Headscratchers: The Hobbit
for headscratchers related to the Peter Jackson film
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The Hobbit (the book)
- How is it that Gandalf emphatically warns Bilbo and the dwarves not to mention skins or any other animal product around Beorn, yet later the book casually mentions that Beorn provided them with water skins? Were they made from goblin skin?
- Most likely, he made them after an animal had died a natural death. There's a difference between respecting nature and avoiding waste go hand in hand. He won't kill or hurt the animals, but he also isn't going to waste what they leave behind out of a sense of sentimentality. If anything, it shows the depth of Beorn's generosity, since he's giving these random people the water skins made from an animal he knew well and respected.
- The really confusing thing is that he's called a skin-changer, implying that he uses a flayed bear-rug to shapeshift. How does he explain that one to his animal friends? Maybe the term is just poetic.
- Tolkein meant it in the sense of "shapeshifter". Beorn shows up in bear form several times in the story.
- In any case, Beorn almost certainly doesn't need an actual bearskin to shapeshift, since when Gandalf is infodumping he makes it plain he's unsure if Beorn is a man who can change into a bear or a bear who can change into a man (though he thinks the former is more likely). If Beorn needed a bearskin, that would be pretty solid proof that he's "really" a man.
- Notably, during the Company's stay at his home, Beorn snuck off and killed a warg, afterwards nailing its skin to a tree outside his house, so he wasn't adverse to skinning his enemies. Perhaps the water-skins were made from wargs he'd killed in the past?
- Why would a bear shapeshifter be averse to killing animals, in the first place? Bears are predators.
- Why is it that the Dwarves are so woefully underprepared for their journey? They know they're going on a dangerous quest and attempt to kill Smaug who has proven so far to be unbeatable. Yet until they find the Trolls cave they carry no weapons or any of such sort, their supplies run low often, they keep getting into predictaments and if not for Bilbo and Gandalf I'd be surprised if they could make it out of The Shire without getting into trouble. Except for Glóin and another one (Óin I think) carrying lighter fluid and oil for torches they don't really have anything. Did Thorin not realize that hey maybe going into Troll infested forests and Goblin infested mountains you might need to protect yourselves with weapons and armor in case you ran into trouble?
- They do carry supplies quite often on pack-ponies. It's just that the dangers of their journey means that they lose said supplies quite often (due to the animals taking fright and bolting into a river, being eaten by goblins, having to be left at Mirkwood's edge because they're on loan from Beorn). As for the weapons and armor, they might have been planning to obtain them later on and just took the opportunity to raid the trolls' lair when it came up. Armor is also quite heavy to travel in, and their general idea seems to have been to avoid trouble as much as possible—for instance, if they had known the pass in the Misty Mountains was now infested with goblins, they would have chosen a different path.
- Smaug beat a dwarven army with embedded defenses and a ring of power. Thorin didn't even bring a sword. Little bit of a gap there.
- Of couse, Thorin and company may hae figured that if Smaug can beat a dwarven army with embedded defenses and a ring of power, then why bother to bring a lot of heavy armor and weapons that are just going to be useless against him anyway?
- All that being said, what was Thorin's plan to retake the Mountain, anyway? What was he going to do, exactly, with a handful of Dwarves, a Hobbit, and a Wizard who can't be relied on to actually be there half the time? The Dwarves don't even have up-to-date information about whether the Dragon is even still there, let alone how they can take him down! We as readers know that the whole Quest for Erebor was orchestrated by Gandalf as part of his elaborate plan to eliminate Smaug, but Thorin doesn't know this. In fact Thorin doesn't seem to know much about the situation, nor does he have the patience or humility to ask for help. He comes across less as a great King of Dwarves and more as a hotheaded, stubborn fool, leading a bunch of bigger fools blindly through the wilderness.
- He didn't have one. It was a thievery mission. Getting Smaug killed was just... a lucky side-effect.
- Even still, they must have known that facing the Dragon was going to be a possibility. What were they planning to do in that contingency? Grab as much as they can, run, and try not to get roasted?
- You say that as if it's not the fallback plan of most ragtag adventuring parties.
