Thursday, September 27, 2012

Another Lecture

So, tonight I gave the second of my two lectures at Corey Olsen's TOLKIEN PROFESSOR class, via Skype. As before, on Monday, it was a really good group of students who gave a raft of good questions, not all of which I knew the answers to --the best kind, since they start me thinking. The thing I always liked best about teaching, back in the day, was that inevitably a student wd come up with a question or a perspective or an insight that had never occurred to me.*

This time my topic was the outlines and plot-notes for THE HOBBIT: what do they reveal about Tolkien's compositional method and what glimpses do they offer into remarkably differing paths the narrative for that story might have taken, from Bilbo's solo journey back through Mirkwood (west to east) to seek help freeing the dwarves from forced labor in the elvenking's halls to the absence of any 'Battle of Five Armies', its place in the story being taken by a battle (sans dwarves) between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains that ensnares Bilbo on his journey homeward. And, of course, the odd but vivid account of Bilbo killing Smaug, floating away in a golden cup on the dragon's blood, and later becoming hard and brave from contact with the dragonblood (shades of Sigurd!).

The question I myself came up with from looking again at this material is this: in Plot Notes B, the first to project events all the way to the ending of the story, Bladorthin (= Gandalf) refuses any share of the dwarves' treasure nor later of the troll's treasure. The very last words of these Plot-Notes, on a line all their own, is "The wizard's reward" (H.o.H.366).  As a student pointed out, from the 'geo-political' perspective of THE QUEST OF EREBOR it's clear that Gandalf's reward is a dragon-free western Middle-earth, the Kingdom Under the Mountain and Dale re-established, and so forth. But it seems improbable, to say the least, to think this had been in Tolkien's mind that early. Far more likely, if it'd been anything along those lines, it'd simply been the better world resulting from the defeat of the goblins and expulsion of the Necromancer.

Of course, it's quite possible -- even likely -- that Tolkien had something else entirely in mind for "the wizard's reward". Something far less abstract and more concrete. As another student pointed out, this line cd even refer to some reward the wizard gives the hobbit (like the Old Took's magic studs). Or, I might add, vice-versa.

Interesting possibilities, but unresolvable at this distance in time, alas.

Still, glad I had this chance to join in the fun on the Mythgard Institute HOBBIT class.

--John R.

current reading: FILES ON PARADE by Wm Ready.

*my all-time favorite was a Marquette student who asked me why the Wife of Bath was childless.

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