Poor Bilbo sat in the dark thinking of all the horrible names of all the giants and ogres he had ever heard told of in tales, but not one of them had done all these things. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought to know it, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking. Gollum began to get out of his boat. He flapped into the water and paddled to the bank; Bilbo could see his eyes coming towards him. His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth; he wanted to shout out: “Give me more time! Give me time!” But all that came out with a sudden squeal was:
Bilbo was saved by pure luck. For that of course was the answer. J.R.Tolkien
This is, as many of you will know, part of the Riddle game from ‘The Hobbit’ – the turning-point in Bilbo Baggins’ career. He found the answer by chance, but what was the riddle?
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountains down. – J.R.R. Tolkien
The relentless rhythm of this alarming verse fits its personification of Time. Yet again, an abstraction becomes an entity, one that carries out such brutal destruction as to imply that it is genuinely inimical to life and to creation. Time, as depicted here, really does not like us.
However, while it may be the case that, say, you visit a beach one year, and come back 30 years later to find that all its cliffs have fallen, that does not actually represent an action of time. It demonstrates the effects of the repeated action of wind rain and sea, day by day, season by season. Time’s just been sitting there again watching it all go past. Why do we so strongly believe in the actions, willed actions, of something/someone called Time? Tolkien will assist us further in this series of reflections.
(Image taken by Italian photographer Giovanni Allievi.)