The following quote is from the chapter "Concerning Hobbits" in The Fellowship of the Ring:

Though slow to quarrel, and for sport killing nothing that lived, they were doughty at bay, and at need could still handle arms.

What do "nothing that lived" and "doughty at bay" in this quote mean?

  • 1
    Why do you think there is any other meaning besides the plain literal meaning of the words?
    – user14111
    Jun 19 at 4:24
  • What plain literal meaning? I have literally never heard the word 'doughty' outside of this quote. As for 'at bay' I've heard it maybe three other times, and I couldn't have given an accurate definition. I wouldn't have known what the sentence meant without RaT's explanation.
    – Pete
    Jun 20 at 2:39
  • 1
    The question seems to be more about the English language than about literature.
    – user14111
    Jun 20 at 8:14

Doughty means "brave and persistent". At bay means "Forced to face or confront one's attackers or pursuers; cornered."

The meaning of "killing nothing" would be clear; but instead of absolutely "nothing", Tolkien writes "nothing that lived": in other words, they do not kill anything that is alive. (This is actually a pleonasm, since if you kill something it must be something that lives, but presumably it's written that way for poetic effect.)

A rephrasing of the sentence in simpler language might be:

They would rarely argue, and never killed living things for sport, but they were brave when cornered, and could still use weapons if necessary.

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