Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


Chapter Five: Riddles In The Dark

The tale of The Hobbit is basically nothing more than a straight forward journey with several diversionary stops along the way. Some of these stops are, arguably, not all that relevant to the overall plot; such as the meeting with the trolls. Others are critical to introducing new characters and even whole races of peoples that play a larger role in the story’s climax.

The events of “Riddles In The Dark” were originally intended to merely introduce an important plot device – a “magic” ring that would render our main protagonist invisible without anyone’s knowledge. This was indispensable in assisting him (and the Company) to achieve the quest at hand.

In later years, Tolkien used this aspect of his original story as the foundation for expanding the scope of Middle-Earth beyond the reader’s wildest dreams, creating a larger story that would literally bring this entire world to the brink of an age of darkness and evil. There is a moment in this chapter where a restrained hand of the hero is instrumental in determining the outcome of this later grander story, which I will address at the end of this post. As such, its importance as both a connection and a springboard to the three Lord of the Rings films cannot be overstated. In bringing this story to the screen, it is critical for Peter Jackson and company to get this scene right.

Certainly, it bears the responsibility of properly introducing both the Ring and Gollum (aka Smeagol) but it must do so as effectively as possible within the parameters of this mostly visual medium. In other words, Jackson will need to craft the script carefully to make it compelling while at the same time keeping it to no more than about ten to fifteen minutes in length. You can curl up in front of a fire and immerse yourself in this chapter over the course of a half to three-quarters of an hour but this won’t do as one part of a (likely) five hour two-part film presentation.

The transition from the prior scene will open in darkness but with enough strategically placed lighting to allow the audience to take in the detail of the underground caves. In “The Return of the King”, Shelob’s lair would realistically have been in total darkness but Jackson’s team gave us the visual horror of webs, bones, carcasses and – or course – the great spider herself. Here we need to be able to see a subterranean cavern, a large underground lake and our two characters. The recent video posted by Jackson in his production blog on Facebook gives us a taste of how the overall look of the caves will be.

Sting should have a very faint glow, indicating that “goblins are not very near, and yet not very far.” Observant fans will notice that in “The Fellowship of the Ring” Gandalf’s sword, Glamdring, never glows at all in Balin’s Tomb. It begs the question as to whether or not it should glow at any point in these films or if it should be left alone for consistency’s sake (leaving in place the original inconsistency).

The actual discovery of the Ring need not mirror the brief scene presented in the prologue to the trilogy, though Bilbo should probably be crawling on all fours at the time (as it is described in the text).

How to introduce Gollum? I suspect that the visual effects crew may present him as slightly different in appearance as we have already seen him. With this underground world providing sufficient nourishment in the forms of fish (and the occasional goblin), I would expect Gollum to appear not as thin and gaunt as we first saw him in “The Two Towers”. Also, his possession of the Ring (as opposed to his seventy five plus years of Ring deprivation) would likely make him seem less drawn out and wretched.

I’m not talking about a drastic difference, mind you. But don’t be surprised if Gollum appears here to seem a bit “healthier” looking, though still more like the Gollum half of his personality than of Smeagol. No pandering or kissing up to the master of the Precious here. No, Gollum will likely act like the one in control of the situation as he believes that his possession of the Ring is not under threat.

There are probably a couple of pieces of dialogue that will remain intact. The first of these is “I am Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the Dwarves and I have lost the wizard and I don’t know where I am.” Here his name and his association with Dwarves and a wizard will serve as Gollum’s only known information as he later sets out to recover his Precious.
The riddle game itself will need to be pared down a bit. In the text, Gollum asks five riddles and Bilbo asks four (his fifth being the infamous “what have I got in my pocket?”). This is too many to keep the casual audience members’ attention. I would expect Jackson to wean it down to three and two for Gollum and Bilbo, respectively. I’ll take a guess and say they start off as in the book with Gollum’s mountains riddle and Bilbo’s teeth and gums query.

Gollum’s next should probably the riddle of the fish. In the book version of “The Two Towers”, Tolkien has Smeagol repeat this riddle to Frodo, using a longer version that ends in: “we only wish to catch a fish, so juicy sweet”. In Jackson’s film “The Two Towers”, Smeagol croons a version of this while feeding at the Forbidden Pool in Ithilien:
“Rock and pool,
Is nice and cool,
So juicy sweet!
How nice it is,
To catch a fish,
So juicy sweeeeeet!”
This would provide a nice (albeit obscure) tie-in to the trilogy.

Bilbo could continue with one of his riddles as written but perhaps the one about the egg would represent something that Gollum (and maybe the audience) could easily guess. Lastly, Gollum should ask the riddle about time, allowing Bilbo to indirectly guess the answer by pleading for more “time, time!”

