Enter Mirkwood. The company enters the ominous forest and they encounter nothing but suffocating darkness, enchanted waters, and vanishing elves. The waters that run black, cause deep sleep and odd dreams. The breaking of the circle of elves, causes all the elves to vanish. The forest has a goal to smother all light that enters it. The path the company is not supposed to leave, seems to keep giant spiders away, for the company sees only their eyes, and their webs never cross the path. But of course the company does eventually run into them.
Mirkwood is a forest that contains a combination of smothering evil and of faerie. Faerie is that world, or that aspect of wonder, that mere men cannot understand or even be comfortable in. It is so wondrous that it’s almost scary and too much to bear. We learn at the end of the chapter that the elves were having a feast in the woods, and the company’s intrusions into their circle was misunderstood as an attack. We learn that the elves are good people, and while their actions and the feelings that Tolkien conveys of them in the chapter evoke a sense of wickedness, it would be better to describe all of this as “other-worldliness.” The enchanted streams put its swimmers to sleep, but the dreams they impart are enjoyable. And the sleeper eventually wakes up. The elves do not attack the company despite their intrusions, but eventually they do get fed up and drag Thorin away for questioning. The sounds of hunting, and the odd descriptions of deer, say nothing about evil or good, but the feeling they evoke is just odd (and I must admit, evoke stories of pagan rituals of old). Tolkien describes these elves as somewhat different than the ones at Rivendell, who wish to stay among this world and in the woods, but are those who like stars, like their high elven kin. I think Tolkien has done a good job of creating a feeling of “other-worldliness” here that makes the reader feel uncomfortable. All of this cannot be attributed to the elves and their influence though, as the spiders seem to also be a reason why we feel so uncomfortable.
The company is captured by the spiders, and Bilbo must save them. Before his does, he saves himself from being eaten by a spider, and the narrator tells us that Bilbo felt like a different person after defending himself from a spider. And the rest of the chapter demonstrates this. Bilbo single handedly saves the dwarves from the spiders by thrashing Sting to and thro. Bilbo is the fly that fights back against the spiders, hence the chapter title. With his wit, cunning, and a little bit of luck, he’s able to rescue them all (speaking of luck, I think this is the chapter so far, that uses that word the most). After being rescued, the dwarves thank him multiple times and even bow down to him in respect, despite now knowing that he has a magic ring. In fact, the dwarves look to Bilbo to come up with a plan to get them out of their mess. Truly the relationship between the dwarves and Bilbo has changed from one of contempt to one of following a leader.