The Hobbit 6 | Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire

by Glenn on September 6, 2019

This is the story of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Two chapters previous, his journey took him underground (not by choice) when he and his companions were captured by goblins. That chapter ended with him falling off the dwarf who was carrying him and knocking his head on a rock and going unconscious as the rest of his companions ran to escape goblins. In the last chapter Bilbo woke up and came across a ring that made its wearer invisible. Because of this he was able to escape from an encounter with a creature named Gollum who had lost the ring. Bilbo eventually found his way to an exit from under the mountain.

As it turns out, Bilbo had found the same exit that his companions had found, but he doesn’t know this, yet. He does realize he has come out the other side of the mountain. Believing that he is safe, Bilbo’s thoughts turn to his companions. He wonders how they are faring. Then he hears voices. With his ring of invisibility on, Bilbo makes his way toward them when he realizes the voices belong to his companions. The lookout, Balin, couldn’t see him and he sneaks in to the circle.

Bilbo arrives upon an argument. Gandalf was saying that they couldn’t go on without trying to find Bilbo or at least find out what happened to him. The dwarves are a little miffed, complaining about why they had brought such an obviously unsuitable traveling companion. Gandalf has great loyalty for Bilbo and gets angry:

“I brought him, and I don’t bring things that are of no use. Either you help me to look for him, or I go and leave you here to get out of the mess as best you can yourselves. If we can only find him again, you will thank me before all is over.”

Aside: One of the mysteries of this book is how much Gandalf knows. There are times it appears he has a kind of omniscience. He will slip away from the group and then realize that he needs to be back with the group. He also has this foreknowledge and/or confidence that Bilbo will be of great use and esteemed by the group. But he didn’t know that the cave they used as shelter was a trap. I don’t mean this as criticism. Like I said, it’s a mystery.

When Gandalf complains that Nori shouldn’t have dropped Bilbo, I had a question on the narrative: How long Bilbo was passed out? Clearly some time had gone by and then Bilbo had the riddle contest with Gollum and then had to sneak out of the tunnel past the goblins and make his way over to where the company was hiding. Time has elapsed. How long have they been discussing this issue? How is it that the dwarves and Gandalf are just having this conversation now, conveniently and coincidentally as Bilbo walks up? Or, perhaps they are having this conversation again?

I don’t want to wreck the story for myself, but this issue of the passing of time comes up again. Gandalf notes that while it’s daylight at this point the group will need to put some distance between themselves and the hundreds of goblins who are known to come out from under the mountain at night. Bilbo has more questions for Gandalf who says that the group was captured late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. They passed miles and miles underground, which was a shortcut. And now it’s Thursday afternoon. They are not where they wanted to be had they manged to go through the pass so they do have a little travel to get back to the path. So, when did the group get out from under the mountain? I assume that Bilbo wasn’t unconscious that long, that while I take it from the narrative that Bilbo was out for some time, perhaps it was just minutes so that, ultimately, Bilbo wasn’t that far behind.

We obviously are getting the perspective of the hobbit in this story. If we’re not always seeing the story through his eyes, at least we are watching it as it occurs in his presence. We wouldn’t know how Gandalf and the dwarves had escaped except Bilbo asks. The narrator tells us how the encounter with goblins happened in the first place:

“The wizard, to tell the truth, never minded explaining his cleverness more than once, so now he told Bilbo that both he and Elrond had been well aware of the presence of evil goblins in that part of the mountains. But their main gate used to come out on a different pass, one more easy to travel by, so that they often caught people benighted near their gates. Evidently people had given up going that way, and the goblins must have opened their new entrance at the top of the pass the dwarves had taken, quite recently, because it had been found quite safe up to now.”

At any rate, the group is on the move again. They survive a landslide and continue to make their way. Then the sound of howling makes us realize there’s another enemy that the group will have to deal with—wolves, or wargs as evil wolves are called here in Middle-Earth. And then the light touch of the narrator comes out again.

“‘What shall we do, what shall we do?'” [Bilbo] cried. ‘Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!’ he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say, ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”

To protect themselves from the wolves, the company climbs trees. And the narrator is really enjoying himself:

“You would have laughed (from a safe distance), if you had seen the dwarves sitting up in the trees with their beards dangling down, like old gentlemen gone cracked and playing at being boys.”

But then things get difficult. Gandalf has an idea to send down flames onto the wargs, which keeps them occupied. But then the goblins arrive and they decide to stack up underbrush beneath the trees where the company has climbed and set it all on fire.

Things didn’t look good, except that we are introduced to another creature, the Lord of the Eagles, who hears this racket in the forest, summons other eagles, and decides to check it all out. Just at the moment when it appeared that Gandalf might, in an act of self-sacrifice, leap from the tree down onto the goblins, the Lord of the Eagles swooped down and grabbed him with his talons and took off. Other eagles took the rest of the company. Bilbo almost was left behind, but he grabbed the legs of Dori.

Aside: This feels a bit like a deus ex machina kind of moment. I’m not trying to be critical of J.R.R. Tolkien and ruin the book for myself, but I do recall going back to The Hobbit thinking that it is more problematic than The Lord of the Rings.

Another old saying is appropriate in this chapter: What goes around comes around. It turns out that the Lord of the Eagles had once been injured by a spear and Gandalf had healed him. The company enjoys meat provided by the eagles and an exhausted hobbit falls asleep on a shelf of rock on the side of the cliff. This, we are told by the narrator, is the end of “the adventures of the Misty Mountains.”

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1 | Gandalf, a wizard, recruits Bilbo, a hobbit, to join Thoren Oakenshield and twelve other dwarves on an adventure to retrieve gold taken and held by a dragon.

2 | The adventure doesn’t have an easy start with inclement and discouraging rain and an encounter with three trolls that would have taken the group out had Gandalf not come to the rescue.

3 | The company takes a pause at “the last homely house,” where the elf lord Elrond lives, to replenish stores and find a good path forward.

4 | On the path through the Misty Mountains, the company encounters bad weather (again) and when they take shelter they are captured by goblins who take the party underground and Gandalf (also again) rescues all but Bilbo who is knocked unconscious and left behind in the dark tunnel.

5 | Bilbo comes to, finds a ring that he discovers will make him invisible, meets a creature named Gollum who had been the owner of the ring, and through a riddle contest finds his way past the goblins and out from under the mountain.

6 | Time has elapsed, but Bilbo finds his fellow adventurers who have been trying to figure out what to do about his absence and when they try to put some distance between themselves and the goblins they find themselves trapped by wolves (called wargs, here) up in trees until they are rescued by eagles, who are friends of Gandalf’s.