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.)
Chapter 14: Fire and Water
This week’s read starts off with a bit of narrative exposition:
Now if you wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must go back again to the evening when he smashed the door and flew off in rage, two days before.
The narrator quickly settles us back in Lake Town (aka Esgaroth) after Bilbo and Thorin & Co. have left for the Lonely Mountain. Some folks out strolling one night see golden light appearing near the Mountain. Most of them become excited, thinking the light is a sign that the King beneath the Mountain has caused the rivers to run golden once more.
(Um, or maybe it’s, you know, that fire-breathing dragon and not rivers turning to liquid gold? Clearly their folklore has overcome the reality.)
Luckily, one “grim-faced fellow” (his name is Bard and he’s probably important) has the sense to run straight to the Master with the news: “The dragon is coming or I am a fool! Cut the bridges! To arms! To arms!”
Trumpets sound, joy dies a horrible death, and the townspeople ready themselves to fight the dragon. Smaug arrives “amid shrieks and wailing” and swoops over the town. A volley of arrows is unleashed the moment he’s in range, but they simply bounce of his scales and jewels. Bard, down amongst the bowman, encourages them to keep firing.
Favorite Quote Break!
Fire leaped from the dragon’s jaws. He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake; the trees by the shores shone like copper and like blood with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet. Then down he swooped straight through the arrow-storm, reckless in his rage, taking no heed to turn his scaly sides towards his foes, seeking only to set their town ablaze.
Fire catches on the roofs of Lake Town, but the people are ready for it and fling water wherever sparks begin to appear. Arrows continue to be ineffective against Smaug, however, and eventually buildings become engulfed in flames. People start jumping into the water and huddling in boats to escape the destruction, but the archers, with Bard as their captain, continue firing arrows.
At this point it’s revealed that Bard is a descendent of Girion, Lord of Dale. (In the world of Tolkien, we can take this to mean that he is courageous and worthy of being a leader. Kinda like Aragorn.)
Bard stands his ground, firing arrows as the flames creep ever closer and his companions abandon him. Then, just as he’s preparing to let loose his last arrow, a thrush flies out of the darkness and lands on his shoulder.
Quick Facts About Thrushes
- They are good and friendly birds
- They are long-lived and magical
- The Men of Dale understood their language and used them as messengers
This particular thrush is the same one that Bilbo and the dwarves encountered in the alcove on the mountain, and it is likely the last of the ancient breed tamed by Thorin’s father and grandfather. When Bilbo emerged from the dragon’s lair and shared the news of Smaug’s unprotected left breast, the thrush was listening, too. Now it tells Bard exactly where to aim with his last arrow, and Bard, being descended from Dale, understands the bird’s speech and does as the thrush advises. Bard aims, shoots, and the arrow flies straight into Smaug’s chest.
Favorite Quote Break!
With a shriek that deafened men, felled trees and split stone, Smaug shot spouting into the air, turned over and crashed down from on high in ruin.
Smaug falls from the sky, crashes into Lake Town, sinks into the water and is no more. With the dragon dead, the townsfolk gather on the shore and mourn the loss of their home. They also become angry with the Master, who abandoned the town while some (namely Bard) were still willing to defend it. They begin calling him “Bard the Dragon-shooter” and bemoan his apparent death.
Favorite Quote Break!
And in the very midst of their talk, a tall figure stepped from the shadows. He was drenched in water, his black hair hung wet over his face and shoulders, and a fierce light was in his eyes.
(Hmm, Bard sounds kind of hott…Again, kinda like Aragorn. But I digress.)
Bard: Bard is not lost! He dived from Esgaroth, when the enemy was slain. I am Bard, of the line of Girion; I am the slayer of the dragon!
Townsfolk: King Bard! King Bard!
Needless to say, the Master of Lake Town (who has returned at this point) is not happy about this. He says that Girion was Lord of Dale, not King of Esgaroth, and so Bard should return to his ancestors’ city. And, besides, Lake Town has always elected its masters from “among the old and wise.” But the people continue to declare that they want King Bard and not “old money-counters.” Sensing that he’s losing the crowd, the Master shifts blame for the destruction of Lake Town to Thorin & Co., who awoke Smaug in the first place, and soon the townsfolk turn their anger on the dwarves. Bard quickly puts a stop to that, though.
Bard: Fools! Why waste words and wrath on those unhappy creatures? Doubtless they perished first in fire, before Smaug came to us.
With that, Bard declares that there is work to do. They must rebuild their homes and tend to the wounded, and then, perhaps, he will travel north to Dale with any who will follow him.
Soon, the people of Lake Town are busy rebuilding. Bard takes the lead (though in the Master’s name), and with the help of King Thranduil and the Woodelves, who came immediately upon hearing of Esgaroth’s destruction, work progresses quickly.
All the while, there is talk of the treasure still in the Mountain, which remains unclaimed (since they all assume Thorin & Co. are dead). So, once the rebuilding is well underway, Bard and his men head north with the Elvenking and most of his elves to lay claim to the treasure.
