Dark and Light Imagery Within the Hobbit

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The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien is said to be one of the greatest children's novels of all time. The novel, due to its use of such characters as goblins, elves, trolls, giants, and others is in tradition, a fairy tale. The tale centers on a small hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins. It follows the journey of a band of dwarves, a wizard named Gandalf, and their robber, Bilbo on their way to retrieving treasure that had long been taken away from them. The hobbit traveled all over Middle-Earth, beginning with Bilbo's tiny hobbit-hole in the ground, to Mirkwood forest, to finally reaching the Mountain in which the dragon Smaug lives. Tolkien uses a large amount of imagery in his writing which can been seen through settings in The Hobbit. The imagery is usually either dark or light, depending on Bilbo's mood and contrast of his surroundings. J.R.R Tolkien uses dark and light imagery in The Hobbit to effectively set an eerie and mysterious mood and to foreshadow events such as Bilbo's journey in Mirkwood and his adventure in the Mountain.

To understand Tolkien's use of imagery, one must understand imagery as a concept. "Imagery refers to words that trigger the mind of a reader to recall images, or mental pictures, that engage one of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch" (Poxon). "There are two common types of images: literal and figurative" (Poxon). A literal image represents a "literal object or sensation. Its meaning is obvious and realistic and needs no interpretation. It is what it says it is." Tolkien uses a larger amount of figurative language in The Hobbit than literal.

A figurative image means more than what it says it is. It suggests certain meanings that must be interpreted. Similes, metaphors, and personification are just a few examples of figurative language that Tolkien uses in his fairy tale. These forms of figurative language help the reader create a "mental picture" . For example, when Bilbo Baggins meets Gollum, a strange, slimy creature who lives deep in the caves of Moria, he describes Gollum's eyes as "… the light of his eyes burned with a pale flame" (92). Gollum' s eyes are not really "pale flames," but because hi iris was such a bright color, in contrast to the dark, Bilbo had observed it as "pale." Also, his eyes were not actual "flames". Gollum was infuriated by the lose of his ring and therefore Bilbo saw rage in his expression, his eyes were not "flames'.

The majority of Tolkien's imagery is found in nature. In 1999, Karen Oberst concluded that Tolkien's greatest use of nature was "when he anthropomophized it," which means to attribute human characteristics to something that is not human. This form of imagery is an on-going pattern throughout Tolkien's tale. Bilbo Baggins repeatedly advises human characteristics to the inanimate objects that are around him, which adds profoundness to Tolkien's tale. For instance, Bilbo describes the west part of the Mountains on the way to Homely Home as having "no trees and no valleys and no hill to break the ground in front of them, only one vast slope going slowly up and up to meet the feet of the nearest mountain […]"(Tolkien 52). Tolkien used this example of imagery to emphasize the bleakness of the situation.

Light imagery and dark imagery are found in two very different places in literature. Light imagery is usually found in situations in which the mood is "happy" and "peaceful" (McDaniel). For example, after descending from Misty Mountain and battling Wargs, climbing trees, and being carried off by eagles, Bilbo is understandably tired and hungry. When the fellowship arrives to see Elrond, Bilbo is very pleased. The narrator tells the reader that the next morning, after having slept and eaten comfortably, Bilbo found it was a "midsummer's morning as fair and fresh as could be dreamed" (Tolkien 60). Bilbo was comfortable now having had food to eat and a nice place to sleep. This made the...
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