Mark Reads ‘The Hobbit’: Chapter 17

In the seventeenth chapter of The Hobbit, jesus goddamn christ WHAT THE FUCK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hobbit.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE CLOUDS BURST

Well, this is not what I expected.

It seemed to me that what Bilbo had done was leading towards some sort of reconciliation, that even if Thorin was horribly upset with the hobbit for what he had done, it was a way for there to be a solution without a war. It seemed like a fairly obvious message, too: there is a way to resolve things without bloodshed. And that is certainly where this was headed, wasn’t it?

As Dain converges on the mountainside with all the dwarves he’s brought along, I now see how Tolkien has gone to great lengths to basically obfuscate what he actually has planned here, despite that there have been a couple of clues along the way. Predictably, without knowing that Bard has the Arkenstone, Thorin refuses to budge. Again.

“My mind does not change with the rising and setting of a few suns,” answered Thorin.

Okay, that’s real nice, Thorin, but what the fuck are you doing. I get that you’ve got the moral fortitude of an old oak. That’s great! It shows that you commit to what you set out to do. But this is getting to be absurd. Appropriately so, as Bard decides at this moment to ask if Thorin will yield in exchange for the Arkenstone.

When the moment comes, it’s…well, it’s not quite as badass as I anticipated. It’s actually kind of sad! Thorin realizes he’s been tricked and that Bard is trying to manipulate him. The fact that Bard’s reveal shocks him into silence is an indication of how much this hurts him. I sort of feel a bit bad about feeling so gung-ho about Bilbo’s plan? Maybe just a little bit. The practical side in me still thought this would work out for the best after some uncomfortable moments, which we do get anyway. The first of which…holy shit.

“By the beard of Durin! I wish I had Gandalf here! Curse him for his choice of you! May his beard wither! As for you I will throw you to the rocks!” he cried and lifted Bilbo in his arms.

“Stay! Your wish is granted!” said a voice. The old man with the casket threw aside his hood and cloak. “Here is Gandalf! And none too soon it seems. If you don’t like my Burglar, please don’t damage him.”

A few things:

1) I need to start yelling the following at people: “BY THE BEARD OF MARK.” It will make things more effective.

2) How embarrassed would you be if you were Thorin? He makes some flippant remark about the wizard knowing he’s not there and it turns out he’s hiding out right in front of him. I have a feeling Gandalf just hides around and waits until someone shit talks him so he can make them feel ashamed within ten seconds of doing so.

3) I need to start yelling the following at people: “MAY YOUR BEARD WITHER!” Bonus points if they don’t have a beard.

4) Okay, why is Gandalf talking about Bilbo as if he belongs to him? He’s not your property, Gandalf. RUDE.

5) Gandalf only speaks in the third person about himself, doesn’t he? WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS.

So Gandalf…I’m a bit confused. You’ve set up Bilbo to be part of this wonderful, fantastic adventure, and he’s grown and matured in ways that he never would have otherwise. I actually think this is pretty great, even considering that this adventure you sent Bilbo on (by tricking him, I might add) has put him in mortal danger! Bilbo even uses his newfound sassiness to tell Thorin what a fool he’s making of himself and his fellow dwarves before taking off to join Gandalf.

My question is: Gandalf, what exactly are you doing here in this story? As Bilbo turns himself over to the elves and the lake men, and the wait continues for anything to happen, I can’t help but wonder how Gandalf plays into this and, more important than that, HOW DOES HE KNOW SO MUCH OF WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? This actually bothers me just a little bit because the key turning point in chapter seventeen (and when everything goes to hell) is right as the dwarves and the lake men/elves look like they’re going to clash in battle. A sudden cloud of darkness swarms over the entire party and the wizard reveals what his warning to Bilbo days earlier actually means:

“Dread has come upon you all! Alas! it has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! the bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!”

Okay, let me first say that the image of hundreds of thousands of bats that block out sunlight to make it seem like a cloud of darkness has descended on the entire mountain? That shit is fucking magical. Bravo, Tolkien, that is fantastic. HOWEVER–and yes, I have to say this–WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING DAYS AGO, GANDALF??? No, seriously, if a few days ago, you had either crucial information or an inkling of a clue that the goblins were coming to waste all of these creatures, why would you keep that to yourself? I don’t understand this! Did I just read this section wrong? Look, I’m willing to admit that I goofed this up if I read something wrong, but it seems to me that he is purposely holding on to information in order to….be an elitist wizard? “Oh, I knew about the goblins way before you did.”

