Reading The Hobbit: A Short Rest or What Makes a Story

Chapter 3 of The Hobbit, A Short Rest, is in reality short on everything, except, perhaps, some writing wisdom. After being saved from the trolls, the company heads to Rivendel, where they are greated by a band of quite silly elves. If you ask me, these elves are not so much High elves as they are the fairies which inhabit many of our childhood tails. They are carefree and whimsical and alltogether a bit too joyful to fit within Tolkien’s concept of the elves.

And yet they live in the Last Homely House, a perfect place, “whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best” and so it would seem they are entitled to joy (TH 61). The elves of Tolkien’s Middle Earth endure so much sorrow, it seems right and just that in this haven of peace they can be as children once more, looking in wonder on all things and experiencing the pleasure of simply living.

Yes the elves don’t quite fit, but it must be remembered that we are reading Bilbo’s story, and how the elves appeared to him. Rivendel is the perfect place for him, and as a hobbit, the simple mirth of simply living life well would strike a chord. Bilbo’s memory of the elves is colored by his experience in their home, and his romantic conception of them. True, he would later come to live with them and translate many of their tales and thus truly understand their long defeat; but here he is reminiscing of his glory days, his great adventure.

Though his sojourn in the Last Homely House is surely great fun and restful for Bilbo, he has very little to say. Here, as on a couple other occasions, Tolkien pauses to illuminate the nature of stories:

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” (TH 60)

As have been seen already with the Unexpected Party, the encounter with the trolls and the dismal trek through the rain and wilds, the moments that really matter in a tale and prove each character’s worth are the moment’s of strife. This is much like Sam’s comments made on the stairs of Cirith Ungol. Yes that may be the unpleasant part, we may want to stop reading, but it is in those moments where the true courage and ability of the protagonist is revealed, not when they’re comfortably blowing smoke rings outside their front door.

The primary event of this chapter is the discovery of the Moon-Runes by Elrond. By chance or fate or the will of the Valar, the dwarves happen to give the map over to Elrond for study on the very night in which it may be read. As in the mysterious circumstances of the gathering of the council members in The FotR, there is something inexplicable at work here, which is largely left unsaid. Yet looking in the Silmarillion it is easy to guess. In these moments of apparent chance, and allignment of circumstance, it is often attributed to some far off force, whether it be the Valar or Iluvatar himself.

As I’ve stated in a couple other posts, Gandalf himself is a representative of that power. Though at this time in the “gestation” of Middle Earth maybe not yet a maiar, Gandalf is still a wizard, and therefore inextricably tied to the Powers of the world. Later it is explained in “The Quest for Erebor” that Gandalf’s primary concern in the quest is the elimination of Smaug as a possible future weapon of Sauron. In this can be seen, if we want to read that far into it, a sort of divine mission. So wouldn’t it make sense that apparent “coincidence” would side with the Company?

Of other note here are the brief mention of Gondolin and the Great Goblin Wars, and the dwarves war for Moria. To use Shippey’s term, these are moments of interlacement, one of the few explicit examples to be found in The Hobbit. It is here that the glacial slide of the Shire into the vast world of the Silmarillion becomes evident. Yes there are other hints, but here are the first definitive links: Gondolin, Moria and Elrond himself. So do hobbits, unwittingly, make their way into the tales of Tolkien’s Faerie. And in quite hobbit fashion, it is softly and quietly, with little fanfare.

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2 thoughts on “Reading The Hobbit: A Short Rest or What Makes a Story

  1. Part of my pleasure in reading The Hobbit this time around is realizing that we are seeing through Bilbo’s eyes. We are all just little people in a big world and we know so little of all that is going on and how it fits together.

    I am enjoying your chapter by chapter readings very much. They fit right into our discussions at The Grey Havens Group!

    • Thanks. At first finding something to discuss has been a challenge…but as I write it just comes to me where to take each post. It is definitely a different experience than blogging a LotR read-thru.

      Now I’m just working to catch back up with you guys! 😉

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