The Hobbit: Fantasy Literature Formal Paper: "It Lies Behind Stars"

     Here's my first formal paper for Fantasy Literature.  I originally wanted to do a paper on the way a bunch of the group's encounters were in slowly darker and darker settings, and how that gave a kind of indication of how dangerous the adversary was, but I ended up focusing specifically on Gollum's Cave.  A strange place he lives far below the goblin's dark regions, and has a few other unique things about the setting- such as Bilbo being primarily blind through it due to pure darkness.  Maybe not completely, but close enough.

     Anyway, I titled it after a line of Gollum's riddle of the dark, which I believe ties in to most of his riddles and the situation at hand.  I also feel that this is possibly the most important scene in the book- when Bilbo faces both the physical dark, and the dark of his inner being.  Helpless he faces a challenge unknown to any of the others he's been separated from and he comes back a different person.

It Lies Behind Stars

During the reading of The Hobbit, I was struck by an interesting piece of setting and how it affected a specific character.  Originally I planned to do it on a type of setting- the dark.  All the adversaries the troupe of The Hobbit faces are in a form of dark such as the trolls at night, the spiders in the dimly lit Mirkwood, and Smaug in the Lonely Mountain itself- but the one that intrigued me the most was a different dark- the dark of Gollum’s cave.  The less light available, the more dangerous the situation, and the more profound the outcome.  I think the particular darkness of Gollum’s cave was something that heavily shaped Bilbo.

     What initially sets this darkness apart is that Bilbo awakens into it.  “When Bilbo opened his eyes, he wondered if he had; for it was just as dark as with them shut. No one was anywhere near him. … He could hear nothing, see nothing, and he could feel nothing except the stone of the floor.” (68)  This sets up something more than just plain old dark.  He isn’t just deprived of his senses either.  He is now alone, without the aid of Gandalf or any of the Dwarves.  He starts out groping and feeling around on all fours, confused and lost, he is literally crawling in the dark.  Absentmindedly he picks up a ring, which comes in later after leaving the cave.  He couldn’t light a match because of potential threats being drawn to him, but he does find a small light.  His sword Sting- “It shone pale and dim before his eyes. … and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” (69)  He is forced to go on his own, no other choices, and he doesn’t just accept it- the only thing to do in his mind is to go forward.

     "On and on he went, and down and down ... It seemed like all the way to tomorrow and over it to the days beyond." (70)  Bilbo was passing deeper and deeper into darkness, pushing through fear, “long he kept on like this, hating to go on, not daring to stop, on, on, until he was tireder than tired.” (70)  Physically draining him, and even Sting’s light was fading, leaving him at a pool in a cave.  I think Bilbo came across an external representation of something like Mimer’s Well in Norse mythology- a source of wisdom and knowledge.  He’s worn out and tired and come to a strange place under great circumstance, where he comes across a very curious being, Gollum.  Gollum is described with a few very important features here- he’s “as dark as darkness” and has big “lamp-like” eyes. (71)  I believe the references to Gollum’s eyes being like light’s in the dark, or his ability to see in the dark, is very, very important.  Bilbo is practically blind and he has come across something that can not only see, but uses the dark as a weapon.

     The fact Gollum doesn’t cause the water to stir, “but never a ripple did he make,” is of note as well, because that means Bilbo is up against a mirror of sorts. (71)  A match against something described as “quick as thinking” in what will be a battle of wits and cleverness. (71)  Bilbo is facing a creature that represents his ultimate villain, the darkness inside- which Bilbo picked up.  You see Gollum refers to himself as “my precious” at first, then the ring is called that a bit later (72).  Gollum can be seen as being part of the ring and the ring is a part of Gollum.  A piece of darkness made solid which Bilbo now carries.  So the pool has become a reflection of what he could become- namely a lone individual far from any society on an island in the dark.  A symbolic piece of himself being shown in the odd creature Gollum, displaying the fact he must overcome the dark and gain insight into the world.

     Bilbo meets the challenge of the dark.  He cheats the one that wants to cheat him in a game of riddles.  Fighting the dark with dark’s own weapon.  Gollum poses this riddle:

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter. (75)

     Bilbo knows without even thinking what the answer is.  He has instant recognition of the situation somewhere subconsciously.  ‘"Dark!" he said without even scratching his head or putting on his thinking cap.’ (75)
     Bilbo could sense “that the darkness had sharpened” and “Though he was only a black shadow in the gleam of his own eyes” he knew he had to get out of the dark. (86)  “He must get away, out of this horrible darkness.” (86)
     His initial urge is to kill Gollum.  But he rises above the easy way, the dark path of simply killing Gollum.  “He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.” (86-87)

     But in coming out of the dark a ways, on the way back to the light- he brings that light into his actions.  He takes a leap of faith and jumps over Gollum and into a new life.

     Bilbo entered this cave in the dark (unconsciously), and in escaping back to the light (knowledge/wisdom), he waged his life and came out alive.  Bilbo was knocked unconscious and faced an almost warped mirror version of himself on an island, in a pool under the misty mountains- and when he emerged he carried that darkness with him along with a newfound perspective.

     When returning to the light Bilbo maintains his humanity (Hobbitmanity?) by sparing Gollum in recognition of the overwhelming darkness that he's trapped himself in.  Bilbo could allow the darkness to overwhelm, but he held the darkness at bay inside him- by sparing Gollum.

     But the darkness follows him.  He carries the ring which has a unique ability, “…and if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the full sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that would be shaky and faint.” (81)  He becomes a faint darkness himself in the form of shadow.  He’s mastered the darkness he faced under the mountain, much deeper and darker than the dwarves with the goblins when they got separated, and came away with a ring and, much more valuable, a lesson that resulted in courage and bravery.  While all of the group went into the Misty Mountains and faced dangers in the dark, only Bilbo faced that inner darkness, without relying on physical strength or prowess, in the cave and reaped the most from it.

Works Cited:

Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Hobbit.  1937.  Revised Edition (1982)  New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1997.  Print.

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