Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 16

When last we left Thorin’s company in the Lonely Mountain, Bard’s army and that of the Elvenking had shown up to deliver them a Siege-o-gram. Postage due: a share of the treasure of Smaug. Not terribly surprisingly, this didn’t go over well at all. Particularly given how Thorin’s getting crankier what with the lust for the Arkenstone being well and thoroughly on him.

Chapter 16, “A Thief in the Night”, kicks in with that very question. ‘Cause yeah, Thorin, about that Arkenstone? Bilbo might know something about that…

General notes:

The chapter opens with the raven Röac bringing word that the army of Dain is on the way. And Röac is dropping large stone hints that letting the situation get all the way to open warfare is eighty-nine kinds of bad idea, but Thorin’s not having any of it. Which means that our Mr. Baggins, in a general “oh for fuck’s SAKE you dwarves” facepalm, sneaks out of the Mountain to take the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elvenking.


He has to do this by talking Bombur into giving up his turn at watch, too. While it’s nice to see Bombur actually get a couple of lines, it’s mostly along the theme of how Bombur is still hung up on the dreams he had during his enchanted sleep, so it’s not exactly difficult to convince him to take a nap. Kind of dreading seeing this play out on screen–I hope they don’t play it just for “lol lookit the fat lazy dwarf” laughs. Though I can report that we definitely didn’t get this in the new movie, and it strikes me as unlikely that we’ll get it in the third movie either at this point. To wit: GOOD.

It’s not terribly surprising that the elves on watch know about Bilbo’s existence, calling him a “queer little creature” and “the dwarves’ hobbit”. Amusing as well that they don’t know how Bilbo got past their sentinels, by way of demonstrating that apparently these elves couldn’t smell Bilbo coming.

Now that I’ve seen the second movie, I’m really curious as to whether Bilbo’s scene with Bard and Thranduil in this chapter will wind up in the third movie. If so, that ought to be quite a bit of fun to see played out. Bilbo gets in a bit of facepalm here at the warlike attitudes of Bard and Thranduil, too. And I totally want to see Bilbo, Master of Facepalm and Thievery, going up against King Thranduil McPointyCrown, the finest flouncer of the Sindarin people.

And, of course, we finally get to see Gandalf again in this chapter. The wizard’s lurking about fairly unobtrusively, which leads one to wonder whether he’d announced his presence to the armies in general. It could go either way, given that he doesn’t seem to factor too heavily in with the councils that go on, and only publicly reveals himself later.

Chapter 17 ends with Bilbo scampering back to the Mountain, turning down the offer to stay with Bard’s and Thranduil’s armies. And, entirely like Bilbo, he ends the chapter dreaming of eggs and bacon. Which is a nice indicator of how far along Bilbo’s progressed as a character; he opts not to abandon his friends, and doesn’t even particularly complain about his lot. But yeah, he’s still dreaming of hearth and home and food.

I’m with you on that, Bilbo. ‘Cause mmmmm eggs and bacon.

French notes:

Firing up with the French edition, the chapter title here is “Un voleur dans la nuit”, which is a direct translation. Which I understood right off.

Understood most of this, too:

«Car l’Arkenstone de mon père, dit-il, vaut plus par elle-même que toute une rivière d’or, et pour moi elle est sans prix. Dans tout le trésor, cette pierre-là, je me la réserve, et je me vengerais de quiconque, l’ayant trouvée, la dissimulerait.»

I followed this up through “je me la réserve”. My translation of it would be:

“Because the Arkenstone of my father,” he said, “is worth more by itself than an entire river of gold, and for me it is without price. In all the treasure, that stone there I reserve for myself…”

“Vengerais” took me a few to identify as a conjugation of “venger”, one of my recent SuperMemo verbs: i.e., “to avenge”. So my best guess here is that the rest of this would be “… and I will avenge myself on anyone who finds and hides it.”

Let’s compare to what Tolkien wrote!

“For the Arkenstone of my father,” he said, “is worth more than a river of gold in itself, and to me it is beyond price. That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it.”

Pretty close, then!

