Trilingual Hobbit Reread

Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 15

Well, all this fun with dragons strafing Lake-town is all very well and good, but I know what you’re thinking, Internets: what’s going on with Bilbo? Good question, for which I’m sure that Chapter 15, “The Gathering of the Clouds”, will have answers!

And since I’m so far behind on getting these posts done, I’ve actually read the rest of the English edition as I write this. This post, however, will stay focused on Chapter 15.

General notes:

Interesting that the first thing in the chapter is the thrush arriving to try to communicate with Bilbo and the dwarves–and Balin seems entirely unsurprised that the bird is apparently trying to tell them something, and even says that the speech of thrushes is “very quick and difficult”. So evidently talking to birds isn’t unusual to dwarves, either; Balin goes on to talk about crows calling them names, and ravens being friends to dwarves in times past. And we even get an ancient raven, Roäc, landing to talk to them.

Somehow, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see this covered in the movies, for previously expressed “Jackson hasn’t done talking animals before and I doubt he will now” reasons. So it’ll be fun to see how Thorin’s company gets clued in that Smaug’s been taken out in the new movie.

And now we’re getting into laying the groundwork for the Battle of Five Armies, as Thorin leads the dwarves in fortifying the Lonely Mountain. I expect we’ll see more of Thorin starting to show signs of his grandfather’s greed, once the films get to this part. Otherwise, he’d be a lot more willing to trust Bard.

We get a song here, too, with a bit that calls back rather nicely to the song in Chapter 1–particularly with the line that goes “On silver necklaces they strung / The light of stars, on crowns they hung / The dragon-fire, from twisted wire / The melody of harps they wrung.”

Compare to this bit from Chapter 1’s song (which I still hear in the voice of Gandalf from the animated edition): “On silver necklaces they strung / The flowering stars, on crowns they hung / The dragon-fire, in twisted wire / They meshed the light of moon and sun.”

Bilbo’s not happy about this newer song, since it strikes him as warlike–with just cause. Soon enough the men and elves show up, and Bard himself presents his case to Thorin. Which gets him exactly nowhere. Ditto for the messenger who shows up to deliver a rather sterner ultimatum, and gets his shield shot at for his trouble.

And with that we’ve got the opening of the battle, with the Lake-town men and the elves laying siege to the Mountain. This, as most of us all know, is not going to end well.

French notes:

In Bilbo Le Hobbit, this chapter’s title, “Les nuages s’accumulent”, is more “The clouds are gathering”–same overall idea as the English edition, though.

Right out of the gate, I can read the entire first sentence, go me! “Revenons maintenant à Bilbo et aux nains.” I.e., “Let’s return now to Bilbo and to the dwarves.”

I didn’t get too much of the next bit where Thorin observes the behavior of the birds, but I did notice this word, “charognards”, which means “scavengers”.

“Soudain, Bilbo pointa l’index…” Two things of interest here. One, “soudain”, which I don’t think I’d actually learned as a word before, but which I figured out pretty quickly was indeed “suddenly”. And two, “index” here means “the index finger”. Reads a little oddly to my Anglophone eyes, but it’s an important little nuance of vocabulary to know!

And speaking of what Bilbo was pointing at, whoa hey, I understood this entire paragraph:

Assurément, la vieille grive était là ; comme Bilbo la désignait, elle vola vers eux et se percha sur une pierre proche. Elle se mit à chanter en agitant les ailes ; puis elle inclina sa tête sur le côté comme pour écouter ; puis de nouveau elle chanta et écouta encore.

Here’s what Tolkien actually wrote:

Sure enough the old thrush was there, and as Bilbo pointed, he flew towards them and perched on a stone near by. Then he fluttered his wings and sang; then he cocked his head on one side, as if to listen; and again he sang, and again he listened.

The bits I had to work to parse here are: 1) “désignait”, which I assumed meant “designate”, and doublechecking the conjugation shows me that yeah, that’s the imperfect tense of “désigner”; 2) “vola” took me a few because I originally wanted to read that as a conjugation of “vouloir”, and then of “aller”, before I finally realized it was the passé simple of “voler”. And, of course, the sense of “to fly” rather than “to steal”; 3) I didn’t realize that “nouveau” is actually getting used here as “de nouveau”, which is a synonym of “encore”.

