Episode 208 Summary

Tony Meade

Active Member

A small shirt of mail:
  • Note: In the medieval tradition, gifts that have a long history and famous past owners are considered higher status gifts than things that are given when they are brand new. There is also more honor given to the giving of the gift than receiving it, or its future uses. This is in contrast to modern notions of gift-giving, where new or unique gifts are seen as more desirable. There is an irony in this being in tension with the Shire traditions that lead to calling things mathoms.
  • Bilbo has always remembered the giving of the dwarf-mail by Thorin as being more important that the gift itself, and he is recapitulating that gift by giving it to Frodo for his journey now.
  • Note: All useful objects were much more expensive and well-made in pre-industrial times.
  • It’s likely that Frodo has seen the mithril coat before, whether in Bag End of the mathom-house, and would certainly have heard about it from Bilbo talking about his previous adventures.
  • Note: The detailed description is more of a narrative technique for the benefit of the readers.
  • Bilbo brings the coat out in an unceremonious way, and it must be a small package, because the mail is described as being light to wear, and therefore must only be heavy for a small package.
  • The material is described as nearly as supple as linen, so the rings would be very fine, and therefore, the entire package would be able to be folded up very small, much like a cloth shirt.
  • Even though it was on display in Michel Delving, it’s clear that Bilbo has been hiding the mail shirt away from others’ eyes in Rivendell. It’s not really clear why he feels the need to do this.
  • It’s possibly that this is a sign of hobbit humility on his part since it was meant for an elf-prince.
  • The mail shirt would not be out of place in Rivendell, which contains many precious objects.
  • While Bilbo would have looked odd in the Shire wearing the mail shirt, he would also look like that in Rivendell, but for different reasons, and he secretly wanted to keep it for adventures.
  • This makes the phrase “I shan’t want it again” more significant, as Bilbo has turned a corner from his original intentions upon leaving the Shire and has actually retired from adventures.
  • Gandalf and Elrond had repeatedly told Bilbo not to go journeying back to the Shire for the Ring, much like he had volunteered to take the Ring to Mordor, which Gandalf dissuaded him from.
  • Once Bilbo has his moment of full understanding in the Hall of Fire, he can permanently retire.
  • It’s also important that Gandalf never knew that Bilbo brought the mail shirt with him here.
  • This exchange is important for Frodo because he has become Bilbo’s heir all over again, in that now Bilbo is not only passing on the artifacts of his adventure, but this new adventure, too.
  • Bilbo seems to be choosing his book over the sword and armor, and therefore chooses his retirement and writing over the adventuring life and giving up any chance to go in the future.
  • Note: In the Germanic tradition, one who gives great gifts of honor is called a “ring-giver”. While this can obviously be applied to Bilbo, it is also applied to Sauron in his twisted and evil way. By masquerading as Annatar, meaning “giver of gifts”, he is echoing Melkor’s claim of superiority over the Children by placing himself in that higher status position that belongs to Eru himself.
  • The fact that Bilbo has Frodo put on the mail shirt points to this being the morning before the Company sets out from Rivendell, and therefore this is on the morning of the 25th of December.
A pretty thing, and useful:
  • Bilbo’s speech is complicated and is in different sections. The first is deliberate understatement, and it’s important that the things that he says about the coat were also true of the Ring for him.
  • Note: The poetic description is important points to a change in narrator from Frodo to someone like Findegil based on this change in tone, though he might not be poetic about this. Findegil seems to interject things relevant to Gondor and the King and Queen. Sam would have both an epic and sentimental view of the coat, though Frodo might also want to honor the giving itself. The beauty and virtues of the coat need to be mentioned here as they become important later on narratively, and Sam, looking back as editor of the book, would know this after the fact.
  • His downplaying of the importance of the gift is in line with the Hobbit tradition of mathoms.
  • Bilbo knows about the coat’s virtues, despite never having to put them to the test, though he did wear the coat when he went to meet Bard and the Elvenking in their camp outside Erebor.
  • Thorin had told him about those virtues in his threats, so he applies them to the Black Riders.
  • It’s possible that Bilbo went on adventures after returning home, but upon settling down with Frodo as his heir and beginning his teaching career, he donated the coat to the mathom-house.
  • It may have even occurred to Bilbo that the coat might have saved Frodo on Weathertop. This shows his consciousness of Frodo’s danger, past and future, and this motivates him to give it.
  • Bilbo emphasizes the practicality of the coat over its beauty and rarity, though he acknowledges the honor that was bestowed on him by having it given to him by Thorin back in Erebor.
  • He also acknowledges its personal meaning to him since he went out of his way to recover it.
  • Bilbo’s mention of the Ring seems sincerely casual, but only does so to emphasize the importance of the coat in comparison to it, and only includes it as a memento of his journey.
  • He does seem to take the coat out to look at it sometimes, showing that he is fond of it and attached it to it, and Frodo knows how much the coat would mean to Bilbo’s journey.
  • Bilbo seems to want to attach his identity to accomplishments and memories instead of the Ring, and he wants to collect things that connect him to other people rather than wealth.
  • Note: Frodo will compare the wholesomeness of these mementos to the Ring itself later.
  • Bilbo also wants to emphasize that the coat will not burden Frodo, unlike the Ring will.
Not looking right in it:
  • Frodo seems to stop short of using words like “foolish” or “absurd”, which are words Bilbo used.
  • He wouldn’t want Bilbo to think that he is rejecting the gift, even though his hobbit-sense makes it feel inappropriate to look resplendent, which is not a hobbit trait, just like Bilbo understood.
  • Why does Bilbo want Frodo to hide the coat and keep it secret? While Frodo needs to keep a low profile, and its value would attract attention, he also wants to keep it from the Company.
  • He may not want to increase any temptation induced by the Ring, as they may be paralleled, though those that desire the Ring would not desire the mithril coat, as well as vice versa.
  • Note: It’s unclear what the relationship the Orcs have with the Ring is, aside from wanting to keep it away from untrustworthy people like Saruman. They are willing to fight over the coat.
  • Bilbo’s primary objective in hiding it is making it easier for Frodo to take the coat, making it a hobbit joke that he can wait to spring on the Company, and then appeals to Frodo’s affection.
  • Frodo may feel that he has not earned these gifts, the way that Bilbo did, but is reassured.
  • Bilbo seems uneasy bringing up the Black Riders to Frodo, but it helps to highlight its usefulness.