February 1, 2016

The Original Riddles in the Dark Chapter

"Losst it is, my precious, lost, lost! Curse us and crush us, my precious is lost!" So cries Gollum in chapter 5 of The Hobbit, "The Riddles in the Dark."  It's one of the most memorable scenes in all of Tolkien's writings featuring two of his strongest characters in a battle not of swords, but of wit. However, some fans might be surprised to learn that Tolkien actually pulled a George Lucas on one of his most beloved episodes...

     While writing The Lord of the Rings in the years after The Hobbit was published, Tolkien found himself travelling down different roads and exploring different ideas and paths with his sequel.  The idea of Bilbo's ring as the main connecting link came up very early, but as Tolkien developed the story further this ring became far more dangerous and powerful and eventually warranted capitalization and became the Ring of Power. Consequently, some discrepancies arose between Tolkien's lighthearted children's story and his current epic as he explained to his publisher saying,

Detail from Riddles in the Dark by Alan Lee
"Rayner [the publisher's son] has, of course, spotted a weakness (inevitable): the linking. I am glad that he thinks that the linking has on the whole been well done. The is the best that could be hoped. I have done the best I could, since I had to have hobbits (whom I love), and must still have a glimpse of Bilbo for old times' sake. But I don't feel worried by the discovery that the ring was more serious than appeared; that is just the way of all easy ways out. Nor is it Bilbo's actions, I think, that need explanation.  The weakness is Gollum, and his action in offering the ring as a present... The proper way to negotiate the difficulty would be slightly to remodel the former story [The Hobbit] in its chapter V [Riddles in the Dark]. That is not a practical question..." (Letters, No. 109)

Riddle Game by Tim Kirk
     In the original version (as seen below), the bond between Gollum and his birthday present was not especially strong, unique, or dark and evil as it is in The Lord of the Rings.  To the 1937 Gollum, his ring was simply a useful tool, nothing more.  But, as Tolkien developed the new Gollum in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, his actions with Bilbo in the cave suddenly seemed out of character.  At first, Tolkien thought nothing could be done about it and he hoped to essentially fudge his way through it. However, two months later he sent his publisher a revised draft of chapter V "for the possible amusement of yourself and Rayner" (Letters, No. 111) To his surprise, three years later Tolkien found this revised chapter in proofs for the 1951 edition of The Hobbit!
"I must say that I could wish that I had had some hint (in any circumstances) this change might be made, before it burst on me in page proof. However, I have now made up my mind to accept the change and its consequences.  The thing is now old enough for me to take a fairly impartial view, and it seems to me that the revised version is in itself better, in motive and narrative - and certainly would make the sequel (if ever published) much more natural." (Letters, No. 128)
     Instead of simply ignoring the original version in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien actually worked in the original story of the riddle game as it appeared in 1937.  By continuing the idea that the book we call The Hobbit is actually derived from the Red Book of Westmarch which was written by Bilbo himself, Tolkien explains in the Prologue of LotR that the original version of the riddles game was the version Bilbo told the Company and that the new version that began appearing in 1951 is the true story.  It explained away the inconsistency and built up the evil and perilous nature of the Ring as it showed it could cause an otherwise honest Hobbit to lie to his companions.  Bilbo's lie also gave Gandalf a story beat to follow up on later and became important in his search for Gollum and information about the Ring.  It also became an important part in the Council of Elrond when Bilbo presented the truth.

     In the end, the change actually worked quite well and improved both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien wrote about a different Gollum and a very different Ring in his main epic, but by a clever use of his frame story he was able to incorporate the inconsistencies and use them to bolster his main narrative.  Perhaps some lessons from Tolkien's handling of these problems could be learned by other artists who try to change/amend their work (*cough* George *cough* Lucas).

     Regardless, while we Tolkienists appreciate the new version of "Riddles in the Dark," it is always fascinating to go back and read the original as Tolkien first wrote it.  If you have John D. Rateliff's, The History of The Hobbit or Douglas A Anderson's, The Annotated Hobbit (two titles that belong on the shelves of every dedicated Tolkienist) you can find the original chapter there, but for your convenience I've copied the most interesting portion below. The riddle portion is essentially the same, but Gollum's actions in the conclusion are vastly different.  Text in bold designates the part of the chapter unique to the original 1937 version and text in normal formatting is identical to that found in every edition printed since 1951.  The changes begin midway through page 75 in most of today's standard editions.


