risk of negative consequence). By consensus, we agreed that most of us like to believe that we, as individuals, would righteously stand up. Whether we would rise to the occasion if an event did indeed call for “heroism” remained unanswerable. In a similar sense, I think the potential to carry out noble acts lives in everyone, so: yes, I think anyone can prove him or herself a hero. It’s a matter of pulling through fear, resisting temptation, broadening horizons, or whatever prevents someone from committing a good deed.
- 6. For me personally, I have found chapters VII to XII much more interesting than the first part of the book. Have you found them more interesting, and if so, why exactly do you think so?
The second bit does clutch my interest more than part one, largely because excitement highlights the adventure as the journey becomes eventful. This increase in action feels like a result of Gandalf’s absence, because the danger would strike me as less dangerous were Gandalf present. I also think Bilbo and the dwarves would find themselves on a less risky path through Mirkwood had the wizard accompanied them, which of course would dampen most of the new-found peril. To watch Bilbo change into a braver hobbit is another element of these chapters I enjoy looking out for and find exciting. What mad, respectable thing will Bilbo do next? I wonder.
The Wicked Queen’s Mirror’s Questions
- 1) Throughout the book there are many examples of greed (for both food and treasure). Why do you think Bilbo takes and hides the Arkenstone when he is later happy to ransom it for peace? Is it simple greed? Forethought? Or a convenient plot device?
I feel conflicted over this, as in: I’m unsure why he secretly snatches the Arkenstone only to willingly give it up. In the moment Bilbo takes it, Tolkien focuses on the Arkenstone’s beauty and writes:
Suddenly Bilbo’s arm went towards it drawn by its enchantment. His small hand would not close about it, for it was a large and heavy gem; but he lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket.
“Now I am a burglar indeed!” thought he.
To keep the gem a secret from his dwarf companions feels out of character for Bilbo. He didn’t join the dwarves’ adventure for promised wealth, and he does a great deal of complaining about how he wishes to be back in the comfort of his home. I wondered how Tolkien would play this situation, because the idea of Bilbo displaying a treacherous side seems unlikely (especially given Tolkien’s theme of growth and heroism). I think the narration fails to fully elaborate on Bilbo’s reasons, but it’s possible the Arkenstone’s enchantment overtook him with transient greed. From that, I suppose Bilbo might realize the Arkenstone’s power. (Or, more specifically, the Arkenstone’s power over Thorin.) Now that Smaug has been dealt with, Bilbo strongly prefers his comfy home over a mountain; the gem is therefore handed to Bard. This is my speculation, at least.
- 2) Much has been written of Tolkien’s experiences in World War One and how the Lord of the Rings shows both the romantic, heroic aspects of war (Aragorn’s journey) but also the stark realities (Frodo’s journey). What did you think about the way the Battle of Five Armies was described? Did you feel these two aspects of war were represented?
Yes, I spot both the heroic and grim sides of battle and war in The Hobbit. In the chaos of a battle beginning and unfolding, we see men, dwarves, elves, and other creatures alike putting their conflict aside to join against a common enemy (the goblins). With the Battle of Five Armies’ end comes casualties and fallen comrades, and despite victory, Tolkien says “it gave [Bilbo] more sorrow than joy.”
- 3) What did you think about the role of the goblins in the Battle of Five Armies? Was it easy for you to accept their appearance and that the threat they posed would automatically unite the men and elves with the dwarves? Or did you find it too simplistic?
To speak honestly, I felt — and still do, if only a little — disappointed over Smaug’s early death and the re-introduction of goblins. Beginning in chapter one, it seems like Tolkien was guiding us through this risky path that led to the biggest danger of all: Smaug the Magnificent. I wanted to see in what brilliant manner the dwarves would manage an end to the dragon’s reign! I assumed this was a likely conclusion, of course ending with peace among creatures and Bilbo journeying back to his hobbit-hole. This would be predictable, but again: Smaug!
The Smaug-plot ended too quickly for me, and the Battle of the Five Armies took me a little by surprise. (I sensed battle in the air, but not goblins.) If anything, I think the return of creatures Bilbo previously met — goblins, elves, eagles, and Beorn — is one way to neatly wrap up the journey with a ‘united’ touch. As it stands, I think the course The Hobbit takes take a simplistic approach and I’m left dejected after working myself up for Smaug.
- 4) In ‘The Last Stage’ we are told Bilbo remained very happy to the end of his days. If you had been off on an adventures could you settle back to normal life so easily? Would you be content with only occasional visits to the elves?
Oh, I don’t know. It depends, really. Similar to Bilbo, I prefer to pass most of my time quietly and only ever with occasional “big” excitement. An adventure such as Bilbo’s is likely to deplete me of energy after some time. Excitement will spark in the air, and I’d catch on to the fun and daring vibe that goes with uncertainty, but I think the hobbit and I are more alike than I want to admit. (To note: Bilbo is much more adventurous than I!)