The Soddit – Chapter One

As The Hobbit begins his long awaited (and absolutely expected) journey to UK cinema screens, it’s the perfect time to revisit a Gollancz classic. The Soddit is Adam Roberts’ affectionate and hilarious parody of Tolkein’s much loved classic but don’t take our word for it. Put your hairy feet up, grab a mug of porter or a coffee from the pot on the hearth, maybe a seed cake or two, and settle down to the first of four extracts from ARRR Roberts’s The Sodditrunning on the blog this week. 

Chapter  One




In a hole, in a highly desirable and sought-after portion of the ground (the hole two doors along went for three hundred thou last month, near enough, although admittedly it was double-fronted and had a newly turfed  roof)  lived  a soddit,  the hero of our story. His name was Bingo ‘Sac’ Grabbings. Not  a name he chose for himself,  of course, but  one decided  on  by  his mother. Easy for  her to say, of course; she didn’t  have to live with it all through school and adult life. Parents, eh?

Where  was I? Oh,  yes.

In a hole, then, lived Bingo. It was a fair-to-middling soddit hole,  with  a circular blue-painted door, fine blue tiles in the bathroom  with  a cheesy blue mould growing on them, blue beetles, silverfish, silvery worms, all manner of moistness and a kitchen  area from  which  it was next  to impossible to clear out cooking  smells. Nevertheless in soddit terms it was a reasonably  desir- able residence. Bingo’s aunt, the severe Vita ‘Sac’ Vile- Vest,  had designs upon  this  very  sod-hole,  although Bingo  was in no mood to give way to pressure from that branch of the  family.  He  was a soddit  of forty, which in soddit  years was next  to nothing,   a mere bagatelle,  less than a bagatelle in fact; well, technically about four fifths of a bagatelle,  but  still young, that’s my point.

Soddits  are  a race  of little people who live in  the earth, which is where their  name comes from  (you’ll learn  a lot about names and where they come from  if you pay attention  as you  read,  believe  me).  Scholars and philologists  have established the derivation  of the name, evidenced by an ancient rhyme:

Cleave the sod with  your trusty  spade

Dig  out a house that’s quite like a grave

And should your neighbour not return your wave

Cleave the sod with  your trusty  spade

Now it is an interesting thing that soddits don’t tend to call themselves ‘soddits’,  for reasons I’ll come to in a minute.  But ‘soddit’  is the generally accepted term. Once upon a time  a traveller  from  the country  of the bigger people roamed far and wide through the country of the littler folk, through the County of the Hunchkins, Shrimpville,  Littleputia,  the Land of the Lepercorns1, Jockeyton,  and into Hobbld-Ahoy!,  the home  town of Bingo,  the  hero  of our tale. On his return to the human town of Brie this big ’un traveller found  his way to a tavern,  and sat meditating   on  his adventures, and his fellow  big ’uns gathered around him  curious  as to what  he had seen. ‘What  did you discover?’ they pressed him. ‘Who did you encounter?’

‘I met a—’ he  started  to reply,  and drew a  great shuddering sigh into  his body,  before concluding  in a lowered tone, ‘soddit,’  and reaching for his tankard of ale. The name of the particular soddit he encountered has not been recorded,  but it was clearly  a meeting that had a profound  impact upon the big man, for he stayed inside the Dragon-Queen Inn at Brie for two  days and two nights drinking all the time and speaking to nobody,  and soon afterwards  left the  area never  to return.

Soddits build  the accommodation portion  of their houses under  the ground,  and they build  their coal-cellars, wine  rooms and sometimes large rooms with ping-pong tables in them above the ground. They insist that this is the most logical manner of arranging living space, and indeed Hobbld-Ahoy!   planning regulations have made any other form  of domestic building illegal, although   this  does  tend   to result  in living quarters prone to damp, to worms, to mould, to associated asthma and bronchitis  for the inhabitants, whilst coal, wine and ping-pong bats are the most  burgled  items  in this burglary-prone  town.  But a tradition, after all, is a tradition.

