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The Narrator of The Hobbit


									        “Father Knows Best:
 The Narrator’s Oral Performance as
  Paternal Protector in The Hobbit

Scholar, Philologist, Writer, and. . . Father?
      Who Am I Talking About?
• While men play an important role within the
  mythology of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the
  usual assumption is that there is no connection
  between the humanity of that place and our
• But in fact there is, and that person is the
  narrator of both The Hobbit and The Lord of
  the Rings.
Especially in The Hobbit, the Narrator
       is an Active Character.
• Jane Chance in “The King Under the Mountain:
  Tolkien’s Children’s Story“ affirms that “The narrator,
  like a tale-telling [Canterbury] pilgrim must be
  regarded as one additional character” (Chance 60).

• Also Paul Thomas in “Some of Tolkien’s Narrators”
  affirms that “the narrator is, from one perspective, just
  as much a character as Bard, Balin and Bilbo. And yet
  the narrator is a special character: as a third-person
  narrator, he is merely a voice, and he is the story but not
  in the plot, and of course his voice has a much closer
  relationship to Tolkien’s voice than that of any other
  character” (Thomas 162-163).
         What is the Problem?
• There are some who do not like the narrator
  nor his (or her) tone at all:
• “The arrogant, unimaginative, and very ‘adult’
  narrator assume this story about little Hobbits
  must be relegated to an audience of little
  creatures—children” (Chance 60).
• Several note that Tolkien himself seems to
  have regretted elements within the narrator
             From the Biography
• Carpenter says of the tone of the narrator
  that Tolkien intentionally made it to be
  appealing to children and then says this:
• “Indeed he did this too consciously and
  deliberately at time in the readers’ remarks
  such as “Now you know quite enough to get
  on with” and “as we shall see in the end.”
  He later removed many of these, but some
  remain in the published text—to his regret,
  for he came to dislike them and even to
  believe that any deliberate talking down to
  children is a great mistake in a story” (179).
 What is the problem Specifically?
• Too Condescending
• Too Chatty
• Gets in the way of the action

   But these problems vanish
   when the nature of the
   narrator is understood.
           Who is the Narrator?
• Is it Tolkien?
• Similar but not
  the same.
• Like the guy
  over there 
• Tolkien is a
  Writer. . .and a
The Opening Lines
Is the speaker condescending? Well
• The narrator of The Hobbit does know a lot.
  Actually makes his (her) first appearance not in
  the text but in the preface, speaking as a
  professor: “This is a tale of long ago. At that time
  the language and letters were quite different from
  ours of today” (8) This opening is a bit of a
  glimpse of the speaker who clearly behaves as if
  all the languages within the narrative are true and
  all people particularly the dwarves whose spelling
  needs explaining are all real.
• Note: In spite of Thomas’ claim of a masculine
  voice there is no gender specific self reference.
• This scholarly narrator makes an
  appearance one more time in the
  prologue of The Lord of the Rings
  in the chapter “Concerning
  Hobbits” found at the beginning of
  The Fellowship of the Ring. Once
  again he identifies himself with the
  human race noting as he did in The
  Hobbit that hobbits “were, as a
  rule, shy of the ‘Big Folk’ as they
  call us, and now they avoid us with
  dismay, and are becoming hard to
  find” (FOTR 10).
Anyone who has Told Stories to
children—especially young children--
knows that generally they require the
• Definitions followed by Note how these match
  often repeated          the complaints:
  explanation             • Too Condescending
• Engagement with         • Too Chatty
  listeners               • Gets in the way of
• Assurance               the action
           The voice -- chatty
• The mother of our particular hobbit—what is a
  hobbit? I suppose hobbits need some
  description nowadays since they have become
  rare and shy of the Big People as they call us.
  They are (or were) a little people about half
  our height, and smaller than dwarves. Hobbits
  have no beards (10).
• Why chatty? This is an in text a portrayal of
  an oral experience.
• Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only
  a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I
  have only heard very little of all there is to hear,
  you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable
  tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over
  the place . . .(11)
• As in the case of someone who is telling a story
  the narrator at times is limited. (Doesn’t know
  where Gollum Came from either--82)
• I do not know how long he kept on like this,
  hating to go on, not daring to stop (81)
• Now certainly Bilbo was in what is called a
  tight place. But you must remember it was not
  quite so tight for him as it would have been for
  me or for you. Hobbits are not quite like
  ordinary people; and after all if their holes are
  nice cheery places and properly aired, quite
  different from the tunnels of the goblins, still
  they are more used to tunneling than we are,
  and they do not easily lose their sense of
  direction underground – not when their heads
  have recovered from being bumped (80-81).
• The narrator is protective
• So began a battle that none had expected; and it
  was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was
  very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins
  and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were
  Elves and Men and Dwarves. This is how it fell
  out. . . .292

