Monday, January 31, 2011

Foreshadowing and Compare/Contrast in FoR

Tolkien uses foreshadowing of the impact of the quest on all the people groups of Middle Earth in the first several chapters of Fellowship. Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, and Men are all mentioned early on: dwarves help Bilbo with party preparations, Gildor (an elf) encounters Frodo and his companions (hobbits) in the woods of the shire, and the "Big Folk" are mentioned throughout. The inclusion of these people groups signifies the far reaching power of the Ring and that no corner of Middle Earth will go unscathed.

Tolkien compares and contrasts Bilbo's original journey with the quest Frodo begins. Frodo begins his journey by taking the same route from home that Bilbo travelled and heading toward Rivendell. This is Frodo's "maiden voyage" just as Bilbo's adventure was his first expedition out of the Shire. However, the tone of Frodo's travels is more sinister than Bilbo's somewhat comical start out from Bag End. Frodo sets out to destroy, Bilbo worked to regain and conquer. Bilbo flees his hobbit hole because of a stubborn wizard, whereas Frodo gets out from under his hill just in time to avoid one of Sauron's most feared servants. The overall theme of the first installment of the Lord of the Rings is much darker and more mature than The Hobbit's fanciful and fun adventures.

Hungry?

While analyzing The Hobbit for elements of the natural and supernatural, I stumbled upon and questioned Tolkien's consistent use of hunger among the different races and species. In our discussion group, we came to the conclusion that Tolkien uses the device to tie the numerous "unnatural beings" (i.e. hobbits, dwarves, trolls, gigantic spiders, dragons, etc.) a little closer to reality. It also unknowingly checks the reader's imagination, bringing a heavier emphasis on the plights of Bilbo and the dwarves. Very crafty Tolkien! "To be real is to feel hungry."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bilbo's Luck

In The Hobbit, Bilbo enjoys an incredible streak of luck. Is it possible that Bilbo's "luck" (which kept him on the right path) was something much more? If so, what was it that kept him on the right path?

Wealth in The Hobbit

What is the literary purpose of gold, treasure or wealth in The Hobbit? How does this text, or other texts by Tolkien, view the possession of wealth? Give examples from the text to support your readings.

Write Your Own Riddle!

Now, it's your turn to create your own riddle in the style of Bilbo and Gollum's Riddle Game! Maeglin posted a few riddles from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts that may help give you some ideas about how to go about this at the link below:
Anglo-Saxon Riddles

So, write a riddle at least four lines long about an object common in the world today, but do not give us the answer. Please try to write and post your riddle here as soon as possible. Then, see if you can solve the riddles written by the other class members. Good luck!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Going Home

This was something that we touched on in Thursday's class that I could really relate to. Bilbo always had the desire to have a great adventure and experience the world, but a part of him couldn't wait to get back home. Once he was back, he was very relieved but it was a big change because he himself had changed so much. He seemed quite content with this, however.
Whenever I go home, a part of me is saddened by the fact that it will never be the same again, partly because I will never be the same either. And when I venture out into the world, like Bilbo, I have an amazing time, but I always have that burning desire to be in my home, where everything is familiar and easy.

Natural vs Supernatural

I know this is a little delayed but I wanted to expand on what we discussed in class on Tuesday.

I think one reason Tolkien's work is so fascinating is that the majority of the things he bases his stories off of are natural. Most of the things in Middle Earth are things we have heard of before. The setting is composed of basic landscapes: mountains, forests, and plains. However, it's the creatures in Middle Earth that are supernatural. Apart from adding a few different races to the stories, most of the creatures are just supernatural versions of animals we already know about. Eagles are huge and regal, spiders are also huge and vicious, and even though we haven't gotten there yet--Ents are talking trees. Even though Tolkien alters the size or abilities of these things, we know the general behaviors of these creatures because we have certain ideas and connotations that we relate to each of them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Goblins

I just had a question for everyone. What exactly are the goblins? Are they the same as orcs in the Lord of the Rings? Maybe this is something we'll discuss later, but I've never been able to figure this out.

Music in The Hobbit contd...

