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There and Back Again: The Story of The Hobbit

Hobbit image

“The Hobbit” opened this weekend to strong ticket sales, but did it live up to the hype? Let us know in the comments!

We like to add a little UW twist to our Member Movie Nights. For our UWAA member night at The Hobbit last Friday and Saturday, UW History Professor Robin Chapman Stacey graciously agreed to share some thoughts on Tolkein and the book that gave rise to the film. Have you seen The Hobbit? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments!

Unlike its considerably darker successor The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), The Hobbit was a work intended originally for children, having begun as bed-time stories told by Tolkien to his sons. Tolkien had not envisaged publishing the story until an early version of the manuscript fell into the hands of an employee of the Allen and Unwin publishing firm. Unwin’s ten-year old son gave the resulting typescript an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and The Hobbit became an enormous popular success practically overnight. Published in September of 1937, it was sold out by Christmas; by the time its “sequel” LOTR was published nearly twenty years later, it was in its seventh edition.

Even in its origins, however, The Hobbit was deeper than it looked. Tolkien was a professor at Oxford, a philologist, and a specialist in the heroic languages and literatures of the medieval North. Many of his characters and plot elements came directly from the ancient works he knew so well: the dwarf names from the Old Norse Völuspá; the theft of the cup from the Old English poem Beowulf; the dragon’s soft underbelly and salvific bird speech from the Norse tale of Sigurd and the dragon Fáfnir; the riddle game from yet another old Norse story. Even the riddles exchanged by Bilbo and Gollum have ancient antecedents.

And yet Tolkien’s story is anything but a standard heroic tale. As critic Tom Shippey has observed, a large part of the genius of The Hobbit—and certainly much of its comedy—comes from the juxtaposition of this ancient world of dragons and heroes with the endearing fussiness of Bilbo, the unlikely burglar recruited by Gandalf to join the dwarves on their grand adventure. Bilbo is the epitome of Edwardian middle-class English life: comfortable in his home and habits, fond of tea, ornamental waistcoats, and generous meals taken throughout the day. He is absolutely the last creature in the world one would expect to find bedding down next to dwarves and wielding an ancient sword, and yet it is his good sense and bourgeois belief in fairness that ultimately saves the dwarves from disaster. One has only to compare the dwarf Balin’s last words to Bilbo with Bilbo’s to him to see the comic clash between styles and lifestyles: “‘If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid!’ ‘If ever you are passing my way,’ said Bilbo, ‘don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four, but any of you are welcome at any time!’”

Indeed, Tolkien (who once termed himself “a hobbit in all but size”) is having fun with language throughout the tale. “Bag End” (the plain English version of the snobbishly Frenchified term “cul-de-sac,” which Tolkien immortalized in the name of Bilbo’s objectionable relatives, the Sackville- Bagginses) was the name of Tolkien’s aunt Jane’s farm. “Baggins” is northern English slang for a laborer’s tea or snack eaten between meals; and “auction” a play on a dialect word for “mess.” “Burglar” itself is related to the word “bourgeois,” and while the origins of the word “hobbit” are murky, Tolkien later invented for it a fictitious, but linguistically plausible etymology meaning “hole-dweller.” This is in large part what separates Tolkien from many contemporary authors working in the fantasy genre. Rather than inventing worlds and creatures first and only then imagining the languages they might speak, Tolkien began with language and worked from there to discover the nature of the world in which such a language would make sense. As he later described how he came to begin The Hobbit, he was marking exams when he came on a page the candidate had left blank. “I wrote on it: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ Names always generate a story in my mind. Eventually I thought I’d better find out what hobbits were like.”

