The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings and The Marvellous Land of Snergs
By Katelyn Kruse
Bradley University Student
It is no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien read The Marvellous Land of Snergs to his children and was influenced by the story and writing style presented by Edward Wyke-Smith. In a letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien writes that the book was, “probably an unconscious source-book for the Hobbits” (Anderson, The Annotated Hobbit 7).
Tolkien also stated in drafts of On Fairy-Stories that “I should like to record my own love and my children’s love of E.A. Wyke-Smith’s The Marvellous Land of Snergs, at any rate of the snerg-element in that tale, and of Gorbo, the gem of dunderheads, jewel of a companion in an escapade” (Anderson 7).
The similarities between The Marvellous Land of Snergs and The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings include the race of Snergs and Hobbits, the settings, the names and traits of the characters, the development of the plot, and the author’s writing styles.
The first main similarity between the two books is the race of Hobbits and Snergs. “The Snergs are a race of people only slightly taller than the average table but broad in the shoulders and of great strength” (Wyke-Smith 7). In addition, “…they did all the heavy work, such as building (at which they are expert), gardening, painting and decorating, and the more troublesome part of the housework, such as swabbing floors” (Wyke-Smith 8).
Hobbits are described as “a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves…They are inclined to be fat in the stomach…have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it)” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 4).
The physical descriptions seem to be extremely similar. Both Hobbits and Snergs are sometimes mistaken for dwarves, and both seem to resent that error.
“‘Who are you calling a dwarf?’ said Gorbo disagreeably. ‘Dwarf yourself!’” (Wyke-Smith 92).
The two races resemble one another physically as well as culturally. Snergs are described as “gregarious people, loving company…They are long-lived people; roughly speaking they live as long as oaks” (Wyke-Smith 9).
Snergs are always well-equipped with the right tools to make a fire and prepare a meal. “…he rarely went anywhere without his little bundle of tools and other matters and his bows and arrows – and soon had a fire going” (Wyke-Smith 64).
Their culture, in regard to feasts and parties, bares an immense resemblance to that of the Hobbits:
“[The Snergs] are great on feasts, which they have in the open air at long tables joined end on and following the turns of the street. This is necessary because nearly everybody is invited–that is to say, commanded to come, because the King gives the feasts, though each person has to bring his share of food and drink and put it in the general stock. Of late years the procedure has changed owing to the number of invitations that had to be sent; the commands are now understood and only invitations to stay away are sent to the people who are not wanted on the particular occasion. They are sometimes hard up for a reason for a feast, and then the Master of the Household, whose job it is, has to hunt for a reason, such as its being somebody’s birthday. Once they had a feast because it was nobody’s birthday that day” (Wyke-Smith 10).
In accordance, Hobbits live past 100 years old, enjoy several meals a day, take pride in their traditions (like giving presents instead of receiving them on their birthday), and frown upon adventures. For example, “…people considered [the Bagginses] very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected” (Tolkien, The Hobbit 3).
The next similarity between the two tales is the setting. Both authors have comparable descriptions of where the Snergs and Hobbits dwell. “The wide deep river, rushing far below between steep cliffs, had been a barrier keeping the Snergs secure from a horror-haunted land, a land of distressful legends of dragons and other fierce monsters, of Kelps and giants, and a ruthless king who tyrannized over his peoples” (Wyke-Smith 71).
The community of the Hobbits is located in the Shire. The Shire is bounded by a river (the Brandywine river) as well as the Old Forest and the Tower Hills. Much beyond is unsure to many, but the company has ancient maps to aid them in their journey.
In The Marvellous Land of Snergs, Gorbo leads the children on a tour of the surrounding areas. He leads them through the Twisted Trees, a forest of trees with “thick smooth grey trunks and smooth grey branches that touched the ground here and there like great quiet serpents” (Wkye-Smith 50), and inadvertently loses his way.
This juncture in the book seems awfully reminiscent of the hobbits lost journey through Mirkwood in The Hobbit. “The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks” (Tolkien, Hobbit 128).
The next similarity deals with character traits and names found in The Hobbit and The Marvellous Land of Snergs. The main characters in both stories have a similar ring to the ear: Bilbo from Hobbit and Gorbo from Snergs. Other characters from Snergs include Golithos (an ogre), Mother Meldrum (a witch), Baldry (a jester) and King Kul.
The Hobbit includes similar names like Gandalf, Thorin, Gollum, and Elrond. Not only do the names of these characters sound similar, they have alike qualities in their traits.
Although Bilbo and Gorbo are not very alike in their personalities, they correlate because they are both very unlikely heroes.
Bilbo only sets out on his journey at Gandalf’s request. He has no wish to go and only begins because of Gandalf and the dwarves’ visit. Most heroes are thought to be fearless and most willing to set out on a journey to conquer a quest.
Gorbo is an unlikely hero in that he is described in the following way:
“Gorbo was a well-known, utterly irresponsible Snerg who occasionally came over to Watkyns Bay to do a job of work, and who was quite celebrated for his habit of doing it very badly and getting tired of it almost at once and wandering off again… he looked as disreputable a person as you might expect to meet even among the Snergs, who are not over particular about their personal appearance at the best” (Wyke-Smith 35-36).
One can identify the social stance of a Snerg by his seat placement near the King of Snergs while they feast. “At the extreme end of the table, somewhere in the suburbs, sat Gorbo. That’s what they thought of him” (Wyke-Smith 45).
In addition to the main characters being unlikely heroes, they both go through a transformation by the end of the story.
Bilbo accomplishes his goal of recovering the dwarves’ inheritance, and taps into the cunning, brave, and confident Hobbit that was buried deep inside of him all along:
“Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath” (Tolkien, Hobbit 142).
