The Hobbit 17 | The Clouds Burst

by Glenn on November 14, 2019

As I near the end of Bilbo’s adventure (just two chapters remain after this one), I haven’t decided if I will watch The Hobbit trilogy. I suppose I should want to because I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings films so much, but I find myself thinking that three films seems like a lot. The Lord of the Rings was turned into a trilogy as well, but it was a much longer book. Additionally, I’ve noticed that at first consideration, the three parts of The Hobbit films, “An Unexpected Journey,” “The Desolation of Smaug,” and “The Battle of the Five Armies,” don’t appear to match up proportionately to the book as it is laid out. In other words, the portion of the book beginning with The Battle of Five Armies to the end is a rather small part of the book, but it’s given extended treatment on film. It isn’t even a third of the book and if Tolkien doesn’t dwell on the battle, why would the makers of the film? Perhaps curiosity will get the better of me.

Normally, watching a film is a kind of reward for finishing a book, even though the book always seems to be better than the movie. The question is never Will the book be better than the movie?, it’s How close does it get to capturing the book? (For me, the film version of The Remains of the Day, Pride and Prejudice, the first Harry Potter—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A Good Year, and Howard’s End all got really close.)

An issue factoring into this is one of tone. The Hobbit (the book) has a light touch. The narrator frequently talks to us, often reassuringly, in a way that suggests he is checking on us to make sure we are okay. There is plenty of danger, but it’s a story that, though it deals with a reality that includes the gravest of dangers, has been made safe for children. Will the film capture that playfulness of a hobbit going out on a perilous adventure that we know he will make it through, in contrast with The Lord of the Rings where both the book and the film have a dark tone because civilization (of Middle-Earth) as we know it hangs in the balance? I’m sure I will watch, it may just be later rather than sooner.

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Bilbo was hired to be a burglar on an adventure to retrieve gold from a dragon. At a couple of points early on, Bilbo needed assistance (thinking of the incident with the trolls, specifically), but as the story has gone on, Bilbo has come through in a big way for the dwarves, keeping them alive following an encounter with spiders and managing an escape for them from the dungeon of the Elvenking. I don’t think that without Bilbo, the company ever would have gained entrance into the secret door of the Lonely Mountain, which gave them safe and secure access to the treasure—at least initially.

Bilbo is an independent contractor and in the last chapter he exercised that indepedence in an extraordinary way. Things were at an impasse. Thorin wanted all the treasure for the dwarves. Bard wanted a portion of the treasure (one twelfth) for his help killing the dragon. Neither side was willing to negotiate. Meanwhile, Bilbo had pocketed the most precious piece of treasure in the pile, the Arkenstone of Thrain, for himself. He had been promised a one-fourteenth share and he rationalized his appropriation of this stone as his portion, knowing that Thorin clearly wanted it for himself and this might prove a troublesome decision.

Aside: I have only a vague idea of what this stone might look like. Returning to the idea of the film, will my seeing a specific realization of the film-makers’ idea of what this stone looks like make me more appreciative of the worth of this stone? Or is it better simply to let it be something in my imagination?

Using his ring of invisibility, Bilbo sneaked away from the barricaded entrance to the Lonely Mountain and went down to meet with Bard and the Elvenking. He gave the Arkenstone to Bard to use as a bargaining chip and then he returned to the dwarves. On his way back, he was delighted to come across Gandalf who had, obviously, returned (though he was now with the men and elves), and who praised Bilbo’s decision-making.

The next morning, Bard, the Elvenking, and an old man “wrapped in cloak and hood” (who we assume is Gandalf in disguise—because we’re in the know) approached the entrance to The Lonely Mountain to renegotiate. The presence of the elf didn’t help things. Thorin had wanted the elves dismissed as there was still a fair amount of resentment over his having been locked up by them. Thorin assumed the meeting was happening because the men and elves had figured out that Dain and his army of dwarfs would soon be arriving.

