Welcome back to the Tolkien re-read! For those of you just joining in, since the first Hobbit movie is coming out later this year, I’ve commited myself (rather foolishly, perhaps) to a re-read of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion (check out previous posts here). Each week I’ll be posting a write-up of my progress, complete with chapter summaries, my own musings, and anything else Tolkien-related that I feel like throwing in. So, if you’ve been wanting to (re)read some Tolkien, here’s your chance. If you just want to use my hard work as digital cliff notes, well, that’s okay, too. (Warning: There might be spoilers ahead. For the most part, the posts will keep in time with the chapters I’m discussing from The Hobbit, but I will probably also make references to things that occur in The Lord of the Rings. If you’ve at least seen the movies, it won’t be a problem.)
Before we get started, let’s take a moment to watch (or re-watch) the new Hobbit trailer that popped up on the interwebs yesterday. My favorite part?
Galadriel: Mithrandir, why the Halfling?
Mithrandir [aka Gandalf]: Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid and he gives me courage.
Chills! Anyone else feel that? This trailer, it excites me.
Also, Del Rey’s movie tie-in edition of The Hobbit is on sale this week! Check it out and buy it, maybe?
Okay, on to this week’s read.
Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders
Well, clearly, this is going to be a pleasant and happy chapter for Bilbo and the dwarves. No, wait, that’s not right. It’s going to be pleasant for me, the reader, because that chapter title promises some action—or at least some good old-fashioned peril. I loves me some peril.
After days spent making their way through the darkness of the aptly named Mirkwood, Bilbo, Thorin, and the other dwarves come to a point on the path that is blocked by a river of dark water (probably the Enchanted River marked on the map). It’s a good thing Beorn warned them not to drink the water because, despite this river’s oddly dark color, they are all thirsty enough that, without such a warning, they would have taken a drink anyway.
Bilbo spots a boat tied to the remains of a bridge on the far bank and Fili, using a hook, some rope, and some well-aimed throwing, manages to snag it and pull it to shore. With no oars to be found, and still unwilling to touch the water, Fili tosses the rope again, hooking it in some trees on the other side so that they are able to pull the boat back and forth until everyone is across.
Then, just as Bombur (the last to cross) is stepping from the boat, a deer charges out of the trees, pushes through the dwarves, and leaps over the river. Bombur is knocked into the water and the others panic, as it quickly becomes apparent that he is sinking rather than swimming. When they finally pull him to the riverbank with some rope, he’s fast asleep and nothing they do will wake him.
As they’re standing over Bombur trying to figure out what to do, they hear horns in the distance and what sounds like a great invisible hunt going by them. (Perhaps that’s what the deer was fleeing?) Afraid to move, and unsure of what to do about Bombur, the group sits in silence until more deer appear on the path in front of them. The dwarves, excited by the prospect of a full meal, quickly waste all their remaining arrows shooting at the animals, which escape into the tress unharmed (remember, Beorn told them not to leave the path for anything, not even to collect arrows).
After a miserable night, Bilbo and the dwarves continue on their journey through the forest, each of them taking turns carrying the still-sleeping Bombur. Eventually, they come to a part of the forest where most of the trees are beeches, which brighten the gloom of Mirkwood and lift their spirits. For a bit, anyway.
Favorite quote break!
Yet the only light showed them endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall. There was a breath of air and a noise of wind, but it had a sad sound.
(Here is something I love about Tolkien’s Middle-Earth—the ethereal sadness there is in the world, as if its best days are behind it. It’s the same reason I like the elves so much. Okay, fine, I like the elves because they’re a deadly kind of elegant and also quite pretty.)
Favorite quote break!
At times they heard disquieting laughter. Sometimes there was singing in the distance too. The laughter was the laughter of fair voices not of goblins, and the singing was beautiful, but it sounded eerie and strange, and they were not comforted, rather they hurried on from those parts with what strength they had left.
(Finally! I’m getting some elves!)
As the day goes by our heroes become more and more convinced that the forest goes on forever. The bad news is that they’ve run out of food. The good news is that Bombur has suddenly woken up from his enchanted sleep, but he’s babbling about a feast in the forest at the court of a woodland king. When he starts describing the food in detail the rest of the party become rather cranky and shush him up.
