The Hobbit, Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill

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The Hobbit, Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill

Postby starlin » Fri Apr 30, 2004 11:10 am

The Hobbit: Chapter 4, Over Hill and Under Hill

Welcome to May’s session of The Hobbit discussions in Virtual Tolkien Study Group. If you're new to this forum, please take a look at The Hobbit OOC: sign on, ask questions and chat thread before you post. Feel free to contribute!

Summary

Our beloved party of 13 dwarves, a wizard and a hobbit move on and take the right road to the right pass. Their way is said to be wearying, dangerous, crooked, lonely and long – not a very pleasant to pursuit. But they go up and up, as the days pass by. The style of the narration gets ever closer to that of a legend and further from a bedtime story. Bilbo looks back on the beginning of his path and slightly regrets setting off. The atmosphere is rather gloomy: it’s cold, windy, autumn is upon them while summer is still going on down at the feet of the mountains. The whole party is silent and threat of danger is felt nearer. Then a thunderstrom begins. The travellers shelter under a hanging rock, but it gives no sufficient protection. Luckily, Fili and Kili find a cave and they all hide inside. There they smoke, talk and gradually drop off to sleep. Bilbo, however, is not so relaxed and dreams nightmares which eventually prove to be true: a crack opens at the back of the cave, and the party’s ponies disappear in it. Then the goblins pop out, bringing Bilbo to a yell. Gandalf is woken up, unfortunately, when the crack closes, everyone is inside the mountain, Gandalf nowhere to be seen. Goblins bring poor dwarves and the hobbit into the darkness of the mountain through endless underground passages, singing. Then finally they reach a cavern full of goblins and the Great Goblin sitting on a large flat stone. Having found out that the prisoners have been caught in the ‘Front Porch’, the Great Goblin accuses them of spying: Spying on the private business of my people, I guess! Thieves, I shouldn't be surprised to learn! Murderers and friends of Elves, not unlikely! Thorin explains they have been hiding, but then Goblin is eager to find out what they have been doing up in the mountains. In the course of their not-so-polite conversation, the goblins show Thorin’s sword, which the Great Goblin immediately recognises. In the row that follows after, something unexpected happens: Just at that moment all the lights in the cavern went out, and the great fire went off poof! into a tower of blue glowing smoke, right up to the roof, that scattered piercing white sparks all among the goblins. A glowing sword stabs the Great Goblin, others are harmed by the fire. The dwarves and Bilbo follow a pale light, apparently Gandalf’s, down the dark passages out of the cavern. Dori lets Bilbo cling to his shoulders, and they hurry forward because understand that torches will soon be relit. Shortly they began to hear goblin noises and horrible cries far behind in the passages they had come through. The dwarves take turns in carrying Bilbo. The goblins catch up with them, Bilbo is desperate thinking about his hobbit hole, then Thorin and Gandalf draw Goblin-cleaver and Foe-hammer, thus scaring the goblins away. They prove to be quite smart, because they put out their torchers and follow silently behind the party. Therefore, eventually Dori, now at the back again carrying Bilbo, was grabbed from behind in the dark. He shouted and fell; and the hobbit rolled off his shoulders into the blackness, bumped his head on hard rock, and remembered nothing more.

Questions

1. As already said in the summary, gradually the style of narration becomes closer to that of a legend. Moreover, the very atmosphere and action are quite different from Rivendell scenes or even troll-danger. In fact, in this chapter Bilbo’s true heroe-path begins. He will have to undergo an archetypical initiation, a rite of passage, here symbolised by passing under the mountain, later overcoming an enemy and being brought to re-birth. How is the beginning of this serious moment described in Chapter 4? How many times does Bilbo look back, does he really regret leaving home, or maybe he begins to realise the true nature of adventures? Is this misfortune a trial to him?

2. In the beginning of the chapter we get a closer look at Gandalf: he knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild, since the dragons had driven men from the lands, and the goblins had spread in secret after the battle of the Mines of Moria. Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the Edge of the Wild; and Gandalf was a wise enough wizard to know it. How does this differ from Gandalf the Firework maker as recognised by Bilbo beforehand? Is it Bilbo who is beginning to realise Gandalf’s true power, or is this the narrator’s (or re-teller’s, meaning JRRT) clue, added to the story while copying and translating it? How do these descripitions refer to what we know from the Silmarillion and LotR?

