Okay, so can I share with you what is quite possibly one of my favorite of all of Tolkien’s countless thousands of sentences?

“If you want to know what cram is, I can only say that I don’t know the recipe; but it is biscuitish, keeps good indefinitely, is supposed to be sustaining, and is certainly not entertaining, being in fact very uninteresting except as a chewing exercise.

Why do I like that sentence so much? Dunno. Something about it being good for nothing but long journeys and as a chewing exercise. Finally, a product designed so that all of us with underdeveloped jaw muscles can have faces just as buff as the movie stars. It makes me snicker every time I read it. Then I think of the bit in The Fellowship of the Ring, in Lothlorien when Gimli takes a piece of lembas and thinks it’s cram, which makes me snicker again. Then I think of the “one small bite can fill the stomach of a grown man” line from the movie, and I snicker a third time. Then I’m done snickering, and now that my absolute favorite part of the chapter is out of the way, on to the next bit.

(This, if you haven’t noticed yet, is going to be a rather stream-of-conscious type of post, consisting of the sorts of things that strike my fancy as I read this chapter.)

Now we’ve got our reluctant hobbit (I’ve go the Silver Jubilee edition of the book, and it says “The Reluctant Hobbit” in enormous lettering on the back cover, as if that’s supposed to entice us to pick it up) whose stepping into his own. Yes, he faced down Smaug, one tiny hobbit against a mighty dragon, but now he becomes the unexpected leader of the dwarves as they attempt to find a way out of the mountain. It’s a far cry from falling on his face and shouting, “Struck by lighting! Struck by lighting!” It seems only appropriate that it is a this point that Thorin gifts him with the mithril coat. Bilbo has taken on the role of leader and is thus dressed like a prince.

And naturally, on the subject of Bilbo coming into his own, we mustn’t forget that, while the dwarves have been calling him a burglar all along, he has always been the farthest thing from. Until now, the moment he closes his hand around the coveted Arkenstone and slips it into his pocket.

Also, Tolkien uses the word “wormstench” to describe the smell in Smaug’s chambers. Somehow there a different connotation when those two words are squashed into one that works incredibly well to define the atmosphere of the place. It’s another of my favorite Tolkien-ism.

And here I must leave you, with bated breath against Smaug’s return (don’t worry, I’m sure the wrothful dragon will turn up soon, first line of the next chapter if I remember correctly).

Namarie from the Tale-Weaver.


10 responses »

  1. jubilare says:

    That is a particularly awesome sentence. 😀

  2. emilykazakh says:

    Reblogged this on WanderLust and commented:
    “Wormstench.” Good word, Tolkien.

  3. David says:

    Reblogged this on The Warden's Walk and commented:
    One of Tolkien’s greatest sentences: cram is biscuitish? +)

  4. David says:

    It’s also around here that Balin starts becoming a larger, and more likable presence, than most of the other dwarves. He was nice before, but didn’t say much, while here he shows some good sense and directs the party to another good camp site on the mountain.

    It always bothered me that Bilbo kept the Arkenstone a secret for so long; as a kid, it was, after his hiding of the Ring from Gandalf, another worrisome moment of Bilbo’s weaknesses. I suppose it could be seen as the great lure of treasure having an effect even on him, through the stone’s sheer beauty, and perhaps also enhanced a bit by the Ring’s influence. Then again, an argument could also be made that Bilbo senses what trouble it could be for Thorin if Thorin found it, and he wishes not to encourage Thorin’s greed. But even that has an arrogance about it, and I rather think it is the former two influences. He is, nonetheless, quite a brave, resourceful fellow — to approach a dragon in his lair, knowingly, with no weapon but Sting, is an amazingly courageous act, even if one is invisible!

    • I rather agree with your first argument. I don’t think Bilbo was thinking of anything but the lure of treasure when he picked up the arkenstone. I think perhaps the moral there is you get what you want. The dwarves wanted a burglar, and thus they got-or created themselves–one.

  5. David says:

    P.S. What I like most about that sentence is the word “biscuitish.” +)

  6. Rob says:

    “Burglar” is another good example of Tolkien’s choice of words. He could have called Bilbo a “thief” or a “robber” but “burglar,” well, it just somehow fits!

  7. It’s funny: I read to my son, “all they ate was cram,” and then I said, “I don’t know what cram is.” Then I began to read in detail what cram was–it was a funny moment to share. A sort of depressing chapter, though, as we wait for death.

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