Re-reading Tolkien 3: The Hobbit, chapters 2-6

Hobbit_coverRe-reading Tolkien 1 and 2.

Mostly it had been as good as May can be, even in merry tales, but now it was cold and wet. …
‘To think it will soon be June,’ grumbled Bilbo. (47)

I swear the delay was not because I was waiting until I could quote that. It is merely the serendipitous silver lining to the rain clouds emptying themselves over Bristol.

My last post on The Hobbit ended by questioning whether the whole book could be quite as delightful as the psychosexual smorgasbord of the first chapter. And I’m afraid the answer is no. Although there is still plenty to comment upon, incidents and episodes have rather taken over.

The Battle of Phallic Accoutrements rages on. While both Thorin and Gandalf are given mighty swords, Bilbo takes a blade that ‘would have made only a tiny pocket knife for a troll, but it was as good as a short sword for the hobbit’ (60) – and only becomes really snigger worthy when he is lost in the caves under the Misty Mountains:

But in slapping all his pockets and feeling all round himself for matches his hand came on the hilt of his little sword – the little dagger that he got from the trolls, and that he had quite forgotten; nor fortunately had the goblins noticed it, as he wore it inside his breeches. (91)

Elsewhere, the anal fixation continues. There is an awful lot of wandering around in dank – some might say cloacal – caves, and an obsession about entrances, of gaining access to them, controlling what passes through them, and about squeezing through narrow passages (losing ones buttons in doing so). Probably the less said about rings at this point the better.

One of the curious things re-reading the novel after all this time is that nothing has happened that I do not remember, but I only remember it as it is happening. And certain things have changed because of the passage of time. So when Bilbo decides to embrace the role of burglar and pickpocket one of the trolls – the entire species are Cockerneys, it seems – the whole Žižek thing comes flooding back.

Years ago, I was the journal editor entrusted with the task of asking him to revise and resubmit an article in which he imagines a scene in a porn movie in which a vagina suddenly starts to speak. My favourite part of the process was asking him to not just make such things up, but to actually make the effort to watch a talking-vagina porn movie, such as the excellently-titled Chatterbox. (Sadly, he declined; the book from which the essay was extracted had already been accepted for publication, and he was already busy on the next one or the one after that.)

But now, I see vaginas loquens the way Haley Joel Osment sees dead people. They are everywhere, and sometime you just can’t move for them .

Bilbo plucked up courage and put his hand in William’s enormous pocket. There was a purse in it, as big as a bag to Bilbo. “Ha!” thought he warming up to his new work as he lifted it carefully out, “this is a beginning!”
It was! Trolls’ purses are the mischief, and this was no exception. “’Ere, ’oo are you?” it squeaked… (52-3)

Though I am not sure “Trolls’ purse” will ever catch on as a euphemism, or that it should.

The next chapter is called “Queer Lodgings” – I can hardly wait.


And there is this sentence, probably the finest one in the novel so far, and certainly one that struck me when I was young:

When they got to the top of it [the far river bank], leading their ponies, they saw that the great mountains had marched down very near to them. (63)

Well played, JRR, well-played.

(I also have some thoughts about the description of the goblins, race, species and so on, but I will wait until I have seen more of how Tolkien does these things.)

Part 4

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