“The Hobbit” Read-Along, Chapter 19: “The Last Stage”

[Sorry for the lag for this final post of our magnificent Read-Along for The Hobbit. In Melpomene’s absence, I’m filling in to offer my thoughts on the end to Tolkien’s fairy story.]

Chapter 19

The Last Stage

Sing we now softly, and dreams let us weave him!
Wind him in slumber and there let us leave him!
The wanderer sleepeth. Now soft be his pillow!
Lullaby! Lullaby! Alder and Willow!
Sigh no more Pine, till the wind of the morn!
Fall Moon! Dark be the land!
Hush! Hush! Oak, Ash, and Thorn!
Hushed be all water, till dawn is at hand!

So sing the elves in Rivendell, to remind us that even in a world with hardship and grief, death, and gloomy victory, even these shall pass, and dreams may be sweet again, and pillows soft, and water sweet and gentle, and dawn bright and strong.Descent-into-Riv2-port

“Merry is May-time!” said Bilbo, as the rain beat into his face. “But our back is to legends and we are coming home. I suppose this is a first taste of it.”

“There is a long road yet,” said Gandalf.

“But it is the last road,” said Bilbo.

Endings can be difficult things, but few authors can manage a truly comfortable, spot-on, well-earned happy one as well as the Professor. By the end of the previous chapter, all the major conflicts have been resolved, peace has been restored, victory has been celebrated, tragedies have been mourned, and one may wonder what there is left to say. Tolkien could have easily paraphrased a few paragraphs from this chapter and worked them into Chapter 18, and we probably wouldn’t have felt we were missing anything. But Tolkien knew that there were still things yet worth experiencing. Stories are not all conflict and the resolution of conflict, though those are generally the key parts. Just as songs sometimes benefit from a brief reprise of the opening verse at the end, perhaps in a different key, so do stories sometimes need to wind down a bit after the climax has passed, to catch their breath and return to walking speed before they stop for good.

What a simple pleasure it is to join Bilbo and Gandalf on their way back to Hobbiton! While the previous chapter mentions in passing that Bilbo suffered many hardships and adventures on his way home, Chapter 19 picks up as he enters the peaceful lands around Rivendell, and from there onward the road is gentle and the country kind. We catch snatches of their conversation as they walk, and it is the relaxed banter of friends between whom dialogue is welcome, but not necessary, for them to enjoy each others’ company.

This was much as it had been before, except that the company was smaller, and more silent; and also this time there were no trolls.

They pass the places of their old adventures: the trolls, the buried treasure, the border of the Wild. These are quieter now, and just different enough that the events of last year feel much older. Such is often the feeling when we visit again places that once were very important to us. My old high school is a bustling, overfilled place, but when I go to visit it feels quieter to me, because so few of the teachers and staff that I knew have remained. There is noise about, but none of it is meant for me. And if there are trolls there still, they are not the ones I knew.

My favorite part of this chapter is Balin’s surprise visit to Bag End, some years after their adventure. We are all too familiar—in real life as well as in stories—with good-byes that are accompanied by promises to visit, to write, to stay in touch, that are not fulfilled. Yet Tolkien is too wise to let that be the case here. Most of these promises are not kept, but some are, and these are precious, my friends, so very precious. Balin’s visit is not couched under the guise of a new adventure or any ulterior motive. It is simply a visit by an old friend. Well, two old friends, since Gandalf accompanies Balin. The old wizard slips away to secret places often enough, but he always comes back to where he is welcome, and to where he is needed.

And so this Read-Along is at its end, and I hardly know how to express my gratitude to you all for sharing it with me. Your reflections have been wonderful, joyous, thoughtful, serious, funny, melancholy, and giddy, often all at once. My mind and my heart have grown because of you all.

Grant me this small boon, that you read again the final image of The Hobbit: three old friends reminiscing, laughing, enjoying their pasts, their present, and their hopes for their futures. May the Lord bless us all with many such times!


Post-Script: If you still long to talk about Tolkien and his creatures, check out Jubilare’s fantastic series on the Dwarves! Part I, Part II, and Part III are already up.

“The Hobbit” Read-Along Chapter 1: “An Unexpected Party”

Chapter 1

An Unexpected Party

(In which I tell you things I thought while reading the first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.)

You can nearly hear it: the squirming under the blankets, the excited whispers from little voices, the occasional giggle or outright laughter, and, perhaps, the interrupting questions which are bound to pepper any evening spent telling a good story to children. And you, the teller, the reader-out-loud, love these sounds, because they feed the energy of your growing tale and remind you that, whatever else you have planned, your story absolutely must entertain.

If you are lucky enough to be actually reading The Hobbit aloud to children, all the better. If you find yourself alone, no matter; for me, at least, Tolkien’s prose—more carefree and warm than the tone he would later adopt for The Lord of the Rings—had the effect of making me feel as if I was the storyteller.