The Hobbit may have begun as a children’s story, but as Tolkien began writing what would ultimately become LOTR, he went back and revised Bilbo’s adventures so as to integrate them into the much more adult world of Middle-earth. He removed several of the authorial asides (which he had come to regard as patronizing and unserious) and, more importantly, changed the nature of the Ring itself. In the first edition merely a magical device that Gollum was willing to bet as his stake in the riddle game, the Ring became in subsequent editions something altogether more sinister—the One Ring of Sauron, an item Gollum would never have risked, and one so corrupting as to cause even the naturally honest Bilbo to lie. Indeed, it was to this process of bringing Bilbo’s tale further into Middle-earth that Peter Jackson made appeal on Facebook this past July in announcing his decision to incorporate into his film material from the LOTR appendices and present his film version of the book in three parts rather than two: “in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, [it was] ‘a tale that grew in the telling.’”

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A Day in the Life of an Undergraduate

UW Senior Alisa Song has generously offered to take us along as she goes through her day at the University of Washington. Alisa is majoring in mathematics and economics, with a minor in international studies, and plans to graduate in June 2013. -Ed.

5:30 a.m.  Alarm goes off. I fall back asleep.

5:33 a.m.  I wake up and go through the morning routine of contemplating the pros and cons of going to my Beginners’ Yoga class at the IMA. I sleepily visualize my morning yoga class. My bed is definitely more comfortable than trying to make my heels touch the ground while attempting a downward dog. On the other hand, skipping class this morning will only make it harder to attend the next class. Plus, I’ve grown particularly fond of my quiet classmates who have struggled with me, class after class.

5:40 a.m.  As usual, I decide to go for it and get out of bed.

6:39 a.m. I am half-awake on the bus ride to campus. There was more traffic than usual today. I get off the bus and realize that I have to sprint toward the IMA if I want to be on time.

6:45 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. After a four-minute sprint through the Burke-Gilman Trail and up a flight of stairs, I arrive at Studio 316 in the IMA. With 30 seconds to spare I am wide-awake, sitting on my squishy yoga mat and ready for class to begin.

Yoga in Studio 316

Bright sunlight fills Studio 316 in the early morning.

9:00 a.m. – 9:20 a.m. I get back to main campus and, with  a couple minutes before my next class, decide to study on the ground floor of Suzzallo Library for a quiz that I will be taking in my first class today.

9:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. My Public Relations and Society class is in the Communications building— about a 20-second walk from Suzzallo. This is a morning class, but nearly everyone comes to every session. Today we learn the basics of consumer relations and review case studies from our textbook.

11:30 a.m. Lunchtime! The weather is chilly, so there are only a dozen students hanging out in Red Square. Most students probably chose to eat inside Suzzallo Café or at By George Café. I decide to get food from one of the food trucks on Red Square. I order a BBQ Slider smothered in Carolina Mustard Sauce with a side of Macaroni and Cheese. Since there is no line, my hot food is ready in two minutes.

Food Trucks on Red Square

Food trucks became a popular place for students to get food while the Husky Union Building was being renovated these past two years.

1:30 p.m. – 3:20 p.m. Next, it is time for my International Trade class in Savery Hall, which is located at the bottom of the Quad. This building is the home of the Economics, Sociology and Philosophy Departments and was renovated in 2009. Savery is easily one of my favorite buildings on campus; the building’s exterior retained its original, breathtakingly beautiful look while its indoors were given a modern update with fast elevators, large classrooms and spacious hallways.

4:00 p.m.  By the time my economics class is over, I am in the mood for a hot cup of coffee. I have plans to catch up with a friend I met in a previous economics course. We decide to meet in the basement of the Art building, which hosts Parnassus Café. This café is student-run and serves arguably the best coffee on campus.

6:00 p.m. After coffee, I head to Room 202 in Thomson Hall, where the Jackson School Student Association Club is holding its weekly meeting. Our meeting focuses on an upcoming lecture panel about the crisis in Mali. We put together a list of professors that we will ask to speak during this panel.

6:30 p.m. After nearly 12 hours on campus, it is time for me to take a bus home.

7:30 p.m. It takes me an hour to get home with the evening traffic. At home, I eat spaghetti for dinner with my family.

8:00 p.m. My brother and I both love the television show “Friends.” I have all 10 seasons downloaded on my iTunes, so we spend the next 45 minutes watching a couple episodes together.

