Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Hobbit - IV. Over Hill and Under Hill

This chapter is quite brief and fast paced following the party through the mountains as they encounter a powerful thunderstorm. The narrator uses very poetic language to describe the "thunder battle" that is a clash between two rival thunderstorms from east and west. The imagery works quite well.

Seeking respite from the storm and stone giants the party finds shelter in what appears to be a small cave but turns out to be the entrance to a goblin tunnel kingdom. The introduction of goblins to the story is interesting and I am still unsure of their relationship to orcs. Perhaps orc is just another name for goblin in another tongue. I couldn't tell you which language orc or goblin belongs to though.

Goblins at the very least don't seem to be as cruel as trolls as they seem to have no intention of eating either the dwarves or the hobbit. They also are quite adept at manufacturing. I am sure if they normalized their relations with the outside world and opened their doors for trade they could have a bustling economy without the need to resort to robbery. Unfortunately they are ruled by what seems an absolutist monarch with no rule of law or respect for property rights so their economy is quite primitive, relying on slavery and threats to achieve their goals. This lack of respect for property rights diminishes productivity and is likely what leads to the low standard of living among the goblins and resorting to eating productive animals like horses and ponies.

I feel somewhat sorry for the goblins. While they are quite intelligent and adept at manufacturing they are stuck in a tribal world view without the concept of individual liberty or rights. They have such potential and yet squander it on pillaging and hatred of outsiders.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Hobbit - III. A Short Rest

The title of this chapter aptly describes its contents. After the harrowing experience with the trolls and retrieving the spoils of their cave, the party makes its way across some difficult terrain to Rivendell, home of Elrond. Elrond we are told plays a significant part in many other tales but a small part in this one. It is a nice stop for the party where they are allowed to refresh from their journey and replenish their supplies.

It seems that little is asked of the dwarves in return for the elves' hospitality. Elrond relays the history of the swords acquired by Gandalf and Thorin in the troll's cave. Gandalf's sword, Glamdring or Foehammer was the king's sword in Gondolin a fallen elven city. Thorin's sword Orcrist or Goblin Cleaver was also a legendary sword from Gondolin. There seems to be some foreshadowing from Thorin as he wishes that his sword will cleave goblin's once more. Likely boding ill for the party in the future as they journey across the Misty Mountains.

This chapter also introduces us to elves who are old yet young at the same time. They are playful yet wise and embody many virtues. The narrator is clearly appreciative of elves and takes some time to describe their contributions to Middle Earth. Elrond says that while he does not approve of the dwarvish lust for material wealth he supports their cause to rid the world of the evil dragon Smaug, and regrets the devastation he has wrought.

Some new information is also revealed about the map. Apparently there are moon letters on the map which can only be read by the light of the moon on midsummer's eve, which happens to be when they have arrived in Rivendell. The runes read, "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the keyhole". We are also told that Durin's Day is the dwarven new year and occurs when the last moon of Autumn and the sun are in the sky together. Hopefully the party will arrive at the Lonely Mountain by then...

The Hobbit - II. Roast Mutton

This chapter finds Bilbo alone in his hobbit hole left to clean up after the 13 dwarves who have departed by the time Bilbo wakes. Thinking he has missed the adventure Bilbo feels a sense of both disappointment and relief. He is relieved that he will not have to exert himself but it seems he also has an innate desire for adventure that life in the Shire has not robbed him of. Perhaps it is this sense which attracted Gandalf to Bilbo to begin with. In any event Gandalf interrupts Bilbo's sense of relief with the news that he is late for the party's departure and has less than fifteen minutes to meet them at the Green Dragon Inn.

Apparently Bilbo has little to no responsibilities in the Shire as he is able to leave everything without a word to anyone with no idea of how long he will be gone. Bilbo is lucky that he cleaned up after the dwarves upon waking because if he had neglected the chore, he would likely have returned to a putrid and infested home. Leaving no notes or messages for anyone who might be looking for him Bilbo seems to either have few friends who call upon him or little regard for their concern. Or perhaps he is just swept up in the adventure and will regret his actions as he gets further from home and the adrenaline subsides.

In any event, Bilbo catches up with the dwarves at the Green Dragon just as they have assembled the supplies and provisions for the journey, unfortunately Bilbo himself is rather unprepared, forgetting a walking stick, money, clothes for the journey or a handkerchief. Luckily he is able to borrow clothes from the Dwarves and Gandalf brings along some handkerchiefs and pipe tobacco. Clearly the news about the harmful effects of smoking have not reached the Shire at this point, or in any event it is neglected as the dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo all seem to enjoy pipeweed, or tobacco as we would call it.

The journey moves into a blissful stage for Bilbo who is still feeling the adrenaline high from the new experience and perhaps to some degree the prospect of his financial reward (1/14th of any profits of the endeavour plus expenses). Of course eventually the difficulty of the journey sets in and the meager provisions which have been brought severely dampen his spirits. It seems that the narrator of the story is close to Bilbo's feelings and thoughts and may actually be Bilbo himself, for he spends much less of the time describing everyone else's thoughts and actions as he does Bilbo's.

