Gandalf's mark

Discussion in '"The Hobbit"' started by Maeglin, Oct 29, 2002.

  1. Maeglin

    Maeglin Registered User

    Hey everyone this might seem like kind of a pointless question, but I'm bored so I'll post it anyway, and maybe someone knows the answer.

    But anyway this is the question, in the beginning of The Hobbit Gandalf makes a mark with his staff on Bilbo's door so the dwarves will know which house to go to, what was that mark? and wouldn't take a while for the dwarves to find the right Hobbit hole?
  2. Beorn

    Beorn In the shadows Staff Member

    The mark, I'm afraid we'll never know what it looked like, unless someone has some of Tolkien's notes and that contains what the mark looked like....However, I'm willing to bet that it was an inscription rather than mark.

    Remember, this was more of a fairy tale than a plausible story (compared to LotR), so there was not so much a consideration to time as there was to the storyline itself.
  3. Ramagna

    Ramagna ...Dreamwanderer...

    I think he told them the right way, so they would get right to his hole, and the mark was to get them sure they could trust Bilbo to be a master thief...

    and perhaps, Gandalf had a little fun in marking Bilbos door, cause Bilbo wouldn't appreciate it...
  4. Ariana Undomiel

    Ariana Undomiel Hrívëvendë

    Maybe the mark was the elf rune G that Gandalf signed his letter's with and marked his fireworks with.

  5. Grond

    Grond Melkor's Mallet

    I am pretty sure that Ariana Undomiel is correct. If you want to see what a "G" rune looks like, I have incorporated one into my avatar.
  6. Ancalagon

    Ancalagon Quality, not Quantity!

    I would stake Bilbo's share of the hoard on the fact that the mark Gandalf puts on the door, is definately not his G Rune. I cannot imagine that his mark is the one referred too as 'the usual one in the trade' especially as it is a Dwarf who makes this comment.
    This particular mark was almost like a 'job-advert' describing Bilbo's expressed interest in joining an adventure, which of course, he had no idea he had applied for!
  7. Grond

    Grond Melkor's Mallet

    So I'm wrong.... SUE ME!!! LOL! It changes nothing. If you look at my Avatar, you'll see MY "G" rune which was inscribed upon me by Melkor all those years ago. I got mine before Gandalf was even a twiddle in Eru's pocket or bag or whatever. So there!!!!
  8. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

    In J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by Hammond and Scull, on page 99, there is a colored pencil drawing by Tolkien entitled “Gandalf”, illustration number 91. The drawing is discussed on page 101, where Hammond and Scull note that “the mark placed by Gandalf on the door … can be read next to the right-hand shrub.” These are the symbols in the mark.
  9. Starbrow

    Starbrow Tolkien Fan

    Great detective work, Alcuin. Now does anyone have any idea what those symbols would represent? The sounds they stand for are /m/ and /nj/. I don't know what the bottom symbol means.
  10. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

    These runes are not the Cirth of The Lord of the Rings but real, historic Anglo-Saxon or Germanic runes. (I used a Germanic rune font for the second rune because the second character is different in my Anglo-Saxon rune font.) The rest of the runes in The Hobbit are also Anglo-Saxon or Germanic runes; I first interpreted them using the runes I found in a Webster’s Dictionary.

    As I understand matters, the first rune is a “B” for “Burglar. The second is a “D” for “Danger” or “Excitement,” as Glóin interpreted it. The final one might be a diamond; Hammond and Scull mused upon whether there was a dot in the middle of it. (I did not represent the dot because I could not see it myself.) These are not the real names of the runes, but the modern English equivalents.
  11. Hirila

    Hirila 2009 - life is great

    Well, I don't know anything about Germanic or any runes, but if your interpretation is correct we have the solution, Alcuin:
    B - Burglar
    D - Danger/Excitement
    Diamond shape (point or not) - Reward

    It sounds logic too that Tolkien would have used "real" runes for that kind of inscription, after all his "LotR" runes are based on these and he was what we would call fluent in them.
  12. Ancalagon

    Ancalagon Quality, not Quantity!

