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Belmont Club

A Wilderness of Dragons

January 5th, 2013 - 12:32 pm

For properly understood, Bilbo ends Middle Earth.

Tolkien in his landmark essay on Beowulf, ascribes the greatness of its poetry to an awareness that it straddles two eras. The anonymous author could tell the story of the old pagan gods, of their defiance and courage (‘absolute resistance, perfect because without hope’) while simultaneously embodying the new Christian hope that both evil and death would ultimately be vanquished. Tolkien wrote of Beowulf:

We get in fact a poem from a pregnant moment of poise, looking back into the pit, by a man learned in old tales who was struggling, as it were, to get a general view of them all, perceiving their common tragedy of inevitable ruin, and yet feeling this more poetically because he was himself removed from the direct pressure of its despair. He could view from without, but still feel immediately and from within, the old dogma: despair of the event, combined with faith in the value of doomed resistance. He was still dealing with the great temporal tragedy, and not yet writing an allegorical homily in verse. Grendel inhabits the visible world and eats the flesh and blood of men; he enters their houses by the doors. The dragon wields a physical fire, and covets gold not souls; he is slain with iron in his belly. Beowulf’s byrne was made by Weland, and the iron shield he bore against the serpent by his own smiths: it was not yet the breastplate of righteousness, nor the shield of faith for the quenching of all the fiery darts of the wicked.

It is the role of the Hobbit to carry a similar burden of memory. We get a glimpse of trolls, Storm-giants, goblins, giant rabbits, oversized spiders, wargs, talking birds and giant eagles once more — before they finally disappear — to be replaced by abstract things. By the time of the Lord of the Rings, even Sauron has become disembodied. He has lost all human shape. He gives unending life — or shall we say existence — to the Ringwraiths, but life is nothing to Sauron by then. He lusts not for the flesh, but for the domination of the spirit.

The day of the monsters passed. And Bilbo in his allegorical way ends it. But for those who see the Hobbit, they can be seen for the final time in their full glory as Beowulf beheld them and as no doubt Bilbo did. “A desserte of lapwyngs, a shrewednes of apes, a raffull of knaues, and a gagle of gees” And a wilderness of dragons. It’s not called the Desolation of Smaug for nothing.

Gandalf, determined to press on, is cognizant of the peril, and aware even then that by succeeding he will be speeding his own passing. The wizard seeks counsel from Galadriel. In what viewers will recognize as another keynote dialog Galadriel asks the Gandalf, “why did you bring the halfling?” He answers, “perhaps because I am afraid.” He adds words we could have written ourselves. ‘Saruman believes that only the great can face evil. Yet I believe it is often faced down by those familiar with simple things, the warm hearth-fire, who hear laughter among friends and know daily acts of love and kindness.’

Whatever you think of the cinematic values of the An Unexpected Journey, all the great Tolkien themes are certainly there. I will not be guarantee your visual experience in 2D or 3D. Nor will I be responsible for your fate.

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The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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More perspectives on The Hobbit at PJ Media:

Andrew Klavan: The Case for Restricting Artist

John Boot: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Chore

David P. Goldman: Why J.R.R. Tolkien’s Enduring Popularity Is a Cause for Hope in Our Popular Culture

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