Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hobbit 1937

Sometimes I think that if blogs in the OSR sphere were like rock bands GROGNARDIA would undoubtedly be the Led Zeppelin. It has staying power, and harkens back to older roots but presents them in a new way that is really approachable, and still rock and roll. If this is true then Jeff's Gameblog is the Jimi Hendrix of OSR blogs. This blog does things that other blogs would find difficult to pull off. Jeff plays with his tongue, pulls in weird riffs and techniques and influences no one thought of before, and then proceeds to light his gamebooks on fire. Other blogs take these ideas and run with them in a little tamer way, building out the lesser known band equivalents of blogdom. Perhaps I am the Whitesnake or Motorhead of OSR blogs, who knows.

Whats important is how I am ripping off Jeff today. Recently Jeff has been talking about the what if of Star Wars never having a sequel. What does the movie tell us about the star war world before it really got developed with contradictions and exposition in later movies. I want to ask a similar question of a just as influencial property: J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit.

As an intellectual property goes Middle Earth has a lot of similarities with Star Wars. The initial product was ground breaking and really changed the game. Both have estates that are very defensive of their IP. And both have creators that retconed their work stating that it was all part of the original vision.

The Hobbit had a major revision that did not get published until 1951, almost fourteen years after it was originally published that changed the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter to better align the story with the oncomming Lord of the Rings. So... set the Wayback Machine for late 1937. The Hobbit or There and Back Again is the only Middle Earth story. That's our primary source for today's exercise. There arn't any secondary sources. Given this material, what do we know about Middle Earth back then that no longer holds true under present concepts of Middle Earth canon? What is as-yet (for '37) undefined? What can we extrapolate? Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • Gandalf is just a wizard. Not an angel in disguise. Just a wizard. He has an enemy called the Necromancer who is also just a wizard. Anyone can be a wizard with enough practice. What about that Necromancer? He made the Greenwood into Mirkwood. That means that there is evil wizardry about.
  • Gollum is an honorable creature, and not obsessed with loosing his ring in a game of riddles. He is not obsessed with a ring that can turn him invisible. Man, thats character. Guyges and I certainly don't have character like that.
  • Elves are not always really nice. No Legolas means that the wood elves can be mean bastards. Elves make magic weapons.
  • Orcs don't exist. Never heard of em. All we got here are goblins.

This awesome panorama comes from David T. Wenzel at


Dr Rotwang said...

...and I Waste The Buddha With my crossbow is the Larry The Wild Man.

Jeff Rients said...

Oh, now I have to track down a copy of the earlier edition!

Tedankhamen said...

That is bloody amazing!
It is also a VERY gameable premise.
Swords against the Necromancer, anyone?
And all elves are evil, or at least chaotically neutral? Brilliant.
Anything about Trolls in there? I seem to remember they turned to stone in the sunlight.

Anonymous said...

Now, wait a minute. Battle of Five Armies, the Elves come out of the woods and are reasonable, and are not asking for more then their proper share, and they ally against the goblins without a second thought.

The treatment to the Dwarves and Bilbo they received in Mirkwood is well deserved, considering how rude and inconsiderate the Dwarves are, which is demonstrated throughout the book. While Jealous of theur land, the Elves were anything but chaotic.

If anything, it was the Dwarves who were being Chaotic in the first place. Look at them. Traveling all across Middle Earth, upsetting balances, breaking into places that they do not belong, not even fighting the dragon who's treasure they claim. The 13 are the most chaotic element, not even giving Bilbo his due for doing everything for them.

While I agree with most of your statements, Elves being Chaotic is just false.

Steamtunnel said...

I did not say Elves would be chaotic, I said they could be mean bastards. Which is entirely different. And they are pretty mean to the dwarves in The Hobbit. But before we call the Elf Liberation Front for free legal defense we should probably note that the reason 2 of the armies are there is because the elves and men think they might get some of that dragon treasure too.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I read someone else's comment and that made me misread yours. We accept that elves can be bastards. However, it's not that they thought they might get some. They were there to demand it. The Men, rightfully so because they slayed the dragon and were victims of the dragon, and the Elves because they were victims of the dragon also.

Technically, every army was there for the treasure (or, at least a share of it), and it is, in my mind, that the strong possibility that the evil influence of that gem was more responsible for it, then the greed of the people... except for the Goblins, who honestly just wanted loot and blood.

Anonymous said...

This such an awesome post I wish I had stumbled upon it earlier. While I read large amounts of Tolkien with my Leiber, Dunsany, CAS, Cabell and REH (among others), I really like the idea of just using The Hobbit for inspiration. The world is wilder and more dangerous. There are strange castles on hills that make a little hobbit shiver, wondering if they were made by evil men. Stone giants play games that could easily kill those who observe. Weird creatures can appear in the least expected of places. Awesome stuff.

While I would love to be the G'n'R of the OSR blogosphere I am probably closer to Stone Temple Pilots or Clutch because I don't always make sense, not even to myself.

Unknown said...

I've been mulling a Hobbit-before-LotR setting during my Hobbit re-read over at RIsus Monkey. I had no idea that you were already discussing this. Awesome.

WilderChairs said...

The dwarves were lost in the woods and literally starving. They didn't do anything other than stumble into the elves while seeking assistance, and were locked up for it. Why? Because they refused to tell the elves why they were there. And frankly it wasn't the elves' business. The elves didn't own the entire woods and had no right to lock up anyone. Of course the dwarves didn't want to explain why they were there, because they knew the greedy elves would demand a cut of the treasure - a treasure they had absolutely no right to. That treasure belonged to the dwarves and was stolen by the dragon. A bunch of wood elves have absolutely no claim to a penny of it, especially after a) imprisoning the ones who actually owned it and b) showing up on the dwarves' doorstep with an army, making demands. The simple act of showing up with arms demanding loot is enough of a reason to tell them to shove off.

As for the humans, it was foolish of the dwarves to not help them - it would have been favorable for the dwarves to do so, seeing as those same men would be the ones they would likely do their primary trading with - but legally speaking they didn't owe them jack. There was never at any time an agreement for any sort of payment or even an implication of such. And, like the elves, you show up with an army making demands and of course the rightful king is going to tell you to get lost. Once you show up at my house waving around a weapon we've gone past diplomacy.

Oh, and that little Hobbit was a right bastard too. He effectively betrayed his companions, literally robbed them, all so that they would agree to give a bunch of treasure to the same elves who wrongfully imprisoned them all and then showed up on their front porch with an army demanding payment. Eff the elves and eff Bilbo, too.