Soddits,   as I say, don’t  call themselves soddits. In their  own tongue, which is queer and old and full of syntactical-grammatical inconsistencies, they call them- selves hobblds. Now,  there’s a reason why they refer to themselves  in this  manner,  and not by  the  name of soddit like everybody else in the world,  and the reason is found  in their  feet.  Shocking feet,  they have. Just shocking. Whatever the reason – and soddits down the ages have  blamed  the  gods,  or an  ancient  wizard’s curse, or inadequate orthopaedic practice, or con- genital  disease, or a dozen  other  factors  – whatever the reason, soddits are almost all of them afflicted with appalling arthritis  of the feet. Their  feet are swollen and gnarled,  many three  or four times their normal size, with  toes like  coconuts and ankles like  condoms stuffed with pebbles. This arthritis  is extremely  pain- ful, and is indeed no laughing matter, although queerly it is a condition  that does not spread to any other part of their body. But it gives their feet a strangely deadened, different colour from the rest of their bodies. Moreover, it makes it impossible for the adult soddit to wear shoes, for the pressure of leather against the inflated  flesh of the feet is too, too ghastly. This means that the diminutive folk walk only with difficulty and excessive slowness; and accordingly  adult  soddits spend much of their  time  searching for the cushion of perfect  softness, making little grunts   as they collapse into  their  sofas and using their  hands physically to lift their feet on to their footstools.

And now you  know  everything  that  you  need to know  about soddits, or hobblds, excepting only one or two minor  details,  such  as the fact that  they are food-loving   and drink-loving   and enjoy  conviviality. And that they like to wear  waistcoats and corduroy. Oh, yes, and that  they  smoke pipeweed  a great deal and that accordingly they die younger than they other- wise would  of cancers of the mouth,  tongue and throat as  well as  of heart disease. What  else? That  they  are conservative, rural,  bourgeois,  middle  class. That they speak  with a slight  Birmingham  accent,  oddly.  And, also, that  despite  their  manifest  disadvantages – their diminutive  stature, their  crippled elephantiasitic feet, their small-mindedness, their disinclination to listen to strangers or change old ways, their addiction to tobacco  and alcohol,  their stagnant  class-ridden  ‘re- spectability’ – despite all this, they have developed the most modern semi-industrial culture in the whole world,  with water-mills,  steam-foundries, comfortable housing, pipes, pop-guns,  spectacles, velvet  clothes, charming little flintstone churches, books and fire- works, whilst the rest of Upper Middle Earth is languishing  in the  dark  ages of swords,  horses, and burying their  dead under enormous mounds of earth. Funny that.  But,  you see, the ways of the world  are strange and sometimes inexplicable.


Bingo was sitting  on his most comfortable  sofa one morning, with his poor swollen arthritic feet resting on a green velvet cushion on the footstool  in front  of him. He was staring at the knuckled toe joints of these feet, the place where the individual  toes meet the body of the foot,  and these joints were staring back at him, like ten  radishes. He  was feeling  the  full weight  of the misery of existence, poor old Bingo.

There  was a series of bangs on the door, loud and startling,  the sort  of noise that might be made by a naughty soddit child stuffing a firecracker in the keyhole, lighting it, running away, hearing the disappointingly soggy pop, coming back vexed and kicking the door off its hinges with  his as-yet unspoiled, bovver-booted feet. Young people today, eh? What can you do? Tch.

Bingo sighed. ‘Go  away,’  he called.  After  a pause he added, ‘Go away.’

The banging continued on the front  door.

There was nothing  for it. Bingo got slowly to his feet, and made his way to the door, flinching with each step and uttering  all his usual expressions of pain, including ‘ah!’, ‘ouch’ and, half under his breath, ‘ow-ow-ow’.2

Bingo did not like  having a round front door. Who would? Geometry  dictates that such a door  be held in place by only one hinge, and that this hinge cannot be placed in the most effective load-bearing position,  so that the doorway is draughty and the door unwieldy  to open, and able easily to be kicked completely  in by any soddit  still young  enough to be wearing boots. But tradition  is tradition  is tradition,  and this  was a tradi- tion which Hobbld-Ahoy! planning regulators enforced with particular zeal. Bingo pulled open his door.

Outside,  standing in the  sunshine,  was  a  wizard. Bingo had never seen a wizard  before,  but the ‘W’ on the front  of his poncho could only mean he was one of that magic brotherhood. Either that, or he was a Munchkin of unusually developed stature and had put his poncho on upside down.

The knocking noise was continuing, louder than before.

Bingo looked up at the wizard.

‘Yes, well,’ said the wizard in a booming voice. ‘I’m sorry about that.’

‘Sorry?’  Bingo  repeated,  uncomprehending.  He looked at his still-knocking  door.

