Ch. 4 – Relations

Relations – Bilbo POV

In which the past is pondered, hospitality is served, songs are sung, and Bilbo shows that respectability can cut both ways.


So, how do you fight back when the most valuable social good to posses is to be respectable, and you aren’t?

Traditional societies are violent, disciplinary, bigoted, narrow-minded, greedy, selfish and cruel. They may be viewed through rose-colored glasses, but usually only by those at the top of the social order, for whose comfort and enrichment the society exists. People who refuse their designated position suffer for their resistance. Or, sometimes, they suffer because the people in positions of power and authority decide to treat them badly for shits and giggles.

Resistance requires smarts, a thick skin, and things that other people want, like a hoard of dragon gold. Bilbo’s travels outside of the Shire has given him a view of it that is more critical than his kinsmen. He has found a purpose in his life that he didn’t have before, when he was (like everyone else) more concerned with fitting in than with doing good. He is also, by nature, a kind person, with a capacity for empathy rare anywhere in Middle-earth. He spared Gollum, he has never use the Ring for wicked purposes, he tried to stop a war, he uses his own wealth to make life better for others.

His kindness in fanfic often devolves into treacle, where he’s just a big, cuddly, eccentric, generous guy who dotes on his little cousins. Bilbo is also someone who killed spiders the size of ponies, walked into a dragon’s lair, faced down Gollum, and refused to be cowed into doing wrong by any other character in his adventure. He has a backbone of steel. As a result, he does not hesitate to get right in his less-admirable kin’s faces in ways they find very hard to fight back against. His words are as sharp as Sting’s blade.

This chapter also begins to build out Bilbo’s back story. He’s an interesting guy.



6 thoughts on “Ch. 4 – Relations”

  1. Yes, Sara and Esmie aren’t acting respectable or giving a good example, which calls into question all her concern in the first chapter about Bilbo’s character. Double standards. Sara’s insult was nasty, and so the insulting song. The children’s song was quite charming. Maybe a bit loud for “respectable”, but showing his good heart so any gossip about it would put “mad Baggins” more in the eccentric than dangerous light. He does have a fight ahead of him and he’s determined about.

  2. Hi Julie,

    Respectability comes in different forms, and so does political fighting. Esmie thinks she’s set things up one way and Bilbo has just served notice that he’s not simply going to accept what is going on.

    But it also points to the two-faced bullshit we can see in current US politics and culture where bigotry pretends to be morality and bald-faced lying is given the same (or more) coverage as a “viewpoint” rather than being called out for what it is.

    To go back to an earlier comment thread, this is also one of the reasons I find Aragorn as a character awfully hard to stomach. He’s the king because… he won the testicular lottery. He has managed to be the paternal line descendent of a bunch of idiots who (by JRRT’s own account) fucked up their own kingdom in record time. That’s pretty much his claim to fame. Oh, and he’s a pretty good battle commander, which is a good skill to have given the times. Actual stewardship is rejected (and the defender of that mode of rule subjected to a horrifying death) in favor of divine right of kings. Like, gag me.

    It is one of the least felicitous plot turns in LotR, and makes mockery of science, intelligence, rule of law, experience, good governance, etc. It stands in contrast to the Shire’s sensible elevation of a laborer, Sam, to be their Mayor because, well, he knows how to take care of things properly.


  3. A lot of folk tales I remember have kings or princes in them, even if it was peasants telling the stories originally, or maybe that was the influence of ruling classes funding popular entertainment of the day …

    Strider, who started out as a hobbit named Trotter, got more stereotypically kingly as he got closer to Elessar. Another example, from the drafts in HoME, is the outline of the meeting of Denethor and Aragorn after the Battle of Pelennor where Aragorn says “I won’t be given I will take” — which is quite in character for medieval kings and their entitlement beliefs. But JRRT didn’t much like that, or didn’t think his readers would, or the story that was supposed to be about hobbits was spinning out of control, so he forced the “horrifying death” on his characters to make things simpler. As I’ve complained about before.

    Denethor got a raw deal. I’m glad the hobbits mostly got to avoid the bad psycological effects that happened to fated mortals who got tangled up with JRRT’s Valar.

  4. Denethor is hardly the only morally ambiguous (read: interesting) character to get the shaft in Tolkien. Boromir had just long enough to regret his weak willed grasping after power before getting the [i]literal[/i] shaft. And then two more to be sure.

    People who think ‘Hey, let’s use the enemy’s powers against them’ never come out well, in this universe. Best to just be a simple soul and not think about it.

    Did the Professor not like scientific methods, or was it just not part of the story he wanted to tell?

  5. Hi Jon,

    As far as I can tell, he was sickened at the bloodshed of a second continental war, upset at industrial advances and the ruination of rural areas from his youth, and offended at the advance of modernity, particularly in the physical sciences. Mostly, it was his fury at the political and military leaders of his time for allowing another generation to be mangled in the machinery of war.

    Denethor went from being a much less reviled character in his original drafts to being the focus of his disgust in the final version.

    Julie can talk more about this narrative shift as she has studied it more than me.


  6. I think the problem JRRT had with Denethor is he didn’t have time for him in a story that was supposed to be about hobbits, but kept getting too complex. This was the impression I got reading the drafts. The summary of the scene between Denethor and Aragorn after the battle was the point (IMO) JRRT realized he couldn’t let the story tell itself, he had to forcefully take Denethor off the chessboard.

    The question of Boromir is narrative — who’s telling the story. JRRT’s stories always are written by specific people, sometimes it’s layered. Frodo wrote LotR, and the last he saw Boromir he was running away from him. Boromir isn’t presented sympathetically, but the way other characters speak of them, reported by Frodo, they like him. Frodo had to rely on Merry & Pippin’s descriptions, and the last they saw of him, he was dying trying to protect them from the orcs.

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