Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter IV – Over Hill and Under Hill

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 |

Welcome to the (very late) fourth post of Chapter and Verse! This is a brand new 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.

The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

| Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill |

Following their departure from Rivendell, the company find their journey taking them up rocky, dangerous passes in a slow and weary climb across the Misty Mountains. Though the going is hard, it remains uneventful until they cross paths with a thunderstorm, which brings tremendous winds and rain to the mountain-path. Fearing for their safety, Thorin sends Fili and Kili out in search of shelter.

Upon their return, they bring tidings of a dry and unoccupied cave in which the company and their ponies could spend the night. After a thorough exploration Gandalf is satisfied, and the company settle down for the night, talking until they drift off to sleep.

Bilbo dreams that a crack in the wall appears and grows bigger and bigger until the floor gives way and he falls down. Waking up in a fright, he realises his dream was in part true. A crack had appeared in the back of the cave and, as he watches the last of the ponies’ tails disappear through it, goblins begin pouring in to attack the startled dwarves.

In a flash of light, Gandalf attacks the goblins, only to find the crack snapping closed with the dwarves and Bilbo on the other side. They are captured by the goblins who march them through the tangle of passages to the heart of the mountain, singing and clattering as they go.

The company find themselves in a large cavern, where a terrible and huge goblin is enthroned. After no small amount of questioning, the goblins’ tempers are ignited by the revelation of Orcrist, Thorin’s elven sword. The great goblin rushes at Thorin, but Gandalf intervenes to rescue them, slaying the great goblin in the process.

With Gandalf as their guide, the company set off through the tunnels of the mountain with the goblins hard on their heels. After fending off a direct attack from their pursuers, the goblins change tactic and sneak up on the company, knocking Bilbo off Dori’s shoulders where he bumps his head and remembers nothing more.

| Commentary |

Chapter IV certainly picks up the pace of the story, throwing the company headfirst into a dangerous adventure in the heart of the Misty Mountains where their first encounter with goblins gives the somewhat unprepared group an indication of dangers to come.

Following directly from their departure from Rivendell, the description of the company’s ascent into the mountains and the revelation that the surrounding country had grown evil, presents a stark contrast to their encounter with Elrond in The Last Homely House. Accompanying a now sombre group, it can be assumed that their is little civilisation in these parts, with very few travellers, except Gandalf, crossing what is considered to be dangerous and wild country.

“The nights were comfortless and chill, and they did not dare to sing or talk too loud, for the echoes were uncanny, and the silence seemed to dislike being broken – except by the noise of water and the wail of wind and the crack of stone.” 

Over Hill and Under Hill reveals the existence of several strange and new creatures, such as the stone-giants who “were hurling rocks at one another for a game” during the thunderstorm in the mountains, and latterly the goblins of the Misty Mountains who “are cruel, wicked and bad-hearted”. These confrontations give an indication of the many unusual, and often dangerous, beings inhabiting Middle Earth.

The goblins, who seem a little more advanced and cultured than their The Lord of the Rings counterparts, are described as being very similar, in certain aspects, to the dwarves. With a preference for living in caves, and for making weapons and building machinery, they are shown as quite an intelligent species, if predisposed to evil.

Bilbo is given a meek and scared appearance throughout this chapter, where he is often referred to as “poor little Bilbo” and has to be dragged around and carried throughout much of it. However, during the company’s initial encounter with the goblins in the mountain cave, Bilbo manages to save the day by warning Gandalf in time of the impending danger, allowing him to escape.

During this scene we are also given an indication of Gandalf’s power beyond the magic tricks previously displayed, whereby he produces a “terrific flash like lightning in the cave” which strikes several of the goblins dead. Similarly, during his rescue of the company from the great goblin he turns the great fire into “a tower of blue glowing smoke, right up to the roof, that scattered piercing white sparks all among the goblins” which “were burning holes” into their flesh, driving them into frenzied madness.

The powers of the elven swords are also revealed when Gandalf draws Glamdring against his foes, which “burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about” and was “bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave”. However the dwarves are yet to earn their warrior credentials having only once drawn a weapon against their foes.

Chapter IV: Over Hill and Underhill is an exciting chapter which introduces one of the chief threats to peace in Middle Earth – the goblins. Fast-paced, with more than a little threat to drive the plot, we are given a chapter which truly sets the scene for the rest of the novel.

What did you think of the company’s adventure through the mountains? Please leave a comment below!

