Leaving the Last Homely House, the company now enters the Wild. Despite trolls, the company has relatively been at ease, facing no serious danger in lands west of the Misty Mountains.
Up the mountains they go, when they are met by a “thunder-battle.” This battle consists of stone giants battling each other, tossing rocks and stones, and smashing them in the mountains below, raining rocks upon the company. Thus, they are required to seek shelter lest they perish, and “luckily” Fili and Kili find a cave nearby. They all rush into it despite Gandalf’s consternation. This incident was inspired by Tolkien’s travels through Switzerland in 1911. In a mountain pass, rocks the sizes of oranges came tumbling down, one crashing down between himself and the companion in front of him. The experience described in this chapter was personal. As is usual, the best fiction is grounded in truth.
The company settles down in the cave and they all fall asleep. Bilbo dreams of a crack appearing in the wall and opening, and as it turns out, his dream becomes reality. This is Bilbo’s second dream in the book, but this one is almost prophetic. Other occurrences of prophetic dreams will show up in Tolkien’s legendarium. In this case, Bilbo wakes up just in time to shout, waking Gandalf who destroys the six goblins attempting to capture him and is not captured himself, thus enabling him to save the company later. But here, for the first time Bilbo is responsible for saving the company because of a dream. Or shall we say, more evidence of divine providence?
The goblins (another term for orcs which is used in LOTR) capture the company and they too sing a song. This is the third consecutive chapter in which we meet a new race. The goblin’s song is harsh, quick, but yet rhythmic. It speaks of work and slavery. In fact, after the song is sung, Tolkien describes the goblins as those that live under ground and work. They almost sound like dwarves, except the dwarves themselves enjoy working and creating, whereas the goblins “make no beautiful things” and “get other people to make their design.” In LOTR and the Silmarillion it is learned that the goblins or orcs, were once elves or elf-like but corrupted by the evil Morgoth. In keeping with his theology, and as expressed by Augustine of Hippo, Tolkien portrayed evil and corruption as no inherent thing in itself, but rather a distortion of good. Evil cannot create anything, but it only corrupts and bends the good and true away from itself for wicked ends.
During the description of the goblins, Tolkien tells us these goblins have a special hatred for Thorin’s people “because of the war which you have heard mentioned.” This was the battle of Moria. Again we get a reference to something outside our immediate story which helps our story feel a part of something larger. This is re-inforced when a goblin holds up Thorin’s sword Orcrist, whom the goblins have named ‘Biter.’ The Great Goblin is enraged at its sight and the other goblins gnash their teeth at it, suggesting it has caused great hurt to their people in the past, and stories of its escapades have been told and passed down. Gandalf shows up with Glamdring and smites the Great Goblin and the company flees.
In these few pages, a few threads established in earlier chapters have now come together. The swords found “accidentally” in the troll hoard are able to be used as a means of rescue because Bilbo had a dream that enabled him to keep their savior (Gandalf) from getting captured. And the swords themselves, hinted at as ancient by Elrond in the previous chapter, are used against the very peoples that have come to despise them. Divine providence and ancient history combine to shape and inform our current narrative.
The story continues as the company flees from the goblins, but not before Bilbo is knocked unconscious. What comes next is perhaps one of, if not the most important chapter in all of The Hobbit and LOTR, though Tolkien didn’t know it at the time.