Tolkien Calendar: The Hobbit

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June 4: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

They ford the Bruinen and reach Rivendell at dusk.

...a narrow bridge of the Last Homely House
...a narrow bridge of the Last Homely ….
© Alan Lee.
Although he wouldn't have believed it in the morning, 4 June was to be a very important day for Bilbo. He has his first sight of mountains and realises how long a journey he's agreed to go on when he discovers that he's not looking at the Lonely Mountain, but only the start of the Misty Mountains that bar their way. He feels at a low ebb and longs for home. But Rivendell awaits - surely one of Tolkien's most magical places - and, did he but know it, one day he would be just as heartsick at home, longing for the mountains and Rivendell.

Rivendell is hidden from them, not by magic but miraculously by the very landscape itself. Even Gandalf has trouble finding it, searching out the white stones that mark the path. And so Thorin's party descend to The Last Homely House - at once comforting ('Homely') and unsettling ('Last'): there is nothing homely to be expected after it.

As the party reach the Bruinen they hear elves singing in the trees. But these aren't the noble, merry and sometimes fearsome elves we now associate with Tolkien. They are certainly merry but they are also teasing, mischievous and sing jolly rhymes. They are even rude. They are, in fact, the kind of elves that young children expect to meet, the kind of elves Tolkien's own children liked to hear about. But for today's Tolkien readers who have known Galadriel and the elves of Lothlorien, hearing them call 'Just look! Bilbo the Hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn't it delicious!' is a strange experience. Young first-time readers in the 1930's probably would never have wanted or expected anything different from their elves.

The Elves direct them to the bridge which leads to Rivendell. In this tale, Tolkien tells us very little about this wonderful place. He says '...days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to.' But in truth Rivendell captures the imagination so much that in The Lord of the Rings he clearly thought better of it and tells us enough good things to make us want to stay there as long as the aged Bilbo.

The bridge into Rivendell, where poor Thorin and Bilbo endure merciless teasing, is also a bridge that links The Hobbit to Tolkien's earlier elven mythologies, The Lost Tales, and his later masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings as Elrond, who the reading public met here for the first time in 1937, is in all three. Elrond, strong, wise, venerable and 'as kind as summer', brings with him tales of peoples and wars of long ago that we long to hear. Everything he says suggests the detailed background that authors hint at to make stories seem more 'real', but with Tolkien it was no trick. The stories were real. He had already written many of them and when Elrond identifies the swords found in the Trolls lair and refers to the destruction of Gondolin, there is an actual story to be told. And somehow, with Tolkien, you know it to be so. We long to sit in Rivendell at Elrond's (or is it Tolkien's?) feet and hear tales of 'evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North'.

But they get more than rest and tales from Elrond. He examines Thorin's map and, holding it up to the moonlight, discovers the invisible moon-letters and a clue to finding the lost treasure in the mountain. All they have to do is be at a certain place at a certain time on Durin's Day and not even Thorin knows how to calculate when that might fall. It seems that along with a burgler the dwarves need a bit of luck and magic to succeed with their quest.

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

May 29: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

The Company Crosses the River and are captured by the Trolls

Bert, Bill and Tom the Trolls
Bert, Bill and Tom the Trolls.
© Alan Lee.
"Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!" We should become accustomed to this sentiment because, as The Professor so dryly informs us, this is not the last time Bilbo will have such thoughts!

Indeed, it doesn't take very long for Bilbo's adventure with Gandalf and the Dwarves to hit a rather rough patch. Far into the Lone-lands, the weather turns cold and stormy, and just after they have managed to cross the swollen river, they realize that Gandalf has gone missing. They attempt to make camp, but can't get a fire started. One of the ponies bolts into the river, losing a good deal of their food and nearly drowning Fili and Kili.

In the midst of their general misery, Balin, the look-out, spies a light in the distance. After some bickering back and forth, they decide to investigate because, "After all, we have got a burglar with us." Bilbo needs to get accustomed to this sentiment, as this will be just the first of MANY occasions upon which the Dwarves will put him in the position of doing the investigating. Thorin's advice? "Come back quick, if all is well. If not, come back if you can! If you can't, hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can." My . . . that's comforting . . .

Thus it is that little Bilbo comes upon three very big trolls - Bert, William (Bill), and Tom - who are getting testy with each other over their monotonous diet of mutton over the last several days. Common sense tells Bilbo to leave quietly and warn the Dwarves about this imminent danger, but the Tookish side of him feels the need to enhance his status as the company's resident burglar by attempting to pick Bill's pocket.

This proves disastrous, and in short order, Bilbo finds himself grabbed up first by the neck, then by the feet, and lastly by the hair. Ouch! Fortunately for Bilbo, these trolls are contentious creatures, and it doesn't take much for a disagreement to turn into an out and out row over what's to be done with the "burrahobbit" they've captured.

Bilbo has just enough sense to crawl away from the fight and hide, but of course, the noise causes the Dwarves to begin arriving one by one to find out what has happened to their burglar. In short order, all of the Dwarves are captured and popped into sacks, and Bert, Bill, and Tom begin bickering over the fine art of cooking Dwarves - Should they be roasted, minced up and boiled, or squashed into jelly?

Luckily, at this point Gandalf quietly returns, and by mimicking the trolls' voices, he succeeds in turning their bickering into an extended series of arguments and fights (My daughters always get the giggles over, "You're a booby . . . . Booby yourself!" These trolls argue just like school kids on the playground!) until at last the sun comes up, and the trolls turn to stone.

