Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Hobbit Read-Along, Chapter Nineteen

Previous chapters: Intro | Ch1 | Ch2 | Ch3 | Ch4 | Ch5 | Ch6 | Ch7 | Ch8 | Ch9 | Ch10 | Ch11

The complete Hobbit cast. Okay, the 15 main protagonists. Okay, the 15 protagonists who go to reclaim Erebor.
Bilbo and Gandalf make their way home, stopping to visit those who had taken them in on the way to the Lonley Mountain. If there were adventures (and we are assured there were) we do not get to hear of them.
Finally Bilbo arrives home to find his possessions being auctioned off as the villagers think he's dead. He's upset to find his stuff being sold and has to buy most of it back. I'm not sure what this detail adds to the story or why it was included. It's a bit like John McClane stopping the terrorists and arriving home to find his house had been knocked down by an earthquake. 
But he's happy and content. Years later, Galdalf and Balin visit Bilbo while he's writing his memoirs and they tell him that all is well in the Lonely Mountain too.
They fell to talking of their times together, of course, and Bilbo asked how things were going in the lands of the Mountain. It seemed they were going very well. Bard had rebuilt the town in Dale and men had gathered to him from the Lake and from South and West, and all the valley had become tilled again and rich, and the desolation was now filled with birds and blossoms in spring and fruit and feasting in autumn. And Lake-town was refounded and was more prosperous than ever, and much wealth went up and down the Running River; and there was friendship in those parts between elves and dwarves and men.”
So a happy ending for most.
Overall the book is badly paced and far too limited in it's point of view. Are we to assume the Narrator is Bilbo and this is why our perspective is so limited? Perhaps, though it is never stated. If Bilbo is the narrator, it explains why we learned so little about the final battle after Bilbo is knocked out, it doesn't explain though, how Bilbo knew such detail about the dragon's attack on Lake-town, since he also wasn't there for it. If he asked for that information to include it in such detail in his memoirs, then why didn't he ask about what happened in the battle? Why gloss over the biggest fight in the whole book?
And what of our questers; we still know next to nothing about them. A few lines of back story in a few cases, such as Thorin and Bilbo, but overall not much at all. They seem like stereotypes, all behaving as a dwarf, elf, hobbit etc. should, rather then becoming people in their own right. Even Bilbo. All we know is that his mothers family had an adventurous side, we learn very little of just how and why he is brave and cowardly in equal measure, he simply is and we must accept that.
The characters are little more than caricatures and I am still none the wiser as to their motivation on the whole.
I would like someone to explain to me how Thorin dying made him a good person. Many died that day and all his dying proves is that Thorin was not a coward (unlike Bilbo). I still do not know who Thorin was, nor any of the other dwarves. Even Bilbo; one might think he had been changed by his adventures, however it seems that he is now perfectly content to go back to the small, quiet little life that he had before.
I must also note that we have made it through the entire book with only two female characters even being mentioned in passing. Not an eagle, wolf, hobbit, dwarf, goblin, elf or man having a single woman feature among their number. I assume they exist since two have been mentioned but clearly they do not merit an acknowledgement.
Actually I'm glad for that.
JRR Tolken was raised during the women's suffrage movement and after much struggle, torture, imprisonment, assault and suffering, often for nothing more than standing up and daring to ask when women would get the vote, they finally succeeded in 1928, nine years before this book was written. He could not in any way shape or form have missed the suffrage movement and the courage and sacrifice of it's members.

While writing these blogs I have heard a lot of people excuse Tolken's weaknesses because he wrote The Hobbit as a story for his children, not for commercial success. Okay, fine, but he had a daughter born in 1929, making her 8 when this book was published. Did he write this story only for his sons? If not, why didn't he want to include a role model for his daughter, or even just a single female character that she could relate to?

I tend to believe that only the most ardent of misogynists would completely ignore an entire gender and it seems obvious to me that JRR Tolken had no use for women, beyond being a wife and mother. If you require more proof of this, the only two women mentioned were as mothers to the protagonists. One doesn't even merit a name, just sister of Thorin, mother of Fili and Kili. That poor nameless woman lost her brother and two sons in a single day!
Therefore I am glad that Tolkien chose to ignore women for had he included them, they would surely be pale, meek and most likely little more than slaves at worst or drudges at best. If that is to be our depiction, then I would rather have no depiction at all.
The great thing with fantasy is that anything is possible, even things that need no explanation, so why do so many fantasy writers want to ignore us or enslave us? In other words, go back to when we were repressed rather than looking forward to the day when true equality or even superiority (it is fantasy, after all) is possible?
This has been an interesting experience and the book is mildly entertaining, but I have no desire to ever read it again. I do have a desire to learn more about these two dimensional characters, to know why they act as they do, what their internal dialogue is, and I hope that the movie will fill in some of those gaping holes. The two and a half minute trailer certainly gives the characters more depth that this entire book has done so that gives me hope. 

