There & Back Again

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.

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The Dragon Lives On

The following cover the next three chapters:

The company is shut in the mountain and is forced to go down into it despite not knowing where Smaug is. He, of course has flown to Lake Town to destroy it. The company, still a bit cowardly, lets Bilbo go exploring alone, after he volunteers. He comes upon no dragon, but he does find the Arkenstone. Knowing that the dwarves were looking for this piece of treasure above all others, he takes it for himself, justifying his action as his rightful claim of his portion of the treasure. Bilbo even remarks that he has become a burglar now.

The next chapter details the account of the death of Smaug. Bard is able to fire an arrow into the weak spot under Smaug’s belly. He learns this from the thrush that overheard Bilbo telling the dwarves about Smaug’s weak spot. Bard is able to speak the language of the thrush because he is a descendant of the Lord of Dale, those of whom could speak to thrushes. So, indirectly, Bilbo is responsible for killing the dragon. In one of Tolkien’s original drafts, Tolkien had Bilbo kill Smaug on his own, but eventually decided Bilbo was no warrior. In this final version however, Bilbo is still able to kill him, through an actual warrior. Again, history and Providence collide to inform and shape the events of the story.

After the death of Smaug and the destruction of Lake Town, Tolkien quickly establishes a contrast between two potential governments that threaten to arise in the aftermath of destruction. A monarchy, with the people setting up Bard as king, or a continuation of a semi-democracy, or probably oligarchy, of the corrupt Master. I’m not sure if Tolkien is unfavorable to oligarchies or democracies, but if the title of the final book of LOTR is any indication, Tolkien probably favors a monarchy. I suspect this has as much to do with his British heritage as it has to do with his Christianity. However, after discussing about who would become leader, the town’s eyes, and even noble Bard’s, turn towards the mountain and the pile of treasure they could claim for themselves. Also at this time, the wood elves had come out of their kingdom to claim the treasure for themselves, after hearing about the death of Smaug, for the news had spread far and wide. The lust of treasure has attracted greedy peoples.

And chapter fifteen shows the extent of greediness and the prevalence the dragon sickness has upon Thorin, for he entreats no options of sharing the treasure with anyone, not even for humanitarian aid to the people of Lake Town, even after Bard pleads with him to share. In a selfish act, Thorin sends for aid to his dwarf kinsman to protect the treasure for himself. Smaug has died, but his legacy lives on and only a mere few days after his defeat, the entire region and the peoples within it are about to destroy themselves, something Smaug himself probably could not accomplish.

One final note: Chapters fourteen and Fifteen seem to me to have a slight style change to them as compared to the rest of the book. In these chapters, the descriptions and dialogue appear to be “higher” using words such as “behold,” descriptions of noble lines of descent, and fancy entreaties to opposing armies. The style feels like a simpler version of the Silmarillion and I wonder if Tolkien is trying to highlight the seriousness and the grandeur of the events occurring- a sort of massive historical event that is unfolding in which to do it justice requires such use of style.

Never laugh at live dragons

Bilbo enters the side door after Thorin gives a rousing speech about Bilbo finally earning his Reward. Of course Bilbo takes exception to this since he had previously rescued the entire company. Twice. But Bilbo enters anyways but not before some hesitation. Tolkien says Bilbo’s greatest battle was in the tunnel alone, deciding whether or not to go on. Isn’t that true for all of us? He comes upon Smaug the dragon sleeping. He steals a cup to give something to show the dwarves. But Bilbo sees the vast horde of treasure that the dragon is guarding and begins to lust after it. The dragon sickness has begun, that sickness caused by the dragon that makes those around him think like him: greedy for things and jealous if anyone else gets them.

