May 8: TA2942

Tolkien Calendar: The Hobbit

Jump to page:
Print View Link to this newsitem

July 22: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

They ride out from Beorn's in early afternoon.

Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must have gone down.
Somewhere behind the grey clouds the sun must have....
© Alan Lee.
Our hero, Bilbo, has certainly undergone a forced education since the time he began his adventure this spring. Once very comfortable and certain about the world and its ways on the basis of his experience in the Shire, by this time in the story, he must have questioned much of what he thought he knew. From the unexpected invasion and virtual coercion by a wizard and dwarves, to being waylaid by trolls and goblins, to being teased and well hosted by singing elves, to exchanging riddles with the unique Gollum, to being chased up trees by wolves and then rescued by talking eagles, Bilbo's set of categories of things that exist in the wide world was expanding by the day.

But perhaps one of the strangest and most memorable creatures he meets on his adventures is Beorn. He must have ridden out from Beorn's house this day shaking his head, but marvelling just a little about his rich exerience there. Although Shippey and Anderson provide cultural and linguistic background for this bear-man and his Carrock, within the story, this frightening yet ultimately principled shapeshifter had to have been one of Bilbo's most surprising eye-openers. Even Gandalf does not seem to understand Beorn well, other than to say that ". . . he is under no enchantment but his own." Here again, Tolkien does not find it necessary to answer every question about his world. Rather, his story is like real life in that questions persist.

Bilbo's stay at Beorn's hall (which Anderson tells us is typical of a Germanic hall such as is found in Beowulf) functions as a safe down-time in the story arc, a device of Tolkien's which allows him to build an even higher tension later. The descriptions of what they eat and drink, how they are served by talking animals, their sleeping accommodations, and the nightly absence of Beorn (the evidence of whose marauding they find one morning: a goblin's head on the gatepost and a warg-skin nailed to a tree) add richness and depth to the story. Beorn also provides them with gifts for their journey of transportation, weapons, and food, and stealthy protection to the edge of Mirkwood. This pattern of a visitation serves Tolkien well through The Lord of the Rings, but perhaps it is followed most closely by the hobbits' visit with Tom Bombadil, who is also under no enchantment but his own.

They leave knowing Beorn is a friend. And that means we shall see him again!

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

Print View Link to this newsitem

July 20: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

They fly to the Carrock and reach Beorn's in midafternoon.

...this one is THE Carrock...
...this one is THE Carrock....
© Alan Lee.
The Carrock: the fang. In its description it is a rather dramatic appearing place where the Eagles have deposited Gandalf, Dwarves and Hobbit. But from its heights, the Company travels most of the day to reach Beorn's Hall.

The name Beorn has been thoroughly researched by Tolkien scholars and is Old English for bear. Indeed, it also has its roots in the Norse, Bjorn, which connects to berserkers (something that will take on relevance later in the tale). We are also told that Beorn was a skin-changer who lived by day as a big and burly man, and by night he prowled as a bear. Tolkien paints him as gruff, abrupt, and very mysterious.

"The Hobbit mentions that dragons chased most men away from the northern lands, and it implies that the great bears of the northern mountains vanished when the giants appeared some time before the story unfolds. Beorn is associated with both bears and the northern men. If the skin-changers did not originate with Beorn then they must have lived in the mountains, and Gandalf does reveal he once overheard Beorn express the hope he would one day return to the mountains." *

The Company knows they are approaching Beorn's Hall when they encounter the large flower patches and his bee-pastures. Seems a likely setting for man and bear, does it not?

* - from Beorning Questions by Michael Marinez

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

Print View Link to this newsitem

July 19: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

Gandalf and the dwarves escape. Bilbo finds the ring, meets Gollum, escapes. The company is trapped by wolves and rescued by eagles.

"It's got to ask uss a question, my preciouss, yes....
© Alan Lee.
This eventful day starts badly for Bilbo. As we discover later, Gandalf's magic has enabled the others to escape the goblins, but Bilbo is accidentally left behind, unconscious on the tunnel floor. On waking, he crawls around looking for a way out.

And then he finds the ring.

In fact, his hand "meets" it - has the ring chosen a new owner? "It was a turning point in his career, although he did not know it" - Tolkien is talking about Bilbo but this applies equally to himself.

For a while Bilbo despairs. Then, heartened by the idea that his sword was forged in Gondolin, he continues through the darkness and finds Gollum - a small, dark, slimy creature living near an underground lake, who will eat him - given the chance! Trapped, Bilbo makes a pact with Gollum: they will trade riddles. If Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him the way out. If he loses, Gollum eats him . . .

Tolkien's children would have recognised Bilbo's riddles, which are drawn from popular fairy tales, while Gollum's go back to Anglo-Saxon times. Tolkien is amusing himself here by incorporating oral tradition, having already called his "rabble of Eddaic-named dwarves*" after characters in the Norse saga Völuspá - and 'Gandalf' means 'elf with a staff' (gand-aelf)**.

As the riddles get harder, Bilbo panics; he guesses the last one by "pure luck" (Bilbo has a lot of "luck" throughout his adventures, which suggests that fate is at work). Unable to think of another, he absent-mindedly touches the ring and cries "What have I got in my pocket?". Gollum thinks it's part of the game, and is stumped. There is no cheating - this is a children's story!

