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.
Welcome to the third 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 III: A Short Rest |
Subsequent to their encounter with the trolls, and with a feeling of danger both before and behind them, the company continue on their journey through desolate wastes, unexpected valleys and dark ravines. As Bilbo wistfully reminisces about home, Gandalf explains that they are headed to Rivendell, to rest, recover and resupply what had been lost on their journey.
Following a trail marked with white stones, they are led on a difficult path to the secret valley of Rivendell. As they descend, they hear the elves laughing and singing from the trees, and Bilbo is surprised to hear that they know his name. In haste for supper, the company is directed to the Last Homely House, which they find with its doors flung wide in welcome.
After a stay of two weeks, the company find they are fully refreshed and recovered of all their ills. On the evening before their departure, the master of the house, Elrond, examines the swords retrieved from the troll hoard, and explains that they were made by the High Elves of the West in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars. Thorin promises to keep the sword and use it well.
Learned in runes of all kinds, Elrond then examines the old map. Holding it up to the moonlight, he discovers that the secret to opening the hidden entrance to the Lonely Mountain is written in moon-letters upon the parchment. Its naming of Durin’s Day, however, troubles Thorin as such a time is hard to predict.
The next morning the company depart from Rivendell in high spirits and with a clearer knowledge of the road ahead.
| Commentary |
This relatively short chapter introduces the reader to one of the most prominent locations in Middle Earth lore, Rivendell, along with one of its most well known characters, Elrond. It is also host to one of the biggest disparities between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, that of the character of the elves.
Beginning with a description of the journey from Trollshaws to the hidden valley, A Short Rest gives a relatively clear depiction of the outlying landscape, indicating the hazards and the length of the journey ahead:
“They saw that the great mountains had marched down very near to them.”
These descriptions provide a clear contrast between Rivendell and the surrounding wilderness and, though different in tone and length to the found in the subsequent novels, their quality is unquestionably Tolkien. Interestingly, however, the path to Rivendell is marked out by a trail of white stones; a detail which continues the fairytale-like quality of the narrative.
The shortness of this chapter is weighed by the length at which the company is supposed to have stayed there – “They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least.” Rather than elaborate however, the narrator briefly summarises this respite in their journey, of which, “there is little to tell.” This can be considered a means of maintaining the momentum of the adventure as later in the narrative we are told, “I wish I had time to tell you even a few of the tales or one or two of the songs that they heard in that house.”
The company’s first encounter with the elves depicts them as being a merry and mischievous race who find great enjoyment in laughing and singing songs. The verse in this chapter, with its abundance of tril-lil-lil-lolly’s, appears very contradictory to what we now understand the character of Tolkien’s elves to be and, reading in retrospect, is a little harder to enjoy. The good humoured – if a little rude – comments made by the elves to Bilbo and Thorin are similarly contrary but help maintain the less-serious tone of this book.
In describing the Last Homely House as, “perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all”, we are given a depiction that ties accordingly with our experience in The Lord of the Rings. And though the elves seem a little disparate to those found in rest of Tolkien lore, the character of Elrond is in fact reasonably similar:
“He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.”
Chapter III: A Short Rest is a brief interlude in the ensuing adventure, allowing questions to be answered, bodies and minds to recover, and another pocket of Middle Earth to be uncovered. And though it throws up some contradictions and, as adults, can appear a little silly in places, my only memory of Rivendell and the elves from childhood is that of sheer enjoyment.
What did you think of the company’s encounter with Rivendell? Please leave a comment below!