Yet even with this bizarre behavior, I can’t deny that I was totally taken aback and shocked by this huge twist. Tolkien doesn’t waste any time dropping us directly into the chaotic and violent battle against the dwarves. I think that aside from feeling like that came out of right field, though, I was struck by how much death there is here. Tolkien sort of glosses over it in a way until one very distinct image towards the end of the chapter:

Once again the goblins were stricken in the valley; and they were piled in heaps till Dale was dark and hideous with their corpses.

That is not sugar coating anything. It’s actually a rather disturbing image, to be honest, one I didn’t really expect in a book that is generally geared towards a slightly younger audience. The deaths at Esgaroth aren’t ignored, to be fair, but there’s no description of the bodies like there is here. What it got me thinking about was how death is used in fiction and how it doesn’t hold the same emotional weight in The Hobbit as other stories.

I acknowledge that this isn’t really the point of this book, but coming from Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and A Song of Ice and Fire, death has a much more intimate and horrific consequence and it’s something I’ve actually been pondering for the past few weeks. In the case of George R.R. Martin’s series, death hangs over everything. (I’m not going to discuss specifics, for the record. NO SPOILERS ALLOWED.) Most deaths are described in excruciating detail and even larger battles acknowledge countless deaths over the pages. It’s weird, then, to read about so many creatures dying without any sort of sympathy from the author or any of the characters. To be fair, a lot of the elves, dwarves, and lake men die, too, but I don’t know that I’m totally into the idea that Wargs and goblins are always evil all of the time, that they’re an irredeemable race, that they are always villains forever until the end of time.

Does this strike anyone as something that’s a bit bizarre? I know that coming from shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Battlestar Galactica, I’m going to biased since I’m so used to ambiguity from the face of the “enemy,” so it’s a bit disrupting to have something be so one-sided, you know? I don’t imagine we’re going to spend the last two chapters validating the concerns of the goblins, so I think this is all we’re going to get.

I will say that the end of this chapter (and what leads up to it) made me smile. I kind of adore the idea that Tolkien doesn’t turn Bilbo into some merciless warrior by the end of this book. Honestly, it wouldn’t make any sense. What would make sense would be for him to put on the ring and hide out until things got better. That’s very Bilbo, isn’t it?

I would also be lying if I didn’t admit I was surprised by the end of chapter seventeen. THE FUCKING EAGLES HAVE RETURNED. Just when I’m thinking that everything is perfect and wonderful, Tolkien gives me this:

“The Eagles!” cried Bilbo once more, but at that moment a stone hurtling from above smote heavily on his helm, and fell with a crash and knew no more.

Wait. No more…what??? More of that moment? MORE EVER? I meant he just got knocked out, right? DAMN YOU, AMBIGUOUS WORDING.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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86 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Hobbit’: Chapter 17

  1. bearshorty says:

    It always bothered me that Gandalf is just sitting there in the base camp and he knows there are goblins and wolves gathering en masse and he just waits for it all to play out and doesn't say anything except for vague hints here and there. Why are you there then? The battle was pretty bloody. But this chapter does turn everything on its head even though Tolkien tells us early on that Bilbo will see Eagles again in the Battle of Five Armies.

    Illustrations for Chapter 17:

    <img src="https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-NGTVcFxqhGg/TrqeNqE9wTI/AAAAAAAAAZA/q9uLQIeclIA/s640/DSCN1093.JPG&quot; alt="chapter 17" border="1" height="300"/>

    <img src="https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-fF7X4OF_X0g/TrqeNy8zuBI/AAAAAAAAAZE/L3-WNjdCraY/s512/DSCN1094.JPG&quot; alt="battle" border="1" height="300"/>

    • Stephen_M says:

      Thinking about it though if Gandalf had warned them of the Goblin army before they'd resolved the current problem re: treasure redistribution rights they'd have wiped out the bad guys then turned right around and ended up in the same situation. And… I can't say what I want to say next because of the location of the chapter break. Dang.

  2. In re Gandalf:

    How much Gandalf knew cannot be said, but it was plain he had not expected this sudden assualt.

