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Old 05-09-2017, 08:21 PM   #1
Haunting Spirit
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The Hobbit Trolls - A Clever Parody?

Well eighty years have passed – and I haven't ever seen a decent explanation published on why Tolkien named The Hobbit trolls – 'Bill, Bert and Tom'. Ms. Seth has come up with a brand new idea and claims it was based on a parody of three Elizabethan playwrights: William Shakespeare, Robert Greene & Thomas Nashe - apparently reflecting a famous incident. There are certainly strengths to the proposition; but I'll let the reader decide whether her solution “fits like a glove”!

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Old 06-07-2017, 10:10 PM   #2
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The essay has been further updated to include much more evidence regarding the parody theory. In particular it discusses the role of the Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene and his ‘Coney-catching’ pamphlets, and how aspects of these became part of the troll scene with Bilbo. Also speculated upon is the reason behind why Tolkien much preferred to use ‘rabbit’ instead of ‘coney’ in The Hobbit, despite the fact that ‘rabbit’ is a later word in historical evolution terms.
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Old 06-08-2017, 07:52 AM   #3
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Interesting article- though I would say the sheer commonness of the names is a point against the theory. Also, might Tolkien have used "rabbit" in preference to "coney" in "The Hobbit" simply because the latter word is archaic enough to be potentially confusing for children?

Good catch on "Huggessen". And I agree that the treatment of troll section of "The Hobbit" seems to have much in common with English fairytales about ogres and giants - even though the trolls do show their traditional weakness of turning to stone in sunlight. (It should be remembered, however that supernatural beings in folklore are generally much less defined and codified than in literature and modern popular culture).

"Ogres" as such, though mentioned as figures in Hobbit folklore, seem not to actually exist in Middle-earth- perhaps they were too much of a fairytale element?
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Old 07-25-2017, 09:33 PM   #4
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To your first point - possibly, but I think it’s actually a positive for the theory. Given The Hobbit is littered with unfamiliar names - Bill, Tom & Bert stand out like a sore thumb. Why? – one might ask oneself.

And then of course there could have been a host of additional short names chosen. Why not Ted or Ben or Fred or Jim etc. etc. ? Why these particular three?

Mere chance? If chance you call it!

As for the 'rabbit issue' - your logic appears reasonable – yet Tolkien does use the word coney (actually ‘conies’). And thus we have to deal with it. So why use it all? And to add to the matter he employs it in a confusing manner – namely involving squirrels. Given that - the inquisitive child would have had to look up the definition in a dictionary any way.

Ms. Seth doesn’t bring this point out strongly enough – but ‘conies’ is associated to a ‘furrier’ by Bilbo. And a ‘furrier’ is one who is involved in ‘skinning’. It’s a nasty trade that makes me think Tolkien was in a way poking fun of the same terminology used by Elizabethan coney-catchers.

My own feeling is that the Roast Mutton Chapter is a piece of Tolkien genius. The whole troll episode looks carefully contrived. Again Ms. Seth does not bring this out – but if one were to review the drafts (see John Rateliff’s: The History of the Hobbit), there are very few made against the Troll scene compared to say similar length sections in other chapters. It’s almost as if Tolkien drafted and practically perfected it out separately and then just neatly slotted it in.

I’m sure you would agree that if Tolkien wanted to create a parody – he was well capable of doing so. The troll scene is a comic masterpiece – and I just have this feeling that it’s just a touch out of place. Let’s just say, there’s an awful lot of individual coincidences if it isn’t a parody and all that Ms. Seth pointed out is purely accidental.

"Huggessen" - Thanks – my proof-read second time round!

I don't have any problem with the rest of your views. Yes I agree - Ogres don’t make much of a showing. But Bilbo does mention them in The Hobbit. So presumably there they existed within 'The Hobbit mythology'.
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Old 07-26-2017, 07:31 PM   #5
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Actually, the trolls, profound thinkers that they were, were named after the great scholastic philosophers Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus and William of Ockham. Legend has it that there was a 4th troll, a female named "Betty", named after Boethius. But that was perhaps merely a joke among the Inklings.

P.S. The Huggins surname derives from the Old French "Hugh" and was brought over to England by the Normans after 1066. It would evidently delight Tolkien the philologist to no end to consider that a troll was of Norman stock.
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Last edited by Morthoron; 07-26-2017 at 07:40 PM.
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Old 08-02-2017, 06:20 AM   #6
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Balfrog, I agree with you that the scene with the trolls is 'a comic masterpiece'; because Tolkien still made them very dangerous despite them being 'thick'. While their stupidity was obvious, and was later exploited by Gandalf to ensure they turned into stone, Tolkien made it clear that once anyone got into their clutches, that person would later end up in their stomachs... If Gandalf hadn't been there...
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