Here is The Hobbit, Frodo Son of Drogo. The Council of Elrond Begins.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 233,234

Surely every action that Elrond takes and every word that he speaks tells that he knows that there can be but one outcome to the council that he has called to take place on the day after the feast and Frodo’s recovery from his wound. The feast itself, held in Frodo’s honour, at which he is seated at the table of highest honour; the seat at Elrond’s very side at the Council and the words with which Elrond announces him to the gathering all point to the central role that Frodo is going to have to play in the story.

“Here, my friends, is the hobbit, Frodo son of Drogo. Few have ever come hither through greater peril or an errand more urgent.”

Alan Lee’s Depiction of The Council of Elrond

Elrond must not impose his will upon the Council. The deliberations must be, as that word implies, deliberate. Every part of the story that has led each member to be there that morning must be told and must be heard. And every teller of the story and every one who hears and who deliberates must be granted honour. Elrond is the one who will chair the debate because he is Lord of Rivendell, of Imladris, because he has played so central a part in the long history that on this day will reach its climax and because of his lineage; but he knows that unless every single person gathered there is prepared to give their assent to the decision that will conclude the discussion all will be in vain.

For gathered together on this day are representatives of all the free peoples of Middle-earth. elves of every kind, dwarves, the descendants of Númenor, and most surprisingly of all, hobbits. Some of them are well aware of their dignity and their right to be parties to the decisions that will be made. Glorfindel, mighty hero of the conflicts of every age, one who lives at once, and has great power, in the worlds of both the Seen and the Unseen; and Boromir, Son and Heir to the Steward of Gondor, ruler of the greatest of all the kingdoms of humankind, these know their dignity. So too do Galdor of the Grey Havens and Erestor of Rivendell, high in the counsels of their lords. Others who have gathered there represent peoples whose essential dignity is perhaps more contested. Gloín from the dwarf kingdom of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, and his son, Gimli, are of an ancient people who have played their part in the history of Middle-earth but who have always kept themselves apart, making alliances from necessity rather than desire. And Legolas, son of Thranduil of the woodland realm in Mirkwood, is described here as strange, surely here drawing upon the older meaning of that word as one who is a stranger whether by accident or by choice. Like the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain Thranduil and his people have kept apart from the great alliances except, as in the Battle of the Five Armies, by necessity.

The Battle Under the Mountain by Matt Stewart

And last, and most certainly until that day, least among the free peoples of Middle-earth, are the hobbits. The dwarves and the elves of the woodland realm, both peoples at the fringe of the great story, know Bilbo because of his part in the events that led to the fall of Smaug and the great victory at the Battle of the Five Armies, but to the descendants of Númenor and to the High Elves, hobbits have not been of any importance. Even Aragorn and Glorfindel might be forgiven for regarding them as being completely out of their depth in events too great for them to comprehend or to be a part of. After all, their main knowledge of hobbits has come from the need to rescue them from danger. Only Gandalf has really made it his business to get to know hobbits and this interest has largely been regarded as an eccentric curiosity on his part.

Is it through Gandalf that Elrond has changed his mind about hobbits? Surely it is that, that and his acquaintance with Bilbo and his wise perception of the events that have led to this moment, and so it is that with emphasis, addressing each one present, he introduces Frodo as the hobbit, as one who has come to Rivendell heroically, through great peril and on the most urgent of errands. Thus he addresses Gloín, Legolas and Boromir, all travellers from afar who have come upon errands themselves. Frodo is at the centre of the Council and Frodo will be its outcome.

The Centre of the Council

Watch “Хоббит / The Hobbit (СССР / USSR, 1985 г.)” on YouTube

On Friday I posted a reflection on my blog about the encounter between Frodo and Glóin as they sat together at the feast in Rivendell and how this reconnected the stories of the Shire and the kingdom under the mountain, stories that were so remarkably woven together when Gandalf persuaded Thorin Oakenshield to allow Bilbo Baggins to become a part of his quest to regain the mountain kingdom from Smaug the dragon.

As I pondered the story that Tolkien told in The Hobbit I was led by my daughter, Bethan, a doctoral student at Oxford University, to the great Soviet cultural critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, and his concept of the carnivalesque. Bakhtin’s work was on the 19th century Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the 16th century French writer, Rabelais. In both of them he finds a world that is turned upside down. As Bethan and I spoke together I became increasingly convinced that we can add another work to Bakhtin’s list, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.

