I am resuming my chapter by chapter exploration of The Hobbit in order to learn about the characters, and in particular, Thorin Oakenshield. Following the work of actor Richard Armitage has been an interest spanning over four years and being familiar with his work ethic, I am curious to find out about the character he is playing and the material he has been given to work with in order to portray Thorin onscreen in The Hobbit movies.
After a recent visit to New Zealand, I felt I was able to glimpse Middle Earth in a variety of areas of the country. This made me envious of the job movie location scouts have, and my envy increased sfter seeing the Hobbit Production Video #5 on Sir Peter Jackson's website. I am therefore unapologetically adding a few of our photos to this and future posts just to enliven them a little.
Chapter 7: "Queer Lodgings" - in which Bilbo and the Company meet Beorn.
Returning to my exploration of the book after many months, I felt a need to refresh my memory on where Bilbo and his companions are in Middle Earth. Below therefore is a map showing Eagle's Eyrie; The Carrock; Beorn's house, and Mirkwood from "The Atlas of Middle Earth" by Karen Wynn Fonstad.
To recap, the Company had been rescued from wargs and goblins in the previous chapter by the eagles who had flown them to safety in their eyrie. Bilbo was initially disoriented when he woke thinking he was back in his hobbit hole and dreaming of breakfast and a bath. Imagine his shock as he rolls over to find he is on the edge of a precipice possibly not unlike the one in the photo below. (Anyone scared of heights would agree I imagine. Picture of Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, thanks to Wikipedia.).
As Bilbo was flown on the back of an eagle down to Carrock Rock, he kept his eyes shut holding on so tightly that his eagle was forced to remonstrate with him. As he opened his eyes, he was treated to the vista of a river, trees and grasslands.
The eagles left the company on the Carrock - a great outcrop of stone lying in the path of the stream. Here the company rested, cooled off in the river and it was at this point in time that they were dismayed to learn that Gandalf was to leave them to embark on a journey of his own. (This was to attend a meeting of the White Council). Gandalf agrees to stay with them in order to introduce them to "Somebody" - Beorn.
The middle section of the chapter describes the long walk the company had to reach Beorn's hall; the introduction of the dwarves and Bilbo by Gandalf through his recounting their adventures with the goblins and wargs; their meal (served by Beorn's animals); and noises heard by Bilbo of a great animal moving about outside in the middle of the night.
Beorn's Hall: JRR Tolkien
Waking the next day, the dwarves and Bilbo discover that both Gandalf and Beorn have disappeared. Gandalf however returns that evening recounting a tale about following bear tracks to the dell where the company had been trapped by the wargs and goblins several nights previously. Beorn then, returns to his house the following morning to tell them that he had learned that a great raid by the goblin army and warg allies was to be made in order to search for the dwarves and to seek vengeance for the killing of the goblin king. This verified Gandalf and the dwarves' story, and Beorn (who was no lover of dwarves), was therefore keen to help them. He provided them with food and ponies to take them to the edge of the forest. He also advised them not to drink or bathe in the enchanted stream running through Mirkwood, and not to stray from the path in the woods. This was reiterated by Gandalf several times as he left the company at the forest gate a few days later.
Beorn had also recommended that the Old Forest road was no longer safe to use, and that they would be better to take a little known pathway starting further North of his house. This was a more direct route to the Lonely Mountain. He advised them not to delay as the goblin army would attempt to cross the great river to the south and travel north to cut them off.
The journey to the forest gate took them four days. Once there, they sent the ponies home and also said their farewells to Gandalf.
What we learn of the characters in this chapter:
1. Beorn - The name Beorn is Old English for "man, warrior, a person of valour" but it originally meant "bear" similar to "bjorn" in Old Norse.
Gandalf describes Beorn as a great person who "can be quite appalling when he is angry though he is kind enough when he is humoured". He was easily angered. He was also a "skin changer", being able to change from a huge black bear to a strong black haired and bearded man.
