Monday, November 12, 2012

Tolkien and The Hobbit Key

The author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, as pointed out, was sorry he wasn't Jewish, writing:

“If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

Now, on the eve of the release of the filmed version of The Hobbit, we are being informed, has a scene that possibly could undergo literary deconstruction and then reconstruction and perhaps be interpreted as a symbol of "Palestinian resistance".

As in the first chapter of the book, during a party, the decision is taken to go to a mountain and regain the treasure stolen from the dwarves earlier.  The quest is defined in the movie as one to "reclaim our homeland."  The visual punch has a key being held up,

a key that's been kept for many years.

The book's text reads, in edited form for shortness here:
The dark filled all the room, and the fire died down, and the shadows were lost, and still they played on. And suddenly first one and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes; and this is like a fragment of their song, if it can be like their song without their music.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold...
..."We are met to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices. We shall soon before the break of day start on our long journey, a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all of us (except our friend and counsellor, the ingenious wizard Gandalf) may never return. It is a solemn moment. Our object is, I take it, well known to us all...

Many a time afterwards the Baggins part regretted what he did now, and he said to himself: "Bilbo, you were a fool; you walked right in and put your foot in it."
"Pardon me," he said.. Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert...
...You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like...
...On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shad he spread a piece of parchment rather like a map.
"This was made by Thror, your grandfather, Thorin, he said in answer to the dwarves' excited questions. "It is a plan of the Mountain."
"I don't see that this will help us much," said Thorin disappointedly after a glance. "I remember the Mountain well enough and the lands about it. And I know where Mirkwood is, and the Withered Heath where the great dragons bred."..."In lots of ways," said Gandalf. "But in what way this one has been hidden we don't know without going to see. From what it says on the map I should guess there is a closed door which has been made to look exactly like the side of the Mountain. That is the usual dwarves' method- I think that is right, isn't it?" "Quite right," said Thorin.
"Also," went on Gandalf, "I forgot to mention that with the map went a key, a small and curious key. Here it is!" he said, and handed to Thorin a key with a long barrel and intricate wards, made of silver. "Keep it safe!"
"Indeed I will," said Thorin, and he fastened it upon a fine chain that hung about his neck and under his jacket...
..."That would be no good," said the wizard, "not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply lot to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary-especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door. And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar. So now let's get on and make some plans."

..."O very well," said Thorin. "Long ago in my grandfather Thror's time our family was driven out of the far North, and came back with all their wealth and their tools to this Mountain on the map. It had been discovered by my far ancestor, Thrain the Old, but now they mined and they tunnelled and they made huger halls and greater workshops -and in addition I believe they found a good deal of gold and a great many jewels too. Anyway they grew immensely rich and famous...So my grandfather's halls became full of armour and jewels and carvings and cups, and the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North.
"Undoubtedly that was what brought the dragon. Dragons steal gold and jewels, you know, from men and elves and dwarves, wherever they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically forever, unless they are killed), and never enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of the current market value; and they can't make a thing for themselves, not even mend a little loose scale of their armour...There was a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm called Smaug. One day he flew up into the air and came south...Then he came down the slopes and when he reached the woods they all went up in fire. By that time all the bells were ringing in Dale and the warriors were arming. The dwarves rushed out of their great gate; but there was the dragon waiting for them. None escaped that way...But we have never forgotten our stolen treasure. And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit laid by and are not so badly off"-here Thorin stroked the gold chain round his neck-"we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses home to Smaug-if we can...

..."Your grandfather," said the wizard slowly and grimly, "gave the map to his son for safety before he went to the mines of Moria. Your father went away to try his luck with the map after your grandfather was killed; and lots of adventures of a most unpleasant sort he had, but he never got near the Mountain. How he got there I don't know, but I found him a prisoner in the dungeons of the Necromancer.""Whatever were you doing there?" asked Thorin with a shudder, and all the dwarves shivered.
"Never you mind. I was finding things out, as usual; and a nasty dangerous business it was. Even I, Gandalf, only just escaped. I tried to save your father, but it was too late. He was witless and wandering, and had forgotten almost everything except the map and the key...The one thing your father wished was for his son to read the map and use the key.