3. Look at the quote above. Battle of the Mines of Moria is mentioned. This battle is described in the Appendixes. Let’s remember it briefly: who fought who, why was the battle commenced and what was Thorin’s significance in this battle. Does anyone know whether the whole battle-story was invented before or after writing the Hobbit?

4. The dwarves and the hobbit <…> took the right road to the right pass. <…> It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long. Is Tolkien trying to say that ‘right’ roads, meaning those which are meant to bring us where we need, are always difficult?

5. Why do you think it is Bilbo who is unable to sleep and therefore first notices the goblins?

6. Are goblins different from orcs of LotR? How

Good luck in the discussion!

~Starlin~

(30.4.4 edit: title)
(21.6.4 edit: tags and url updated)
Last edited by starlin on Sun Jun 20, 2004 11:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Arvegil » Tue May 04, 2004 11:44 am

OK, I will start with #6...<BR><BR>The Hobbit's Goblins are nasty, mean, unpleasant, and deserve to be skewered, but they are not the monolithic extensions of a greater evil that the LOTR Orcs are. And, to stretch the scenario in the way most favorable to them, they no doubt viewed the Erebor expedition group as a bunch of uninvited tresspassers.<BR><BR>Is I was to find an analogous group to the Hobbit's Goblins, it might be Douglas Adams' Vogons: also a nasty, unpleasant group best avoided, but more selfish and self-interested than involved in great issues of good and evil.
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Postby starlin » Sat May 08, 2004 1:55 am

Exactly, Arvegil. IMHO goblins are truly more concerned with their own local issues than global ones. We can presume, though, that since at that time the evil in Mirkwood had already grown strong, the goblins were also beginning to be drawn towards Sauron's league. But then, were those in Moria, who killed Balin, serving the Great Evil, the legacy of Morgoth now ruled by Sauron, or were they not? The question is ambiguous, because so are the vile creatures: they serve those who corrupt them, who are their current masters, those, who have their fear. The goblins in Misty Mountains are not in such a great fear, freelances, I should say, being all on their own. But unconsciously they serve for the Evil's purposes as well, so I think it had already begun working on them at that time. Mirkwood is near to Misty Mountains...
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Postby Arvegil » Tue May 11, 2004 10:47 am

I am not sure if the Moria Orcs who killed Balin were acting under orders from Sauron or not. I don't think it would alter their actions. Either they were attacking Balin under orders from Sauron, or they were attacking tresspassers of a race of ancient enemies who were intruding on their home. Either way, Balin needed to be disposed of.
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Postby rowanberry » Sun May 16, 2004 8:55 am

Half of the month gone, and I haven't said a word... :oops:

2. In the beginning of the chapter we get a closer look at Gandalf: he knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild, since the dragons had driven men from the lands, and the goblins had spread in secret after the battle of the Mines of Moria. (...) How does this differ from Gandalf the Firework maker as recognised by Bilbo beforehand? Is it Bilbo who is beginning to realise Gandalf’s true power, or is this the narrator’s (or re-teller’s, meaning JRRT) clue, added to the story while copying and translating it? How do these descripitions refer to what we know from the Silmarillion and LotR?

I don't think Bilbo realises in this stage yet how much more there is in Gandalf than it seems; rather, it is the narrator who hints at it. I don't know if Bilbo ever fully understands how powerful Gandalf actually is. From the LOTR and the Sil, we know that Gandalf had been around for a couple thousand years at this time, travelled far and wide, and he certainly knew that a trip to the Wilderlands wouldn't be a picnic. The fireworks were just the tip of the iceberg... And at some point, Tolkien wrote The Quest of Erebor in Unfinished Tales, which combines the story of the Hobbit with the events in LOTR, and from which we learn about how important this quest actually was!

4. The dwarves and the hobbit <…> took the right road to the right pass. <…> It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long. Is Tolkien trying to say that ‘right’ roads, meaning those which are meant to bring us where we need, are always difficult?

I wouldn't say always, but very often though. There are plenty of examples of characters who must take hard and dangerous roads to fulfill their quest in Tolkien's works. But here, I would take it just as a means to colour the story and give some excitement.

I'll try and get back later, with a bit more coherent thoughts.
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Postby Arvegil » Mon May 17, 2004 12:58 pm

"Why do you think it is Bilbo who is unable to sleep and therefore first notices the goblins?"

