Geographical Ambiguities in Chapter 11

Discussion in '"The Hobbit"' started by SteveV, Jul 2, 2017.

  1. SteveV

    SteveV New Member

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    Hi guys, I was hoping someone could help me with the following issue I encountered whilst reading through Chapter 11 of the Hobbit!

    My question concerns the paragraph beginning with "Before setting out to search" and ending with "...ancient houses, towers and walls." This paragraph suggests that Balin, Kili, Fili and Bilbo are standing at the feet of Ravenhill's southernmost point and are "gazing out [at Dale]...over the running water." Why would the Dwarves be looking across water in order to see the ruins of Dale? I don't understand how this is geographically possible given their position at the feet of Ravenhill. I am going off all the maps of the Lonely Mountain available on google images (including Tolkien's own map which is provided in the actual novel itself). The Running River appears to flow by the feet of Ravenhill and then loop around Dale, but no part of the river stands directly in the Dwarves' line of sight between the feet of Ravenhill and Dale such that the Dwarves would need to look across water in order to see Dale.
    I wonder whether this is an inconsistency between the text and the map, or simply a misunderstanding of my own.

    Thoughts anyone?
     
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  2. Merroe

    Merroe Member

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    You are right, this is strange.

    One might imagine that the party reached the river a bit southwards of its loop around Dale, so that their straight line of vision would cross the river twice.

    I cannot think of any other explanation, except that it is an inconsistency as you suggest.
     

  3. SteveV

    SteveV New Member

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    Thanks for your reply Merroe.

    Given that Bilbo and the Dwarves were camped on the western side of Ravenhill, and made their way around the southern end to get a glimpse of Dale and the Front Gate of the Mountain, I think it unlikely that they were far south enough down the river as you suggest.

    I have my own theory which I'd like to run by you. It's a known fact that when Tolkien first designed the river, he did not have it loop around Dale. It came out of the Front Gate of the Mountain and passed straight in between Ravenhill and Dale before running down south towards the Long Lake (see the picture I have attached). Tolkien then changed the course of the river (to have it loop around Dale) in 1936, one year before the book was published. After changing the map, he made corresponding amendments to the text. It seems that Tolkien overlooked the sentence where the Dwarves gaze at Dale "across the narrow water". If you look at the image of the original river that I have attached, you'll notice that the Dwarves gazing "across the narrow water" makes a lot more sense in the context of the original course of the river than it does in the context of the later version of the river.
     

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  4. Merroe

    Merroe Member

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    Here is an interesting description on changes made on the story and the maps of Erebor and Dale (citation from “The History of the Hobbit” from John D. Ratcliff):

    The typescript carried over almost verbatim into the page proofs, but the paragraphs describing their journey to the outpost were carefully revised at the proofs stage to better match the geography of the valley containing the Front Gate and ruins of Dale as they emerged in the final version of Thror's Map and also the various illustrations of the Lonely Mountain Tolkien made near the end of his work on the book.

    In particular, the altered course of the river results in shifting the ruins of Dale from the river's right (eastern) bank in Thror's Map I and the painting 'Smaug flies round the Mountain', to the river's left (west) bank in several other drawings such as 'The Lonely Mountain' and the final map.

    This corroborates your view. The detail you are referring to was probably overlooked.

    Nice topic :)
     
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  5. SteveV

    SteveV New Member

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    Merroe (and any other interested person!),

    I think there is another geographical inconsistency in Chapter 17: The Clouds Burst. I'm aware that this might not be the most exhilarating thread, however I am interested to know of anyone else's opinion on the matter :) After all, it may be a misunderstanding on my part.

    “Runners came in to report that a host of dwarves had appeared round the eastern spur of the Mountain and was now hastening to Dale. Dain had come…Before long the dwarves could be seen coming up the valley at a great pace. They halted between the river and the eastern spur; but a few held on their way, and crossing the river drew near the camp; and there they laid down their weapons and held up their hands in sign of peace. Bard went out to meet them, and with him went Bilbo.”