    I understood it myself (in later years of reading) as the idea that the very reason Gandalf's here at this moment is because of the possibility of something like this happening, but he didn't know just how much in danger they all were. He seems to be aware of rumors of goblins amassing, but nothing specific enough to know whether or not they were an immediate threat.

    I have to admit that I think this chapter works better when it's being told to you or read aloud rather than reading. When it's all being spoken, the sudden transition to the battle doesn't seem nearly as awkward to me as it does when I'm reading it myself. That said, I love how Tolkien tells the battle. It's largely because of his dispassionate description of so much death that I find it so effective. He doesn't try to sugarcoat or saturate you with horror. He just tells it, and it makes much more of an impression to me than it would otherwise. This part of the story is straight-up war, and from Tolkien's experiences in that area, I can understand why he wouldn't want to dwell on it more than he could help.

    And in the battle itself- I will always, always, always love the moment when Thorin and the others finally join the fight. Finally Thorin is acting like a king of some sort, even if it's a trifle obvious he didn't really think it through. But now that I say that- maybe he did and that's why it took him so long. Because really, there are only 13 of them, and with a battle like that going on outside, I can definitely get why he might want to stay in his fortress. But he doesn't. Instead he does join battle and does so in a pretty amazing way. I just wish so much that it could actually have been a glorious charge, but no. Tolkien instead has to be realistic and have them completely encircled by goblins.

    And gah, the ending…. I have to shut up now before I start spoiling.

    • Marie the Bookwyrm says:

      "And in the battle itself- I will always, always, always love the moment when Thorin and the others finally join the fight."

      I cannot WAIT to see this in the movie!

    • earis the istarwen says:

      Hahaha, everything I just said, you said way better. In other words, I totally agree with this entire comment!

  3. Abigail says:

    I’d guess the book’s attitude towards death and war probably came from Tolkien’s own experience in WWI. Death was everywhere and so there’s more of an emphasis on impact through volume instead of being overly descriptive. He’s actually seen this sort of thing first hand unlike most modern authors.

    Just a thought.

    • earis the istarwen says:

      EXACTLY THIS.

    • settlingforhistory says:

      Yes, that's a great point!
      Also we have to keep in mind that we are reading this story mostly from Bilbo's point of view and he is in a unique position. He is part of none of these groups and knows only a few by name and sight (except for the dwarves) so he has no real personal attachments to the dead. If it where a fight between Hobbits and Goblins it would probably be a bit more detailed and not just and undefined pile of dead people.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      THIS. If there ever was a popular author in the 20th/21st century who actually has a first-hand experience in the horrors of the war, then it's Tolkien. He knows all too well what he's talking (or rather, writing) about.

  4. enigmaticagentscully says:

    Yay! For once I'm actually here when the review goes up!

    I always saw The Hobbit (and by extension, Lord of the Rings) as very much fairytales. Not to demean them in any way, but I think they just have to be read a little differently than other books. You gotta accept that people are going to break into spontaneous song at any given moment. And that the bad guys are just plain evil and aren't necessarily going to get really complex motivations. And wizards will just know shit for no apparent reason.

    The whole attitude to death also plays into that – it sort of reminds me of old traditional fairytales which could be quite gruesome before they were sanitised for our over-sensitive modern audience. Back when people thought that children could take that sort of thing. At the same time, it doesn't really go into the awful consequences or moral issues of death because, well…it is aimed at a younger audience. So yeah, loads of goblins are killed, but the book makes sure we know they deserve it, so as not to be too horrific.

    Or something. That wasn't hugely well thought out, but just what thoughts came into my head reading this review. So excite for Lord of the Rings though! Will you be going straight onto it after The Hobbit, or taking a break first?

    • Saphling says:

      I totally read your last question as "Will you be going straight onto it after The Hobbit, or taking breakfast?"

      Now I'm wanting second breakfast. >_>

  5. John Small Berries says:

    Whatever else Gandalf intended to do by keeping the information about the goblins to himself, he has at least managed to unite the erstwhile opponents, even if temporarily, against a common foe.

    • acityofdoors says:

      This is pretty much how I saw it, if he had said a few days ago then the elves and men would have had time to think about it and probably withdrawn to defend their own homes, leaving the dwarves to their fate rather than uniting them against the goblins.

