Tag Archives: The Hobbit

The Hobbit Read-a-long Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders

My first contribution to The Hobbit Read-a-long!

Ah, Mirkwood.  Stop for a moment to bask in the deep shadows and fill your lungs with that heavy, still air.

Mmmm. It has been too long. There are some places I reach through books to which I return again and again out of sheer love and awe. Mirkwood is one of my favorites. I wonder how many of you who read this, if any, feel the same.

Even in this book, brimming with some of the best fairy-tale elements, this chapter stands out.  We have:

  • Dark enchanted forest
  • Instructions not to stray from the path
  • Water that puts one into an enchanted sleep
  • Enchanted dreams
  • Fey lights in the darkness, luring travelers off the safe path
  • Elven hunt and white deer
  • Eerie voices and laughter echoing in the woods
  • Vanishing faerie banquets
  • Giant spiders

The makings of a fantastic folktale! And it is fantastic!

Tolkien conjures a very ominous place for us, but unlike the realm of Mordor it is not ominous and barren. Mirkwood is filled with life as much as with darkness. It is a beautiful, mysterious, cursed thing, enduring under great oppression. We have a glimmer of green among the shadows, ivy-grown trees, black squirrels in the canopy, a dark hart, a brilliant white hind and fawns, giant oaks, hanging cobwebs, velvety-black butterflies and “endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall.”

There are so many wonderful images. This is one of my favorites:

Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.

Bilbo and Thorin & Co. do not share my enthusiasm, but then I was never forced to travel through the forest, nor have I gotten lost, been attacked by spiders or been imprisoned by elves in it, so I sympathize. Still, I am puzzled by the effects it has on the dwarves.  That they dislike dense forests makes sense, and as they fill their homes with light I assume they are not creatures of darkness. But the fact remains that they live mostly deep underground. Tolkien even mentions this, but passes by it, simply saying that they felt oppressed.

Being of claustrophilic tastes, this stretches my imagination a bit. I can only consider their reaction to Mirkwood stemming from the corruption under which it suffers. No other explanation satisfies me.

The elves in this chapter are more fey-like than in any other. While they irritate me later, I love the ethereal, magical and elusive side they show us here. The whole feel of this section is mysterious and magical.

Apart from my obsession with the setting, I love this chapter for what happens to our hero. This is where Bilbo truly discovers that deeply buried, slow-to-rise courage and daring that Gandalf was so confident he possessed. After this he is never quite the same either in his eyes, or the eyes of his companions.

Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, confronted with a terrifying death, kills a giant spider. Shortly thereafter he rescues 12 of his companions from an entire nest of the same. He kills at least ten spiders, doubtless more. How is that for our little hobbit who, at the words “may never return”, had a fear-induced fit at the beginning of the book!

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

Bilbo’s experience reminds me of another hobbit who, all alone, in a place even more grim, faces the ancestor of the Mirkwood spiders with the same “sword” and a shining light. Sting, indeed.

Some other thoughts:

Humor continues merrily along in this chapter against all odds, rather like Bilbo (though I wouldn’t call the hungry hobbit “merry”).

Bilbo’s vocabulary seems to be rubbing off on the dwarves. “Confusticate”!

Also, when I first read this chapter I learned several new words for spiders and discovered where “cobweb” comes from.  Who knew?

In this, his first venture into his own Middle-earth, Tolkien calls what will become Valinor, Faerie. I love this!


Contrariwise

Let me get my least-justifiable reason for loving the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien out of the way first.

Like many people, I have a contrary streak. Often, when a storyteller (author, film-maker, etc.) tells me what to think, my mule ears lay back and my heels dig in.

That said, I know that being contrary for the sake of being contrary is as thoughtless as being blindly led. I do not consistently root for the villains in a tale, I do not accept atrocities whilst jeering at characters who make the hard, noble choices. It’s not easy to express what, exactly, I do, so I will give examples. Don’t worry, I will get back to Tolkien in a moment.

The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling:   I root for Slytherin. I don’t root for them because I like them, but because they are systematically demonized by most of the other characters in the books and largely unredeemed by their author. I don’t desire them to get their way, either.  I want, instead, to see the redemptive qualities I stubbornly believe exist. I cannot accept that they are simply a “bad House.”

James Cameron’s Avatar:  “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure” (Aliens, 1986).  …well, not really, but I flatly refuse to like or sympathize with the Na’vi because of the two-dimensional characterization of their antagonists and the patronizing way the film tells me exactly what to think. I would like to corner Cameron and scream at him for several hours for trying to bludgeon me into submission with plot.

Most of Western Mythology: Dragons. Why are dragons always manifestations or symbols of evil? I was so upset by this as a child that my imaginary friend was a dragon.

Obviously this is all highly subjective and has little, if any, basis in logic or reason.

