Welcome back to the Tolkien re-read! For those of you just joining in, I’ve commited myself (rather foolishly, perhaps) to a re-read of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, in honor of the first Hobbit movie coming out later this year (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.)
Chapter 6: Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire
Having escaped the goblins and the mountain tunnels in Chapter 5, Bilbo finds himself lost and alone east of the Misty Mountains. He begins wandering (always a good idea when lost) and starts to think that he should put the ring back on and go back to make sure Gandalf and the dwarves haven’t been recaptured by the goblins. Thankfully, before he can put that terrible plan into action, he hears voices:
Gandalf: After all, he is my friend, and not a bad little chap. I feel responsible for him. I wish to goodness you had not lost him.
Dwarf (unnamed): He has been more trouble than use so far. If we have got to go back now into those abominable tunnels to look for him, then drat him, I say.
Gandalf: 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.
There goes Gandalf, putting everyone in their place again. It really is quite unfeeling of that dwarf (who shall remain nameless, but only because Tolkien didn’t identify him) to say that Bilbo isn’t worth the trouble of going back for. I’m surprised that Bilbo doesn’t feel hurt when he overhears this, or that we don’t at least get a bit of him thinking about how he wished he’d stayed in his hobbit-hole. Instead, he puts the ring back on, slips past Balin, who is on sentry duty, and walks right into camp before taking it off again. Nothing shuts people up like appearing, literally, out of thin air.
Bilbo tells Gandalf and the dwarves all about his encounter with Gollum, and their game of riddles, and about getting past the goblin guards at the exit from the Misty Mountains—a story they all find pretty astonishing since he leaves out that whole bit about, you know, finding a ring that makes him invisible. We’re not told why Bilbo decides to keep the ring a secret (beyond him telling himself “not just now”), but I suspect it has something to do with the ring itself not wanting to be revealed at the moment. It has a mind of its own, afterall.
After some exposition, we learn that our travelers spent two or three days in the tunnels under the Misty Mountains and have come out north of the road they need to take. So it’s back to walking.
Walking, a Summary
- More walking
- Slope covered in stones
- Treacherous footing due to old landslide
- Still walking
- Bilbo: Are we there yet?
- Gandalf: No.
(So, it’s probably apparent that I’m a fan of Tolkien, but when people say his stories have a lot of walking in them, they aren’t lying.)
The walking finally comes to a halt in a clearing that gives everyone the creeps. They hear howling and Gandalf tells Bilbo and the dwarves to climb up into the trees, which they do. The moment the last of the group is safely off the ground, wargs (the name given to the evil wolves that live over the Edge of the Wild) burst into the clearing from all directions.
So, apparently this clearing is legitimately creepy? The wargs use it as a meeting place for hatching their evil warg-ish plans. Some of the wargs stand guard at the base of the trees Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves are hiding in while the rest sit in a circle around a great grey wolf. They begin speaking to each other in the language of the wargs, which I imagine sounds pretty awful.
Bilbo has no idea what they’re saying, of course, but Gandalf does (here our narrator pops in again with “I will tell you what Gandalf heard, though Bilbo did not understand it”—I forget sometimes that The Hobbit is written on the pretext that it is being re-told by someone who had the account from Bilbo, probably because I prefer the idea that Bilbo has written the book himself). Through this narrative interlude, we’re told that the goblins and the wargs often work together on raids for food or slaves, and that tonight a great raid had been planned, but the goblins are late (most likely because they’re still busy hunting our Great Goblin-killing heroes).
Gandalf manages to send the wargs into panic with a pretty sweet display of fireworks that catches some of their coats on fire. Unfortunately, while the wargs are running around on fire they manage to set the trees ablaze. And then the goblins show up and feed the flames in the trees that Gandalf, Bilbo, and Thorin & Co. are hiding in. Just when it starts to look like the chapter will end in a barbeque feast for the goblins some giant eagles swoop in out of nowhere, pluck our heroes from the treetops, and fly them away to the safety of their eyrie.
Obviously, these aren’t your average eagles. We learn that they’re part of an ancient race of noble eagles from the northern mountains. Once we arrive in their eyrie (I’m sorry, every time I type that I see this) it also becomes apparent that Gandalf and the Lord of the Eagles know one another. After some discussion, the eagles agree to give the wizard and his companions a place to rest and eat, and to help them on the next leg of their journey.
Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings
(So, question: Are you all familiar with Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings? Maybe not, since he was cut from the movies. All you need to know is that he takes up a disproportionate amount of narrative time vs plot significance. This, my friends, is the Tom Bombadil chapter of The Hobbit. [Feel free to disagree with me on this point by adding your boo-hissing and rotten vegetable-throwing to the comments, but don’t be a troll or I’ll be forced to enact this classic Alan Rickman threat upon you.] Part of me wants to just leave it at that, with a brief description of where Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves end up, but then I’d hate myself for my laziness. So, here goes.)
In the morning the eagles fly our heroes south toward the road they had intended to meet up with upon exiting the mountain pass (I’m assuming this is the Old Forest Road). The eagles only fly them part of the way, however, and drop them off on a huge rock jutting from the middle of the Great River of Wilderland. (Oh, by the way, there’s totally a map at the back of this book that I forgot about until halfway through this week’s read. Here, get yourself all orientated. We’re at Carrock.)
Once the eagles have flown off, Gandalf informs the group that he will soon be leaving them, too:
Gandalf: I always meant to see you all safe (if possible) over the mountains, and now by good management and good luck I have done it. Indeed we are now a good deal further east than I ever meant to come with you, for after all this is not my adventure. 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.