    I have been reading over this whole thread again, and something strikes me about the term 'burglar' which I feel needs to be explored.

    I cannot quite equate the term 'burglar' with 'treasure-hunter' in this case, as both seem to be entirely different skills. Nor could I see one advertising himself as a burglar as at no point in history would a burglar ever have been a worthy profession. As such I have some difficulty with the B rune being equal to Burglar, but then again, it is a childrens book and one shouldnt read too much into this!

    It would seem extremely unfortunate for Bilbo and unorthodox for Gandalf to label him as a thief and brigand for all the world to see. Although it would seem he was meant to be no more than a thief in the night, a pick-pocket or house-breaker in the eyes of the dwarves, he is much more than that. Did Gandalf advertise him as a treasure-hunter, rather than burglar? If so, does this make the rune different, are we looking for something that refers to treasure? Was the rune(s) used something which a Dwarf would interpret differently from say, an Elf?
  13. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

    Gandalf and Gimli said it was the secret mark for a burglar, and Gimli offered that Bilbo might call himself “Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do.”

    Moreover, it was supposed to be a “secret mark,” not a flag on the top of The Hill. I suspect that the greater portion of the hobbits were unlettered, as the Gaffer later remarked of Sam’s learning to read from Bilbo: “It was Mr. Bilbo as learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.” My own conclusion would be that while almost all the hobbits would realize that there was writing on the door and that most of these would know it was a rune or letter, most of the same would fail to recognize the sound it represented if they knew that it represented a sound at all (as illiterate people, they might be under the misconception that it was a word, as if it were an ideogram like a hieroglyph: if they don’t read and never studied reading, why would they know?); and if any of them did know it was a “b” sound, they might well have mistaken it for “Bilbo” or “Baggins” rather than “Burglar,” and passed it off as nothing other than one of Bilbo’s oddities or a bit of vandalism by one of his educated cousins. We should consider that it was a “secret mark” to the Dwarves, or at least for their benefit, not for the general populace at large. I don’t imagine that hobbits had a very high demand for either Burglars or Expert Treasure-hunters themselves, though maybe Sancho Proudfoot thought he might have shared with his cousin Bilbo the beginnings of a good Expert Treasure-hunter. (Frodo seemed to disagree with that opinion.)

    In any case, it was away from the Road, and partly concealed by the bush. Gandalf told the Dwarves to go to such-and-such a place at tea-time on Wednesday and in small groups in order not to draw attention to themselves. (A whole troop of Dwarves marching up to Bilbo’s door would have attracted the entire neighborhood.) I note that he was himself with Thorin, who came last – and he later told Frodo and the others that this was to prevent the Dwarf-lord from backing out of the meeting given his low opinion of hobbits.

    To be fair, Ancalagon, that’s mixing and matching two stories (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), and I’ve no doubt that your explanation that “it is a childrens book and one shouldnt read too much into this!” is correct, at least as The Hobbit stands on its own.
  14. Hirila

    Hirila 2009 - life is great

    I want to object the notion that "the greater part of the Hobbits were unlettered". It says explicitly somewhere that Hobbits liked to write letters to their relatives at all times and as they had so many of them, the postmen were important. And Bilbo sent his birthday party invitations by post, so I expect there was more on those cards than a date, and pictures of Bilbo and a birthday cake.
    Certainly not all of them could read, as hinted by the Gaffer's words. But then I assume he was more referring to Bilbo's oddness (with having been gone on an adventure) than to him knowing and teaching read and write.
    Also we can expect that the marks were a language the dwarves could read, whereas I doubt the Hobbits would understand a dwarf language, they used the Western language.

    And a burglar has indeed many qualities a treasure-hunter is supposed to have: hide from view, sneek into places noone else dares, unexpected luck and so on. Only the one uses it for good, the other for bad purposes.
  15. Alcuin

    Alcuin Registered User

    You may be correct: the hobbits were probably as a group more literate than, say, Dark Age Anglo-Saxons or Franks, where Charlemagne found to his alarm that most of the priests were illiterate, did not know Latin, and were making hash of the Mass. (Anyone who cares to exercise Google can discover how the Great King of the Franks solved this problem; as for me, modesty forbids.)