Noting with pleasure that I’m parsing a great deal of the same page that the above quote appears on, though that’s the biggest block of text on the page that made sense to me. Other interesting vocabulary on the page: “corneilles”, which are crows, vs. “corbeaux”, which are ravens. And the verb “convoitaient”, which is the imperfect of “convoiter”, which is “to covet”. Because ravens do covet their shiny things.

And as the chapter proceeds, we get “croasser” used in “croassa-t-il”, once the raven Röac shows up. This verb is “to croak/caw”, very appropriate for a raven. And I’m also noting how he’s described as using “le langage ordinaire”, i.e., ordinary language, and not “le parler des oiseaux”, i.e., the speech of birds. Which tells me that “parler” can in fact be used as a noun as well as a verb, which I did not know!

I almost got all of this sentence: “Il fallut quelque temps pour que Thorin pût amener les nains au silence afin d’entendre les nouvelles du corbeau.” Google Translate reads this as “It took some time before Thorin could bring the dwarves to silence to hear the news of the raven.” Which is pretty close to Tolkien’s actual sentence: “It was some time before Thorin could bring the dwarves to be silent and listen to the raven’s news.” The part that threw me was the “afin”, which was unfamiliar to me. I tried to parse this sentence as the dwarves flipping out with reaction to the conclusion of the news, not before.

Röac delivering “le récit de la bataille” makes me giggle–I hadn’t really realized before that “bataille” (battle) is very close to “bouteille” (bottle), in French as well as in English. Pro tip: do not confuse these two words. They make for very different songs.

And the sentences and clauses I can parse continue with: “C’est votre propre sagesse qui doit dicter votre conduite…” (“It’s your own wisdom which must dictate your behavior…”) Which is pretty close to Tolkien’s actual “Your own wisdom must decide your course…” This is pretty exciting, I’m having more and more pop off the page at me, just going through this chapter. 😀

Ooh, Thorin’s reply to Röac gives me a word I hadn’t seen before: “quiconque”, which is very similar to “quelconque”, which I’ve had in SuperMemo. Apparently the former is “anyone” or “whoever”, whereas the latter is “anything” or “any”. In other words, one refers to people and the other refers to things. Good thing to know!

Heh, and Thorin’s outburst also gives me “en còlere”, which I do recognize as being “in anger”. Important not to misinterpret that as “in color”, though you can get away with the mental imagery of one’s face being reddened with anger as a way to remember what this means.

Some more words that leapt out at me:

“Entre-temps”: Meanwhile / meantime

“Raffermis”: Strengthened / firmed (this is apparently based on the verb “raffermir”)

“Brûler”: I know this verb as “to burn” from SuperMemo, but it’s used here in the sense of “longing to do something”

In particular, “brûler” is used to describe how Bilbo longs to join the merriment and song down by the fires of the elves, and that leads into another bit of sentence I was able to parse: “Certains des plus jeunes nains aussi furent émus dans leur cœur…” (“Some of the younger dwarves also were moved in their hearts…”) “Émus” is the word that caught my eye here, since that was the first bit I didn’t recognize, and “furent” was the other. “Furent” is a conjugation of “être”, one of the ones that I hadn’t gotten into my head yet. And “émus” is apparently derived from the verb “émouvoir”, which is “to touch/to move”, in the emotional sense. Which gives me in turn the phrase “être émus”, which is “to be moved”. Not to be emus, one must note!

The song that appears in this chapter is hard to follow, in no small part because of the wrapping of the lines throwing off the spacing–so it’s hard to figure out where one verse ends and another begins. And as I’ve previously observed, the French translator is making no effort to make the song actually rhyme or scan in French, as near as I can tell. (It’d be REAL interesting to get hold of the more recent translation, sold under the title Le Hobbit, and see if the same applies there.)

I do however continue to do pretty well following dialogue, and often I’m better at that than I am at the longer blocks of narrative. Like here: “Je suis Barde ; c’est par ma main que le dragon est mort et que votre trésor a été libéré”. Basically, Bard announcing himself and pointing out hey, Thorin, DUDE, I’m the one that killed the dragon and liberated your shiny things for you.

And another word that leapt out at me, for the similarity to “surveillance”: “bienveillance”, which means “kindness”.

