The Hobbit: Chapters Two and Three

Chapter 2: Roast Mutton

Or, The Adventure Begins.  Chapter Two is when Tolkien’s story really gets going.  I felt as overwhelmed as Bilbo with the sudden influx of 13 dwarves and a wizard in Chapter One, and Chapter Two started, again like Bilbo, a strange night that could be forgotten over a nice breakfast.  But, in walks Gandalf…

Tolkien’s writing style seems to flow like the adventure itself.  As soon as things settle down for Bilbo Gandalf walks in, which is exactly when Tolkien’s writing takes off, dragging the reader along like Bilbo running to catch the Dwarves.

My “study” of The Hobbit as a children’s book is shown in this point: there is no lead-in to the drama.  Writing for his children, I think Tolkien moved the story forward quickly to keep their interest.  In two sentences on pages 39-40 the group goes from familiar countryside setting to the dark, rainy, “Lone-lands, where no people left,” and where “everything seemed gloomy.”  In Lord of the Rings this adventure would take much longer to shift.  In my opinion this isn’t because of the differences in length, it is because the audience is different and kids don’t have that long of an attention span.

The Trolls: an enemy or convenience?

Tolkien’s trolls, hidden among the trees, waiting for the dwarves. Smarter than they should be? Or just a tool for character development?

The trolls provide an interesting foe for the hobbit and the dwarves.  Trolls are classic villains in children’s stories.  They are big and mean and dangerous, they live in the dark and eat men, and they are conveniently stupid enough to usually be beaten by the hero.  Giants on the other hand can often be viewed as kinder, smarter, and also a little smarter – more like humans.

These Middle Earth trolls fit this silly-evil bill well.  They act stupid, talk stupid (although perhaps too much like a northerner – is this Tolkien’s academic bias coming through?  The speech is “not drawing-room fashion at all” after all), and get easily tricked into turning themselves into stone.  Stupid trolls.  But are they really that easy to defeat?  They did get every single dwarf into sacks by standing behind bushes and waiting…

Steven Moffat. Using Tolkien’s twists on today’s television.

The Hobbit’s portrayal of trolls is one of two things: an over convenient flip-flopping of how nightmarish they really are, or a tool to show how gullible the dwarves are.  I’d love to think Tolkien picked the last option; he’s a great writer who throws in more layers of plot twists and depth than Stephen Moffat does in Doctor Who or Sherlock.  It would seem wrong to think he didn’t write this chapter without thoughts of tying it into the later sections.

LotR orc-troll (above), and The Hobbit trio at this year’s ComiCon. Neither seem smart enough to outsmart the top dwarves…

If the trolls really are that nightmarish and smart (remember, all of a sudden after acting like normal stupid trolls before Bilbo comes in) and manage to capture all the dwarves, then why all of a sudden are they stupid enough to fall for Gandalf’s (eerily convenient) voice trick?

My argument is that it shows how easily the dwarves are tricked and perhaps leads the reader to only focus on Bilbo as a dynamic character.  By making the dwarves have faults it makes Bilbo seem like the smart one and sets him up as the saviour, even though he didn’t do anything but be captured first and make the trolls a bit confused.  We will see later if these flat characters will prove gullible and stupid once again.

Chapter 3: A Short Rest

Not your typical Tolkien elf… (Will Ferrel in Elf)

Continuing to introduce new characters (and new races) in every chapter, Tolkien brings in one of the most popular types in the Elves of Rivendell.  Tolkien was a specialist in elfin mythology and within one chapter brings in the superhuman, immortal, magical, genius people in the Last Homely House.  Even though the dwarves are the characters on the adventure, elves become the Middle Earth focus of many readers and later viewers of the films.

Elves provide another convenient story-telling tool for Tolkien.  Instead of heading on an adventure and running into some bad people along the way, the elves shape the adventure into something unknown.  The mysterious

Hugo Weaving portrayal of Elrond, Lord of Rivendell in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

Elrond brings forth new words from the map, history that only he could know, and the tools for future setbacks that the group will experience, all in nine pages.

Again, this now seems almost too convenient to me.  Oh, these elves know things that can’t be explained?  Oh, there are mysterious words written in ‘moon ink’ that can only be read now?  But why not?  It is high fantasy after all, even though it sometimes seems like its own genre, and it seems possible through Tolkien’s matter of fact writing style.  You almost don’t want to question the convenience of it.

The elves are such a contrast to the trolls their placement in the book can only happen where it is.  If the elves had appeared before the trolls, the predicament would not have arisen and the struggle would not have been as important for the group.  They set the group up for the next, more devious enemy which will be mentioned in the next post.  Even if Tolkien’s creation of the trolls and elves seems a bit too convenient (or too close to an academic’s ivory tower approach to the way the English language is spoken by different classes), they do become important to the story and the franchise in their own right.

“A Short Rest” is one of the book’s shortest chapters, but provides a good break between two evils.  The chapter acts as a sort of third introduction, the first being Chapter One introducing the hobbit and the adventure, the second being  Chapter Two when the first evils get introduced, and the third being this when the mysticism and ‘bigger picture’ become clearer.

I didn’t think I’d have this much to say about each one, and perhaps I’m being too critical (and too uneducated about the subject), but it has been fun so far and I’m loving the story!


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