In our discussion group, one of the major themes we discussed was the variety of tones with which Tolkien portrays the different races through their music and poetry. It is particularly interesting that the music represents the races and their actions or outlooks on the world.We noticed that the Dwarves, with the exception of the "Dishes Song" in Bag End, usually sing of things that have been lost. Their tone is forlorn, yet with a sense of eventual redemption. The Elves of Rivendell are exceptionally merry in their songs, and perhaps this is simply Tolkien reaching out to the sensibilities of a younger reading group. Later in the Trilogy, the Elves seem much more serious and reserved. One explanation of this change is the darkening of the times in Middle Earth. In the Fellowship, there is darkness rising in the East which could have impacted the thoughts and moods of the Elves. Both of these Races contradict the music of some of the "evil" races we encounter in The Hobbit. The Goblin songs deal with violence, often crushing and smashing from which they seem to derive much pleasure. This is also evident in the Wargs, although the companions, save Gandalf, cannot understand their exact words.

Finder's keepers?

One thing I have noticed is Bilbo's tendency to stumble upon things that aren't his and take them for himself. While lost in the goblin caves, he stumbles upon the Ring in the dark and puts it in his pocket "almost without thinking," (The Hobbit, Ch. V). It is almost impossible to see this as an accident, but rather as fate/destiny because the caves are miles long, pitch black, and The Ring is very small. Later, in the depths of the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone. He takes this as well when his arm "went towards it drawn by its enchantment," (The Hobbit, Ch. XIII). Admittedly, being drawn towards and taking a bright gem that he knows rightfully belongs to someone else is rather different from picking up an insignificant trinket off the floor. However, both instances have much greater repercussions in the future. Bilbo also has a difficult time giving up both items. The Arkenstone he gives in an effort to stop a war; the Ring he gives up only at Gandalf's urging. I see Bilbo's encounter with the Arkenstone as a foil for the more important relationship he has with the Ring. I think Tolkien used both instances to emphasize the importance of fate (stumbling upon both items because Bilbo was meant to) and free choice (freely giving up both powerful objects for different reasons and to different ends).

Was Thorin Right?

At the end of The Hobbit, was Thorin correct or right to refuse to deal with Bard and the Elvenking when they came to the Lonely Mountain to parley with the Dwarves about the treasure?

As most of us seemed, in class, to believe that Thorin was absolutely wrong in his behavior and his logic, I'm going to argue for him!

It's a problematic assertion that Thorin is in any way obligated to give the Men (or Elves) part of his treasure. It is, after all, his. I like to draw the analogy that if your was infested by a bear, and your neighbor helped you to get rid of the bear, do you then "owe" your neighbor part of your house? After all, without him, you wouldn't have the house at all. But it is of course stillyour house.

So Thorin may be more right from a legalistic point of view in not "owing" the Men any treasure.

But is it right morally?

Probably not. Many people of Laketown died, and the town itself was entirely destroyed, and the Captain Bard did kill the dragon. Certainly the neighborly thing to do would be to send as much aid as he could spare--after all, there is a lot of it.

A few things that may further excuse Thorin's greed are the Elves and the armies. The Elves have a very feeble claim to the gold (other than the Elvenking's love of shiny things) except that they aided the Men of Laketown after the disaster and perhaps, in a roundabout way, are owed some recompense. Thorin must not have been pleased to see them in the first place, which would put him in a foul mood.

Additionally, both the Men and the Elves bring armies even before talking to Thorin, implying that, before negotiations have even begun, they will take the treasure if Thorin does not give it up. (I also personally find it difficult to believe that they require very much monetary aid if they can muster an army.)

Are Thorin's actions, therefore, right? He is certainly morally reprehensible and merciless, but I posit that the Men and the Elves are acting as much out of greed as the Dwarves are, and it is a three-way problem of greed and pride which brings about this conflict.

Discuss!

