Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘Indeed, Following Bilbo’s Development from Massively Incompetent to Marginally Incompetent Is One of the Pleasures of the Narrative’

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I stress the ‘incompetence’ angle in my retelling here because, really, that’s what characterises the main players. It’s an endearing incompetence, used partly for comedy; partly for dramatic purposes (by way of ratcheting up the narrative tension and keeping things interesting) and partly to facilitate the readers’—our—engagement. Because we can be honest; we’d be rubbish on a dangerous quest. We’re hobbitish types ourselves, and our idea of fun is snuggling into the sofa with a cup of cocoa and a good book, not fighting gigantic spiders with a sword. Or more precisely, we enjoy fighting giant spiders with a sword in our imaginations only. The book has sold as many copies as it has in part because the Hobbits are able (textually-speaking) so brilliantly to mediate our modern, cosseted perspectives and the rather forbidding antique warrior code and the pitiless Northern-European Folk Tale world.

That there is something haphazard about the larger conception of this adventure is part of its point: obviously, it makes for a jollier tale if an obviously unsuitable comic-foil is sent on a dangerous quest than some super-competent swordsman alpha-male. The bumbling, homely qualities of Bilbo, and the pinball-ball bouncing trajectory from frying pan to fire to bigger fire of the narrative, are loveable aspects of the whole. And that’s right: the motor of the story is the idea that adventure will come and find you, and winkle you out of your comfortable hidey-hole. It’s a beguiling idea, in part because it literalises the action of story itself. We settle ourselves to read, in physical comfort; but the story itself transports us imaginatively out of our hole and away, upon all manner of precarious, exciting, absorbing and diverting journeys.

Adam Roberts explains The Hobbit.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

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