The Hobbit 18 | The Return Journey

by Glenn on November 19, 2019

For the second time in this book, Bilbo woke up and was alone. Waking up meant he wasn’t dead, but he was sore from getting hit on the head. He heard someone nearby call out to him and then remembered that he was wearing his ring, which meant he couldn’t be seen. He wondered if had he not been invisible, might he have woken up in a bed. Gandalf had sent a man out looking for him in his last known location and he carried Bilbo down to the camp where Gandalf (with an arm in a sling—also injured in the battle) was delighted to see him. Gandalf took Bilbo in to see a dying Thorin, who took back the last words he uttered to Bilbo. He wanted “to part in friendship.” Death has a way of making the right things matter and among Thorin’s final words to Bilbo were these: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” It was a sad farewell for Bilbo who, afterward, needed to spend some time alone.

Bilbo learned everything that had gone on after he was knocked unconscious “but it gave him more sorrow than joy, and he was now weary of his adventure. He was aching in his bones for the homeward journey.” The narrator fills us in on what happened. We hear how the eagles had been watching the goblins assemble for battle and so they, too, had assembled. But even after the eagles joined the battle, they along with the men, elves, and dwarves were outnumbered. But “In that last hour Beorn himself had appeared.” Where the dwarves had taken a stand around their critically injured leader, Beorn came and carried Thorin away to safety. And then, with “redoubled” wrath, Beorn returned and brought victory.

(Am I right in thinking that Beorn doesn’t appear in The Lord of the Rings—either the book or film? Seems like he would have been a helpful figure in all that had gone on there. Then again, there are characters actually in the book of TLOTR—Tom Bombadil—that don’t make it into the film.)

After a burial for Thorin (plus Fili and Kili who had died defending him), Dain became the new King under the Mountain and a new plan was created for dividing up the gold. Bard placed the Arkenstone in Thorin’s tomb, so the dwarves gave a one-fourteenth share to Bard to “honour the agreement of the dead.” One-fourteenth was a huge amount and Bard shared it with the elves and the Master of Lake-Town. When Dain told Bilbo that he wouldn’t be able to have the share he had been promised because too many people had claims to the gold, Bilbo was gracious:

“Very kind of you,” said Bilbo. “But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home. I am sure it is better in your hands.”

Bilbo did accept “two small chests, one filled with silver, and the other with gold, such as one strong pony could carry” and with tears on both sides, Bilbo said farewell to the dwarves (and to Thorin) and headed home. Gandalf and Bilbo followed the elves as far as Mirkwood, where they said their good-byes then made their way around the forest, which was now made safe because the goblins had been crushed.

The narrator tells us that the return trip for Bilbo included “many hardships and adventures” as “The Wild was still the Wild,” but Gandalf was with him and Beorn also for part of the way so “he was well guided and guarded.” It was mid-winter when the three of them arrived at Beorn’s house where they stayed through the cold. When spring arrived, Bilbo and Gandalf set off again. At the peak of the mountain (the Misty Mountains) where the goblins had captured them months before, Bilbo and Gandalf could now look back and see Mirkwood and, “on the edge of eyesight,” the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo came up with a saying, “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!” The Tookish part of Bilbo had its adventure, but the Baggins inside Bilbo wanted to be home.

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When the makers of the film version of The Lord of the Rings decided to make a film version of The Hobbit, it seems to me that they had a decision to make: either they turn the book into a film or they create a prequel to the film version of TLOTR. The tone of the respective books is so radically different that the film-makers either needed to honor the book as it is or do some revising.

I watched the first part of the theatrical version of The Hobbit. (At least most of it. I was pretty sleepy when we started and I dozed through the departure from the Shire—I think the dwarves singing darkly about gold did me in—waking up for the torrential rain just prior to the encounter with the trolls.) The producers definitely went with the latter option, creating a prequel for The Lord of the Rings and ignoring the feel of the book.

There is a lot to recommend in the film:

Characters are more three-dimensional. The dwarves are all given distinct personalities and, together, are this rather hapless, rag-tag outfit in pursuit of a pipe dream that perhaps Gandalf is using as part of his efforts in Middle-Earth.

There’s a note of tension that enters the relationship of Thorin and Gandalf that I don’t remember in the book. (I suppose part of that is adding dimension to Thorin.) They use this tension to provide reason for Gandalf to leave the group prior to the encounter with the trolls. In the book, Gandalf has other things he is taking care of that don’t play into the story. In the film, the other things aren’t important here, but I imagine will be developed later.

Characters that are simply mentioned in a line—for example, Radagast, the brown wizard, and the goblin, Bolg get complete back stories and full treatment. (And, one assumes, the Necromancer will become a large part of this film.)

Characters not in the book are in the film—Galadriel and Saruman, for example. Although, what are they doing at Elrond’s Last Homely House?

And there’s this sense of looming danger in the Middle-Earth that ties this film into TLOTR. (That’s the central issue, isn’t it? Some combination of Tolkien as a writer and the story he is telling evolved over time. The differences are not reconciled in the books, but the film-makers decided to do that work. I appreciated giving depth to the dwarves but the film has such a very different theme—a homeless people wanting a home and a hobbit leaving home for a time to help them in their pursuit—so that, ultimately, the film is more a story about Middle-Earth than an adventure that a hobbit takes.

The film does a good job of creating forward motion, abandoning the episodic feeling of the book.

Interesting, the film is actually a flashback. It opens with an older Bilbo preparing for the all-Shire party that begins TLOTR. He is beginning his book, There and Back Again, that he intends to give to Frodo. The idea, then, I suppose, is that the film is the older Bilbo’s memoir. This doesn’t seem right, though. My feeling is that in it’s “a book within the book” and not the book. Too many things are introduced to or overdeveloped in the story that are not part of the book.

For that reason, this trilogy is not something I want to watch just after reading The Hobbit. It’s too different. Because it’s been a long time since I’ve watched TLOTR, I was struck by how literal a representation (by necessity) the film is of Middle-Earth. I need imagination to read. I need no imagination to watch.

I do think I will want to watch this trilogy it when it’s time to read The Lord of the Rings again and enjoy those films one more time.