So, Things of Note about Chapter 1:

  • Bilbo is quite unfazed at Gandalf’s famous parsing of the many meanings of “good morning” on page 4. He invites the strange (blue-hatted!) man to have a smoke with him and, when the topic of adventures is brought up, is not shy to say that they’re not wanted around here, thank you. We can tell that this little fellow, however homely, has a certain spunk. This is confirmed when Gandalf reveals his identity, and Bilbo nearly explodes with excited recognition: “Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man who used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those!…Splendid!” Gandalf finds it hopeful that he at least liked the fireworks.
  • The arrival of the dwarves at Bag End reveals some excellent comedic timing. You can imagine children gasping and giggling a little when Bilbo first throws open the door expecting Gandalf, and finds a brusquely-friendly Dwalin instead; more giggles for the second time Bilbo answers the door, swearing that it must be Gandalf now, only to have Balin stroll in and ask for beer; and finally peals of laughter as more knocks come at the door, and Bilbo resigns himself to the steadily growing groups of dwarves that keep tumbling into his hallway, hanging up their cloaks and caps, and trundling off to the kitchen to drink loudly with their kinsmen. Even grumpy old me (I turned 25 this Sunday the 23rd, by the by) chuckled a fair bit to myself.
  • Bilbo’s exasperated attempt to follow the rules of polite hospitality despite not knowing a thing about these dwarves who have crashed his home as if they were expected is quite amusing.
  • “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!” Frodo was never so eloquent as Bilbo. +)
  • The first song in Tolkien’s published legendarium is a Dwarven one about…breaking plates and causing mayhem in Bilbo’s kitchen! “Chip the glasses and crack the plates! / Blunt the knives and bend the forks! / That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates– / Smash the bottles and burn the corks!” (12)
    • It is at this point especially that I began to picture the story as a cartoon. Tolkien, don’t smite me from beyond the grave, but this little scene of the dwarves singing cheekily as they clean up after dinner is very Disney-esque. In a good, rousingly fun way.
  • Ah, but then the second song starts, the famous one. For the first time in the chapter, a deep, epic tone creeps in. The stanza about Smaug’s arrival to the Lonely Mountain, heralded by moaning winds and flaming forests, and the subsequent destruction of the Dwarven society there, is genuinely chilling. Bilbo gets a taste of the numinous:

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. (15)

  • Tolkien’s revelation about the battlefield heroics of Bilbo’s great-great-great-granduncle Bullroarer is surprising, given what we’ve seen of hobbitish courage thus far (Bilbo outright faints when the possibility of them not returning from this adventure alive is mentioned), and mixed with a bit of deadpan British humor.

[Bullroarer Took] charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfumbil’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred years through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. (17)

  • Even amidst the somber tragedy of the story that Thorin relates, what I remember most is that the dwarves were most proud of their crafting of…toys. “…Not to speak of the most marvelous and magical toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days…the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North” (22).
    • I actually kind of like this reference, although it seem to be included primarily to induce wonder in the children of the audience. It is difficult to imagine Thorin making toys, even magical ones.
  • Shortly before the chapter ends, Tolkien is careful to bring back the more mythic tone. Gandalf mentions that he found Thrain, Thorin’s father, a suffering witless prisoner in the dungeons of the Necromancer, a mysterious sorcerer who is “quite beyond the powers of all the dwarves put together” (25). And just before they all go to sleep, Bilbo hears Thorin softly singing the chorus of that haunting song “Far over the misty mountains cold…” and we shiver a little and brace ourselves for adventure.

The first chapter of The Hobbit manages to be cheeringly cozy while still waking us to the cold winds of danger and ancient mysteries. It establishes its setting and characters with remarkable swiftness and charm. It’s a delight.

Friends: What are your thoughts on this auspicious chapter? What did you think of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves? Have you any particular concerns or hopes for the movie’s treatment of scenes from this chapter?

Next up, Emily of WanderLust will write about Chapter 2 “Roast Mutton”!

“The Hobbit” Read-Along Schedule

Hail, lo, and behold! We have a preliminary schedule for The Hobbit Read-Along! In addition to myself, we have nine participants to split among nineteen chapters. As the host, I have taken the responsibility of the first chapter for myself—unless someone else greatly desires it for themselves, in which case I will happily exchange it for another—and given everyone else two. Postings will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

If anyone wants to write on a chapter other than what has been assigned, speak up now so that the schedule can be adjusted before postings begin! As you can see, the first post will appear on Tuesday, September 25th. I thought it fitting to start just after September 22, which is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. The final post will come at the end of November, thus giving us a little bit of time before the release of the first movie on December 14.