Reluctantly Gollum agrees to show Bilbo the way out, secretly planning to use the ring - which he doesn't realise he's lost - to become invisible, and kill Bilbo. Of course, he can't find it, and,suspecting the truth, attacks. Bilbo flees, the ring slips onto his finger, and he discovers that he can follow Gollum to the exit without being seen. Gollum, talking wildly to himself, veers between searching for the ring and luring Bilbo back to the goblins. Yet Bilbo pities Gollum and chooses not to kill him before escaping. Shippey** points out that Bilbo empathises with Gollum because he has far more in common with him than he does with the dwarves . This display of mercy, along with the discovery of the ring, has great significance for the future of Middle-Earth.

Bilbo catches up with Gandalf and the dwarves, but when they swap escape stories, Bilbo decides not to mention the ring. They resume their journey but are forced to climb trees to escape wolves. Gandalf bombards the wolves with flaming pine cones, which attracts the goblins, but also the eagles, who arrive as the goblins and wolves set fire to the tree trunks. The eagles carry Thorin's company to their eyrie and once again Bilbo is nearly left behind, clinging desperately to Dori's legs.

In Tolkien's wider mythology the eagles are a manifestation of the Thought of Manwë, a force for good. Here they effect a vital rescue and will do so again in The Hobbit and LOTR. But for now we leave Bilbo and his companions in the eyrie, resting before they carry on towards the Lonely Mountain.

*source: Christopher Tolkien, HoME The Return of the Shadow, HarperCollins 1988
** source: Tom Shippey, Roots & Branches, Walking Tree Publishers 2007

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

Print View Link to this newsitem

June 26: TA 2941

Categories: Hobbit Calendar

Monday. They are captured by the Goblins during the night.

The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage...
The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage......
© Alan Lee.
After leaving Rivendell, the company ventures into the Misty Mountains. A storm comes a few days into the journey and Kili and Fili are sent to find shelter. They find a cave and claim to have checked it thoroughly. While in the cave, Gandalf amuses the dwarves and hobbit with smoke rings and then they all fall asleep, except Bilbo. He cannot sleep and when he does finally fall asleep, he has horrible dreams.

"It was the last night they used the ponies, packages, baggages, tools and paraphernalia they had brought with them. It turned out a good thing, that night, that they had brought little Bilbo with them after all. For somehow,he could not go to sleep for a long while, and when he did sleep, he had very nasty dreams. He dreamed that crack at the wall of the back of the cave got bigger and bigger and opened wider and wider and he was very afraid but could not call out or do anything but lie and look. then he dreamed that the floor of the cave was giving way and he was slipping beginning to fall down, down, goodness knows where to! At that he woke up with a horrible start and found that part of his dream was true! A crack had opened at the back of the cave and was already a wide passage. He was just in time to see the last of the ponies tails disappearing into it. of course he gave a very loud yell, as loud a yell a hobbit can give, which is surprising for their size. Out jumped the goblins!"

In the chaos, and in a flash, the Goblins carry off the dwarves and Bilbo, but Bilbo's scream alerted Gandalf and he escaped, which allowed him to later free the others from the Goblins.

So, Bilbo served a great purpose, because without his dream and scream, they all would have been captured and the journey would have ended. Who knows who would have ended up with the Ring and how Middle-earth would have faired?

This event also marks the second capture of the company by the enemy. The capture is a result of dwarf mistakes. The capture leads the company deep under the mountains, which essentially leads Bilbo to the Ring, which would not have happened otherwise, thus affecting the future of all Middle-earth.

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

Print View Link to this newsitem

Midyear's Day (Loëndë - June 22)

Source: Middle-earth Journeys
Categories: Hobbit Calendar

The company leaves Rivendell

"Rivendell" by Alan Lee
Thorin and Company have been in Rivendell for a little over two weeks, gathering strength and information to carry them further on their journey to the Lonely Mountain. They have met Elrond Half-Elven and the often motley collection of folks from all races who come in peace to his valley, where "his house was 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. Evil things did not come into that valley." It was just the interlude the travelers needed, and now rested and armed with their new knowledge of the maps and runes, they set out "on a midsummer's morning as fair and fresh as could be desired, blue sky and never a cloud, and the sun dancing on the water." They will need the memory of this pleasant place, for the lighthearted story of hobbit and dwarves will hereafter be much darker and more perilous. Ahead of Bilbo lie endless goblins, Mirkwood, the perils and losses of the Lonely Mountain, and one Gollum and his magic ring, among other things.

I have always wondered about this interlude at Rivendell, so short in the telling, yet lasting so long in the memory that Bilbo was drawn back to this place to spend the last years of his life. Was Tolkien writing about a place where he wanted to be? Was Rivendell where he went to refresh and renew himself in his mind?

One other thought: I cannot help but wonder, did Bilbo encounter an enchanting and comely, though probably solemn, child of Men - Estel, age ten, foster son of Elrond? If so, this was likely his first time meeting one of the "Big People." Was it here, in this place and time, that the long association between the family of Baggins and the House of Telcontar began? I like to think so. . . .

© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.

Display options:
Order by:        
Jump to page:
Last edited: 12 June 2009 11:54:37