Posted in Prose

Beorn Is the Old Black

 

the hobbit

Today, I’m gonna be taking you on an adventure through The Hobbit. This is my copy of the book and every image that I will be including in the post, is taken from this lovely illustrated version-which I highly recommend. Although I have a lot to say, I shall be focusing on one specific character, of whom I have not really thought about.

the hobbit hole

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” And whose story I have recently had the chance to read. I have to admit, I like it better than the trilogy. The Hobbit is full of fun adventures and some serious stuff in the end, but it is more sunny and enjoyable than the other three. Don’t get me wrong, the trilogy is amazing, but I sometimes find it a bit too dark for my taste. The narrator’s humorous tone here and stance to the whole thing as if he/she is a traditional story teller, a bard figure if you will, made it a light reading. When compared to the movie trilogy of the book, interestingly the book felt rushed. And the Battle of Five Armies was disappointingly short and quick. Also kudos to Peter Jackson for including the scene between Gandalf and the Necromancer the book casually mentions through Gandalf’s own account of things he has done after leaving Thorin & Co. That part of the movie was marvellous, but I will not even start ranting about the whole elf-dwarf love thingy.

As the book tells the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and puts him in the focus, some things are left to the reader’s imagination-like the escape of the dwarves from the goblins and the battle itself to name a few-and the other characters, including the dwarves even, did not really interest me when I first watched the movies. But when I started reading the book, one character stuck with me, who does not even get nearly enough book time, and that person is Beorn.

Why I focused on Beorn was because I had this class in my last semester in university called “Animal and Human at the Crossing of Literature and Philosophy ” and in that class we have read four novels and discussed the role and treatment of the animal. It was by far the most interesting elective that I had taken. And as per usual, we had to write a paper on a novel and discuss the animal in it. Naturally, I had chosen Harry Potter. I focused on the animagi (I like pluralising it in the proper Latin form) and the usage of animal body, more specifically Nagini. The concept of animagus has always fascinated me; having a connection to an animal so strongly that your soul and character reflects that. (Don’t forget that the patronus, the protector spell, also reflects the character of the person casting it—remember only McGonagall can save McGonagall!) So I started asking the basic questions: how does the transition work? Does the animagus have the human mind and consciousness whilst in animal form? How and where can we draw the line between the two?

PeterPettigrew_WB_F3_PettigrewPartiallyTransformed_Illust_080615_Land
Peter Pettigrew as shorn in Pottermore.

What we know from the Potter universe is that the outer appearance of the animagus matches the animal he is. For example Peter Pettigrew’s “skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers’s fur, and something of the rat lingered around his eyes” and Minerva McGonagall’s animagus form has markings around its eye in shape of her glasses and her patronus has the same markings as well. So appearance wise, the animagi resemble the animal. Manner and character wise this also apply. Sirius Black, with his black hair and “bark-like laugh” resemble the huge black dog that he turns into. His fieriness, loyalty and loving and trusting nature reflect the stereotypical dog characteristics as well. What is curious about Sirius is his manners.

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The cave scene in The Goblet of Fire from Pottermore

When he tags with Harry and the order when they escort the kids to King’s Cross, Sirius “snaps at pigeons and chases his own tail,” “scares a couple of cats” and acts like an over enthusiastic dog on a walk. Yet, he knows that he is Sirius and his godson is leaving him for the semester, so he “rears onto his hind legs and places his front paws on Harry’s shoulders” and Mrs Weasley admonishes him to “act more like a dog.” Even though his body is totally in animal form and he acts like an animal would, he still is Sirius inside. That was how he managed to escape Azkaban. Had he not have consciousness, he would not have survived the waters and wander purposelessly. That is not all; when he comes to Hogsmeade to be near Harry after his name was selected by the Goblet of Fire, he transforms into his animal form to hunt rats to survive in the cave. We can see that Sirius Black has mastered using his animal form and human consciousness in a complementary way (as did Peter Pettigrew, who stuck with the Weasleys in his rat form but watched out for any activity on Voldemort’s part), making him much stronger and superior to ordinary wizards. This superiority is also emphasised by his ability to communicate with “real” animals. He forms such a close relationship with Crookshanks, who trusts no one, he ends up helping Sirius.

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Beorn in his bear form, from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

This is why Beorn was the most interesting character for me. As it turns out he is the first animagus that we encounter in popular canonical fantasy literature. He is said to descend either from the bears who had lived in the Misty Mountains before the arrival of the giants, or from the men who had lived in the region before the arrival of the dragons or Orcs from the north—Gandalf believes the second to be true. Either way, Beorn lives alone in a wooden house between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood. He can also change his form at will, and I believe because of this he refuses to eat meat and use anything in his house that is animal related; he uses wooden utensils and everything. Just like Sirius Black, he has a special connection with the animals around him and also the nature. He has ponies, dogs and sheep as his companions who aid him in the house which is designed for them: the stools are made low so that they can use them. And just like the animagi from Harry Potter, his appearance has some resemblances to his animal form: he is a big hairy man and has a temper and one needs to be cautious when approaching him. He also likes to feed on honey. He is like a grizzly bear in that sense.

beorns table
Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin & Co at Beorn’s house, dining after finishing their story

Beorn prefers the company of animals to the other races, but he does not like goblins who disturbs the forest. So when he hears the peculiar story of Gandalf, welcomes them to his house. But he does not trust them. He leaves them in his house almost like prisoners, to go and find about whether they had truly slain the Great Goblin. Though he is fair and helpful, he does not trust people. That is why he follow the dwarves to the entrance of Mirkwood, to see if they’d let his ponies go. He uses his bear form to do this; to blend better with his surroundings and use a bear’s speed to his advantage.

beorn
Beorn fighting a goblin in the battle

 

Again, like Sirius he has mastered the shape shifting and uses it to his advantage. He travels fast in his animal form and that is how he can make it in time to the Battle of Five Armies and in his animal form he is more fierce and magnificent. I don’t really know how he has heard about the battle and neither does Bilbo, but I believe that it was through his connection to the animals. He makes it to the battle to fight against the goblins specifically who are the common enemy, against which all the races unite.

 

Based just on these, Sirius Black reminded me of Beorn; his possible ancestor from a bigger and more complex book series, from a master author. I do not know whether J.K. Rowling had the idea of the animagus based on The Hobbit, as it is not really uncommon to see shapeshifters in literature, Beorn belongs to the most famous fantasy series ever. And the way this duality between the animal body and human consciousness is portrayed in the Harry Potter franchise seems like an improved version of Tolkien’s skin changer.

the journey home
Beorn with Bilbo, Gandalf and the Elvenking after the Battle of Five Armies, on their way back to their individual homes

 

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