The Hobbit 2 | Roast Mutton

by Glenn on August 22, 2019

When chapter 2 opens, it’s the morning after thirteen dwarves and the wizard, Gandalf, had invaded the home of Bilbo Baggins and recruited him to be a burglar on their gold-seeking adventure. This is a job for which Bilbo seems totally unsuited, but when a wizard tells you are going to do something, it’s hard to argue. It had been a trying night for Bilbo and when he woke up, everyone had left the house which was left a mess, so Bilbo went about bringing order back to his world. But here is a telling line:

“[H]e was really relieved after all to think that they had all gone without him, and without bothering to wake him up (‘but with never a thank -you’ he thought); and yet in a way he could not help feeling just a trifle disappointed. The feeling surprised him.”

Suddenly Gandalf burst in to tell Bilbo that he had just ten minutes to meet the others. Before Bilbo could raise objections, he was pushed out the door by Gandalf. Bilbo wanted to do more things around the house and take some personal items on the journey, but Gandalf said there was no time. Bilbo had to run, totally unprepared for his adventure.

I am reading The Hobbit through the lens of adventure. Some adventures are sought and planned for. Others come at us, ready or not. The adventure to which the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, has been called was more or less thrown at him and he would have been happy had it gone to someone else. But inside Bilbo are two tendencies, the desire to pursue comfort and an openness to adventure.

The character of Gandalf is complicated. On the one hand, he has a tough love policy toward Bilbo. He pushes him out the door and sends him on the way rather breathless and out of sorts. On the other hand, when Gandalf joins up with the party later, he has brought pocket-handkerchiefs and a pipe and tobacco for Bilbo. Bilbo is not allowed to take comforts of home on this journey, but some of the comforts of home are brought to him once he has set out.

As the group sets out on horseback (with a pony for Bilbo), one of the features of their journey is that “they told stories or sang songs as they rode forward all day”. With no knowledge of what the film is like, I can imagine a soundtrack accompanies the group as they set out. But there is no soundtrack in the book. We will see that the group is either talking, singing, or silent.

Weather is part of this adventure. The seasons correspond to the Northern Hemisphere and perhaps Northern England is an appropriate analog. It’s not pleasant traveling like this. As it gets dark, the group notices that Gandalf has disappeared. This is part of Gandalf’s character. He isn’t always with the group, but not because he’s a flake, but because he is sometimes attending to other sorts of business. You take Gandalf when you can have him, but you don’t control Gandalf. He attends to whatever he attends to. When he’s present, he’s fully present, but simply can’t always be present. In this case he is scouting the way. But this is unknown to the party of adventurers as he doesn’t really tell anyone when he leaves or where he’s going.

The group camps out under a tree. The wind and the rain mean they can’t light a fire. And then the unexpected happens: one of the ponies gets spooked for no reason and runs into a river. Two of the dwarves rescue the pony out of the river but lose a considerable amount of food in process and nearly drown. When dinner finally arrives, it is not how Bilbo normally experiences it. Then someone sees a light . . .

The balance of this chapter is an incident with three trolls. Things for a while look rather bleak for the adventurers who find themselves in quite a mess. What could have ended badly is turned around when Gandalf rejoins the party and saves the day in a very clever way. (Apparently wizards are cautious about how they take on trolls.)

The party questions Gandalf on his whereabouts. The mystery that is Gandalf is deepened when after explaining what he had been doing, he says, “I immediately had a feeling that I was wanted back.” And Gandalf seems to scold the group: “Please be more careful, next time, or we shall never get anywhere.” But they are in trouble because they won’t be making good time, not because they had placed themselves in the way of potential harm.

Story Summation

1 | A group of dwarves are on a mission to reclaim gold that has been stolen from their people by a dragon. A wizard, Gandalf, is a consultant on this adventure and  has recruited (nearly against his will) a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to serve as a burglar.

2 | Bilbo is sent off to this adventure at the last minute with no time to prepare. Gandalf later brings some personal items to make the journey more comfortable for Bilbo. Gandalf leaves the group for a time. In the meantime, the party runs into some darkness and rain, which is trying enough, but then they encounter three trolls who would have made this a very short book if Gandalf had not understood he needed to come back and save the day, which he did in an ingenious way.

Adventure Lessons

Some adventures are dropped on us and we don’t really have enough time to prepare for them. But maybe it’s better this way. We don’t always know what we want or need in life. When we are called to an adventure, we go, and trust that we will get what we need along the way.

There’s nothing easy about adventures. Even things you might predict, like darkness or rain, make things more difficult. The pursuit of adventure and comfort are not necessarily compatible.

The summons to adventure comes from Gandalf. The dwarves wouldn’t attempt this without him. The hobbit is summoned by him. Gandalf is accompanying them on this journey, but that presence can’t always be counted on, although we see that Gandalf is aware when his presence is needed.