It is a testament to the power of Peter Jackson’s movies that, when I dig into the very first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, I cannot help but imagine how it played out in the movie. The music kicks in in my head, and of course, there are the beautiful visuals involved with Gandalf’s fireworks. Although the movie didn’t lay everything out exactly as the book did–and, see my previous post for why I don’t consider that a problem–it’s still very close to it in spirit.
Because yeah. After the Prologue reminds us of what went down in The Hobbit, this chapter also blatantly ties into those events. The very title of the chapter is a callback. And the first few paragraphs tell us about the reputation Bilbo’s had in the Shire ever since his adventure. Right out of the gate, though, we get something that the movie had not really called out: i.e., that the grand party Bilbo’s throwing is in fact a celebration of his birthday and Frodo’s. Bilbo is turning 111, but Frodo is turning 33, the year a hobbit is considered to come of age.
(And that little tidbit, combined with how Frodo doesn’t actually set out on his adventure until he’s pushing fifty, has contributed to why I’ve never really fretted much about heading into my forties and closing in on fifty myself. By hobbit standards, I’m barely adult! Never mind elf standards!)
It’s kind of hysterical, too, that hobbits call the twenties tweens, since that term means something different to a modern eye: i.e., a pre-teen. But then, it’s kind of the same idea, since the hobbits are still giving the word the connotation of “this is somebody too young and irresponsible to be a grownup”.
It’s fun to see the Gaffer on camera, since we don’t get to see him in the movies, and the conversation he has with other hobbits is a nice way to cover the community gossip about the Bagginses, as well as a bit of Frodo’s backstory (the drowning of his parents) and the ill repute of the Sackville-Bagginses. And I do have to giggle at the miller’s assertion that, quote, “Bag End’s a queer place, and its folk are queerer,” unquote.
(Insert obligatory mental picture of a rainbow flag flying over Bilbo’s door here.)
Something else we don’t see in the movies: a note that the dwarves visit Bilbo. In fact, it’s called out in this chapter that dwarves are in fact on hand for the party, even though they do not actually appear in any of the action! And since I have just recently re-watched the tail end of The Battle of the Five Armies, including Bilbo’s sentimental farewell to the surviving dwarves, I cannot help but wonder which dwarves were the ones that visited him here.
I’m sure Bombur would have been VERY apparent indulging in the party supplies, and I like to think that Bofur would have leapt up to sing and play something for the party attendees. We know from the actual book version of The Hobbit, as well, that many of the dwarves did in fact play instruments. I’m a little sad that Tolkien didn’t think to at least include them more obviously in the merrymaking and music-making here!
Doublechecking the Third Age timeline, it’s at least certain that Balin would not have been among the visiting dwarves–he died in Moria before this party was held. Sniff. But I can totally imagine Balin sharing a companionable table with Bilbo. Is there fan art of that? There should be fan art of that.
I also like that among the party presents being handed out, there’s description of wonderful toys that came from the Lonely Mountain and from Dale, toys that are specifically of dwarf-make. Another reason I’m a little sad that the dwarves don’t actually get to participate more obviously in the action! And according to Bofur’s page on the LotR wiki, he was in fact a toymaker. One therefore presumes a lot of the toys being handed out were his work!
Tolkien’s description of the fireworks is magic all on its own, even if I do rather miss the mischief from movie!Pippin and movie!Merry, stealing fireworks to launch themselves.
It’s interesting to me that Bilbo’s speech is given in italics rather than in quoted dialogue lines. I didn’t remember this, and I’m wondering if it was because Tolkien intended to have the speech be more from the point of view of the party attendees in general, rather than Bilbo himself.
And in the middle of the speech, we get more references to shinies from Dale: the crackers that contain musical instruments, “small, but of perfect make and enchanting tones.” I must wonder how small! Pretty tiny, if they were in crackers meant to be pulled apart, and yet they couldn’t have been too tiny, if hobbit-sized hands were still able to get music out of them.
Gandalf is shown here to be in active collusion with Bilbo, another thing that wasn’t quite as apparent in the movie–since here, Gandalf throws in a bit of a magical “boom” to obscure Bilbo disappearing before their eyes. Which leads nicely into Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf, which is of course one of my other favorite things about the very beginning of this story. “Two eyes, as often as I can spare them,” indeed. Yep, I won’t ever be able to read a word of Gandalf’s without hearing Sir Ian in my head, and this is entirely as it should be. <3
I do love Bilbo’s parting gifts for a lot of different hobbits, and the snarky subtext on the labels. Which I am totally reading in Martin Freeman’s voice, which is also entirely as it should be. And we see yet more of the Sackville-Bagginses, being generally odious, as well as a passle of other hobbits that need to be bodily thrown out of Bag-End after the party is over.
And, of course, we get Gandalf’s final word of warning to Frodo about the Ring–less urgent than it plays out in the film, but still, enough here to leave a frisson of worry. Something’s off about that ring, and Gandalf urges our little hero to keep it secret, and keep it safe.
Raise your hand if you’re now hearing the Ring theme playing in the back of your head.