It’s then that Balin sees a “twinkle of light” just off the path up ahead. After some arguing about staying on the path vs investigating the lights (Bombur is certain that his dreams of a forest feast have come true), they decide to send some spies. But then they can’t decide who to send, so they all venture off the path together. (Well, at least they’ll get lost together, right?)
Soon they come to a clearing lit with fire and torches, and sitting all around are “elvish-looking folk” dressed in greens and browns. (If it looks like an elf and talks like an elf…)
There is much eating and drinking and merrymaking happening and, unable to stop themselves, Bilbo and the dwarves step into the clearing. But the moment the first of them enters the light, the fire and torches go out and they’re left scrambling in darkness. By the time they’re able to find each other again they’re completely turned around and have no idea which direction the path is in. (Good job guys. Way to go and do exactly what you were told not to do.)
- Bilbo and dwarves settle down for the night
- Dori: The lights are coming out again over there!
- Off they all go towards the lights
- They reach the clearing and send Bilbo on ahead of them; Bilbo steps into the clearing and the lights go out
- Darkness and confusion as they collect themselves
- Bilbo is missing, but they find him asleep on the ground babbling about feasts and kings, much as Bombur had (unlike Bombur, they’re able to wake him)
- Bilbo and dwarves settle down for the night
- Kili: There’s a blaze of light begun not far away…And hark to the singing and the harps!
- Off they all go towards the lights
- They reach the clearing, see the elves at their feasting again, and Thorin steps into the clearing
- Out go the lights
- Darkness and confusion as they run about trying to collect themselves, yet again, but this time they just end up getting further and further away from each other
Now on his own in the dark, and hopelessly lost, Bilbo sits down beside a tree to wait for sunrise before attempting to find either the path or his companions. He dozes off and awakes to a giant spider wrapping its sticky threading around him.
(Note: This is my worst fear. Right after velociraptor attack. I wish I was kidding.)
Bilbo uses his sword to get the giant spider off of him, free his legs from the webbing, and poke out the spider’s eyes. Then he kills it dead.
(Wait, what? Bilbo ruthlessly defeats giant spider without batting an eyelash?)
And then he passes out.
(Oh, that’s better.)
When Bilbo comes to, it’s daylight in the forest again. Seeing the spider carcass nearby, he remembers the previous night and feels pretty darn proud of himself for killing it “without the help of wizards or dwarves or of anyone else.” Then he names his sword Sting (yep, this Sting) before setting off to find Thorin & Co.
As it turns out, the dwarves all managed to get themselves caught by the spiders and hung up in a tangled nest of webbing. When Bilbo finds them they’re being watched over by a group of giant spiders.
How Bilbo Saves the Dwarves, a Step-by-Step Guide to Making Giant Spiders Angry
1. Put on ring, becoming invisible
2. Throw some stones at the spiders to get their attention
3. When spiders leave their nest, move (invisibly) to a different location
4. Sing song about how fat and stupid the spiders are
5. Throw more stones
6. Move to a new location
7. Sing taunting song
8. Repeat until all the spiders have left the nest
9. Run back to nest (silent and invisible)
10. Take off ring, cut down dwarves
There follows a battle between the spiders and the dwarves, but they are soon overpowered. Bilbo quickly explains to the dwarves that he will disappear and draw the spiders away while the dwarves escape. He slips on his ring and, much to the astonishment of the dwarves, he actually does disappear.
This plan works for a time, but there is much more fighting before they land safely in one of the clearings where the elf-fires had been the previous night. Apparently the elves’ magic is strong enough that its lingering presence scares the giant spiders away.
While catching their breath, it becomes apparent that this little misadventure has changed the dwarves’ opinions of Bilbo because now they’re all looking to him for a plan to get back to the path. They ask him how he came to find the ring, and Bilbo retells his encounter with Gollum. Then, just as they are all falling asleep, Dwalin says, “Where is Thorin?”
