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.

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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.