The Hobbit 3 | A Short Rest

by Glenn on August 23, 2019

Where we are:

1. A wizard, Gandalf, recruited a hobbit, Bilbo, to be part of an adventure involving thirteen dwarves who seek gold taken from their people by a dragon. Bilbo is both repulsed by and attracted to the idea of an adventure. His role in the group will be that of a burglar, a job that is quite remote from anything he has ever done in life. In fact, he hasn’t really done anything in life, except be comfortable, although he does keep a tidy and meticulous house.

2. The adventure begins with Bilbo joining the group at the last minute. As the fifteen travelers set out on horseback (a pony for the diminutive hobbit), they are confronted by a couple of challenges. The first is inclement weather, which can make traveling outside unpleasant. The second is a group of three trolls—very large and very dangerous. At this point Gandalf has left the group. Gandalf is both part of the adventure but separate from the group. He seems to come and go as he pleases and as the need arises. In the nick of time because of the sense that he was needed, Gandalf returns to save the group from the trolls. It’s helpful to have a wizard around. They get some plunder from the trolls, including swords (a dagger is just like a sword for the hobbit).

The next chapter is a short one, both in name (“A Short Rest”) and page count. Following the troll incident, the mood of the group has darkened. Chapter 3 begins,

“They did not sing or tell stories that day, even though the weather improved; nor the next day, nor the day after.”

The group slept out under the stars. There was plenty to eat for the horses and pony and they fattened up nicely, but things were more challenging for our adventurers. But they were making progress and had come to a set of mountains (“the Misty Mountains”) they needed to pass through or over or under. The problem is knowing the way. No one seems to know it, including Gandalf.

The reality of the journey hits Bilbo. Our narrator allows us to know what is going on inside the head of this one adventurer. Bilbo remembers “his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!” This is the thing that happens to us when we set out on adventures. When an adventure becomes challenging, especially when we get a sense of the scale for how long and hard the road is going to be, your mind naturally wanders back to easier times and places—the comforts of home.

The problem at this point is that you need to take the correct path through the Misty Mountains or you will get lost and need to start over, if you ever find the starting place again. Gandalf is leading the way at this point and we realize that he is not God—certainly he is not omniscient—although the narrator tells us that he “seemed to know his way about pretty well.” Gandalf is taking them on a short detour, to the ironically-named (or at least modestly-named) “Last Homely House” where his friend, Elrond lives.

They are a little off the path at this point, but elves set them right, although they have a sense of mischief about them teasing, especially, the dwarves. They seem to respect Gandalf.

This is a strange world. We’ve met:
a wizard
a hobbit

Our narrator is quite conversational and sometimes takes an aside as he does here:

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

This explains why he merely says that the adventurers spent the next fourteen days (at least) in the home of Elrond, who we discover has an ancient and noble history. He is an elf-lord who will play only a small, but important role in this story “if we ever get to the end of it.” (There is that warmth of the narrator’s voice, again.)

Two things to know from this chapter. First, about the home of Elrond. It’s wonderful. Tolkien writes,

“His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley.”

Fun to think about that.

Second, is that Elrond is a font of knowledge. He tells them about the swords that they took from the trolls. They are very fine and the weapons have inscriptions that Elrond can read. Further, he gives them some information about their journey. A funny thing about the map that the dwarves are carrying. It has “moon-letters.” These are letters you can’t see if you look at them. You need to have the moon behind the map. But there’s more. You need to have the same kind of moon that the letters were written under. It occurs to me that you will never fully understand this map unless you look at it under every night and season. And, further, how lucky that it just so happens that the adventurers have arrived at Elrond’s house at just the right season to see what had been written.

The party sets back out on their adventure rested, re-stocked, and with knowledge of the correct way to get through the Misty Mountains.

Adventure Lesson

I didn’t mention it in the previous two parts, but a map is an essential part of the journey. The interesting thing, here, is that the dwarves have this map, but they aren’t able to understand it completely. They need help reading and interpreting it.