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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:21 am 
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Okay, I think it is time to start discussing the text of LOTR itself. If anyone has anything further to add about the Prologue, Foreword or any of the other front materials, feel free to post it in the other thread. I'm going to keep the "current" thread stickied so that it is clear what the chapter is that is being discussed, but previous chapters should be available for comment as well.

As promised, I'm not going to do a full summary at the beginning of each chapter. I think there is more than enough collective knowledge about LOTR here that one needs to be said will get said, albeit most likely in a slow, winding course. I do think that will allow the discussion to go to surprising places.

Many people have commented on the light tone that starts the story, following from The Hobbit. But there is one place in particular where the tone becomes less light, and that is perhaps the most important portion of the chapter. I am speaking, of course, of the scene where Bilbo almost fails to give up the ring. The scene opens with Gandalf's fairly light-hearted question to Bilbo as to whether he planned to leave behind with Frodo, along with most of his other stuff. Up to this point, the only indication that we have gotten that there is anything negative associated with the ring is the mention in the Prologue that Bilbo had originally told a different story, and that Gandalf's efforts to get the real story strained their friendship for a while. But it becomes pretty clear in this sequence that something sinister is at work, particularly to readers of The Hobbit who are all the more familiar with Bilbo's normally mild-mannered character. It is a beautifully written passage, not overstated, but subtly escalating to a breaking point. I love the way Tolkien has Bilbo use the very lightheartedness of the earlier part of the chapter to justify is overcoming the temptation of the ring:

'After all that's what this party business was all about, really: to give away lots of birthday-presents, and somehow make it easier to give it away at the same time. It hasn't made it any easier in the end, but it would be a pity to waste all my preparation. it would quite spoil the joke.'

The power of the ring is also foreshadowed for the attentive reader by Gandalf's refusal to allow Bilbo to give it to him, even to deliver it to Frodo, making him leave it on the mantelpiece. Bilbo himself has one last "spasm of anger" when the envelope with the ring in it drops to the floor and Gandalf quickly sets it in its place, but when that passes, the relief is palpable, turning to almost giddy sense of freedom from bondage, culminating in the beautiful song "The Road goes ever on", perhaps the best verse Tolkien ever wrote.

There is so much more to be said about this chapter, but there is also so many of you to say it, and plenty of time in which to do so. I await your comments with joyful anticipation.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Tue Jul 01, 2008 9:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:12 am 
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There will be a prize for the first person who actually says something about this chapter.

Of course, the prize probably will be a smile and thank you, but it's the thought that counts.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:40 am 
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I have been pondering my response.

Part of it will be to expand on this;
Quote:
Many people have commented on the light tone that starts the story, following from The Hobbit. But there is one place in particular where the tone becomes less light, and that is perhaps the most important portion of the chapter.


I am going to slightly disagree with the light tone thing, and hope to show (if I can actually put my thoughts into words) how Tolkien cleverly made the transition from the lighter Hobbit to the darker LOTR.

I'll be back.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2008 4:29 am 
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:) Thank you.

I look forward to it!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 3:51 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
But there is one place in particular where the tone becomes less light, and that is perhaps the most important portion of the chapter. I am speaking, of course, of the scene where Bilbo almost fails to give up the ring.

Not the part where we learn that Frodo's parents died by drowning, and that hobbits are perfectly willing to entertain the notion that it was murder?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 5:26 am 
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Yeah!

Seriously!

:x

—Primula Baggins

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 6:21 am 
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N.E. Brigand wrote:
Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
But there is one place in particular where the tone becomes less light, and that is perhaps the most important portion of the chapter. I am speaking, of course, of the scene where Bilbo almost fails to give up the ring.

Not the part where we learn that Frodo's parents died by drowning, and that hobbits are perfectly willing to entertain the notion that it was murder?


N.E.B, that is such a great scene. I've been waiting patiently for someone to bring it up. I'll be back to discuss it further.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 2:55 pm 
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The thing that shows up for me right away in the first chapter is the careful balance JRRT makes between the pettiness and the civility of hobbit society. The Hobbit is really about one hobbit, until the very end when Bilbo returns. FOTR starts off with (and this is AFTER Concerning Hobbits) a pretty good series of character sketches and dialog that throws Bilbo's oddity (in his context) into high relief. Obviously there are echoes of Sarehole (and Oxford) in the depictions of various lower- and middle-class hobbitry, but there's also a deliberate choice, to let the attention of the reader linger in the Shire for some time. In The Hobbit, we are catapulted from Bag End to the Trollshaws. Here, we're in for a slower ride, at least at first.

Why?

I think it's about establishing the frame, first and foremost. Yes, JRRT wanted this to be a hobbit-centric story, but the protagonists could have still been introduced and then gotten out of town by the beginning of the second chapter, and under the direction of most authors, would have. I think JRRT was interested, though, in establishing the "ground rules" for the story in a way he didn't in TH. The Shire is thus presented at length and in detail, becoming the de facto definition of "normalcy" for the duration of the tale. The characters of high romance and legend are out of sight, save Gandalf, and JRRT takes pains to place him in a very hobbit-centric light, as an entertaining but not entirely trustworthy wanderer in a land where wandering is frowned upon at best.