"Some say that he is a bear descended from the great and ancient bears of the mountains that lived there before the giants came. Others say that he is a man descended from the first men who lived before Smaug or th eother dragons came to this part of the world, and before the goblins came into the hills out of the North". Gandalf: "The Hobbit" JRR Tolkien
Tolkien scholars believe that the character of Beorn was based on a hero from an Old Norse Legend - Saga of Hrolf Kraki.
Beorn despite helping the company, expresses his hatred for the goblins and his reason for helping the company was based on this, rather than him having a love for dwarves. Both he and the eagles represent nature at its best (despite its ferocity), whereas the goblins and wargs represent evil and corruption.
2. Gandalf: Gandalf leads the company but is seen more as a guide than as a leader. He helps when he is most needed, but also allows the company to fend for itself at times.
4. Necromancer: "The Annotated Hobbit" by Douglas A Anderson offers an explanation about the necromancer/Sauron referencing an excerpt from JRR Tolkien's chapter in History of Middle Earth: "Morgoth's Ring: "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar".
"Sauron is called a necromancer. In discussing what happens to the Elvish spirit (or Fëa) after the death of the body, a wicked Fëa may seek friendship with the living and attempt to house itself in a living body, either to enslave its host or to wrest from the other Fëa its rightful body. Tolkien continues: "It is said that Sauron did these things , and taught his followers how to achieve them" " (The Annotated Hobbit)
The introduction of the Necromancer in the story provides an excuse for Gandalf to leave the company and travel to the White Council. There are numerous relationships in the story with Sauron in that Thrain II is discovered by Gandalf in Dol Guldur and hands over his map and key to be given to Thorin; Thrain held the seventh ring of the dwarves which Sauron wanted to possess; and finally Bilbo takes possession of the One Ring, Sauron's Ring of Power. It is also believed that the evil emanating from Dol Guldur, was the reason why Mirkwood became full of darkness and evil. Gandalf feared that Sauron would use Smaug as an ally to help him gain control of the lands surrounding Erebor - it therefore suited his purposes for Thorin and his company to defeat Smaug thus preventing Sauron's power from spreading north east.
There is not a lot of personal growth for Bilbo in this chapter. He once again yearns for the comfort of the Shire and his former life in this chapter. Gandalf, while berating him at one point for thinking of backing out of the quest, acts as mentor to him, going so far as to take him with him for the initial introduction with Beorn.
6. Thorin and his dwarf company:
Tolkien does not expand on the characters of any of the dwarves in this chapter. They act and speak en masse. Gandalf introduces them to Beorn gradually. Beorn has no love for dwarves but as he meets Thorin, he notes that he is the son of Thrain, Son of Thror, and that he will help providing he is an enemy of goblins and not up to any misdeeds on his lands. At dinner, Gandalf and Thorin are given special benches to sit on at the table along with Beorn. The others were given logs, so it is clear that Thorin along with Gandalf were given positions of honour at Beorn's table.
Finally, as Gandalf takes his leave of the company at the forest gate into Mirkwood, it is interesting to note that Thorin is not afraid of challenging Gandalf - he confronts him about keeping Beorn's horse when they have to give up their ponies; and dismisses him in a preremptory fashion after Gandalf wishes them (in a rather flippant manner) good luck with the rest of their adventure. Once Gandalf leaves, Thorin takes charge.
As the company travels farther towards its goal, the novel's tone begins to grow darker. With each new adventure, Bilbo will begin to grow more in terms of courage and strength. As Gandalf leaves the company to fend for itself there is much dismay. Thorin however assumes leadership and responsibility and his parting words to Gandalf are:
"Good-bye! If you won't come with us, you had better get off without any more talk!"
Interestingly Gandalf does not respond to this summary dismissal, and it is clear that Thorin, while repecting Gandalf, is not in awe of him and does not perceive him as his leader. He is his own lord and master, takes authority over the company, and answers to no one.