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Old 08-19-2018, 10:23 PM   #1
Haunting Spirit
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Tolkien & English Renaissance Drama

Looks like Ms. Seth's series is finally coming to an end. The series which has expanded beyond Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and understanding of the Barrow incident – has also included her views on the origin of The Hobbit. From her past Match me a Bilbo in London article – she has put forward that the source of 'Bilbo' was linked to Thomas Dekker – an Elizabethan and Jacobean playwright. For this latest essay she has explored where and when Tolkien may have bumped into Dekker's works – as they appear to lie outside his known area of expertise.

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Old 08-20-2018, 02:58 AM   #2
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This is - and I'm going to shock you here - a very good examination of Tolkien's early life in the specific context of post-Shakespeare plays. If the question 'where and why could Tolkien have encountered Match Me in London?' is one you want answered, this is a wonderful post to try and answer it with. (It is certainly far better than 'it has a thing that looks a bit like a dragon on it'!)

What neither it nor the earlier essay do is demonstrate that this is a more likely source for the name of Bilbo (and, now, a higher bar: 'the skeleton plot of his first real literary hit originated from Thomas Dekker’s 1611 handicraft.') than any other.

It is very easy to list points of similarity between things and claim a connection. My Gollum - King Solomon example continues to demonstrate this. If Ms. Seth was simply asserting 'it is possible that Tolkien got Bilbo's name from MMiL, and here's some supporting evidence', that would be fine. But she's not - she's asserting 'Tolkien did get Bilbo's name from this source, and based the plot of The Hobbit on it'.

That is too strong a claim for the evidence provided. To actually make that claim, you would need to prove at least two things:

-That The Hobbit was inspired by Elizabethan literature at all. The presence of a magical ring and a dragon points a firm finger at Anglo-Saxon/Scandinavian tales, and so a demonstration that there must (not 'could') be another source for at least parts, and that the Shakespearean era is the best option, would be needed.
---How would I do this? First off, I'd look for direct quotes from Tolkien. Secondly, I'd look for themes which do not show up in Anglo-Saxon writings, but which are common or at least found in Elizabethan ones.

-That Match Me in London is a more likely source for the name than other Elizabethan texts. This would require a search of the literature for other instances of the name Bilbo; I provided a couple of Shakespeare instances in the other thread.
---To do this really properly, I would start by listing, say, 100 key concepts from The Hobbit, and categorise my sources by how many of them are mentioned. (That's a big number, but Balfrog lists 26 points of congruence in a post on the last thread, so we need more than that for sure.)

That's a lot of work. I know it's a lot of work. But extremely strong assertions:

Originally Posted by Priya Seth
Nonetheless surely the true origin of Tolkien’s very special fairy tale lies in a Jacobean play. Surely at the very least – an initial skeleton plot came from the Jacobean drama. For its hard to deny aspects of Dekker’s tragi-comedy, as it is known, appear to be richly reflected in the tragic and comedic story of The Hobbit!
... require extremely strong proof.


To Balfrog and/or Ms. Seth: this tendency to assert as 'surely' true something which has actually only been demonstrated to be possible is why people take issue with your posts (well, one reason why). A series of posts demonstrating that a link between Tom Bombadil and the Gospels is possible would be fascinating; one claiming that the connection is so obviously correct that you have to be wilfully ignoring the evidence not to see it comes across as insulting, instead.


(PS: The bulk of this response actually ties in better to the previous thread, which I link above. I'm putting it here because this is really just a continuation of the same theme.)
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Old 09-23-2018, 07:29 PM   #3
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Apologies for the late reply (once again!) and thank you for your views.

The thing is it is very difficult to build a credible article by being wishy-washy. The presence of too many “maybe's, perhaps's & possibly's” tend to sow doubt in a reader's mind as to the validity of an article, and whether the author himself/herself is convinced. The balance between being over-assertive or under-convincing is a certainly a difficult one to achieve.

I think's it's worth taking another look at Ms. Seth's Match me a Bilbo in London bearing this in mind. Upon careful reading you might note Ms. Seth talks about her proposal potentially leapfrogging “pre-existing theories” and jumping “to the front of the queue”. In other words – she is effectively stating her proposition is a theory too! Not fact!

Actually within the article she does use 'perhaps' and 'maybe' several times – to be honest overly much for my liking. It is only towards the end of Match me a Bilbo in London – where more assertiveness is displayed. And that is precisely the right point to do so.

I am sure you must be aware that these are 'her' views and that is what she wishes to portray, By using the word “surely” - as a reader – I feel that it's simply the case of me being urged to think along the same lines. I take no offence - and it's up to me whether I concur.

One other point that is of relevance is that one might also want to consider – is her style – which she outlined in her very first article:

"what follows is a hypothesis, and though sometimes a factual portrayal is presented – this is just literary style and for effect."

Such a disclaimer could be added to the beginning of each and every one of her articles – but this to my mind is overkill. The reader ought to be acquainted with common practice.

As to 'proof' – you are quite right – it's extremely hard to achieve.
I discussed your suggested approach with Ms. Seth. The comment received was that it was an interesting tack. However she, for this particular hypothesis, prefers the 'DNA match' method.

In other words what are the odds of finding a person called 'Bilbo' (spelled exactly that way) and a fire-breathing dragon in another literary work?

Match me in London could be coincidence – but out of all the literary works out there – to her research it is a singular one. Even then – if it purely co-incidental – then what is the explanation for all the other similarities? They are too numerous to arbitrarily dismiss.

And by the way she's grateful to Nerwen, in pointing out the 'riddle scene' as yet another similarity. One that she completely missed.

I take your point about the Beowulfian stuff and the quest of the dragon's treasure being incipient to the story-line. Tolkien freely admitted “Beowulf is among my most valuable sources”.

But I think Ms. Seth's case is that the source of inspiration for The Hobbit was actually putting together a parody of Dekker's play - which itself is a quest to recover 'treasure'. From that he could tailor it to include Beowulfian elements.
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Old 03-03-2019, 06:49 PM   #4
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While Tolkien certainly had the familiarity with Shakespeare one would expect of any educated Englishman of his generation, there isn't the least suggestion he made a practice of reading forgotten plays by minor Jacobean dramatists. His area was language, not literature, and had been prominent among the Lang side of the English Faculty debates, putting forward the proposition that post-1485 literature was Mod. E, and thus wasn't worthy of University study.

I'm not sure that "Bilbo" needs a meaning, explanation, or source: it was just a funny name like Bungo, Mungo and Balbo. It doesn't clarify anything to point out that a long time ago bilboe once meant "Spanish sword"
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Old 06-09-2019, 05:50 PM   #5
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Hmm … perhaps you should read the article again. There appear to be several very viable avenues where Tolkien could have run across Dekker's Match me in London.
Exactly what did he read between say 1920 & 1930?
Well I would love you to complile a list.
I have a feeling, outside the sphere of his teaching curricula – you wouldn't be able to come up with more than a handful of items. Which really goes to show we have little idea on what he did or didn't read!

As to:

I'm not sure that "Bilbo" needs a meaning, explanation, or source: it was just a funny name like Bungo ...

The evidence is quite to the contrary. The naming of several major characters in The Hobbit did have explanations.
If you look carefully through Ms. Seth's articles – you'll discover a jest-based suggestion for Bungo too.
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