LotR Reread – A Long-Expected Party

Book I: Chap. 1 – A Long Expected Party

I’ve always bridled about LotR being considered a children’s book (even The Hobbit was not written specifically for children, iirc) (* See Here*)– but there is a light tone to this which makes it more understandable. The jollity of the party, with the young folk dancing the springle-ring and all (I wrote a parody for that – see the bottom of the post), just has the feel of Good Classic British Children’s Fare. Even the fact of Bilbo turning eleventy-one – that’s not a very grown-up thing to call it (well, it didn’t used to be).

And yet some of the humor is sly and surely over a child’s head: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”. (I just got lazy and looked up the wording of that quote, and saw a query on one of those Q&A websites asking what it meant. “I don’t get it”. *sigh* But see? Not something many children or the childish would “get”.) And “Night slowly passed. The sun rose. The hobbits rose rather later. … Gardeners came by arrangement, and removed in wheel-barrows those that had inadvertently remained behind.” A child isn’t going to interpret that nearly the same way a grownup does.

And, for certain, the tone quickly sobers up.

The lack of respect the other hobbits have for the Bagginses is kind of remarkable; it surprised me in a way it never did before, for some reason. Mockery of the family runs through the conversation in the Ivy Bush as Ham Gamgee holds forth. The folk from all of Hobbiton are dying to go to the Party because they know there will be fantastic food and drink and mathoms, not to celebrate the Birthday. They know their feast will probably be paid for by being forced to listen to a boring old speech by Bilbo, and maybe even *shudder* poetry. They heckle him as he speaks. Then after Bilbo goes off the giving away of the mathoms to family and friends devolves into a free-for-all, with not only folk becoming grabby over the gifts but younger hobbits actually beginning excavations. I don’t think I ever thought anything of that before, but good grief. Property damage. Delinquentism. How … human.

Hamfast Gamgee does think highly of Bilbo and Frodo, and defends them, but even he is well aware of their oddities and doesn’t altogether understand them himself. There are two reasons I find the rudeness extraordinary … One, the first one that percolated upward, is that the Bagginses are the gentry hereabouts. Or at least so I’ve always thought. But they aren’t, really, are they? Bilbo’s rich, all right, but that’s due to his adventures; he was well off before, and certainly didn’t have to go to work every day, but actual wealth came only with the dragon. The Shirefolk are willing to believe almost anything about where he got his money (and jools) and how much he has. Drogo is referred to as being a respectable hobbit, but no more; them Brandybucks are queer folk, and that is that. The hobbits hanging out at the Ivy Bush make terrible jokes about Drogo’s death – drownded! He ate a big dinner and sank the boat with his weight (making fun of which, coming from hobbits, is pretty ironic), or his wife pushed him in. They’re also powerful suspicious of those “queer” Brandybucks. It’s funny – this is actually tipping over my perspective on the place. The Brandybucks and Tooks are sort of the local equivalent of hereditary nobles, but there are no titles other than that held by the actual leader (the mayor?). There *is* a class structure – Bilbo was always a gentleman hobbit, meaning he didn’t have to work, while the Sandymans are millers and the Gamgees are gardeners and so on. But no one sees the leisure class as inherently “better” than the working class, I don’t think; the former hold no power over the latter.

I mean, Sam and the Gaffer work for the Bagginses, and Sam calls Frodo “master” and “Mr. Frodo” and shows him some deference – but the relationship between those two has always been something that has been discussed. They’re boss-employee, but more: master-servant something in the manner of Upstairs, Downstairs, valet and his lordship. One comparison I see a lot and have probably made myself is to Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but that is actually a rather more formal association. Usually.

Well, I’ve made that clear as mud. I’ll have to see if I can untangle it more as I go on.

(Also: anyone who tries to bring up any OTHER sort of relationship between Frodo and Sam – or Merry and Pippin, or Aragorn and Legolas, or any other “ship” in the book – will be ritually cursed. This is a LotR-slash-free zone.)

The main difference between our two Bagginses and everyone else in the Shire seems to be that their tastes and outlook have been altered by Bilbo’s adventure; some latent tendency toward poetry, which in ordinary circumstances would have probably festered and gone largely dormant, has been awakened in them both, and they have a Tookish/Brandybuckish curiosity that is unusual. I wish we’d gotten to spend more time in Buckland, gotten to know more of the Brandybucks. They sound like fun. I’ll continue the sort of wistfulness about fan-fic I started in the first post – I would love to see some well-written fic about Frodo’s childhood at Brandy Hall.