The encounter with the trolls is an interesting little diversion reminiscent of some fairy tales with Gandalf tricking the trolls into bickering the night away only to be turned to stone at the rising of the sun. I wonder what it is about trolls that causes them to petrify as a result of solar radiation? The narrator seems to indicate that trolls themselves are akin to the Mountain and earth, but I would imagine so are dwarves, yet they do not petrify. There seems to be some moral to the diversion as the threat of the trolls was only brought on by Bilbo's attempt to pickpocket them. One might question the injustice of stealing from a group of trolls that apparently have killed and plundered an entire village, but perhaps those were just slanderous rumours to make the theft seem more palatable. In any event the chapter seems to present an interesting turn for the quest and leaves us wondering what we can expect in Rivendell, being only a few days journey from the troll cave...

The Hobbit - I. An Unexpected Party

I was not an English major so I doubt my insights as I read this book will be particularly profound or interesting to anyone but myself but here goes..

The first chapter of The Hobbit finds Bilbo Baggins enjoying a fairly idyllic life in Hobbiton. It doesn't describe Bilbo's profession but given that he comes from a wealthy family perhaps he lives a life of leisure off of his inheritance. He doesn't seem to work during the day since he is able to entertain a party of 13 unexpected dwarfs plus Gandalf in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. I'm curious as to what the GDP of the Shire is if Bilbo is an example of the work ethic of the every day hobbit. Surprisingly he seems to have a fairly sizable home with ample stores of food and plates to entertain such a party. Not to mention the likely cost of maintaining his weight, which I'm sure for a hobbit is typical. Then again being small in stature perhaps the number of calories required to maintain a rotund figure is more or less equal to the calorie intake of an anorexic human teen.

In any event there is no mention of taxes or excessive regulation that would cause the laziness of Bilbo Baggins other than perhaps a culturally pervasive attitude against over achievement as evidenced by general Hobbit disdain for people who venture outside the borders of the Shire or who mingle with outsiders. Surely the living conditions of Hobbits could be improved markedly if they traded more with the outside world or were a bit more productive locally. In any event Hobbits seem to value leisure a great deal more than the average modern American or Canadian and as a result likely are satisfied with much less physical wealth. Perhaps the reason Bilbo is so wealthy despite the amount of leisure he enjoys is because of the limited government maintained in the Shire.

No particular explanation is given as to why Gandalf chose Bilbo as the "burglar" for this party of dwarves given very little evidence of any skills in that vein. I suppose Bilbo is related in some way to the Old Took, an old friend of Gandalf's and perhaps that provides the link. I also don't believe I agree with the term burglar being applied to this adventure in any event as it seems to me that the party of dwarves likely has a very legitimate claim on the wealth of Smaug given that he first stole the wealth from them. There is also very little explanation for why Gandalf is meddling in this business at all. Perhaps he feels indebted to Thror, Thorin's father whom Gandalf received the map and key from and who has since been rendered senseless and likely killed by the Necromancer an apparent enemy of Gandalf's.

We may at first feel sorry for Bilbo's idyllic lifestyle being interrupted by this meddling wizard and motley crew of dwarves but perhaps this adventure will give Bilbo greater drive and create an incentive to achieve more than live off of his inheritance, to become a productive and contributing member of society in his own right. I suppose we shall have to see...

The Hobbit - Judging a Book by its Cover

As my previous post mentioned I just received the J.R.R. Tolkien collection of Easton books. They are all bound in a deep green leather with gold gilded lettering. The font choice and colouring seems quite appropriate for a Tolkien book, being playful yet old looking. The full title is on the front, The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Above the title are a set of dwarven runes from Thror's map of the Lonely Mountain. These are the runes that Elrond reads by the light of the moon, I can't recall their exact name but the top set reads roughly, "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush kn" and the bottom set reads "Of Durin's day will shine upon the keyhole". The same set of runes top and bottom appear on the back cover. I'm pleased that Easton decided to incorporate the dwarven runes into their cover design, but it is unfortunate that they chose a long piece of text and had to cut the middle out of it. For those who are curious, the full text that they are quoting is "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the light of Durin's day will shine upon the keyhole". Its a line that is pretty integral to the plot but its too bad that it got cut in the middle, perhaps they could have had it continue on to the back so the whole phrase would fit or use the other shorter dwarven quote from the map, "Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast - Th. Th." This would likely have fit on the cover and could have been repeated on the back. At the bottom of the cover is a rune resembling the "Th" rune with two dots on other sides surrounded by a box. I do not recognise this rune and if anyone has any insight into what this represents please let me know in the comments. Along the spine of the book is written "The Hobbit" followed by the above mystery rune and J.R.R. Tolkien.

