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Thread: TOLKIEN TALKED DOWN TO CHILDREN IN THE HOBBIT - OR DID HE?

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Bottom of Page    Message Board > The Hobbit (Movie) > TOLKIEN TALKED DOWN TO CHILDREN IN THE HOBBIT - OR DID HE?   
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit with the Narrator intruding into the story. But did he talk down to children while doing so? He later thought he did. I don't agree with him!
The "intruding narrator" bit wasn't particularly what concerned him. Rather, it was the way he portrayed the Elves. He was trying to rescue Elves and "Fairy" Creatures from the "Sappy" diminutive Victorian vision of them (which in turn was based on the post-Christian demotion of the Old Pagan Gods and Nature-Spirits).
Personally, I'm a bit in the middle. I like Flower Fairies, Tree Sprites and all the rest, as well as the Old Gods and Nature Spirits of Full Stature.

[b:59tryshe]GB[/b:59tryshe]
Good thread- a tricky one altogether. When my little brother was 7 I tried reading the Hobbit to him as a bedtime story and much as I love all thngs Tolkien I did find myself cringing slightly whilst reading certain parts, some of it seemed quite patronizing by modern standards and some just a bit, twee. Having said that I'll be disappointed if the film doesn't open with the narrators voice (as its Bilbo's book maybe get Ian Holm to narrate as old Bilbo in Rivendell?) speaking Tolkien's wonderful opening paragraph.
As to Elves I have a problem with Hobbit elves, they are more reminiscent of the sort of Victorian basterdisation of older myths and folklore which Tolkien seemed in later life to so strongly dislike. After all the hard work Tolkien put into reinventing them it might be a shame to leave people with the old version.
Good points all, lads, but I was thinking more of Tolkien's assides to the reader in the book. This does not mean I don't welcome the broadening of the discussion you bring and I will definitely enjoy tackling the issues you mention. I'm just keen to focus initially on the direct question for the moment.

Tolkien often says things directly to the reader, sometimes with slightly moral effect, though more usually to include a dash of humor. This is where the 'talking down' bit comes in with some people. But I found no problem with it when I first read the book, nor have I since. No, for me it was an integral part of a pleasurable experience. I enjoyed it so much that when my children were younger, I would tell them stories in which I included certain Storyteller 'asides.' By doing so, I felt I included both teller and hearer in the adventure. Let's face it, if we like a tale, we put ourselves [i:1tutfaql]there[/i:1tutfaql]. And by having Dad or Mum (or the Storyteller in a book) [i:1tutfaql]there[/i:1tutfaql] with you, you can experience the excitement and danger but still have someone 'safe' on hand in case things get too scary! It also is a way to bring in humor smoothly, almost effortlessly.

So, in a word, I [i:1tutfaql]loved[/i:1tutfaql] the approach, and have never sensed any condescension in it at all! But Tolkien came to feel his approach was paternalistic and mere 'talking down' in the end. It's a negative view which I find really sad. What think you?

NB GB: I spose this thread should rightly be on The Hobbit part of this Forum.
Most of the bits I felt awkward and patronizing with when reading it aloud to my brother were most often those authors asides you mention Odo. In fact I found myself in the odd position of rewording Tolkien as I read it, sometimes to just word things in a more modern fashion and at others to avoid the moralising tone and the sense of talking down to him- this I suppose is what would have commonly happened to stories told in oral traditions as time passed.
How old were you when you were reading it to your brother? I only ask because I have had the same response from several people who first read The Hobbit when they were adults, or at least [i:3r4h7v7r]after[/i:3r4h7v7r] they had read LotR. As for me, I was about twelve the first time I read it, and I guess still read it through that child's lens.
Actually, I enjoy the "Narrator Asides" as much as you, Odo :mrgreen: . That's part of what I love about The Hobbit and Lewis's Narnia books, and that is what Daniel Handler so brilliantly satirizes in his Lemony Snicket books.