The other reason the near-absolute lack of respect for them Bagginses surprises me this go-round is that you just don’t see that very often in fiction. In my experience – especially of recently-written books – the main characters are rarely mocked. In far too many Mary-Sue-ish cases the main characters are adored by all. I think the attitudes in LotR are in part down to the fact that the hobbits are a joky sort of culture; they seem to go for the laugh in almost everything, and not much is funnier than pulling down those who have more than you. But – well, take Frodo. He’s intelligent, sensitive, curious, a wee bit finer than most hobbits. Does this gain him respect from the rest? Absolutely not. Intelligence is a bit suspect; hobbits don’t go in much for sensitivity; curiosity is definitely weird. He’s a cardinal among sparrows. Not that it bothers Frodo, or Bilbo before him.

Bits of this chapter are one reason that my answer, when the question “where in Middle-earth would you live?” is asked, is not “the Shire”. (For the record, I want Rivendell. With all my heart.) Hobbits aren’t altogether nice folk. That is, I’m sure they’re lovely friends and kind neighbors and generous and all that sort of thing, and I’m sure Hobbiton is a lovely community, and Buckland sounds fascinating, but the gossiping and mockery and excessive sorts of mischief here and in the next chapter just show them to be like the worst small English village imaginable. Oh, and the Sackville-Bagginses.

I need to find a map of the Shire (wonder if Daniel Reeve did one?) (He did, but it’s zoomed out too far). Correction: I need to find a map of Bag End and its surrounds – I’m curious about where Bagshot Row (where Sam and his father live at #3) is in relation to Bag End. (Oh, of course: The Encyclopedia of Arda has one.)

Very few of the main characters show up yet in Chapter One – Frodo barely gets a look-in for most of the chapter, till after Bilbo leaves. Sam is the first of the other Companions to be mentioned, but Merry is the first to have a line of dialogue.

There is, however, much of Gandalf, and it struck me that his role as wizard is well set up here in the very beginning: he has his entrance, and on the very next page, “the old man was Gandalf the Wizard”. Nowadays it’s easy enough to read a book, see “wizard”, and think “Right. Long beard, pointy hat, robes.” But before Gandalf became an archetype, I wonder how his character was perceived; which is the chicken and which the egg, I wonder, and which came first? Here, at least, it’s the physical description; he is an old man before he is a Wizard (capital W). An old man was driving it all alone. He wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a silver scarf. He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond the brim of his hat.

Because the book and the setting are so ingrained with me, I never before realized how clever this introduction was. The reader is shown how the hobbits in general see him – an interfering old busybody, who happens to do a nice line in fireworks. I think it’s interesting that – despite the fact that very few Big Folk come into the Shire – Gandalf is never referred to or separated out as such. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. But while the Shire folk are happy enough with him when he’s just entertaining at Bilbo’s party, they are none too fond of him when Bilbo vanishes, and he gets the blame for Frodo’s changing personality as well. The Tolkien wizard is subtle and quick to anger (though that quote isn’t for a while yet): apart from the burst of light accompanying Bilbo’s vanishment, there isn’t much along the lines of flash-and-bang wizardry, no wand-waving or spell chanting or transfigurations (just the threat of the latter, next chapter). There’s part of the subtle; the quick to anger bit is self-explanatory. So there’s very little of what is seen as stereotypically magical about him; he has the appearance (though he might be the originator of that cliché in modern eyes). He has a staff, I believe – no, wait; it’s not mentioned until the second half of the book. He makes fireworks, and they are magical as it turns out, but that feels like something minor, something lesser: magic used specifically for entertainment alone. His role as Wizard is very much underplayed for quite some time; he’s more an old man is very good at research (if not exactly speedy).

Where did Gandalf stay when he was in the Shire? At one point he does say in conversation with Frodo, “I am going to bed”, so that sounds like he’s kipping at Bag End; the hole must have some high ceilings. But then after the labeled gifts are distributed and the S-B’s finally go away Gandalf comes knocking at the door… but maybe he was just out and about, maybe exploring the garden, staying out of the way while the Shire folk were mobbing Bag End. I wouldn’t think he would stay at the Prancing Pony – it’s a bit of a distance.

