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Old 11-18-2012, 03:46 PM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Tolkien Hobbit2 - Chapter 18 - The Return Journey

In this chapter Tolkien uses a narrative technique that he also utilizes later in LotR - the story of a battle is told retrospectively. Since we readers see things from Bilbo's point of view, we find out how the battle went along with him, after he awakes from unconsciousness. Interestingly, it is in this context that we read of one disadvantage of the ring for the first time. It is only in LotR that we find out more about its negative effects.

On his deathbed Thorin finally lets go of the greed that possessed him and realizes that friendship is more important than gold. Is his death a kind of punishment or poetic justice for his former animosity toward our hero? Or is it simply a logical outcome - in war, there is death. I wonder how the Hobbit movie will show this - and whether Thorin's young, dashing nephews will also die, leaving maidens in the audience mourning them?

Even Gandalf is wounded - a wizard is obviously not safer than others in a battle. He also seems to have had no decisive role in the fighting - do you suppose the restrictions given the Istari by the Ainur are the reason for his lack of active involvement? In the end, the Eagles and Beorn turn the tide. How do you see their role? I don't think they can be dismissed as a deus ex machina in this context.

The battle against evil foes appears to have had a cleansing effect on the allied forces. Dain is a better king under the mountain than Thorin was, and the Elvenking is friendlier than before.

It's interesting that Bilbo's journey home, like Frodo's in RotK, is in company of companions for awhile. Not bad for a humble hobbit! Gradually the group dwindles, till at the end of the chapter only Bilbo and Gandalf are travelling together.

Do you wish that Tolkien had written about their adventures on the return journey? Or would that be anticlimactic? Would you like to have read more about Bilbo's stay at Beorn's house?

Previous discussion.
'Mercy!' cried Gandalf. 'If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?' 'The whole history of Middle-earth...'
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Old 11-21-2012, 06:10 PM   #2
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This chapter is an odd one, starting with Bilbo waking up and then presenting the death of Thorin and then details on the end of the battle in backflashes, which somewhat distances the reader from them.

That the title of the chapter is “The Return Journey” also sets the reader to looking ahead to the journey back.

The eucatastrophe, to use Tolkien’s term, mostly occurs in the ending of the previous chapter with the coming of the Eagles who are a sixth army. This is supposed to be a surprise. But this is really not a deus ex machina surprise as the Eagles have appeared previously and prominently in an incident which stresses their hostility to the goblins. The same is true of Beorn who now appears again.

The Eagles are more like real Eagles and not presented as servants of Manwë as they are in The Lord of the Rings and even more so in The Silmarillion.

Gandalf may be imagined to have a more decisive role in the fighting than shown. In The Lord of the Rings, even after being brought back to life and full vigour, Gandalf alone is not the main figure in the siege of Minas Tirith. Gandalf is not the sort of wizard who can just say: “All foes vanish!” and have everything turn out all right. Gandalf could not heal Thorin either, so far as is shown.

As Tolkien writes in Chapter IV, “Over hill and under hill″:
Gandalf thought of most things: and though he could not do everything, he could do a great deal for friends in a tight corner.
Gandalf can help win battles, but no more so than some others. In a battle he is possibly equal to several Eagles and equal to Beorn at best. Gandalf might blast down a whole platoon of goblins, but how much would that take out of him?

One would of course like to know about Bilbo’s later hardships and adventures on the way home. Tolkien might well have written a sequel called “The Hobbit with Gandalf and Beorn: The Way Back” covering adventures on the way back in which Bilbo himself is not in great danger, as The Hobbit says. Hugh Lofting did something like this with Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office which in a short introduction in the book publication claims to be a return home from a later untold journey but which the book itself shows to take place during the homecoming related in the first book: The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle.

The ending of this chapter is perfection as Bilbo from the height of the pass through the Misty Mountains sees for the last time in the book the Lonely Mountain far away on the horizon and wish only to finally be home.
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Old 11-22-2012, 05:08 PM   #3
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As a child reading The Hobbit I was struck by the almost callousness with which the deaths of Fili and Kili are dealt with. They are a passing mention, nothing more. Thorin, the great leader, gets a whole deathbed scene - but he was the one that caused half the mess in the first place! In order to have the moment of redemption before it was too late the attention has to focus in on him. But poor Fili and Kili - who were honest and loyal and while a part of Thorin's barricade due to their family ties were kind to Bilbo - just die 'off screen'. I found that very, very sad.

I think presenting the battle as a flashback works rather well. To try and write the battle as it was happening would get dull. 'Then the eagles came, and then the goblins came, and then the dwarves came, and then the other dwarves came, and then Beorn came.' Visually it could be done quickly and hold your interest, written it would become a lengthy battle chapter in what is a generally fast moving and very segmented book. If you're writing/reading for a child you need to keep their interest - and if your child isn't a huge fan of battle stories you would adapt.

There is an odd melancholy to the chapter as well, away from the deaths. Bilbo, while looking forward to getting home at last, does spend a lot of his time looking around and reminiscing about the journey there. He hardly wants to be fighting dragons or to be embroiled in politics any more but he knows this is the end of his grand adventure and there is a part of him that will miss it all. It leaves you as the reader with a longing for more.
Great udders of disappointment!
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