Welcome to There and Back Again: A Journey Through Middle Earth – an indefinite season of all things Tolkien here at Books by Proxy. Join me as I make my journey through the most defining literature of my childhood, and unravel the details behind one of the most spectacular fantasy worlds ever made.
| Introduction |
A little later in the week than expected… but welcome to the second post of Chapter and Verse! This is a brand new weekly feature where I will be re-reading and analysing every chapter of The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien as part of my indefinite There and Back Again season.
If anyone wishes to join in with the re-read, please feel free to do so – the comments are open to anything and all things Tolkien. And for those of you yet to discover The Hobbit, there will be spoilers a-plenty throughout these posts.
by J.R.R. Tolkien
| Chapter II: Roast Mutton |
Bilbo wakes up to find his home empty and in a state of disarray, proving that the unexpected party the night before had not been a terrible dream as he had hoped. Feeling relieved that the dwarves had already departed, though with a brief pang of regret that he would not be sharing in their adventure, Bilbo sets to the washing up.
House in order, Bilbo sits down for a little second breakfast when Gandalf happens upon him, informing the surprised Hobbit that he has missed the note on his mantelpiece and that the dwarven company are awaiting his arrival at the Green Dragon Inn in Bywater. Ushered out of the door with not even a pocket handkerchief, nor even time to question whether he really intended going on an adventure, Bilbo hurries to meet Thorin and company.
Suddenly finding himself on a small pony, wrapped in a hood and cloak donated by Dwalin, Bilbo and his strange new companions set out on their journey. From merry beginnings, the company soon find themselves in the cold and miserable rain as they cross the Lone-lands, and Bilbo, not for the last time, wishes himself back in the comfort of his hobbit hole. The situation is only exasperated when they find that Gandalf has gone missing.
After a series of mishaps where all but a small amount of their food is lost to the river, the company, now more than a little miserable and argumentative, find their spirits lifted when they see a red light through the trees. Putting all their faith in their poor under-qualified and unsuspecting burglar, Bilbo sets out to investigate.
As he sneaks quietly towards the light, he discovers that it is a campfire occupied by three trolls. Deciding that he cannot return to the dwarves without demonstrating his usefulness, he sets to picking one of their pockets. Lifting a purse when it can talk however is a far more complicated business. Bilbo is captured by the trolls and they set to arguing over what they should do with their captive. Dropped in the ensuing fray, Bilbo scrambles out of the light of the fire only to see the trolls capture the dwarves one by one as they approach to investigate the fire and Bilbo’s whereabouts.
Still in hiding and with no idea how to save his dwarven companions, Bilbo looks on as the trolls argue over how to best cook the dwarves. They argue for so long, for unbeknownst to them Gandalf has returned and is mimicking their voices in order to delay them, that the sun rises and turns the trolls to stone.
Rescued from their misadventure, the company go in search of the suspected troll hoard where they find enough supplies to sustain them on their journey, and Gandalf, Thorin and Bilbo obtain beautiful and unusual weapons. Finally, Gandalf explains to Thorin and Bilbo that he had left in order to scout out the road ahead but upon hearing rumours of the trolls turned back, and only just in time.
| Commentary |
During the course of this re-read, I am continually surprised by the humour which rings out of every page and the beauty of each succinct description which frequently appear throughout the narrative. This is a children’s book which could easily have been written for adults, with Tolkien’s careful use of tone, humour and fairy-tale magic creating a more child-friendly read in what is actually quite a dark tale.
The opening of Chapter II gives a clear indication of Bilbo’s divided spirit; convincing himself that he doesn’t want any part in the adventure, despite his pangs of regret. Assured that he has now missed out on the ensuing escapades, he sets to cleaning his Hobbit hole; the mundanity of which perhaps makes him question going on adventure even less.
However, when Gandalf arrives to hurry Bilbo to The Green Dragon, he is taken aback that Bilbo hasn’t cleaned the mantelpiece, suggesting it is a chore he usually does daily and has been neglected due to a preoccupied mind. Furthermore, Bilbo is surprised when he finds himself “pushing his keys into Gandalf’s hands” before running “as fast as his furry feet could carry him” to catch up with the dwarven company, an indication that his spirit of adventure had not truly been quashed.
Having left his home in such a hurry, he begins his journey without the necessities that he might have otherwise brought including a hat, money, a walking-stick, or even a pocket-handkerchief. Supplied by Gandalf with handkerchiefs and tobacco a-plenty, Dwalin loans Bilbo a dark-green hood and cloak:
“They were too large for him, and he looked rather comic. What his father Bungo would have thought of him, I daren’t think. His only comfort was he couldn’t be mistaken for a dwarf, as he had no beard.”
