Rivendell 13 ~ Bilbo’s Gifts 2: The mithril shirt, plus Pt. 6 of jan-u-wine's 'Rivendell Suite'.
As I mentioned in the previous post (Bilbo presenting Sting), I love that the Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield gave Bilbo the mithril shirt. I love it most because it is a memento of a relationship that was nearly sundered irrevocably. For those who haven't read it, in The Hobbit, Thorin is stupefied, then furious when he learns that Bilbo has taken the Arkenstone and given it away to Thranduil (king of the Elves) and Bard (Laketown's leader), to force Thorin to negotiate. Thorin finally forgives Bilbo, but only on his deathbed.
"Farewell, good thief," he said. "I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate ... There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
~ "The Return Journey", The Hobbit.
The notion of Bilbo as a thief runs throughout The Hobbit, cropping up again in LotR. Bilbo is first accepted by the dwarves to go on their Quest because he is to be their Burglar, a role completely foreign to Bilbo. "More like a grocer than a burglar," the dwarves sniff at him. They don't think much better of him until he gets the Ring. Under the Misty Mountains, Bilbo comes upon the Ring accidentally (if it is an accident), but the iffy way in which he wins the Riddle Game frets at him. As shown in LotR, he continues to feel the sting of Gollum's wailed accusation, "Thief", long after the events of S.R. 1341. But the Ring allows Bilbo to help his friends many times, using stealth because of his invisibility. And in Smaug's lair, Bilbo acts the part of thief unequivocally. Trying to better deserve his office of Burglar, he steals a two-handled cup. Smaug knows and addresses him as "Thief". When Bilbo takes the Arkenstone, he steals with intent again, but for yet another reason. He wilfully takes the gem, knowing it to be what Thorin most covets and desires, the treasure stolen from his ancestors, but he does it for a higher good.
It interests me that Bilbo should show his greatest goodness and courage while committing a theft. He joins other Tolkien characters that perform their bravest, truest actions when they were wilfully disobeying a law. Because his gut tells him it is the right thing to do, Éomer lets Aragorn and his companions go free in Rohan, against Théoden's edict, even though his life may be forfeit. Faramir acts similarly when he releases Gollum, Frodo and Sam. Háma the door-ward lets Gandalf into Meduseld armed with his staff, knowingly betraying his office (to let no one enter who is armed), because he believes it is the right thing to do. Beregond, trusted Guard of the Citadel, disobeys the Steward, leaving his post and killing the Steward's men in the Hallows, for a higher good: to save the Steward's son. All three are good men, true and faithful to their lords, yet in the right circumstances they directly disobey their lords' edicts, at great personal risk, for a higher good. That is what Bilbo does when he takes the Arkenstone. He acts the part of a thief, but he is a "good thief", as Thorin recognizes at last. "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West," he says of Bilbo. Had Thorin ever met him, he might have said the same of Bilbo's heir.
All this came to me as I considered the caps for this scene. The sight of Bilbo's excited pleasure at showing and giving the shirt to Frodo, and Frodo's awed delight to receive such a wonderful, storied gift fills my heart with happiness. The only shadow on my enjoyment is knowing, from repeated viewings, where the scene is headed. The filmmakers make a decision to leave Thorin's "good thief" behind, veering off to create a Bilbo who would make a fine companion to Gollum instead. Dear Bilbo, he did not deserve it. But I will discuss that in the next post.
There is no denying this scene is beautifully done. The production values are perfect and the acting flawless. Holm's is excellent, putting Bilbo through a series of subtle but telling transitions as the Ring is revealed; Wood is crystal clear, letting us see Frodo's initial eagerness to try on the shirt transform into doubt and suspicion as he registers the changes in Bilbo's manner. Not to mention that no one has ever looked more delicious unbuttoning his or her shirt.
No matter how I regret what the filmmakers did with the second half of this scene, I do absolutely love its opening, and I love even more the poem jan-u-wine has written to go with this post. Below the screencaps is Pt. 6 of her brilliant poem cycle, Rivendell Suite. This time she is writing from the elder Baggins' point of view, as he considers his heir on the eve of his departure. What the film scene takes away from Bilbo, Jan's poem restores. It restores some of Frodo's lost glow, too, since he is seen so clearly through Bilbo's loving eyes.