As I pondered this I recalled once watching a film adaptation of The Hobbit that was made in Russian during the Soviet era that charmed me at the time I watched it. Instinctively I felt that its retelling of Tolkien’s story as a folk tale had an authenticity to it that I found sadly lacking in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Many have commented on the difficulty in reconciling the fairytale aspect of The Hobbit with the mighty epic that was both The Silmarillion and also The Lord of the Rings. My feeling is that Jackson kept trying to make the story heroic and epic in nature, even trying to turn Bilbo into a character who might belong in such a story. My belief is that this delightful Russian retelling of the tale is much closer to its true essence.

And while I am expressing appreciation for people who have helped develop my own understanding of Tolkien’s work I would like to thank a blogger who writes under the name, The Catholic Knight, for reminding me of the wonderful section of Tolkien’s, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth that deals with the quest for Erebor. If you have a copy then read these pages for yourself. You can almost feel yourself to be with Tolkien, perhaps at a gathering of the Inklings, as he wrestles with the question, why did he recommend Bilbo to Thorin? Each one of the answers is profound and, in my view, leaves the subversive carnivalesque nature of The Hobbit intact.

A final thought. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Russian. Any lover of The Hobbit will have little difficulty in following the story and you might find a version somewhere with English subtitles.

The Shire is Stranger than Frodo Thinks. The Hobbits Encounter with the Nazgûl and with Elves.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp 73-80

There is a phrase that shows just how disorientating it is when something happens in your backyard that is entirely unexpected. Frodo has just encountered one of the Nazgûl for the very first time. He has no idea that what he can see, just a few yards away, is one of the most terrifying things that he could ever meet unless he stood before the Dark Lord himself. He begins to have an overwhelming desire to put on the Ring, convinced that he would be safe if he did so. “And I am still in the Shire,” he thinks.

I am still in the Shire

Still in the Shire. Still in a place in which every blade of grass, every tree and rise and fall of the road speaks of familiarity and of predictability. The unexpected has no place in the Shire. Of all places in Middle-earth this is the one where the outlandish is where it should be; in the lands outside and beyond the borders. You would have thought that Frodo Baggins, of all hobbits, would have known that this was not true. The stories and actions of Bilbo, his friendship with Gandalf, and his own dealings with the world outside should have taught him that the world is not safe and predictable. As the poet, Louis Macneice put it (in a poem entitled, Snow, written in my parents in law’s house in Birmingham, England), “world is suddener than we fancy it”.

But that, of course, is the problem, even for Frodo. We fancy the world to be in a sense, on time. Not too late or we will make a complaint to the management. Nor too soon neither. Every event that departs from this ‘law’ we regard as abnormal. Except the abnormal keeps on happening. But this event is so abnormal that perhaps we could forgive Frodo. I think that the Powers do forgive him. He is not yet ready for this encounter and so Something prevents him from putting on the Ring, his life is saved, the Ring is not returned to its Maker and the world is not yet subjected to darkness.

World is suddener than we fancy it

And Something brings him into contact with another power at work in the world, a power that even the Nazgûl are not quite ready to match themselves against. Not just yet, anyway. When the hobbits encounter the Nazgûl for the second time Frodo wants to put on the Ring once more but “this time it was stronger than before. So strong that before he realised what he was doing, his hand was groping in his pocket”. The Ring has only one desire and that is to return to its Master and Frodo is no match for it.

But “world is suddener… world is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural” and in its glorious plurality a large company of High Elves just happens to be on the same stretch of road in the Shire as the hobbits, the Nazgûl and the Ring, at precisely that moment and, once more, Frodo and the world is saved.

Is this a writer’s tendency to allow a coincidence to occur in order to solve a problem with the plot? Or is it how this writer understands the world? I think that the latter is the case. Tolkien’s enchanted world, suddener, crazier, more of than we think, incorrigibly plural, is one in which powers are at work of which we are not usually aware. We might use the word, Providence, to describe these powers. You will remember how when Gandalf said that Bilbo was meant to have the Ring he spoke of “something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker”. Tolkien was always reticent when it came to his Christian faith and his imaginative work, especially in The Lord of the Rings. He chose to know no more than the main characters in his story, who were the hobbits, except by implication. They must learn about the powers at work in the world just as we do. But the world is suddener, and in it there are High Elves, the eldest of the children of Ilúvatar, who see its suddenness, its craziness and plurality with perfect clarity. And they take the hobbits under their protection.

World is crazier and more of it than we think