(Oh, Gandalf, you tease. What are you up to?) As expected, Bilbo and the dwarves are not happy with this turn of events—let’s be honest here, the wizard is the one who has saved them from all of their dangerous encounters so far—and they look quite distressed by the news and beg him not to leave them (I imagine they even give Gandalf their best puppy eyes). The wizard is quick to explain that he’s not “going to disappear this very instant” and will likely stay with them another day or two. In fact, he knows someone who lives nearby and who can help them restock their supplies—perhaps even give them a place to rest—and he plans to take them there before he bids them farewell.
With this settled, they head off to meet Gandalf’s mystery person, a man named Beorn who lives in a great wooden house, talks to cattle and horses, is a serious beekeeper, and lives on mostly cream and honey. Oh, and sometimes he shape-shifts into a huge black bear. (It’s becoming pretty apparent that Gandalf has strange acquaintances.)
When they reach Beorn’s place, Gandalf instructs the dwarves to wait while he and Bilbo go on ahead, and to come along in pairs every five minutes after he whistles for them (apparently Beorn doesn’t like surprises or strangers and is wary of unannounced guests).
So, off Gandalf and Bilbo go. When they reach the courtyard of Beorn’s house, this happens:
Beorn: Who are you and what do you want?
Gandalf: I am Gandalf.
Beorn: Never heard of him. And what’s this little fellow?
Gandalf: That is Mr. Baggins, a hobbit of good family and unimpeachable reputation. I am a wizard. I have heard of you, if you have not heard of me; but perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the southern borders of Mirkwood?
Beorn: Yes; not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe.
Good old Radagast the Brown, always popping up when you least expect it (no, really, he’s mentioned a few times in a handful of different stories). Anyway, Gandalf explains that they have lost their luggage and are in need of help after running into trouble with goblins in the mountains. Beorn invites them into his house to tell him their story, and the next six pages go something like this:
Gandalf Tells a Story, Or Beorn Proves He Can Count
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] a friend or two.
Beorn: Or two? I can only see one…[Thorin and Dori appear.] One or three you meant, I see! Go on telling.
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] several of our companions.
Beorn: Do you call two several? [Nori and Ori appear.]
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] troop of ponies.
Beorn: Do you always call six a troop? [Balin and Dwalin appear.]
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] what can a dozen do against so many?
Beorn: That’s the first time I’ve heard eight called a dozen. [And here come Fili and Kili.]
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] there were only fourteen.
Beorn: That’s the first time I’ve heard one from 10 leave fourteen. [And now Oin and Gloin arrive.] That only makes eleven (plus one mislaid) and not fourteen. Unless wizards count differently to other people. But now please get on with the tale.
Gandalf: [exposition goes here] fifteen birds in five fir-trees.
Beorn: Good heavens! Don’t pretend goblins can’t count. They can. Twelve isn’t fifteen and they know it. [And here come Bifur and Bofur…and Bombur, too.] Well, now there are fifteen of you; and since goblins can count, I suppose that is all that there were up the trees. Now perhaps we can finish the story without anymore interruptions.
And, so, Gandalf finishes their story and Beorn declares he likes the tale and will feed them all.
After a lovely supper at which they’re waited on by four white ponies and several gray dogs (I told you Beorn talks with animals), Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves have a good sleep. Nothing much of note happens that night, except that Beorn has gone and Bilbo hears growling and scuffling outside the door. When they wake up the next morning, they eat some more and sleep some more, though Beorn is still missing.
The shape-shifter returns the following morning, wakes everyone, and takes them outside to see a goblin head and a warg head stuck on the front gate. Turns out, Beorn was off finding out whether or not the story Gandalf told him of their adventures was true and, upon discovering it was, killed him some evil critters. Beorn also promises to help them with their journey.
What Beorn Gives Our Travelers, Or The Important Part of This Chapter
- Ponies for everyone! (to be returned before entering Mirkwood)
- A horse for Gandalf
- Food, enough to last for weeks
- Bows and arrows
- Advice: Don’t take The Old Forest Road, which has become dangerous, but instead take a little known path to the north of Carrock; Don’t drink, bathe in, or otherwise come into contact with the water in Mirkwood; Do not stray from the path for any reason whatsoever.
So, Gandalf and company spend that day packing and leave Beorn’s Hall early the next morning. When they reach the forest path that Beorn spoke of, Bilbo and the dwarves send their ponies back, as instructed, and Gandalf bids them farewell:
Gandalf: Good-bye! And good-bye to you all, good-bye! Straight through the forest is your way now. Don’t stray off the track!—if you do, it is a thousand to one you will never find it again and never get out of Mirkwood; and then I don’t suppose I, or any one else, will ever see you again.
Thus, they part ways after Gandalf reminds them one last time (in caps, even): DON’T LEAVE THE PATH! (Foreshadowing, anyone?) And off the wizard goes to his mysterious, pressing business in the south, leaving the hobbit and the dwarves to head into the great, dark forest of Mirkwood.
That’s all I’ve got for this week, folks! Don’t forget to add your thoughts to the comments. Not my favorite couple of chapters, that’s for sure. Here’s hoping next week has a bit less walking and a bit more stuff happening. Speaking of…stuff, you should watch this squee-worthy production video! There’s some San Diego Comic Con, some fancy elf-movement training, some Richard Armitage, some cast shenanigans, some peeks at the sets, and some of this. [Warning: The video is kinda spoilery.]
Tune in next week for chapters 8-10 and see me get giddy about elves.