Similarly, Gorbo must lead the children through the Forest of Twisted Trees, through the Mushroom Caverns, and protect them from Mother Meldrum and the likes of a reformed ogre that has unreformed.
At the story’s end, Gorbo is regarded as a hero and is seated only seven places away from the King. In the beginning, we know that the other Snergs have little respect for Gorbo, but he also has a low view of himself. He is constantly saying he is the worst, he deserves whatever he gets, and he “wished – chiefly for the sake of the children – that he was less of a fathead” (Wyke-Smith 71).
As the book progresses, the author even takes a paragraph to note the changes in Gorbo:
“It will probably occur to the thoughtful reader at this point that a change had come over the character of Gorbo. A sense of responsibility, mingled with self-reproach, had brought forth qualities hitherto unsuspected, and though he has to some extent losing his natural desire to please all whom he met by conciliatory speech and helpful ways, he was gaining in ability to make quick decisions, as also in verbal fluency and a capacity for what is known among our famed comedians as back-chat” (Wyke-Smith 84).
Another character that is found in The Lord of the Rings that could be paralleled to Gorbo in Snergs is Strider, or Aragorn. Aragorn takes on the role of the guide in which the Hobbits become completely dependent on his knowledge and intuition.
Much like that, the children rely on Gorbo to guide them throughout the journey, for they are entirely unfamiliar with the land. They do have one essential difference, particularly that Gorbo’s character evolves as the journey progresses whereas Aragorn’s character is unchanged, but exposed throughout the story.
The next resemblance that can be noted between Snergs and The Hobbit is in the development of the plots. Both stories entail the culmination of a great and imaginative adventure in which they meet several characters along the way.
Snergs involves the hardships of Gorbo and the two children that have come to visit the land of the Snergs.
Gorbo gives the children a tour of the surrounding areas of the town and the trio gets lost in the forest of Twisted Trees. Gorbo leads the children through the Mushroom Caverns and they come out on the other side of the river. They cannot go back through the caverns and he does not know how to cross the river. They find the witch, Mother Meldrum, to help them cross the river and become pawns in her quest for total power. Gorbo takes it upon himself to protect the children from all harm.
Bilbo endures two incidents that emulate those of Gorbo’s. First, Gorbo losing his way in the Caverns and turning to Mother Meldrum for assistance can be compared to the chapter titled “Riddles in the Dark” from the Hobbit. Like Gorbo, Bilbo becomes disoriented in the goblin cave and must rely on Gollum to show him the way out if he wins the game.
Secondly, Gorbo’s adventure of becoming lost in the forest seems reminiscent of Bilbo’s journey through Mirkwood when he and the dwarves stray from the path. Bilbo must save the dwarves from being captured and killed by giant spiders and other evil foes in the forest.
Furthermore, a scene that can also be paralleled between the tales deals with the loyalty of the main character’s company.
In Snergs, Gorbo decides to find Mother Meldrum on his own in order to figure out a way across the river. Gorbo insists that “there’s no need for all of us to come.” The children protest. “‘No, Gorbo,’ cried Sylvia, ‘we’re going where you go.’ ‘Of course we are,’ said Joe” (Wyke-Smith 112).
This seems comparable to a section of The Lord of the Rings in which Frodo insists he go on his journey to dispose of the Ring on his own. “‘But I must go,’ said Frodo. ‘It cannot be helped, dear friends. It is wretched for us all, but it is no use your trying to keep me’…’You do not understand!’ said Pippin. ‘You must go – and therefore we must, too. Merry and I are coming with you’” (Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring 104).
But probably the most important development in both plots is the acquisition of an object from evil sources. Bilbo obtains a ring that makes its wearer invisible in The Hobbit, and – alas! – Gorbo receives an invisibility cap from Mother Meldrum in The Marvellous Land of Snergs.
Finally, the writing style of Tolkien and Wyke-Smith are similar in ways. Tolkien often interrupts the story with asides, allowing the reader to realize that it is a fiction story that is being told. This seems to introduce the author as another character in the story, for his dialect is different from main characters. For example, “He may have lost the neighbors’ respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end” (Tolkien 4).
A further example is, “If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale” (Tolkien 5).
Wyke-Smith displays this same sort of style, building a personal relationship with the reader:
“These qualities enabled her not only to discover the existence of the Land of the Snergs (in itself a marvellous piece of brain work) but also how to get there without a nasty spill. I do not propose to go into details of how she managed this (as it would take a book twice as long as this one)” (Wkye-Smith 3).
In addition: “Gorbo was not superstitious in the ordinary sense of the word, but the night had left him nervy, if I may be allowed the expression;” (Wyke-Smith 152). It is not to say that this particular style is known only to these two authors, for C.S. Lewis was also no stranger to this style of writing, so it may just have been common for writers of that time.
Both authors also display a sort of tongue and cheek humor that is sprinkled throughout the book. For example, “The Prince of Wales, I believe, once took a good swig out of his finger-bowl to put an unpolished guest at his ease” (Wyke-Smith 46).
Another example is: “they were unintelligible; I am inclined to think that at first they could only articulate expletives in use among Dutch seamen of the seventeenth century” (22).
Tolkien also uses humor throughout his writing, as can be seen in the following passage:
“…even to Old Took’s great-grand-uncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment” (Tolkien, Hobbit17).
Tolkien has stated that The Marvellous Land of Snergs may have “sub-consciously” influenced his creation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but there are many good arguments to support the connections between the stories.
These similarities coincide with this assertion, though it’s likely that some scholars would be able to poke holes through its foundation. With that said, even though there is evidence that Tolkien’s creation of Hobbits mirrors that of the Snergs, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are tremendous works that are undoubtedly able to stand on their own.