No, the poem does more than "restore". As with all of Jan's best work, the poem opens up not only the film scene but my reading of the book, too. The writing is so in character, reading the poem makes me feel as though I hadn't fully understood Tolkien before. Jan brings me so close to the thoughts and feelings of Bilbo, I feel as though I can touch his love. I am certainly touched by it.
Book scene: from The Ring Goes South.
‘Also there is this!’ said Bilbo, bringing out a parcel which seemed to be rather heavy for its size. He unwound several folds of old cloth, and held up a small shirt of mail. It was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen, cold a ice, and harder than steel. It shone like moonlit silver, and was studded with white gems. With it was a belt of pearl and crystal.
‘It’s a pretty thing, isn’t it?’ said Bilbo, moving it in the light. ‘And useful. It is my dwarf-mail that Thorin gave me. I got it back from Michel Delving before I started, and packed it with my luggage. I brought all the mementoes of my Journey away with me, except the Ring. But I did not expect to use this, and I don’t need it now, except to look at sometimes. You hardly feel any weight when you put it on.’
‘I should look—well, I don’t think I should look right in it,’ said Frodo.
‘Just what I said myself,’ said Bilbo. ‘But never mind about looks. You can wear it under your outer clothes. Come on! You must share this secret with me. Don’t tell anybody else! But I should feel happier if I knew you were wearing it. I have a fancy it would turn even the knives of the Black Riders,’ he ended in a low voice.
‘Very well, I will take it,’ said Frodo. Bilbo put it on him, and fastened Sting upon the glittering belt; and then Frodo put over the top his old weather-stained breeches, tunic and jacket.
‘Just a plain hobbit you look,’ said Bilbo. ‘But there is more about you now than appears on the surface. Good luck to you!’ He turned away and looked out of the window, trying to hum a tune.
Bilbo lifts a shining shirt of mail from a heap of velvet on the bed:
Bilbo: Here’s a pretty thing! Mithril — as light as a feather, and as hard as dragon scales. Let me see you put it on. Go on.
Bilbo waits as Frodo begins to unbutton his shirt. He sees the Ring hanging from the chain around Frodo’s neck. He utters a cry of surprised delight.
Bilbo: Oh! My old ring!
Frodo pauses and looks up at Bilbo.
Rivendell Suite 6
~ by jan-u-wine
Not long past, (or so it seems to me....)
not long past, my own Adventure;
the feel of it,
and smell, the taste
of it all, still running,
through memory's gate.
The Dúnadan (who, of late, has been more the practiced King
and less *my* road-tracked Ranger) no longer meets my eye at table.
And I know:
*this* is no Adventure.
From this, the lad I have loved as my own may not return.
Despair visits me,
hard fingers pressing,
cold as a winter'd Sea, upon my heart.
If he should be lost.......
My breath halts within me.
*If* he were lost,
I should never know it.
~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
On a day that smells of snow, I visit his chamber.
Maps, noted by his own hand,
overflow the table, rest with wind-whisked leaves upon the floor.
A winter cloak, new made and darkly furred, waits upon a leaf-figured hook.
A prince of another Age, he seems to me then.
A prince alone
upon the eve of battle, the grey light of day
turning to fine silver the sheen of fear upon his brow.
For this last time, I shall be, again, the Squire.
No faunt is he, tale-shuttered eyes
falling to dremes,
no tween of curious feet and eager heart.
He is, still, *my* lad.
The gifts of my heart ever
has he owned.
All that remains,
now, are the gifts of my hand.
And so they pass on, as ever they were meant to,
storied true-silver and rune-writ blade
hidden beneath a road-worn tunic.
I shall expect you to keep a journal, my lad.
I shall expect you to keep......
~ Riv. 12: Bilbo’s Gifts 1 – The presentation of Sting, plus jan-u-wine’s ‘Finely Crafted’.
~ Rivendell 14 – Bilbo transformed, plus jan-u-wine's 'Rivendell Suite Pt. 7'.