Monday, January 23, 2012

Icelandic Horses, Hobbit, Dwarves, Goblins and Dragons

Der Kleine Hobbit
Icelandic  ponies are featured in Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, to be released in December 2012.  Excited about my favorite breed being showcased in such a high profile movie, I decided to re-read The Hobbit from the pony’s point of view.  Unfortunately the ponies in the book do not fare well.

The first mention of ponies in The Hobbit is when the dwarves come to pick up Bilbo Baggins at the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater, at 11 am.  Bilbo gets to the Inn precisely on time to meet Dwalin.  “Just then all the others came round the corner of the road from the village.  They were on ponies, and each pony was slung about with all kinds of baggages, packages, parcels, and paraphernalia.  There was a very small pony, apparently for Bilbo” (p.29). 
After a brief protest by Bilbo that he was so rushed he forgot his hat, pocket-handkerchief, and money, Dwalin the dwarf reassures Bilbo that all has been provided and he should get on his pony.  “That’s how they all came to start, jogging off from the inn one fine morning just before May, on laden ponies…” (p. 29).  Soon Gandalf joins them “very splendid on a white horse” and so begins the adventure to retrieve the gold Smaug the Dragon stole from Thorin’s grandfather The King Under the Mountain.
The dwarves give Bilbo a dark green hood at the start
of the journey.  Klaus Ensikat illustrator, p. 46. 
After some traveling, Gandalf disappears and the company has their first small mishap.  “Then one of the ponies took fright at nothing and bolted.  He got into the river before they could catch him; and before they could get him out again, Fili and Kili were nearly drowned, and all the baggage that he carried was washed away off him” (p. 31).  The pony survived… this time.  And the ponies did well with the encounter with trolls.
The Over Hill and Under Hill adventure proved fatal for the first set of ponies.  Goblins captured the company.  As Tolkien says, “And that was the last time that they used the ponies, packages, baggages, tools and paraphernalia that they had brought with them” (p.55).  Goblins are not kind to ponies.
After a great escape from wolves, wargs, and goblins, Bilbo and the dwarves encounter Boern, the skin-changer who has the ability to transform himself into a great, shaggy black bear.  Boern “lives in an oak-wood and has a great wooden house; and as a man he keeps cattle and horses which are nearly as marvelous as himself.  They work for him and talk to him.  He does not eat them” (p. 106).  Since Boern can be a bit unpredictable when encountering strangers, Gandalf and Bilbo go ahead to smooth the way.  As they push open the gate and walk towards the house, “some horses, very sleek and well-groomed, trotted up across the grass and looked at them intently with very intelligent faces, then off they galloped to the buildings”( p. 108).  Gandalf explains that the horses have run off to tell Boern that he has visitors. When they find Boern, “The horses were standing by him with their noses at his shoulder.  ‘Ugh! Here they are!’ he said to the horses.  ‘They don’t look dangerous. You can be off!”  (p. 108). 
Animals setting the table at Boern's house.
Klaus Ensikat illustrator, p. 164.
Through the gradual telling of their adventures, Gandalf persuades Boern to host the company.  And here follows a visit with magical creatures as hosts.  “Boern clapped his hands, and in trotted four beautiful white ponies and several large long-bodied grey dogs” who proceed to light the fire and set the table. “A pony pushed two low-seated benches with wide rush-bottoms and little short thick legs for Gandalf and Thorin….The other ponies came in rolling round drum-shaped sections of logs, smoothed and polished, and low enough even for Bilbo…” (p. 115).  The company enjoys a wondrous meal enlivened by song and tales.
After this brief respite, Boern lends the company a horse and ponies, provides food, and sends them on their way to Mirkwood.  However, Boern warns them not to take the ponies into that dangerous place. So upon the edges of the evil forest, “…they said good-bye to their ponies and turned their head for home.  Off they trotted gaily, seeming very glad to put their tails toward the shadow of Mirkwood” (p. 125).  These are the ponies that survive in The Hobbit.
After horrific adventures in Mirkwood and escaping from suspicious elves, the company is provided with another set of ponies and gear by the Master of Laketown for the final leg of the journey to the Lonely Mountain.  As the company camps by the secret door to the lair of Smaug, the ponies are allowed to graze nearby. 
Carelessly, Bilbo alerts Smaug to the presence of the company when he steals a golden cup.   Enraged, Smaug comes diving towards the camp, roaring and shooting flames.  “The ponies screamed with terror, burst their ropes and galloped wildly off.  The dragon swooped and turned to pursue them, and was gone.  ‘That’ll be the end of our poor beasts!’ said Thorin.  ‘Nothing can escape Smaug once he sees it’” (p.197).  Later Smaug taunts Bilbo, “Let me tell you I ate six ponies last night and I shall catch and eat all the others before long” (p. 201).  Three of the ponies do survive and are eventually sent back to the Laketown.
After the demise of the “Worm of Dread” and the Battle of Five Armies, Bilbo bids a heartfelt farewell to his surviving companions.  With new ponies, Gandalf and Bilbo start the long ride home with a short side trip to retrieve the troll treasure.  “So they put the gold in bags and slung them on the ponies who were not at all pleased about it” (p. 269).  They reach finally reach BagsEnd after many adventures and hardships.  Unlike Bill the Pony in Lord of the Rings, only about one in four of the ponies in this story get home.
So this brings up some interesting thoughts.  Just how is Peter Jackson using Icelandic ponies in his script?  The movie trailer shows Bilbo and the dwarves riding Icelandics through the forest and across steep mountain crests.  Do they ride the same set of ponies throughout the adventure?  Or does Peter Jackson follow the book closely in which case there are different sets of ponies—some of whom meet up with a bad end?  We have until December 2012 to ponder these questions.
Tolkien, J.  (1997).  The Hobbit or There and Back Again.  Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

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