9:00 p.m. I don’t have any homework due until the middle of next week. I decide to spend some time on Tumblr, my favorite social media platform. Tumblr is a microblogging website that is mainly photo-based. I devote the next hour to reblogging photos of tantalizing plates of food, beautiful clothes I want to own and impossibly fat puppies.

10:45 p.m. After a long and eventful day, I am ready for sleep. I set my alarm on my phone and fall asleep well before midnight.

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Brewster Denny to Ring Denny Bell for Homecoming 2012

Brewster Denny in 2012

Brewster Denny ringing the Denny Bell in 2011

He’s done it every year for 51 years, and tomorrow he’ll do it again. To celebrate Homecoming, Professor Emeritus Brewster Denny, ’45, will ring the bell at Denny Hall at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27.

The bell, one of the sole surviving remnants of the UW’s downtown campus, was cast in 1859 and is rung only once a year, for Homecoming. Brewster Denny gets around in a wheelchair now, so a rope is run down the narrow stairs from the belfry to where he and his family can reach it.

Read all about the Denny Bell in the Columns Magazine online archive.

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Celebrating Norm Dicks, ’63, ’68

Congressman Norm Dicks, ’63, ’68

Congressman Norm Dicks, ’63, ’68, is being honored for his 44 years of public service at the Prosperity Partnership’s annual Fall Luncheon on November 5 at the Westin Seattle. Business, government and community leaders will join Boeing Commercial Airplane’s new President and CEO Ray Connor to honor Rep. Dicks, highly regarded as a champion of economic development in our local communities as well as an influential Member of Congress on defense and national security issues.

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Crocodile Cafe Collection spotlights a slice of Seattle music history

John Vallier, head of distributed media, UW Libraries

John Vallier, head of distributed media, UW Libraries

There’s a computer tucked away in the UW’s media center on the third floor of Suzzallo. It doesn’t look like much, but the computer serves as a digital Rosetta Stone for one segment of Seattle’s storied music scene. On the computer is the UW’s Crocodile Café Collection, which contains five years’ worth of recordings – more than 4,000 tracks in all – made at the iconic Seattle venue. The list is daunting to scroll through – it totals more than 120 continuous days of live music – but there’s a good chance you’ll find a show from your favorite band – maybe even before they were your favorite band.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Do you start with performances by Seattle legends like Mudhoney or the Presidents of the United States of America? Do you seek out popular regional acts, like Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill? Do you jump straight to the buzz bands caught on the road to stardom, like Neko Case and Franz Ferdinand? Maybe you track down a hilarious karaoke performance that you gave as a junior in 2003.

No matter where you start, you have plenty of choice in sifting through the recordings, which have been archived at the UW since August 2009. Making your decisions more difficult, the Crocodile Café Collection has expanded over the past year to include more than 200 live videos shot during some of the club’s halcyon days.

The project got its start in 2002, when audio engineer Jim Anderson began recording the vast majority of the shows at the iconic venue, which closed for about 15 months in December 2007. Less than a year after the club’s closure, Anderson donated his collection – five years of high-quality soundboard recordings – to the UW.

It was unlike any donation John Vallier, the head of distributed media at the UW, had ever received. Unsure how to best share this piece of Seattle history, he remembers thinking, “There’s gotta be a way to make this work.” Copyright laws prevented UW from putting the entire collection online, but Vallier, along with Laurel Sercombe of the UW Ethnomusicology Archives, was determined to find a home on the UW campus for the recordings.

The expansive collection was donated to the UW Ethnomusicology Archives in spring 2009 and unveiled in the Suzzallo that summer. Available only on one computer in the media center, it showcases the range of talent, from an early band’s raw energy to the seasoned sounds of a maturing band. “You can tell when a band’s playing their first show and when they’re on the 100th show of the tour,” Vallier said.

Learn more about the project, view a complete roster of artist performances, and sample recordings by Harvey Danger – made up of UW alumni – at the Crocodile Café Collection website.