Going back to Northrup Frye (as I am wont to do), JRRT establishes in his fantastic world a low mimetic--in some ways almost but not quite ironic--locale. We have to identify closely with the hobbits from the start for us to feel their sense of wonder later. That's because if we don't see the story from Frodo and Sam's eyes, it doesn't work. And that's probably why there's a class of readers who never "get" LOTR. They can't take that step, no matter how easy JRRT tries to make it: for whatever reason, they can't get past the vision of a land full of chubby, fat garden gnomes on pipeweed. For them the hobbit heroes are indistinguishable from any other fantastic feature of the landscape, and thus the tale has no center for them.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 3:20 pm 
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I am sure that some of the more dismissive remarks about LotR come from people who looked into the first chapter or two and never tried to go further. Or perhaps found they loved the Shire chapters and could not follow the story into darker places. I remember, during the film discussions, the vehement reaction to Roger Ebert's "meh" review of FotR, which centered around the fact that the film did not capture Tolkien's "gentle whimsy." One might have that impression if the Shire was all one really remembered from the story.

As for the hobbits' acceptance of the possibility of murder, that has never struck me as more than a symptom of fondness for a really good lurid story, which seems normal enough to me even within the context of the time and the class Tolkien was portraying. But I look forward to hearing more about it.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 6:06 pm 
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The scene in the Ivy Bush (which was the actual name of an inn or pub) displays how insightful Tolkien is about human behavior. A good example is the general agreeement between Old Noakes, Daddy Twofoot, and the Gaffer about how "queer" the people of Buckland are. As Scull and Hammond say, "Suspicion of the 'other', to use a term from anthropology, is as common among hobbits as among humanity." They then go on to give a number of other examples of this, including Farmer Maggot's comments about the queer folk they get walking around, and how Frodo shouldn't have gone mixing with the queer folk about in Hobbiton, the disdain the Shire-hobbits had for the Hobbits of Bree and other "Outsiders", and Frodo's comment to Gandalf that he thought that the Big People were all either kind and stupid like Butterbur, or stupid and wicked, like Bill Ferny.

When I get enough time, I'm going to try to talk a bit about the history of the writing of this chapter, because I think it is important. I believe that no part of the whole book was rewritten more times, and it really is crucial to the evolution of the story. But meanwhile, I sure hope that someone is willing to talk about the party itself, and particularly Bilbo's speech!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 8:55 pm 
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I'm not quite finished re-reading the chapter, but when I have finished, I fully intend to comment at length (about some of the points you raised earlier).

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2008 9:06 pm 
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And anything else that you think about, too, I hope!

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 12:49 am 
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I do think it's important that JRRT set up the Shire as a very insular place, whose inhabitants feared and disdained the outside world. The hobbits were forced by circumstance (and courageous choice) from that small-minded place into the wild, which they found to be far more fearful than the worst tales whispered in the dark. But they also found greatness and wonder and beauty. The Shire-folk's fear was justified, but not their belittling of the outside.

And yet, the result was that Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin grew to value the Shire more than ever. Not for its safety -- since danger followed them even there -- but for its very ordinariness. It was home.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2008 12:59 am 
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Quote:
but for its very ordinariness


This is a central point. Among the many other things it is, LOTR is an apology for a way of life that is based on insularity but not necessarily identical with it, one which JRRT no doubt cherished when contrasted with his experience in WW I.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:14 pm 
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Since no one else has picked up on my invitation to talk about the Speech, I will say a few words about it, in the context of the history of the writing of the chapter. The Speech existed from the very first version of this chapter (when Bilbo was celebrating his seventieth birthday, and Frodo did not yet exist, even in his earlier incarnation as Bingo). Many of the elements of the final version existed from the beginning. Bilbo welcomes most of the same Hobbit families by name, and even has 'Proudfoots' corrected to 'Proudfeet' by "an elderly hobbit from the back'. The musical crackers from Dale were already present, and some of the Tooks already prick up their ears when he says that he has called them together. The semi-flattering semi-insulting statement at this point is only "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and less than half of you half as well as you deserve" (rather thank "like"), and of course it is only his birthday that is being celebrated, not his and his heirs. He already says that he is making an Announcement, but the big difference is that before he disappears by putting on the Ring after saying that he is going away, he makes the shocking statement that he is "going to get married". That was how Tolkien was going to get around the problem of ending of The Hobbit: by having the new story be about one of Bilbo's as yet unnamed descendants (in fact, he doesn't even have a prospective bride; he was just hiding the fact that he didn't have any money left.

:help:

In the next version, it is brought much closer to the final form. Gandalf is now present, an sets off his fireworks and there are 144 guests. The language is much closer to the final form (although he still doesn't "know" half of them half as well as he should, rather than "like", and the young hobbits dance the "flip-flop" not the Springlering). But it is still only Bilbo's birthday (now his seventy-first), with no young hobbit involved. And he no longer says that he is getting married, although some of the others speculate about it. However, a change was made to this version so that the person speaking refers to "Our birthdays: mine and my honourable and gallant father's" and says that he is 72 and his father twice that age. As Christopher says, "why should Bilbo thus refer to old Bungo Baggins" this way? ... The explanation is in fact simple: it was not Bilbo who was speaking, but his son, Bingo Baggins, who enters in the third version of "A Long-expected Party".

