Friday, March 13th, 2009
My memory of reading The Hobbit (which happened about 30 years ago) has always been a very positive one, of being into the book in a pre-analytical way and just loving it, and I was always scared to pick it up to reread for fear that quality of the experience would be gone. I am happy to report (a few chapters in) that the quality is not only present but is augmented by seeing the page with a little more experienced (hopefully wiser but certainly more familiar with the world) eye.
Don't miss Tove Jansson's illustrations for a Swedish edition of The Hobbit. (And it just occurs to me, oh yeah! Hobbits and Moomins have certain distinct similarities! Also Hobbits and Hemulens.)
Sunday, March 15th, 2009
How I come to be reading The Hobbit now: Sylvia and I are pretty close to finishing up The Amber Spyglass now; I was casting about for what book to read next and realized that His Dark Materials is reminding me in some key ways of Tolkien's trilogy. That made me think about how much I had loved The Hobbit as a kid -- if memory serves I loved it much more deeply than the trilogy, it seems like I read The Lord of the Rings less whole-heartedly, with an eye mostly toward keeping up with my D&D-enthusiast friends... Anways -- so I asked Sylvia if she would like to read this next, she said she would (unsurprising -- she's really getting into fantasy novels nowadays), and I thought I would look through it beforehand.
And I'm falling in love all over again. I had forgotten how attractively witty and cultured Tolkien's narrative voice is -- it reminds me a lot of Grahame's voice in The Wind in the Willows. I wonder if this is true of the trilogy as well -- I expect it is, and suddenly I'm looking forward to rereading those books, and thinking I might get a lot more out of them than I did back in my childhood.
Saturday, March 28th, 2009
I stayed up late last night reading The Fellowship of the Ring; it is starting to really come together for me. In the first several chapters I was feeling a little annoyed at the pace -- granted this is a three-volume, 1500-page story that is being set up, so it is only reasonable that Tolkien spend some time setting it up... Around Chapter VII ("In the House of Tom Bombadil") is where the story really begins to pick up and feel interesting to me. For one thing I just love the characters Tom and his wife Goldberry -- "characters" might not be the right word here, they are just quick sketches meant to move the story along; but they are lovingly drawn and engaging.
I see a potential criticism of this book, of the early part at least, that Frodo and his friends are just moving along from one deus ex machina to the next. Compare Frodo and company getting lost in the Barrow Downs, with Bilbo and the dwarfs getting lost in Mirkwood. The two sequences are built up similarly: the characters follow illusions into the wilderness and are separated and black out, then the main character awakens and finds his companions hostage. In The Hobbit, Bilbo rescued the dwarfs by calling on an inner reserve of strength which we did not know he had, fighting off the spiders with his dagger; in Fellowship, Frodo rescues his companions by invoking the song of Tom Bombadil -- Tom comes and destroys the barrow-wight without breaking a sweat. This avoids being lame by virtue of Tom being such a fun presence -- I was happy enough to see him back in the story for a bit longer, I didn't bother about the ease with which they busted out. And of course this is taking place much earlier in the story, than the Mirkwood episode in The Hobbit.
Monday, March 30th, 2009
Two things about The Hobbit, which I started reading aloud with Sylvia last night: It is a whole lot of fun to read aloud, with opportunities for doing new voices at every turn; and it seems like it will be kind of fun to be reading in parallel with The Fellowship of the Ring.
I'm just at the point in Fellowship, where the party is leaving Rivendell; in a lot of ways this seems like the real beginning of the story, with the first half of the book having been a prologue. I'm interested in Frodo, Sam, and Strider; none of the other travellers has really got my attention yet. (Besides Gandalf of course; but he distinctly does not strike me as a real character, as a human.) Pippin and Merry both have had moments but they are generally in the background so far.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
So here is the nice thing about being a kid -- you don't have to know that Gandalf is "not human" (as I said in comments below -- he seems to me to be without any kind of flaw that would make him human, reachable); so when Sylvia heard him talking with Thorin at the end of Chapter 2, saying that he had been warned about the trolls by elves he met on the road and had come back to make sure the dwarves were not in any danger, the first thing she thought was, "I bet he's just saying that, trying to take all the credit." Now internally I think, well, that doesn't make sense -- Gandalf's character is not that of a seeker after undeserved credit, plus what he's saying matches up with the plot of the rest of the book -- but I love Sylvia for giving me a different window on Gandalf's character, reminding me that I should be suspicious of his motives as much as those of anyone else in the book.
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
In tonight's reading (Bilbo and company are captured by, escape from, and are recaptured by the goblins who live under the Misty Mountains), Sylvia happened on the question of how tall are Hobbits -- I know Tolkien lays out somewhere in this book their approximate dimensions, but I've forgotten what they are now -- my rule of thumb has been thinking that dwarves are about Sylvia's height, hobbits about a foot shorter. Sylvia hazarded some guesses and I told her what I thought.
Toward the end of the reading, as we were hearing about how Bilbo was better off making his way through the goblins' cave than someone like you or I would be, because hobbits are used to tunneling, when Sylvia asserted that hobbits should look like rabbits. --"But I think they are shaped more like people, just shorter." --"But it's ugly if they look like people. I think they look like rabbits." Hm, well, interesting... and shows that she hasn't got exposed to the cartoon image of Bilbo that is fixed in my head. So we finished the reading, and as I was saying goodnight I asked her what about dwarves, do they look like people or like rabbits? -- And got in response a long, elaborate description of a cartoon dwarf à la Snow White. I'm finding this kind of funny -- a word gets fixed in our heads with the cartoon we watch describing it.
Update: This is kind of funny -- the eagle that carries Bilbo from the ærie to the Carrock, also says he thinks the hobbit looks like a rabbit.
"Don't pinch!" said his eagle, "You need not be frightened like a rabbit, even if you rather look like one. It is a fair morning with little wind. What is finer than flying?"
Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
I am having a lot of fun with listening to Sylvia coming up with ways that Bilbo and the dwarves could get out of their scrapes -- if they tell Smaug there are fifteen gallons of gold in Hobbiton, then he will fly there and they will be able to get his treasure away (and the hobbits of the Shire will be safe because Smaug "can't smell hobbits"); or Bilbo could loan the ring to Thorin and Thorin would creep down into Smaug's lair and say something that caused the dragon to freak out and run around in circles, until he bumped his head and was out of commission... She's particularly interested in the ring, coming up with ways it could be used to make the entire party invisible. If it's big enough, two of them could put their pinkies together and squeeze it on. (I have myself been wondering how the ring comes to be the right size for Bilbo's halfling fingers.) Bilbo could go to each of their cells in the elf-king's dungeon as the door was being opened to give them food, and toss them the ring, and they could slip out in a flash.
She asked a question tonight that plagues me every time Bilbo or Frodo puts on the ring: do the objects he is holding also turn invisible? I don't see any very consistent approach to this question in the texts -- obviously the ring-wearer's clothing becomes invisible, and any paraphernalia in his pocketses; but at one point there was a reference to Frodo swordfighting while wearing the ring, and the sword was said to be visible*. I am not sure what the rule is, or if it's just a matter of the needs of the story-teller at each particular juncture.
* (And if I'm remembering right, the sword became invisible once more when he slipped it into its sheath -- how does this make sense?)
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
In foramine terræ habitabat hobbitus.Middle Earth Network News reports that Mark Walker's Latin translation of The Hobbit will be available this fall.
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