After the dragon rages at having a cup stolen from him, and a mild bit of bickering between the dwarves and Bilbo, Bilbo himself offers to go back inside to the dragon, using his ring to try to come up with some plan about what to do about Smaug. Bilbo sneaks in but Smaug can smell him, and a poetic conversation ensues. Bilbo attempts to flatter the dragon with ridiculous and funny names, and Smaug is only mildly impressed. Smaug questions Bilbo trying to figure out who or what he is, since he’s never smelled a hobbit before.  As the conversation continues and Bilbo hasn’t been roasted to bits, his own pride gets in the way and he incidentally reveals where he had been. Smaug makes the connection to Lake-town and vows to destroy them. With that pretense out of the way Smaug begins to attempt to drive a wedge between Bilbo and the dwarves, suggesting nasty thoughts about the dwarves’ true intentions with Bilbo. Smaug brings up legitimate questions and concerns that cause Bilbo to doubt the sincerity of the dwarves and Smaug twists those issues to impugn to character of the dwarves. Those who are evil will do anything to corrupt others. Bilbo is able though, to get Smaug to reveal a weak spot he has underneath his belly, by once again flattering Smaug with praises of his gem encrusted waistcoat. Smaug the ever prideful consents willingly and without suspicion, and this will eventually lead to his downfall. Bilbo flees back up the tunnel, but not before a final retort, which arouses the fire of Smaug, singeing the backside of Bilbo pretty badly. The whole conversation between the two characters contains immense displays of arrogant pride. Every time it is displayed, some consequences arise. Bilbo gives himself the name barrel-rider. Smaug figures out that Bilbo had help from Lake-Town and decimates it in the next chapter. Smaug is flattered by Bilbo’s remarks about his underbelly and shows Bilbo, revealing the one weak spot in his armor, which of course leads to an arrow piercing his underside and killing him. And finally Bilbo, makes a parting shot as he’s going up the tunnel, which angers the dragon, causing Bilbo to be singed on his backside. Pride always has consequences.

So does lust after things. When Bilbo escapes safely again, and the company is forced into the mountain to avoid being destroyed by Smaug as he flies around outside, Thorin remembers the things in the horde and dwells long upon the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. While Bilbo is able to shake off the lust of the horde by being more concerned with staying alive, Thorin will struggle mightily against the dragon sickness.

 

Lake Town and The Lonely Mountain

The following shall cover chapters ten and eleven.

As the company hilariously exits their waterlogged barrels and are deposited at the mouth of the river, Tolkien informs us that despite their capture by the elves, it was good that the company came the way they did to the lake. The eastern road that they were told to stay on and travel to the eastern end of the wood, had become impassible. A greater good came out of the hardships the company endured. Shall we remember this when we are amidst trials?

When the dwarves and Bilbo enter Lake Town I am a bit surprised at the change that comes over Thorin. He introduces himself as the King Under the Mountain, making no pretense or mystery about who he is or what his intentions are, unlike when the Elvenking asked about his journey. The townspeople seem to respond well to this, remembering the songs that portrayed the days of old. I love how cultures and stories are preserved through song in Tolkien’s works, a lost art in today’s society.
Thorin’s pronouncement at his title and intentions are a bit arrogant, shortsighted, and prideful. Tolkien says as much when he calls attention to the attitude Thorin takes in this chapter as almost already having conquered the dragon and reclaimed his realm. In the next chapter however, he is basically cowering at the desolation he and the dwarves encounter on the mountainside and the thought of facing the dragon. In fact the dwarves suggest to send Bilbo to the front gate when they can’t find the side door. Thorin, to me, is a well rounded character with strengths and weaknesses, but all in all, sometimes it is difficult to like him.

In the next chapter the company departs Lake Town having been well fed and nourished. They are given supplies, including ponies. In fact, they seem quite cheerful, that is, until they reach the mountain. At this point in the story, the book begins a turn to a darker, more serious tale. We will see this more clearly in later chapters, but the descriptions of the wasted mountainside are foreboding, dark, and sad.

Once again it is Bilbo whom the dwarves must rely upon. He’s the one that finds the path to the door, and he’s the one that doesn’t give up, leading to the discovery of the key hole that opens the side door. And he’s the one, who will have to face the dragon. Alone.

Barrel Rider

Thorin, who had been captured earlier, is no longer alone, for the rest of the company also became captured by the wood-elves. Except Bilbo of course who slips on his ring and slips into the wood-elves’ caverns undetected.

