“The Hobbit” Read-Along Chapter 3: “A Short Rest”
That’s right, everyone. ”The Hobbit” read-along is taking place over at The Warden’s Walk and I’m in charge of explicating/reviewing/pondering chapter 3! I know I’m late in posting this and I do apologize for those who have been eagerly refreshing their screens in hopes of getting the next installment of the read-along. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you may have noticed that I’m not posting much of anything right now–and indeed won’t be for awhile (but that’s okay because Briana’s wonderful posts completely cover my absence). My life is currently busy and complicated and all manner of crazy. So, in the interest of fulfilling my obligations to the promotion of all things Tolkien, I’m not really going to explicate my chapter (sorry about that), but rather throw down some thoughts as they occur to me. Feel free to generate more discussion in the comments (thereby imparting to this post some manner of legitimacy).
I’ve read The Hobbit several times and each time chapter three sticks out to me due to one thing: those Elves singing “tra-la-la-lally”. I don’t think this is Tolkien’s crowning achievement in poetry, it is true, and I sometimes chuckle to myself over how a place known for its poetry and song could be introduced to readers with this particular song. Poetic merits aside, however, the song presents much bigger issues to me. After all, readers familiar with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion know that Elves are these ethereal, other-worldly beings remarkable for their nobility and wisdom. Certainly no one envisions Hugo Weaving’s Elrond singing “tra-la-la-lally”!
I’m not convinced this moment can be explained away by saying that The Hobbit came before The Lord of the Rings since Tolkien did edit The Hobbit to make it fit more smoothly into his mythos. Furthermore, we receive hints of the noble Elves we will come to know in Tolkien’s description of Elrond: “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.” So, maybe, if we try to fit Tolkien’s Hobbit Elves into our conception of his later Elves, we’re approaching his work from the wrong way. Maybe we don’t need to perform mental gymnastics to create consistency. Maybe Tolkien is being consistent, but our modern mindset hasn’t prepared us to recognize that.
Assuming the “tra-la-la-lally” Elves must be different from the Lord of the Rings Elves implies that silly and serious cannot exist together. But the Elves are remarkable for more than their high poetry or tragic history. They are remarkable for their connection to Eru and the Undying Lands. Many of the Elves have seen the light of Valinor. They have known joy. Can the joy they have be related to the light-hearted songs and jokes of the Rivendell Elves? And aren’t light-hearted song- and joke-making actually two of the most serious activities a person can engage in? Life can be hard and full of sorrow, as the Elves, who have lost Valinor, perhaps know better than anyone else in Middle-earth. However, they refuse to let sorrow have the last word; they engage in song-making, even silly song-making, because they know that no sorrow lasts forever.
*Note: I can’t recall from memory whether the Rivendell Elves actually were in Valinor (I’m inclining towards no), but I think the point about joy and seriousness still stands. Plus, I’m sure that the Elves who were not in Valinor know and are affected by the tragic loss their kinsmen suffered.
Continue the read-along this Thursday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!