“Porte-étendard” is “standard-bearer”, which was pretty obvious given where it appears at the end of the chapter, right before the ultimatum is delivered to Thorin: i.e., give up a share of the treasure or face the consequences.

And given how Thorin shoots an arrow into the shield in response, this is also fairly obvious to parse: “Je déclare la Montagne assiégée”.

German notes:

In the German edition, the chapter title is “Die Wolken sammeln sich”–which immediately caught my eye just because of the similarity to “Volk”, which is “folk”.

First random phrase that I could read: “aber als der Morgen kam…” (“But when the morning came…”) Courtesy of having gotten “als” as a SuperMemo word!

First cool word: “Vogelschwärme”, “flocks of birds”. Couldn’t help but think of “shawarma”.

“Aber ich vermute…” stands out for me for having recently gotten “vermuten”, “to suspect”, as a SuperMemo word too. I’m tellin’ ya, folks, this daily language study helps.

I somehow managed to miss in the earlier chapters that “Drossel” is “thrush”, and was only able to figure that out from context, and knowing what happens at the beginning of this chapter. (It is amusing to me to note that apparently “thrush” is a feminine noun in both French and German, yet Tolkien consistently describes the thrush as a male creature.)

Here is the German version of the passage that I was able to parse in French:

Wirklich, die alte Drossel war wieder da. Und als Bilbo auf sie zeigte, flog sie heran und setzte sich dicht vor ihnen auf einen Stein. Dann schlug sie mit den Schwingen und sang. Endlich legte sie den Kopf schief, als ob sie lauschte, und wieder sang sie und wieder lauschte sie.

“Drossel” is kind of amusing here given that Google Translate wants to tell me this means “throttle”. My online dictionary backs it up, so apparently this word can mean both “thrush” and “throttle”.

“Auf sie zeigte” is apparently not a breakdown of the verb “aufzeigen”–it’s just “at her pointed”, an example of the phrase “auf jdn/etw zeigen” that I see in the online dictionary at

“Flog” would be the past tense of “fliegen”, “to fly”. Not to be confused with the English verb “flog”.

“Dann schlug sie mit den Schwingen” confuses me a bit, since “schlug” is the past tense of “schlagen”, “to hit”. However, poking at this phrase a little further, I find a reference on the dictionary to the phrases “mit den Flügeln schlagen” and “die Flügel schlagen”, both of which essentially mean “to beat/flap the wings”. Which eventually leads me to discover that “Schwingen” here is plural for “Schwinge”, which is evidently a more poetic way to say “wings”.

I got most of Balin’s lines about how he thinks the thrush is trying to tell them something, but he can’t parse its speech. The first of the interesting words here for me is “meinte”–which turns out to be the past tense of “meinen”, which I’ve gotten as a verb now in SuperMemo, which means “to think”. And the other is “folgen”, which is “to follow”.

Bilbo’s answer to Balin gives me the verb “entgegnete”, past tense of “entgegnen”, “to reply”. And this part of the chapter also gives us “Raben” and “Krähen”, which are “ravens” and “crows”, respectively.

Ha! I recognize the word “Nachrichten” now from SuperMemo as well–which is to say, “news”.

Balin talking about the history of ravens with Thror’s folk gives us this fun noun: “Zwergenbursche” (“dwarf boy”).

And this leads nicely into the arrival of Röac, of whom we get this rather nicely rhythmic sentence: “Es war ein hochbetagter, außerordentlich großer Rabe.” This translates to “It was a very old, very large raven”, which is interesting to compare to Tolkien’s “He was an aged raven of great size.”

Röac, too, is one of the nicer pictures illustrating this edition!

Röac the Raven

Röac the Raven

When Röac starts to speak, we get this sentence describing how Bilbo can understand him: “Bilbo verstand, was er sagte, denn er benutzte die gewöhnliche und nicht die Vogelsprache.” What caught my eye here is the lack of a noun to go with “gewöhnliche”, though Google Translate drops an implied “speech/language” in there: “Bilbo understood what he said, because he used ordinary language and not bird.” Tolkien’s original sentence calls it out more clearly: “… and Bilbo could understand what he said, for he used ordinary language and not bird-speech.”

(*snerk* I’m sure Röac believes his speech to be perfectly ordinary, thank you.)

