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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Discussion — The Hobbit, Chapter 5

Zakar Zamin           
Shawn Daysleeper 
AelKennyr Rhiano 
Lihan Taifun           
Belenos                     (belenosstormchaser.magic)   
Rhûn Darkmoon

Is Gollum's role in The Hobbit more than providing a mechanism for Bilbo to obtain the magic ring, which he will need later?
•  Gollum – obsessed with his "Precious", and totally miserable – is a cautionary tale about greed. Bilbo has many experiences of "darkness" in the story. Gollum shows a possible future that could befall Bilbo if he became "stuck" in the "darkness", or becomes consumed by greed.
•  Bilbo's interactions with Gollum are important for Bilbo's character development. This chapter – Bilbo being separated from the dwarves, finding the ring, dealing with Gollum, and escaping on his own– is the beginning of the change in Bilbo's personality.
Of course, Gollum becomes much more important in Lord of the Rings, after Tolkien realized the significance of the Ring. However, it is not fair to read that information – which was not yet in Tolkien's mind – backwards into The Hobbit.

"Riddles and riddle games are familiar features of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, in which heroes are defined almost as much by their prowess with words as they are by their prowess with swords." Many modern stories – the example was the storylines of many video games – focus only on the hero's use of force, rather than the hero's use of brains and words, and those stories are poorer because of that.

We notice that both Bilbo and Gollum realize that "What have I got in my pocket?" is not a valid riddle. We did not have time to discuss why they both continue with the game.

Very little is said in The Hobbit about Gollum's origins:
"Riddles were all he {Gollum} could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains."
This has an understated suggestion that Gollum comes from a hobbit-like race – living in holes. It is later, from Lord of the Rings, that we learn about Gollum's origins, and how immensely old he is. Remember that, at the time he wrote The Hobbit, all Tolkien knew about the ring was that it made its wearer invisible.

A long discussion of the distinction between an "oral society" (one in which there is little or no written language) and an "oral tradition" (information passed down verbally). A "literate society" (one with written language) may include some information (such as stories, songs, rhymes, or riddles) which are passed primarily through oral tradition.
The hobbits had a literate society – most hobbits could read and write. They often wrote letters, and had books (mostly handwritten). The fact that Bilbo and Gollum knew the same riddles, and similar rules for the riddle game, suggests that there was a shared oral tradition between Gollum's origins and the hobbits of the Shire.

The explanation of why we are now (21st century) in the 7th Age:

AelKennyr Rhiano:  And we are the 4th Age, not the...thinks...7th?
Zakar Zamin:            7th age? How doe those ages line up with the calendar?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Well, pardon for skirting that question, but tonight is the book discussion, so let us do that first, and if we have time, we can answer that? And that may be a Tolkien Discussion group topic that Lihan would want to use :)

