The Hobbit 13 | Not At Home

by Glenn on November 4, 2019

At the end of the previous chapter, the dwarves, at Bilbo’s urging, hustled inside the mountain and shut the door of the secret entrance. It was just in the nick of time. Outside, Smaug, stealthily, was looking for his interlopers. When he couldn’t find them, he flew off to deal with the people of Lake Town whom he had determined had helped the dwarves. Inside the company was in the dark and trapped and they laid low for a long time. They couldn’t open the door because they could find no keyhole on the inside. The other direction was down the tunnel that led them straight to where Smaug slept on his pile of gold. The dwarves were in despair but for some reason Bilbo’s spirit was light:

“Come, come!” he said. “‘While there’s life there’s hope!’ as my father used to say, and ‘Third times pays for all.’ I am going down the tunnel once again. I have been that way twice, when I knew there was a dragon at the other end, so I will risk a third visit when I am no longer sure. Anyway the only way out is down, And I think this time you had better all come with me.”

So they headed down. It was dark when the got to the end of the tunnel and Bilbo accidentally stumbled into the room. He assumed he was a dead hobbit because of the dragon. But nothing happened. Finally Bilbo asked the dwarves to make some fire so they could see. The dwarves hung back by the entrance while Bilbo explored with a torch. Bilbo discovered the Arkenstone, the piece of treasure that Thorin was most concerned with finding. Bilbo decided to put it in his pocket:

“Now I am a burglar indeed!” thought he. “But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it—some time. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!” All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvellous gem, and that trouble would yet come of it.”

Bilbo crossed the hall as he continued to explore. He fell and his torch went out. He called for the dwarves. This was enough urgency to get the dwarves to enter the hall. They lit torches and and went to help Bilbo. Seeing the treasure in the hall renewed their spirits and now they, too, explored. The thing that Thorin wanted—the Arkenstone—he couldn’t find, but he kept this to himself. He did find for himself “a coat of gold-plated rings, with a silver-hafted axe in a belt crusted with scarlet stones.” This made him look royal. Thorin, in good spirits, gave Bilbo “a small coat of mail, wrought for some young elf-prince long ago. It was of silver-steel, which the elves call mithril, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals.” Bilbo put on a helmet.

“I feel magnificent,” he thought; “but I expect I look rather absurd.”

Bilbo got tired of exploring the treasure before the dwarves did. He realized they had some troubles. They were now armed, but it would do nothing against a dragon. And they were tempting fate. If they were caught by the dragon it would be all over. He convinced the dwarves that the thing they needed was a way out. At this point Thorin recovered his wits and declared,

“Let us go! I will guide you. Not in a thousand years should I forget the ways of this palace.”

Thorin guided them to the main entrance. It was then that Balin thought they should find “the old look-out post at the South-West corner of the Mountain.” The only problem was that it was a march of five hours. Along the way they paused to eat from what they carried. Eventually they arrived at the look-out post.

*    *   *

In retrospect, this was an ambitious quest. Thirteen dwarves and a hobbit with the sometime help of a wizard, Gandalf, thought they would retrieve the gold taken from the dwarves by the dragon Smaug. On their journey they were almost killed by trolls, goblins, wargs (evil wolves), and spiders. They did have some help from Elrond, the elf Lord; Beorn, the skin-changer; and the Lord of the Eagles. But then they were captured by wood elves. Fortunately, they escaped with the help of Bilbo, who had at one point been separated from the group and discovered a magical ring that made him invisible. The escape from the wood elves, by hiding in barrels that were going to be sent down river, meant the company was able to travel to a town of men within sight of The Lonely Mountain. Here we see the effect that the dragon has had on the region. Economic activity had slowed dramatically. The area surrounding the mountain was called “The Desolation of Smaug.”

I like the story, but to think critically for just a moment, What exactly did Thorin and the dwarves think they were going to do when they got to The Lonely Mountain? There was a lot of excitement surrounding the arrival of the dwarves at Lake Town. Before the dragon, Smaug, arrived, there were dwarves led by The King Under the Mountain. That was a great time in terms of the prosperity for the region. So now that the dwarves had returned, what were they thinking they would do? Clearly they didn’t think a direct approach was going to work. They had a map that identified a secret entrance into the mountain and they had a key. But what next? Dragons are dangerous. And that’s why they had brought Bilbo to serve as a burglar. But what exactly did they think Bilbo was going to do? Steal a piece of gold one at a time? And where were they going to put all the treasure? This plan seems really flawed and it doesn’t seem like they had really thought all this through.