• It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all
  Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time
  he hated most – which is to say it was the one he
  was most proud of, and most fond of recalling
  long afterwards (294).
           The changing tone
• When he began its sequel he rapidly realized
  that the new work would be told in a more
  adult tone. He says in a letter to Sir Stanely
  Unwin that the sequel was “running its course,
  and forgetting ‘children’ and becoming more
  terrifying than the Hobbit.” “It may prove
  quite unsuitable. It is more ‘adult’--but my
  own children who criticize it as it appears are
  older. . .” The darkness of the present day has
  had some effect on it (Letters. 41).
The Narrator when speaking to adults
is fully capable of bringing up
disturbing details:
 At that moment some dozen Orcs that had lain
 motionless among the slain leaped to their feet,
 and came silently and swiftly behind. Two flung
 themselves to the ground at Eomer's heels, tripped
 him, and in a moment they were on top of him.
 But a small dark figure that none had observed
 sprang out of the shadows and gave a hoarse
 shout: Baruk Khazad! Khazad ai-menu! An axe
 swung and swept back. Two Orcs fell headless.
 The rest fled (The Two Towers 139).
Further on
 The assault on the gates was redoubled.
 Against the Deeping Wall the hosts of Isengard
 roared like a sea. Orcs and hillmen swarmed
 about its feet from end to end. Ropes with
 grappling hooks were hurled over the parapet
 faster than men could cut them or fling them
 back. . .
 . . .Hundreds of long ladders were lifted up.
Many were cast down in ruin, but many more
replaced them, and Orcs sprang up them like
apes in the dark forests of the South. Before
the wall's foot the dead and broken were piled
like shingle in a storm; ever higher rose the
hideous mounds, and still the enemy came on
(The Two Towers 140).
Even in the description of Landscape
there is a holding back. Here is the
description of what is called “the
desolation of the dragon:”
 They knew that they were drawing near to the
 end of their journey, and that it might be a very
 horrible end. The land about them grew bleak
 and barren, though once, as Thorin told them,
 it had been green and fair (216).
There was little grass, and before long there
was neither bush nor tree, and only broken and
blackened stumps to speak of ones long
vanished. They were come to the Desolation of
the Dragon, and they were come at the waning
of the year. . .They marched under the grey and
silent cliffs to the feet of Ravenhill. There the
river, after winding a wide loop over the valley
of Dale, turned from the Mountain on its road
to the Lake, flowing swift and noisily 216.
Its bank was bare and rocky, tall and steep above
the stream; and gazing out from it over the narrow
water, foaming and splashing among many
boulders, they could see in the wide valley
shadowed by the Mountain's arms the grey ruins
of ancient houses, towers, and walls (216).

"There lies all that is left of Dale," said Balin.
"The mountain's sides were green with woods and
all the sheltered valley rich and pleasant in the
days when the bells rang in that town.“ (217)

This is pretty awful, but compare this with a
similarly blasted landscape in the Two Towers:
  Frodo looked round in horror. Dreadful as the
Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of
the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the
country that the crawling day now slowly
unveiled to his shrinking eyes. Even to the
Mere of Dead Faces some haggard phantom of
green spring would come; but here neither
spring nor summer would ever come again.
Here nothing lived, not even the leprous
growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping
pools were choked with ash and crawling
muds, sickly white and grey, as if the. . .
 . . .mountains had vomited the filth of their
entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of
crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth
fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an
obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly
revealed in the reluctant light.
      They had come to the desolation that lay
before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark
labour of its slaves that should endure when all
their purposes were made void; a land defiled,
diseased beyond all healing unless the Great Sea
should enter in and wash it with oblivion. 'I feel
sick,' said Sam. Frodo did not speak (239).
  Isn’t Changing the Story Lying?
• Not at all. How often do those of faith take the
  raw elements of scripture and make them
  presentable to children?
In The Two Towers, Tolkien affirms the
importance of telling tales to children
within the experience of a wise story
teller by having Frodo and Sam
imagine a father narrating the
important stories:
• Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs
  or tales. We're in one, or course; but I mean: put
  into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read
  out of a great big book with red and black letters,
  years and years afterwards. And people will say:
  "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring! " And
  they'll say: "Yes, that's one of my favourite
  stories. Frodo was very brave. wasn't he, dad?"
  "Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and
  that's saying a lot."
• (Two Towers Book IV Chapter 8 -321)
• The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo:
  adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they
  were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and
  looked for, because they wanted them, because they were
  exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you
  might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that
  really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem
  to have been just landed in them, usually --their paths were
  laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of
  chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if
  they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been
  forgotten. We hear about those as just went on--and not all
  to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a
  story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming
  home, and finding things all right, though not quite the
  same --like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best
  tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed
  in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?‘(320-321)
What Happens If there is No Narrator?
• In point of fact it appears as if there will be no
  protective narrator in the upcoming film The Hobbit
  due out this December.
• Thus the story which was originally a children’s
  narrative will be presented in a form appropriate for
• In fact-- if the trailers are accurate--as it stands now
  the opening comments by Bilbo make it clear that the
  time for protection is over.
   – “My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told
     you everything there was to know about my
     adventures. While I can honestly say what I told
     you was the truth, I may not have told you all of
• Thus this version of The Hobbit is, unlike the
  original, NOT a child’s version of the history but is
  instead a revelation given to one who has come of
• Would that have bothered Tolkien? I do not
  know, but I suspect not. Years earlier when he
  first began to lay out the idea of this sub-
  creation (the term he would come to use for
  the fantasy setting he’d discovered) he said
  – “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness,
    and leave many only placed in the scheme, and
    sketched. The cycles should be linked to a
    majestic whole and yet leave scope for other minds
    and hands, wielding paint, music, and drama.
    Absurd.” (qtd. in Carpenter 90).
• Absurd then; prophetic now.
          Some Interesting sites
• YouTube example of the 1977 animated version of
  the Hobbit. John Huston provides the opening voice
  which turns out to be the voice of Gandalf.

• YouTube features The BBC version of the Hobbit—
  the narrator is turned into two narrators, Gandalf and
  Bilbo, who interrupt one another (very funny):

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