Trilingual Hobbit Reread

Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 9

Well, Chapter 8 was pretty exciting with all the Bilbo being heroic and OHNOEZ SPIDERS and YAY STING and OHNOEZ THORIN and stuff.

Now, though, we get daring barrel-based escapes from cranky elves! (Because I’m kind of with Thranduil on this; if my house was infested with dwarves I’d be a bit cranky too. Unless the dwarves look like Kili. Then I’m down that. Still, though, those short hairy guys DO put a dent in the beer stash, don’t they?)

Onward to Chapter 9, “Barrels out of Bond”!

This is a pretty fast-moving chapter, by comparison to a lot of what came before. It’s all action–and it’s all on Bilbo. He has to think fast when the dwarves are captured by the elves, and he winds up spending most of the early part of the chapter invisible, thanks to putting on the Ring as soon as the elves show up.

And he spends, according to this chapter, a week or two skulking around the Elvenking’s caves never daring to take the Ring off. We know now of course that Tolkien hadn’t yet planned out exactly what the Ring was when he wrote this story. Looking back on it now, though, you definitely have to just be outright impressed with how Bilbo waltzes through a good chunk of this book with the Ring on and never suffers any ill effects.

userinfosolarbird has the theory that perhaps at this point, the Ring just wasn’t sufficiently awake yet. I find this totally plausible, given that if it had been awake to the same degree we see in The Lord of the Rings, the Nazgul would have been all over Bilbo the first time he put that thing on. And Chapter 6 would have gone a lot differently, with Nazgul swooping down on those burning trees instead of Eagles!

A lot of comparisons are drawn in this chapter between the elves and the goblins, about how the caves of the elves are nicer, less deep underground, and certainly about how the elves treat their prisoners better. (Read: the dwarves actually get food and water.) That said? The elves are still demonstrably hostile here, and it’s interesting to consider the reasons why. I’ve seen theories espoused that this could go back into the First Age, and the strife between elves and dwarves over the Nauglamír, the Necklace of the Dwarves, which figures prominently in the tale of Beren and Lúthien. But within the context of The Hobbit proper, we don’t get much to work with at all.

(Also important to note: Thranduil is never actually named in the book so far as I recall. He’s always just ‘the Elvenking’, and we don’t get a name for him until The Lord of the Rings. However, I’ll continue to refer to him as Thranduil for the sake of brevity.)

But at any rate, yeah, this chapter is pretty much a continuation of Bilbo being the primary mover of the action. It’s particularly awesome seeing how he snipes back at the dwarves for giving him shit about the barrel-based escape plan, and invites them all to return to their cells if they don’t like it, or come up with a better idea. And it’s awesome as well seeing Thorin take heart when he realizes Bilbo has come. I’m looking forward to seeing Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage play this out in the next movie!

That said, I note that Bilbo still whines about wishing he was back home in his nice warm hobbit-hole. At least by now, though, he’s doing it while he’s actually doing interesting things, like rescuing dwarves. His character development, let him show you it!

I feel a little sorry for the one elf who gets a name in this chapter–the butler Galion, who is notably described in dialogue as “old”, which is not normally a concept one associates with elves despite the fact that Tolkien’s elves live for perfectly ridiculous numbers of years. However, it’s not clear whether the other elves who show up are calling him “old” because he actually is old, or whether they’re calling him that to tease him. He does however get quite a bit of teasing, and the poor sod is just trying to do his job. Not really his fault that he had no idea he was breaking into the really good wine that would knock his socks off! (And ‘drunk’ is not really a concept one normally associates with elves either, for that matter.)

I like that the elves start singing as they hoist what they think are empty barrels out into the river. The song Tolkien gives them is still quite lyrical, despite it clearly being a working song–so it quite fits the notion of elves just belting out a song as they’re at work. I’d quite like to hear a rendition of this out of Howard Shore, given what we’ve seen of music in the movies so far. The elvish music has been universally solemn and ethereal. It’d be a fun musical change of pace to hear an elvish working song.

This chapter gives us our first glimpse of Lake-town, too, as well as Bilbo doing some actual thievery. Which, given that he signed onto this adventure in the first place as a burglar, is a good opportunity for him to rack up some experience points! It is worth noting though that up to this point so far, all of Bilbo’s thievery has been motivated by hunger and need, rather than desire for wealth.

And now, the translations!

French notes:

The French edition calls this chapter “Tonneaux en liberté”, which, if my fledgling French is handling this correctly, is more or less “Barrels in freedom/liberty”. A pretty straightforward translation.

Right in the first paragraph, where the elves capture the dwarves, I found “Des Elfes de la Forêt bondirent, armés d’arcs et javelots, et crièrent aux nains de faire halte.” It confused me though as to why it’s “Des Elfes”, not “Les Elfes”, since I’ve only encountere “des” so far as a contraction of “de les”, preceding a plural noun. So I saw “Des Elfes” and it looked like “Of the elves” to me.

Asked my Francophone acquaintances on Facebook about that one, and they say it’s because it’s an indeterminate number of elves taking action in the sentence–which makes sense, given that Tolkien’s original sentence was “Out leaped Wood-elves with their bows and spears and called the dwarves to halt.” One does presume that not all of the Wood-elves in Mirkwood were involved with dwarf capture here. All in all, a good grammar point to know!