Are there any shows you’d like to relive? Let’s hear it in the comments!

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The HUB gets more than just a face-lift

Hub Exterior

The HUB’s west facade remains, but big changes await within

Food court, bowling alley, ballrooms, meditation room, bank, bicycle repair shop—the UW’s Husky Union Building has always boasted amenities for students, and that hasn’t changed with the remodel, which has kept the HUB closed to students since the summer of 2010. Financed through a bond passed by a vote of the student body, and paid for through each student’s activity fee, the HUB remodel represents UW students coming together to make something beneficial to decades of future Dawgs.

HUB Atrium

The HUB’s new four-story atrium

The HUB’s lobby has been opened up, with the floors above being cut out to make an enormous, window-lined atrium, filled with natural light. There are plenty of nooks, tables and meeting rooms for students to use for study sessions, organizing meetings, or just to hang out. However, while a lot has changed in the new HUB, there are still many connections to the building’s past. The bowling alley remains, and a games room, featuring rows of pristine pool tables, has been expanded. The massive 1949 mural has been relocated, and now enjoys pride of place near the entrance.

Along with beautifying the HUB, the remodel will also unify the plumbing and HVAC systems of the three main sections of the building—previously only imperfectly coordinated—making the HUB more efficient and eco-friendly. The new climate control system piggybacks on the nearby power plant’s cooling system, drawing heat from the plant’s outgoing hot water, and cooling the air using the plant’s incoming chilled water. This helps reduce the building’s carbon emissions by 90 percent, saves money on heating and cooling costs, and has helped score the building a gold rating from LEED, the green energy certification organization.

HUB Mural

The historic HUB mural has been relocated, but remains a center of attention.

As well as a place for students to eat, play, study and hang out, the HUB also hosts the many registered student organizations (RSOs) that make campus life so vibrant, and the essential services students rely on. In the basement, a warren of offices provide space for the largest RSOs to organize (College Republicans and Student Democrats share an office, the Muslim and Buddhist student associations share another), and on the first floor there’s a resource center with everything RSOs need to make the signs, banners and newsletters that are a constant addition to campus decor.

The building is open to the public, though the finishing touches are still being put on many of the amenities. The HUB will host an opening bash for students on Sept. 22, and an Open House on Sept. 25 with games, giveaways, and all kinds of hoopla. All members of the UW community—students, faculty, staff, neighbors and friends—are invited to that, so why not drop by?


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Members Thanked by UW President, Coach, Professor

Coach Sark at the Member Celebration

Coach Sark thanking members

President Michael Young, UW Football Coach Steve Sarkisian and popular UW Professor David Domke took the stage at the UW Alumni Association Member Celebration to thank UWAA members for their century-plus support of the University and higher ed.

Held in an enormous pavilion on Red Square, stuffed with art by UW students, three stages, a jazz combo, and buffet tables groaning under piles of delicious food, the UWAA Member Celebration hosted over 300 alumni and friends for an evening of music, conversation and fun.

Taking a break from the music (provided by a trio from the UW School of Music) President Young briefly traced the evolution of the UWAA from its earliest days in 1889—when there were 60 living UW alumni—to today’s 55,000-member community, united by a love of the University. He shared that the UW deans’ consensus that the mission of the UW was to “optimize human potential,” and his opinion that a strong University relies on a strong alumni association.

Coach Sarkisian took the stage next and shared his thoughts on the upcoming season at Century Link Field.

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Robots Dance, Restore Faith in Humanty

Who knew robots had hearts? That’s what we found out last Friday, Feb. 10, when hundreds of people, including some dressed as our metallic friends/future overlords descended on Red Square to brighten the day of a child.

11-year-old Alex told the Make-a-Wish Foundation he’d like to see robots in action helping humanity and even bringing about world peace, so the UW community leapt into action. Students choreographed a dance routine and spread the word on YouTube. Show up dressed like a robot, they said, and dance. And so this happened:

YouTube Preview Image

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