Bilbo spends probably two weeks in the caverns, trying to figure out how to rescue his friends who have all been locked up in cells, but given food. We get a nice balancing act here of Bilbo’s two natures; his cunning and cleverness is slightly gives way to his Baggins side who wants to go back home. But he doesn’t abandon his friends or give up all hope. Eventually, he discovers Thorin in a cell deeper in the caverns and it was a good thing too, because Tolkien tells us that Thorin had almost given up until Bilbo comes to him. It’s fascinating how Thorin has come to view Bilbo now, although their new friendship will be severely tested in later chapters.

Bilbo’s plan to rescue the elves by shoving them in wine barrels and sending them down a trap door into a river is pretty comical. Of course Tolkien plays that up for all its worth with descriptions of angry dwarves, lids not closing, and extremely heavy barrels picked up by the raft men. Of note however, in the history of fairy stories and folklore, there is no other similar event that Tolkien has pulled from. Tolkien who is the master of incorporating classical fairy tale elements into his own story, comes up with his own idea here, and it’s really quite exciting how Bilbo sneaks around in this chapter to pull it off. The dwarves are now utterly and wholly dependent upon him, and pretty much for the rest of the book Bilbo becomes the defacto leader and problem solver.

One small detail that I do feel is quite odd, is that the Elvenking is never given a name in The Hobbit. In LOTR we later learn his names, and we also learn that he is the father of Legolas. You have to wonder, if Tolkien finished his huge rewrite of The Hobbit the he abandoned, would Legolas have made an appearance?

Flies and Spiders

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.

Chapters Six and Seven

This time I will comment on Chapters Six and Seven. In Chapter Six, Bilbo meets up with the company and they flee the goblins and wargs. They get trapped up in trees by the wargs, and helplessly have to wait until the goblins show up to finish them off. In the middle of this narrative, Tolkien suddenly diverts to other characters not previously seen or mentioned and at first have nothing to do with the current story. These are the eagles and they end up saving Bilbo and company in a deus ex machina fashion, with the eagles swooping down from above to solve the problem, much like the gods in Greek plays would descend from above to solve the current narrative. Some weaker writers would not be able to pull this off like Tolkien does here, and I must admit the introduction of the eagles is very abrupt, but what Tolkien is doing here is what he calls a eucatastrophe. In an essay titled “On Faerie Stories he writes:

But the ‘consolation’ of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite — I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.

A eucatastrophe is the opposite of a catastrophe. Instead of utter destruction, there is utter hope. At the moment when all seems helpless, all seems lost, hope appears which springs joy. In the circumstance in which Bilbo and company find themselves in amongst the trees, there is no way out until the eagles come and rescue the company. Some may call this bad writing, but as mentioned before, divine providence is laced throughout the entire book, and I believe it’s best to call this moment a sort of divine grace. Without this grace, the adventure would end in tragedy at this moment, and not in happiness. This is far too much darkness in storytelling today, and I believe those stories will fade in the night, a mere few years after they have been told. But the stories that will last are the ones that end happily.

In Chapter Seven, we meet yet another species, a skin-changer named Beorn. Gandalf and the company meet Beorn amidst a funny mixture of the telling of their tale and stumbling into his house two by two. Not much really happens in this chapter, though it is a bit long. We get a lot of mentions about other places and things in middle earth, such as large bees, hobgoblins in the mountains of the north, bear meetings, and of course Mirkwood forest. The company arrives at the edge of the forest and here Gandalf departs from them with “business in the south.” Really, this is just a narrative device to get Gandalf out of the story so that Bilbo and the dwarves will have to solve their problems on their own. And oh, the problems they will have inside Mirkwood.

Riddles in the Dark

Bilbo stumbles upon a metal ring while flailing around in the dark. The finding of the ring is a “turning point in his career” an odd phrase, I think, for this book. As it will turn out, the finding of the ring will be the turning point of all of Middle Earth. But that is a tale for another time. For now, the ring as described in The Hobbit is just a simple magic ring, that makes its wearer invisible. Bilbo slips it in his pocket almost without thinking about it.

He wants to light his pipe, but is prevented from doing so because he has no matches. But he remembers his small sword that was found in the troll hoard, which is glowing a pale blue, since goblins are around. Bilbo decides to press on in the dark, because what else is he going to do. And then he meets Gollum.

