Before we leave this little chapter with its neat plot developments, I have two more observations. Firstly, I would note the similarity between the role of The Hobbit as burglar to steal from a dragon and the episode of the stolen cup in the Beowulf poem (lines 2212-2235). That, too, involved the thief finding a secret passage. Tolkien claimed that his starting point for writing The Hobbit was a random thought which came into his head while marking exam papers and gave him the opening line. That may have got him as far as C.S. Lewis with The Chronicles of Narnia and an image of a faun carrying presents in snow. But they needed more than one image. There had to be a story, and I would suggest that the plot events of The Hobbit where built out from the finding of the secret entrance to the dragons treasure: backwards to the recruitment of Bilbo as burgler, and forwards to the terrible consequences of the dragon’s wrath.
Secondly, the detailed descriptions of the barren landscape around The Lonely Mountain, laid waste by the dragon Smaug, reminded me of William Golding’s book, Pincher Martin. Another confession is required here because I haven’t read the book but, going from a radio review and Wikipedia, I feel fairly confident in saying that Golding spent many pages describing a rocky outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean on which, so the reader is told, a shipwrecked sailor has dragged himself ashore. That would be the ultimate lonely mountain, I suppose, but there is not much more connection story-wise between Pincher Martin and The Hobbit. However, I would now like to bring in Golding’s most famous book, Lord of the Flies, which I did study at school and interestingly was published in 1954, the same year as Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Where is this going? Bear with me, please.
With Tolkien, Golding, and the books mentioned above, we have the works of two twentieth century writers who experienced the horrors of world wars which are seen to surface in their narratives. But what a difference we see in their world views and what a difference in motivation we take away as we exit the secondary realities of their stories. The Lord of The Rings of course is vast in scope and covers conflicts and loss on a scale equivalent to world war. The Hobbit, although a children’s tale takes in the horror of war as it reaches its saga like climax. The heroes in both of Tolkien’s great works are taken to the limit of their endurance and courage, they suffer greatly and yet we see that their hope is not in vain.
With Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we see human nature at its worst with no real hope of redemption except by the constraints of society. But what if the outside world loses its morality like the boys on the island? Grim. And as for Pincher Martin, (I don’t think I have to worry about spoilers for this book) it turns out the poor blighter died on page two and it was all an hallucination. I would rather re-read The Lord of The Rings than one of Golding’s books.
And what change of consciousness might we feel as we finish their books? With Tolkien my spirits would be charged up: with Golding I think my spiritual batteries would be drained.
Looking forward to the next chapter, our heroes make more progress and Bilbo lifts the cup but it’s not all over. More apologies to my North American readers but there are cultural references hidden in that last sentence which might just raise a smile with sports fans over here in England.
According to Douglas Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit, page 388, rowing from Lake Town was depicted on the cover of 1991 re-issue of The Hobbit Czech translation.
Suggestion for Peter Jackson regarding animation of the thrush in this chapter: Why use CGI when you can use mechanical engineering? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Swan_(automaton). I saw this myself at The Bowes Museum. It was magic.