 Will I watch the movie? Maybe. At least it can't be any worse than the book!
The Hobbit Trailer


  1. I appreciate that your opinion is valid. I understand the issues you had with the book's pacing, or how it was written, or the fact that women aren't really in it at all. I do, however disagree.

    Generally I try to refrain from leaving lengthy, criticizing comments on people's blogs, but because The Hobbit is something I remember so fondly from my childhood, I feel the need to defend it.

    First off, Tolkien was a scholar of Old and Middle English texts (notably Beowulf, but others as well). The pacing of The Hobbit, and indeed many of his other works, parallel that of these poems. Yes, there is a lot of exposition at the beginning. Yes, the journey is told as a series of small events. Yes, he keeps repeating seemingly random character traits. Yes, his narrator has a limited point of view. All of these things reflect the traditional mythology that Tolkien was drawing from. Also, you mentioned that he doesn't say much about Gandalf and Bilbo's journey back. That story exists, and was published (under a name I can't remember) in his Unfinished Tales (and possibly somewhere else).

    The style he uses is similar as well. Because the story is told in a voice outside the plot (that is, it doesn't really belong to one of the characters) all the description of landscapes and events must be done in that voice. It's not a popular one today, but it is another example of Tolkien's reliance of old epics.

    Finally, you're very upset that he doesn't really include women in his stories. One thing you have to understand is that middle earth is one of the biggest, best-developed worlds in fantasy. Though there are few (all right, no) women in The Hobbit, it's unfair to say that Tolkien ignores them completely. Yes, the characters are, broadly speaking, male. This is probably because his personal experience with wars and adventures was very male-dominated (not a lot of women fighting in the trenches). But when women appear, they are excellent. They're queens and prophets and goddesses (especially in the Simarillion, which builds the world of middle arth). And, yes, many of them do things that modern feminists look down on, but I would argue that even the most stereotypically anti-feminist acts generally take courage (see 'abandoning immortality and everything you've ever known for the love of a man'), and there's value in that. Also, I distinctly remember a woman taking down the Witch-king. Which is kind of a big deal.

    Also, to imply that his daughter wouldn't have liked The Hobbit due to a lack of female characters is unfair. I enjoyed a great number of books with male protagonists as a child, and still do today. And yes, more women would be fine and dandy (though I would personally protest the change), but do you really want a female character to be subjected to the treatment that Tolkien gives the dwarves? I don't.

    Anyway, you don't have to agree with me. You can just block this comment and get on with your life. Whatever. Just thought you should know where the fans are coming from.

  2. Actually I have discovered a lot of what you bring up while researching the book (after having read it) but I did not include that in this read-along because the book is being judged on it's own merits.

    On the subject of his writing, it may interest you to know that Tolkien was nominated for a Nobel prize in 1961 but the Nobel jury said of his work "the result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality".

    "abandoning immortality and everything you've ever known for the love of a man"
    Yes, this is brave, however (aside from the immortality bit) women have been doing it since time immemorial. They leave their family and home to become part of their husbands family, often without even being in love with him. This still regularly happens in some nations even today so for you to give this as an example of a strong/brave woman is slightly ludicrous.

    As for many women characters being goddesses and queens and prophets, that also a classic sexist theme that was popularised in Victorian times. While women at that time had absolutely no rights and were considered property, to the point that they could not even prosecute if a crime was committed against them. At the same time they were revered as delicate, angelic creatures to be worshipped. To quote R.J. Cruikshank...

    "Their moral dualism, their besetting weakness of dreaming of one thing and doing another, might be amusing in architecture or painting, but it involved endless cruelty towards flesh and blood. Woman in the abstract was as radiant as an angel, as dainty as a fairy - she was a picture on the wall, a statue in a temple, a being whose physical processes were an inscrutable mystery. She was wrapped by the Victorians in folds on folds, and layers on layers of clothes, as though she were a Hindu idol. She was hidden in the mysteries of petticoats; her natural lines were hidden behind a barricade of hoops and stays; her dress throughout the century emphasised her divorce from reality. She was a daughter of the gods divinely fair and most divinely tall; she was queen rose of the rose-bud garden of girls; she was Helen, Beatrice, the Blessed Damozel, the Lady of Shalott. A romanticism as feverish as that could only bring unhappiness to its objects."

    So forgive me if I think your argument only further proves his sexism.

    On the subject of his daughter, I never said that she wouldn't or didn't enjoy the books because there were no female characters. Like you, I enjoy many books and films which are wholly or predominantly male driven. What I wondered is why he felt that women were so inconsequential as to not even include a single female character for his daughter to relate to.

    Personally I wouldn't mind female characters being subjected to the same treatment as the dwarves in the hobbit, for that is the very definition of equality, women having the exact same freedom and the ability to choose the same experiences as men.t