Welcome back to the Tolkien re-read! For those of you just joining in, since the first Hobbit movie is coming out later this year, I’ve commited myself (rather foolishly, perhaps) to a re-read of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion (check out previous posts here). Each week I’ll be posting a write-up of my progress, complete with chapter summaries, my own musings, and anything else Tolkien-related that I feel like throwing in. So, if you’ve been wanting to (re)read some Tolkien, here’s your chance. If you just want to use my hard work as digital cliff notes, well, that’s okay, too. (Warning: There might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Hobbit, but I will probably also make references to things that occur in The Lord of the Rings. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem.)
[Note on the following summaries: The words “goblin” and “orc” are sometimes interchangeable in Tolkien’s work, but can also refer to different branches of two similar races. In The Hobbit “goblin” is noted to be the English translation of the hobbit word “orc.” More on where goblins/orcs come from in the upcoming Silmarillion re-read!]
Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill
(Heehee! Underhill! Like Frodo’s alias at the beginning of the journey in The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s the little things…) We meet up with our heroes as they’re climbing the path that will take them over the Misty Mountains.
Looks unpleasant, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves spend days on this path, becoming steadily more miserable the higher and colder it gets, and just when it seems life couldn’t get soggier or colder, a thunderstorm settles itself over the mountains. Now even more miserable, and trapped between a wall of stone and a deadly drop into a dark abyss—and soaking wet to boot—the group sends Fili and Kili off in search of a dry place to wait out the storm (because sending the youngest and most inexperienced on scouting missions is always a good idea, but apparently they have sharp eyes or something).
Favorite quote break!
There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.
So off Fili and Kili go while the others huddle on the narrow path and watch some stone-giants play the world’s most deadly form of dodge ball on the other side of the abyss (no really, this is what happens). It doesn’t take long for Fili and Kili to come back with news that they’ve found a cave nearby. After a brief discussion of whether or not they “thoroughly explored it,” everyone follows them to the cave, which turns out to be large enough to fit all 15 of them and their ponies. Too good to be true? Probably. But that doesn’t stop anyone from changing into dry clothes and snuggling up for a good sleep.
Lucky for them, Bilbo doesn’t sleep well and wakes up from a nightmare just in time to find that a crack has opened at the back of the cave while they slept. He watches as the last of the ponies disappears through the crack and a whole gaggle of goblins jumps out (a gaggle being something like 80 goblins. Goblins travel in gaggles now because I said so and alliteration amuses me). In no time at all, the goblins have snatched up Bilbo and the dwarves and carried them through the crack, which snaps shut behind them. But Gandalf, being Gandalf, manages to escape capture by killing the goblins who were attempting to drag him away.
The goblins herd Bilbo and the dwarves to a cavern deep in the heart of the mountain and there they find a great fire burning and even more goblins gathered about. Their ponies are there, too (though not for long because goblins eat ponies. Poor ponies). While some of the goblins go about stealing things from their baggage, others chain the dwarves and Bilbo together and take them to their leader, the Great Goblin.
Quick Facts About Goblins
- They live in dark places
- They eat horses and ponies and donkeys
- They’re cruel and wicked
- Also untidy and dirty
- They tunnel and mine and are good at crafting weapons and unpleasant things
- They hate everybody, especially the elves
- Also Thorin’s people; they don’t like Thorin’s people
So it probably wasn’t the best thing when Thorin introduced himself as himself, especially not after a goblin brought Thorin’s elven-crafted sword from the Goblin-Wars to the Great Goblin’s attention. The goblins immediately recognize it as Biter and there’s a bit of an outcry.
Great Goblin: Murderers and elf-friends! Slash them! Beat them! Bite them! Gnash them! Take them away to dark holes full of snakes, and never let them see the light again!
(Such a pleasant folk, aren’t they?) Then, just as the enraged Great Goblin lunges at Thorin, all the torches in the cavern fizzle out and the great fire explodes into smoke and sparks. This sends the goblins screeching and stumbling all over each other in panic and confusion.