You are welcome to approach your posts in whatever manner you want, but in order to relieve you of a little stress, I’ve come up with a few helpful guidelines:

  1. Keep your focus on the chapter at hand, out of respect for the other participants. Obviously, you can refer to events in other chapters as needed to shed light on your chapter, but try not steal someone else’s thunder!
  2. Don’t worry about “reviewing” the chapter; tell us just the thing(s) that really stood out to you. A character’s development, how Tolkien uses the landscape, the presence of humor, whatever. Don’t feel an obligation to talk about something that doesn’t immediately interest you. Follow your gut.
  3. Posts should be as long or as short as you need to say what you want to say.
  4. Comment on as many of the posts as you can! The purpose of this Read-Along is to foster discussion and a shared joy in Tolkien’s story. The easiest way to keep up on all the posts in this series is to subscribe to each of the participants. (It’s good to promote each others’ blogs!)
  5. Have fun! (Such a cliché to end a list this way, but hey, it’s true.)

Once posting begins, I will create a special Page (like the others above my header) where I will link to every official post in The Hobbit Read-Along. You are all welcome to do the same. We want to make it easy for anyone who reads one post to find the others in this series, with as little hassle and as few clicks as possible. In fact, to facilitate this, I may even reblog every one of the official posts, so that even my own updates will link directly to all of yours.

If you read this and are not an official participant, don’t worry: you are still encouraged to read and comment! You are even very welcome to post about The Hobbit on your own and solicit our attention for it; I’d be happy to link to you, if you do, but I just won’t be assigning you a specific chapter in the schedule.

Please leave any other ideas or comments you guys have in the comments section below. Schedule and guidelines can still be modified if we want to. We have over a month before this thing starts!

The official list of participants, excluding me, is thus:
Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library
Brenton of A Pilgrim in Narnia and Princess Madison Jayne
Mary of Grimmella
Emily of WanderLust
Krysta of Pages Unbound
Rob of The Old Book Junkie
novareylin of MySeryniti
Melpomene of The Egotist’s Club

Chapter 1 – An Unexpected Party → 9/25 Tuesday
David (Me!)

Chapter 2 – Roast Mutton→ 9/27 Thursday

Chapter 3 – A Short Rest → 10/02 Tuesday

Chapter 4 – Over Hill and Under Hill →10/04 Thursday

Chapter 5 – Riddles in the Dark →10/09 Tuesday

Chapter 6 – Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire →10/11 Thursday

Chapter 7 – Queer Lodgings →10/16 Tuesday

Chapter 8 – Flies and Spiders →10/18 Thursday

Chapter 9 – Barrels Out of Bond →10/23 Tuesday

Chapter 10 – A Warm Welcome →10/25 Thursday

Chapter 11 – On the Doorstep →10/29 Tuesday

Chapter 12 – Inside Information →11/1 Thursday

Chapter 13 – Not at Home →11/6 Tuesday

Chapter 14 – Fire and Water →11/8 Thursday

Chapter 15 – The Gathering of the Clouds →11/13 Tuesday

Chapter 16 – A Thief in the Night →11/15 Thursday

Chapter 17 – The Clouds Burst →11/20 Tuesday

Chapter 18 – The Return Journey →11/22 Thursday

Chapter 19 – The Last Stage →11/27 Tuesday

Hobbit Read-Along Brainstorm

As you all should know and be unbelievably excited about, the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy directed by Peter Jackson will be released in U.S. theaters December 14 of this year.

Mild Tolkien purist and sometimes übergeek that I am, I like to be up on my Tolkien source material whenever an adaptation comes out. The LOTR trilogy was released right about the time I finished reading the books. Since it’s been close to ten years, possibly more, since I’ve actually read The Hobbit, however, this season seems like the optimum time to return to it.

And I want you to join me! In a Read-Along! (From an unknown source the theme song of Reading Rainbow starts playing…)

I don’t plan on doing a formal review for The Hobbit (or The Lord of the Rings, if I go on and reread them too), so this seems like the best way to share my delight in Tolkien’s story with the blogosphere. Bloggers Krysta (from Pages Unbound) and EmilyKazakh have already expressed interest. We hereby extend invitations to any bloggers who read this, are interested, and are willing to contribute posts.

But I’ve never done a Read-Along before, so I’d appreciate some help in figuring out how to organize this. Our ideas thus far:

  1. We’ll start some time in the fall, perhaps on September 22, Bilbo’s birthday (and the day before my own!).
  2. We’ll take turns blogging about each chapter of The Hobbit. These don’t have to be reviews, just anything that interested you about the chapter or the story thus far.
  3. Everyone comments on each others’ posts, so we get some awesome discussions going!

The part that needs figuring out is #2, assigning chapters to individuals. I’m thinking we should expect two or three posts per week, so that no individual has to worry about writing too much. This isn’t like the Memes, where you have to plan ahead and and keep to a regular schedule. Most of your time for this Read-Along should be spent reading and commenting on other posts, until you get to the few that are your responsibility.

So if you want to participate, say so in the comments below! When we know how many people want to participate, we can start assigning chapters and figuring out how often the posts should be coming.

Happy reading!

EDIT as of 8/16: Applications for official participation are now CLOSED. A preliminary schedule is forthcoming.