All of the pages are covered in 22kt gilding which looks quite nice but is a bit difficult to handle while reading because I am constantly worried about rubbing it off with my fingers or with whatever I am using to support the book. The book also has a silk ribbon bookmark, which is also a nice feature that can become annoying as the bookmark is longer than the book itself and as a result when it is placed you need to tuck in the excess ribbon into another page of the book which can be cumbersome while trying to maintain the gilding on the page edges.

The front and back inside covers are moire fabric with a nice sheen that is pleasant to the touch. Just inside the moire on the first page is an additional signed sketch by Michael Hague that was added after market. Michael Hague is a very popular illustrator of Tolkien and other fantasy works. In this case his sketch is a profile of Gandalf's head with typical hat and long beard. The signature appears on the left side of Gandalf's hat. I have searched on line and the signature and style of sketch are very typical of Michael Hague and I doubt forgery although I'm not really an expert on the topic. The frontispiece illustration, by Michael Hague is an image of some of the 13 dwarves (I couldn't tell you who is who as I tend to forget the combination of hood colour and character name whenever I read this book) as well as Gandalf and Bilbo with the Lonely Mountain off in the distance. Perhaps the illustration is from the north side of the Long Lake just before the dwarves cross the desolation of Smaug to reach the mountain. It is a lovely illustration on glossy paper though the colours seem somewhat muted, perhaps by design.

The interior title page says The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated by the Author, Frontispiece by Michael Hague, The Easton Press Norwalk, Connecticut. The copyright is from 1966 with the permission of Houghton Mifflin, with the frontispiece copyright 1984. As an aside, as a Canadian I was unable to order this book directly from Easton Press because they do not have distribution rights to Canada. I'm not sure if Houghton Mifflin retained distribution rights to Canada or perhaps another firm owned the rights in Canada and was unwilling to deal with Easton. The table of contents contains 19 chapters, which I will try to document as I read them. Following the table of contents is a green map (Thror's map) of the Lonely Mountain and surrounding areas likely illustrated by Tolkien himself. It contains both the normal runes quoted above as well as the moon runes also quoted above. The normal runes are linked to the D rune on the western side of the lonely mountain. Another curious quality of the map is that the top of the map points East rather than North, apparently this is traditional among dwarvish maps in Middle Earth. Unfortunately a small section of the map gets swallowed up by the binding as it goes across two pages rather than one.

Just before chapter 1 is a one page introduction by Tolkien dealing with the differences between English as presented in this book and English as traditionally written. Dwarves and dwarvish are particularly singled out as opposed to the traditional dwarf and dwarfish, we have to wait until the Lord of the Rings to learn exactly why there is this difference. Orcs are also mentioned as different from orca or whale, which I doubt many people familiar with fantasy literature would confuse today but perhaps when Tolkien first wrote this book it was a likely confusion as fantasy was not in the vibrant state that it is now, no doubt due to a significant contribution from Tolkien himself. This introduction also goes through the various runes found on the map as well as an explanation of letters that may have runes that are not used on the map. I have read that Tolkien often received letters written in dwarvish runes and elven script. I wonder if he ever wrote back in the same. Well I suppose that is all for now before I begin reading the first chapter.Very pleased with the book so far.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First Purchase

Well I just received my first Easton Press book in the mail, well technically 8 Easton Press books. These were purchased on EBay and are a set of 8 J.R.R. Tolkien Books:

The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
The Silmarillion
The Book of Lost Tales vol. 1
The Book of Lost Tales vol. 2
The Book of Unfinished Tales

I have previously read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and really enjoyed those books and I think that they look great in their Easton Press bindings. All of the Tolkien books come in deep green leather and gold lettering. The theme of the covers is the dwarven runes that Tolkien uses particularly in the Hobbit. Perhaps in a later post I will try to decipher what the runes say but at the moment I do not recall how they work and so simply see them as a motif more than anything.

I was very pleased with my EBay purchase though. The books are all in pristine condition and have arrived exactly as described. In fact The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogies have each been signed by the illustrator, Michael Hague with an additional sketch related to the content of the books. I'm very happy with this purchase and looking forward to delving into them in more detail in Subsequent posts.

First Steps

Today marks the beginning of a new adventure for me, if you can call starting a new collection an adventure. I recently came across Easton Press, a publisher of fine leather bound books and have decided to begin a collection and write about the process and the books I read. So this blog will likely be a combination of documenting how far the collection has come and reviewing the quality of the books as well as the writing and illustrations of those books.

This also happens to be my first foray into blogging and I am not a very technical person so we will see how this ends up. I am excited to get started though. Unfortunately I do not own a camera and am a horrible photographer so will have to describe these books without pictures. These truly are beautiful books though and need to be seen and felt to truly be appreciated.

I suppose another part of collecting Easton Press books will be the EBay auction hunt. Easton Press typically has limited press runs and as a result many of their best books are unavailable directly from the press and need to be purchased second hand. As a result, as I further my collection I will need to rely on EBay. I am not particularly fond of EBay and have been burned in the past, but I am willing to give it another shot and see where this takes me. So here goes...