Saturday, April 16, 2016

Homes, Dwellings, and Homelessness in The Hobbit

Prompt from The Tolkien Society:  Carefully read the book you want to work from if you have not already done this. Note down and think about all the different kinds of places in which characters live. Do they seem strange, and if they do, why do you think this is? How do all the different homes make you feel about the characters and the story? How do you feel about characters who do not have homes? How do characters feel when they have to leave their homes?

I'm going to focus on The Hobbit for this essay.

Let's start with homes.  I'm loosely defining "homes" as an above ground structure.  We get Beorn's house in the chapter Queer Lodgings described:
They soon came to a wooden gate, high and broad, beyond which they could see gardens and a cluster of low wooden buildings, some thatched and made of unshaped logs: barns, stables, sheds, and a long low wooden house.  Inside on the southward side of the great hedge were rows and rows of hives with bell-shaped tops made of straw.  The noise of the giant bees flying to and fro and crawling in and out filled all the air.[...] Soon they reached a courtyard, three walls of which were formed by the wooden house and its two long wings.  In the middle there was lying a great oak-trunk with many lopped branches beside it. (The Hobbit 118)
Beorn's house is very natural and outdoorsy, most likely because he is half-bear.  Beorn has a very large home and many servants which is odd, considering he lives alone.  He goes out often at night in bear form so one might surmise that he doesn't spend that much time at home anyway.  But by the "lopped" branches it is clear that Beorn is responsible for building his house.  He apparently put a lot of work into it.

Beorn chose to have his home located near the Carrock, a pretty conspicuous location.  I would guess this is because he likes to be intimidating to the goblins and is sounds as though his ancestors had lived there for many ages.
animal, zoo, bear
We don't get much description of any of the homes of Laketown, aside from the fact that they are on the lake.  They were most likely made of wood considering the natural resources available in the area and how Smaug was able to set it on fire rather easily.  The Men live right on top of their source of wealth and their environment is very important to them.

Now, the dwellings.  There are three underground dwellings: Bag End, the goblin's tunnels, and the elvenking's halls.  Tolkien starts off the Hobbit with a rather lengthy description of Bag End:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.  
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.  The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats--the hobbit was fond of visitors.  The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill--the Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it--and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another.  No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage.  The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.  (Hobbit 1)
I find it interesting that before even Bilbo is described, Tolkien describes his home.  We learn a lot about the hobbit just by hearing the description of his home which makes it for interesting exposition.  We are told that:

  1. Hobbits value comfort ("and that means comfort")
  2. Hobbits take good care of their homes (painting a door green and getting a brass knob in the exact middle)
  3. Hobbits have generally nice homes (no smoke, paneled walls, tile and carpet, polished chairs)
  4. Hobbits enjoy visitors ("the hobbit was fond of visitors")
  5. This specific Hobbit has a well-known home ("the Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it")
  6. Hobbits are similar to us (they need bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries, wardrobes, kitchens, dining-rooms, etc.)
  7. Hobbits eat a lot ("pantries (lots of these)")
  8. Hobbits have a lot of clothes ("wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes)")
  9. Hobbits like looking outside ("the best rooms were...the only ones to have windows")
  10. Hobbits like gardens and meadows ("looking over his garden, and meadows beyond...")
Compare Bilbo's idyllic home with the dwellings of the goblins:
It was deep, deep, dark, such as only goblins that have taken to living in the heart of the mountains can see through.  The passages there were crossed and tangled in all directions, but the goblins knew their way, as well as you do to the nearest post-office; and the way went down and down, and it was horribly stuffy. (Hobbit 60)

Whereas Bilbo's dwelling was comfortable and clean, the goblins' tunnels are eternally uneasy and complicated.  This draws further comparison between Bilbo and the goblins, and good and evil.

The elvenking's halls are described:
In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king.  Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands.  the great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more wholesome than any goblin-dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous.  In fact, the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches.  The beeches were their favorite trees.  The king's cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies.  It was also the dungeon of his prisoners.[...] If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems, and though his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. (Hobbit 168)
We get a direct comparison between the goblins and the elvenking's halls right within the passage.  Something that strikes me about this description, is it's similarity to Doriath from the First Age.  Doriath too was built in the middle of the woods and was protected by strong elven magic.  It's main hall was called Menegroth, meaning the Thousand Caves because it was an underground stronghold.  The king of Menegroth, Thingol, also had a weakness for treasure, particularly certain gems (the Silmarils) which caused his death and the downfall of his kingdom.  The similarity between the two kings' homes furthers the comparison between their weaknesses.
Menegroth
The final topic of this essay is homelessness.  One prominent group is homeless throughout the course of this story and seeks their to get back to their homeland--the dwarves.  The dwarves find it so important to reclaim not only the treasure, but the honor of having their homeland back that they are willing to face a dragon to get it.  The dwarves are disgraced to be homeless and are continually distraught until they reclaim Erebor.

But there are other homeless groups, as well.  The larger number of dwarves before Thorin went back to their first dwelling, Khazad-dum even facing a Balrog to do it.  You would think that dwarves understand the pains of homelessness, however, when the people of homeless people of Laketown (homeless because of the dwarves, I might add) come begging for what is rightfully theirs in order to rebuild their homes, the dwarves deny them:
"Who are you, and of what would you parley?"
"I am Bard, and by my hand was the dragon slain and your treasure delivered.  Is that not a matter that concerns you?  Moreover I am by right descent the heir of Girion of Dale, and in your hoard is mingled much of the wealth of his halls and towns, which of old Smaug stole.  Is that not a matter of which we may speak?  Further in his last battle Smaug destroyed the dwellings of the men of Esgaroth, and I am yet the servant of their Master.  I would speak for him and ask whether you have no thought for the sorrow and misery of his people.  They aided you in your distress, and in recompense you have thus far brought ruin only, though doubtless undesigned."...
 "To the treasure of my people no man has a claim, because Smaug who stole it from us also robbed him of life or home...
"But you are not dead and we are not robbers.  Moreover the wealthy may have pity beyond right on the needy that befriended them when they were in want..." (The Hobbit 265)


In summary, the homes in The Hobbit, those of Beorn and the Men of Laketown demonstrate their relationships to their environments.  The dwellings of Bilbo, the goblins, and the elvenking draw comparisons between themselves and others like them.  The homeless groups show the necessity for mercy and compassion.

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