Gollum is described as “dark as darkness.” What a way to say Gollum was evil, without using the word evil. Tolkien is so good at using poetic descriptions. Notice again he introduces a character by describing personality traits or alluding to the nature of a character rather than using physical descriptions. In Gollum’s case, Tolkien uses limited physical descriptions, so much so that illustrators could never draw Gollum the way Tolkien envisioned him. This prompted Tolkien to write a short essay on what Gollum should look like.

Gollum’s escapades and his going-abouts are mentioned, and we find out that he is a sinister little creature, throttling goblin’s throats and then eating them, but only in such a way that won’t endanger Gollum’s own life. In short, he is like the goblins who snatch sleeping parties away in the dark, but he is worse than they are. Fortunately for Bilbo, Gollum is not quite hungry right now, he is only curious about Bilbo.

He announces himself to Bilbo (something he regrets later in the chapter- “otherwise he would have grabbed first and whispered afterwards”) with snake like hisses, that put Bilbo at great unease, as well as ourselves. Gollum has no clue what Bilbo is, and Bilbo likewise hasn’t a clue what Gollum is. Gollum proposes a game of riddles to find out more about Bilbo. The riddles then turn into a competition. If Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him the way out; if Gollum wins, well, he eats Bilbo. Much has been written elsewhere on the riddles themselves, and where Tolkien got his inspiration from for them. I cannot improve upon those observations, except to say that the riddles one asks correspond to the asking character in some way. For example, Bilbo asks about “sun on the daisies” something Gollum would not know much about since he lives in the dark, but that Bilbo would be quite acquainted with back at Bag End. In fact, Gollum struggles a bit to answer that riddle. Gollum asks a riddle about the dark, something Gollum is all too familiar with.The point is, that the riddles are not just a plot point, but are an exploration or perhaps a commentary on the respective characters. Gollum initiated the game to find out more about Bilbo, and Bilbo agreed to it to find out more about Gollum.

As the riddle game progresses and nears its end, Bilbo realizes that Gollum is quite dangerous, and Gollum realizes that he is hungry after all. Gollum poses a riddle that Bilbo has trouble answering. Gollum thinks he’s got him, steps out of his boat to get at Bilbo, and a fish jumps out of the water, which turns out to be the answer. Gollum’s next riddle almost stumps Bilbo, but as Bilbo pleads for more time, he inadvertently says the answer and is “saved by pure luck.” If you’ve been paying attention these last few chapters, there is no luck in Tolkien’s world. Is this another example of divine providence in the book? If it is, and you realize what this incident with Gollum and the ring means for the future of Middle-Earth, I think it’s safe to say that we have the best evidence of a helping hand at work here.

The riddle game ends with Bilbo’s question, “What have I got in my pocket?” The rest of this chapter after this question is significantly different than how Tolkien originally wrote it. In the final version, Gollum goes back to his lake island to get his ring, which would make him invisible, to kill Bilbo. After finding out it is lost, and realizing Bilbo has it, he chases him down to kill him. In Tolkien’s original version, Gollum goes to his island to give Bilbo a present, not to be sinister, but to be honorable, because those were the agreements to the game. Gollum lost, so he would give Bilbo a present, i.e. the ring. Unbeknownst to Gollum, Bilbo already has the ring and when Gollum can’t find it, Bilbo asks for another present, the way out. Bilbo extracts two prizes from Gollum despite the agreed upon terms. In fact, originally Gollum was very apologetic at not being able to give Bilbo the ring, so he offers him fish.  In this original version, Gollum is more honorable than Bilbo! Clearly, none of this squared with what would be later written in LOTR about Gollum and the ring, so Tolkien had to go back and revise it all. It is clever how Tolkien does so though, stating that the latest version is what truly happened, but the original version is what Bilbo told everyone initially, so as to keep knowledge of the ring hidden from others, thereby showing the sinister corrupting work that the ring has begun upon Bilbo. A very clever retcon.