This is a paragraph that I find rather significant in Bilbo’s developing relationship with the dwarves. It is clear that initially he would have been quite embarrassed to be mistaken for a dwarf; an indication of his inherent hobbit-ness and a characteristic which suggests the insular nature of his kind.
However, during Chapter I of The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo’s perspective of the world and its inhabitants has entirely shifted, and it is revealed that he has treasured and frequently used his old loaned hood and cloak, eventually departing from Hobbiton wearing them:
“From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him.”
The speed at which the journey progresses, when compared to Frodo’s departure from the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring, is made very apparent throughout Chapter II. Bilbo’s encounter with the trolls only takes him to the end of the chapter, a relatively short read, while Frodo’s encounter with the stone trolls occurs during Chapter XII of The Fellowship of the Ring. Understandably cut short for a children’s book, the length of their journey is given more indication than lengthy description throughout The Hobbit:
“At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business. Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely, and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before. Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher with dark trees.”
The landscape encountered, or the Lone-lands, is the wilderness found to the east of Bree which features the ruined watchtower of Amun Sûl, or Weathertop, which featured in The Fellowship of the Ring and once housed one of the Palantíri. The narrative describes the hills as being crowned with, “old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people”, which suggests not only that the company were passing perhaps near Weathertop, but also near the ruins associated with the old Kingdom of Rhudaur, which formed after the division of the Kingdom of Arnor.
This may also give some explanation to the apparent anachronism of “They have seldom even heard of the king round here”, which could in fact be a reference to the subsequently divided kingdoms of Arnor – Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur.
The prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring gives some further explanation, describing how Hobbits still remembered and followed the laws set down over a thousand years before by the high king at Fornost, to the north of the Shire, which was in fact the capital of Arthedain. Furthermore, in direct relation to the ancient tradition of Fornost, it is explained that, “the Hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not even heard of the king.”
It is in Chapter II that we begin to see something of the individual (or often paired) skills and personalities of the dwarves, and the worrisome and often bewildered character of Bilbo is developed further. Upon leaving the Shire, Bilbo soon begins yearning for home and its comforts, which leads to the revelation that Nori and Ori, like hobbits, enjoy eating plenty and often. It is also revealed that Oin and Gloin are particularly skilled at making fires; and that Balin was always their look-out man.
Bilbo’s role as the company’s burglar is also developed when he is thrown headlong into his new role; a role which is more like what we might call a thief or rogue in today’s fantasy novels. It is explained throughout the narrative that hobbits, by nature, are skilfully quiet, however Bilbo puts himself and the dwarves into unnecessary danger in order to prove himself worthy of his burglar title. His encounter with a talking purse, as “Trolls’ purses are the mischief, and this was no exception”, is particularly humorous but opens the discussion of where a troll might happen across a talking purse.
The trolls are very humanoid in The Hobbit, appearing to Bilbo as “three very large persons” who speak in the common tongue and give themselves quite ordinary names. Their nature is also given some indication through the suggestion that they have a long history as the foes of dwarves – “Trolls simply detest the very sight of dwarves (uncooked)” – and that there are in fact other types of trolls inhabiting Middle Earth, including those with more than one head. They also appear quick to be reasonably dim-witted and are quick to anger – as much with each other as anyone else – calling each other “all sorts of perfectly true and applicable names in very loud voices.”
However, there also appears to be a certain (and surprising) emotive quality to at least one of these trolls when William says of Bilbo, “Poor little blighter, let him go.” Whether this was because he was drunk and had no more room left to eat him, or whether trolls are capable of feeling on an emotional level is left unexplained.
Gandalf’s reappearance further enhances his role as more of a trickster in The Hobbit than the great wizard we see in The Lord of the Rings, throwing his voice to confuse the trolls and apparently, along with Bilbo and the dwarves, putting “a great many spells” over the hoard of buried gold which had been looted from the trolls. Interestingly, Gandalf is also unable to read the elvish runes inscribed on the swords – a wizard who, in The Fellowship of the Ring, “once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs”.
Chapter II: Roast Mutton sets off at an exciting pace, throwing the company directly into the action and setting the scene for the remainder of the novel. The interactions between both the company and with outside forces, makes for a funny, endearing and somewhat tense chapter that sets the rhythm of their flight from danger to safety over the course of the novel.
What were your impressions of Chapter II: Roast Mutton? Please leave a comment below!