                   "Both wrong," cried Bilbo very much relieved; and he jumped at once to his feet, put his back to the nearest wall, and held out his little sword. But funnily enough he need not have been alarmed. For one thing Gollum had learned long long ago was never, never, to cheat at the riddle-game, which is a sacred one and of immense antiquity. Also there was the sword. He simply sat and whispered.        
            "What about the present?” asked Bilbo, not that he cared very much, still he felt that he had won it, pretty fairly, and in very difficult circumstances too.
            "Must we give it the thing, preciouss? Yess, we must! We must fetch it, preciouss, and give it the present we promised." So Gollum paddled back to his boat, and Bilbo thought he had heard the last of him. But he had not. The hobbit was just thinking of going back up the passage—having had quite enough of Gollum and the dark water's edge—when he heard him wailing and squeaking away in the gloom. He was on his island (of which, of course, Bilbo knew nothing), scrabbling here and there, searching and seeking in vain, and turning out his pockets.
            "Where iss it? Where iss it?" Bilbo heard him squeaking. "Lost, lost, my preciouss, lost, lost! Bless us and splash us! We haven't the present we promised, and we haven't even got it for ourselves."
            Bilbo turned round and waited, wondering what it could be that the creature was making such a fuss about. this proved very fortunate afterwards. For Gollum came back and made a tremendous spluttering and whispering and croaking; and in the end Bilbo gathered that Gollum had had a ring—a wonderful, beautiful ring, a ring that he had been given for a birthday present, ages and ages before in the old days when such rings were less uncommon. Sometimes he had it in his pocket; usually he kept it in a little hole in the rock on his island; sometimes he wore it—when he was very, very hungry, and tired of fish, and crept along dark passages looking for stray goblins. The he might even venture into places where the torches were lit and made his eyes blink and smart; for he would be safe. Oh yes! very nearly safe; for if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that was a faint and shaky sort of shadow.
            I don't know how many times Gollum begged Bilbo's pardon. He kept on saying: "We are ssorry; we didn't mean to cheat, we meant to give it our only only pressent, if it won the competition." He even offered to catch Bilbo some nice juicy fish to eat as a consolation.
            Bilbo shuddered at the thought of it. "No thank you!" he said as politely as he could.
            He was thinking hard, and the idea came to him that Gollum must have dropped that ring sometime and that he must have found it, and that he had that very ring in his pocket. But he had the wits not to tell Gollum.
            "Finding's keeping!" he said to himself; and being in a very tight place, I daresay, he was right. Anyway the ring belonged to him now.
            "Never mind!" he said. "The ring would have been mine now, if you had found it; so you would have lost it anyway. And I will let you off on one condition."
            "Yes, what iss it? What does it wish us to do, my precious?"
            "Help me to get out of these places," said Bilbo.
            Now Gollum had to agree to this, if he was not to cheat. He still very much wanted just to try what the stranger tasted like; but now he had to give up all idea of it. Still, there was the little sword; and the stranger was wide awake and on the look out, not unsuspecting as Gollum liked to have things which he attacked. So perhaps it was best after all.
            That is how Bilbo got to know that the tunnel ended at the water and went no further on the other side where the mountain wall was dark and solid. He also learned that he ought to have turned down one of the side passages to the right before he came to the bottom; but he could not follow Gollum's directions for finding it again on the way up, and he made the wretched creature come and show him the way.
            As they went along up the tunnel together, Gollump flip-flapping at his side, Bilbo going very softly, he thought he would try the ring. He slipped it on his finger.
            "Where iss it? Where iss it gone to?" said Gollum at once, peering about with his long eyes.
            "Here I am, following behind!" said Bilbo slipping off the ring again, and feeling very pleased to have it and to find that it really did what Gollum said.
            Now on they went again, while Gollum counted the passages to left and right: "One left, one right, two right, three right, two left," and so on. He began to get very shaky and afraid as they left the water further and further behind; but at last he stopped by a low opening on their left (going up)—"six right, four left."
            "Here'ss the passage," he whispered. "It musst squeeze in and sneak down. We durstn't go with it, my preciouss, no we durstn't, gollum!"
            So Bilbo slipped under the arch, and said good-bye to the nasty miserable creature; and very glad he was. He did not feel comfortable until he felt quite sure it was gone, and he kept his head out in the main tunnel listening until the flip-flap of Gollum going back to his boat died away in the darkness. Then he went down the new passage.
            It was a low narrow one roughly made. It was all right for the hobbit, except when he stubbed his toes in the dark on nasty jags in the floor; but it must have been a bit low for goblins. Perhaps it was not knowing that goblins are used to this sort of thing, and go along quite fast stooping low with their hands almost on the floor, that made Bilbo forget the danger of meeting them and hurry forward recklessly.
            Soon the passage began to go up again, and after a while it climbed steeply. That slowed him down. But at last after some time the slope stopped, the passage turned a corner and dipped down again, and at the bottom of a short incline he saw filtering round another corner—a glimmer of light. Not red light as of fire or lantern, but pale ordinary out-of-doors sort of light. Then he began to run. Scuttling along as fast as his little legs would carry him he turned the corner and came suddenly right into an open place where the light, after all that time in the dark, seemed dazzlingly bright. Really it was only a leak of sunshine in through a doorway, where a great door, a stone door, was left a little open.
            Bilbo blinked, and then he suddenly saw the goblins: goblins in full armour with drawn swords sitting just inside the door, and watching it with wide eyes, and the passage that led to it! They saw him sooner than he saw them, and with yells of delight they rushed upon him.
            Whether it was accident or presence of mind, I don't know. Accident, I think, because the hobbit was not used yet to his new treasure. Anyway he slipped the ring on his left hand—and the goblins stopped short. They could not see a sign of him. Then they yelled twice as loud as before, but not so delightedly.

The rest of the chapter (pages 83-84) remained unchanged.

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