Analyzing The Hobbit Through The Lenses of Rabinowitz Rules of Reading

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Words: 1437 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Words: 1437|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

“The Hobbit, or There and Back Again”, a children’s fantasy novel by the English author J. R. R. Tolkien that is set inside his anecdotal universe, pursues the journey of home-adoring Bilbo Baggins, the main hobbit, to win a portion of the fortune guarded by Smaug, the dragon. Bilbo's voyage takes him from cheerful, rustic surroundings into progressively vile regions. Knowing the Rabinowitz’s Rules of Reading, especially the Rule of Signification which includes Rules of Realism, Rules of Cause and the Rules of Snap Moral Judgment, shapes the reader’s experience of The Hobbit through the presentation of the supernatural, characters’ motivations and their personal traits.

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The most common Rule of Signification which every reader must follow while reading any work of fantasy fiction is the Rule of Realism. It entails that “No matter how fantastic a novel’s premises, no matter how unrealistic the setting, the authorial audience and the narrative audience must share some beliefs about reality in order for the situations and actions to have the consequences they do (Rabinowitz)”. The very setting of the Hobbit, which includes species that have hairy feet and live in holes, immortal beings such as elves, wizards with magical fireworks, skin-changers that can assume the form of a big black bear at will, the very existence of an all powerful ring that gives one the ability to be invisible and of course, the presence of a ferocious dragon that can communicate in the common tongue, makes it a work of high fantasy and creates a universe that’s very different from that of the narrative audience. The readers, unless they make really strong assumptions and believe in whatever descriptions are being offered about the universe in which the story is set, won’t be able to comprehend or interpret whatever is going on in the story. On the off chance that we don't claim to be individuals from the story, or that we misunderstand the convictions of that group of spectators, we are well-suited to make invalid, even unreasonable, interpretations.

Another pretty common Rule of Signification which we all unknowingly follow is the Rule of Snap Moral Judgment. The most fundamental principle of appearance is that we are to pass judgment on characters by their outside, until the content gives us adequate motivation to pass judgment on them in some other manner. Physical appearance, in other words, can be expected to stand allegorically for internal quality. Also, quite often, certain things said or done by certain characters, even in terms of general everyday activities, strongly influence our opinion of them. Take Bilbo Baggins for example. Ever since the beginning of the story, we can all see that Bilbo is not our stereotypical 20th century ‘valiant-knight-in-a-shining-armor’ protagonist. There are several small but hard-to-miss details in the books that point to this trait about Bilbo and Hobbits in general. Hobbits are shown to be averse to adventures ('We don't want any adventures here, thank you!”), which is counterintuitive to the protagonist of a fantasy legend. Hobbits are known to have multiple pantries in their homes, have multiple breakfasts and are known to lead sedentary lives in general. Throughout the story, there are several instances where we see Bilbo longing to be back home in his comfortable Hobbit hole. In fact, it is these very traits that make a fictional species in a mythical setting all the more relatable.

Gandalf, the wizard is one of the most mysterious characters from the Hobbit. His strange nature is accentuated by the way he dresses (“He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.” In addition to that, one of the first things that the readers discover about Gandalf is that “Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion.” In addition to Bilbo and Gandalf, who happen to be two of the most important characters in the story, there are quite a few other instances of descriptions or traits of several minor characters that make us instinctively judge them. The trolls, for instance, have been given a cockney accent, which is a standard trope to portray them as slightly less intelligent beings.

The introductory descriptions of the spiders in Mirkwood (“The nastiest things they saw were the cobwebs: dark dense cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from tree to tree…gleams in the darkness round them, and sometimes pairs of yellow or red or green eyes would stare at him from a little distance, and then slowly fade and disappear and slowly shine out again in another place. And sometimes they would gleam down from the branches just above him; and that was most terrifying…horrible pale bulbous sort of eyes.” (Tolkien, The Hobbit, Flies and Spiders)) portray them as sinister creatures. Their initial descriptions exploit the fear of the unknown. We haven’t been introduced to the spiders up until this point, yet we already know that there’s something morbidly unpleasant about them. The association of certain character traits that induce fear, with evil is explained by the Rule of Snap Moral Judgment. An important factor that must be kept in mind while discussing this rule is that eyes indeed serve as “the more reliable visual guides to character in fiction (Rabinowitz)”. They can speak to perceptiveness, omniscience, or potentially a portal into the spirit. Different characteristics that eyes are ordinarily connected with are: insight, light, carefulness, moral conscience, and truth. Looking at somebody without flinching is a standard western trope of honesty and truthfulness. In Harry Potter, the main character has his mom's green eyes. This presumably mirrors his 'most profound nature' being more similar to his mom than his dad, in spite of his outward appearance for the most part taking after James. The antiquated Egyptian Eye of Horus was an image of protection, which later transformed into the doctor's 'Rx' logo. When eyes turn up in an emblematic job, they are typically connected to subjects of recognition, watchfulness, and, every so often, mystic forces. On a menacing note (like in the case of the spiders), eyes can be connected to double dealing, figment, as well as being under consistent reconnaissance. They are likewise connected to appearances — both the shallow and the capacity to see something's actual nature. The utilization of a 'shining eyes' technique in the movie Blade Runner is purposely done by the filmmakers to indicate replicants (Androids) and man-made creatures. The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is anything but a strict mammoth, flaring eyeball as in the film adjustments, yet the red eye is in any case serves the same purpose of showing evil and constant surveillance.

The final Rule of Signification comprises of the Rules of Cause. It states that “temporally connected events are causally connected unless there is a signal to the contrary (Rabinowitz)”. Every character trait of Bilbo points in the direction that he would be the last person willing to go for the quest with Gandalf and the dwarves. Yet we also know that his mother’s side i.e. the Tooks are known for having a flair for adventure. Contrary to our expectations and the general nature of the hobbits of the Shire, Bilbo indeed decides to join the venture. As readers, even if its beyond our expectation, we can infer that Bilbo did so as he was triggered by his Tookish instincts. The Rule of Cause serves the purpose of establishing this causation-correlation relationship. 

Another instance of the implementation of the Rule of Cause is towards the end of the book, before the killing of the Smaug, when we are told that if the ancient myths were to be believed, the Lake Men (men of Esgaroth) possessed the ability to communicate with birds. We also see a thrush frequenting the spot of the Dwarves’ and Bilbo’s hideout. Even though it isn’t explicitly mentioned until later in the chapter that the thrush relayed the information to Bard about the only weak spot of Smaug, we could foreshadow it using the Rules of Cause based on the information that was already available to us.

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In conclusion, it is safe to say that utilizing the Rule of Signification while reading the Hobbit allows us to live and interpret a world of fantasy fiction, which never existed, in its truest essence. Knowing the Rabinowitz's Rules of Reading, particularly the Rule of Signification (which incorporates Rules of Realism, Rules of Cause and the Rules of Snap Moral Judgment), shapes the reader's understanding of the Hobbit through the introduction of the extraordinary, characters' inspirations, and their own qualities.    

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Analyzing The Hobbit Through The Lenses Of Rabinowitz Rules Of Reading. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Analyzing The Hobbit Through The Lenses Of Rabinowitz Rules Of Reading.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
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