Academic journal article Mythlore

"The Inner Consistency of Reality": Intermediacy in the Hobbit

Academic journal article Mythlore

"The Inner Consistency of Reality": Intermediacy in the Hobbit

Article excerpt

Speculations on Intermediacy

This essay will discuss intermediacy in The Hobbit It will concentrate both on what I will call representational intermediacy--the way Bilbo's adventures are ensconced in an ongoing world that is granted an autonomous and thickly detailed fictional reality--and biographical intermediacy, the way Bilbo is represented as being of middle age. These two intermediacies are crucial in showing both how The Hobbit both built on the children's books before it and how it achieved something utterly different.

The first sentence of The Hobbit portrays an intermediate state. Bilbo's hole is described as "not a nasty, dirty, wet hole," but also not "a dry, bare, sandy hole"; "comfort" lies in-between (I.29). Tom Shippey has famously analyzed Bilbo's state as "bourgeois" (72). Corey Olsen has seen it as "sedate and predictable" (21). I want to look at it from a slightly different vantage point and examine Bilbo's home in terms of intermediacy. This will allow us to go further and explore other sorts of intermediacy in the book: hobbits as intermediate between children and adults, Bilbo as taking part in the intermediacy of middle age, hobbits as intermediaries between the normal and the epic, the real and the fantastic, hobbits as intermediaries between human and the animal. More speculatively, there is the intermediary role The Hobbit played between Tolkien's early explorations into the Silmarillion material and his mature forging of the Lord of the Rings, as well as the intermediacy represented by the maps and incipient internal context, what Shippey calls the "humility and compromise" (85) of the world The Hobbit begins to create. As Gandalf tells the wiser Bilbo at the end of the tale, "you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!" (XIX.363). In writing The Hobbit, Tolkien began to glimpse the wider world he further expanded The Lord of the Rings. He did this by finding intermediate histories between the already-extant legends of the First Age and the humdrum existence of the pre-adventure Bilbo.

The Hobbit in Literary Context

Understanding this intermediacy requires placing The Hobbit in the context of the children's literature of the preceding few generations. When The Hobbit first appeared it was compared, in the proposed book jacket of its first American edition, to Alice in Wonderland: "Here again a professor of an abstruse subject is at play" (qtd. in Tolkien, Letters 21). In The New York Times, Anne T. Eaton began her review: "Like 'Alice in Wonderland,' it comes from Oxford University, where the author is Professor of Anglo-Saxon, and like Lewis Carroll's story, it was written for children that the author knew (in this case his own four children) and then inevitably found a larger audience." That being said, it is clear that, although Tolkien read Alice, this famous children's book did not have any especial appeal to him; according to Humphrey Carpenter it "amused" but did not thrill him as a child (22). But part of the alchemy of authorship is that books which do not seem to register on a surface level can inform on a deep one. Indeed, it is this essay's contention that the influence had little to do with tone or narrative incident but rather the fundamental postulation of the two books: imaginative worlds. Dimitra Fimi has speculated (91) that Tolkien knew Carroll's Jabberwocky and that inspired him in some of his experiments in linguistic aesthetic, which indeed seems evidenced in Tolkien's use of "jabberwocks of historical and antiquarian research" in "Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics" (9) to rebuke those pedantic critics who will not see Beowulf as a poem. It is no accident that this reference comes up in the context of poetry and linguistic research. Despite the very different casts of their minds, Carroll and Tolkien were both interested in language as game and as practice.

There are deeper resemblances between the two books, though. …

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