- The original plan was to nick the Arkenstone, then use that to unite the Dwarves and take back the mountain. Until they get there, they're not even sure Smaug's still around — nobody's seen him in decades. They were planning/hoping that Smaug had buggered off or died or something, and they could just nip in and grab the stone. It wasn't a great plan, but it's all they feasibly had to work with.
- Why is it called the "Battle of Five Armies"? There were armies of dwarves, elves, men, and eagles fighting goblins and wargs. Given that the wargs are every bit as sentient as the eagles, and apparently live free in the wilderness rather than being permanent mounts for the goblins, why don't they count as a separate (sixth) army of bad guys?
- I was always under the impression that Five Armies in reference are indeed dwarves, elves, men, goblins and wargs. The eagles must not count because they're more... air force? Beorn's kind of an army of one...
- Eagles and Beorn don't count because they weren't a part of the massing armies that led to the battle. They came in at the last minute. And though they weren't insignificant, their numbers don't qualify them as an "army", anyway. A couple of dozen troops doesn't make for an army even under the most desperate circumstances.
- I assume the Wargs are counted with the Goblins, as the two races were basically united in the same army.
- This is not the case in the book. The Wargs are an army of their own. I quote:
So began the battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.
- I just wondered about when Gandalf tricked Beorn into having so many visitors by having them only come a few at a time until there were all in. Did Gandalf pull the same trick with Bilbo at the start of the book? Because the dwarfs came to his door bit by bit as well until the last few fell into the room with Gandalf, was this to stop Bilbo turning them away at once like beorn would have? Knowing Gandalf it could be true or it might be coincidence.
- Possibly. The other interpretation, used in the movie, was that Bilbo's house was the rally point to start the quest, and the dwarves arrived at different times because they were coming from different places. It could probably be either one.
- Something I've wondered recently rereading the book. Why didn't Bilbo offer his share of the gold to the Man of Lake Town and the Elves? A fourteenth share is still very large and he only wound up taking only two small chests containing gold and silver back anyway. It’s his anyway to do as he pleases since he did his job as the burglar and I’m sure that would’ve been more than enough to restore Dale and appease the Elves considering how much Gold there was. Would’ve saved a lot of trouble if he had done that instead.
- He technically did. He gave away the Arkenstone.
- Indeed. Bilbo's plan was to steal the Arkenstone and force Thorin to buy it out from Bard with Bilbo's fourteenth share. And it would have worked if not for Thorin's plan to recover the Arkenstone by force with Dáin's help, and for... other complications.
- Why in the world is there a race of being that turn to stone in daylight? What possible type of evolution/magic causes that? A being as large as a troll can't live on mushrooms in caves and it seems incredibly easy for trolls to get stuck out in open during the day given their bulk and low intelligence. How is possible that such a species has even survived that long without starving to death and/or all being turned to stone?
- Mushrooms are not the only things to eat in caves, and they survive the same way any other nocturnal creature does—by going out at night.
- Trolls are artificial beings derived with dark magic from Ents, anyway. No point bringing evolution into it.
- Imperfect magic, to boot. One of the main themes of Tolkien's work is that evil cannot create. Any living creature that Sauron or Morgoth try to make is either a corrupted version or an imperfect copy of something already alive. Trolls are essentially cheap knockoffs of Ents; they naturally have a lot of flaws in their construction.
- Trolls (and orcs, who are inconvenienced rather than killed by sunlight) predate the sun and moon.
- "What's in my pocket" is not a riddle. All riddles by their very nature can be solved using only common sense and logic. Bilbo has asked a question that only psychic or magical powers can answer, and that's not fair.
- Gollum points this out. And Bilbo answers that Gollum didn't ask for a riddle that last round, he said, "Ask us a question." Fair or not, Gollum got what he demanded.
- The narrator mentions this too, though mentions that those who dispute the matter in the end agree that Gollum's mistake was accepting the "riddle" instead of justifiably pressing the point, and thus sealing the agreement.
