The following covers chapters 16-19, and thus concludes my pithy commentary on The Hobbit. Others have done better, with much more attention to detail, but I wanted to highlight some notable aspects of the book as I went about reading it. I am sure on other readings, I will see and pick up on more details, since Tolkien was quite good at throwing in many things in very little space.
As Thorin’s dragon-sickness and his lust for the Arkenstone grows, Bilbo decides to take matters into his own hands. He sneaks out of the mountain and gives the Arkenstone to Bard and the Elevenking against his own share of the treasure in the hopes that Thorin will bargain with Bard to get it back, and thus avert war. A dangerous and yet noble task this was, as at the best, it would end the friendship Bilbo had made with Thorin, and at worst, would get him killed by Thorin. Bard and the Elvenking are amazed at his actions, and even Gandalf, who has now returned. In the next chapter, Thorin learns about the alleged betrayal when Bard comes to the Front Gate to barter it for his share of the gold. Thorin even assaults Bilbo, his dragon sickness now taking full hold. Poor Bilbo must flee away from Thorin to stay alive, and his attempts to thwart war fail, as men and elves, and dwarves who arrive from the Iron Hills engage in battle. But just as quickly as the battle commences, a common enemy of these three races arrives: goblins and wolves. The Battle of the Five Armies is joined. The allies of elves, men, and dwarves force the goblin army into the valley of the mountain in which they nearly rout them, but realize that they have only pushed back the first wave. Another wave of goblins show up seemingly gaining victory, when Thorin and company burst forth through the Front Gate and turn the tide of battle. There is no explanation given of why Thorin all of a sudden shows up, shakes off the dragon sickness and redeems himself in battle. None is needed I think. When a common enemy is before you, when matters are dangerous and grave, when things are put into lasting perspective, your own lusts vanish because you realize how futile they were and something must be done about the current problem. Thorin finally acts like a king, calling people to himself and routing the enemy. It is short lived however, as he and his companions are surrounded on all sides.
Here again, when all is bleak, and hope is lost, comes Tolkien’s eucatastrophe. The eagles show up in a “sudden gleam in the gloom.” (It must be noted that gloom and gleam are used twice before in this chapter, once in referring the elves, and the second in referring to Thorin’s charge from the Front Gate. A sort of foreshadowing of the eagles’ entrance?) The eagles, and Beorn, utterly turn the battle and destroy the goblin army. The joy of a salvific event is greater, when that event is preceded by such an utter bleakness that there is no chance of survival. The victory comes at a cost however, as Thorin and Fili and Kili are felled. But not before Thorin repents of his deeds towards Bilbo and utters a line that should resonate in all of our hearts:
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
After burying his friends, Bilbo departs for home, only accepting two chests of the treasure from the new King under the Mountain, Dain. Dain acts the way Thorin should have, sharing the wealth of the mountain and causing the area to prosper and grow. Gandalf and Beorn travel with Bilbo, with some time spent at Beorn’s home, but Bilbo is weary of his adventures, and burdened by the death of Thorin. Bilbo arrives back at Rivendell to the same jolly singing elves that greeted him when he first stopped there. After some stay there, the weariness is lifted off of Bilbo, and he is merry again. I think this parallels a little bit about what I said earlier about the elves, that they are merry despite their history of suffering. Not that this trait of the elves has “rubbed off on Bilbo” but that it and the adventure itself has changed him. Gandalf says so a few pages later, after Bilbo sings his own song:
You are not the hobbit that you were.
This sentence sums up the entire story of Bilbo and the book. Bilbo is changed by the adventure. His two sides are no longer at war with each other, but have come into a nice co-existence. Bilbo still appreciates his arm chair and his small hobbit hole, but he still has elves and dwarves come and visit him, and he doesn’t mind when they do anymore, as his parting words to Balin evidence:
If any of you are passing my way, don’t wait to knock. Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!
This change is also evidenced externally. When Bilbo arrives back at Bag End, he is humorously thought to be dead and all of his things are being auctioned off. Is this a thematic way of saying the old Bilbo is dead, or is Tolkien saying you can’t go home again? I suspect it’s a little of both, but not completely, since Bilbo does buy some of his things back with his gold and for the most part of the rest of his life, he stays at Bag End.
Finally, if you ever needed more proof of divine providence guiding Bilbo throughout his entire adventure, look no further than Gandalf’s last words in the book:
You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapades were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?
The Hobbit is a wonderful tale, originally written as a kids book, though more adults read it I expect than kids. It starts off as a jolly, bumbling adventure with fairy tale elements mixed throughout, and ends as a serious epic-like saga with loss, death, destruction, and finally joy. The work was begun in the 1930s and almost 100 years later is still in print, and is read and enjoyed by countless people who want to follow a little hobbit who lived in a whole in the ground.