Favorite quote break!
Several hundred wild cats and wolves being roasted slowly alive together would not have compared with it.
Amidst all this, a glowing sword from nowhere stabs the Great Goblin, killing him dead and sending the rest of the goblins running off into the darkness. It’s Gandalf, of course, come to rescue Bilbo and the dwarves with his nifty elvish sword (Beater, as the goblins call it) that glows when goblins are close. He snatches up Thorin’s sword and quickly leads them all, still tied and chained together, out of the cavern via dark passages that lead further into the mountain. After much running, they finally stop long enough for Gandalf to free everyone of their chains. There’s a roll call to make sure everyone is present, alive, and not half-eaten before they venture on. Also, there is some complaining. It’s not a real journey without complaining:
Bilbo: Why, O why did I ever leave my hobbit-hole!
Bombur: Why, O why did I ever bring a wretched little hobbit on a treasure hunt!
At this point, the goblins are pursuing them and have caught up, and Dori, who is carrying Bilbo to help the hobbit keep up, is grabbed from behind. Bilbo falls from the dwarf’s shoulders and hits his head hard enough to black out. (Cliffhanger alert!)
Chapter 5: Riddles in the Dark
Don’t worry, all is well. But Tolkien sure does like his cliffhangers. (Anybody else not have The Return of the King on hand when they finished The Two Towers for the first time? My reaction probably looked something like this. You know, minus the llama face.)
Anyway…Bilbo opens his eyes and is able to move around, so no harm done. He has a moment of terror after realizing that he’s all alone in the dark, but he soon gets moving again, groping around on hands and knees to avoid bumping into things. And that’s how this life-altering, spinoff-trilogy-creating moment happened:
He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it didn’t seem of any particular use at the moment.
That’s right, folks, Bilbo just found the One Ring. But he doesn’t know it yet, and neither do we—technically speaking—so, moving on. After he puts the ring in his pocket, Bilbo sits and wallows in his misery for a bit before remembering the dagger he got from the trolls’ cave. He pulls it out and, sure enough, it glows blue like the other elvish blades. Now that he can see, he’s able to get his bearings and continue along in the direction he had been moving before his fall.
It isn’t long before Bilbo stumbles into an underground lake. The sound of his splashing in the water attracts the attention of a creature living out on an island, and before Bilbo even realizes that he isn’t alone anymore, this is hissed in his ear:
“Bless us and splash us, my precioussss! I guess it’s a choice feast; at least a tasty morsel it’d make us, gollum!”
Creeeeeeeeeeeeeepy. But, I will say, Gollum is one of my favorite of Tolkien’s characters (no judging!). Mostly because the way he talks is so amusing, what with the weird plurals, the s’s on the ends of verbs, and the calling himself “precious.” Here, I’ll illustrate with some more quotes:
- “Praps we sits here and chats with it a bitsy, my preciousss.”
- “Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?”
- “What has it got in its pocketses?”
Kind of endearing isn’t it? Okay, maybe endearing isn’t the right word. Catchy? Memorable? Anyway, that’s Gollum. He’s not quite sure what to think of Bilbo (and is afraid of his dagger), so he invites him to play a game of riddles, and because Bilbo isn’t quite sure what to make of this weird, slimy creature (and wants to learn more about him) he agrees.
Favorite quote break!
“Does it guess easy? It must have a competition with us, my preciouss! If precious asks, and it doesn’t answer, we eats it, my preciousss. If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, then we does what it wants, eh? We shows it the way out, yes!”
And so begins a game of riddles to the death—well sort of. It goes on for quite a while, with Bilbo and Gollum both struggling to come up with answers to some of them. Eventually, Bilbo runs out of riddles to ask and, in a panic, asks “What have I got in my pocket?” Which is pretty much cheating in a game of riddles, and Gollum says so. But Bilbo sticks with his “riddle” (it’s really just a question, Bilbo, you cheat) so Gollum demands three guesses.