The Hobbit (animated)
- When the men of Lake-town and the wood elves both demand a share of the treasure after the death of the dragon Smaug, Bilbo instantly agrees with Bard, the new king of Lake-town, and the wood elf king, that there is more than enough treasure to go around, and that all three factions should get a share. Now, Bilbo is clearly presented as being in the right, and as being the reasonable, sensible one, in contrast to the greedy and intransigent dwarf king Thorin. Except that Bilbo is offering to give away treasure that does not belong to him; he could offer to pay the men and elves out of his own fourteenth of the treasure, but does not, even though he ends up keeping much less than a fourteenth anyway. Secondly, the Lake-towners have a reasonable claim, since they helped the dwarves and were, after all, the ones who killed Smaug in the first place, and Bilbo and the dwarves brought Smaug's wrath down on Lake-town, leading to much suffering for its residents. But the wood elves actively hindered the dwarves, imprisoning them without any provocation. Why should they get a share? In fact, how are the wood elves any different from the goblins in this story? The book version is somewhat different, since there the elves are acting in conjunction with the humans, so the elf claim can be argued to be subsidiary to or an extension of the human claim. In the animated movie, however, the elves have simply shown up with their army and demanded a share of what is, after all, Thorin and the dwarves' rightful property, and no one thinks to point out that this is nothing but plain banditry.
- In the book, Bilbo does indeed try to use his own share for that purpose and has to manipulate things to try and get Thorin to let him.
- In the book, it is also pointed out that a goodly amount of the gold was taken by Smaug from Dale, so Bard and his people have a legitimate claim to a share of the treasure.
- When they arrive the elves mention having suffered from attacks by Smaug, which they blame the dwarves for since their hoard was what drew him to the region. They're basically suing for damages.
- "My people have suffered greatly from the wyrm through the years—we demand retribution!"
- The probelm with the first two replies is that they begin "In the book." In the book, the story is a little different, as I pointed out in the original comment. As for the second two, the elves do indeed have a grievance with Smaug, but they cannot justly ask the dwarves to pay for damages caused by Smaug. That's like arguing that since I have a nice house, that tempted a thief into robbing my house, and, in the process, the thief stole your car to make his getaway, therefore I owe you for the loss of your car.
Gandalf's epic Quest of Erebor-gambit
- If Gandalf is one of the wisest and most powerful people on Middle-earth, someone who's basically needed to keep things running as they should, why exactly does he spend so much time in The Hobbit just hanging around with a bunch of dwarves? Doesn't he have better things to do than find them a burglar and periodically rescue them from the trouble they get into? It's not so blatant in The Hobbit proper but once you start reading the other books you really start to wonder.
- See above regarding the vital strategic necessity of making sure that Smaug is dead before Sauron can recruit him. Remember that by the chronology the events of the The Hobbit occur almost immediately after Gandalf has just finished confirming that 'The Necromancer of Dol Guldur' is in fact Sauron, and not some lesser evil.
- Didn't a simple hobbit kill Smaug?
- Nope. Smaug was killed by Bard, a guardsman from Esgaroth who just happened to descend from the King of Dale. All Bilbo did was flatter Smaug until he stupidly showed off the weak point he didn't know he had, information that reached Bard at the 11th hour.
- And both the simple hobbit being in position to speak to Smaug and Smaug's follow-up attack on Esgaroth, where he died, were both a direct result of Gandalf helping manipulate Thorin's expedition into existence in the first place. Left to their own devices, Smaug would have spent the next several decades peacefully sleeping on his pile of gold, until the War of the Ring started and Sauron made him an offer.
- In one of the Unfinished Tales, it's stated that Gandalf had two reasons for helping Thorin on this quest. First, he knew Smaug needed to be dealt with lest Sauron come up with a way to use him. Second, he wanted to re-establish a Dwarf kingdom at the Lonely Mountain. He was afraid that Sauron would use the same route that Bilbo and the Dwarves used in order to attack Rivendell, and that without the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the men of Dale, there weren't enough "good" people in the North to stop him. Finally, it's also implied that on some level, Gandalf had retained enough of his divine knowledge to have an inkling that something else important was going to happen if Bilbo came on this quest.