Back to Tolkien. From the above, I ought to be talking about Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and their ilk from Tolkien’s mythologies. I do have some similar feelings about them, but that is a rabbit-trail. As far as Tolkien is concerned, I find myself rooting for the protagonists. With few exceptions, Tolkien does a good job of making his characters and his peoples complicated and convincing. He soothes my contrary spirit by giving me what I want: room to make up my own mind.

What first stirred my instincts in defensive favor of the Dwarves was Tolkien’s attitude toward them in The Hobbit.

The Hobbit forms a transition between some of his posthumously-published scribblings in which Dwarves appear rather unsympathetic, and Lord of the Rings which solidifies their place on the Good Side. He obviously likes the Dwarves in The Hobbit, but he also judges their avaricious and insular tenancies harshly without trying to delve deeper.  Until the end, they are also largely ineffectual. I surmise that Tolkien, being pastoral in his tastes, had to stretch himself to understand and sympathize with mythological  Dwarves, whereas he felt very like-minded towards Hobbits and Elves.

I first read The Hobbit as a child and I wanted to defend the Dwarves from the indignant treatment  they suffered at the hands of their author.  For one thing, he seemed to place the Wood Elves more on the side of right than I liked.  I take the book less seriously now, but that first impression set the foundation for my love of Tolkien’s short, bearded delvers.

To recap, I am aware that none of this is logical. I speak merely of first impressions and biases that laid a foundation. Now that my slant is in the open, I will move forward and show why I now love the Dwarves apart from any comparison with other races from their mythos, or from their author’s opinions on them.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


Of the Free Peoples of Arda

I have considered writing this post for a long while. Now, I see, that it cannot be a post. A series of posts it is, then. I will try and keep each one short and to the point, so as not to bore you silly. I would love some discussion, even debate on these matters.

Readers and lovers of the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien are varied set. We are almost as interesting and varied as the peoples and creatures which populate Tolkien’s rich mythologies. Everyone seems to have their favorite race or creature, favorite characters, tales and songs.

My brother’s heart, and seemingly Tolkien’s as well, belongs first to the Elves. My own heart took a very different turn the first time I read the words:

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.”

That’s right. I am one of the relatively rare people whose heart belongs first to the Dwarves of Arda. In following posts I will expound on why.

Tolkien himself did not always love his Dwarves. In his early scribbles they were, at best, materialistic and insular, and at worst, brutal, greedy and cruel. One of the many reasons J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my literary heroes is that he was capable of learning and capable of changing his mind. Mind-changing may not be rare among writers, but as most of what usually remains unpublished for other writers has been exposed to the world in Tolkien’s case, I get to see the process on paper.

So, Tolkien coming to understand and love his Dwarves was a process. I do not think it was a simple process, either. It encompassed a growing appreciation for the “deep places of the world,” and an understanding that love of craftsmanship and precious objects does not always translate into greed, small-mindedness or a hardened heart, and may even point to something far more eternal than wealth and riches. But more on that later.

I am not sure he ever came to love his Dwarves as much as the rest of his Free Peoples, but the fact that I cannot say for certain is comforting. That a Dwarf is welcomed into Valinor speaks volumes and warms my Dwarf-loving heart.

Tracing Tolkien’s journey might be beyond me. There are certainly greater scholars of his work than I. What I can do is show my own journey: how I fell in love with the Dwarves of Arda and what I learned about myself along the way.

In the mean time, have a recording of me reading the Dwarves’ Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit. We shall see if I can get better at it when the time comes for me to record my all-time favorite verse from Arda. :)

The rest of this series can be found here:
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


“The Hobbit” Read-Along Schedule

Obviously, I am back from my hiatus. I am still not going to be on here as much as before, as there is just so much around me that needs doing, but I am back to posting, commenting and e-mailing.

I also have many things to relate, this read-along of The Hobbit being first. My following posts will concern, among other things, hot-air ballooning, Canada, and an exterminating company’s bone-headed customer policies.

I was already preparing to read The Hobbit again, and now I get to read it along-side others and read interesting thoughts about the chapters! I also get to write about Mirkwood, which makes me want to jump up and down gleefully. Not that I wouldn’t have written about it anyway, even without this read-along.
I am looking forward to this!

The Warden's Walk

Hail, lo, and behold! We have a preliminary schedule for The Hobbit Read-Along! In addition to myself, we have nine participants to split among nineteen chapters. As the host, I have taken the responsibility of the first chapter for myself—unless someone else greatly desires it for themselves, in which case I will happily exchange it for another—and given everyone else two. Postings will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

If anyone wants to write on a chapter other than what has been assigned, speak up now so that the schedule can be adjusted before postings begin! As you can see, the first post will appear on Tuesday,September 25th. I thought it fitting to start just after September 22, which is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. The final post will come at the end of November, thus giving us a little bit of time before…

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