Reader: The Hobbit. Chapter 1 “An Unexpected Party”

The Hobbit Book CoverSummary points

  • Laid the foundations for the story – this opening chapter introduced the main protagonists.
    • Showcased race, geanealogy, home and character of key character Bilbo Baggins.
    • Defined Gandalf as he’s come to be known, grumpiness, famous for his fireworks, and flare for a ton of things.
    • Introduced the Dwarves who make up Thorin and Company. For the record, the proper introduction sequence was Dwalin, Balin, Kili and Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Thorin.

  • Gandalf instigated and orchestrated the gathering and therefore the premise of the meeting for all these characters. He has purveyed Bilbo as burglar extraordinaire to the Company, at the Company’s request.
  • The gathering on Wednesday, 27 April, TA 2941 was an unexpected party to Bilbo’s mind only.
  • Through Thorin and Company, the quest took shape along with the reasons for it.
    • The Dwarves settled in Erebor in Thror’s reign. Their fame for craftsmenship was such that they grew rich, and men built the town of Dale, from where many were taken on as Dwarven apprentices.
    • Erebor had been desolated by Smaug as a result of that growing wealth and dragons’ avaricious and covetous nature.
    • Thror was killed in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin.
  • Contracts, contractual obligations, personal background/history and titles matter much.
  • Thorin was a master of pipe-rings, though of lesser proficiency than Gandalf.
  • Gandalf shared the map and key of Thror, passed on to Thrain, whom the wizard met in the dungeons of Dol Guldur but could not save.
  • The dragon is old and big, and also the critical mass of danger-in-size is a matter of relativity.
  • Bilbo’s fears for the integrity of his home and possessions from hosting the Dwarves were unfounded – the crockery were properly washed without breakage, though his pantry was inevitably emptied by voracious Dwarven appetite.
  • Bilbo fainted at the thought of adventure at one point during the party, and he went to bed feeling both the pull of adventure on his Took side, and his staid Baggins side wearied from the excitement. Ultimately, it was his stirring Tookishness that saw his enlistment in the adventure Gandalf promised him.

 

Key Notes/Quotes

“That would be no good,” said the wizard, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary—especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door. And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar. So now let’s get on and make some plans.”

The earlier parts of the chapter demonstrated, among other things, Gandalf’s callings for project management, talent-scouting and dwarf-wrangling. This was proof he was also an adventure designer with all the right connections. Good thing he’s on the side of good. The mention of “Warrior” and “Hero” evoked imagery of deeds of greatness and their famous doers far away. Tantalising allure, again, to a world far bigger than what has been intimated. And yet here was this tale that seemed far less epic, a petty adventure of covert skulking to regain entry into a treasure vault. Where would this adventure lead?

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walkingstick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

He got up trembling. He had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer-barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away. Suddenly he found that the music and the singing had stopped, and they were all looking at him with eyes shining in the dark.

“Where are you going?” said Thorin, in a tone that seemed to show that he guessed both halves of the hobbit’s mind.

“What about a little light?” said Bilbo apologetically.

“We like the dark,” said all the dwarves. “Dark for dark business! There are many hours before dawn.”

The seeming duality in Bilbo hints at resonance with a character to be introduced later. It also reflected the capacity for turns of moods in the Dwarven collective: song and merry-making one moment, darkly secretive the next. A rare moment of insight by Thorin, aided by the gift hinted at by his mastery of smoke-rings perhaps.

 

Thoughts

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

A dweller of a hole. The first introduction to Middle-earth for most Tolkien fans, if the path to adventure followed the normal course in the fan’s childhood.

That was not my lot. As mentioned, I picked TH up as part of my education about the history and background of LotR, when my childhood was already far in the lurkmirk, faded and out of reach.  So I was not as enamoured with the tale and its tone as would be expected.

The opening: the almost rhyming verse, in the definition of a hobbit, and the lineage of Bilbo, harks to oral tradition; the book is truly made for reading aloud, to encaptivate a young audience.

The mention of Bilbo’s parents was a nice touch of mystery and allure to an otherwise staid, everydayman, albeit genteel, unexciting character (at this point – the onion’s layers are mot peeled yet). What I love about the information is that sense of dimension Tolkien gives without ever truly dwelling much on anything or anyone not directly involved with the main narrative.

Gandalf’s good mornings was a glorious introduction, a bold brush stroke true to both form and genius writing. Gandalf edgy disturber of the peace, confusticator, history-maker, nudger out-the-door.

The Dwarves’ sense of lore and culture run deep. And they are much about rank and ceremony, in their own way.  Certainly their history before this book would make for interesting research and writing. Their history before the quest was no doubt tragic and full of personal loss, but one has to wonder how much of it was avoidable?

 

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