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The Monthly Round-Up: February 2018

Welcome to The Monthly Round-Up. Join me as I look back on the past month to see which books I’ve read, the reviews I’ve posted, the goals I’ve completed and my all important Book of the Month!

| The Monthly Round-Up: February 2018 |

February has been a fantastically busy month but I couldn’t be happier to have returned to Books by Proxy. It’s been wonderful catching up with books, posts and this wonderful blogging community, and I have a whole heap of ideas for the future of this blog – as well as a ‘to-be-read’ pile as big as a mountain!

And with the weather turning into a veritable winter wonderland, I can’t think of a better place to be than being wrapped up in the warmth with a good book!.. Or settled down to write some long overdue reviews!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful month! 😀

| Books Read |


by Sebastien de Castell

| February Goals |

To read four books

Status: 4 of 4 Complete


To write a review once a week

Status: 2 of 4 Complete

| Reviews Posted |

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Hit by Nadia Dalbuono

| Other Posts From February 2018 |

The Month Ahead: February 2018

Tough Travelling: Shapeshifters

Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter I – An Unexpected Party

Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter II – Roast Mutton

Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter III – A Short Rest

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten… Books I Still Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten… Doomed Romances of Fantasyland

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten… Books I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten… Books I Could Re-Read ForeverTeaser Tuesdays: The Grace of Kings + The Hobbit: Chapter I

Teaser Tuesdays: Half the World + The Hobbit: Chapter II

Teaser Tuesdays: Spellslinger + The Hobbit: Chapter III

Teaser Tuesdays: Lois the Witch + The Hobbit: Chapter IV

Waiting on Wednesday: February 07 – Black Mirror: Volume 1 by Charlie Brooker

Waiting on Wednesday: February 14 – King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Waiting on Wednesday: February 21 – The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams

Waiting on Wednesday: February 28 – The Hyena and the Hawk by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Friday Face-Off: February 02 – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

The Friday Face-Off: February 09 – My, What Big Teeth You Have

The Friday Face-Off: February 16 – Groovy Baby

The Friday Face-Off: February 23 – The Staircase

Friday Firsts: February 02 – The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Friday Firsts: February 09 – Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Friday Firsts: February 16 – Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Friday Firsts: February 23 – Lois the Witch by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter III – A Short Rest

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 |

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.

The Hobbit

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!

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Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter II – Roast Mutton

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.

The Hobbit

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!

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Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter I – An Unexpected Party

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 |

Welcome to the first post of Chapter and Verse,  a brand new weekly feature where I will be re-reading and analysing The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien chapter by chapter as part of my 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… you have been warned, there will be spoilers a-plenty throughout these posts!

The first time I picked up The Hobbit was when I was seven years old. I was packing my bags to go for our yearly holiday on my parent’s narrowboat when my mother saw I was taking her bruised and battered copy of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge to keep me occupied. Again. Keen to expand my literary repertoire, she suggested I take The Hobbit – a favourite of hers from her childhood.

And the rest, as they say, is history. A world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and wandering wizards was opened before me and the magic that captivated me then, captivates me still. This initial reading of The Hobbit, curled up in a duvet as we sailed along the canals, sparked a lifelong obsession with Tolkien and Middle Earth, and led me to my most loved and treasured book of all time, The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

| Chapter I: An Unexpected Party |

A respectable and unsuspecting hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is smoking his pipe outside his home when an old man with a staff and a long grey cloak happens upon him. Introducing himself as Gandalf the wizard, he is invited to take a seat by Bilbo’s door and join the hobbit for a smoke. Following a brief conversation, Gandalf informs Bilbo that he is going to send him on adventure. An alarmed Bilbo swiftly declines, inviting Gandalf to tea the next day as a means of getting rid of him.

Having all but forgotten his invitation, Bilbo is surprised the following day when the door bell rings. Much to his consternation, he is joined by not just one wandering wizard, but thirteen boisterous dwarves who all but eat the flustered hobbit out of house and home.

As the evening wears on the dwarves sing a song of a great dwarven kingdom under a mountain – of treasures now lost and their quest to reclaim their rightful place in its halls. Bilbo is briefly moved by the spirit of adventure but swiftly snuffs it out before entertaining any more un-hobbit-like feelings.

The increasingly confused Bilbo is then informed that his role in the quest is already assured as their fellow conspirator and designated ‘burglar’. Both Bilbo and the dwarves express doubt over his suitability for the mission before Gandalf interjects on his behalf, seeing something in the hobbit that neither Bilbo nor the dwarves are certain of.

After making sure of Bilbo’s role in the coming adventure, Gandalf gathers the company around an old map. He explains that the runes inscribed on the parchment reveal the location of a hidden entrance to the mountain kingdom – an entrance he is certain that no dragon could have discovered.