- Also, as to the "something more important to do", he did, in fact several times after getting over the Misty Mountains he tells the Dwarves he has pressing matters elsewhere, is already running late, and has to go, till finally he does leave them before entering Mirkwood. The pressing business he was hurrying off to? Driving Sauron out of Dol Guldor with the rest of the White Council.
- This is actually covered in the appendices to LotR, where Gandalf mentions how Thorin just happened to show up grumbling about the dragon in Bree while the wizard was thinking about how to deal with the Smaug problem. It wouldn't take a genius to go "Hey! I bet the dwarves who are holding an epic grudge can kill my dragon problem!" That way he would be free to deal with Sauron on his own.
- Outside the story, Tolkien, from what I understand, wrote The Hobbit separately from the Lord of the Rings world, and only later put the two together.
- Tolkien did indeed think of The Hobbit as being separate from the invented universe he'd been working on for years, and it shows up in his early drafts; for example, in the first edition of The Hobbit, Bilbo finds the ring and keeps it, and then meets Gollum and has a riddle-game with him because Gollum wants to eat him. Gollum loses and agrees to give Bilbo a present — namely, his magic ring, which Tolkien (at the time he was originally writing The Hobbit) just thought of as a way of making yourself invisible. Gollum goes off to get said ring and can't find it (because Bilbo has it) and is all apologetic, and actually shows Bilbo the way out — and that's the last we see of him. Years later, when Tolkien was trying to think up a sequel for The Hobbit, he had the idea of centring it on Bilbo's ring, and Retconned the ring to be an evil, powerful artefact crafted by Sauron. This meant that when his publishers brought out a second edition of The Hobbit, he completely rewrote the stuff with Gollum, making the ring into the Precious and lighting the spark that Gollum hated "Baggins" and wanted revenge. Like all of Tolkien's books, the tale (in the words of Word of God) "grew in the telling".
- Another reason, expressed in Unfinished Tales, is because Thorin insisted on it. Given how cynical and contemptuous he was of Bilbo, he agreed to take him only on the condition that Gandalf came along to look after his 'darling' until Bilbo had proved his worth. Gandalf's own route was also largely the same as the dwarves- he had to go east too, and then likely over the mountains himself (going via the Gap of Rohan would have been far too far), so Gandalf agreed.
- Okay, so Gandalf engineered the quest to kill off Smaug so that Sauron couldn't recruit him later. What made Gandalf think that the dwarves plus Bilbo would be able to do away with Smaug? The dwarves had been no match for Smaug when he had first attacked, even though they were stronger and more numerous then, and Smaug was weaker. Okay, yes, it all worked out in the end, through a process Gandalf really could not have foreseen, but wouldn't Gandalf have thought at the beginning that he was sending these people to their deaths?
- It seems likely that Gandalf originally had a plan in place, but it required him to be in the neighborhood - he may have had some dragon-slaying weapon or secret all lined up, but when he abruptly had to go deal with the Dol Guldur situation, he simply had to hope that things would not come to a head until he had a chance to get back.
- Rather than steal the Arkenstone, give it to Thorin's supposed "enemies", and pissing the shit out of Thorin (AND THE 500 dwarven warriors from the Iron Hills sent as reinforcements,), why didn't Bilbo simply offer his fourteenth share for the sake of peace to begin with? In the end, he only wound up with two small chests of gold&silver anyway, he knew from the start there was no way he could have lugged his entire share home. He even said, after the Arkenstone was shown to Thorin, that Thorin could use Bilbo's fourteenth share to pay for the exchange. Why not offer his share to begin with? Y'know, rather than make everyone more hostile by stealing a valuable heirloom and giving it to their enemies. I know it all worked out fine in the end, but still.
- Because it wasn't about value, it was about leverage. Giving the Arkenstone to the men and elves meant that they had something that Thorin would really want—something he would be willing to bargain for and negotiate for. Bilbo's share of the gold? Thorin wouldn't have cared one wit about it. It was about getting Thorin to cooperate, not the men and elves.
