. Alas, not me: Eleventy-One: Re-reading The Lord of the Rings 50 years on -- part four

29 July 2021

Eleventy-One: Re-reading The Lord of the Rings 50 years on -- part four


Book One, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past

Indeed, [Frodo] at once began to carry on Bilbo’s reputation for oddity. He refused to go into mourning; and the next year he gave a party in honour of Bilbo’s hundred-and-twelfth birthday, which he called Hundred-weight Feast. But that was short of the mark, for twenty guests were invited and there were several meals at which it snowed food and rained drink, as hobbits say.

Always having felt a bit odd myself, as if on the outside looking in, I relished Frodo's wholehearted embrace of eccentricity. Part of the oddity for me was always being fascinated by words and languages. My mother taught me bits of Latin and French, my grandmother Irish, my father German, my brother Spanish. So, words like 'hundred-weight' were a delight to me. (I recognized it from the tables of 'useful information' on the back of my composition books, though I seem to recall some brief confusion since a hundred-weight in the US and a hundred-weight in the UK are not the same number of pounds.) 

I adopted the phrase 'it snowed food and rained drink, as hobbits say' at once. Some years later I read the following verses in the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales (343-48): 

Without bake mete was nevere his hous, 
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentvous
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke;
Of all deyntees that men koude thynke,
After the sondry sesons of the yeer,
So chaunged he his mete and his soper.

I was in high school when I first read these lines, and I recall gasping aloud in delight in class and having to explain my amusement to everyone: 'Thomas, would you share what's so funny with the rest of us.' 

Today what's catching my eye is the spelling of 'fissh' and 'flessh', and the variety of food reminds me of how well stocked Bilbo's larder had been before his adventures began. Chaucer has even more to say about the Franklin's table, and Tolkien has more to say of the 'high reputation' of Bilbo's. I am beginning to think that looking at The Franklin's Tale in this context would be very interesting.

And of course both Bilbo and Frodo leave unwashed dishes behind them when they leave. Bilbo was being hurried out the door by Gandalf. Frodo was being rather pettily spiteful towards the Sackville-Bagginses.


  1. Of course, the spelling of 'fissh' and 'flessh' might also remind some of us (at least, the NON-philologists) of Gollum's style of speech.