Aug 18, 2014

Let's Read Tolkien 7: Queer Lodgings

The next morning Bilbo woke up with the early sun in his eyes.

We rejoin Thorin and company in the eagles' eyries, from where they're airlifted to a great big rock in the middle of Anduin, the Great River of Wilderland. It's actually a bit odd how little attention flying gets in the story; we're rather matter-of-factly told that an eagle grabbed Bilbo and they flew off, and then later he rode an esgle in another direction. As bourgeois as Bilbo is, I still don't think he can possible ever have flown before, so you'd really think that it would be a bigger deal, but for some reason Tolkien doesn't seem to think so. "What is finer than flying?" asks the eagle, and it's tough to reply, because we have very little idea what flying is like. Hell, we don't even get a landscape description. I'm a bit disappointed.

But land on the Carrock they do. The classic problem of airborne operations is supply, and that's true here as well: the dwarves have no food and no transport. To arrange some, Gandalf proposes to introduce them to one of his colleague Radagast's friends, a crazed hippie berserker. This is all the more necessary because Gandalf is going to be leaving Thorin and company to attend to business elsewhere, which, given their track record so far, honestly seems like a terrible idea. One gets the impression that dwarven expeditions that set off without wizards aren't going to get much farther than the first troll, who will probably see them less as a glorious adventuring party and more like a convenient food delivery.

But Gandalf is still with Bilbo and the dwarves, and he concocts a plot to get around the werebear Beorn's irascibility: he'll go up to Beorn's place with Bilbo, start telling him the story of how they got there, and sort of gradually work up to revealing that they have a bunch of dwarves with them as well. This is done, with Gandalf making the occasional off-hand reference to his traveling companions, at which point a couple more dwarves show up, until Gandalf has effectively tricked Beorn into letting the whole bunch of them into his hall. It's a particularly well-written scene, and Beorn enjoys the story and maybe even the subterfuge enough to make the travelers his guests for the night.

Memorable dialogue from Beorn: "Troop of ponies? What were you - a traveling circus?" Honestly? Pretty much.

This chapter is our first glimpse of Tolkien the environmentalist: Beorn lives with a bunch of animals he talks with, keeps bee-pastures and apparently doesn't take at all kindly to people who kill animals. The food at his table is vegetarian. It's an unexpected combination with the fact that the one thing that made Beorn well-disposed to the dwarves more than anything else was that they'd murdered orcs. But like I said, hippie berserker. Bechdel test update: I don't even think any of Beorn's animals were female.

The traveling circus hangs out at Beorn's for another day, and having ascertained that they really did murder hella orcs Beorn gives them vegetarian provisions and lends them ponies to ride to Mirkwood. He strongly entreats them to both send the ponies back when they reach the woods, and under no conditions whatsoever leave the path once they get there. They ride up to the edge of the forest, send the ponies back and say goodbye to Gandalf, who tells them several times that they have to remember that once they get into the forest, they must on no account leave the path ever.

Next time: you had one job.

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