  6. Nerp says:

    I think it will help to think of Gandalf not as a wise human (like Dumbledore, who also had a habit of not bothering to tell anyone crucial info until it was too late) but more as a really, really, really intelligent being. He doesn't really follow the rules of Humans/dwarves/orcs/etc. because, well, he's sort of his own thing.

    I don't want to say too much. Just please don't misinterpret his character, Mark. He isn't being elitist, he's just being… what wizards in LOTR are supposed to be :s

  7. bookworm67 says:

    Mm, yeah, if I remember correctly (and I might not be), the goblins and wargs never really get redeemed in this book. They're just irredeemably evil. I think it's just part of it being kind of a bedtime adventure story – there are brave heroes and evil monsters, etc.

    ALSO CAN YOU PLEASE START YELLING "BY THE BEARD OF MARK" IN YOUR REVIEWS. SERIOUSLY.

  8. chrisjpardo says:

    I have a feeling Gandalf just hides around and waits until someone shit talks him so he can make them feel ashamed within ten seconds of doing so.

    <img src="http://images1.fanpop.com/images/quiz/11929_1213555685439_288_442.jpg&quot; alt="Tony Wonder">

    Did somebody say… Wonder?

  9. knut_knut says:

    I have a feeling Gandalf just hides around and waits until someone shit talks him so he can make them feel ashamed within ten seconds of doing so.

    Is Gandalf a French teacher??? Whenever we would talk shit about our French teachers for giving unwarranted detentions and such, they would always, without fail, pop up behind us out of nowhere. THEY KNEW.

    I think Tolkien’s treatment of death isn’t so much about how the goblins are just so evil no one cares that they’re dead, but more along the lines of writing in the style of the traditional fairy tales and epics he was so fond of.

  10. JonT says:

    I think Gandalf sometimes knows what to do without knowing why he has to do it.

  11. Ryan Lohner says:

    Oh, I remember my first time reading this chapter, nicely summed up by one comment on TV Tropes (paraphrased):

    "So these two armies have been building up to a fight, then these other armies arrive, so it's going to be a bigger fight. THEN they all have to work together against an even bigger enemy! The HSQ is going to be off the scale…oh, so Bilbo got hit on the head before we get to see much. Okay, then."

    Though it does make much more sense that Tolkien would want to gloss over that part after learning his past fighting in the likes of the Battle of the Somme, and losing all but one of his school friends.

    • earis the istarwen says:

      Exactly, about the Battle of the Somme. The effect of WWI is amazingly prominent through the books, but here in the Hobbit, you get the sense that he doesn't want to expose the young reader to too much of the truth about war. Even so, he cannot help but mention the piles of the dead, the wasted youth, and the sheer chaos and meaninglessness of battle.

  12. tethysdust says:

    Who knows why wizards do the things they do? I got the impression, though, that Gandalf had heard rumors about goblins gathering, but had no idea when or if they would attack. That kind of makes me wonder if Gandalf thought they had plenty of time, and he wanted to help the dwarves/elves/men come to a peaceable solution without external influence.

    And well, the goblins aren't absolutely 100% shown as evil… Dain did kill their leader's father, after all… (Yes, a very thin argument. I actually think The Hobbit is just not so much of a book about the moral ambiguity of villains.)

  13. readerofprey says:

    Deus ex Hawkina Part II!

  14. stellaaaaakris says:

    "The eagles are coming! The eagles are coming!" And so we get to one of my favorite lines. I randomly say this when the mood strikes me, especially (rot13'd to be safe) jurarire V frr n zbgu. I tend to get some odd looks, but I also get some knowing looks and then I know I can be friends with whoever that was.

    I wrote a limerick in honor of this chapter and their tendency to break out into song at the drop of a hat:

    Bilbo got hit on the head.
    He wished he took off his ring; instead
    He got thrown to the ground
    Scarce heard over all the sound.
    I hope they don't think he is dead.

    There is even a narrator interjection! Don't judge me, I haven't written a limerick since my 12th grade US Government class when we had to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and write about it in any form we wanted. I chose to write in limericks, haikus, and open verse. We had finished with APs and I wasn't about to be serious any more.

  15. readerofprey says:

    I've always suspected that Gandalf kept quiet because by letting the tension build, he was ensuring that the armies of men, elves, and dwarves would be in position in fighting-readiness to be turned against the goblins, but the goblins came more quickly than he hoped anyway. I think he would otherwise have stopped the battle with last minute news about them coming.