- I believe the above troper's point was that had Bilbo simply given away his share, there would have been no need for Thorin to cooperate. As you point out yourself, Thorin wouldn't have cared about Bilbo's share, and he could have done with it as he pleased. As is pointed out on the non-headscratcher pages, the text makes clear Bilbo basically intended to steal the Arkenstone for himself, which is why he had it anyway... giving it away to the opposing forces was more an attack of conscience than anything else. More accurately, the Arkenstone is a near-literal Conflict Ball that various people are handing around for no other reason than to get the Battle of Five Armies moving.
- Bilbo may at that point have been suffering from the doubts planted by Smaug, over whether or not Thorin actually intended to pay him at all, once his job of getting to the treasure was done. From Thorin's later behavior this is understandable. Also, Thorin had come out and stated that he refused to pay anything while there were armed men and especially the hated Elves at his gates; this probably included anything Bilbo offered to pay. He would likely have been refused permission to turn over even his own share, as it would have been seen as Thorin capitualting.
- there is also the One Ring in Bilbo's possession as well. The thing is semi-sentient and essentially exists to cause evil. It might have motivated Bilbo into stealing the Arkenstone and handing it other to Thorin's "enemies". The ring was able to inspire unwarranted homicidal rage in a hobbit (gollum) of all creatures for crying out loud.
- So when Elrond is reading the map, Gandalf tells Bilbo that Durin's Day is "the start of the Dwarves' new year when the last Moon of Autumn and the first Sun of Winter appear in the sky together." ...Did everybody else just forget that part, or what?
- well, can you blame them? The movie skips over this detail quite a bit but Thorin and Company were on the road to Erebor for a good six months or so, roughly (May to November I would hazard to guess sine Gandalf said last moon of autumn. So maybe even eight). That's a long time to remember the map's specific instructions, especially considering all the stressful life-threatening events that follow.
- Why do the dwarves require Elrond to read the map of the Lonely Mountain in the first place? We know that Ori is literate and are told that the map was only about 120 years old. Languages do not decay that quickly, if it was written in some form of old dwarvish the word roots would allow a reader to get the gist of the message, for example compare Geoffrey Chaucer to modern English. In addition how did Elrond know there were 'Moon Runes' on the map and when they could be read? If you are leaving an encoded message you are unlikely to say 'oh don't forget to read the important secret message in the bottom left.'
- The map can be read perfectly fine. And neither Elrond nor anyone else knew that there were moon-letters on the map; it was a lucky coincidence that he got to read the map on the date and under the conditions on which the letters would be visible.
- Is there some particular reason they couldn't have just opened the door and waited for Gandalf, THE WIZARD, to show up so they had some vague hope of facing a dragon? They just had to OPEN the door on Durin's Day, there's no reason they couldn't have camped out right there until Gandalf came back.
- They didn't know when Gandalf was coming back. Also, do you really think Thorin Oakenshield is just going to sit there twiddling his thumbs with his peoples' ancestral wealth and the ancestral enemy that took it from them within his reach? Because I don't.
Smaug and dragons
- Why are dragons so poorly adapted physically? Specifically, why are they armored on their backs, but not on their bellies? How does it make sense to give a flying creature an armored back but not an armored underside? Who or what is going to attack a dragon from above?
- This is pretty easy, actually. The first dragons weren't flyers - they were basically huge snakes with legs, and their bodies were so low to the ground that the odds of someone attacking their bellies was miniscule (Túrin in The Silmarillion had to attack the dragon Glaurung while he was crossing a gorge in order to even have a shot at attacking him from below). Winged dragons were a later "model", and nobody ever called Morgoth the most practical or thorough of engineers- he probably just figured out how to slap wings on the basic creatures he already had and declared it "good enough".
- Perhaps this is why dragons like Smaug have a huge love of gold and other precious metals. An insurance of having armor for the soft-underbelly.
- Also, you have to consider that evolution isn't just a species getting better over time for no reason; it requires environmental pressure. The dragons never evolved projection for their bellies after developing flight because at that point, nothing was killing them frequently enough to affect their reproduction, and Arda is so relatively young that no dragon had the right set of mutations to pass on a set of hard-bellied traits.
