Friday, April 22, 2011

random thoughts on re-reading The Hobbit

It's been years and years since I read The Hobbit. I'd forgotten how cutesy some of the narrative is.
"This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbors' respect, but he gained - well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end."

Of course it is meant to be a children's book, but it's hard not to compare it to the adult style of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm reminded a bit of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which make a narrative whole - but Tom Sawyer is really a kid's book and Huck Finn is not.

According to Wiki, after writing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien re-wrote parts of The Hobbit for later editions to make its story fit better with LOTR. However, quite a few things are still dissonant, but I didn't notice them the first time around:

  • Orcs are mentioned once in The Hobbit, but mostly as a variation of goblin.

  • In the first chapter Gandalf says "It is not like you, Bilbo, to keep friends waiting on a mat and then open the door like a pop-gun!" But I don't think there are any guns in Middle-Earth, since everybody fights with swords (and magic stuff) - why would there be "pop-guns" if there are no regular guns?

  • I had assumed that "oliphant" was just a quaint Middle-Earth way of saying "elephant" but in the second chapter of The Hobbit, Gandalf says "Great elephants... you are not at all yourself this morning!" So what's the deal? When an oliphant is mentioned in the LOTR they describe what sounds like an extra-large elephant, but they could have just said "it's like an elephant, but bigger."

  • Trolls speak in Cockney in The Hobbit, and are named Tom, Bert and William. I don't think anybody but Tom Bombadil and Bill the Pony in the LOTR have such common English names. Sam doesn't really count because his actual name is Samwise, not Samuel.

  • The elves sound pretty gay in The Hobbit. When Bilbo and the dwarves show up on the edge of Rivendell, one of the elves says: "Just look! Bilbo the hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn't it delicious!" And they sing bitchy songs about them:

    O! Where are you going
    With beards all a-wagging?
    No knowing, no knowing
    What brings Mr. Baggins
    And Balin and Dwalin
    down into the valley
    in June
    ha! hah!

    I will check this when I re-read LOTR, but I don't believe Tolkien translates Elven songs there - he just has people paraphrase them, or maybe prints them in Elvish in the text. Which is a good choice, since if this is an example, the Elves aren't actually very good lyrcists. Although maybe it does sound better in Sindarin.

    And really the Elves are no better lyrcists than the goblins - here's a goblin lyric:

    Swish, smack, Whip crack!
    Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!
    Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,
    While Goblins quaff, and Goblins laugh,
    Round and round far underground
    Below, my lad!

  • OK, this is something I found really annoying. Tolkien starts out decribing a perfectly natural, albeit unusually violent thunderstorm, but then:
    When (Bilbo) peeped out in the lighting-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out, and were hurling rocks at one-another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang... they could hear the giants guffawing and shouting all over the mountainside.
    This isn't some literary personification of a thunderstorm - these stone giants are actual entities because Thornin Oakenshield says "we shall be picked up by some giant and kicked sky-high for a football!"

    Putting aside the reference to football, which to my knowledge is unique in all of Tolkien's work (and I guess actually refers to soccer) - who ARE these stone giants? I mean with every other entity in Middle-Earth you know all about them - their names, what they look like, how they talk, where they came from, whether they are on the side of good or evil and the names of all their ancestors. I mean, stone giants might as well be just poetic license because this is all we learn about them: they are big and they throw rocks at each other.

More after I have