  16. readerofprey says:

    Can anyone help me out on "The Battle of Five Armies?" Because you can get anywhere between 3 and 7 armies depending on how you determine who's in a different army. If you just take species, you have dwarves, men, elves, goblins, Wargs, and eagles – which makes six armies. Who's not getting counted?

    • ThreeBooks says:

      I'm willing to bet that either the men and the elves or the goblins and the Wargs are being counted together.

    • windsparrow says:

      I've always counted the armies not so much by species, as by when they arrived. True, it's stretching it a bit to call Thorin, et al. an army, but they are dwarves (plus a hobbit) so even more effective than, say Spartans, in small numbers. So this way, I count 1)Thorin's band of dwarves, 2)Lake men plus Mirkwood elves, 3) Dain's army, 4)goblins and wargs, 5) eagles.

    • earis the istarwen says:

      Lakemen, Woodelves, Dwarves, Goblins, Wards

      • Tauriel says:

        Earis got it right. The 5 armies are: Men, Elves and Dwarves on one side, and Goblins and Wargs on the other side. The regular wolves don’t count, because they’re not sentient, they’re like horses. And there aren’t that many Eagles to qualify for an army – plus, they joined late anyway.

      • acityofdoors says:

        This is how I always interpreted it but this latest read through made me think that the eagles might be considered one of the armies. Think I'm going to stick with my original thought though!

  17. anobium says:

    Okay, why is Gandalf talking about Bilbo as if he belongs to him? He’s not your property, Gandalf.

    Two alternative readings of "my Burglar":

    1. Bilbo is not Gandalf's property, but he is Gandalf's responsibility, because it's Gandalf's fault he's in this mess in the first place: it was Gandalf who picked him out and dragged him into this adventure.

    2. Bilbo the Burglar is Gandalf's in the sense that Gandalf invented him, way back at the beginning; time was when the Burglar existed only in Gandalf's words, and the only real Bilbo was Bilbo the Homebody. (That said, I think by this time Bilbo himself has had at least as much of a hand in the creation of Bilbo the Burglar as Gandalf has.)

  18. Darth_Ember says:

    You know, regarding Gandalf, I'm trying to make sense of it.
    Bilbo only saw him in the camp, what, the night before this battle? Perhaps Gandalf had only just arrived there at that point, and as a result wasn't around to tell anyone this stuff earlier. So he told them all at the very next chance where everyone would be listening; probably hates having to repeat himself, too.

  19. Stephen_M says:

    With regards Gandalf he's… well, how to say this without spoilers… okay, he does indeed tend to know a lot more than he's letting on. Wizards are somewhat more than they appear in Middle Earth (and yes, that's vague for a reason). But he's also not there to solve every problem or for people to rely on him, more to guide them along the path to realise who and what they can be. Acting directly solves the immediate problem but results in far greater ones in the long term, doubly so if he ever makes a mistake and no-one is prepared to pick up the slack. There are, after all, more powerful things in the world than wizards…

    On death, you sorta nail this one yourself in the original question. The Hobbit is indeed pitched at a younger age than the teen books you mention and so you get more of a fairytale (or, to be strictly accurate, mythological) approach to war and death where it's more about images than direct loss. Death can only be personal and intimate when it's someone you know dying and that's not the point of this book.

  20. msw188 says:

    If there is any possible defense of Gandalf's inaction here, I think it is a combination of what several people have said. For one thing, he does not know when the goblins will attack. For another, he is only an overseer of these events. He 'wants' the dwarves, men, and elves to 'solve' their disagreements on their own, with only Bilbo's help. He understands that sometimes shit needs to get real for real problems to get really solved. But I think that, even if the goblins and wargs hadn't arrived at the moment they did, he would have prevented Dain from attacking, perhaps by talking some more.

    Also, I think that WW1 taught Tolkien (and many others) that in warfare, mass death is just how things roll. When you march to the penultimate battle of a war, it's practically what you expect. You hope not to be among the dead, and you especially hope that your close friends are not killed, but that's merely a hope, not an expectation. Only in the years since WW2 has war come to mean something slightly different, I think.

  21. Cylena says:

    "The Eagles!” cried Bilbo once more, but at that moment a stone hurtling from above smote heavily on his helm, and fell with a crash and knew no more."