Bilbo, now a little excited, expresses an interest in the reason for their mission – though perhaps a little late in the day. Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the band of dwarves and rightful King under the Mountain, takes up the tale:

Many years ago, Thorin’s grandfather, Thror, brought wealth and reputation to dwarves of Erebor as his people mined great riches and expanded their Kingdom under the Mountain. But the mass of riches brought with it the undesirable attention of the dragon Smaug who coveted the treasures of Erebor beyond all else. In his greed he destroyed the kingdom and its people, taking the mountain and its treasures for himself. Thorin and few others escaped with their lives that day, and seek now to restore what was lost.

| Commentary |

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – The opening of An Unexpected Party is as familiar to me, and to many before me, as the back of my own hand. From the very start of this chapter we are transported to Bag End, where we are swept along, much like Bilbo, on a dangerous but thrilling adventure. The Hobbit truly is, and will always remain, a lifelong favourite.

The thing that continually surprises me upon re-reading The Hobbit is the strength of the narration. This is a book with a captivating voice – like a parent reading to a child in bed (much as Tolkien wrote it) or a story told around a campfire. There is humour, real world reference – as though Middle Earth is as much a part of our history as anything else – and a pleasant, warm tone to the writing.

The descriptions of Bag End, and of Bilbo and his interactions with Gandalf and the unruly dwarves, are beautiful, quaint and flow with an easy familiarity. They build a picture of a house proud hobbit whose chief joys are the simple things in life and whose first response to any suggestion of adventure is a firm “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!”; of a jovial and somewhat manipulative wizard who knows a great deal more than he ever lets on; and of a merry, if unwanted, gathering of dwarves whose desire to reclaim their rightful inheritance outweighs all else.

Tolkien’s descriptions, though not as fluid and grand as those featured in The Lord of the Rings, build the character and tone of the novel whilst giving Middle Earth a diverse aesthetic, different to our own but at once relatable. The descriptions of Bag End and its “perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle”, and of hobbits and their fondness for food and a quiet, steady life paint an idyllic picture of Hobbiton – a place that no self-respecting hobbit would ever choose to leave.

Bilbo Baggins has always been one of my favourite literary characters and is perhaps the most endearing, even from the outset. His perpetual confusion and exasperation; his funny and often scathing quips which he is far too polite to say out loud; and his good manners and gentlemanly nature all make him incredibly engaging as a character, if incredibly prone to trouble!

Throughout the first chapter, Bilbo’s determination not to go on an adventure, despite his Tookish heritage, is countered by his determination not to be considered a useless member of the assembled party. His frequent moments of worry, particularly in regard to the state of his home and pantry, and of “shaking like a jelly” in fright at the prospect of not returning from the prospective adventure, give Bilbo a very timid and hobbit-like countenance from which to grow as the novel progresses.

Gandalf interestingly starts off as a jovial, if somewhat troublesome, old man – a far cry from the Gandalf we know and love in The Lord of the Rings. However, the humour which permeates his character – you can almost feel the wry smile beneath the surface as he questions a bewildered Bilbo – is one aspect which bridges the transition across novels, along with the fact that he always seems to know a great deal more than he lets on.

I particularly like the thought that Gandalf’s appearance to the hobbits is distinctly different to his appearance to the rest of Middle Earth; that to them he is Gandalf the firework maker and Gandalf the storyteller, an opinion that he seems to willingly nurture and maintain. This furthers the opinion that hobbits are a peaceful and isolated community who have no love for power or hostile expansion, and that Gandalf, in his love for hobbits and their simple way of life, uses them as a retreat from the world at large.

The dwarves by comparison are rowdy, merrymakers whose experience of the outside world has hardened them somewhat, creating a clear distinction between what characterises a hobbit and what characterises a dwarf – though their shared love of food is an obvious unifying factor!  Their love of creation – of building toys, of working wood and metal, and of creating music – is referred to throughout this first chapter, giving them a greater depth of character and a less warrior-like feel than their movie portrayal.

The songs and poetry which Tolkien fills his novels with have always been a highlight, giving even more texture and culture to an already exhaustive world. The two dwarven songs featured in this chapter showcase the two sides to their characters – the playful and the boisterous, and the solemn and brooding; two songs which to me, have even more impact now that there is a soundtrack behind them.

An Unexpected Party really is a joy to read. The idyllic Hobbiton and the grand Bag End, and Bilbo’s charming personality and his initial interactions with Gandalf and the dwarves, all contribute to a chapter I could comfortably read again and again.

What were your first impressions of The Hobbit? Please leave a comment below!

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