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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Hobbit — Chapters 3 & 4 - Notes

AelKennyr Rhiano

Chapter 3
As the company sets off the next morning, Gandalf explains that he has checked the road ahead up to the last safe stop along their way. This stop is Rivendell, a city of elves located just beyond the Edge of the Wild, near the foothills of the Misty Mountains, which the company will have to pass. As the company approaches Rivendell, a number of elves approach them and invite them back to eat and rest. During their stay, they meet Elrond, the great chief elf, who is “as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.”

Elrond can interpret the ancient runes, or markings, found on the company’s new weapons and on Thorin’s map of the mountain. The swords taken from the trolls, he tells them, are renowned goblin-killers from the great wars between the elves and the goblins. Gandalf’s sword is called Glamdring, and Thorin’s is named Orcrist. On Thorin’s map, Elrond is able to read moon-letters—writing visible only in the light of the moon in the proper phase—that describe how to find the secret entrance on the Lonely Mountain. Though they are puzzled by the message, the group is in high spirits when they depart from Rivendell. Everyone is well rested and prepared for the road ahead.

Chapter 4
Bilbo and company advance upon the Misty Mountains. Thanks to Elrond’s and Gandalf’s advice, they are able to find a good pass over the mountain range among the many dead-end trails and drop-offs. Still, the climb is long and treacherous. A violent thunderstorm breaks suddenly, forcing them to find shelter. Luckily, two of the dwarves (Fili and Kili) find a cave in a side of the mountain. They bring in the ponies and make camp for the night.

In the middle of the night, Bilbo wakes with a start, just in time to see the ponies get dragged into an enormous crack that has opened in the cave wall. He yells, and out of the crack jump dozens of goblins, who tie up and carry off each member of the company except Gandalf, who was forewarned by Bilbo’s yell.

The goblins carry the dwarves and the hobbit down into the mountain to a huge chamber where the Great Goblin sits. He demands to know what the travelers are doing in his mountain. Thorin tries to explain about the storm, but one of the goblins brings forth the sword that Thorin took from the trolls, which he was carrying when captured. This sword, Orcrist, the goblin-cleaver, is well-known among the goblins.

The goblins go into a rage and the Great Goblin lunges at Thorin to eat him. Suddenly, the torches lighting the cavern go out and the great fire in the middle of the chamber throws its sparks onto the goblins. In the darkness and confusion, a great sword flashes and strikes down the Great Goblin. Then a voice guides the captives out of the cavern. It is Gandalf, who leads the dwarves through the passages and deeper into the mountain. The goblins follow quickly after them, and one of the goblins catches up to the dwarf Dori, who has been carrying Bilbo on his back. Bilbo falls off, strikes his head on the ground, and loses consciousness.

The swords that the company steals from the trolls’ cave are a link to the tradition of heroic epic on which so many aspects of The Hobbit are based. Great swords that have mythic lineages and heroic names are characteristically present in heroic epics, the most famous example being King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur. The possession of a named sword is a symbol of heroism and prowess in battle, and for this reason, it is significant that Bilbo’s short sword is not named yet. As we shall see, after Bilbo performs some deeds more worthy of his quest, he names his sword.

In The Silmarillion, the swords are described as having been made for the goblin wars of an earlier age of Middle-Earth, in which the elves fought off the goblins. There is no question of which side was good and which evil—the evil nature of the goblins is described in Chapter 4, and the good nature of the elves is obvious from the glimpse we get of them at Rivendell in Chapter 3. Elves were the first creatures in Middle-Earth: they are immortal unless killed in battle; they are fair-faced, with beautiful voices; and they have a close communion with nature, which makes them skillful craftsmen. The unique magic of the swords, as Elrond tells the company in Chapter 3, is that they glow with a blue light when goblins are near.

The uniform wickedness demonstrated by the goblins in Chapter 4 affirms the connection between race and moral tendencies in Tolkien’s fantasy world. The different races of Middle-Earth possess specific moral characteristics, so that goblins, who are infamous for their ability to make cruel weapons and instruments of torture, are evil, and elves are good. There are no exceptions. The races of Middle-Earth also possess qualities that have little direct bearing on their overall moral standing. Hobbits love food, for instance, and dwarves love gold. Again, there are no exceptions.

The characteristics of the races result primarily from the mythic theology of Middle-Earth. Under this theology, the gods create certain creatures for very specific purposes. Each race also has a particular relationship with nature. Of the various characters Tolkien depicts, Bilbo seems to be the only one capable of making complex moral choices that test the boundaries of his race.

Bilbo’s heroism is somewhat dubious, for though he behaves heroically, his acts seem to be the result of luck, or else destiny, rather than effort on his part. He seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. In his first encounter with the goblins, for example, Bilbo proves useful by shouting enough to awaken Gandalf, who, in turn, ends up saving the whole company. Bilbo is credited for helping the whole party when his companions were unable to do so, even though it was only his chance awakening that enabled him to warn everyone.