28 September 2018

The Dark Lord's Bread and Butter -- 'He'll eat us all'



'Don't take the Precious to Him! He'll eat us all, if He gets it, eat all the world.' 
(TT 4.iii.637)
Whether by chance or by design two prominent traits of Hobbits converge in Bilbo's likening of himself at the Ring-enhanced age of eleventy-one to 'butter that has been scraped over too much bread' (FR 1.i.32). The first is of course the Hobbits' well-known love of food. The other is their habit of jesting about serious matters. As Merry says to Aragorn in The Houses of Healing
'But it is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.' 
(RK 5.viii.870)
What makes this fascinating is that in The Shadow of the Past, the very chapter after Bilbo makes his comparison, we find Gandalf comparing the action of the Ring and of Sauron himself to eating and devouring no less than four times (FR 1.ii.47, twice on 55, 57). We find the same in Faramir's description of what had happened to the nine men given Rings of Power by Sauron: 'he had devoured them' (TT 4.vi.692); and elsewhere he calls Sauron 'a destroyer who would devour all' (TT 4.v.672). And as we saw in the quote with which I began, Gollum, too, saw things in similar terms. It's not often Gandalf, Faramir, and Gollum agree.

Given all this, Bilbo's choice to compare himself to food is even more psychologically revealing than at first it seems, which makes its presence here a matter of chance, if chance you call it.

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I would very much like to thank Joe Hoffman and Corey Olsen for the friendly banter which we engaged in on the subject of Hobbits and butter, and which in turn led me to this reflection.

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