    On the other hand, Bilbo and his friends and kinfolk were of higher “class” than most of the residents of the Shire: they were wealthier, had others to [strike]look[/strike] do most of their manual labor, and so were blessed with more leisure time. I wonder if Farmer Cotton, his daughter Rosie, and her brothers were as literate, or if they could read at all. Barliman Butterbur (the character – I mean the character in the book) prided himself on being a “lettered man” (our good Barliman we already know to be a “lettered man”), a strong indication that in Bree, at any rate, literacy was probably in short supply.

    Still, upon their return from “foreign parts,” the Four Travelers found copies of “The Rules” posted in every Sherriff’s House, indicating that the ability to read was widespread enough among hobbits that it was worthwhile to post “The Rules.” Maybe I could argue that nailing a copy (transcribed by hand, I suppose: Tolkien makes no mention of printing presses) of “The Rules” on the wall and then making up whatever excuse you liked before you beat your victims might also be a useful means of terrorizing an otherwise law-abiding but unlettered populace, but I think I’ll refrain from stepping into what might be a messy morass – and quite possibly the weaker argument.

    Sam’s father was clearly hinting to his friends, though, that he believed it was possible that ill might come of his son’s ability to read, leading him into trouble. In Letters, I think Tolkien talks about the provincialism of hobbits, and I took the Gaffer’s statement as a rustic, provincial view of literacy among the “lower” classes.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2006
  16. Prince of Cats

    Prince of Cats Among the Trees

    I think the term Burglar is appropriate :)

    Think about what treasure hunters are. I think of pyramid-robbers, in practice treasure hunting is taking someone else's treasure. A burglar might be someone who would try and sneak into and loot someplace like the barrow downs (though not that place specifically, obviously :) )
  17. Durin's Bane

    Durin's Bane Unreg'd

    Here's my interpretation: The mark could be just the 3 letters. To all it would be just 3 letters with no meaning. Exept for those that know the meaning of the combination (and the layout). That's why it's reffered to as a 'secred mark'. It means nothing exept if you know what it means.
    Secondly I don't think Gandalf shared his entire plan with the dwarves. He told them that they would find a burglar at that place (and they needed exactly a burglar for the quest). To confirm it he placed the secred burglar-in-the-house-looking-for-a-job advert on the door.
    And on the burglar case- the dwarves needed exactly a burglar: someone skilled at stealth and sneaking. Burglar has a negative meaning and that's why they call themselves treasure hunters.
  18. Firawyn

    Firawyn Verbatim et litteratim.

    I disagree. Tolkien never did anything without purpose.

    I had to mean something, not only in light of who made the whole think up, but to the character of Gandalf as well.
  19. Barliman Butterbur

    Barliman Butterbur Worthy Keeper/Bree Roué

    As far as I know, its look was never described in any easily accessible source. Alcuin's delvings are, however, highly impressive!

    (My God, here I am answering a question posted six years ago! I must be bored too...)

  20. Eledhwen

    Eledhwen Cumbrian

    Tolkien was acquainted with great subtleties of language, and though simplified for the younger reader, I suspect you are right in thinking that 'burglar' was a simplification of a concept that was probably more of a 007 role than housebreaker.

    However, the word 'burglar' aided the story greatly. Labelled by Gandalf as a burglar, and by Gollum as a thief (post-LotR version); Bilbo was anxious to appear otherwise but found himself burgling again when he took the Arkenstone from the mountain as a ransom for peace. It probably made him all the more keen to relieve himself of the Troll hoard, which he never truly regarded as belonging to himself.

    Also, Bilbo's shame in the way he acquired The Ring (Thief, thief thief! Baggins!) may have been some of the reason he kept it so secret; which may have helped delay Sauron's suspicions as to its whereabouts.

    Reputations were important to Hobbits!

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