Google Translate fell over on a phrase which caught my eye due to the repetition of words: “à la queue leu leu”. A bit of judicious searching brings up that this is apparently a phrase meaning “in single file” or “one behind the other”.

Ah, and by contrast to the earlier usage of “des”, I note that Thranduil is referred to in this edition as “le Roi des Elfes”.

I note “keyhole” translating to “le trou de la serrure”, used when Thorin hears Bilbo speaking to him through the keyhole about the escape plan.

Hee, “le remarquable M. Baggins l’Invisible”. Which doesn’t particularly need translation. It just looks neat. 😀

This word leapt out at me from an otherwise mostly difficult sentence: “revendiquaient”. It’s the imperfect tense of “revendiquer”, which means “to claim/demand”. It’s used in the context of the dwarves not wanting to clue the elves in about the dragon’s treasure, lest the elves claim a share. Good crunchy verb!

Ils pensaient tous que leur propre part du trèsor (qu’ils consideraient tout à fait comme leur bien, en dépit de leur situation et du dragon encore invaincu) pâtirait sérieusement si les Elfes de la Forêt en revendiquaient une partie, et ils faisaient tous confiance à Bilbo.

Lots of use of imperfect tense there in general, in fact.

This bit talks about how Bilbo’s nosing around and discovers another way out of the caverns: “Un jour qu’il furetait à l’aventure, Bilbo découvrit un fait très intéressant…” The “à l’aventure” part here interests me; if I’m looking this up right, it’s being used here roughly in the sense of “by chance”. Which would fit well with the verb “fureter”, which means “rummage/ferret”.

Place names noted: “le Long Lac”, “la Ville du Lac”–“the Long Lake”, “Lake-town”.

Oh cool. The Elvenking’s butler Galion is “l’échanson du roi” here, and “échanson”, not to be confused with “chanson” (a word I well know), is apparently “cupbearer”. Which sounds a bit more fanciful than “butler”, to be sure.

“Catimini”, noted in the previous chapter, shows up again here. Definitely appropriate, given Bilbo enacting his sneaky “Get the dwarves out in barrels” plan: “Le hobbit entra alors en catimini”. Plus, I just like the sound of the word “catimini”. It sounds like “mini-cat” and I totally think of sneaky kittens. Or perhaps in this case sneaky hobbitses.

HA. Reading this in French totally makes me think of the inevitable Cajun French “laissez le bon temps rouler”! Or perhaps in this case, “laissez les bons tonneaux rouler”! Especially when the elves start singing as they’re throwing barrels out into the river.

I think the French version of the elves’ ‘roll the barrels into the river’ song, though, would come out rather less jaunty.

“Bousculante” took me a little work to figure out. It appears thus: “…mais enfin la masse bousculante commença de se disperser…” I found references to a verb “bousculer”, which means “to bump into/hurry”. Google Translate fell over on this version of the word, though. Only by comparison to the original text was I able to determine that it’s an adjective: “… but at last the jostling crowd began to break up…”.

Obligatory Le Vent du Nord giggle, at the phrase “Le vent était froid…” Which is actually funnier if you know that Le Vent du Nord got its name from the album that founding members Olivier Demers and Nicolas Boulerice released, called Le vent du Nord est toujour fret, and that “fret” is a Quebec version of “froid”.

… okay, maybe that’s Only Funny to Anna, but nonetheless. 😉

Lots of references here to “la Rivière de la Forêt” as well. The Forest River, in the original.

Seeing several occurrences of “celle-ci” and “celui-ci”, which appear to be the feminine and masculine versions of “this one”, respectively. I’d been getting “celle” and “celui” in SuperMemo vocabulary, but I hadn’t seen them with the -ci suffix. I did however find a good explanation of how that suffix works over here on’s page on demonstrative pronouns.

“Il y avait des gens aux aguets sur la rive” gives the expression “être aux aguets”, which is “be on watch/on the lookout”. This seems to be related to the verb “guetter”, but I’m not seeing how you get from “guetter” to “aguets”. Francophones, if you know, do please feel free to clarify!

Note to self: “Il serait superflu de nous étendre sur ses aventures…” is not talking about some form of supervirus! Rather, it translates to “It would be superfluous to dwell on his adventures…” Compare to Tolkien’s original, “There is no need to tell you much of his adventures…”

“Lake-town” gets a slightly different rendering towards the end of the chapter as “Lacville”.

Ah, “les elfes nautoniers”–the raft-elves.

On to the German!

German notes:

We start off the German edition with a nice substantial adjective, “verzweifelte”, “desperate”. It appears in the first paragraph, describing Bilbo and the dwarves making one last desperate effort to find the path before they’re captured by the elves: “Am Tag nach der Schlacht mit den Spinnen machten Bilbo und die Zwerge eine letzte verzweifelte Anstrengung…”

I’m still not quite getting “Spinnen” into my brain as “spiders”, though. I keep wanting to think of spinning wheels. Or maybe toy tops. On the other hand, “Anstrengung”, “effort”, is another nice substantial word.