Behold the magnificence of big German numbers: “einhundertdreiundfünfzig”. Twenty-four characters, baby. Which requires a quick digression to this:

German Signs are Long

German Signs are Long

I must assert that Germans totally play Scrabble. They just require a much larger board, and scoff at feeble little seven-character bingos. If your word doesn’t have at least fifteen characters in it, don’t even bother!

Here’s the German version of the bit where Thorin has to work to get the dwarves to shut up and listen to the raven:

Es dauerte geraume Zeit, bis Thorin die Zwerge dazu brachte, still zu sein und den Nachrichten des Raben weiter zu lauschen.

“Dauerte” I recognize from “dauern”, which is “to last” or “to take”, as near as I can tell, in the sense of “a given amount of time”. The overall sentence structure rearranges things in what seems to my eyes to be a typical “put the verb last” German fashion, and I do get the gist of it, though a couple of the words like “dazu” and “weiter” aren’t familiar. Looking them up, I find “dazu” is more or less “there”, and “weiter” is “further”.

I’ve seen Bard described as of the line of Girion enough to recognize what “Abkomme Girions” means–“Abkomme” is “descendant”.

Röac concludes his speech to the dwarves by saying “Ich habe gesprochen”, which has a bit more gravitas, I think, than the “J’ai dit” he utters in the French edition–though on the other hand, “J’ai dit” does have a bit of lovely terseness.

A scattering of words that leapt out at me in the pages following Röac’s speech to the dwarves:

“Hauptsächlich”: “chiefly/mainly”

“Quadermaeur”: This one I have to guess at since I can’t find a direct translation for it. Google Translate thinks it’s “freestone”, and the dictionary doesn’t provide me much help verifying that. The sentence where this appears reads:

Schon war das Tor durch eine Quadermauer gesperrt, die zwar ohne Mörtel gebaut, aber nichtsdestoweniger mächtig und hoch war.

What Tolkien actually wrote was: “… and already the gate was blocked with a wall of squared stones laid dry, but very thick and high, across the opening.” So “Quadermauer” would correspond with “wall of squared stones”. I also note “nichtsdestoweniger” in this sentence, which is “nonetheless”, and which would do very well indeed on the Scrabble board.

“Morgenlicht”: “morning light”. This just sounds neat to my ear. I could see it as the name of a sword or of a musical instrument, and that these would be two very different objects does not in the least change my opinion on the matter.

“Elbenharfen”: “elven harps”. This appears in the sentence “Auch Elbenharfen zu hören und süß klingende Musik”, in which I had to do more googling to determine that the last few words here were “sweet sounding music”.

And speaking of music–aww! The song that appears in this chapter in the English edition doesn’t appear here at all. This is the second time, I believe, that a song’s been skipped by the German translator. It would be really interesting to know whether this was due to inability to translate it well, or perhaps the desire to cut down the word count.

Ah, here’s a sentence I parsed completely: “Aber Bilbos Herz wurde schwer: Die Rede klang allzu kriegerisch.” Which is “But Bilbo’s heart became heavy: the speech sounded all too warlike.” I note with interest as well that in the original, Bilbo is reacting to both the song and the talk, but here it’s just the latter. Presumably because the translator cut out the song.

Second longest word I couldn’t quite parse: “freundnachbarlicher”, which appears in the part towards the end where Bard is telling Thorin that the Elvenking is his friend, who’s helped Lake-town in the hour of their need, even though they had no claim on him but friendship: “… ohne dass es einen Anspruch hatte, einzig aus freundnachbarlicher Hilfe.” The closest I can get in this long word is “friendly, neighborly”, and I’m not sure whether the -er on the end is a modifier or not. Here’s the whole sentence:

Er hat dem Volk am See in seiner Not beigestanden, und das, ohne dass es einen Anspruch hatte, einzig aus freundnachbarlicher Hilfe.

Compare to Tolkien’s original: “…he has succoured the people of the Lake in their need, though they had no claim but friendship on him.”

The translation seems to get the point across, but it’s the final phrase that puzzles me. I make it out maybe as “only from friendly, neighborly help”, perhaps.

And of course, friendly, neighborly help at this point is really not on Thorin’s agenda.

Next post, Chapter 16, “A Thief in the Night”, in which Bilbo takes matters into his own tiny hands!

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