Held pretty well through this sentence, too, at least up through “la pierre”: “A ces mots, Bilbo pris peur, se demandant ce qui se passerait si on découvrait la pierre–enveloppée dans un vieux balluchon dépenaillé.” This is Bilbo going OH SHIT and asking himself what’d happen if the others discovered that he had the Arkenstone. What threw me a bit here were the nuances of “se passerait si on découvrait la pierre”, since I’m used to seeing ‘se’ as a reflexive pronoun working with a subject, and I’m still a bit fuzzy as well on how to interpret “on” in any given sentence. (I understand intellectually that it’s supposed to be filler for “we” or “they” or “one”, I’m just not skilled yet at interpreting it without thinking about it!)

Here’s another partial paragraph I was more or less able to parse:

«Mais ils ne peuvent atteindre la Montagne sans être observés, dit Roäc, et je crains qu’il n’y ait bataille dans la vallée. Je ne trouve pas cette décision bonne…»

My read on this:

“But they cannot attain the Mountain without being observed,” said Roäc, “and I fear that there may be battle in the valley. I don’t find this decision good…”

Comparing to Tolkien’s actual words here:

“But they cannot reach the Mountain unmarked,” said Roäc, “and I fear lest there be battle in the valley. I do not call this counsel good…

So got that pretty close too. The tricky thing here for me was “il n’y ait”. I had to confirm that “ait” is a conjugation of “avoir”–specifically, the subjunctive, which I don’t know very well yet. Once I knew that though it was easy enough to realize that this was a conjugation of “il y a”, so I went from there.

I understood almost everything here, until I got to “chiffon” at the end and had to look that up:

“Ce soir-là, Bilbo prit sa décision. Le ciel sans lune était noir. Aussitôt la pleine nuit tombée, il alla à un coin d’une arrière-salle juste derriere la porte, où il tira de son balluchon une corde et aussi l’Arkenstone, enveloppée dans un chiffon.”

This is what Tolkien actually wrote:

“That night Bilbo made up his mind. The sky was black and moonless. As soon as it was full dark, he went to a corner of an inner chamber just within the gate and drew from his bundle a rope, and also the Arkenstone wrapped in a rag.”

The fun bits for me here are that I had to remind myself that “prit” is the past tense of “prendre”, here–and this is the second time I saw this in the chapter, too. “Aussitôt” is another word I picked up out of SuperMemo–i.e., “immediately”. “Une corde” I didn’t read right, though; I read it as “cord” rather than “rope”, though I suppose you could probably do that anyway. And I had to look up “chiffon”, since apparently here it means “rag”, but that’s definitely not the connotation that word has in English. Something made out of chiffon wouldn’t be a rag!

Bombur complaining to Bilbo about his being on watch without a fire gives me this: “C’est une triste affair de bout en bout.” And in that is “de bout en bout”, which I guessed correctly is “from start to finish”. Or perhaps more literally, “from end to end”.

And Bilbo wishing for the grass under his feet gives me another sentence I understood completely: “Je donnerais n’importe quoi pour avoir la sensation de l’herbe sous mes pieds.” The point of interest here is “donnerais”–the conditional conjugation of “donner”.

And here’s Bilbo offering to stand in for Bombur on watch, since he can’t get Bombur the other things he wants as long as the siege is going on, and he can’t sleep tonight anyway:

— Je ne peux pas vous les procurer tant que le siège durera. Mais il y a longtemps que je n’ai pas pris la garde et je peux vous remplacer, si vous voulez. Je n’ai pas envie de dormir, ce soir.

I like “Je n’ai pas envie de dormir” here, since “envie” makes me think it ought to be “envy”, and so I try to parse it as “I have no envy of sleep”. But that’s not what it is, at least in the phrase here. “Avoir envie de faire” is to have a wish to do something, according to the Internets!

Another sentence I got almost completely: “Il faisait très noir et quand, après un moment, il quitta le sentier nouvellement tracé pour descendre vers le lit de la rivière, le chemin lui était inconnu.” This is the description of Bilbo descending in darkness, and finding after he left the newly made path (that the dwarves had made), the way became unknown to him. The one bit of this that gave me trouble was “le sentier nouvellement tracé”. I wanted to parse “nouvellement” as an adjective, but it is of course an adverb here, modifying “tracé”. But both of them are following the noun “sentier”, when in English they would precede it.