‘The knocking spell I put on your door. It’s a common  enough wizardly  spell, you know,’ he bellowed,   as if talking  into  a gale. ‘I’m too fragile at my time of life to go banging at doors.  Banging at doors!

I’m too old and fragile for that. So I’ve put the knocking spell on, do you see?’

Bingo  looked  at  the  door. ‘Can  you  turn it off, please?’

The  wizard  seemed not to hear. ‘Thank  you!’ he said, in his stentorian  voice.  ‘But, really,  you’re  too kind.  It’s a small spell, but potent.  Potent!’

‘How  long does it last?’

‘Yes, yes,’ boomed the wizard indulgently. ‘But can I turn it off? That’s the question.  And the answer? The answer  is ‘‘can I buggery’’. Hard to do, do  you  see? Easy to turn it on, that spell, but fiercely difficult  to turn it off.’

‘How  long does the spell last?’ said Bingo, leaving a space between  each word and moving his facial muscles in a more  marked  manner  as he spoke.

‘Grabbings?’  shrieked  the  wizard,   his shaggy eye- brows  rising  and  his  eyes  staring  intensely.  ‘Grabbings?’ He stepped forward,  filling  the doorway, bent down and stepped into the hallway of Grab End.

Bingo  spun around  as the huge figure of the wizard, bent nearly double,  moved rapidly  along the hall and into the main sitting room,  shouting Bingo’s surname at the top of his voice.  All the while  the front door carried  on making its deafening racket,  like a heavy item of wooden  furniture   clattering  down  an endless flight of stairs. Bingo stumbled after the wizard, calling out ‘hey!’  and ‘ow-my-feet!’, and came through to the sitting room to find the old wizard  parked there  in Bingo’s own sofa (which  though large for a soddit  was chair-sized for the man),  beaming toothlessly at him.

‘So you are Grabbings, are you?’ he shouted.

‘Yes, yes I am,’ replied Bingo. ‘But, look, I’m sorry but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you – I’m sorry – to leave. You can’t come in. You can’t sit there.’

‘It said ‘‘Grabbings’’ over the door,  you see,’ said the wizard.

‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ said Bingo, in a louder voice.

‘Grabbings,’ said the wizard,  putting  his finger to his cheek to mime contemplation. ‘A burglar’s  name, is that?’

‘I’m a  gentlehobbld   of independent  means,’  said Bingo,   wincing   as a sudden pain arrowed  up  his leg from his left foot, ‘and I’m asking you to go, now.’

‘I thought  so,’ said the wizard, smiling knowingly. ‘I thought so.’

‘Leave! Please!’ screeched Bingo.

‘Too kind,’ said the wizard,  taking off his hat and placing it on his lap. ‘Two  sugars, for me. My name is Gandef  and I am a wizard,   yes indeed.  The  famous Gandef. Don’t  be scared. I promise,’  he said, chuckling to himself, ‘I do – I promise – although I am a wizard, I promise not to turn you,’ he went  on, his chuckling bubbling  up  until his  shoulders  and  his  whole   head were shaking with the hilarity of what he was saying, ‘not  to  turn  you into  a  toad  – arch-CH HTTGH Q O O F – Q O O F – Q O O F ,’ he  added,  coughing  so abruptly,  so prodigiously  and body-spasmingly that it looked, for a moment,   as  if he were  going to shake himself out of his seat and on to the floor.  ‘AWARGH – SCHW-SCHWO’AH  KOH-KOH,’ he coughed. ‘K ’ O A H  K ’ O A H  K ’ O A H  K ’ O A H  K ’ O A H K’OAH K’OAH.’

Bingo, alarmed, sat down in the second-best chair.

‘K’OAH,  K’OAH  K’OAH  K’OAH  K’OAH,’ the wizard continued.

‘Are you all—’  Bingo started to say.

‘K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH K’OAH,’ the wizard concluded,  and let his head flop backwards. His colour  had drained  away,  and little dregs  of spittle were visible on the grey of his beard just  below  his mouth.  ‘Blimey,’  he said in a strangulated  voice.  ‘Oh dear, oh dear.’ His right hand fumbled in the pocket of his gown and brought  out a pipe, his left hand brought out  a wallet  of pokeweed, and with  trembling  fingers he filled  the bowl. ‘I’ll  be better  in a  moment,’  he croaked,  muttering  a  small  spell  to bring   a  yellow flame from  his right  thumbnail  so that he could  light the pipe. For long minutes the wizard simply sucked noisily at the stem of his pipe, making orgasmic little moans between breaths, and swiftly filling Bingo’s front room with a smoke  so acrid  and dark  it made the little soddit’s eyes smart. ‘Oh that’s better,’ Gandef murmured, sucking in another lungful of heated tobacco particles and air, ‘so much better.’