After freeing the Dwarves, Gandalf suggests that they search for the trolls' hideout. Here, Bilbo performs his first useful act for the company by producing a key that he found on the ground during the trolls' fight. Inside the lair, they find food to replace some of the supplies they've lost, but more importantly, they also find two beautiful elven swords and Bilbo chooses an elven knife, all of which will play important roles in this adventure and the larger tale that unfolds in The Lord of the Rings.

After a good breakfast and some sleep, they bury the pots of gold from the trolls' hoard to be retrieved later, hopefully. Gandalf explains that he had left their party the evening before to scout the road ahead, whereupon he ran into two elves from Rivendell (Am I the only one who thinks these elves were probably Elladan and Elrohir?) who warned him about the three trolls. This is why he was able to return in the nick of time to forestall the roasting, mincing, boiling, and squashing. With the Wizard's part of the tale fully explained, the company continues down the road towards The Last Homely House.

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

April 27: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

Thorin and Company ride out of Hobbiton at 11:00 am

Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must have gone down.
Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must ….
© Alan Lee.
Today is the day that Bilbo Baggins, after his second breakfast, ran out his door without washing up and arrived huffing and puffing at the Green Dragon to join Thorin and Company, without a pocket handkerchief. That he did so was probably more a surprise to him than it was to us, and he spent many an hour on his uncomfortable and dangerous adventure wondering what had possessed him to run out of his door so precipitously. Let's explore some possibilities:

1. In the first chapter of The Hobbit, Tolkien makes much of Bilbo's "Tookish" side, suddenly brought to life, as we read yesterday.

2. Gandalf: he pretty much shoved Bilbo out the door.

3. It was 'meant' to be. We all know that this is Tolkien's shorthand for the mysterious action of the Valar. Gandalf's intuitions into Bilbo's role in future events can be chalked up to the same source.

4. There is more to hobbits than meets the eye: often deeply buried courage.

The answer, really, is "All of the above". Tolkien almost always deals with causality thus. While he has created his mythology and the motivation of the Valar such that we know that they are always at work behind the scenes, they also have ultimately chosen to allow the free will of creatures, within the contexts of the natural tendencies of their various kinds and the bloodlines of their ancestors, to play a role.

Bilbo makes it to the Green Dragon in time, Gandalf catches up to supply pocket handkerchiefs and pipe, of course, Dwalin lends him a dark green hood, and they are off! The journey starts merrily enough, but soon, "Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees. On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people."

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

April 26: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

The Unexpected Party

He pulled open the door with a jerk...
He pulled open the door with a jerk....
© Alan Lee.
There is so much going on at this party today that it is hard to keep track of it all.

What was the secret symbol that Gandalf left scratched on the ground at Bilbo's doorstep? It obviously did the trick. Dwarves with blue beards and white beards and yellow beards arrive to Bilbo's surprise, followed by Gandalf and the ever serious Thorin Oakenshield. Playing host to this surprising assembly gets Bilbo far more than he bargained for.

But what is important here? What do we not want to forget about this party?

While Bilbo is a mass of motion waiting on his unexpected guests, we learn that as well as being the attentive host, Bilbo is a conflicted hobbit. The conservative Baggins side of him is almost aghast at the pandemonium inside Bag End, but the adventurous side inherited via his mother, Belladonna Took, is suddenly enticed and ensnared by maps that he loves and the promise of adventures beyond the Shire. There is talk of gold and dragons, and Bilbo is carried away with the excitement of it all. The dwarves christen him their Burglar and he becomes the fourteenth member of the party.
On the table...he spread a peace of parchment...
On the table...he spread a peace of parchment....
© Alan Lee.
Tolkien also wastes no time in introducing characters and places that will go on to fill the many pages of his future writings. There is talk of the Mountain, and Mirkwood, and hidden passages to Lower Halls. Here for the first time indeed is the mention of the Necromancer. Here for the first time we learn of a place called Moria. But they remain shrouded in mystery.

While none of the dwarves or Bilbo possess any of the famous Middle-earth Rings at this point, Gandalf does present Thorin with a very important and ornate key and we are sure that we (and Bilbo) are truly off on a grand quest.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

April 25: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

Gandalf visits Bilbo at Bag End. morning long ago, Bilbo was standing at his door... morning long ago, Bilbo was standing at ….
© Alan Lee.
Gandalf's visit to Bilbo Baggins in this most fateful of days was not happenstance, and as it turns out, it is not the beginning of a carefree children's tale about dwarves and hobbits although that was the initial intention of the writer and much of this wonderful book reads that way.

Our introduction to hobbits and their world is innocuous enough, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit", and a wizard by the name of Gandalf happens by as Bilbo stands puffing his pipe on his own front doorstep. Coincidence? No. Planning and fate are better words.

In Unfinished Tales and the chapter, The Quest of Erebor, the careful reader learns that this meeting was carefully planned, laboriously sold to Thorin Oakenshield who resisted it mightily, and indeed Bilbo was chosen for this quest with other and darker plans in mind.

Gandalf was already aware of Saruman's potential betrayal. He knew of the darkness growing in Mirkwood and his mission that day had a dire urgency about it. Sauron had risen again and attacks on Rivendell and Lórien were imminent unless there was something significant to be done to disturb the plans...such as dealing with a certain dragon named Smaug.

It is here that fate and happenstance stepped in as Gandalf stumbled upon a distraught and fuming Thorin who is intent on reclaiming the halls and the fortunes of his people in the Lonely Mountain, now the lair of the fearsome Smaug.

Bilbo had caught Gandalf's eye years before. "I knew in my heart that Bilbo must go with him, or the whole quest would be a failure - or, as I should say now, the far more important events by the way would not come to pass". So, from this one admission from Gandalf's lips, many would say that today and tomorrow is when Gandalf sent Bilbo out to find the Ring.

The quest begins today.

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

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Last edited: 12 June 2009 11:54:37