The Hobbit 7 | Queer Lodgings

by Glenn on September 10, 2019

Poor Bilbo. He wakes up “with the early sun in his eyes” and being a creature of routine expects to get up, check the time, and “put his kettle on” just like at home, except he’s not at home. He’s still up with the eagles who help the company by carrying them a good part of the way on their journey. It’s an indication of just how long this journey is that “air travel” hardly makes a dent in the overall length of the trip.

The eagles have a culture, of which Gandalf has some understanding. When you say goodbye to an eagle, there’s a way to do it. The eagles set the company down on a large stone cropping and said,

“Farewell! wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey’s end.”

The narrator tells us that Gandalf “knew the correct reply” and said,

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”

We are told that the company would never see the eagles again except at a distance “in the battle of Five Armies.” This is some foreshadowing and the conversational tone of the narrator comes through, again, when he tells us, “But as that comes in at the end of this tale we will say no more about it just now.” Our narrator is very much present with us in the retelling of this adventure.

Gandalf has some bad news for everyone. He is about to leave the group. His hope was to get the group safely “over the mountains” (which ended up being under the mountain as well). Thanks to the eagles, he is now further east than he meant to go and “this is not my adventure.” This is a great line. Our adventures are our adventures. Others are attending to (or should be encouraged to attend to) their own adventures. While companionship on a journey sure makes things easier, particular when your companion is a wizard, ultimately we all have our own adventures to pursue. In others words, we don’t all live the same life and it’s not realistic to assume others will share it with us.

The thought of Gandalf’s departure is dispiriting for the company, but the word from Gandalf is open-ended. Regarding their adventure he says,

“I may look in on it again before it is all over, but in the meanwhile I have some other pressing business to attend to.”

Gandalf stresses that he’s “not going to disappear this very instant.” He is going to help them and himself with their current plight, which consists of no food, no supplies, and no animals to transport them. But Gandalf knows somebody who may be able to help them. And it’s interesting that anytime he refers to this somebody, it’s actually “Somebody,” with a capital S. That Somebody’s name is Beorn, and he is a singular character, with the ability to change his skin from a “strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard” to “a huge black bear.”

Gandalf seems to know a lot about Beorn and tells the company,

“As a bear he ranges far and wide. I once saw him sitting all alone on the top of the Carrock [where the eagles had dropped them off] at night watching the moon sinking towards the Misty Mountains, and I heard him growl in the tongue of bears: ‘The day will come when they will perish and I shall go back!'”

Again, it’s interesting to consider what Gandalf knows and doesn’t know and how he knows it.

The main thing about Beorn is that he must be approached carefully. You certainly don’t want him to find you out in the open when he is in his bear shape. And so Gandalf takes the company to his house. We’re used to talking creatures by now, but the animals at Beorn’s house don’t communicate with the company, but they are able to communicate with each other and Beorn is able to communicate with them.

It’s funny how Tolkien balances danger and lightness in this chapter. Beorn can’t be messed with, but Gandalf has a plan for how to get a rather solitary Beorn to welcome a company of 15. They will arrive in groups of two five minutes apart. Gandalf will get Beorn interested in the story about how he got there, but as he tells the story, the number of participants will change as others arrive. Because Beorn is so interested in the story, he tolerates this growing number of people that ultimately he will provide hospitality to.

Gandalf does appear to tell one lie (or at least doesn’t tell the whole truth). He tells Beorn that “it is entirely by accident that we are in your lands at all.” He mentions the “evil goblins” they encountered on the way, which is true enough, but what was accidental about where the eagles dropped them off?

There is a theme of hospitality in this chapter. The idea is that out of your abundance you care for travelers who are in need. This hospitality is a little scary, though. You are told that overnight, there are no circumstances where you should leave Beorn’s house. It’s safe in the house(!?), but not outside. Bilbo wakes up in the middle of the night and hears the sound of bears. He remains safely in bed.

There is this growing sense of good versus evil. Which side is Beorn on? Well, he is no lover of goblins for sure. But he doesn’t entirely trust what Gandalf has said about their encounter with goblins and Wargs. (For some reason, goblins are common nouns, but Wargs are proper. I don’t understand why.) Beorn likes the story Gandalf told, but he decides to check it out for himself. Beorn captured a goblin and a Warg and learned that goblin and Warg raiding parties are out looking for this company. Beorn tells the company that he likes dwarves a lot better now that he knows the Great Goblin was killed. Bilbo wonders what happened to the goblin and the Warg that Beorn had captured. This is quite a passage if you’re considering reading this to children:

“‘Come and see!’ said Beorn, and they followed round the house. A goblin’s head was stuck outside the gate and a warg-skin [not capitalized for some reason] was nailed to a tree just beyond. Beorn was a fierce enemy.” [Emphasis added on what is quite an understatement.]

The good news, though, was this meant Beorn “was their friend, and Gandalf thought it wise to tell him their whole story and the reason of their journey, so that they could get the most help he could offer.”

If the trip hasn’t been dangerous enough, it is about to get more dangerous. Beorn will help the company by providing food and supplies and ponies to carry them, but they will only go so far as the Forest of Mirkwood, which is “dark, dangerous, and difficult.” At that point the ponies need to be sent back. The company is told that there is a path through Mirkwood that under no circumstances should they leave, or they will be lost forever. And they should not eat or drink anything in the forest. Unfortunately, the only way is the way through. They can’t circle around Mirkwood because it will take too long and those goblin and Warg raiding parties will be able to find them. The company

“all felt that the adventure was far more dangerous than they had thought, while all the time even if they passed all the perils of the road, the dragon was waiting at the end.”

At the Forest of Mirkwood, the company sends the ponies back, which is a good thing because Beorn, in his form as a bear, had been shadowing the party. This was observed by both Gandalf and Bilbo, but not by the dwarves. Gandalf was not returning his horse quite yet as he was going elsewhere which got the rest of the company pleading with him, again, to stay. But Gandalf says,

“‘It is no use arguing. I have, as I told you, some pressing business away south; and I am already late through bothering with you people. We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not. That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense.'”

But then, here is this curious line:

“I am sending Mr. Baggins with you. I have told you before that he has more about him than you guess, and you will find that out before long.”

That has to be as confusing as it is exhilarating for Bilbo.

As the chapter closes, Gandalf reminds the party not to stray from the path as they journey through the forest, which prompts Bilbo to groan,

“‘Do we really have to go through?’ . . .

“‘Yes, you do!’ said the wizard, ‘if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. And I am not going to allow you to back out now, Mr. Baggins. I am ashamed of you for thinking of it. You have got to look after all these dwarves for me,’ he laughed.”

Bilbo says that Gandalf misunderstood him. What he meant was could they not really go around the forest? We are told of more dangerous creatures. We know of the goblins and the orcs. But Gandalf mentions hobgoblins and, if they were to travel in the South, the company would come across the Necromancer, which no one thinks is a good idea.

Gandalf’s final words are,

“‘Good-bye! Be good, take care of yourselves—and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!'”

That’s sure a lot of emphasis on staying on the path.