Bilbo runs for his life as he realizes Gollum is out to murder him and he trips and falls, but not before he has slipped the ring upon his own finger. Gollum runs right past him, and Bilbo learns of the ring’s invisibility powers. Very convenient for a burglar.

Gollum, always talking with and to himself, reasons that Bilbo does know the way out, and he unwittingly leads Bilbo to an exit. Gollum goes as far as he safely can (there are goblins about), with Bilbo following behind. He stops, leaving Bilbo trapped with Gollum blocking the way to the exit. Gollum can’t see Bilbo, because he’s still invisible. Now Bilbo has a choice, and his mind begins to sort it out. He can easily kill Gollum, thereby essentially gaining his freedom.

But in another act that will have far reaching consequences, Bilbo “suddenly” takes pity on Gollum, decides not to kill him, and leaps over him.

Why does Bilbo take pity on him? I think the text tells us why. First because, if Bilbo were to do so, he would become like Gollum, sneaking about in the dark, killing unsuspectedly. But also because he saw how miserable, lost, and lonely Gollum was. Bilbo’s heart probably, though not fully, went out to Gollum, wishing he could help him. In other circumstances Bilbo might have tried to do so. To see those in a miserable state, even if brought upon their own self, or thrust upon them from outside influences, (as we learn later that this is what the ring has done to Gollum) invites opportunity for compassion. To bring the suffering to a state of joy is the right thing to do and it is the loving thing to do. Bilbo has these thoughts in a split second, and ultimately, it saves the world. Is this not what Jesus did for sinners?

Bilbo makes it past Gollum safely and contends with some goblins, dodging invisibly past them to the partially opened door. He gets stuck in the door and the goblins see his shadow. He squirms and thrusts hard to get out. He gets away, bursting the brass buttons off his coat. These brass buttons are a symbol of his Baggins side, the side that wants to sit in his comfortable hobbit hole and enjoy food and drink. They have now been stripped away, and the Tookish side has finally come out. The old Bilbo, though not completely gone, has been squeezed out amidst turmoil and adventure, and a new buttonless Bilbo emerges from here on.

Dad.

Over Hill & Under Hill

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.

Dad.

A Short Rest

Bilbo and company come upon the Last Homely House, Rivendell. It is hidden in the valley, and when they find it, they are greeted by a song. It is the third song so far in the book. The song is playful and merry, and some members of the company, including Bilbo, are mentioned by name. Clearly, the Elves, who are singing this song, knew the company was coming, because Gandalf told them. The song itself invites the company to stay, because it would be foolish for them to continue on their journey in the dark. And so the company comes upon their short rest, fourteen days to be exact.

We meet Elrond. The description of him is regal, but notice the description does not focus on his physical features, but rather upon comparisons of him to other things, such as a king, or a wizard, or as “kind as summer.” We get a feeling of this character, a sense of his personality, which is far more important than what the character looks like. Tolkien knew this and allowed his readers to use their imaginations to craft their own images of his characters. Modern books are so fixated on describing what characters look like, sometimes the authors forget or don’t know how to describe who their characters are.

We also get, I believe, our first explicit reference to Tolkien’s Silmarillion, which at this point in time is not codified, but some of it has already been written. In fact, after the success of The Hobbit, the publisher wanted a sequel and Tolkien submitted the Silmarillion. Thankfully, the publisher wanted more hobbits, so in the long run we got both LOTR and the Silmarillion.

Elrond reads the Thorin’s map. Moon runes are revealed to be written upon it. Moon runes can only be read by the same moonlight in which they were written. The dwarves just happen to show up at a place where someone can read those runes and while that same type of moonlight is shining. But they don’t “just happen” to show up. Here again is another example of divine Providence. There are no coincidences in Tolkien’s world; the dwarves were meant to be at Rivendell at this exact moment.

This chapter is extremely short, but we get glimpses of an ancient past, magic, and prophecies amidst some much needed rest. There are also hints of Bilbo’s fascination with Rivendell and its Elves.  It is fitting that Bilbo decides to come back here at the beginning of LOTR. 

For being such a short chapter, it is a pivotal one. It’s also the last time for quite awhile that the company will have any peaceful respite.

Dad.