“Small” and “Little”, a Literary Experiment on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with Sparrow Alden

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienI have talked about Sparrow Alden’s work before, the creative Digital Humanities project to stage all of the words in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Her “Words That You Were Saying” blog then offers up visual word studies that invite us to imagine dominant, peculiar, and hidden themes in this literary fairy tale. Digital Humanities work is not magic; we consider the data, doing all the work before we know if we will see a result. But I have found Sparrow’s word studies have consistently made me reflect on the text in fresh ways.  

It’s a cool project, but I also have been able to make use of it in my scholarly work. In preparing for a lecture in Northwind’s Romantic Theology program, I began playing with words in the text, playing out an image that I think is a bit under-appreciated. Because she is entirely equipped, I reached out to Sparrow to see if she could run the data on “little” and “small” in her magic Digital Humanities project. This is the first part of that project and “Small,”was not far behind. I then spent some time visualizing the data, using it to enrich my close reading. The first picture is of the chapter list of The Hobbit, and some charts to capture Sparrow’s word data.

Small Hobbit Chapters

Small Little Data Chart 1 Hobbit

Small Little Data Chart 2 Hobbit


Small Little Data Chart 3 Hobbit

I think this is a good example of cooperative scholarship and digital humanities experimentation at work. Thanks to Sparrow and I hope students found the slight tilt in perspective enriched their reading as much as it did mine!

words that you were saying

Finally! Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Dickieson over at A Pilgrim in Narnia, I have gotten un-stuck from the word which has held me in thrall since October. I hope this is of interest to his students in their study of the power of small ones:

• 1.004 and smaller than the bearded Dwarves.
• 1.004 the small river that ran at the foot of The Hill.
• 1.006 since they were all small hobbit-boys
• 1.059 and a couple of small tables
• 1.068 he sent a smaller smoke-ring from his short clay-pipe
• 1.109 Because it is too small.
• 1.113 a small and curious key.
• 2.022 There was a very small pony,
• 2.112 very small and secret.
• 2.113 too small for trolls,
• 2.123 our small stock of provisions.
• 3.009 some of which were small,
• 3.033 in the story of Bilbo’s…

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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14 Responses to “Small” and “Little”, a Literary Experiment on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with Sparrow Alden

  1. joviator says:

    The narrator feel less need to remind us Bilbo is little as he grows as a character. Which is cause, and which is effect?


    • Yeah, that’s probably part of it. But stripping out the description of the hobbit house in ch. 1, I argue in a lecture that there is a slight highlighting of small/little at points where Bilbo becomes a hero in various ways. It’s that upside-down hero-ness that interests me!


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