Posts Tagged ‘Bilbo Baggins’

The Fellowship of the Ring

May 28, 2015

The tale grew in the telling, as Tolkien put it. The Lord of the Rings began as a sequel to Tolkien’s successful children’s book, The Hobbit. The early drafts of the story were written in the same lighthearted manner as the Hobbit in a style quite different from the stories of the Elves, posthumously published as the Silmarilion, that Tolkien considered his real life’s work. Very soon, however, the tale took on a darker and grander tone. Tolkien’s two worlds that briefly touched in the Hobbit, came together to produce the epic tale of the War of the Ring and the end of the Elder Days of the Eldar.

The Hobbit is a children’s book that adults can enjoy. The Lord of the Rings is the book for those children who enjoyed the Hobbit who are now grown up. The Elves no longer sit in trees and sing silly songs. They are the Firstborn, ancient beings of great ability and nobility who have their own sorrows. The Dwarves become the noble Khazad, the Naugrim with a fierce loyalty to kin and friends and ever willing to fight for their rights. Gandalf grows from being a cantankerous conjurer to a mighty enemy of Sauron. Bilbo’s ring of invisibility, which he used to avoid unpleasant callers, becomes the One Ring, whose wearer can obtain absolute power, at the cost of his soul. The Hobbits also grow in the course of the story. Bilbo Baggins began as little more than baggage at the beginning of The Hobbit., but emerged as a great hero by the end. Frodo and company are less helpless in the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, but they still need rescuing. The Hobbits are decidedly minor members of the Company of the Ring, at least until the end of the first book. . By the end of the story, they have grown great enough to stand with the wizards and warriors, yet their humbler perspective continues to be essential in bringing the story to the level of the reader. The Lord of the Rings told from the viewpoint of Gandalf or Aragorn would be a different, and more remote story.

Fellowship-cover

Tolkien always disavowed any connection between the events in the Lord of the Rings and the real life events that occurred during its writing. I am not sure that I believe him. Tolkien did not consciously model the War of the Ring on World War II and Sauron was not based on Hitler, but I cannot imagine that a writer’s life experiences wouldn’t have great influence on his writings. In Tolkien’s case, there seem to be certain themes in the Lord of the Rings that must have been based on Tolkien’s own experiences in in both World Wars.

One theme repeated several times in the Fellowship is that it is the small and humble who do the real work of saving the world while the great have their minds on other things. While the elves, wizards and warriors fight desperately to save Middle Earth, it is the insignificant Hobbits whose acts of heroism save the day. The Hobbits do not want to be kings or win glory in battle. They do not really want to be the ones to save the world. All the Hobbits want to do is their part for Middle Earth and then go back to the Shire. As Sam might put it, they have a job to do. Surely, Tolkien based his Hobbits on the common British enlisted men who served under him in World War I. The generals and statesmen made great plans for reordering the world, but it was the courage of the ordinary soldiers who won the war.

Hobbits on their

There is also a deep sense of loss that pervades the Lord of the Rings. This is not so apparent in the Fellowship of the Ring, except in the chapters dealing with the elves, especially in Lothlorien. This feeling of loss, that much that is good in Middle Earth must pass away even if Sauron is defeated becomes especially poignant in The Return of the King so perhaps I should discuss it more in a review of that part of the trilogy. This feeling of loss, even in victory, must come from Tolkien’s own experiences. In both world wars, Britain was victorious over German aggression, the good guys won, but after both wars Britain and the world was forever changed. In some ways, this change was for the better, yet much that was good about the prewar world was gone forever. By the time the Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950’s, Tolkien might well have felt like one of his Eldar, living in a world that was no longer his.

Elves leaving Middle Earth

Elves leaving Middle Earth

The Fellowship of the Ring, then, is more than simply a fantasy, but a serious, though fun, story dealing with serious themes of plot and characterization. I am convinced that the Lord of the Rings will be one of the few books from the twentieth century still read centuries from now.

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An Unexpected Journey

February 16, 2013
Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's T...

Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a couple of days ago. I liked the movie better than I thought I would. The special effects were excellent and the lush New Zealand scenery provided the perfect background for Middle Earth. It was nice to see Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Gandalf, the old Bilbo, and Saruman. Martin Freeman was a perfect fit as the younger Bilbo. Seeing the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum was, by itself, worth the price of admission.

However, I have the same complaint about Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit as I did about his Lord of the Rings, namely Jackson’s propensity to introduce personality conflicts into the story. In An Unexpected Journey, he has Thorin unwilling to seek help from Elrond at Rivendell because of his hatred and distrust of the elves. Gandalf has to trick him into going there. These additional conflicts do not really improve the story and they often lead the characters into acting in ways contrary to their personality as established in the book or movie, or in ways that are just stupid.

One example can be found in The Return of the King. Denethor decides that the Rohirrim are not coming to aid Gondor and refuses to light the signal fires. Gandalf has Pippin light the fires instead. Now Gondor was about to be invaded by the armies of Mordor. Wouldn’t the Steward of Gondor do everything in his power to get as much help as possible? There are other examples but you get the idea.

It was a nice movie to watch, but I have to say that these additions made the experience somewhat irritating.

The Hobbit

January 17, 2013

It is a shame that J. R. R. Tolkien’s great work, The Hobbit, has been overshadowed by his still greater work The Lord of the Rings. Nowadays, most people regard The Hobbit simply as the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit, however, is a great story even standing on its own.

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The Hobbit is the story of the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, a staid, unadventurous member of a staid, unadventurous race. One day, Bilbo is visited by the wizard Gandalf and thirteen homeless Dwarves and somehow becomes their burglar with the job of helping the Dwarves recover their lost gold and home, stolen by the dragon Smaug.

When they first set off on their adventure, Bilbo is not much use to the Dwarves and seems more a burden than a burglar. He can’t seem to do anything right. Over time, however he becomes more confident and takes more of a lead. By the end of the story, he has helped defeat the dragon and has saved the Dwarves lives more than once.

Tolkien shows great skill with the plot of the Hobbit, never allowing the pace to slacken but keeping the reader excited with Bilbo’s adventures.  Throughout the book, he shows the same keen ability to depict the natural world as he does in the Lord of the Rings, and so makes Middle Earth come to life in a way few authors of fantasy can. Bilbo’s growth as a leader and a person are convincingly shown and Tolkien, at times displays a wry wit, especially with the politics of Laketown and Bilbo’s conversations with the Dragon.

If there is one fault with the Hobbit, it is that at times Tolkien was too aware that he was writing a children’s book, and at times, his writing takes on a slightly condescending tone, the sort of tone that adults often use when talking to small children and which the children really don’t like much. Overall, however, the Hobbit is an enjoyable book to read whether on its own, or as the prequel to the Lord of the Rings.

 


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