    I wish I had read this book in English the first time. The Swedish translation is far from ambiguous (more along the line of "ur sryy naq ybfg pbapvbhfarff"). Then again, I was eight and hadn't even started English in school yet…

  22. Elexus Calcearius says:

    Mark, I'm sorry, but I think that your beard has to be just a teensy bit longer before you're aloud to proclaim things by its name.

    I really liked this chapter too. Its very dramatic and powerful, and I like the idea of a battle forcing these opposing sides to stop squabbling. That said, I have a lot of the same problems with it as Mark. Gandalf could have given warning earlier. If he was trying to wait until the last minute, to make cooperation between the dwarves and the lake men and the elves more necessary, I get it. But just a few extra hours or days could have given the people time to prepare; it could have caused lives to be lost.

    Of course….the way lives are lost seems a lot more flippant in this book. Perhaps it comes from J. R. R's background in WW1, caused by the numbness of actually experiencing I thing, or maybe its just the fairy-tale-esque style of the book. But this is so dispassionate about the deaths. It reads more like a section from an ancient myth, and I love mythology- but in books I prefer something more nuanced and emotional.

    Speaking of 'emotion', I do wish the villains had more emotional depth. My qualms about this have subsided a bit since Tolkien put in this moral ambiguity between the various factions claiming the treasure, but I still wish for less of "these species are always evil" type feel. I just associate that with cheesy, one-dimensional kids' cartoons and bad action movies.

  23. arctic_hare says:

    <img src="http://img404.imageshack.us/img404/9802/024tqr.th.jpg&quot; border="0"/>

    Yeah, I don't know what the fuck Gandalf's playing at either.

    As for Thorin, I feel bad for him, but then that goodwill gets dashed when he's thinking that he could use Dain's approaching army to attack the men and elves and get the Arkenstone back and deny them a share of the treasure. Oh hell no, you owe the people the Laketown that much! BE LESS OF A DOUCHE, THORIN. Thankfully, he does show up to help here.

  24. Becky_J_ says:

    This chapter's thoughts:

    oh man, this plan didn't work quite like I thought it was, Thorin is going to dash Bilbo on the rocks oh my god I think that is quite unnecessary, oh, it's Gandalf to save the day, yesssss, what will he pull out of his sleeves this time…. oh, how sad, some of the dwarves are sad because Bilbo is leaving but they won't say anything about it to Thorin who is like an angry little lion and this is pretty much the saddest thing ever…..wait, Gandalf, you're telling me that these two groups of people who are really mad at each other are going to have to band together to fight a new group, whatttttt…… and OH the Eagles are here! That's handy, imagine tha….. WHAT THE FUCK, BILBO JUST GOT HIT ON THE HEAD. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!

    So pretty much, Tolkien just continues to do what he always does….. completely and totally fucks with us. and I love it

  25. ravenclaw42 says:

    I… like is not the right word, but appreciate, I suppose, how battle scenes in Tolkien can just exist, without inflection, without any emotional manipulators. It may come across as flat, or as glossing the battle over… but in my mind it simply comes across as Tolkien, who usually loves to be an active and talkative narrator, just not wanting to tell the reader what to think about battle. And by extension not wanting to tell his son, in the middle of his bedtime story, about the reality of battle. So the battle is what it is. Bodies piled everywhere. It's senseless and brutal and people die, and they don't die in slow-mo to a dramatic movie soundtrack. The characters and the reader can get their shit together and feel the impact of it later.

    In some ways GRRM is more realistic, at least in the slow, agonizing horribleness of death and injury in a world without advanced medicine, full of bladed weapons rather than projectile. But one thing he does that makes me uncomfortable is the way he lovingly describes every detail of infection or rot or decay or death — because at some point in several thousand pages, (for me at least) it stops being merely "realistic" in the sense of a detached observer giving a description, and becomes the author glorifying and presenting these gory details as an aesthetic writing choice, as if the gore has inherent value as an enjoyable thing to read about. For me, personally, it isn't, and I find that aspect of GRRM's books indulgent and gross. And I don't think that gory details make me feel a greater amount of empathy, either; it isn't like an empathy point system where one more mention of pus gains one more point towards me caring about X character. For a reader who searches for the emotional realism of any given story, I find that it is just as strongly present in Tolkien's archaic fairytale style as it is in GRRM's HBO screenplay style.