At this point (pre-ring finding), Bilbo has largely been baggage. In order for Tolkien to justify Bilbo's inclusion (See "The Quest for Erebor"), he needs to come up with some differences which add value to the party over and above his random finding of a magic trinket. Some kind of sixth sense about nearby danger helps justify Bilbo's inclusion, and sets him apart as someone with skills complementary to the Dwarves' superior fighting skills and travel experience.
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Postby Lillassea » Thu May 20, 2004 9:47 pm

Hi Starlin!

You’ve given us much food for thought, here.
I’ll try to give an answer or two to question # 1

How many times does Bilbo look back?

Many and frequently: he would much rather be home.

After climbing out of it, Bilbo looks back over the valley of Rivendell (literally). At the same time, he looks back in time to the Shire (figuratively): “The summer is getting on … and haymaking… and picnics… harvesting and blackberrying…”
In the cave, he remembers Gandalf lighting up his wand “as he did that day in Bilbo’s dining-room that seemed so long ago…”
As they are being carried by the goblins, “He wished again and again for his nice bright hobbit hole…”
Being pursued by goblins, Bilbo cries, “Why, O why did I ever leave my hobbit-hole!”


Maybe [Bilbo] begins to realize the true nature of adventures:

Bilbo realizes that adventures are not all fun and glory, as he had thought. Among all the exciting things there are in the world to see, are some pretty terrifying things as well.
Gandalf chose Bilbo to go on this “adventure,” partly because he believed that Bilbo had been waiting for something, waiting for an adventure to come his way. He felt that Bilbo had the “right mixture” of rash Took (but not too much) and stolid Baggins in him to make a good adventurer.
By the end of this chapter, Bilbo’s experience of adventures has not been a pleasant one. He has been cold, tired and hungry. He has been nearly eaten by trolls. He has been caught in a terrible storm. He has been trapped and chased by goblins and nearly killed by them.
He begins to refer to adventures as “dangerous” and “fearful.”
Bilbo has certainly changed his mind about the nature of adventures. It appears that Bilbo truly regrets having left his “nice bright hobbit-hole” to come on this sad and terrifying journey. He “looks back” in earnest and wishes to be back home in Bag End.
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Postby Lillassea » Thu May 20, 2004 9:53 pm

A few more thoughts on question #1:

Bilbo is becoming a hero…

As he is able to gather his strength and use his special talents (some of which he probably didn’t even know he had) to meet each new challenge presented to him (whether saving the Dwarves from the Trolls or warning them all about the goblin trap in the cave) Bilbo becomes more and more the hero of the story. He is no longer just a small, soft, fat hobbit, but an important member of the group. Gandalf chose Bilbo to go on this journey partly because he thought the hobbit's keen sense of hearing and ability to walk silently would be an asset. His silence helped him to rescue the dwarves from the trolls; his hearing and prophetic dream aided him in warning Gandalf of the presence of the goblins in the cave. (It may be interesting to note that Frodo, also, had prophetic dreams. Two most exceptional hobbits, here. And both of them chosen friends of Gandalf. The Unfinished Tales, in the chapter on the Istari, mentions that Gandalf was the Maia who spent most of his time in Middle Earth with the elves. The name given to him in Valinor – Olorin – is derived from the Quenya word “olos,” which means “dream.” This does not refer to the dreams of mortals, but the elvish dreams of true memory or clear visions of the future. The elves even credited Olorin (Gandalf) with causing some of the visions they had in his presence. Could it be that he graces his two favorite hobbits with this ability to have visions, as well? ) As the story proceeds, we see that Bilbo has unique, innate abilities that allow him to “be the hero” time and again.
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Postby Arvegil » Fri May 21, 2004 9:18 am

...and elaborating on that point, part of Bilbo's virtues is that, as a Hobbit, he thinks differently than the Dwarves. As such, especially later in the book, he reaches solutions to problems which the Dwarves alone would not have thought of. A later example of that would be the method used to escape from Thranduril's hall.
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Postby starlin » Sat May 22, 2004 9:24 am