And another one: “Le lit de la rivière était là peu profond, mais déjà large, et le passage à gue dans l’obscurité n’était pas une tâche aisée pour le petit hobbit.” In this, the sentence is talking about how the riverbed is shallow but wide, and going across it in the dark is hard for the little hobbit. The only bit I didn’t know was “gue”, but once I threw the sentence through Google Translate and figured out that that was “ford”, the rest of it made perfect sense. In fact, “passage à gue” is quoted as meaning “fording” on the French-English dictionary.

This bit gives me a phrasing I wasn’t familiar with: “si vous tenez à le savoir”. This is Bilbo telling the elves “if you want to know”, according to the original text. But if I understand the connotations correctly in my googlings, this seems like it more has the meaning of “if you really must know”.

Next up comes this: “Je suis peut-être un cambrioleur — ou c’est ce qu’ils disent ; personnellement je ne m’en suis jamais senti l’âme — mais je suis un cambrioleur honnête, je l’espère, plus ou moins.”

Now, I actually do understand this overall, especially after looking at Tolkien’s original words, which are: “I may be a burglar—or so they say: personally I never really felt like one—but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less.”

The confusing part here is “je ne m’en suis jamais senti l’âme”, specifically. I know “ne..jamais” is “never”, so if I take those bits out I get “je m’en suis senti l’âme”. As near as I can tell the base verb here must be “se sentir”–and according to my French verbs book, all reflexive verbs are conjugated in the past tense with être. Which explains how we get the “suis” in there. Which leaves “en” and “l’âme”.

So if I break this whole thing down it seems like this translates to “I never felt it in the soul”.

The one remaining question I have here, though, is what the difference in meaning is between “sentir” and “se sentir”, since my attempts to translate them both amount to “to feel”. But as near as I can tell from looking at various example expressions using them both, “sentir” seems to have to do with physical senses, while “se sentir” is more involved with emotions. (I have loose confirmation of this from at least one person who’s studied French, but if anyone else with more French than I have who can clear this up, do please let me know!)

And speaking of reflexive verbs, this sentence has a couple, as well as a nice little idiom: “Il se peut que vous vous en tiriez bien.” This is what Gandalf says to Bilbo, almost at the very end of the chapter: “You may come through all right.” So “Il se peut que…” is the idiom, presumbably based on “se pouvoir”, “to be able to”. And “s’en tirer” gives us “vous vous tiriez bien”–where “tiriez” is, if I read it right, the subjunctive of “tirer”.

And Bilbo’s dreaming? “En fait, il rêvait d’œufs au lard.” Mmmm. “d’œufs au lard”!

German notes:

“Ein Dieb in der Nacht” is the chapter title in the German edition.

Here’s the German version of Thorin talking about the worth of the Arkenstone:

»Denn der Arkenjuwel meines Vaters«, sagte er, »ist mehr wert als ein ganzer Fluss aus Gold und für mich ist er überhaupt jenseits aller Werte. Diesen Stein erkläre ich als mein ausschließliches Eigentum und ich werde mich an jeden rächen, der ihn findet und verbirgt.«

Words of interest here:

überhaupt: “in general”, I think?

jenseits: beyond?

erklären: “to explain/to account for”

ausschließliches: “exclusive”

Eigentum: “property”

sich an jeden rächen: “revenge oneself upon anyone”

Here’s Bilbo making up his mind and fetching the rope and Arkenstone:

In dieser Nacht raffte Bilbo sich auf. Der Himmel war schwarz und mondlos. Als es vollständig dunkel geworden war, begab er sich in eine Ecke der Halle gleich am Tor und zog aus seinem Bündel ein Seil hervor. Der Arkenjuwel wickelte er in einen Lappen.

The first sentence here is interesting, since in the original, Tolkien writes, “That night Bilbo made up his mind.” But in the German, we get “raffte Bilbo sich auf”–from the verb “sich aufraffen“, which means “rouse oneself”. So an entirely different concept here from “made up his mind”, at least to my English-reading eyes; I’d be interested to know if a German reader would get the notion of “made up his mind” from the phrase.

