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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

"Long days after they had climbed out of the valley and left the Last Homely House miles behind, they were still going up and up and up. It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long."


Until this point, Bilbo & Co. had been largely within the boundaries of the settled world. By leaving the Last Homely House, and Rivendell, they've passed into that part of the land that, in ancient maps, would be identified with the words "Here Be Dragons."



Although, in this case, it is initially goblins that they encounter first.


Bilbo is able to recognize that they've passed a point of no return. He tells himself:


He knew that something unexpected might happen, and he hardly dared to hope that they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled.


I'm going to pause for a moment to talk about that phrase "where no king ruled." So far, we've met at least two kings - Thorin, who is a king of dwarves, and Elrond, who is a king of elves. Elrond rules his people well, and Thorin is a king without a realm. We're given no indication about whether this is a region that has previously had a king, or not, or what kind of a king there might be. It is clear that Tolkien doesn't consider the Goblin King, whom we are about to meet, to stand as a ruler of the land above ground. I bring this up only because when we get to Lord of the Rings, we're going to hear much about what has happened to the land in the years since the King of Gondor left the throne, and how things in many parts of the world have fallen into ruin.


I love the way that Tolkien describes the goblins:


"Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty. Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light. It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far."


So, goblins share some similarities with dwarves, in that they make things, although the things that they make are "clever" as opposed to "beautiful."


Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937, during the interwar period. He had, himself, fought in WWI and spent time in the trenches, an experience which informs his writing. And while he very firmly resisted people claiming that LOTR, in particular was an allegory for the war, saying that he has always disliked allegory, this reference is interesting in the sense that it opines that, perhaps, the goblins are responsible for "some of the machines that have since troubled the world," after personally experiencing the first war in which "wheels and engines and explosions" were genuinely used to kill "large numbers of people at once."


As part of this reread, I decided to use one of my audible credits to buy the audiobook of The Hobbit. This is the first week in which I implemented a new process: first, I read the chapter, then I read the chapter in the companion book by Corey Olsen, and last, I listen to the chapter. Listening to the chapter provides a whole new experience and one which allows me to focus much more on the literary tone of the book - one of my favorite quotes from this chapter:


The yells and yammering, croaking, jibbering and jabbering; howls, growls and curses; shrieking and shriking, that followed were beyond description. Several hundred wild cats and wolves being roasted slowly alive together would not have compared with it.


was a result of the narration. The onomatopoetic and alliterative nature of the description of the sounds the goblins were making was delightful, and Tolkien has a lovely tendency to make up words that sound just like what they are meant to be - in this case "shriking" (another one was "bewuthered", from an earlier chapter). 


See you next week!