    Anyway! This is not a GRRM hate comment. His is a perfectly enjoyable story, for all its bleakness; for myself, I just have to scrape all the pus off before I can find the story underneath. Tolkien doesn't make me do that, which I appreciate. But the amoral, unredeemable goblins are sad, yes. And Tolkien wasn't satisfied with them either, for all the same reasons.

    Have some pictures!
    <img src="http://pics.livejournal.com/ravenclaw42/pic/00155psh"&gt;

    <img src="http://pics.livejournal.com/ravenclaw42/pic/00157sz3"&gt;

    <img src="http://pics.livejournal.com/ravenclaw42/pic/00159wwb"&gt;

    According to that last picture, apparently there was an army of bats as well. Where did you get the bats, Hague. I think you are getting silly towards the end of this book. (I've been looking at these illustrations since childhood but never really considered them this closely before…)

    • monkeybutter says:

      I also appreciate the matter-of-fact approach to the battle scene. He doesn't get bogged down in detail, and it's still really tense even though the threat to the characters you care about isn't baroque violence. They could still die at any time.

      I love the expression on the goblin in the last one, and the dwarf in the background who looks like he's wearing green-tinted goggles.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      I really need to copy this, because I agree with it SO MUCH:

      but in my mind it simply comes across as Tolkien, who usually loves to be an active and talkative narrator, just not wanting to tell the reader what to think about battle. And by extension not wanting to tell his son, in the middle of his bedtime story, about the reality of battle. So the battle is what it is. Bodies piled everywhere. It's senseless and brutal and people die, and they don't die in slow-mo to a dramatic movie soundtrack. The characters and the reader can get their shit together and feel the impact of it later.

      In some ways GRRM is more realistic, at least in the slow, agonizing horribleness of death and injury in a world without advanced medicine, full of bladed weapons rather than projectile. But one thing he does that makes me uncomfortable is the way he lovingly describes every detail of infection or rot or decay or death — because at some point in several thousand pages, (for me at least) it stops being merely "realistic" in the sense of a detached observer giving a description, and becomes the author glorifying and presenting these gory details as an aesthetic writing choice, as if the gore has inherent value as an enjoyable thing to read about. For me, personally, it isn't, and I find that aspect of GRRM's books indulgent and gross.

      Well said. Well said.

  26. jaccairn says:

    Gandalf could have warned them earlier and if you had groups of calm, rational and sensible people then you could have expected them to cooperate and sort things out. No-one, apart from Bilbo was exhibiting this behaviour, and who knows what ideas they might have come up with given time and the lure of gold. By waiting until the danger is imminant, their options are limmited and the desire for survival should outweigh that for the gold and reawaken their common sense.

  27. notemily says:

    I knew the Battle of Five Armies was coming, but I didn't expect it to be so… short. In words, I mean, not in length of time. Maybe because I'm used to movies, where a battle usually takes up a good chunk of screentime–describing a battle is something different. Then again, maybe Tolkien just likes beautiful hidden elf-villages and hobbity dialogue more than he likes fighting. Which would make sense given that he ACTUALLY experienced fighting. I like that he puts in the bit about Bilbo learning that defeat isn't all that glorious.

    Maybe Gandalf wanted to give the lakemen and dwarves a chance to work things out diplomatically, and THEN he was going to tell them about the goblins. But instead he had to step in at the last minute. I dunno. Qb abg zrqqyr va gur nssnvef bs jvmneqf… (I was about to just post that in plain text because I thought it was a common saying that everyone knew. Then I realized TOLKIEN INVENTED IT.)

    WE ARE SO CLOSE TO THE END OMG. SO EXCITE FOR LORD OF THE RINGS!! *jumps around*

  28. Tauriel_ says:

    Guys, EXCITING NEWS!!! πŸ˜€

    Andy Serkis says the first Hobbit trailer should be out around Christmas!!! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ <3 <3 <3

  29. Starsea28 says:

    Tolkien fought in the First World War and was heavily marked by what he saw, as were all who survived that terrible battle. When he talks about bodies being piled high until the valley was dark with them, he's talking about things he's actually witnessed. That's why the image has such power.

