I Sit Beside the Fire


I've been wondering about the phrase "I sit beside the fire and think...". When read out of context, one might suppose it refers to a fire on the hearth of Bilbo's hobbit hole, Bag-End. But I think not. Bilbo has been living for a good many years among the Elves in Rivendell, and when Frodo first meets him there, it is in the "Hall of Fire", where he says he is "sitting and thinking. I do a lot of that nowadays, and this is the best place to do it in".

The Hall of Fire: we read that the feast when Frodo awoke was held in the hall of Elrond's house. At the end of the feast, "Elrond and Arwen rose and went down the hall, and the company followed them in due order. The doors were through open, and the they went across a side passage and through other doors, and came into a further hall. In it were no tables, but a bright fire was burning in a great hearth between the carven pillars upon either side." (It sounds a bit like a drawing room.) It seems that LOTRO does not portray this quite accurately. It does not seem to include the hall in which the feast was held.

Gandalf tells Frodo that "Here you will hear many songs and tales - if you can keep awake. But except on high days it usually stands empty and quiet, and people come here who wish for peace, and thought." Like Bilbo, it seems, who is making up a song, and has a drinking cup and bread, but apparently nothing to write on. It seems that pen and paper are not required tools for song creation. Later, with Strider's help, they go off into a corner to polish it up because "Elrond says this song of mine is to be finished before the end of the evening."

After Strider and Bilbo leave, we read that "those near [Frodo] were silent, intent upon the music of the voices and instruments." I suspect the instruments included harps, and perhaps flutes as well. (The Hobbit speaks of elven-harps.) I wonder if more than one elf sang at a time, and how many harpists played. From the way it is written, it sounds like it is not just a single instrument and and singer.

I suspect a class I missed discussed the dream-state enchantment that follows, as Frodo attends closely to the music. But I find it interesting that "he wandered long in a dream of music that turned into running water, and then suddenly into a voice. It seemed to be the voice of Bilbo chanting verses." The song Bilbo had been composing was not sung but chanted - interesting. I wonder if there is any other indication in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit of a song being chanted rather than sung. Perhaps "song" in this context is a "chanson de geste", like the Song of Roland.

But back to the topic at hand, "I sit beside the fire and think." I wonder if as Bilbo sits and thinks, perhaps singing or humming to himself as he does, his thinking might be more than than just remembering. Perhaps a bit of enchantment like that induced by the elven songs in the Hall of Fire?

As Frodo leaves the Hall of Fire, and sees Aragorn and Arwen, and hears "A Elbereth Gilthoniel... He stood still enchanted, while the sweet syllables of the Elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody." Elvish song seems to include blended word and melody, not merely chanting like Bilbo had performed.

If I am right about "I sit beside the fire and think", I wonder about the end of Bilbo's song, "I listen for returning feet and voices at the door." On the surface, one would think of the door of a Hobbit hole. But I think not; it is voices at the door of "Bilbo's own small room". In fact, when they arrive at Rivendell on their way back to the Shire, "the hobbits went in search of Bilbo. They found him all alone in his little room. ... sitting in a chair before a small bright fire." Hmm... so perhaps Bilbo had been sitting by that fire and thinking.