Bless is a complicated word indeed – Bilbo, Thorin, Gollum, Balin, the narrator himself, and even Gandalf and Smaug use it as an interjection, blessing themselves in a folksy manner. Gandalf is being disingenuous with Beorn in 07.081 and putting off the dwarves in a teasing manner in 07.116. “Bless me” (or in Gollum’s case, “us”) sounds like a verbal habit of a slightly superstitious, perhaps parochial dialect.
But whence the superstition? What is blessing? In the more solemn sense of spiritual gift, the word is used three times. In chapter 12, Bilbo wordlessly blesses the luck of his ring and Balin lifts up the importance of knowing about Smaug’s bare patch. In chapter 18, Thranduil names Bilbo “elf-friend and blessed.” Although Tolkien had not planned Bilbo’s future trajectory as he wrote that, we certainly see this blessing play out in Bilbo’s story going forward.
What do we make of it? Two uses of bless. Do we chart them differently? I propose that when characters bless themselves, we think of it as a parochial saying and when characters bless others that it is a word of high register. Well, bless us and splash us.
- 01.017 Bless me, (Bilbo)
- 01.120 Bless me!’ said Thorin,
- 05.015 Bless us (Gollum)
- 06.014 Bless me, (narrator)
- 07.081 And, bless me! (Gandalf)
- 07.116 but bless me! (Gandalf)
- 08.127 Gollum! Well I’m blest! (Balin)
- 12.044 and blessed the luck of his ring. (Bilbo avoiding Smaug)
- 12.067 Bless me! (Smaug)
- 12.089 and a blessing yet to know of the bare patch (Balin)
- 18.008 Well I’m blessed!’ (Bilbo)
- 18.049 And I name you elf-friend and blessed. (Thranduil)
- 19.035 Bless me! (Bilbo)