AelKennyr Rhiano: tonight is Chapter 5 and 6. and now we get into the critical chapters of the Hobbit.
Zakar Zamin:            Riddles in the dark... I can hear Gandalf saying that.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Without this Chapter, there would be no story!
Zakar Zamin:            And no epic
AelKennyr Rhiano nods...It may be a good discussion at the end of the book to talk about how a children's story achieves an epic tone and plot. A lot of them do.
Lihan Taifun:            this part is crucial to Lord of the Rings, but is it so essential to the story of the Hobbit?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I would say a definite yes.
Shawn Daysleeper:  without the ring he was not able to do certain things later on
Zakar Zamin:            Without the ring, could Bilbo have...
AelKennyr Rhiano:  And without the ring, and Gollum, would Bilbo have developed the same way?
Zakar Zamin:            Probably not, being invisible can give one a measure of courage
AelKennyr Rhiano nods. and thinks of the story without Gollum or the ring.
Shawn Daysleeper:  it seems he becomes less dependent on the dwarves after he realises what the ring does, he is the one driving the story
AelKennyr Rhiano:  oh, yes, Shawn, I totally agree. There is a cautionary tale in this book.
Belenos:                     most good fairy stories/children's stories do have a cautionary tale in them
AelKennyr Rhiano:  nod nod nod
Zakar Zamin:            In this story, Gollum is incidental to finding the ring. Gollum gives a reason for the ring being there and provides information on its ability
AelKennyr Rhiano:  incidental?
Lihan Taifun:            that certainly makes Gollum a plot device -- a mechanism for Bilbo to get the ring
Zakar Zamin:            Let's say Bilbo finds the ring and never meets Gollum. While it would take him longer to find out what the ring does, he would figure it out.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I don't know if he is incidental. I think his role is a little more important than that.
Zakar Zamin:            In that he does lead Billbo to the back door, I can see that
AelKennyr Rhiano:  well, yes, that is the plot line.
Lihan Taifun:            I'm waiting to hear Ael's view about Gollum's role here
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Well, I don't know if my view is all that important. Am I the only one who thinks that Gollum is more than a minor plot device?
Belenos:                     well, in truth you could call anyone in the story a 'plot device'.. they all 'serve their purpose'.. technically .. the same as people we interact with in real life 'serve their purpose' in that we do things because of them.. so do we get bogged down in claiming the characters are just plot devices.. or look at what happens to them?.. *smiles*
Zakar Zamin:            Gollum’s role in the Hobbit could easily been written out, yet his prominence wasn’t understood until Tolkien wrote LOTR 13 years later. What I find interesting is small things, that often go overlooked, can have surprising significance.
Belenos:                     well.. yes.. Bilbo could have just found the ring by the roadside
Zakar Zamin:            or in the troll's cave
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Without Gollum, however, we lose the impact of this cautionary tale seeded in the Hobbit.
Belenos:                     a lot of the others could have been written out too.. but what sort of story does that make it?.. and how does it explain how the characters grow.. or show their character at all.. they all need to interact... and bilbo's interaction with Gollum was important, I think
AelKennyr Rhiano nods.
Belenos:                     Golllum is such an example of where lust for something, greed for it, can lead..
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Think of is he described, how he moves and talks and interacts with Bilbo. Gollum is about "I" and the "precious." "We wants it." He has this thing of incredible power and scope, but possessing it has brought him what...that we see in the Hobbit?
Lihan Taifun:            living in misery in the dark
AelKennyr Rhiano nods
Belenos:                     a pitiful creature.. devoid of all civilisation..
Zakar Zamin:            I'm not saying a lesson can't be learned from him
Rhûn Darkmoon:     'Yet you think him unnecessary to the story?'
Zakar Zamin:            Just that in this story it is not more significant than many of the other characters met.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Gollum is also a possible future for Bilbo..If he is not wise, if he does not learn and develop. To me, just my opinion, he is. I think without us meeting Gollum, we would not be able to appreciate how fully Bilbo has developed over the course of the novel. is my opinion.
Belenos:                     considering how carefully Tolkien constructed his stories, I'm figuring he chose Gollum to be as he was for a very good reason.. and to fill the role he did.. otherwise, it would take away the depth of the story.. and Bilbo's own growth.. why didn't he just put a dwarf in charge of the ring.. or another hobbit unaffected?.. no, I think gollum and his situation was very important..
Zakar Zamin:            The warning of Gollum is more acutely felt in the opening of LOTR.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Agreed, Zakar.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  but there is also another purpose Gollum serves.
Zakar Zamin:            Could we be reading back the importance of Gollum from what we know of LOTR?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  IT is important not to.
Belenos:                     but tell me, Zakar.. what lesson would be learned from this book, without Gollum?
Lihan Taifun:            certainly Gollum takes on very important roles in LotR, but that comes later, after Tolkien realizes how important this ring is