Merlyn's Freewrite

Gollum could represent how power can corrupt even the kindest of souls. Representative of human nature's greatest flaws. If a person gets in a position of power but does not share the power they become corrupt, somewhat evil, and paranoid of others. Some will get to the point that they trick or isolate themselves from others because the power is all that matters. This is clearly seen in gollum. The ring is power and it becomes so much more important to him that he decides to go live in a cave isolated from other creatures of people. After changing into gollum, he no longer cared for the comforts of a home and regular meals that he did as a hobbit. Although he still cares for basic food, his entire existence centers around the ring, constantly paranoid that someone will take it from him. He is so concerned he does anything to get it back, like he did when he chased Bilbo in the cave.This ambition for power is seen in human leaders such as napoleon throughout human history.

Green Dragon: Music

Something that I wrote on my supernatural list that was not discussed in class was music. In The Hobbit, music had the power to awake the Tookish side in Bilbo: “As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things…a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of the dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains…” Music is present throughout The Hobbit, constantly lifting spirits. This may be a result of the drastic changes in music in the 1920s, which saw the invention of the radio and the rising popularity of jazz. Although this may not apply to this time period, the Music of the Ainur in the Similarion was also supernatural (power to evolve creatures among other powers).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Magical River

On Tuesday in class, we mainly focused on unnatural or supernatural animals or creatures Tolkien created. But one aspect of the natural world - not a beast - that is still supernatural is the enchanted river in Mirkwood. I think one of Tolkien's purposes in creating the magical water was to show that one of the most basic and serene natural elements can still be dangerous - the most harmless of things can inflict great damage. This emphasizes a point Tolkien often makes: the seemingly insignificant things of life can cause surprises. Just as the river surprises Thorin and Co. with its supernatural power, so too Bilbo surprises the dwarves with his unlikely heroism. In both instances the dwarves are forewarned of the possibilities that the river and Bilbo hold, but in both cases they are caught unaware by ensuing events. Therefore in some ways the river parallels Bilbo's character.

I also found the actions of the dwarves and Bilbo interesting after they experienced the magic of the river; instead of logically avoiding all further run-ins with magic after the fiasco crossing the water, the company pursues the magical lights in the forest. This leads me to believe that the true enchantment of the river lies in the dreams the water causes its victims. The river is a starting point for the forest's true magic, and it is Mirkwood's way of luring victims ever deeper into the depths of its wood.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Size Matters

I just wanted to talk about the spiders in Mirkwood more since we didn't say much about them in class. I think it is extremely important to note that those spiders were way bigger than "normal" spiders. They were easily able to capture the dwarves (who may be short but also very stout). Bilbo is very small compared to the spiders. This makes the spiders even scarier to him and a bigger obstacle to overcome. Tolkien purposefully puts Bilbo and the spiders on opposite sides of the scale. This serves to highlight and enlarge Bilbo's bravery in outwitting and killing the spiders. It intensifies the action and emphasizes a recurring theme throughout The Hobbit and The LOTR: even the smallest person can do great things and affect change.

Personification of Animals

One thing that we talked about in class today was how Tolkien brought together both wilderness and civilization. I find it especially interesting to look at the animals and how he personified them and made them civilized in their own way. Like we said in class, each type of animal has its own kind of civilization. I think a main reason Tolkien had the animals talk was to keep the book light and easy to understand for children, as it is a children's book. I also think that giving the animals these human characteristics of talking and having a civilization makes the animals into characters. If they were just average animals who couldn't talk or anything, then they would have only been a problem for the company to overcome or maybe something that helped the company on their journey (like the eagles). However, when given these human characteristics, the animals really become minor characters in the story.

Anglo-Saxon Riddles

As we have discussed (briefly) in class, JRR Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxon scholar, and many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, literature, and history greatly influenced his primary fiction (The Hobbit and LOTR). For example, the Anglo-Saxons had a vibrant riddle culture, which we can see today chronicled in The Exeter Book, a collection of 95 riddles which range in mood and theme from the serious to the light-hearted (and some of them have never been solved!). Can you solve these?

1.
My clothes are silent as I walk the earth
Or stir the waters. Sometimes that which
Makes me beautiful raises me high
Above men's heads, and powerful clouds
Hold me, carry me far and wide.
The loveliness spread on my back rustles
And sings, bright, clear songs,
And loud, whenever I leave lakes
And earth, floating in the air like a spirit.