    At this moment in the novel, is my understanding that Bard's camp is situated east of the River Running, somewhere between the river and the eastern spur of the Lonely Mountain (this we know from Chapter 15: The Gathering of the Clouds). We then learn that Dain has rounded the eastern spur of the Lonely Mountain and has advanced some way up the valley between the river and the eastern spur. There he halts his army but "a few" continue on their way, and crossing the river draw near Bard's camp. My question is: if Bard's camp is already situated east of the river, why do Dain's emissaries need to cross the river in order to approach the camp?

    I believe this may be an error by either Tolkien or a later editor, though I welcome any other opinion. Unfortunately, John Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit offers little guidance on this issue. Perhaps Douglas A. Anderson's The Annotated Hobbit answers the question, but I do not have access to this book at present.
     
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  6. Merroe

    Merroe Member

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    I’ll quote all relevant texts I could find here first.

    Regarding the movements of Bard and the elves, we read chronologically:

    1. “They were four days gone, and by that time they knew that the joined armies of the Lake-men and the Elves were hurrying toward the Mountain”.

    2. “There came a night when suddenly there were many lights as of fires and torches away south in Dale before them. “They have come!” called Balin. “And their camp is very great. They must have come into the valley under the cover of dusk along both banks of the river”.”

    3. “That day the camp was moved to the east of the river, right between the arms of the Mountain”.

    4. “The next morning early a company of spearmen was seen crossing the river, and marching up the valley. They bore with them the green banner of the Elvenking and the blue banner of the Lake, and they advanced until they stood right before the wall at the Gate”.

    Especially the last two quotes support your view that the camp was located east of the river.

    The way in and out of the mountain is described as: “Approach to the Gate was now only possible, without swimming, along a narrow ledge of the cliff, to the right as one looked outwards from the wall”; this means west of the river.

    Relevant is also to read how Bilbo reached the camp at night while Bombur was asleep:

    “It was very dark, and the road after a while, when he left the newly made path and climbed down towards the lower course of the stream, was strange to him. At last he came to the bend where he had to cross the water, if he was to make for the camp, as he wished. The bed of the stream was there shallow but already broad, and fording it in the dark was not easy for the little hobbit. He was nearly across when he missed his footing on a round stone and fell into the cold water with a splash. He had barely scrambled out on the far bank, shivering and spluttering, when up came elves in the gloom with bright lanterns and searched for the cause of the noise”.

    Moreover, for his return it is said: “He was guided to a safe ford and set across dry, and then he said farewell to the elves and climbed carefully back towards the Gate”.

    So he crossed the river to get to the camp as well as to get back. This supports your view that the camp lies east of the river.

    It all looks consistent until the arrival of the dwarves. The following text is very suggestive that representatives of theirs needed to cross the river to parley (as you already quoted):

    “A few held on their way, and crossing the river drew near the camp; and there they laid down their weapons and held up their hands in sign of peace. Bard went out to meet them”.

    In conclusion … there’s something really weird. Maybe other forum members have views?

    The text-editing needed by the modification of the geographical course of the River Running may well be a plausible explanation.

    Intriguing “forensics” here, SteveV! I appreciate your post because you require us to think again! :)
     
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  7. SteveV

    SteveV New Member

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    Hi Merroe (and fellow readers),

    Douglas Anderson is the author of The Annotated Hobbit (1988) and maintains an online blog called 'Tolkien and Fantasy'. On his blog, Douglas has provided a very thorough presentation of these textual ambiguities and offers us a number of possible explanations, without committing himself to any one in particular. It seems there is no concrete answer and the ambiguities are open to interpretation.

    The article is titled 'Whither the River Running?' and I provide the link below for any who are interested!

    Comments and interpretations are welcomed on the blog :)

    Link: http://tolkienandfantasy.blogspot.com.au/

    Cheers

    Steve
     
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