65

I saw this Q&A from J.K. Rowling interview:

Q: Hello, I was wondering how much Tolkien inspired and influenced your writing?
J.K. Rowling responds: Hard to say. I didn't read The Hobbit until after the first Harry book was written, though I read Lord of the Rings when I was nineteen. I think, setting aside the obvious fact that we both use myth and legend, that the similarities are fairly superficial. Tolkien created a whole new mythology, which I would never claim to have done. On the other hand, I think I have better jokes.

... and it dawned on me - I re-read LOTR several times, and I don't remember even a single joke or pun (perhaps Eowyn's "I am no man!" could qualify as such?).

Were there any universally recognized humorous elements in LOTR (the book, not the dwarf-tossing movie)?

(I realize that humour is somewhat subjective, thus the "universally recognized" qualifier above. Something an average reader is likely to find humorous).

An ideal answer would contain one of the following (in order of preference):

  • A joke that was explicitly acknowledged as one by Tolkien himself

  • A reference to some research (joke compilation or essay on the topic)

  • At worst, if no such lists exists, a list of jokes - in other words, if someone posts an answer with a joke and you know of another one, please edit it into an existing answer.

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    Another interesting answer would be an explicit explanation from Tolkien as to "Why so serious?". Something along the lines of Norse epic myths/sagas (Beowulf etc..) not having any humor in them. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 23 '12 at 19:21
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    Is 'eleventy-first' considered a joke? Even if it might not be a joke to hobbits, it certainly would be to a human reader. – corsiKa Oct 3 '12 at 15:04
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    "Why so serious?" -- I think it can be safely said that while Tolkien was capable of dry humour and the occasional snarky remark (especially among hobbits), he didn't really go for gags, puns, or risqué references to genitals. As such he's pretty joke-free by many standards :-) – Steve Jessop Apr 18 '14 at 19:28
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    Turns out I was wrong, it's even less of a joke than I thought. Old English counts 70 80 90 100 110 120 as (with capitalisation for emphasis only) "SEOFONtiġ hundEAHTiġ hundNIGONtiġ hundTĒONtiġ hundENDLEOFONtiġ hundTWELFtiġ", where "endleofon" is 11. So the hobbits are counting in OE, in line with Tolkien's translation notes where he explains that although the hobbits real language wasn't Germanic, he has chosen English as a basis for translating some of their proper nouns (unlike Elven names which he leaves alone). – Steve Jessop Apr 18 '14 at 19:44
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    ... so the joke (if any was intended) is, "you get an uncanny valley effect by transposing OE directly into modern English, it makes sense but it's not right". – Steve Jessop Apr 18 '14 at 19:51

13 Answers 13

75

The Hobbit contains more humorous elements than Lord of the Rings. The parts most obviously intended to be amusing come from the first few chapters, when the tone is similar to that of The Hobbit, e.g.

My dear Bagginses and Boffins, he began again; and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots. ‘ProudFEET!’ shouted an elderly hobbit from the back of the pavilion. His name, of course, was Proudfoot, and well merited; his feet were large, exceptionally furry, and both were on the table.

Also, the pointed comments on some of Bilbo's guests:

For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo, on a large waste-paper basket. Dora was Drogo’s sister and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century.

For MILO BURROWS, hoping it will be useful, from B.B., on a gold pen and ink-bottle. Milo never answered letters.

For ANGELICA’S use, from Uncle Bilbo, on a round convex mirror. She was a young Baggins, and too obviously considered her face shapely.

For the collection of HUGO BRACEGIRDLE, from a contributor, on an (empty) book-case. Hugo was a great borrower of books, and worse than usual at returning them.

Tolkien did acknowledge that while he found the Hobbits themselves a joking race, they wouldn't be to everyone's tastes (from Letter #31) given their "fatuous" humour:

I am personally immensely amused by hobbits as such, and can contemplate them eating and making their rather fatuous jokes indefinitely;

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    I would add, from that same speech as your first quote: "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." – Ben Hocking Sep 23 '12 at 23:07
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    Anything past leaving the Hobbiton? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 24 '12 at 0:19
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    There's the nonsense poem by Frodo in the Dancing Pony, and Sam's poems of the trolls and oliphaunt. There may be some more in passing. Maybe when Merry and Pippin reunite with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in Isengard? Or Pippin in Gondor with Bergil. Those are the only two other times I can think of potential levity. – dlanod Sep 24 '12 at 0:42
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    Merry and Pippin at Isengard gates is a hilarious scene - possibly especially because there isn't much humour in the book. It highlights the relaxed atmosphere as in the middle of danger and trouble, everything is - for a short while - suddenly quite ok. – Ilari Kajaste Sep 26 '12 at 7:27
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    Relevant to your last point, from Letter 213: "I have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome)" - Tolkien was well aware of the limits of his own sense of humour here. – user8719 Dec 6 '13 at 0:04
52

Well, I found one in the chapter "The Palantir", The Two Towers,:

'Are we riding far tonight, Gandalf?' asked Merry after a while. 'I don't know how you feel with a small rag-tag dangling behind you; but the rag-tag is tired and will be glad to stop dangling and lie down.'

