Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Hobbit – A Short Rest

With this chapter Tolkien introduces us to Elrond and the Rivendell elves. Elrond comes across as the wise old scholar that puts names to the swords that were found in the previous chapter and shows Gandalf and crew the moon-letters on Thorin’s map.

What I found most interesting about this chapter was how the elves were described. The party encounters the elves just outside Rivendell laughing and singing silly songs.

“So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course.”

“Then off they went into another song as ridiculous as the one I have written down in full.”

Compare this to the more somber elf found in the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. There is no talk about the long defeat, or about the tragic history of the elves. These elves are a kin to happy-go-lucky types, that do not worry about anything. Silly songs do not portray a race in decline and that will eventually pass over to the west. The heritage of Gondolin is only briefly mentioned and is left for the reader to decide what kind of legacy it is. It is only years later that the fully glory of what was Gondolin and its tragic downfall were made public with the publish of The Silmarillion.

There are points in the book where it is clear that this is a children’s story, and this is one of them. It feels like when the good professor first wrote about the elves, he had a lighter vision of them and turned much darker the more he wrote. Galadriel’s discussions with Frodo are in stark contrast to what we find here in beginning of Chapter 3.

Elrond takes center stage in the back half of the chapter, and he is described a bit differently than the elves that were encountered earlier.

“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. He comes into many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo’s great adventure is only a small one..”

There are no silly songs in his make-up. As Elrond looks at the map, we gain a sense of his character.

“He took it and gazed long at it, and he shook his head; for if he did not altogether approve of dwarves and their love of gold, he hated dragons and their cruel wickedness, and he grieved to remember the ruin of the town of Dale..”

There is a note of seriousness to him, and a compassion for those that have been wronged by evil. The fact that he grieves for Dale shows his human side and that he does care about the affairs of men. As was stated by the narrator, his part in this tale is small, but there are hints of his larger role in the history of middle earth.

Monstrous Discussions – Elves

Elves have always been one of my favorite races. That is probably akin to saying that dwarves are not one of my favorite races, which would be true from a player’s perspective.

I am of the opinion that D&D elves borrow quite a bit from Tolkien’s elves. Tolkien’s elves come in a couple of different flavors, but in the hobbit we see a distinction between the high elf of Rivendell and the wood elf of Mirkwood. In D&D terms, I would call these high elves and wood elves. Since the creation of the AD&D monster manual, the number of elf subtypes has grown considerably, but I would still argue that most are a spin off from the civilized high elf and the more savage wood elf. I have to admit, that when I think of the D&D elf, they have a Tolkien flavor to them. Some may disagree with me, but I cannot shake this from my mind. Tolkien in The Silmarillion, gives the elves a noble and heroic face, and this resonates with me. The elven heroes described are beings of legend that went toe to toe with the worst of Melkor’s servants, and frequently emerged victorious from these battles, although in some cases the scars of battle would remain with them. These were mighty beings. While I agree that this type of heroic elf does not fit well in a D&D world, I find that there is a place for their spirit of nobility.

As a final thought, in early D&D elves were both magic users and fighters. This combined legacy would stay with them up through 3rd edition. In 4th edition, this legacy gets split apart and the magic using elves now become eladrin. From a mechanics stand point, it makes perfect sense. In essence, eladrin now replaces the high elf and the wood elves are now just elves. From a flavor stand point, I think we have lost a little. I suspect this is because eladrin just does not sound very Tolkien to me.

Just call me old fashioned.....


Anonymous said...

The oddball singing in this chapter by the elves really does present them as rather silly, but I believe this shows that Tolkien was just writing a story for his kids, and the depth of the elves shows in the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Now these elves do remind me a bit of the story, The Elves, by Ludwig Tieck (you can read this on Google books, just do a search for "Tales before Tolkien"), fairly harmless, but there is an alien edge that separates them from being pointy eared humans.

I am more of an S&W fan than 4e by far, so I get the oldschool elves!

Rob said...

I felt the same way about the name "eladrin" for awhile. Then I transposed the third and fourth letters. A hilarious accident or a subtle homage trying to avoid a lawsuit? The world may never know...

Mr Baron said...

I had not noticed that before. Interesting....