- Winged dragons aren't due to evolution. They were due to genetic engineering by Morgoth. The answer is simple: winged dragons were first unveiled at the final battle of the first age as Morgoth's last defense against the armies of Valinor. They were literally prototypes that he never got to perfect.
- It should be noted that evolution in general simply doesn't happen in Middle-Earth. It runs on a mixture of creationism and lamarcianism. Evil creatures in particular don't evolve, much. They find themselves a comfortable niche and get increasingly stuck in it, unless driven by an external force. This is visible in any corrupt creature from Gollum to the Balrog of Moria, and even Sauron and Morgoth, himself.
- Um, creationism (general definition, not the long-rejected 'stasis' variation) does not mean 'no evolution'. It simply means the universe was created via divine action, allowing for speciation but not having one creature evolving into another kind of creature (Ex. certain dinosaurs to birds). Just thought I'd clear that up.
- Do dragons go extinct at some point in the overall universe? I remember that they were described as no longer being as great when Elrond is discussing the ring in Fellowship, but I'm not sure.
- Dragons are still around during LOTR, most likely. Gandalf only says that there is almost certainly no dragon alive powerful enough to harm the One Ring (and speculates that likely no dragon ever, not even Ancalagon, who was considered the most powerful, could have done it). This is a mistake people commonly make, actually. I do believe it's established that after Smaug's death there was never another dragon of his epic stature, however.
- Canonically, Smaug descended on the Lonely Mountain from an area to the north called the Withered Heath, where dragons are supposedly common. As stated, though, Smaug was known to be the largest and oldest of those dragons. Maybe Sauron bred the fell beasts the Ringwraiths later ride from the lesser dragons?
- Why did the Necromancer, who was of course really Sauron, imprison and torture Thráin, Thorin's father? What was he hoping to achieve? He took Thráin's ring of power, the last of the dwarven rings, but then never did anything with it. And he hardly had to imprison Thráin for any great length of time or torture him just to get his ring. Why not try to subvert Thráin? Why not offer to help him defeat Smaug and get his treasure and his kingdom back in exchange for his ring and his fealty?
- Revenge, for the rings not being able to corrupt the dwarves.
- If that's true, then Sauron was an idiot. What does that actually achieve? And he misses a huge opportunity.
- Opportunity for what? Dwarves aren't short humans with beards; they're stated as having been made in the beginning to withstand the domination of others (which, of course, is why the rings did little more than make them greedy). Even in the pits of Dol Guldur, Thráin would in all likelihood tell Sauron to go fuck himself before agreeing to serve him. Look at Fellowship; Sauron promises Dáin the three taken dwarf-rings and the Mines of Moria in exchange for one measly hobbit; Dáin sends Glóin and Gimli to Rivendell to warn Bilbo and takes up his axe.
- Just because one dwarf, who was already the ruler of a wealthy kingdom, resisted temptation, does not mean that any and all dwarves will resist temptation. Thráin was, after all, in much more desperate circumstances. And even if Thráin refused to be bribed, what did holding him and torturing him accomplish, once Sauron had his ring? It just seems pointless.
- When did Sauron become the paragon of Pragmatic Villainy?
- To elaborate, Sauron hates anyone and anything he can't control. Though we know very little about what actually went down between him and Thráin, one would assume that if he made such an offer and Thráin threw it in his face (and remember that though the dwarves as a whole tend to stay out of wars with whoever the current Dark Lord is, Durin's Folk have traditionally opposed Sauron, so their king- even a king in exile- certainly wouldn't bow down to an ancestral enemy for any reason) Sauron would easily be angry enough to have him tortured.
- Another reason could be to extract information from Thráin (whether or not Thráin would actually tell Sauron anything is, as others have noted, up for debate). As King of a prominent (if at that point at their lowest) dwarven house, Thráin might have been in the possession of a lot of knowledge that Sauron would find useful for his purposes.
- It's in character for Sauron to play with his food. Beren and friends aren't killed outright: he locks them in the dungeons with a hungry werewolf pack. Frodo expects to survive a considerable time once Sauron has taken the Ring off him. Why would Sauron want to kill a helpless victim, especially one who had had a ring of power taken off him?