‘Are  you all right?’  Bingo asked, a little  nervously.

‘Eh?’ Gandef shouted. ‘What? You’ll  have to speak up. My hearing’s not what it used to be.’

Away in the hall, behind him, Bingo could hear the door still knocking  away to itself. ‘I—’ he started  to say, but realised that he didn’t  know how to finish the sentence.

‘Oh, once upon   a time,’ said Gandef,  ‘my hearing was better than an eagle, and my eyesight better  than a – well,  a goodly eyed animal. I don’t know. Something with a very  good  and acute  sense of sight. An eagle. Yes.  But  age takes its  toll, you know.’ The wizard hawked,  and so enormous  a noise of wrenching phlegm emanated  from his  chest that  Bingo  shrank  back.  ‘I tried a  most  potent  Noise  Amplification   Spell once upon  a time,’  Gandef was saying, his voice meditative, though still loud. ‘Marvellous spell. I could hear the birds speaking to one another in trees over the horizon, I could  hear the rustlings  as the clouds  rubbed  against one another in the sky. I could hear the sound a rainbow   makes as it arches its  back over  the  world. Then  a dog  barked  behind  me  and  I burst  my left eardrum. Won’t try that again in a hurry. I actually wet myself  – imagine  it! A wizard!  Wetting  himself in terror! Wouldn’t  do for that  piece of news  to get around,  the forces of evil and all that,  important  to keep up appearances of, you know,  magic and potency. I’m not  actually  a man,  you see – I’m a sort of angel.’3

He chuckled to himself.  ‘Covers  a multitude of sins, that. Sharp’s the word!’

‘I don’t quite follow,’ said Bingo.

‘They’ll  be here in a moment, Our Friends from the Dwarf.  From, uh, the dwarfland. They’re the salt of the earth. Which is to say, they’ve dug up and sold the salt of the earth.  And  also that they’ve  ploughed salt into the earth of people they didn’t  like. But we’ll  stay on their good side. Oh yes. We’ll draw  up a contract, I’ll get the map out,  and we can head off tomorrow.  Be on our way.’ He cleared his throat, or to put it more precisely,   he  moved  half  a stone  of snot  from one internal  location  to another,   and  then  drew   a deep breath through his pipe.

‘Come  again?’ said Bingo.

But  Gandef had fallen  asleep, his head lolling,   his still lit pipe rolling from his fingers and tipping smouldering tobacco over the matting that served for a carpet  in Bingo’s soddit hole.

The first four dwarfs 4 arrived half an hour later, hammering on the door so violently  that it jolted off its  latch and collapsed inwards.  ‘My door!’ squealed Bingo, scurrying as fast  as his deformed feet could take him out into the hallway.

‘Apologies,’   said the  first dwarf,  treading on  the wreck of the  door   as he  stepped  inside.   ‘We were knocking for a while,   look  you,  but seeing how  the door  was knocking anyway by itself  I don’t think we were being heard. I got a mate who does doors.’

‘Does doors lovely,’ said the second dwarf.

‘Oh, he’ll do you a lovely door,’  said the first dwarf, with  a flush of agreement. ‘Lovely  big hefty door.  Soon as he pops along, he’ll quote you, lovely boy, la, bach.’

‘There’s  been a misunderstanding,’  Bingo gabbled at them. ‘I’m sorry that you’ve been inconvenienced, but you’ve  got  the  wrong  hole.  Nobody  here  called Grabbings. No wizard, there’s no wizard here. You’ll have to go away.’

From behind him,  in the sitting room,  came a series of axe-like chopping noises such as can only be produced  by a man who  has scoured the walls  of his lungs red  and smooth  over  many years of dedicated smoke inhalation.

‘That’s the boyo,’ said the first dwarf,  stepping past Bingo. ‘Failin,’ he  said.  ‘I’m a dwarf,   la, boy,  see, yow,  bach,  dew,’  he  added.  ‘This  is  my  cousin Qwalin.’ The second dwarf bowed. ‘And  behind him are Sili and Frili,  also cousins, see?’