How sad, and a little ironic, that Gandalf is the hobbits’ biggest fan; he’s probably the only non-hobbit in Middle-earth who’s interested in them – and the majority of the folk of the Shire think he’s a dangerous meddling busybody, if not a kidnapper – if not a murderer. It could be a sort of unconscious reaction to his anthropological study of them: he’s always been about, and always poking his nose in where no other Big Folk were interested – why is he so blasted interested, anyhow? It’s suspicious, that’s what.

I find that I have become rather unpopular. They say I am a nuisance and a disturber of the peace. Some people are actually accusing me of spiriting Bilbo away, or worse. If you want to know, there is supposed to be a plot between you and me to get hold of his wealth.’

And Frodo is tarred with the same brush! Wow – these folk are not trusting.

There are a few anachronisms in the book, especially, I think, this early part; one big one that’s ubiquitous in relation to Samwise is taters. What’s taters, precious? Po-tay-toes, which weren’t introduced into England until I believe the 16th century. Though the topography is completely different from the known world as it is, the prologue indicates that this Middle-earth is what Earth used to be – ours is that same world after the Elves have left, the hobbits have learned how to completely conceal themselves, the dwarves have presumably gone underground (is that what happened to them?), and Men … in Men, the blood of Númenor is thinned past detection short of intense DNA analysis. So, if this were being completely accurate, no potatoes.

Also, no trains (“The dragon passed like an express train”). Or, though I hate to say it, tobacco.

Happily, Tolkien wasn’t interested in full and complete accuracy in all things. Gandalf wouldn’t be Gandalf without wondrous smoke rings. This was a mythology that was being built.

The Party was on a Thursday. People are going to wonder why I’m giggling like an idiot every time September 22 falls on a Thursday.

Merry and Pippin suspect Frodo is doing as Bilbo used, wandering to see the Elves – is he? He is known to them, certainly, in a few chapters, but he does not seem to have a deep familiarity with them and their ways. (He never has much interaction with Legolas, if I recall correctly; pity.) Sam – the desirer of elves, preferring elves and dragons to cabbages and poratoes (I did a parody based on that too) – has some poignant lines here:

‘They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,’ said Sam, half chanting the words, shaking his head sadly and solemnly. But Ted laughed.

(Ted Sandyman stinks.) The line in the film – “I don’t know why, but it makes me sad” – was a bit of a brick-to-the-head expression of the melancholy of the passing of an Age, the end of something wonderful. “Crazy about stories of the old days he is…” All Sam ever wanted was to see the wonder before it disappeared; I love Tolkien for letting him.

It will, I imagine, become very clear that, for me, Samwise Gamgee is the absolute hero of the book. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is something that resulted in some fierce (and rather ugly) arguments on The Board Which Shall Remain Nameless, as I – and a couple of others – refused to let Sam’s contributions to the quest go unremarked, and others took the field for whichever other they believed in most. I’ll come to that “controversy” when its time comes, and suffice to say that my adoration for Sam starts right here at the beginning: he’s a young hobbit (fifteen years younger than Frodo, so not much past his coming of age when they set off – and, by the way, born in the same year as Faramir), eager to expand his horizons, staunchly loyal, and ready to stand up for his friends – and yet slow to take offense.

I’m not sure if it’s stated outright in LotR why the Elves are beginning to filter out of Middle-earth. And why are so many Dwarves traveling? To where?

A few lines I pulled out of the book, and my reactions:

Regarding Bilbo’s agelessness: ‘It will have to be paid for,’ they said. ‘It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!’ Yes, it will – but not by Bilbo.

The Sackville-Bagginses won’t never see the inside of Bag End now, or it is to be hoped not. *flinch*

Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays.
Hobbits: Original masters of the re-gift. This was the source of one of the nice things about The Nameless Board: on our birthdays and board anniversaries many of us got very creative. It’s where most of my parodies come from, along with a cartload of drabbles. (For the record, I know such things as I once wrote are elsewhere called “filks”, but we called them parodies, and that’s what they are. And a drabble is, I believe universally, a miniscule short story of 100 words, no more and no less. They’re hard for me; I bet you can tell that.) I look back on the time I spent on TBWSRN, and I’m amazed at the sheer volume of stuff I put out. It was, when it was fun, a very great deal of fun. And when it was bad it was horrid.

