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“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 own. • 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 Scholar, Philologist, Writer. . .and a Father 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 following: • 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 adults. • 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 it.” • 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 age. • 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 this: – “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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj2ZaOcNpIw • YouTube features The BBC version of the Hobbit— the narrator is turned into two narrators, Gandalf and Bilbo, who interrupt one another (very funny): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbVPmVl57y0&f eature=related
"The Narrator of The Hobbit"