‘I haven’t the victuals—’  Bingo began, in desperation. But the four  dwarfs were already in the sitting room, singing tunelessly but loudly, one of them bouncing  lustily  on  the  wizard’s  chest to wake the fellow up. Bingo  turned  about,  cursed the  gnawing pain in his  left toes,  and  turned   again as four more dwarves 5  stepped boldly into his house.

‘Mori,’  said  the  first dwarf,  who  was  holding  a clipboard.  He   was  a  strong-nosed  dwarf  in  green, with a waterfall of beard and eyebrows thick as caterpillars. Or as actual  pillars.   ‘Allow me to intro- duce  my cousins,  Tori, Orni and  On. Oh my,’  he added, stepping towards Bingo. ‘Haven’t you the smoothest of chins!’

The four dwarfs kicked their  beards out from under their  feet and clustered around Bingo, treading on his toes as they  did  so. ‘Oo,’ they said, running  callused fingers over his chin. ‘Oo.’

‘Get off,’ Bingo  said, flapping  his hands before  his face like little wings.

‘You’ll have to excuse us, see,’ said Mori, leaning his clipboard  against the wall  and taking off his dwarf hat. ‘It’s a rare sight for us, a bare chin – a sight of rare beauty. Wouldn’t  I love  a bare chin!’

‘Wouldn’t I!’ said Orni.

‘You’ll say, shave,’  said Mori, clapping Bingo in a manly clasp, his arm around the back, his powerful hand crushing Bingo’s shoulder. ‘You  will, you’ll tell me, shave.’

‘I won’t,’ said Bingo.

‘Can’t,’ said  Mori, as  if in correction.  ‘Psoriasis. Terrible. Allergy to bauxite. Couldn’t shave if my life depended on it. Stuck with  this apsurd hippy beard. 6  I hate it.’

‘We  all hate it,’ said Orni.  ‘All hate our beards.’

‘All of us in the same boat.  Smells, la,’ said Mori confidentially.  ‘Food gets stuck in it. I found  a chicken bone in mine yesterday. Anyway, anyhow, anyhew.’

He released Bingo. ‘Is the King boy here yet?’

‘King  boy?’ said Bingo.

‘Thorri, our King,   heavens bless him. No? There you go. I can hear merry being made, though, look you,  begorrah, la, bach, boyo, see, dew, bach, look you, so we’ll go on through.’

Bingo stumbled  to the larder,  and brought  out a selection  of the  food  he  possessed. The  dwarfs  devoured it all in quarter of an hour.  In dismay he tried telling  the  group  that  he  had  no  more,  but  they wouldn’t  take no for an answer, explored his hobbld hole  thoroughly   and  completely   ransacked it. They rolled out his one and only  barrel  of Soddit ale, and tapped and drank  it. They  sang all the while, whilst

Gandef sat in the corner tapping his foot not in time to the music and smoking. They sang:

When you walk  with  a dwarf  keep your  head down low

So as not to draw attention to his height,

For a dwarf’s  hold on his temper is only so-so

And a dwarf has no fear of a fight.

Walk on, walk on, crouching all the time Though your hips are racked with  pain – Walk  on, walk on, with  a bend in your spine Or you’ll  ne-ver walk again,

You’ll NE-ver walk again.


After  which they sang, or rather they howled:




After  which  they insisted that Bingo join in with the quaffing, despite his protestations that he was normally  a very moderate drinker. They drank toasts to his smooth chin,  and his  smooth upper lip, and  they  sang more songs: raucous songs, caucus songs, ribald songs, dribbled  songs, hymns, whims, theramins, chim-chim- cherees,  songs that  were  hard, songs by  bards,  songs that left  you scarred (emotionally  speaking), drinking anthems, looting  anthems, puking anthems, footy an- thems,  beauty-pageant anthems, and ‘Bess You  Is My Woman Now’. They  sang a-capella, a-patella 7  and any umber-ella-any-umber-ella. At some point in the proceed- ings the remaining dwarfs came in, Ston, Pilfur, Gofur, and Wombl; and finally  there entered  a diminutive little creature, small even for  a dwarf  and barely  an inch taller than Bingo, who introduced  himself as  ‘Thorri, King you know’, but who seemed to be accorded remarkably little respect from  the other dwarfs. But by this stage Bingo  was well drunk, tanked-up, reeling and rocking, and soon enough he was falling over and getting up with a silly  expression  on his face. He was as unsteady  on his feet  as a newborn colt that had been force fed half a bottle of whisky. Then  Gandef  began singing  a song, and got halfway through  the first  stanza before  he started coughing with  shocking vehemence, making a series  of noises like a roof-load  of snow collapsing twenty feet to the ground. Forty-five  seconds of this and the wizard was too weak to stand, and collapsed back on to the sofa gasping and fumbling  with  his tobacco pouch.