So Bilbo is exceptional in the group. I'd like to remember one motif, which is common at least in my nation's folklore tales: a motif of so-called "third brother". Briefly, there are very often 3 brothers, two of them clever and the third a fool. In the end, the fool always proves to be the one who saves the other two when they get into trouble. Bilbo is regarded as a "minor" by the dwarves, mostly before his magical escape from under the mountain, but later he saves them all. Of course, in fairy tales it is usually that the fool is simply lucky with his fortune, but then - isn't Bilbo lucky as well, in finding his Ring? This is yet to be discussed in furhter chapters, and now I just wanted to point out that Bilbo as a "hidden heroe" is also a typical mythological personage - a weak one who conquers (later to be seen in all the hobbits' part in the Great Quest).
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Postby Arvegil » Mon May 24, 2004 9:04 am

The "hidden hero" is not just common in mythological literature; that character also makes a few appearances in English Literature as well, in contexts as different as Col. Brandon and Lord Peter Wimsey.
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Postby Mahima » Tue May 25, 2004 7:05 am

Part of Question 1:
How is the beginning of this serious moment described in Chapter 4?


Quite profoundly. A particular phrase, which leaps out of the text, is:

“Far, far away in the west, where things were blue and faint, Bilbo knew there lay his own country of safe and comfortable things, and his little hobbit-hole.”

This brings in sharp relief the changed situation of Bilbo, and how far away from safety the entire party was. The “west” being as a safe place is also highlighted… a theme which reoccurs in Tolkien’s subsequent works. Let us also note the kind of things that Bilbo is recalling here:

“The summer is getting on down below,” thought Bilbo, “and haymaking is going on and picnics”.

Haymaking and picnics!!! Once again, a stark contrast from his current situation – not only in terms of what he is doing right now… but also in terms of the responsibility on his shoulders. He is not thinking of how his hobbit-hole is faring, and being maintained… (for example), or any other responsibility he might have had at Bag-End. This brings to light the carefree life he has really led to date, in terms of even tackling smaller, day-to-day issues. And now he has such a responsibility on his shoulders! He is supposed to steal dragon-gold… and live up to Gandalf’s words and expectations.
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Postby Mahima » Tue May 25, 2004 7:08 am

Arvegil wrote:"Why do you think it is Bilbo who is unable to sleep and therefore first notices the goblins?"

At this point (pre-ring finding), Bilbo has largely been baggage. In order for Tolkien to justify Bilbo's inclusion (See "The Quest for Erebor"), he needs to come up with some differences which add value to the party over and above his random finding of a magic trinket. Some kind of sixth sense about nearby danger helps justify Bilbo's inclusion, and sets him apart as someone with skills complementary to the Dwarves' superior fighting skills and travel experience.


That is right. And the first sentence of this paragraph starts with the same sentiment "It turned out to be a good thing that they had brought Bilbo with them, after all"
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Postby starlin » Fri May 28, 2004 2:12 am

Suilad again. I have a question there, which most probably has more to do with my ignorance in English, but may also be a cultural reference:

they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled.

The last phrase: is it some fixed phrase in English? Or maybe it's a phrase common in, for example, medieval literature, literature connected with feudalism? "Where no king ruled" seems to mean "savage, loose, with no authorities or laws". Or, just in case, maybe Tolkien coined this phrase because it "feels" medieval?
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Postby Mahima » Fri May 28, 2004 7:38 am

starlin wrote:
they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled.

The last phrase: is it some fixed phrase in English? Or maybe it's a phrase common in, for example, medieval literature, literature connected with feudalism? "Where no king ruled" seems to mean "savage, loose, with no authorities or laws". Or, just in case, maybe Tolkien coined this phrase because it "feels" medieval?


As far as I know, starlin, it is not a fixed phrase in English. But Tolkien does seem to regard the "King's Rule" as ordered and lawful. Even in LOTR, in the Scouring of the Shire (I think), there is a mention that "We have a King again" by the Hobbits at Bree. This seems to indicate, that the lawlessness the place has been experiencing in the absence of one, will go away soon. In fact, am sure there are several references to the "King" per se in Lord of The Rings - it would be interesting to see the nuances behind these statements. I will see if I can dig up something.

PS: Great question. I never really gave attention to this phrase.
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Postby starlin » Fri May 28, 2004 8:07 am

I think I have noticed it in the Prologue as well, though I don't have it at hand currently and can't check it.

