Thursday, October 16, 2014

Questions about The Hobbit, Fall 2014

Continuing my Fantasy Fiction course's strategy of focusing on my students' questions, here are some they wrote about Tolkien's The Hobbit late last month (plus a few on Peter Jackson's movie trilogy).

  • How long did the quest take?  How much time had passed when Bilbo returns to The Shire?  About a year or so?
  • Why is it in every fantasy story they have to cross the continent to the farthest geographical point possible?
  • Why is Middle Earth the staple for fantasy?
  • Why did Bilbo take the Arkenstone?
  • How long was Bilbo knocked out when he gets hit in the head by the rock (after the eagles)?
  • Why does Bilbo take so long to share with his friends about the ring? What did he think was going to happen if he told people when he first got it?
  • After Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the cave, asking riddles in the dark, why did he not tell Gandalf about where he was after he reunited with the group?  Is it because the ring compelled him not to?
  • Why is Bilbo unharmed by the ring's usage?  Why does Sauron not send for him?  And, furthermore, how is Bilbo not weakened and maddened by the ring as many other characters in Middle Earth are?
  • Why is the Ring portrayed so much more positively in The Hobbit than in The Lord of the Rings?
  • Bilbo Baggins never seems to be heroic on purpose; everything that happens to him seems to happen on accident, at least early in the novel:  is this because fate is just playing out, meaning Bilbo really was destined to be on this journey, as Gandalf said, or because Bilbo is not a hero?
  • Why was Bilbo so content with going home and "not being in great danger ever again"?  The adventure was the greatest experience he would ever be a part of, so why not go with Gandalf and adventure more?  Seems so much better than staying at home.
  • What drives Bilbo's sense of adventure and his ability to face such danger he is so unaccustomed to?
  • How do Bilbo's internal emotions relate to the other characters within the story?
  • Do we see characters switching roles throughout the story, and how so?
  • What is the significance of the characters switching roles?
  • To what degree can a family heritage affect the quests of Tolkien's characters?
  • In the second half of The Hobbit, a good amount of action occurs, but the small amount of Smaug is honestly surprising to me.  As one of the main anti-heroes of the story you would expect to see a lot more of him or at least of his story.  So my question is, was Smaug the true villain of the story?  I don't believe so.  I believe "the darkness" is what is evil, whether it be the dark forests and spiders or the Necromancer.
  • Who is the Necromancer?  Is he a Witch King?  Is he the main antagonist?  Or is that Smaug?
  • Why did wizard stuff take place off-stage?
  • Why are necromancers so underrated?
  • What idiot told the Goblins Smaug was dead?
  • Why did the Lake Men destroy the bridge when their foe was in the sky?
  • Why didn't they just take the eagles?
  • I question the use of the upbeat, cheerful narrator that we talked about last time.  Why choose to do this?  Why not a darker narrator?
  • Why did the narrator change perspectives so many times?
  • Why didn't Tolkien give each dwarf their own identity and distinguish them from one another?
  • Why would the author choose to use 13 dwarves?  It seems like they are not all necessary to the story.
  • In a world full of so many epic tales (the Kinslaying, the Fall of Beleriand, the wars against Morgoth, the fall of Numenor, etc.) why did J.R.R. Tolkien write The Hobbit as his first publication of Middle Earth?
  • In the novel, during the epic battle scene (Battle of the Five Armies), Tolkien leaves out many of the details and decides to retell them after the war.  Why does he follow Bilbo's perspective instead of a general and large-scaled view?  And why does he knock Bilbo out?
  • Was The Hobbit an extension of Tolkien's mythology for Britain?
  • How far had the story of The Lord of the Rings been developed when Tolkien was writing The Hobbit?
  • In The Hobbit the one ring isn't really implied to be evil.  It seems to just be a cool magic item to set Bilbo apart.  It doesn't seem to corrupt Bilbo like it does in later stories.  So how much of the world/plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy do you think Tolkien had planned when he wrote The Hobbit?  Do you think that he knew the significance of Bilbo's ring when he wrote The Hobbit, or was this something he added to the trilogy, to tie it into something from the original story?
  • One question I had was about the Necromancer plot point.  Did it really get solved off-screen, with no help from Bilbo?  Was Tolkien just trying to tie up loose ends or was it really that simple to introduce then complete a plot-point off-screen?
  • After seeing how quickly Thorin is accepted by the humans in River Town, it became clear to me that birthright and names go a long way in Middle Earth.  This is reinforced by the power of the Took name affecting Bilbo.  In Tolkien's timeline and history of Middle Earth, does he have an established family tree of sorts for these prestigious names?
  • People often suggest that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for something (WW I or WW II, for example), even though Tolkien hated allegory.  I wonder, then, what The Hobbit's allegory could be?
  • Why does Tolkien neglect any diversity in gender in his characters?
  • Why do they change the movie so much from the book?  I know that action movies make more money, but it seems like a disservice to Tolkien and the novel.
  • Why did the movie director create the movie?  What point of view was he attracted to?

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