‘My new friends,’  said Bingo, with  tears in his eye and alcohol compounds in his bloodstream.  ‘My new friends! How sweet it is to have friends – to make new friends!’

‘Strictly a business  arrangement, Mr Grabbings,’ said  Mori. ‘We have  a  quest  to undertake, and we need your help, that’s all.’

‘You  need my help!’  repeated Bingo joyously,  his cheeks wet.  ‘My friends!’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Mori, pushing the over-affectionate soddit  away.  ‘Let’s  not lose proportion,   look you, bach, la. There’s  a dragon, see, and he’s got,  eh, well shall we say . . . treasure. Let’s call it treasure.’

‘Gold?’  asked Bingo,  his eyes circular.

‘What’s  that?’ said Qwalin,  ‘Yeah – yeah, that’s it. Gold.  That’s a good one.’

‘Gold,’ said Mori,  looking significantly at his fellow dwarfs. ‘All right? We all clear? Mr Grabbings here is to help us nick  us some gold. Yes, that’s it, we’re on our way to steal the dragon’s gold. See?’

The dwarfs made  various  noises of dawning comprehension.

‘So,’  said Mori,  turning  to Bingo, ‘we figured – and this is only  a rough  plan,  see – that we’d go over there and distract the dragon boyo with some close-harmony baritone  singing whilst  you  steal the, eh,  gold,  you being  a thieving  little tinker, or so we’ve  been led to believe – no offence.’

Bingo’s  heart was flush with new comradeship and love.  He sobbed like  a child,  trying  to hug Mori and unburden  his  heart,  to  say  how   he’d  always  felt, somehow, distanced from the other soddits, as if there was something that held him back from them, and held them  back  from him  – it wasn’t  easy  to say  what exactly,  but on occasion he’d stand at his door  with  a glass of dry hobbld martini in his hand and watch the evening traffic making its way up Hobbld-Ahoy!  high- street and over the bridge into the thickening gloom and feel,  somehow,  a great emptiness inside himself,  a sense of purposelessness of it all – the way the narrow respectability of his world felt sometimes like a suffocating velvet cloak – and all along the thing he’d been  missing  was  right here,  this  sense of purpose, belonging to this band of brothers,  united  in a common aim. Sadly the ale, which provoked this chain of thought in Bingo’s mind, also prevented the articulate expression of it, and the  best he could  manage was a ‘such-a-lovely-buncho-blokes-lovely-feller-love-you’ and a further  series of throaty  syllables like the noise a dog makes just before it throws up.

‘Now,’ Mori continued in a  louder voice, backing against the  wall, ‘are you OK with our plan, boyo, look you? Remember, the only problem to this quest thing is that the – eh – the treasure is in the possession of a dragon. Right?’

‘Dragons!’ said Bingo. ‘They don’t frighten me. Insectivores, aren’t they?’

‘No,’  said  Mori.  ‘I wouldn’t  describe  them  as insectivores.’

‘Well,’ said Bingo, waving his hand dismissively and wobbling on his feet. ‘Does it matter?’ He’d long since reached the level of alcoholic uncoordination where it becomes difficult  to place the right  thumb  upon the end of the left little finger, and indeed had gone somewhat beyond it, to the state where  it is difficult to get one’s upper and lower lips to connect.

‘Smug the Dragon,’ said Gandef, erupting apparently from sleep. ‘A fearsome, terrible  sight, he is, the mighty wyrm in his desolation.’

‘Terrible, terrible,’ said the dwarfs in unison.

The ale swirled in Bingo heart. ‘I’m not afeared!’ he squealed, trying  to clamber on the table.

‘Smug the Dragon!’ Gandef bellowed, rather carried away with himself. ‘Terrible  Smug! Marvellous great dragon! Bah!’ He coughed once, twice, and then thrummed   a long,  enduring  note  on  the  taut  surface of the mass of phlegm  held in his chest.