And here we would have Bilbo desperately trying to come up with a riddle and fiddling in his pockets, resulting in his asking himself aloud, “What have I got in my pocket?” Gollum mistakes this for a riddle and tries to make three guesses and fails, allowing Bilbo to effectively win the contest.

On a side note, I would point out that in the original 1937 version of The Hobbit, this whole exchange was written differently and it presented a problem for Tolkien when writing The Lord of the Rings. As the author states in a letter to publisher Sir Stanley Unwin dated July 31, 1947 (see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien - p 121):
“The weakness [in linking The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings] 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 in its chapter V.”
The original agreement as written had Gollum stating “and if we does not answer we gives it a present.” This was later revised to “and if we doesn’t answer, then we does what it wants, eh? We shows it the way out, yes!”. Tolkien had not established the Ring as something that possesses Gollum as much as he possesses it so his character had to be rewritten as more treacherous. There are more aspects of this revision that I won’t elaborate on here but I would refer the reader who is interested to section of the Prologue of “The Fellowship of the Ring” titled Of the Finding of the Ring.

Now, as the scheming Gollum has no intention of honoring his promise to show Bilbo the way out, he retreats to his island to find his Ring, which will give him stealth to overcome Bilbo’s advantage of wielding Sting. Upon his searching, Gollum should mention it being his “birthday present”, complementing the opening scene of “The Return of the King” where a more hobbit-like Smeagol insists to Deagol that he should give the newly found Ring to him“because it’s my birthday and I wants it.” (he hadn't yet developed the schizophrenic self-reference of "we" at this point)

Gollum’s panicked discovery that his Precious is missing leads to his pursuit of the “thief” Baggins. As Bilbo attempts to elude the creature, he inadvertently slips on the Ring and becomes invisible.

Now how should this be portrayed on screen? In The Lord of the Rings, wearing the Ring creates this instant connection to Sauron, making him aware of the ringbearer (i.e. “I can see you.”). At this point, however, Sauron is not yet aware that the Ring has been found. Gollum’s discovery and use has not tipped him off at this point so there is no reason to expect having a new wearer should make a difference. Tolkien never addresses the lack of a connection to Sauron anywhere in his writings that I’m aware of so we can only speculate the significance.

Perhaps Sauron’s strength is not sufficient at this point that he can detect it. He was yet to openly declare himself (still lurking in Dol Guldur). The fires of Mount Doom in Mordor have not yet begun erupting.

Also, when Frodo wears the Ring there is a depiction of him being in the dimension of the “wraith world” and the visuals are skewed and distorted, allowing Frodo to see the true forms of the Nine. I suppose there should be a similar effect on Bilbo though perhaps not as pronounced. The other option is to not show what Bilbo sees at all, only that he disappears. This would be tricky because he wears the Ring so often in this story that to film nothing – other than his effect on his environment – would not be very compelling to the audience.

This may prove to be Jackson’s biggest challenge in the films. One can only guess what the result will be but I’m predicting that the director has already thought this through and will have to show at least some kind of representation of Bilbo’s point of view.

Now the escape from the caves into the open will probably have to be shortened but the key moment in this sequence will have to be a point where Bilbo has the chance to slay Gollum with Sting but hesitates. The moment when “pity stayed Bilbo’s hand” has such powerful ramifications on the future, not the least of which is the ultimate destruction of the Ring. But also of importance is the fact that Bilbo’s acquisition of the Ring does not come by thievery or murder.

As Tolkien writes:
"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. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped."
On this matter I have often wondered about the possible influence of Tolkien’s good friend and fellow “Inkling” C. S. Lewis, from whom he solicited much feedback throughout the writing of the books. Lewis’ description of the Christian definition of charity in his book “Mere Christianity” is easily relatable to Bilbo’s restraint:
"Good and evil both increase at a compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of."
In other words, Lewis is stating the even the most minor act of charity can pay off in dividends in the larger picture that could never be anticipated. By showing charity (in the form of mercy) towards Gollum, Bilbo’s actions prompt Gandalf to later chide Frodo for his wish that Gollum had been killed. In emphasizing that we simple creatures should avoid “playing God” so to speak, he tells Frodo “do not be so eager to deal in death and judgment.”

Unless Jackson has Bilbo overhear Gollum’s talking aloud to himself with regard to the Ring’s power of granting invisibility, our hero should come to this conclusion at some point before or after he escapes from the Misty Mountains. It should also be made plain to the audience that the goblins intend to continue their pursuit of vengeance against the Dwarves once the sun goes down.

And the last thing we hear Gollum utter is his famous cry:
“Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!”
As the Company goes…Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire.


UPDATE: 1/22/12
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Five here.