“Hunger” and “Durst” stand out pretty clearly as “hunger” and “thirst”, even a bit more than “faim” and “soif” did in the French–and I say that aware that I’ve had both of the French words as vocabulary in SuperMemo. German’s closer similarity to English in many ways has some advantage here.

Still having a bit of a time parsing “Waldelben” as “Wood-elves”, too. I had to go back and doublecheck the sentence where the elves jump out with their bows and spears and order the dwarves to halt.

I am amused though that it took me until the German edition to lock in on the sentence about how resistance against elvish arrows that can “hit a bird’s eye in the dark” is futile. In German, this gives me the amusing noun “Elbenpfeile”, and Google Translate just throws up its hands at that and goes “oh for fuck’s sake”. It did manage to break out “pfeile” as arrows–but “Elben”, not so much.

“Königspalastes” jumped out at me, and I get “royal Palace” out of that in Google Translate. The entire sentence though is “Es war die Brücke, die über den Fluss hin zum Tor des Königspalastes führte.” In English, it’s “This was the bridge that led across the river to the king’s doors.” The German translation of what Tolkien wrote doesn’t quite match up here. Certainly the German, which seems to translate more to the effect of “to the gate of the royal palace”, conveys more of a sense of grandeur than the original English words. Which is a bit odd considering that these are Wood-elves living in caves.

“Türflügel”! I like this word and its strong share of umlauts! Literally, it seems to be “door leaves”, but in the context of where it appears in the text, it’s more like “gates”: “auf der anderen Seite waren die Türflügel einer gewaltigen Höhle zu sehen”.

“Aber Bilbo zögerte”–“but Bilbo hesitated”. Apparently I’m all about noticing all the words with umlauts in this chapter.

“Torflügel” appears not long after “Türflügel”–and again, this seems to mean “gate”, though I’m honestly not sure of the nuances of difference between one word and the other here.

And just for a change of pace, here’s a nice chewy word with no umlauts: “umherzustromern”. It appears in this sentence: “Es ist ein Verbrechen, ohne meine Erlaubnis in meinem Reich umherzustromern.” This is the Elvenking telling the dwarves it’s a crime to wander in his realm without his permission (c.f. previous commentary re: the elves being rather hostile). This is yet another example of German’s fondness for gigantic compound words, though I’m having trouble breaking “umherzustormern” down. I managed to whittle it down to “stromern”, which Google Translate claims is “wander about”, but as that’s the overall connotation of the sentence, I’m not sure what the extra syllables are adding.

Trust German to give me a compound noun with two z’s in it, too: “Einzelzelle”, “single cell”. Which is what each of the dwarves are thrown into when the Elvenking crankily orders them to be locked up until they learn more manners.

This is a switch, too, a nice short noun: “Jagd”. According to Google Translate, it’s “hunting”.

Another good word that I just like the sound of: “Vorratskammer”. “Storeroom”.

Ah, this is a good word to note: “Kapitel”, used where Bilbo is complaining to himself that this is the worst part of the entire adventure. It means “chapter”, not “capital”, which is what I thought at first.

“Keyhole” is a good word in German, too: “Schlüsselloch”.

Hee, I like how the German translator renders Mr. Invisible Baggins, too: “der bemerkenswerte Mister Unsichtbar Beutlin”. Which of course leads one to conclude that “Invisible” is Bilbo’s middle name. Mr. Bilbo Invisible Baggins.

Ooh, the translator apparently makes a small punctuation judgment, just before the paragraph where Bilbo discovers the other way out of the caverns. In the English edition Tolkien writes “… he did rescue his friends in the end, and this is how it happened.” In the German, however, this becomes “… Und das geschah folgendermaßen:”. I.e., with a colon at the end of the paragraph.

And in that next paragraph, we have a fun verb: “herumschnüffelte”. “Sniffing”. It even sounds like sniffing, I think.

Galion the butler here becomes “der Kellermeister”. The captain of the guard is “der Befehlshaber der Wache”, and later on he’s also “der Wachhabende”, the “duty officer”.

When the other elves show up and wake up Galion, the others yell “Shake him! Wake him!” This actually rhymes in German, too: “Schütteln ihn! Rütteln ihn!” Here, though, the sense appears to be more “Shake him! Rattle/jostle him!”

Another nice long word: “zusammengebunden”. “Tied together.”

“Explosionen”–“explosions”! Awesome. I didn’t catch this word going through the French edition, but it’s hard to miss that x. (And going back to check the French edition, I see ‘explosions’.) This is of course in the part towards the end of the chapter where cold, wet Bilbo is trying to rob the people of the river village and he keeps being given away by the sound of his own suppressed sneezes.

And speaking of those sneezes, the German edition seems to think that “Genieses” is “sneezes”, but damned if I can confirm that either in Google Translate or trying to google for the definition in general. I do get the verb “niesen” for “to sneeze”, but I don’t know how to get from that to “Genieses”. Not to be confused with “Geniuses”, which is certainly what it looks like.

And that brings us to the end of this chapter!

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