From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green.
Can I just say that this brought a pang? Because PJ, in his *koff* infinite wisdom, has apparently dispensed with the dwarves’ hoods in The Hobbit. I think it’s a crime. I mean, if nothing else, from what I understand there are tons of people, especially newbies, who are befuddled by the plethora of dwarves – having them color-coded might have helped.

‘I might find somewhere where I can finish my book.’
Amen. I tend to mutter that to myself, or the movie version. I haven’t done it yet.

Gandalf laughed. ‘I hope he will. But nobody will read the book, however it ends.’

Some very broad hints are planted here about the Ring – which is still merely “the ring” here. Gandalf is clearly made uneasy by Bilbo’s reactions, and Bilbo experiences a strange relief when he is separated from it. And some of what Bilbo says about it is very worrying. If someone’s read The Hobbit, Bilbo using the adjective “precious” might ring a bell. If it doesn’t at this point, it will; if nothing else, the drastic Jekyll-and-Hyde change to Bilbo’s personality is chilling.

‘Take care! I don’t care. Don’t you worry about me! I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal. But the time has come. I am being swept off my feet at last,’ he added, and then in a low voice, as if to himself, he sang softly in the dark:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

I’m pleased to say that I can still recite that from memory. This was one of the things that made me very happy about the first film: Gandalf is singing this as he enters the Shire. I have a very great deal to say about the second and third movies, and not much is positive. But the first one … “I don’t know why – it makes me sad.” It could have been magnificent.

The hobbits were terribly afraid Bilbo was going to inflict poetry on them; mine’s not poetry, and hopefully it won’t bring the same groans as his long-windednesses did. Mine are more easily skipped over, at least. Here’s my “Springle Ring”.

based on “Jingle Bells”

The Party Tree is lit
The wine is mighty strong
Bilbo’s giving us a speech
Let’s hope it’s not too long!
You know how he can get:
He’s liable to recite
Or spin a story of his past –
Let’s hope he won’t tonight!

O! Springle-ring, Springle-ring,
Springle-ring with me!
Bilbo’s paused amidst applause
So let’s assume we’re free
Springle-ring, Springle-ring,
– Springle-ring with me!
A cracker band! With bells in hand
We’ll dance a round or three.

The fireworks were grand
We’ve not had such in years
That dragon took my breath
But there was no time for tears
For supper then began
And the food it never failed
(I’ll ask Rosie for a dance –
No, I’ll just have another ale)

‘Eleventy-one years
Is far too short a time…’
If he ruins this night,
That would be a crime!
‘As well as you deserve’
Now, I wonder what that meant
To one hundred forty-four of us
All gathered in this tent

Brandybucks and Tooks
Burrowses and Chubbs
Boffins and Bolgers
Goodbodies and Grubbs
Brockhouses and Proudfoots
And don’t forget Frodo
The Sackville-Bagginses as well – ?
Now where did Bilbo go??

O! Springle-ring, Springle-ring,
Springle-ring with me!
Bilbo’s paused amidst applause
So let’s assume we’re free
Springle-ring, Springle-ring,
– Springle-ring with me!
A cracker band! With bells in hand
We’ll dance a round or three.

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8 Responses to LotR Reread – A Long-Expected Party

  1. Is there a particular order that The Lord of the Rings books should be read? Just curious, since it seems as though The Hobbit should come before The Fellowship of the Ring since it’s the story of Bilbo as I understand it.

  2. stewartry says:

    It can go either way – it was written before Lord of the Rings, before Tolkien even thought of it, and then after he wrote LotR he went back and retrofitted The Hobbit. It’s not necessary to read The Hobbit before LotR – in fact, I think it would be kind of fun to read it after, and get the background story for where the Ring came from.

    I thought you’d read Tolkien!

  3. I have to confess, that I haven’t…YET. One of my ‘bitches’, her husband is a big fan of LotR.

    You made it sound so interesting in this post, that you might have talked me into trying the series sometime very soon. If not this year, because of the P & P Challenge, then definitely next year.

  4. stewartry says:

    I don’t know why I thought you had … maybe I was thinking of one of my other obsessions, like Doctor Who! I can’t wait till you find time for it now – I envy you a first read.

  5. Pingback: LotR Reread – Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past | Stewartry

  6. Pingback: Chapter Two: The Shadow of the Past | Stewartry

  7. Pingback: Chapter Two: The Shadow of the Past (again) | Stewartry

  8. Pingback: LotR Reread – rabbit hole | Stewartry

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