Yep, that’s right, they’ve managed to lose Richard Armitage (damn shame, that). Here the narrator steps in to tell us that when Thorin walked into the clearing where the elves were feasting, he fell into an enchanted sleep (just as Bilbo had when he was the first to step into the clearing) and was bound and taken away.
Quick Facts About Wood-Elves
- They are not wicked folk
- They distrust strangers
- They have strong magic
- They are more dangerous and less wise than the High Elves of the West (those in Rivendell and Lothlorien)
- They are descended from the elves who never lived in Faerie (more commonly known as Valinor or the Undying Lands in Tolkien-lore)
- They usually dwell by the edges of woods
(I’m getting way ahead of myself here…but the elves of Mirkwood are Sindarin Elves descended from the Silvan Elves, a race considered lesser than the Eldar because they did not travel to Valinor when summoned to do so by the Valar [these are gods, not elves]. There will be a nerdy bit about elvish clans and races later. Like when I do the Silmarillion re-read. Oh, squee, I’m giddy just thinking about it!)
So, Thorin was taken by the Wood-elves to a great cave on the eastern side of Mirkwood where they brought him before their king (Thranduil, in case you were wondering. Also [spoiler alert] he’s the father of Legolas. Yeah, I can already feel my teenaged crush on Orlando Bloom creeping back into my consciousness).
Essentially, this chapter ends with a massive misunderstanding. The elves think Thorin & Co. were attacking them when they disrupted their feasting in the woods (a mistake not helped by their ancient prejudice against dwarves that dates back to a dispute over stolen treasure). And because Thorin refuses to tell the elves why he and his party were journeying through the woods in the first place (a decision made based on the same ancient dispute because Thorin is concerned the elves will demand a share of the treasure at the Lonely Mountain), this happens:
King Thranduil: Very well! Take him away and keep him safe, until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years.
Chapter 9: Barrels out of Bond
The next day Bilbo and the dwarves are hiking in search of the path (and of Thorin, I assume, though no one mentions him) when they are ambushed by a group of Wood-elves armed with bows and spears. Bilbo immediately goes invisible; all the dwarves are captured. As the elves lead the dwarves away through the trees, Bilbo falls in behind them and follows them all the way to the home of the Elven King.
He sneaks along behind the elves as they enter the great cave and lead the dwarves to the great hall. There, Bilbo listens as the elven king asks the dwarves what they were doing in Mirkwood (none of them answer) before sending them to the dungeon. Each dwarf is put in a separate cell and Bilbo is left to fend for himself in the halls of the elves.
The bulk of this chapter consists of Invisi-Bilbo wandering around and trying to think of a plan for escape. He eventually discovers that Thorin is imprisoned in the dungeons as well, which raises his spirits, and he shares the news with all of the other dwarves. Still, no one can think of a plan to get them out of their cells, so Bilbo continues his invisible reconnaissance until he discovers a room in the cellars where barrels of food and wine are stored.
After watching the comings and goings of the elves for a time, Bilbo learns that once the barrels are empty they are tossed through a trapdoor in the floor where an underground stream takes them out to the river and down to Lake Town to be refilled. Soon after, a couple of tipsy elves present an opportunity Bilbo can’t ignore (don’t drink and guard, kids, because then you’re just another trope aiding the hero in his inevitable escape).
How Bilbo Saves the Dwarves Again, a Step-by-Step Plan
1. Snag keys to the dwarves’ cells from guard drunk on feast wine
2. Free dwarves
3. Return keys to drunk guard (because Hobbits are nice folks)
4. Lead dwarves to barrel cellar
5. Pack dwarves into 13 empty barrels
6. Hide and wait for elves to come and dump the “empty” barrels
7. Watch as elves come and dump the “empty” barrels
8. Realize you’ve failed to pack yourself into a barrel
So, there’s Bilbo, realizing the flaw in his plan as he watches the dwarves escape by barrel.
Favorite Quote Break!
It was just at this moment that Bilbo suddenly discovered the weak point in his plan. Most likely you saw it some time ago and have been laughing at him.
(Well, I wouldn’t say I was laughing at him, but I was curious.)
