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Old 03-17-2018, 11:03 PM   #1
Haunting Spirit
Join Date: Nov 2014
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Balfrog has just left Hobbiton.
The True Origin of the Name 'Bilbo' and the source of The Hobbit ?

Beyond intriguing is that the rather rare fore-name 'Bilbo' crops up in Thomas Dekker's Jacobean play called Match me in London.

Ms. Seth's latest article captures the possibilty of this drama being the true source of Tolkien's inspiration for The Hobbit.


The evidence provided is quite stunning. Apart from the character called 'Bilbo', the play's content references a 'fire-drake' and some words very alike to Gollum's 'Thief, Thief,Thief!'

Other befitting allusions are reasonably numerous. And so several other matters in the play tie-up with scenes/points in the book.

The overall conclusion on the author's part is that Tolkien could have started off The Hobbit tale with parody in mind. This would then tie in with her previously voicing The Root of The Boot and The Hobbit Trolls were hidden parody too. This is now becoming a theme as the evidence piles up. Are we all missing a very humorous side to Tolkien's personality and writings?

There are an awful lot of tangencies in this particular piece of research hard to dismiss as mere chance!

A very worthy article, in my opinion, to bring to the attention of the academic community.

'Well-done', I say!
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Old 03-19-2018, 05:50 AM   #2
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A question:

Given that the links between the play's plot and The Hobbit are pretty tenuous, and given that the only English Literature Tolkien is attested as studying is Shakespeare (per Ms. Seth's quoting of Letter #163), would it not be simpler to assume that Tolkien's use of the word 'Bilbo' comes from Shakespeare's own use of the word?

Originally Posted by The Merry Wives of Windsor: Act III, Scene 5
...I suffered the pangs
of three several deaths; first, an intolerable
fright, to be detected with a jealous rotten
bell-wether; next, to be compassed, like a good
bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to
point, heel to head; and then, to be stopped in,
like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes
that fretted in their own grease...
The word here means a sword, purportedly named after the Spanish city Bilbao (after which Dekker's character would also have been named). Note that this particular metaphorical Bilbo is shoved into a barrel (a 'peck'), giving it a direct tie to The Hobbit. It's also part of a line spoken by Falstaff, the famous 'fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight' - and 'fat, vain, and cowardly' (and comedic) is an excellent description of Bilbo at the start of his adventure (though not the end!).

If we are not going to accuse Tolkien of outright lying about knowing the origin of the name (as Ms. Seth does! She quotes his avowed lack of knowledge, but still ends up concluding intentional parody on his part), then surely it makes more sense to trace it to a word spoken by a character who has vague resonances with Bilbo Baggins, in a play that Tolkien was far more likely to have read (the Bodlean is a very large library, and Jacobean plays were [b]not[/i] his field of study - the possibility of him stumbling upon '... in London' is remote). The word could have rattled around in his head for years, as an unfamiliar term (maybe he had to look it up, to find out what a 'bilbo' was!), before finally working its way out as the name of Mr. Baggins of Bag-End.

As it happens, the word also shows up in Hamlet:

Originally Posted by Hamlet: Act V, Scene 2
Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes...
Here the word basically means 'manacles'. Either of these seem far more likely sources than Dekker, since we know that Tolkien read Shakespeare, and we also know that English Literature was not his field, so browsing Jacobean plays would have been distinctly outside the box.

(NOTE: I accept that the superficial links from various parts of The Hobbit to the Dekker play are there - though my King Gollumon message still holds true, you can link anything to anything else. What I don't accept is that they make up for the unlikeliness of Tolkien ever encountering the Dekker play.)

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Old 04-22-2018, 10:22 PM   #3
Haunting Spirit
Join Date: Nov 2014
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Balfrog has just left Hobbiton.

In reply to your question is my set of questions to you!

The thing is if someone came up to you and said there's a piece of literature that has:

(a) A male character called 'Bilbo'.
(b) Who talks of a fire-breathing dragon,
(c) And an object that causes invisibility.

What would you think this piece of literature was?
If on top you were told that:

(d) Bilbo is strongly associated with 'thievery'.
(e) That he is involved in a quest to recover a 'treasure'.
(f) That has been in the clutches of a 'fire-drake',

would you still be scratching your head?
Maybe there would still be doubt. So if subequently you were told:

(g) Bilbo seeks a 'gem' in the dark.
(h) That the 'dragon' loses a treasure.
(i) That the 'fire-drake' in rage chases after 'Bilbo'.
(j) Bilbo has a conversation with the 'dragon'.
(k) Who seeks calculating revenge.

would you still wonder?
If furthermore you were told:

(l) Bilbo has a kindly 'master' in the initial quest for the 'treasure'.
(m) They part ways and he has a new leader in the next phase of the quest.
(n) That Bilbo takes guardianship over a 'gem',
(o) While under the roof of the rightful 'owner'.
(p) But the 'treasure' is also the object of desire of a King.
(q) Bilbo allows the 'jewel' to depart to almost end up in the hands of the King.
(r) The loss of the 'jewel' involves theft - having been stolen by an Englishman,
(s) Yet the tale ends with the King relinquishing it,

would you still be undecided?
If then on top it was relayed that:

(t) The rightful 'owner' ends up with his 'treasure' at the very end of the 'tale'.
(u) There is a happy ending to the 'tale'.
(v) It is was one which contained both tragedy and comedy,

would you still ask for more clues?
If after that you were told there were details in the tale whereby:

(w) Bilbo talks of opening a fateful door.
(x) There is a mention of feet that are woolly.
(y) We have empty barrels in rough waters,
(z) And there is mention of a single fateful arrow.
(a1) Bilbo is blessed with good fortune,

could you conclude anything else, but that this must be JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit? Could any Tolkienite in their right mind assess anything different?

Yet isn't it absolutely incredible that all the (a) to more than (z) above are an integral part of Thomas Dekker's dramatic play: Match me in London.

Sometimes the fingerprints on the murder weapon are enough for conviction. Sometimes the DNA match is sufficient to nail the culprit. Sometimes the evidence is utterly overwhelming. This, in my opinion, is one of those occasions.

Thomas Dekker is a fairly well known playwright to any decent scholar of Elizabethan drama. I don't believe that one should label his work as obscure. Tolkien was extremely well read. We only have knowledge of a small percentage of books that were in his personal library (reputedly of the order of 400) let alone what he read from other libraries and sources.

At Leeds there was only a very small department of English Literature. I have little doubt that he had to cover for E.V. Gordon on occasions (and perhaps others). This is hinted at in Hammond & Scull's Chronology. So I wouldn't be surprised if Tolkien knew Elizabethan/Jacobean dramas pretty well. On this matter we should be able to grant Tolkien some lateral space.

Ms. Seth very diplomatically dealt with the issue of Tolkien's veracity. She also dealt with 'bilboe' the sword issue. You are of course entirely at liberty to compare Shakespeare's plays as a source for 'Bilbo'. But let's face it 'Bilbo' originating as a 'sword' doesn't carry as much weight as sourced from a human character. Besides the sheer number of tangencies in Match me in London dwarf those that can be extracted in comparison from any Shakespeare play.

Indeed to that point of all the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of literary creations before Tolkien's The Hobbit was issued if you could find me even one that has points (a) and (b) included I'd be hyper-surprised. If you could find one that possesses (a), (b) and (c) I'll eat my hat!

Once again kudos to Ms. Seth because just matching three items is an almost impossible task. How then can one reasonably say matching 27 is just coincidence?

By the way upon my advice Ms. Seth has added and rearranged some material to this essay. It's still not quite to my satisfaction but I think the update adds further credence.
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