I think that in this phrase we see a rather interesting thing: there had been no King for many years when Bilbo set out, and the Shire was independent from any outside rule, but such folklore as "no king ruled" passed down from generation to generation.
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Postby Arvegil » Mon May 31, 2004 6:19 pm

And indeed, while it was a mere formality, the Thain supposedly stood in the King's place until the King returned.
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Postby starlin » Tue Jun 01, 2004 3:47 am

A parallel here with the Steward of Gondor as well, isn't it?
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Postby Arvegil » Tue Jun 01, 2004 2:55 pm

Even more poignant in The Shire, where the formalities of the King's rule were retained even in the absence of any real ruling authority; the Stewards maintained both the formalitiy and the power.
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Postby ~WyrtWif~ » Sun Feb 20, 2005 2:52 pm

1. Starlin, I like the way you said

The style of narration gets ever closer to that of a legend


We have passed the transitional chapter with the rest in between, and now the "real" journey begins. The descriptive language is clearly more indicative of danger. As Lillassea noted, Bilbo's looking back is compared and contrasted with his current situation. This is the descriptive way we are told that things are getting much more serious.

"The silence seemed to dislike being broken" - like the silence is a sentient being. This provides for an extra sense of danger, something present but unseen brings a natural instinctive response to the fear of the unknown.

Yes, I see his various misfortunes along the way as trials. And when Bilbo is tried, he seems to come through. In fact, only when tried in a rough spot does he seem offer anything of real value to the group.

2. As for Gandalf differing, we certainly begin to learn more of just who Gandalf really is here, or at least that he has had much experience in other lands compared to Bilbo's small world of experience. I also agree that I do not think Bilbo is ever fully aware of the scope of Gandalf's power. I believe he does come to respect and understand him much more as time goes on, but still sees him as the kindly old man and dear friend who brought grand fireworks for him as a child. I believe we are to understand from this passage that the narrator is embellishing the story for our benefit.

3. I do not know for certain if the whole battle-story of the Mines of Moria was invented, but I am of the opinion that a great deal of it had been fleshed out in Tolkien's mind and/or notes simply based on the way he references it here as though he already had a good deal in mind about it. I imagine he had sketches of the general plot already, and later fleshed them out while working on LOTR. Does anyone have any factual information to support or disprove my theory?

4. I do think that Tolkien constantly placed morals in his tales, and this is one that runs strong - doing the right thing is hard. I do think he is hinting at and enforcing that idea here.

Tolkien likes to add tidbits of wisdom here and there, such as the comment made when "they sent Fili and Kili to look for a better shelter.... 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."

5. Bilbo's nightmare and fitful sleep proves beneficial to the group. Again, when placed in a tight spot, Bilbo proves his worth. This is not the first time this concept has been introduced. Tolkien has been leading us in this direction from the first, when Gandalf first so rudely prodded Bilbo out of his comfortable spot at home, and when pressed in chapter one, he spoke out about his skills. There have been small, less significant hints at this quality in each chapter thus far; only now does the narrator point it out to us clearly, when we are told "It turned out to be a good thing that they had brought Bilbo with them, after all," as Mahima quoted.


6. I agree that these goblins are more devoted to their own local self-interest, but I must say that the goblins and orcs of LOTR are also following their own self-interests by serving Sauron and Saruman. They follow whatever leadership that will get them the most gain.

Other comments:
I wanted to say I really like that you brought in the note about the classic "third brother" theme, starlin. I have heard reference made to this concept in college literature classes and I find it very relevant here, where it had not occured to me prior to your comment.

The stone giants - is this the only occurence of this creature in Tolkien's works? They strike me as out of place.

The orc song, in comparison with the elves, is deeper, more sinister (of course), and almost reminds me of a bullying or teasing of an elder sibling.

Nice commentary here, everyone!
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Postby rowanberry » Mon Feb 21, 2005 2:19 pm

Great observations there, WyrtWif! :)

The stone giants - is this the only occurence of this creature in Tolkien's works? They strike me as out of place.


As far as I know, the stone giants aren't mentioned anywhere else, at least not in any Middle-earth stories.
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Postby daffne » Thu Oct 27, 2011 7:38 am

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. :)
Thank you for being my own mentor on this topic. I enjoyed the article a lot and most of all cherished how you handled the areas I widely known as controversial. You happen to be always incredibly kind to readers much like me and assist me in my living.
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Postby Arvegil » Tue Nov 01, 2011 7:54 am

As far as I know, the stone giants aren't mentioned anywhere else, at least not in any Middle-earth stories.

Pretty much my understanding as well. Haven't even found a reference in HoME anywhere else.
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