Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Hobbit Talk

*

I am always surprised at how few Tolkien fans have read the early drafts of Lord of the Rings published as volumes 6-9 of the History of Middle Earth edited by Christopher Tolkien. 

C.S Lewis complained that the first drafts of had too much 'Hobbit talk' - and below is one of the more extreme examples, which ended-up on the cutting room floor.

Note: 'Bingo' became Frodo; 'Odo' became Pippin; but 'Frodo' was replaced by Sam - who has a very different character and background. 


**

Odo was not thinking about hobbit-history. He merely wanted to know where to look for the farm. If Farmer Maggot had lived in a hole, there would have been rising ground somewhere near; but the land ahead looked perfectly flat.

‘He lives in a house,’ answered Frodo. ‘There are very few holes in these parts. They say houses were invented here. Of course the Brandbybucks have that great burrow of theirs at Bucklebury in the high bank across the River; but most of their people live in houses. There are lots of those new-fashioned brick houses – not too bad, I suppose, in their way; though they look very naked, if you know what I mean: no decent turf-covering, all bare and bony.'

‘Fancy climbing upstairs to bed!’ said Odo. ‘That seems to me most inconvenient. Hobbits aren’t birds.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Bingo. ‘It isn’t as bad as it sounds; though personally I never like looking out of upstairs windows, it makes me a bit giddy. There are some houses that have three stages, bedrooms above bedroom. I slept in one once long ago on a holiday; the wind kept me awake all night.’

‘What a nuisance, if you want a handkerchief or something when you are downstairs, and find it is upstairs,” said Odo.

‘You could keep handkerchiefs downstairs, if you wished,’ said Frodo.

‘You could, but I don’t believe anybody does.’

‘That is not the houses’ fault,’ said Bingo; ‘it is just the silliness of the hobbits that live in them. . . .  If ever I live in a house, I shall keep everything I want downstairs, and only go up when I don’t want anything; or perhaps I shall have a cold supper upstairs in the dark on a starry night.’

‘And have to carry plates and things downstairs, if you don’t fall all the way down,’ laughed Odo.

‘No!’ said Bingo. ‘I shall have wooden plates and bowls, and throw them out of the window. There will be thick grass all round my house.’

‘But you would still have to carry your supper upstairs,’ said Odo.

‘O well then, perhaps I should not have supper upstairs,’ said Bingo. ‘It was only just an idea. I don’t suppose I shall ever live in a house. As far as I can see, I am going to be just a wandering beggar.’

This very hobbit-like conversation went on for some time. 

*

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the Shadow (1988), pp. 92-93. Vol. 6 of The History of Middle-earth, ed. C.Tolkien. H/T to  http://users.bestweb.net/~jfgm/Letters/HobbitTalkPage.htm  for transcribing the above.

**


Tolkien later wrote that he was 'personally immensely amused by hobbits as such, and can contemplate them eating and making their rather fatuous jokes indefinitely...'

I find I agree, on the whole; and have always found the Shire parts of LotR among my favourite parts of the book.

For those who share this taste, there is a great deal to enjoy in the first and last volumes of Christopher Tolkien's books on the History of the Lord of the Rings. 

*

 

6 comments:

Samson J. said...

I love hobbit talk! Adventures and interactions with grand characters are great, but if we're quite honest, they're probably more enjoyable to read about than to actually live through. Shire talk always makes me feel comfortably and wistfully "at home", so to speak.

AlexT said...

If i could choose to be any creature in Middle Earth, i would probably be a Hobbitt. Now, my mind says 'Elf', but as Samson points out, that life might be better in theory than in practise, at least for humans. There is something very familiar about Hobbitts and their rural idyll.
One question i have always had about Bilbo: Is he unusual for living on his own? The description of the great burrow in Buckland makes it seem as if most Hobbits live communally with their extended family. I've heard the same thing about the Tooks. Which lifestyle is more common? Is property more often held by the 'clan' or by individuals. It's pretty clear that Hobbit families seem quite patriarchal. If anyone has any info/theories on this, would love to hear them.

bgc said...

@AT - Tolkien says somewhere (in his letters I think) that Bilbo and Frodo were very unsual hobbits in being unmarried and mostly living alone (and in other respects - e.g. being historical scholars); and that the highly fertile Sam was much closer to being a typical hobbit (except in his reverence for elves).

JP said...

Let me just say I am very, very glad that the names "Bingo" and "Trotter" were dropped in later drafts...

bgc said...

@JP - yes indeed. And Trotter's wooden shoes lasted a worryingly long time.

Tolkien's sense of words was independent of changes in practice in his lifetime - when Bingo became THE working class women's normal group recreation.

And he persisted in calling the Noldor as Gnomes - presumably because this had a plausible derivation from Gnosis/ knowledge which fitted these elves. Meanwhile in the mid twentieth century there was in England a fad for comical garden gnomes (more like cartoon dwarves) - which would have provided a difficult-to-overcome connotation for most readers.

Samson J. said...

If i could choose to be any creature in Middle Earth, i would probably be a Hobbitt. Now, my mind says 'Elf', but as Samson points out, that life might be better in theory than in practise, at least for humans. There is something very familiar about Hobbitts and their rural idyll.

"I am a hobbit, in all but size" - Old Tollers himself.

Meanwhile in the mid twentieth century there was in England a fad for comical garden gnomes (more like cartoon dwarves)

There still is, here.