What Style Does J.R.R. Tolkien Use to Appeal to Children in The Hobbit
‘The Hobbit, or There and Back Again’ is one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of literature ever produced, with over a hundred million copies sold already and more being picked off the shelves every day. The author, J. R. R. Tolkien, originally wrote The Hobbit for the amusement of his own children, as noted by Christopher Tolkien in 1937; ‘Daddy wrote it ages ago, and read it to John, Michael and me in our Winter “Reads” after tea in the evening.’ Thus, it is clear that children are the implied readership of Tolkien’s cult classic. The author manifests the status of the book as a piece of children’s literature by employing a simple plot design and various kinds of word plays while keeping explicit brutal and sexual descriptions or even an allusion to the said themes, and other adult themes at bay. The linguistic style used by the author may be described as whimsical by a few, but it is most suitable for children, the book’s intended audience. The names of the dwarves in the company of Thorin Oakenshield are rhyming such as ‘Dwalin and Balin’, ‘Kili and Fili’, ‘Dori, Nori and Ori’, ‘Bifur, Bofur and Bombur’ and ‘Oin and Gloin’. While these names are amusing, they are also easy to remember for children at the same time. The game of riddles between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum is an extravagant linguistic playfulness that a child would adore, especially considering the fact children love riddles. Moreover, it nurtures the intellect and challenges the thinking capacity of the readers as they subconsciously try to answer the riddle themselves before the answer is revealed by the author.
The book is full of various mirthful and beguiling songs and poems, all of which serve a specific purpose as well. The song ‘Far over the misty mountains cold’ in chapter 1 describes the once glorious kingdom of Thrór, King under the Mountain, its ruination by the mighty Smaug and at the same time foreshadows the perilous journey the company of dwarves and the hobbit must undertake in order to reclaim their gold. The song ‘Clap! Snap! The black crack!’ sung by the Goblins in chapter 4, though whimsical, serves a purpose of inspiring terror and narrates what the Goblins do to those whom they have captured, which here refers to the company of dwarves and the hobbit. The songs ‘Old fat spider spinning in a tree!’ and ‘Lazy Lob and Crazy Cob’ in chapter 8 are the amusing pieces composed by Bilbo Baggins, apparently at the spur of the moment. It served the purpose of distracting the Great Spiders in Mirkwood while Bilbo Baggins liberated his companions. One of the most interesting poems in The Hobbit is ‘The King beneath the mountains’, which prophecises the fate of Esgaroth once Thorin becomes the King under the Mountain. The prophecy did come true, but not in a way that the folk of the Lake-town imagined. The folk of the Lake-town imagined ‘the rivers golden run’ and ‘The lakes shall shine and burn’ which is a metaphor for flourishment of businesses in the Lake-town. The prophecy’s word proved to be true, quite literally, when the mighty Smaug set the Lake-town ablaze.
The absense of explicit language to describe brutal scenes, even when the situation demanded it, is also observed. In chapter 4, Gandalf kills the Great Goblin and the author describes it as “Suddenly a sword flashed in its own light. Bilbo saw it go right through the Great Goblin as he stood dumbfounded in the middle of his rage. He fell dead, and the goblin soldiers fled before the sword shrieking into the darkness.” Tolkien describes the killing blow simply as “…go right through the Great Goblin…”. There is no mention of any blood or gore, which would have made much sense here as the Great Goblin is an insinuating personality who the readers are impelled to loathe right from the instance he is introduced as a character. He refers to the dwarves as ‘miserable persons’, ‘thieves’, ‘liars’ and ‘murderers’. The destruction of Esgaroth by the mighty Smaug was another rampage in the book which is described by the author as follows; “A sweep of his tail and the roof of the Great House crumbled and smashed down. Flames unquenchable sprang high into the night. Another swoop and another, and another house and then another sprang afire and fell, and still, no arrow hindered Smaug or hurt him more than a fly from the marshes.”
The destruction of Esgaroth is described vividly. There are clear mentions of loss of property, however, there are only allusions to the loss of human life. There is no blood or gore whatsoever, which makes it suitable for children. Even the most brutal battle of the book, The Battle of the Five Armies, is linguistically pacified to conceal the explicit brutality of the battle. The author simply writes ‘It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most – which is to say it was the one he was most proud of and most fond of recallinglong afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it.’ A prominent feature of children’s books is a child protagonist (or a childish protagonist in case the protagonist is not a human). A few of the most successful pieces of literature written for children that were published before The Hobbit, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, for example, and those that were published after The Hobbit, The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, for example, feature a child protagonist. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by Tolkien’s friend and peer, C. S. Lewis, which was published around the same time as The Hobbit, also feature child protagonists. At first glance, this prominent feature of children’s literature seems to be missing in Tolkien’s work, but when analysed carefully, it can be deduced that the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, himself is a manifestation of a child. Bilbo Baggins, or rather hobbits as a race at large are an ideal reflection of the book’s intended audience, children. Hobbits are small in stature and childish in mentality. They tend to eat a lot, dress in bright colours and don’t wear shoes. The hobbits also adore lexically creative puns, riddles and poems which do not always respect the boundaries of grammar. Through the course of the book, Bilbo’s development as a character can be compared with the growth of a child. His adventures lead him out of the ideal world, the Shire, in search of his maturity, wholeness and social awareness in an unideal world.
At the beginning of the adventure, he is naive and unpretentious. He says ‘I have come without my hat, and I have left my pocket-handkerchief behind’ to Dwalin, a dwarf, replies ‘You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end.’ This foreshadows a great many stuggles and difficulties that the Hobbit would have to face before the end of the adventure. Perhaps the defining moment of Bilbo’s development can we witnessed when he gave Arkenstone to the people of the Lake-town and the elves as a bargaining chip. He risked his life and betrayed his company with whom he had been through the good and the bad just to avoid conflict. He is one of the most reasonable personalities in the whole affair as he points out that the ‘winter is coming on fast,’ and ‘snow and what not and supplies will be difficult–even for elves’.
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‘The Hobbit, or There and Back Again’ is one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of literature ever produced, with over a hundred million copies sold already and more being […]