Monday, September 10, 2012


It's a nice idea - to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit by inviting Tolkien fans worldwide to have a meal at 11 am (local time) on the anniversary of the publication date, Friday of next week. Indeed, it's in the tradition of the Tolkien Society's annual birthday toast to the Professor, which is held at 9 pm (local time) on his birthday anniversary, January 3rd.

But the Hobbit meal thing is also a sign of the creeping Jacksonification of Tolkien, and to that degree it bothers me. This is because they call it Second Breakfast. With capital letters.

No such thing exists in Tolkien, but I suspect many readers don't know that. Hobbits do like to eat a lot, and the prologue to The Lord of the Rings says they're fond "of six meals a day (when they could get them)." In chapter 2 of The Hobbit, Bilbo, having (as he thinks) safely gotten rid of his dwarvish visitors, has breakfast and then, just out of relief, sits down "to a nice little second breakfast."

But the idea of a formal, regularly scheduled, hobbit meal actually called "Second Breakfast" is an invention of Peter Jackson's movies.

Do you see the difference? The parenthetical "when they could get them" and the description of Bilbo having "a second breakfast," indefinite article and uncapitalized, signals that it's all ad hoc - what you think you can get away with. Pippin in Minas Tirith, after surviving Denethor's questioning, is hungry enough to "eat three breakfasts on end," though in a city turned military camp he surely doesn't get that many. As far as I can find, nowhere else in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings is there mention of a second breakfast, though the hobbits do like their breakfast and any other occasions to eat.

In inventing extra hobbit meals, Tolkien is undoubtably thinking of the English customs of elevenses and afternoon tea, in-between-meal snacks both of which are mentioned in Tolkien's works as hobbit practices; indeed "tea" is the meal to which Bilbo invited Gandalf in the first place - though in the end, with 13 uninvited dwarves also attending and calling for meat dishes and cheese, it looks more like high tea, which is a heavier meal later on, what Americans would call an early supper, and not an everyday event.

In having what he calls a second breakfast, Bilbo is, I suspect, trying to excuse himself for having something heavier than an elevenses snack, as well as not admitting to himself how late in the morning it actually is (it's somewhere between 10:30 and 10:50 am, according to the text). He is not following a regular formal hobbit practice, and he uses the term because it doesn't actually have a name of its own.

If the sponsors of the 9/21 event want us to munch together simultaneously at 11 am, they should call it elevenses. There's no call for a second breakfast as such unless we're as discombobulated or stressed out as Bilbo and Pippin were.

Not if we're celebrating Tolkien's book, anyway. Whenever book-fans complain about the changes and additions in Jackson, we're told condescendingly, "But he had to do it that way because it's a mooooovie." Fine. The movie is different from the book, we get it. In that case, then, let the movie be the movie, and let the book be the book, and don't mix them up with each other. And whatever you want to do to celebrate the movies, don't commemorate the publication of Tolkien's book with a meal called "Second Breakfast." It means well, but it clashes, it clangs.

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