  30. hick says:

    Mark, are you going to read Lord of the Rings after finishung the Hobbit? I just wanted to warn you, if you are going to watch the LotR movies as well, that there's a pretty important scene from the second book which already happened in the first movie. So it would be best to watch all three movies in a row, after you've finished the books. πŸ™‚

    • nellythemarrow says:

      Well, after reading both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers then it's safe to watch the first two films, I'd have thought. No real need to read The Return of the King before watching the first two films, though.

      • Tauriel_ says:

        We've been through this. He only needs to read the first chapter of The Two Towers before watching the Fellowship of the Ring film. πŸ™‚

  31. Noybusiness says:

    I read that Tolkein had a hard time reconciling the idea that all goblins are inherently evil with his own religious views when he gave the matter thought, so he decided that the decent ones were just never "onscreen".

    • Geolojazz says:

      I really like this idea! I've got a mental image of a town of decent, law-abiding, hospitable goblins having tea and scones and discussing their distant cousins in disappointed tones.

      I bet they have talking ponies. πŸ˜€

  32. nanceoir says:

    I kind of adore the idea that Tolkien doesn’t turn Bilbo into some merciless warrior by the end of this book. Honestly, it wouldn’t make any sense. What would make sense would be for him to put on the ring and hide out until things got better. That’s very Bilbo, isn’t it?

    I'm reminded of when I was a kid, playing various games with my brother and these two kids from across the street. One game/story we would play was Dungeons and Dragons (the cartoon). I'd be the red-headed girl with the purple invisibility cloak — I would use this burgundy jacket of my dad's as the cloak. Anyway, I have a very strong memory of one day playing, and we had some big fight scene or other going on, and my big thing was this: I put the jacket over my head (becoming invisible) and then… I hid. For the duration of the fight scene.

    Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking, either. πŸ˜€

    (Does this mean that I'm Bilbo? Or Bilbo-ish? OOH DO I GET TO BE A HOBBIT NOW?)

  33. Dreamflower says:

    He does really throw another curveball here, doesn't he? Part of what's so fun about reading Mark's reviews is reminding me of how astounded I was by the plot twists the first time around; I've gotten so used to taking the story for granted the way it is, it's fun to be reminded of when I didn't know what would happen next.

    What it got me thinking about was how death is used in fiction and how it doesn’t hold the same emotional weight in The Hobbit as other stories.

    Cbbe Znex vf tbvat gb or fnq va gur arkg puncgre, V xabj! Va guvf puncgre, qrngu vf vzcrefbany. Ohg va gur arkg puncgre…

  34. dcjensen says:

    Has everyone seen this pic:
    http://www.thehobbitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2

    (no spoilers)

    Of Thorin and his group from thehobbitblog.com?

    By the Way, once people are done with this book, I recommend the videos in the Hobbit Blog.

    Meanwhile: Spoilers!

    • Geolojazz says:

      Dwarf on the far right….woooow…

    • Tauriel_ says:

      Old news! πŸ˜€ That pic was released a few months ago.

      And Mark should NOT watch the production videoblogs before he watches the first LOTR film, as there are quite a few spoilers (characters and music).

  35. threerings says:

    First of all, I love Gandalf. No badmouthing Gandalf, he’s the best ever ever. πŸ˜‰

    Secondly, I’ve always really enjoyed Tolkien’s battles. This one is pretty brief, presumably because it’s a kid’s book, and he doesn’t really want to describe battle in too much detail. But to me, Tolkien’s battles always feel REAL. They have real consequences. I hate when there’s a battle or war in kid’s books/movies and like, one person dies, or afterwards the field is NOT strewn with corpses. No, Tolkien’s not going to cheat. If there’s a battle, lots of people are going to die, indiscriminately, and there are going to be bodies everywhere.

  36. Appachu says:

    Rntyr rk znpuvan pbhag: 2.

  37. Patrick721 says:

    5) Gandalf only speaks in the third person about himself, doesn’t he? WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS.

    Gandalf is clearly a wrestler.

  38. flootzavut says:

    I got the impression that when Gandalf speaks, it's as if he has vague forebodings and then they coalesce and he yells it out. I didn't get the impression he was sitting round twiddling his thumbs, but that is just my impression.

    Beard based insults and exclamations are definitely the way forward!

  39. Spinnaker12 says:

    Regarding 5)

    Mitchell and Webb on the whole talking about yourself in the Third Person.
    [youtube tPGc9lYFyZ0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPGc9lYFyZ0 youtube]

  40. Read This says:

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