After some preliminary verbal back-and-forth where it was determined that both sides remained intransigent, Bard asked, “Is there nothing for which you would yield any of your gold?” As readers, we know this is a set-up, so when Thorin answers no, we are prepared for what’s coming even though we don’t know how it will play out. Bard immediately asks, “What of the Arkenstone of Thrain?” at which point the old man produced the stone from out of a box. This was a blow for Thorin who in anger cried that he shouldn’t need to negotiate for something that belonged to him. He accused Bard of being a thief and asked how he had come by it. Bilbo then piped up, “I gave it to them.” Thorin went a little crazy stating that he wished Gandalf was here to manage things and grabbing Bilbo with the intention of throwing him down on the rocks. At this point, Gandalf emerged from under the costume of the old man and said, “Stay! Your wish is granted.” He quickly came to Bilbo’s defense, which further enraged Thorin, who thought there was a conspiracy against him.

Bilbo defended his action by stating that the Arkenstone was his promised share of the treasure and that he disposed of it as he wished. Thorin demanded that Bilbo leave and stated that he would give a one-fourteenth share of the treasure in trade to Bard to divide up however he saw fit and that was to be the end of it. Secretly he was trying to figure out how to get the stone back and keep the one-fourteenth share.

Aside:This is a theme in the story—the effect a pile of gold has on the heart, whether it’s the heart of a dragon or a dwarf. Some in this tale are more or less susceptible to a corrupting effect of treasure.

Thorin sent word by the ravens to Dain of what happened, encouraging him to “come with wary speed.”

The next day Dwain arrived. Bard had no intention of letting him join the dwarves up in the Mountain. The arriving army of dwarves were loaded with supplies and it would prolong things. Bard thought he had the upper hand with the dwarves in terms of warfare. Their specialty was fighting below ground. The Elvenking was none too eager to begin a war for gold, though, and he was hoping for something that would create reconciliation. Just as things were heating up and it appeared a battle with the dwarves would begin, blackness came over the area and Gandalf called for peace. Something else was happening that needed to be dealt with:

“Dread has come upon you all! Alas! It has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! Whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! The bats are above his army like a sea of locustsl They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!”

It’s the classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, or perhaps it’s merely a case of “We’ve got bigger problems, now,” butt the men, elves, and dwarves join together to fight “a battle than none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies and it was very terrible.”

The trip the dwarves made through the Misty Mountains earlier (resulting in the death of the Great Goblin at the hand of Gandalf) had re-kindled hatred of goblins for dwarves. When they heard that Smaug was dead, that was all they needed to know to motivate and mobilize themselves.

Again, the question of how much Gandalf knows (and how he knows) comes up. And, again, the narrator doesn’t know or isn’t saying: “How much Gandalf knew cannot be said, but it is plain that he had not expected this sudden assault.”

Battle plans were drawn so that the elves, men, and dwarves would cooperate effectively. Meanwhile Bilbo put on his invisible ring. The narrator tells us: “A magic ring of that sort is not a complete protection in a goblin charge, nor does it stop flying arrow and wild spears; but it does help in getting out of the way, and it prevents your head from being specially chosen for a sweeping stroke by a goblin swordsman.”

Initially it goes well for the good guys, but as the day wears on, they begin to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. At this point a great shout and trumpet call came from the Gate to the Mountain. Thorin and company had joined the attack. Things went well for a while, but then they were surrounded.

Bilbo could only watch “with misery.” He had joined the elves in their particular location in the battle. Just as things looked really bad,

“The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow. “’The Eagles! The Eagles!’ he shouted. ‘The Eagles are coming!’” He had terrific eyesight. “[B]ut at that moment a stone hurtling from above smote heavily on his helm, and he fell with a crash and knew know more.”

And that’s where this chapter ends.

For the second time in this book, Bilbo was rendered unconscious. The first was underneath the Misty Mountains when in an escape from goblins he fell off the dwarf who was carrying him and he hit his head. And now there is this moment during the battle.