'So you heard that?' said Gandalf. 'Don't let it ........................ honoured by his concern.'

'Thank you!' said Merry. 'But it is a greater honour to dangle at your tail, Gandalf. For one thing, in that position one has the chance of putting a question a second time. Are we riding far tonight?'

Gandalf laughed.

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    I think that this is fits more to the OP's required answer than all the others posted here. Yet it still hasn't got the upvotes. – user117913 Jan 4 '16 at 19:11
33

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was the recipient of some of Bilbo's silver spoons when he bequeathed them to her, after many years of her surreptitiously stealing them.

For LOBELIA SACKVILLE-BAGGINS, as a PRESENT, on a case of silver spoons. Bilbo believed that she had acquired a good many of his spoons, while he was away on his former journey. Lobelia knew that quite well. When she arrived later in the day, she took the point at once, but she also took the spoons.

21

The part of LotR that's always made me laugh the most was the passage in The Return of the King when Aragorn indulges himself in some hilarious snarking about the herb-master in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith:

Merry smiled. ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘if Strider will provide what is needed, I will smoke and think. I had some of Saruman’s best in my pack, but what became of it in the battle, I am sure I don’t know.’

‘Master Meriadoc,’ said Aragorn, ‘if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken. If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues. And so now must I. For I have not slept in such a bed as this, since I rode from Dunharrow, nor eaten since the dark before dawn.’

-- Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter VIII: The Houses of Healing (emphasis mine)

... this being in reference to the following exchange earlier on when Aragorn was trying to get his hands on some athelas:

Thereupon the herb-master entered. ‘Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it, he said; or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean...’

‘I do so,’ said Aragorn, ‘and I care not whether you say now asea aranion or kingsfoil, so long as you have some.’

‘Your pardon lord!’ said the man. ‘I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.

When the black breath blows
and death’s shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying!

It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches.’

‘Then in the name of the king, go and find some old man of less lore and more wisdom who keeps some in his house!’ cried Gandalf.

-- Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter VIII: The Houses of Healing(emphasis mine)

  • Aragorn's snark has always been one of my favourite parts. And I'm sure we're supposed to laugh at something else as well... the words of the healed as they wake. Faramir: "My lord, you called me. I come." Éowyn: "Éomer! What joy is this?" Merry: "I am hungry. What is the time?" – Tim Pederick Feb 9 '17 at 13:16
11

How about Tolkien's explanation of the invention of golf? It's from the Hobbit rather than LOTR, but it made me laugh.

Old Took's great-grand-uncle Bullroarer...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.

5

Here is something relevant from another of Tolkien's works.

I remember this passage from chapter two of The Hobbit ("Roast Mutton"), where the company see the light from a fire in the woods, and send Bilbo to investigate:

"Now scuttle off, and come back quick, if all is well. If not, come back if you can! If you can't, hoot twice like a barn owl, and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can." Off Bilbo had to go, before he could explain that he could not hoot even once like any kind of owl any more than fly like a bat."

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    The question was about LotR though, not the Hobbit. – Rand al'Thor Jul 2 '16 at 18:05
  • Edited to include a disclaimer (of sorts) – maguirenumber6 Jul 3 '16 at 7:40
5

While listening to the audiobook, I've noted an instance of laugh-out-loud humour not listed above;

After discussing the disposal of Bag End to the loathsome Lobelia and her equally unpleasant son, Frodo, Pippin and Sam have a last meal in his her house.

'Our last meal at Bag End!' said Frodo, pushing back his chair. They left the washing up for Lobelia. Pippin and Sam strapped up their three packs and piled them in the porch. Pippin went out for a last stroll in the garden. Sam disappeared.

Later, when Frodo wakes up in Rivendell, we get this rather dry commentary from Pippin, who's clearly been on the receiving end of Gandalf's gloomy speeches one too many times.

Hush!' said Gandalf from the shadows at the back of the porch. Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same we should not name them. The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.

`Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that,' said Pippin.

  • Haha, those cheeky sods! – Möoz May 12 '17 at 0:53
  • "the loathsome Lobelia and her equally unpleasant son, Frodo, Pippin and Sam have a last meal" - that reads very wrongly without an Oxford comma :-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 9 '17 at 21:39
4

I stumbled across this today when looking up a reference for another question and thought I'd add it to the collection. It comes after Theoden presents Gimli with a cap and shield with a horse on it.