The dwarfs brought out their  own pipes, and soon the smoke was so thick  in Bingo’s sod hole that you couldn’t see the smokers for the smoke.8  Moreover, the smoke that came out of the dwarfish pipes had a strange savour to it, a slightly herbal, fruity, pleasant, drowsy, hey-man edge to it, a whiff of ‘Rings, eh? They’re, like, all hard round the outside and all, like, nothing at all in the middle, isn’t that weird? The way they can be both really really hard on the edge and really soft in the middle, d’you ever think of that?’ and a slight odour of ‘Hey I’m really really hungry, you got any, like, scones or some- thing?’ The excitement and passion drained out of Bingo wholly, and he lay on the floor with his feet in the grate, humming along as the dwarfs sang another song.

Smug the Magic Dragon

Are we afraid  of he?

In his Magic Dragon-grotto-place, No-o-ot like-a-lee –

We’ll  travel over earth, And we travel  over sea,

To beard that dragon in his den, look you now

Most assuredly.

Oh  yes we will, I tell you now, You better believe we’ll  do it We will, oh yes we will,  oh

Yes we will,  we’re going to it,

I’m  telling  you we will

It’s  practically  good as done, We’re going that way right now,

That dragon’s, well, let’s just say, I wouldn’t want

to be in his  shoes.


Gandef was shouting something at this point and had to be calmed.  Then,  under  the  illusion  that  he was whispering discreetly into Mori’s  ear, he boomed, ‘I was thinking, why don’t we tell the young soddit that we’re off after some gold? Eh? Wouldn’t  that be sly?’ Mori’s  voice,  much  lower, came murmuring   indistinctly  through the fug. ‘You  see,’ Gandef bellowed, louder still, ‘if the soddit thinks we’re  after some gold then he won’t  ask after the real reason for our quest – do  you  see?’ Again, Mori’s  voice, now more urgent but still indistinct, muttered in the dark. Bingo, from where  he was lying,  could  just about see the pyramidical shape of the wizard’s hat, and the hunched silhouette of Mori trying to communicate with the old man.

‘I can’t  hear you  if you  mutter like that,’ bellowed Gandef petulantly.  ‘All I’m saying is that this would  be a good cover story as far  as the soddit is concerned. That way we don’t  have to tell him what we’re  really going for yrkh, yrkh, mmbbmmmdd.’

It seemed to Bingo’s  eyes, in the smoke-obscured candlelight, as if Gandef’s hat had been dragged sharply down to cover his whole face. But the young soddit’s eyelids were slipping down in irresistible sleep, and he couldn’t  focus any more.



1 A brave little folk afflicted with the most repulsive and contagious foot diseases. Foot  diseases are,  it must  be said,  something  of a common theme for the Counties of the Little.

2 Which  is to say, the noises somebody  makes not  when  they  are in actual pain, but when they wish to communicate to the world  at large  that  they  are  experiencing   a sensation of slight discomfort. Nobody  suffering  actual pain – let us say, a broken  leg,  or having their shoulder pierced  all  the  way through  with a  Wharg-rider’s arrow – would  ever say ‘ouch’. If somebody in such a situation  were to say ‘ouch’  we would  think  not that they were in pain, but that they were taking the piss.

3 This is true, actually. The best theological thinking today suggests that when you die and go up to heaven you’ll find God surrounded not by people in white  with  wings,  but instead by a large crowd  of crotchety,  beardy men in big hats with  nicotine-stained  fingers and swords. As the Philosopher once said: The world  is not only stranger than  we  imagine,  but stranger  than  we  can imagine,   and  more imaginative  than  we  can  imagine  too, which   is  something  of a contradiction,  don’t  you think,  where was I? Hold on, bear with me for a minute,  angels, old men, ah yes, ahm, ahem, stranger than we imagine, stranger than we can imagine, stranger than we will imagine, stranger than we shall imagine, stranger than we can’t imagine, stranger than we shouldn’t imagine,  stranger than we wouldn’t imagine if we  could, stranger  than  you  can imagine  but not me, and  so on. Anyway, I think  we can both agree I’ve made my point.

4 This, by the way, is the correct  plural form of ‘dwarf’. Look it up if you don’t believe me – really.

5 Sorry,  that one must have slipped through  the proofs.

6 Which  is to say, a beard  that  reaches down  to one’s hips. Why? What else did you think this might mean?

7 The sort of song you sing when somebody has just kicked you in the kneecap.

8 I’ve got  a PhD  you  know, from Cambridge University.  I just thought  you might  be interested in that fact. I’m not some bloke making this up from thin air, I’m a proper  scholar, I studied Anglo Saxon and everything.