In this third version, Bingo says "like" instead "know" and there is no more nonsense about getting married (since the story is of course to be about him), though of course the implication is that that Bilbo got married and had at least one child. Then in the fourth version, the party is still Bingo's, but he is now "Bolger-Baggins" and Bilbo is his uncle and guardian, not his father. Thus Bilbo's ill-conceived marriage is finally disappeared forever. However, the party continues to be Bingo's instead of Bilbo's for much of the drafting of what became book one, all the way to the arrival of the Hobbits (including the wooden-shoed Trotter) to Rivendell. It was only then that Tolkien "realized" that it was "really" Bilbo who had the party, and that the real purpose of the party was to pass the Ring on to Bingo/Frodo.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:30 pm 
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It's odd, but sometimes the more I learn about earlier versions of LotR, the happier I am that Tolkien kept trying until he settled on what we all know. Bingo Baggins. . . . I confess that "Frodo" sounds much more serious and appropriate to what is, in the end, a tragic hero.

The sequence you lay out is interesting, given the problem Tolkien had: the fact that this new story was not going to be about the hero of The Hobbit, indeed was going to push him entirely offstage for almost all of the book. I think the answer Tolkien arrived at was utterly necessary: Bilbo has to be there, to bridge the two stories, to pass on the Ring, to make clear Frodo's "right" to be the new hobbit protagonist. But Frodo also has to be there, from the start.

The insult/compliment/joke is one of my favorite bits from the whole book. "There was some scattered clapping, but most of them were trying to work it out and see if it came to a compliment." :rofl:

(Though I've always thought the tags on the presents are even funnier.)

And yet, you know, as jolly as all this is, there's still an edge to it. Bilbo is shaking off the dust from his feet. He's leaving these people. There is a definite note of sarcasm, of "payback time." Bilbo is not a happy fuzzy bunny butterfly jolly hobbit; he's not a fairy tale character. That prepares us for the fact that this is not a fairy tale.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:49 pm 
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Quote:
Bilbo is not a happy fuzzy bunny butterfly jolly hobbit; he's not a fairy tale character. That prepares us for the fact that this is not a fairy tale.


Actually, I think he IS a fairy tale character, not in the lessened sense currently in vogue, but in the classic sense of the Marchen and fairy stories of England. And that is what makes him ultimately a bad fit for the Shire, which is not a true fairy-tale land. Were it not for Frodo, he probably would have blown that pipeweed stand long ago. He really does have wanderlust, in the old fairy-tale tradition.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2008 4:53 pm 
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Voronwë has summarized the changes in Bilbo's party speech, including the variations in the insult/compliment joke. Like Prim, I have always really liked the joke and always enjoy reading it. It is interesting that the basis of the joke, as well as the rest of the speech, was there in the first couple pages of the very first version of this first chapter and the final published version of the speech isn't that much different from Tolkien's original attempt. On the other hand, the final overall LOTR is very much different (and much better than) JRRT's beginnings to the story.

As Tolkien famously said in the Foreward "This tale grew in the telling" but until I read the LOTR volumes of HoME about 5 or 6 years ago, I had no idea how much the story grew and changed. Tolkien started LOTR because the publisher and the public wanted more hobbit stories. In reading HoME it becomes clear that JRRT at first had very little idea of what to write about or what direction to proceed. He didn't know at all where the story was going or even who the main character(s) would be. Before too long a Black Rider showed up (and JRRT had to decide who and what he was) and it was not too much later that the real significance of the Ring more or less emerged. But even with this there was a tremendous amount of changes in characters and their names and of the details of the story. I don't believe Sam entered the story until after Tolkien had written as far as Bingo/Frodo's arrival at Rivendell. And it was a long time before the true identity and significance of Trotter/Aragorn was determined (I may be getting ahead of things here).

My main point is that one could have scarcely imagined how great LOTR would turn out to be if one had only read The Hobbit and the first few attempts at the beginning of the "hobbit sequel" . Like Prim, I'm deeply grateful that Tolkien kept working and changing and revising and going back and rewriting over and over for years and years until the final wonderful book emerged.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2008 5:21 pm 
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The tale not only grew longer and more complex, it grew deeper roots.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 24, 2008 5:37 pm 
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Voronwë, you seem to have very strong feelings on Bilbo's "ill-conceived marriage". Why do you feel its so important that he remained a bachelor. I see no reason why Bilbo's character would have suffered or been less believable had he been married, widowed or leaving to find love. I'm sure I can come up with many reasons, but they would be based on the fact that we are conditioned to the idea of Bilbo as solitary. Had he remained married or widowed in the final tale, would we be now discussing the "ill-conceived" idea of Bilbo's bachelorhood?

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