Gimli bowed. "I am proud, Lord of the Mark, to bear your device," he said. "Indeed sooner would I bear a horse than be borne by one. I love my feet better. But, maybe, I shall come yet where I can stand and fight."
(The Two Towers, Chapter VI, The King of the Golden Hall).

To my mind, there are at least two jokes here. The most obvious meaning is that Gimli would rather carry a horse on his back than the other way round. Obviously, that's a humorous image to begin with.

I think it also invites another meaning of 'bear', however - namely 'to bear a child'. Some might argue that the image of Gimli giving birth to a horse wasn't what Tolkien had in mind; personally, I think it might be and find it amusing either way. It certainly fits with Gimli's profound hatred of (riding on) horses. That he would literally rather give birth to a horse than sit on one seems to me to be an example of comic exaggeration.

3

Not a down-right joke, but funny nonetheless; in the forest of Fangorn, Legolas says to Aragorn and Gimli:

'It is old, very old,' said the Elf. 'So old that almost I feel young again, as I have not felt since I journeyed with you children. ...'
-The Lord of the Rings: Part Two - The Two Towers. Book III, Chapter Five (The White Rider).

2

One might read the secret password to the Door of Durin, the entrance to Moria as a Dwarvish pun, or at least a play on words.

"Speak, friend, and enter" is confusing because it's not clear that the phrase is to be taken literally - You're supposed to speak the word for "friend", which is "Mellon", as the password. Gandalf certainly laughed at it.

1

Tolkien's books don't have many jokes, at least according to Roald Dahl.

Roald Dahl has a conversation in his 1988 children's graphic novel Matilda, where the teacher Miss Honey asks the five year old child genius Matilda about what books she's read. That conversation includes a part about jokes.

“And have you read any books all by yourself, any children's books, I mean?”

“I've read all the ones that are in the public library in the High Street, Miss Honey.”

“And did you like them?”

“I liked some of them very much indeed,” Matilda said, “but I thought others were fairly dull.”

“Tell me one that you liked.”

“I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Matilda said. “I think Mr C. S. Lewis is a very good writer. But he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books.”

“You are right there,” Miss Honey said.

“There aren't many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,” Matilda said.

“Do you think that all children's books ought to have funny bits in them?” Miss Honey asked.

“I do,” Matilda said. “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.”

Miss Honey was astounded by the wisdom of this tiny girl. She said, “And what are you going to do now that you've read all the children's books?”

“I am reading other books,” Matilda said. “I borrow them from the library. Mrs Phelps is very kind to me. She helps me to choose them.”

Miss Honey was leaning far forward over her work-table and gazing in wonder at the child. She had completely forgotten now about the rest of the class. “What other books?” she murmured.

“I am very fond of Charles Dickens,” Matilda said. “He makes me laugh a lot. Especially Mr Pickwick.”

However, we don't know which Tolkien books Matilda has read: it's quite possible that she has only read The Hobbit. That is the one that's considered a children's book and is commonly found in libraries. Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales aren't considered children's books. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham are children's books, but a small library is less likely to have them, and it'd be unlikely for anyone to claim that Farmer Giles doesn't have many funny bits. Earlier in the graphic novel, there's a list of 15 adult books Matilda's read, and Tolkien's books aren't among them, but it's almost certain that Matilda has read more books later.

  • It's nice to see an answer which isn't opinionated. – ibid Jan 17 '17 at 3:23
0

a sort of joke was the aragorn and arwen relationship because Tolkien had to wait until he was 21 before his father allowed him to date his future wife Edith. aragorn waited until after he claimed his title and could support a wife before he married.

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    I don't know if that's a joke, it's more ironic than humorous. – Monty129 Dec 6 '13 at 0:00
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    Tolkien's father was actually long dead; this was his guardian. – user8719 Dec 6 '13 at 0:02
0

Here is my 2¢. During the scene in Fellowship while Aragorn and the Hobbits are heading to Weathertop, Pippin is wanting to eat again. Then he starts naming off all the different meals the Hobbits eat in a typical day. I think that was intended to be funny (not sure if being hit on the head with an apple part was just in the movie or not).

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    Are you sure this isn't an invention of the film? The question specifies books only. – Rand al'Thor Jan 15 '17 at 22:08
  • Indeed; I think you have it the wrong way around: there is a scene in the book where Sam throws an apple in Bill Ferny's face (and then laments the loss of the apple), and that would IMO make for a good answer here. The listing of all those different meals OTOH, while indeed funny (if mostly thanks to Billy Boyd's Scottish accent) is from the film. – leftaroundabout Jun 29 '17 at 15:38

protected by DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 16 '17 at 22:40

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