RÓMENNA MEETING REPORT
Rómenna Meeting Report - July 22, 1984
July 22, 1984
The July meeting of Rómenna took place at Ramapo Reservation, amid tall
trees by the bank of a river. After we had located the inevitable poison ivy
plant and neutralized it by means of a paper plate held down with a rock, we
filled our picnic plates and began our discussion of The Hobbit.
It was noted that the hobbits (judging from Bilbo, at least) were very hospitable
people. How many of us, if an uninvited dwarf showed up at the front
door, would ask him in for tea, no matter how much he seemed to expect it? The
hobbits were compared to the "southern" or 'western" hospitality that some of
us have experienced. Hobbits do not perceive strangers as a threat.
Joanne asked about the order of composition of The Hobbit
in relation to
The Lord of the Rings
and The Silmarillion
. The Silmarillion
(in early form)
was written first, and then The Hobbit
. The Lord of the Rings
started out as
a sequel to The Hobbit
(requested by Tolkien's publishers), and ended up as
more of a sequel to the as-yet unpublished Silmarillion
Returning to the subject of hobbits, we characterized them as childlike,
and noted that The Hobbit
was constructed much more like a traditional fairy-story
than The Lord of the Rings
. Margaret also noted that Tolkien based his
conception of the hobbits on English country people he'd met.
Tolkien's writing mannerisms in The Hobbit
were mentioned. Much has been
made of the "nursery-tale" narrative style, Tolkien himself having mentioned
it as a flaw in this book, but the group was asked whether anybody had been
really bothered by it. Opinions were given that it wasn't bothersome at the
first reading, but afterwards, in subsequent readings, it might get tiresome.
The episodic, stop-and-go timeflow was also mentioned as a feature that had
bothered some people. The tale was characterized as a boy-growing-up story.
There are more talking animals and birds in The Hobbit
than there are in
The Lord of the Rings
, (the wolves, the eagles, the giant spiders, the ravens
and the thrush). The Silmarillion
also has talking animals. We tried to remember
whether any of the wolves in The Silmarillion
actually talked. Carcharoth
is not recorded as saying anything, but Draugluin does (he warns Sauron of
Huan's presence). It was noted that in general in fairy-stories, anybody the
animals talk to is a good guy.
The different versions of The Hobbit
(before and after The Lord of the
was published) were mentioned. The most noticeable difference is in
Chapter 5, "Riddles in the Dark," which was completely rewritten in order to
bring it into line with the more important and sinister role of the Ring.
A discussion of Tolkien's pedantry somehow led into talk about that favorite
hobbit subject, genealogy. specifically the origin of the Sackville-Bagginses.
The theory was proposed that Camellia Sackville, who married into
the Baggins family, was the last of her line, and that was why her son Otho
took her name as well as his father's. In any case, the line did not last
long, the only Sackville-Bagginses being Otho, his wife Lobelia, and their son
Lotho (also known as Pimple). Also on the subject of genealogy, it was noted
that while Bilbo's mother Belladonna is called "the fabulous Belladonna Took,
one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took," it is never mentioned
why she or her sisters are fabulous or remarkable. (The three daughters were
Belladonna, Donnamira, and Mirabella.)
From our discussion of hobbits we passed on to a discussion of Dwarves.
Tolkien took most of his ideas about Dwarves, as well as their names, from
the Norse Eddas. (Gandalf's name also comes from there. The idea cropped
up that Gandalf was Tolkien's Muse, which is not inconsistent with some of
the things we said about him last month.) Bilbo thinks the Dwarves cloddish
("all this Dwarvish racket"), but they are only cloddish in comparison to a
hobbit. Dwarves are a very secretive folk; for instance, they have secret,
"true" names in the Dwarvish language, which they tell to no one and do not
even inscribe on their tombs. This was contrasted to Bilbo, presumably characteristic
of hobbits, who blithely blurts out his name to Gollum on the
slightest provocation. At least by the time he gets around to confronting
Smaug, he has learned a bit more caution.
We wondered if the idea of the tricksy, sly dragon was a widespread one
or whether Tolkien made it up. Many of us had the impression that it was
widespread, but nobody could come up with specific examples. How many dragons
even talk? well, Fafnir does in Wagner--not only that, he sings
dragon is often used to symbolize the Devil, and everyone knows what a tricky
is. It was mentioned that dragons seem to shrink in English literature.
you have this huge monster, but in some later pictures of
St. George and the Dragon, the Dragon is depicted as considerably smaller than
St. George's horse. This, however, may be attributed to the fact that medieval
artists were not number-conscious (for instance, in the matter of relative
sizes). Perspective in art had not yet been invented, And artists tended
to make the most important figures in a painting the largest. St. George being
more important than the dragon, he was drawn bigger.
Getting back to hobbits and dwarves, it was noted that hobbits are unobtrusive
as a group as well as individually, living very quietly and minding
their own business in their own corner of the world. We noticed that Dwarves
practiced magic: they created magical toys and their secret doors had magical
runes and conditions necessary for their opening. Hobbits have round doors,
and we tried to imagine what the mechanics of a.hobbit-hole door would be.
Tolkien depicts Bilbo's door with a knob in the middle and one very long hinge
(it would have to be long to support the entire weight of the door by itself).
One of the features of Tolkien's style in The Hobbit is the capsule characterizations
he gives of new peoples whenever they are encountered, telling
the reader some of their more salient characteristics and whether they are
good or evil. We wondered why the wood-elves. who are "Good People," incarcerate
the dwarves. We decided that although basically good, the wood-elves were
"snooty and suspicious," especially of dwarves who will not give a good account
of themselves. It was pointed out that the Elvenking of The Hobbit
Thranduil, originally from Doriath and thus with little reason to love Dwarves.
Going back to the beginning of the tale to take it in some kind of order,
we passed a comment or two on the "lower-class British" trolls, noted that Bree
is not mentioned (though there is no reason why the dwarves and Bilbo might not
have stopped there before they got to the lands where inns became few or nonexistent).
The elves of the Last Homely House seem rather dippy in The Hobbit
It was pointed out that the "rank-and-file" elves of Rivendell would not necessarily
be Noldor, and that their songs might not sound quite so silly when set
to music. How about a nice four or five-part madrigal arrangement? Rivendell
itself acts as a clearing-house of information: Elrond gives good advice and
reads the moon-letters on the map.
Getting up into the mountains we meet the stone-giants, who had vanished
by the time of The Lord of the Rings
. They seem to be an intrusion from Norse
myth and classic fairy-tale. The capture by goblins was reviewed, and the comment
made (after searching of sources) that Gollum had been hiding under the
Misty Mountains for some 500 years.
At this point, since some people had to leave, we brought the discussion
to a close with the resolve to pick it up again next time.
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