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I'm not...I am looking at his juxtapostion to Bilbo in this novel. He is not a dark character like in LOTR. To me, in my opinion, he serves merely as a possible future for Bilbo, also as a warning of a sort for Bilbo. Look at how many times, Bilbos falls into darkness in the novel. And the darkest of the darknessess is when? When he encounters Gollum.
Zakar Zamin:            Much is made of the Dwarves’ greed.
Belenos:                     but do they suffer for it?.. do they ever fall as low as Gollum did?
Shawn Daysleeper:  they fall pretty low at the siege but I don't think they fall as low as Gollum
Lihan Taifun:            yes, they do suffer from it, during the seige, but Gollum is very low
Zakar Zamin:            I am not quite following. Maybe in separating the two works, I am misscategorizing.. How does Gollum serve as a warning?
Belenos smiles.. you see... much has been said about the Scandanavian and Anglo-Saxon literature, lore and legends that have influence Tolkien.... so MANY of those stories always carry a cautionary tale... children's stories always have an element of that... I believe Gollum is that element in this story.. no other has fallen as low as he has, and the reason he fell so low is because of his greed.. his lust for his 'Precious'
AelKennyr Rhiano nods. but, if I may, I would like to point out a literary device that Tolkien uses Gollum to employ?
Zakar Zamin:            I can accept Gollum being a stark image of such a lesson, but the caution of greed surfaces several times. Ch 7 is another example. Continue Ael.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  It shows his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and Scandavian epics. Oh...smiles shyly..I was planning to...I think Lihan will find this neat.
Rhûn Darkmoon smiles at Zakar's graciousness
AelKennyr Rhiano:  And she probably knows it already. The riddle game Gollum insists on playing. Riddles and riddle games are familiar features of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, in which heroes are defined almost as much by their prowess with words as they are by their prowess with swords. In fact, many of the riddles exchanged by Bilbo and Gollum come directly from ancient Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon poems. And actually...Bilbo cheats outrageously.
Lihan Taifun:            ((now I'm expected to say something intelligent on the topic of riddle games? eep))
AelKennyr Rhiano:  ((nod nod nod))
Zakar Zamin:            It does seem that video games, while needing some strategy, do lack in that sort of challenge. At least the few I've played
AelKennyr Rhiano:  You see, Bilbo baffles Gollum with the question, “What have I got in my pocket?,” which is, of course, not a true riddle at all. A true riddle must contain clues necessary to solve it. Gollum, with his purely ancient sensibilities, cannot even challenge Bilbo’s question, let alone answer it.
Lihan Taifun:            yet Gollum did realize that it wasn't a valid riddle
AelKennyr Rhiano:  yes, he did, and it is curious that he honored "losing," isn't it?
Zakar Zamin:            To be fair to Bilbo, he was thinking out loud and did not intend it for the riddle game.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Yes, that does make the cheatng rather unintentional..smiles.
Belenos:  <--- is lost.. how did video games come into this?.. *blushes*
Zakar Zamin:            a lot of combat, not much riddling
AelKennyr Rhiano:  But however we notice that Bilbo does not say," Oh, wait, that was not a riddle at all. Here, let me ask one."
Zakar Zamin:            Bilbo seized upon Gollum's mistake... could we say, "took advantage"?
Belenos: <-- is still confused.. is that where you get your tolkien knowledge from?.. sorry.. am finding you hard to follow
AelKennyr Rhiano:  oh..pardon, Belenos.
Lihan Taifun:            I thought Zakar was saying that Tolkien is a better storyteller than the writers of most video games?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Please, elaborate, Zakar?
Belenos smiles at Lihan....ohhhhh..
Zakar Zamin:            My aside was on "heroes are defined almost as much by their prowess with words as they are by their prowess with swords" and relating it to our modern storytelling via video games
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I am kinda lost now, too?
Zakar Zamin:            I'm sorry for the confusion
AelKennyr Rhiano:  no, no, it is ok.
Belenos:                     ohhh.. now I follow.. sorry.. i could not follow your thinking.. which i suppose is natural as I don't read mind.. just what was written
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Please...I would like to know your thoughts. I just am not following.
Zakar Zamin:            for what it is worth, I'm told my mind works in mysterious ways. Where are you lost Ael as I think there are three threads in play now and I'm not sure where to start untangling.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Well, I followed all but where the video game thread came into play?
Zakar Zamin:            It was my mind linking ancient stories to modern stories in video games. Compare and contrast
AelKennyr Rhiano: it was not something that was voiced in the discussion? Please, I would ask you share those thoughts...I think everyone here likes to hear the thoughts of others, and know where those thoughts have their genesis :))
Zakar Zamin:            Call it a random thought. Sometimes I go from A to D and skip B & C.
Belenos:                     ohh?.. so there are stories in amongst all the hack/slash/kill ?.... please.. tell more..
Zakar Zamin:            Play GuildWars.
Belenos grins.. yes sir.. I'll rush out and do that straight away.. umm.. what is GuildWars?