...The Tookishness was wearing off, and he was not now quite so sure that he was going on any journey in the morning. As he lay in bed he could hear Thorin still humming to himself in the best bedroom next to him:

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.

So, if indeed an attempt is made to read into this scene a subtext of pro-Palestinian propaganda, remember:

a) it isn't a homeland they wish to reclaim;
b) they wish to regain treasure ("Far over the misty mountains cold/To dungeons deep and caverns old/We must away ere break of day/To seek the pale enchanted [ find our long-forgotten and To win our harps and gold from him!] gold.");
c) Baggins is the burglar, not the warrior-hero;
d) the direction is East;
e) despite the "We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!" directed at Baggins by the Gollum, we do not wish to curse our enemy although their impudent and despicable curses
f) and let's not forget Baggins' exclamation: "Victory after all, I suppose! Well, it seems a very gloomy business."


Been alerted to this:

Tolkien thought of Dwarves like Jews, in that they were both native and alien in their habitations, speaking the local language but with an accent since they had a private tongue.

Tolkien 1955

and from a 1966 interview:

D. Gueroult: Did you intend in Lord of the Rings that certain races should embody certain principles: the elves wisdom, the dwarves craftsmanship, men husbandry and battle and so forth?J.R.R. Tolkien: I didn't intend it. But when you've got these people on your hands, you've got to make them different haven't you? Well of course, as we all know, ultimately we've only got humanity to work with. It's only clay we've got. We should all … or at least a large part of the human race … would like to have greater power of mind, greater power of art by which I mean, that the gap between the conception and the power of execution should be shortened, and we should, like a longer time if not indefinite time in which to go on knowing more and making more.
Therefore we make the Elves immortal in a sense. I had to use immortal, I didn't mean that they were eternally immortal, merely that they are very longeval and their longevity probably lasts as long as the inhabitability of the Earth.
The dwarves of course are quite obviously, couldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic. Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects (in general) the small reach of their imagination - not the small reach of their courage or latent power.



See this.



Anonymous said...

If our cousins can distort G-d's Book, and claim Ishmael is the chosen son & was the one that Abraham was asked to sacrifice, etc. etc., why should we think that they would hesitate from distorting the writings of Tolkein!!

Anonymous said...

Not that Wikipedia is accurate, but I found this in a quick search. Tokien may have seen the Dwarves, not the Hobbits, as the Jews.

According to the 2007 book The History of the Hobbit, Tolkien was now influenced by his own selective reading of medieval texts regarding the Jewish people and their history.[5] The dwarves' characteristics of being dispossessed of their homeland (the Lonely Mountain, their ancestral home, is the goal the exiled Dwarves seek to reclaim), and living among other groups whilst retaining their own culture are all derived from the medieval image of Jews,[5][6] whilst their warlike nature stems from accounts in the Hebrew Bible.[5] Medieval views of Jews also saw them as having a propensity for making well-crafted and beautiful things,[5] a trait shared with Norse dwarves.[4] For The Hobbit almost all dwarf-names are taken from the Dvergatal or "Catalogue of the Dwarves", found in the Poetic Edda.[7][8] However, more than just supplying names, the "Catalogue of the Dwarves" appears to have inspired Tolkien to supply meaning and context to the list of names—that they travelled together, and this in turn became the quest told of in The Hobbit.[9] The Dwarves' written language is represented on maps and in illustrations by Anglo-Saxon Runes. The Dwarven calendar invented for The Hobbit reflects the Jewish calendar in beginning in late autumn.[5] The dwarves taking Bilbo out of his complacent existence has been seen as an eloquent metaphor for the "impoverishment of Western society without Jews."[6]

Anonymous said...

The Lord of the Rings is meant to be an entirely independent and new myth and its fictional events are not meant to reflect or symbolize anything in particular in the real world. As Tolkien says in the same interview "I dislike allegory whenever I smell it." Tolkien did not intend for the hobbits or the dwarves to represent Jews "returning to their homeland" or any other current event.