- String or nothing!
All of these guesses are wrong, of course—we know that Bilbo has a ring in his pocket. Having lost the game of riddles, Gollum must show Bilbo the way out. But first Gollum insists that he needs to return to his island to retrieve some things to help them travel the tunnels without catching the notice of goblins, so off he goes back to the island.
Here we learn that what Gollum has really gone back for is a golden ring that he calls his “birthday present,” and he wants the ring because it is a ring of power that can make the person who wears it invisible (also, it can extend your life and give you a bad case of the crazies). And he wants to be invisible, not so that he can help Bilbo through the tunnels, but so he can eat him. (Seriously, did anyone expect this creepy creature to keep his word?)
So, off Gollum goes to his island only to find that the ring isn’t there. He’s lost it (and Bilbo has found it). Gollum succumbs to a screeching rage of grief before suddenly asking Bilbo what he’s got in his pocket. Bilbo doesn’t answer, not because he knows he has what Gollum is looking for, but because he’s anxious to get moving. Also, Gollum is creepy when he’s on to something. Bilbo asks Gollum what he’s lost, but Gollum only asks him what he’s got in his pocket, over and over again, as he makes his way quickly back across the lake.
Frightened, Bilbo turns and runs, and while he’s running he slips his hand into his pocket to feel for the ring. At that moment, he trips and falls and the ring slips on his finger. An instant later, the pursuing Gollum runs right past him and it’s not long before Bilbo realizes he’s invisible. Then, after overhearing Gollum talking to himself about going to a “back door” to catch Bilbo (Gollum thinks Bilbo actually does know the way out), the hobbit follows him all the way to the exit.
Gollum stops short of the exit (it’s guarded by goblins) and, while he’s deciding what to do, Bilbo slips by him unseen, but not unnoticed. As Bilbo passes the creature, Gollum senses him and makes a grab for him, but misses. Bilbo runs for the exit, making it past the goblins with only a slight hiccup, and out into the sun while behind him he can still hear Gollum’s screeching:
Gollum: Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!”
So, Bilbo has escaped from the mountains and the goblins, but it’s probably not a good thing that Gollum knows his name. (And by probably I mean it definitely isn’t. I have the perfect thing to link to here, but…spoilers.)
And that’s it for chapters 4 and 5! “Riddles in the Dark” is my favorite chapter so far, but that might be because it links so closely to the story in The Lord of the Rings. Interesting bit of trivia: That chapter, as it appears now, isn’t in the form that Tolkien originally wrote it. He made some revisions to it in the second edition (1951) in order to make the details of Gollum and the ring match up with those in The Lord of the Rings, which he was writing at the time. Not gonna lie, I kinda want to get my hands on the original so that I can see how the two versions differ.
Don’t forget to add your thoughts to the comments! Next week I’ll cover chapters 6 and 7. Until then, please amuse yourself with the utterly nerdy bit below. Translating made-up languages not your thing? Take a look at these sweet posters (WARNING: The second one is made of awesome).
Dwarvish Runes 101
Tolkien made a handful of languages for his created races, but for the purposes of his books he used Old English runes to represent the writing used by the dwarves. They appear in a few places in The Hobbit—the title page (pictured below), Thror’s map, and a note on page 1 of the edition I’m reading that explains the use of runes. Each rune stands for a modern English letter, and if you’re feeling nerdy or ambitious (clearly I was), you can translate the runes on the title page:
All you need is the translation of the runes under the pointing hand on Thror’s map, which Gandalf gave us in Chapter 1 (Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast) and the translation of the runes in the middle of the map, which we were given by Elrond in Chapter 3 (Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole). With these translations and the exceptions for Q, Z, TH, NG, EE, EA, and ST given in the note on page 1 you can make a handy key. (Yes I really did sit down and figure all this out. I told you it was nerdy.)
[Title page translation is in white: “The Hobbit or There and Back Again. Being the record of a year’s journey made by Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton. Compiled from his memories by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd.”]