Zakar Zamin:            lol
AelKennyr Rhiano:  hahaha
Zakar Zamin:            Despite the fun, I am really sorry for this rabbit trail.
Shawn Daysleeper:  hehe
Rhûn Darkmoon thinks, 'So you compare Tolkien's stories as comparable to modern video games?'
Zakar Zamin:            And for those who want to know
AelKennyr Rhiano:  As long at Peter Cottontail keeps hopping down the bunny trail, I think it is ok?
Zakar Zamin:  
Shawn Daysleeper:  I have played kingdom hearts but the story is not epic like Tolkein
Zakar Zamin:            I would not call them comparable, except that you can compare them.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  O.o erm...then that would imply they are comparable?
Zakar Zamin:            I would not call the stories embedded in video games epic either. I mean, in as far as two things can be compared. This is not to say that one is a good substitute for the other.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Comparison, however, does not imply that between the two things there can be substitution of one for the other.
Shawn Daysleeper:  it is interesting both gollum and Bilbo knew the same riddles despite Gollum being separated from hobbits for a long time
AelKennyr Rhiano:  YES!
Rhûn Darkmoon:     'Isn't rather like saying drain cleaner is a good substitute for laxatives?'.. grins
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Good call...Sh---chokes.
Belenos giggles
Zakar Zamin tries to get that old middle school song out of his head
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Erm...before we get too far off topic...
Zakar Zamin:            too late
Belenos:                     so how long do hobbits live?.. how long would gollum have been away from the others? oops.. yes, Ael?.. *smiles*
Zakar Zamin:            meanwhile, back on the ranch -- At 111, Bilbo was quite old
Shawn Daysleeper:  the old took reached 120 which was a respectable age
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Since we never got to Chapter 6 tonight, should we do Chapters 6 & 7 next time?
Rhûn Darkmoon smiles, 'Yes please.'
Lihan Taifun:            sure
Shawn Daysleeper:  ok
Zakar Zamin:            I'm OK with that
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Ok with you, Belenos?
Belenos:                     that works for me.. :)
AelKennyr Rhiano:  ok..thank you...wanted to mention that before anyone got away.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I believe it is in the LOTR that we get some idea that the ring has unnaturally extended Gollum's I correct with that?
Lihan Taifun:            yes
Belenos:                     i think so.. doesn't bilbo ages significantly once he lets the ring out of his possession?
Zakar Zamin:            I think so, but there seem to be some hinting at it
Shawn Daysleeper:  yes Ael, I don't remember that mentioned at all in the hobbit
Zakar Zamin:            We also learn in LOTR that Gollum is/was hobbitish
AelKennyr Rhiano:  No, I don't find it in the Hobbit, and yes. he grows frail, I think, once he is with the elves, and he no longer has the ring.
Zakar Zamin:            In the Hobbit, there is mention of Gollum's long life but no reason given.
Lihan Taifun:            the Hobbit is quite vague on Gollum's origins
Belenos:                     but he was a grown hobbit when he found the ring.. so he would have heard the children's tails and riddles etc before then, I imagine?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  I would think so. It seems, as Shawn pointed out, a shared heritance.
Shawn Daysleeper:  I suppose so because he knew them when he meets Bilbo
Zakar Zamin:            Something I've read a little on is oral transmission - how oral societies maintain the integrity of the material over the generations
Rhûn Darkmoon:     'Were hobbits only oral societies though?'
Zakar Zamin:            poetry/rhymes allow for no deviation.
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Erm...that is not quite precise. It depends on the purpose and the genre. Riddles like the ones we see in Chapter 6 vary very little from generation to generation.
Zakar Zamin:            Granted. I'm sure a child's rhyme could be changed at whim
Lihan Taifun:            ((found the part with Gollums backstory))
AelKennyr Rhiano:  They have a certain formula that helps perserve them in their near original, please, if I may continue a little more?
Lihan Taifun:            go ahead
Zakar Zamin:            continue
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Nursery rhymes...those are a different matter. Alot of them actually were political commentaries and as such, were often couched as those aimed at children when, in fact, they were meant to make a statement on the political or social situations... they did change over time. They would vary to sit the situation and time period. And over time, they were rendered "safe," meaning they carried none of the political overtones at some point. Epic poems like Beowulf....although the basic framework of the story remained constant, the details did not . And that is because the oral tradition views the transmission of the material in a slightly different manner than written tradition.
Shawn Daysleeper:  nods
AelKennyr Rhiano blushes...sorry..that was very long-winded...Please, let me defer to Lihan now
Zakar Zamin:            I also told that oral societies have some skepticism toward written information. Zakar Zamin yields the floor
Lihan Taifun:            "Riddles were all he {Gollum} could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had ever played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains."
Belenos:                     ok.. once Lihan is finished, I'd like to ask you to definite 'oral society'.. and if you DO consider the hobbits as an oral society, please Zakar
AelKennyr Rhiano:  Yay, Lihan!