2.
A worm ate words. I thought that wonderfully
Strange--a miracle--when they told me a crawling
Insect has swallowed noble songs,
A night-time thief had stolen writing
So famous, so weighty. But the bug was foolish
Still, though its belly was full of thought.

3.
I was warrior's weapon, once.
Now striplings have woven silver wires,
And gold, around me. I've been kissed by soldiers,
And I've called a field of laughing comrades
To war and death. I've crossed borders
On galloping steeds, and crossed the shining
Water, riding a ship. I've been filled
To the depth of my heart by girls with slittering
Bracelets, and I've lain along the bare
Cold planks, headless, plucked and worn.
They've hung me high on a wall, bright
With jewels and beautiful, and left me to watch
Their warriors drinking. Mounted troops
Have carried me out and opened my breast
To the swelling wind of some soldier's lips.
My voice has invited princes to feasts
Of wine, and has sung in the night to save
What savage thieves have stolen, driving them
Off into darkness. Ask my name.

4.
Our world is lovely in different ways,
Hung with beauty and works of hands.
I saw a strange machine, made
For motion, slide against the sand,
Shrieking as it went. It walked swiftly
On its only foot, this odd-shaped monster,
Traveled in an open country without
Seeing, without arms, or hands,
With many ribs, and its mouth in its middle.
Its work is useful, and welcome, for it loads
It's belly with food, and brings abundance
To men, to poor and to rich, paying
Its tribute year after year. Solve
This riddle, if you can, and unravel its name.

5.
A creature came through the waves, beautiful
And strange, calling to shore, its voice
Loud and deep; its laugher froze
Men's blood; its sides were like sword-blades. It swam
Contemptuously along, slow and sluggish,
A bitter warrior and a thief, ripping
Ships apart, and plundering. Like a witch
It wove spells--and knew its own nature, shouting:
"My mother is the fairest virgin of a race
Of noble virgins: she is my daughter
Grown great. All men know her, and me,
And know, everywhere on earth, with what joy
We will come to join them, to live on land!"

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Root of Bilbo's Timidness

I agree with Elwing and Aredhel when they stated that Tolkien made Bilbo timid so that the audience could relate to him. However, I also think that Bilbo's environment was a contributing factor of his timidness. Living in the Shire, he would have been in a close-knit community where he was comfortable, and his timidity would be completely acceptable because he would have no need for bravery. However, when he left on his adventure, the shock of seeing new cultures and places would make him have to adapt. This element of adapting to changing environments even though they may be scary could resonate with young audiences, since some children may be wary of change. This may be one reason why Tolkien made Bilbo so timid in the beginning of the book.

Bilbo's Development

As Elwing said, I too believe Tolkien wrote Bilbo's coming into his bravery in order to make the hobbit more relatable to his readers. Bilbo, who is quite childlike in stature, inspires children and adults alike. Even the smallest of creatures can do great things. Like Professor Donovan said, the true meaning of bravery is doing something even when you're afraid. Though Bilbo is scared out of his mind throughout half of his adventures, he still completes difficult tasks and comes up with brilliant plans and saves the dwarves many times. Tolkien's use of hobbits in all of his stories serves as a reminder that there is bravery and the ability to do great things inside all of us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why is Bilbo so timid at the beginning of The Hobbit?

One important point that was raised in class was that Bilbo is portrayed as a timid person at the beginning of The Hobbit so that he would have room to grow throughout the story. I believe that it also makes him more relatable to the audience. The Hobbit was intended to be read by children, and they more closely identify with timidness rather than bravery. Bilbo is rather like a child himself because he doesn't know very much about the wild lands that he travels through on his adventure.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Are You?

All class members have been given pseudonyms of characters from Tolkien's works, but not the more familiar characters. Look up your pseudonym and write a brief description of who that character is and perhaps how he/she relates to other more familiar characters. To do this, you might wish to browse some of the websites on our links page (some are out of date-- but I'm working on cleaning those up!), check Foster's "Guide to Middle-earth," consult family trees from the texts, etc.