Unable to think of anything else, Bilbo jumps onto the last barrel as it’s pushed out the trapdoor and then hangs on for dear life as the barrels are carried out to the river.
A ways down the river, the barrels wash up into some shallows where they are collected and bound into rafts by a couple of elves. Bilbo manages to go unnoticed, but one of the elves remarks that some of the barrels seem too heavy to be empty. Lucky for our heroes, there’s no time to check them and the elves push the barrel-rafts back into the current and guide them toward Long Lake and Lake Town.
Chapter 10: A Warm Welcome
Eventually the barrels (and Bilbo) wash into Long Lake, where some boatmen help the raft-elves to bring them to shore. Once the barrel-rafts are secured, the boatmen and the elves head back to Lake Town for a feast. As soon as they’ve gone, Bilbo finally lets the dwarves out of their barrels. (Quick note: Lake Town was called Esgaroth before the original town was destroyed, the ruins of which can still be seen in the lake. So, you won’t find Lake Town on the map—it’s still marked as Esgaroth.)
There is much grumbling from Thorin & Co. as they tumble out of the barrels and stretch their legs (they’ve been in there for a couple days, and without food). Then, leaving the others on the shore, Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo head to Lake Town.
Quick Facts About the Men of Lake Town
- They are friends of the Mirkwood elves
- Some no longer believe that there is actually a dragon in the Lonely Mountain
- To them, Thorin’s father and grandfather (Thror and Thrain) are legends
- Their songs say that one day Thrain will return
So, when Thorin steps up to the gate and declares who he is to the guards there, the group is taken immediately to the great hall where the Master of the town is holding a feast.
Thorin: I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain! I return!
Raft-Elves: These are prisoners of our king that have escaped, wandering vagabond dwarves that could not give any good account of themselves, sneaking through the woods and molesting our people!
Master of Town: Is this true?
Thorin: It is true that we were wrongfully waylaid by the Elvenking and imprisoned without cause as we journeyed back to our own land. I speak to the Master of the town of the Men of the Lake, not to the raft-men of the king.
There is a moment of awkward silence as the Master (teehee) struggles over what to do. King Thranduil is powerful in this part of the world, afterall, so he doesn’t want to stir things up by helping escaped prisoners. But then there are the songs about the return of the King under the Mountain. Quite the pickle.
Lucky for the Master, the people of the town decide for him. Sounds of excitement from outside the hall reach those inside—word has spread of Thorin and his ancestry—and everyone has come to see their prophetic songs brought to life. The raft-elves become worried that perhaps Thorin truly is who he says he is and that their king may have made a serious mistake.
There follows some feasting and general merrymaking. Eventually, the rest of the dwarves join Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo in Lake Town. They spend two weeks in this manner before departing with provisions and horses.
Meanwhile, in Mirkwood…
- The raft-elves return from Lake Town and inform King Thranduil of what happened there
- Thranduil declares that no treasure will come back through Mirkwood without his having a say in the matter, but that it probably won’t matter because Thorin & Co. will likely be killed by the dragon anyway
- Thranduil sends spies out to the shores of the lake and to the shadow of the Mountain just in case
Looks like Bilbo and the dwarves might have a tough time getting back home. Who knew Legolas’ dad was such a jerk?
I definitely enjoyed these three chapters more than those covered in last week’s post. There is just more excitement in them, what with the giant spiders and the elves and the raft ride down to Lake Town.
I mentioned in my first post that I was concerned about The Hobbit movie adaptation being stretched into three films, but that new trailer has definitely got me excited again. And I have to admit that if we get some more back story on the elves (ahem, Legolas) and what Gandalf has been up to for most of the book (like, say, just how he got Thror’s map and key from Thorin’s father, Thrain) and maybe even Galadriel kicking some serious ass (necromancer ass, that is—cough—spoiler: Sauron—cough), I might be less worried about there being three films. It does look like there’s some good stuff that Jackson will be adding, so I think I’m going to switch my stance to optimistic.
That’s it for this week! Sound off in the comments. Come back next week for Chapters 11-13, in which Sherlock Holmes turns into a dragon.