Lihan Taifun:            That was all I could find (quickly) in the Hobbit. I think the rest of what we know of Gollum's backstory must be from LotR
Zakar Zamin:            I think you are correct, Lihan
AelKennyr Rhiano:  so that does, in a very vague way imply he knew of hobbits, too, because Tolkien took a good bit of time to tell us that they live in holes. at the start of the novel.
Shawn Daysleeper:  ya i don't think thay say much about Gollem's history or the ring's effects in the Hobbit
Zakar Zamin:            The evil of the ring is not brought to light until LOTR
Lihan Taifun:            yes, so there is a suggestion of a link to hobbits, but it is subtle
AelKennyr Rhiano:  yes, very. oh...sorry...Belenos had a question to Zakar.
Lihan Taifun:            we can go back to discussing oral traditions. end of digression
AelKennyr Rhiano:  no, no, I am glad you found that. It was very helpful. :)
Zakar Zamin:            I thought oral traditions was a digression
Belenos smiles.. thank you.. yes, I'd like to ask you to definite 'oral society'.. and if you DO consider the hobbits as an oral society, please Zakar
Belenos:                     ohhh.. see.. then you confuse me Zakar.. I thought you were saying hobbits had an oral tradition..
Zakar Zamin:            Wouldn't having an oral tradition and being an oral society be somewhat different?
Belenos:                     oh pardon.. my choice of words.. let me be specific.. I thought you were saying hobbits were an oral society.... in view of your remark
Zakar Zamin:            What I was getting at was the ability to transmit information - such as the same riddles - over successive generations without much change.
Belenos:                     so you do not regard hobbits as an Oral Society?
Zakar Zamin:            So that it would not be amazing for Bilbo and Gollum to know the same riddles
Lihan Taifun:            and riddles still "work" even if they aren't transmitted exactly word for word. A great many riddles still work even if translated into a different language
AelKennyr Rhiano:  but it does speak to a common heritage...they must have that, and that is kinda important, I think
Belenos blushes.. I am so sorry that I struggle to follow your thoughts... I am so focused on the book we are discussing and I get thrown for a loop when you say something at times.. *blushes more*... I struggle to connect what you say to what we are discussing... *smiles sheepishly*
AelKennyr Rhiano nods in agreement with Lihan...and riddles are formulaic. That helps limit the variations.
Zakar Zamin:            Given that I don't think Hobbits have printing presses, literature would not be as prevalent, and much knowledge would be carried in the head. However, it seems that the bulk of the population is taught to read and write.
Lihan Taifun:            and riddles do require some shared culture, or people just won't "get" them
AelKennyr Rhiano:  nod nod nod
Zakar Zamin:            Hobbits may not be an 'oral' society, but they are much closer than we are. (What would I do without post-it notes)
Belenos blinks.... but surely there were handwritten books or scrolls available?.. i didn't think society was Oral until we got printing presses, surely?
Zakar Zamin:            Umm... other way around, Belenos?
Belenos:                     pardon?
AelKennyr Rhiano:  An oral society is a society that has not developed literacy .
Zakar Zamin:            Wouldn't oral would predate the printing press
Belenos:                     one moment
AelKennyr Rhiano:  So the hobbits would not have an oral society. There would be a literate one..opps, pardon.
Zakar Zamin:            Or one where the bulk of the populous is not literate?
Belenos:                     please.. one moment
AelKennyr Rhiano:  yes, of course, please...
Belenos:                     From my understanding, an Oral Society is one such as say, the Kalahari bushmen in the 1800's who did not write at all, but all tradition/lore etc was handed on only by word. After that, there are the societies such as medieval times, where the writen word is known and used, although not mass produced. Still, letters are able to be exchanged, scrolls and books able to be written - indeed even in christ's day there were scrolls aplenty, which were used later to contribute to what became the modern day bible.... yet they were not considered an Oral society.. it was not until the mid 1400's that Gutenburg first made his printing press..... so surely, you could not say European society was an Oral Society until then?..
Belenos:                     indeed.. why would a hobbit need to read and write if there were not things to be read and written?
Rhûn Darkmoon:     'Now that is a very valid point.'
Shawn Daysleeper:  yes it is
AelKennyr Rhiano:  We know that the hobbit society is a literate society because supposedly Bilbo wrote the Hobbit, or There and Back Again.
Belenos:                     yes.. he did.. and gave his book to Frodo to finish too, I believe?
Shawn Daysleeper:  yes and the dwarves left bilbo a note before the journey -- written -- and the map was written as well with runes
Rhûn Darkmoon nods, 'Yes, you are right, Shawn.'

AelKennyr Rhiano:  omg..we have discussed this one chapter for an hour and a half.
Zakar Zamin:            And we haven't even mentioned orcs
AelKennyr Rhiano:  What a great discussion!
Shawn Daysleeper:  yes smiles
Lihan Taifun:            and still didn't finish with the part about Bilbo's question not being a proper riddle
Zakar Zamin:            I was so happy to see that term "orc" used in that chapter
Shawn Daysleeper:  it is an important chapter, maybe most important with regards to LOTR
Zakar Zamin:            RL is calling and I must go, Much to my regret
AelKennyr Rhiano:  the answer to your question ...about ages?
Zakar Zamin:            thank you
AelKennyr Rhiano:  You are so welcome. I wanted to keep my promise :)