Ch. 8 – Harvest

Harvest – Bilbo POV

In which rites are performed, lessons are learned, and Bilbo sees Frodo in a new light.

~*~~*~~*~~*~~*~

On the whole, I think Bilbo would prefer to be facing Smaug right about now.

Major spoilers and frank talk about sexual abuse of minors after the cut.

One of the downfalls of fanfic is its unrealistic presentation of sexuality. Much is thinly veiled wish fulfillment, where the author wants to be getting it on with the other character (or projects her/himself into multiple characters), and it is personal pornography. On the one hand, I think that’s a perfectly valid thing to write. On the other, it’s usually badly written and often factually incorrect. The best response is to sigh and skip to the next scene, assuming there is a next scene. It’s just the usual way sex is presented in fanfic.

This scene, when it was first published, hit the fandom hard. It was third person. It was not romantic. It was not het. It was possibly non-consensual and it involved at least one minor. The ages of the others is unknown at that point. There’s not explicit sex in the scene, and that was deliberate. It’s not the sex, it’s the society, that is the focus. It presents one of the ways children and adolescents are used, have always been used, to provide sexual satisfaction to others.

We now see Frodo’s “naughty” behavior on display. Is it? Why is he being singled out in this way? Adults around him have an idea of what is happening – Sara, Esmie and Rory most obviously – so why is there no intervention? Frodo is ascribed an agency that doesn’t seem in keeping with what Bilbo observes. This also is a social aspect of abuse of minors – I couldn’t resist temptation! She’s a regular Lolita! – which we all know is false, yet too many cling to to avoid making other, more powerful actors take responsibility for their molestation.

A narrative challenge in writing this story is the lack of language to describe what is happening. The clinical terminology we are used to doesn’t exist. The very word “sex” is not available. Behavior is natural or unnatural, desires can’t be explained with reference to Freudian concepts, there is no discourse of power and resistance.

So Bilbo is left with only shocking knowledge of something he doesn’t want to understand and no good idea of what to do next.

Anglachel

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5 thoughts on “Ch. 8 – Harvest”

  1. I think what struck me the most about the first version of Legacy was Bilbo’s helplessness. He’s rich as Croesus, and probably pretty physically puissant compared to other hobbits who have never had to stab a goblin in the dark. But he’s up against societal inertia, and that can’t be slain the way a dragon can. He keeps trying, though, and that’s what makes him special as a protagonist.

    About Frodo’s agency or lack thereof, I do feel like that scene later where Frodo tries out his own burgeoning sexual – dominance isn’t exactly the word, maybe something like a ‘power bottom’? – on Bilbo kind of muddies the waters. Obviously he’s still underage and still being taken advantage of by adults in a way that offends our modern sensibilities. But his attempt to own his sexuality makes things worse – by which I mean more complicated, which is usually my code word for ‘better’.

  2. Hi Jon,

    You touch on a very important part of the story – just what *can* Bilbo do when he starts to comprehend everything that’s going on? It’s not like you have child protective services or a legal system or even a well-developed concept of individual rights to back you up. You have a patriarchal traditional society where convention, ostracism, and threat of physical violence are effective bars to resistance. As you note, Bilbo is wealthy and physically the match of any other hobbit. He also comes from a prominent and respected clan. If he had the moral compass of his cousin Rory, he would simply announce he is Frodo’s proper guardian (which would be more of a property claim than anything – this body belongs to the Baggins clan and is ours to do with as we see fit) and walk off.

    This would simply replicate the foundational ethical failing of all traditional societies everywhere – that people are no more than their hierarchical social position. The higher up the social ladder you are, the more deference and obedience you are owed. The lower you are, the less you are. Loyalty to those who are powerful is self-defense and the swiftest route to social goods. Bilbo’s radicalism (why he is respected but not respectable) is how he will not fall into this trap. His hesitation to claim Frodo is as much an unwillingness to force Frodo into something the boy doesn’t want as it is wariness of how gossip and lies will be used to harm their reputations.

    Breaking free of the traditionalist (tribal) mode is very difficult, as we can see in our own current affairs. It plays well with the mob and provides moral cover to people who want to seem respectable and reasonable, yet exercise pernicious powers. The key to it is that it shifts moral culpability for one’s own behavior onto the person harmed by your bad actions. I’m justified in treating you badly because you are not doing what I want you to do and you are exposing the cruelty and hypocrisy of my position. You should be NICE to me and not make me feel bad! If you don’t behave (which is to say, if you won’t be obedient to my will and silent about my abuses), I will say and do even worse things to you! This is Esmie’s argument in Fortune. This is the argument of all the modern day authoritarians.

    Bilbo’s solution will be critical to Frodo’s agency. I won’t go more into this until after the next chapters is posted, but you are right that Frodo is not passive in the face of others’ abuses. He just needs some help to be effective.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    Anglachel

  3. I can’t remember what my first reaction to this was, but I think it was things like that would happen in an environment of bullies. & child abuse happened like that when adults that should care are concerned with their own agendas. 😦
    On Freudian concepts, ugh. Freud had issues, I’m thinking of the riff in “Cassandra among the Creeps” where Solnit talks about women [or children] not being believed, especially on sexual matters. Freud first believed then couldn’t believe what his patients were telling him, so he had to figure out why children would imagine being abused because he couldn’t deal with it actually had happened. Current talk about sex has more words, but there’s also the strong social tendency to deny bad stuff happened, or make Lolita excuses. It’s a hard fight, but Bilbo will do it well.

  4. Hi Julie,

    I had no idea this would be such a pertinent topic when I posted the chapter. Abuse of children and others in vulnerable situations is business as usual in most societies. Bullies are the rule, not the exception, and adults don’t even need agendas. They just need to shrug and walk away. This is one of the reasons I loathe nostalgia for “simpler” times. That is barely code for “Back when we could say and do shitty things to others and not get called for it.”

    Modernity is a blessing for the bulk of humanity. Even with all of its problems, it is better. When your best hope for a happy ending is belief in a non-existent deity and a good afterlife, sanitation and civil rights are pretty sweet.

    Freud was a shithead, no doubt, but we now have ways to describe our inner lives that we didn’t have before, we understand mental illness better, and we have an attitude towards psychology that is more professional, less arbitrary, and freed of most religious trappings. Again, as with other developments of modernity, not an unmixed advance.

    Even so, the Shire is a pre-modern (never to be modern) culture. Compassion and bluffing are Bilbo’s strongest tools.

    Anglachel

  5. True, abuses will be abusing whatever. I’ve seen BS with a freudian slant be used to try to shame and talk a person or groups into “consent”, but having the words is a help in pushing back. I hate bullies. Lot of prominent bullies in current events, grr. I’m still glad you’re telling this story without modern language. I think seeing it described so makes the shamefulness more visible, since the usual dodges of the powerful, of “respectable” society, are further away for hiding behind.

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