I’m reading this paragraph as well to include Bilbo actively wrapping the Arkenstone in a rag, whereas in the original, it’s described as wrapped when he pulls it out of his bundle.

Bombur complains, “Es ist mächtig kalt”–a direct translation of “It is mighty cold!” Though something about the rhythm of this makes me totally envision Bombur saying “it’s fucking cold!”

Bilbo’s dialogue gives us “Beine” and “Zehen”, “legs” and “toes”. And lots of practice using nominative and accusative polite pronouns here, too–lots of “Euch” and “Eure” and “Ihr”.

I like “Kerl” as the translation of “fellow”, too, when Bombur calls Bilbo “a good fellow”. (One wonders if it’s related to the English word “carl”, which I knew even before it showed up in Skyrim. But I keep wanting to make jokes about “ein Hauskerl”, now.)

This chapter’s art is cute, though I could have sworn that the Lonely Mountain was a bit taller.

Making a Break for It
Making a Break for It

“Unwahrscheinlich” leapt out at me as an adjective, mostly because of the base syllable of “wahr”, which I’ve seen in SuperMemo. I had to remind myself that “wahr” means “true”, though, and my rough guess of what “unwahrscheinlich” meant was something to do with “possibility”. But it is in fact “unlikely”.

Here are the elves reacting to Bilbo’s approach:

»Das war kein Fisch!«, sagte einer. »Das muss ein Spion sein. Tut die Laternen weg. Sie helfen ihm mehr als uns, falls es dieses merkwürdige kleine Wesen ist, das ihr Diener sein soll.«

Point of interest, here: wow, Google Translate is way less deft with German than it is with French, particularly in regards to sentence structure and how verbs get put at the end of clauses. For giggles and grins, here’s what it did with the previous paragraph (spacing of the double quote at the end is exactly preserved). Note it gets confused about pronouns, too–this is because “ihr” is used for both the polite “you” AND for “they”!

“That was not a fish,” said one. “This must be a spy. Does the lanterns away. They help him more than us, if there is this strange little creature, shall be your servant. “

The lesson here, kids, is “don’t trust a translation engine to teach you grammar”. Which would be why I keep reference sites and dictionaries available when I do these posts, doncha know.

Anyway, I’m calling this paragraph out for a couple of things. One, “Das muss ein Spion sein” is roughly “That must be a spy”, compared to Tolkien’s “There is a spy about”. Two, “Tut die Laternen weg” is fun–“tut” is the imperative of “tun”, which is the very basic verb for “to do”. But according to, this word can also get sometimes used in the sense of “to put”, and that seems to be the case here. And three, I totally like the word “merkwürdige”, which sounds like my household’s name: Murkworks!

Here’s another excellent word: “zähneklappernd”. Google Translate gives this a really rough translation of “with chattering teeth”, and I am rather in awe of German’s ability to smoosh an entire phrase into a single word, as I think I’ve said before!

I’m not as good at this in German as I am in French–but oh hey look! An entire bit I was able to parse: “Aber Ihr kennt Thorin Eichenschild nicht so gut, wie ich ihn jetzt kenne.” (“But you know Thorin Oakenshield not so well as I know him now”, very roughly. Only, of course, with verbs rearranged for English translation.)

Oh, this is fun, an example of German for once going the opposite direction, and taking one word in English and expanding it out into a phrase:

»Ach«, entgegnete der Hobbit, der sich gar nicht wohl in seiner Haut fühlte.

Compare to Tolkien’s original:

“O well!” said the hobbit uncomfortably.

I make the German out to be more or less:

“Oh,” replied the hobbit, who felt not at all comfortable in his skin.

One does wonder why the translator dropped an entire phrase in there, rather than using an adverb. Or whether this was just a question of literary license.

I like “Verwunderung” as a word, showing up in the Elvenking’s reaction to Bilbo’s producing the Arkenstone. The root there of “wunder” connects it to the English “wonder”, I expect. It’s just fun to say, anyway!

“Allerdings” is also a new one I didn’t catch before–it’s apparently “though” or “mind you”. Another thing that’s fun to say. Just don’t expect it to mean “all the things!”

And with that I conclude Chapter 16! Chapter 17 soon!