Having said that, it is that "safety" which indeed conveys what some [u:1j0wx25e]erroneously[/u:1j0wx25e] consider to be condescension. Though in British children's authors that is hardly the case. British authors, including folk such as Dahl, Rowling and Joan Aiken, know that children are made of much sterner stuff than many American Authors--who condescend by bowdlerizing their stories to the point of Vapidity (a notable exception being Maurice Sendak). Much like the French did to the Grisly German Folk Tales collected by the aptly named Grimm Brothers. Thus British authors use various techniques, including the Intrusive Narrator and Biting Satire, to soften the Darker Material.

So I'm not certain that Tolkien believed THAT aspect was condescending. I have never read that he thought so. As memory serves, I am fairly certain it was mainly the "Twee" characterization of Elves in particular that he always regretted. And 'twould seem that Petty and I are largely in agreement on that score 8-) .

Though I think Tolkien more than ably retconned the problem in two ways. One, by making Bilbo the "Author" of There and Back Again, specifically in the manner of a tale for Hobbit children (in which Bilbo no doubt changed more Etheric Elf Lyrics into silly songs). And Two; by later building up a back-story for the Mirkwood Elves that set them apart from other Elves, as being more "fun-loving" and "less wise". Yes, he describes the Elves of Rivendell in The Hobbit as being "light of heart", but he didn't mean that in the "Twee" sense, rather that they wore the burdens of the World lightly.

[b:1j0wx25e]GB[/b:1j0wx25e]
Hi Odo, I first read the Hobbit aged 10- I read it to my brother when he was 7 which was 8 years ago- but it was the first time I had sat down and read it for years and the first time I had ever read it aloud.
As I mentioned GB elsewhere I think the Hobbit being Bilbo's version and not necessarily the only version of events does give the filmmakers more legitimate scope for alteration than they had fro LoTR.
I don't think Tolkien was talking down at all. Narrator asides [i:2zf0e1hc]can[/i:2zf0e1hc] be condescending, as can "regular" writing, when they beat you over the head with some sort of moral or lesson that you're supposed to learn from the story. Tolkien didn't do that; so while the asides make The Hobbit feel more juvenile (not meaning that negatively at all; it just feels like, well, a bedtime story <img src='/images/smileys/bigsmile.gif' border='0' alt='Big Smile Smilie' /> ), I don't think it's condescending. Bedtime stories aren't just for little kids.
Spot on, Eldo! The best 'children' stories are stories for the whole family.
We seem to be reaching a consensus 8-) .

[b:2ypbue8r]GB[/b:2ypbue8r]
At the risk of harping on it, I think Tolkien's 'assides' are exactly what he saw as 'patronizing' in the end. The Elves he just felt did not fit his Silmarillion vision, and he was right, to a point. Maybe he thought he was patronizing his Elves, but not the reader, surely!

GB, I'm not sure we have a consensus exactly. Mr Tyrant, you, at least, don't sound convinced!

I might add this too: my comment about seeing through my 'child's' lens is only one way of me 'seeing' the assides. I also enjoy them through my 'adult' lens as well. I find them wittily self-depreciating, and inclusive, for they include us in the jokes, especially we folk who are even vaguely well-to-do.

As to other issues you guys brought in. No, I don't find The Hobbit Elves noisome in any way. I think they're cool! The Rivendell Elves are merry but I don't think them ridiculous. They have a sense of humor, so what! So do I, but I'm not always joking, the serious and the silly in me are permanently mixed. (Yes, I've set myself up! Go on, Old Cat - do your darndest!) As to the Mirkwood Elves - they like a party, but they also remind me of all the Elves in the Silmarillion, the ones who never went to the Undying Lands. Hey! They [i:26isb15c]are[/i:26isb15c] the ones who never went!

Btw, I like Bilbo's version. It's the book version. It is not the LotRized version. We don't need the LotRized version. If it's not broke you know...