Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Short Rest

In our public re-reading of The Hobbit, it's my turn to examine a few chapters in detail. Given that I've contributed my own thoughts to chapters I and II, you might not notice any difference here. But I will try to provide a little more detail when I can.

A Short Rest
Moving on from the encounter with the trolls, Bilbo and his fellow adventurers seek food and shelter in the Last Homely House of Elrond in Rivendell. Not a lot lot happens here and it seems like the chapter exists primarily to lay pipe for subsequent scenes. The magic swords that are discovered in the troll hoard are identified and secret runes on Thorin's map are revealed (detailing the secret entrance to Lonely Mountain). I also think the chapter serves the purpose of reminding Bilbo and the reader that not every episode in an adventure need be unpleasant and not every encounter need be with enemies.

Even on my first reading, I was enormously taken with the Last Homely House. It just seemed so comfortable (even more so than Bag End). Of course, long before the Jackson films I imagined it as something more akin to a cozy alpine chalet than an Art Nouveau day spa (I jest... a little... I like the Rivendell of the films as well).

This re-read has been eye-opening because I'm discovering things about each chapter that I had either forgotten completely or never noticed on prior readings. In this case, I did not recall the specific terrain on the approach to Rivendell. I always imagined it as wooded foothills. Not so, as Tolkien describes it thus:
"There seemed to be no trees and no valleys and no hills to break the ground in front of them, only one vast slope going slowly up and up to meet the feet of the nearest mountain, a wide land the colour of heather and crumbling rock, with patches and slashes of grass-green and moss-green showing where water might be."
So Rivendell really is a secret valley, a sort of Tolkienesque Shangri-La.

From a gaming perspective, I think Rivendell or a place very much like it would be a fantastic base of operations for an adventuring party, particularly if they have to experience some hardship to first gain admittance. Such a home base would feel very different than the typical frontier town inn. It would be safe, more comfortable, and offer very different resources for a party of grubby treasure seekers. Beyond the elf-made equipment, the libraries of lost lore would be an ever-flowing fountain of adventure hooks.

Other Thoughts
  • It's hard to imagine the elves of The Lord of the Rings (especially the movies) as being so whimsical and jolly in their singing. In The Hobbit, there is no sense that the elves are departing Middle-Earth.
  • Though undeniably long-lived, Elrond's status as an elf is somewhat ambiguous. In The Lord of the Rings, it is clear that Elrond chose immortality and thus seems more elvish than human. In The Hobbit, Elrond is describes as having ancestors among the elves and heroes of the North and that he was an elf-friend (and chief among them). 
  • In the comments of my last post, Welleran suggested that Gandalf could not read the runes on Orcrist or Glamdring because he was unfamiliar with that dialect that emerged in Gondolin (diverging from the Elvish spoken in the Undying Lands where he was at the time). That sounds like a good an explanation as any for Galdalf's ignorance. Still, it is sometimes difficult for me to get a handle on Galdalf's actual limitations as compared to his affected limitations.
  • On previous readings, I never noticed that Moria was mentioned!
  • This Christmas season, I find myself wondering what Rivendell would be like in winter. Would its climate be moderated? For some reason, I imagine the valley deep with snow but bright with life. I can totally see the elves of The Hobbit frolicking in the snow.


Trey said...

Good question about Rivendell in winter. I'd imagine it with the picturesque qualities of winter (snow and the like) but somehow never too cold, and with warm hearths always near.

Gratuitous Saxon Violence said...

I suspect, like in most literature, Gandalf's limitations are more subject to plot requirement than to any internal consistency.