Chapter 15: The Gathering of the Clouds
Back at the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo, Thorin & Co. have spent the evening on the mountainside waiting for signs of Smaug’s return. In the morning, however, instead of the dragon they spot the old thrush. It flies to them and perches on a nearby stone. It sings to them, and then pauses to regard them. Then it sings again. And pauses again to look at them.
Balin quickly realizes that the bird is trying to tell them something, but no one in the company speaks their language. Fortunately, the thrush understands them and flies off, returning with an ancient-looking raven. The raven introduces himself as Roäc son of Carc, chief of the ravens of the Mountains.
On behald of the thrush, Roäc tells them of the battle at Esgaroth and of Smaug’s death. When they learn of the dragon’s demise, the dwarves become incredibly excited—now they can claim their treasure. But then Roäc tells them of the approaching elves and men, who come to share in the spoils. He tells them how the elves are armed for battle and the Lake Men, whose homes were destroyed, blame the dwarves for their misfortunes and believe they are owed a part of the treasure for their troubles.
Roäc: Your own wisdom must decide your course; but thirteen is small remnant of the great folk of Durin that once dwelt here, and now are scattered far. If you will listen to my counsel, you will not trust the Master of the Lake-men, but rather him that shot the dragon with his bow. Bard is he, of the race of Dale, of the line of Girion; he is a grim man but true. We would see peace once more among dwarves and men and elves after the long desolation; but it may cost you dear in gold. I have spoken.
Thorin thanks the raven but declares the no one will be taking their treasure while they still live. He asks Roäc to send messengers to his kin in the north (specifically Dain in the Iron Hills) to tell them to make haste to the Lonely Mountain. The raven disapprovingly agrees to do this and flies off while the dwarves and Bilbo head back into the mountain.
They spend the next few days further exploring the mountain tunnels and also building a wall against the Front Gate to keep out the approaching intruders. Some holes are left for seeing out (and for shooting) but the entrance to the mountain is otherwise completely blocked.
Eventually the elves and men arrive at the Lonely Mountain. They’re surprised to see the Front Gate blocked (remember, they thought Bilbo and the dwarves were dead), and Thorin calls out a challenge to them, which they ignore. They set up camp and that night Bilbo listens longingly to the music and the singing—especially that of the elves—but the dwarves are unimpressed and begin singing their own song. It’s similar to the one they sang at Bilbo’s house, but less sad and more violent.
Under the Mountain dark and tall
The King has come unto his hall!
His foe is dead, the Worm of Dread,
And ever so his foes shall fall.
The sword is sharp, the spear is long,
The arrow swift, the Gate is strong;
The heart is bold that looks on gold;
The dwarves no more shall suffer wrong.
The song continues on in this manner for four more stanzas. (People sometimes complain about Tolkien’s use of lyrics in his books, but I love them. They’re always incredibly illustrative of the culture of those who are singing, if you pay attention to vocabulary and form. You can read an interesting and brief article on that here.)
As the dwarves continue singing Bilbo becomes more and more worried. Their song is warlike and he wants nothing but a peaceful end to his adventure. The next day a company approaches the Front Gate bearing the banners of the Elvenking and the Lake. Thorin demands to know who has come “armed for war” to his gates. This time, Bard answers and a lengthy back-and-forth ensues.
Bard politely insists on a parley to discuss division of the treasure, much of which, in his view, belongs to his ancestors because Smaug stole from them as well. He also believes that the dwarves owe the men of Lake Town, who have fallen on hard times for aiding them in their quest. Thorin refuses to parley with armed men or with elves and asserts that the treasure did not belong to Smaug and so his evil deeds cannot be repaid with it. But he does allow that the Lake Men should be fairly paid for the price of the goods they gave to the dwarves. Bard tells Thorin that he will give Thorin and the dwarves time to repent their words, and then he and his men leave. A few hours later a messenger arrives with terms.
Bard’s Incredibly Reasonable Terms That Thorin Stubbornly Refuses
- At the least, 1/12 of the treasure shall be given to Bard, since he killed the dragon and is Girion’s heir
- From that portion, Bard will contribute to the aid of Esgaroth
- If Thorin desires the friendship and honor of the surrounding lands, then he will also contribute to the aid of Esgaroth from his share of the treasure
This seems incredibly reasonable to me—and the elves ask for nothing, which should make Thorin happy. But, no. His answer is an arrow shot at the speaker. It thunks harmlessly into the man’s shield, but still.
Messenger: Since such is your answer, I declare the Mountain besieged. You shall not depart from it, until you call on your side for a truce and a parley. We will bear no weapons against you, but we leave you to your gold. You may eat that, if you will!
Good job, Thorin. Now you get to starve.
Chapter 16: A Thief in the Night
Days pass. The dwarves spend it organizing the treasure; Bilbo spends it worrying about food and the inevitable battle that will follow the arrival of Dain and his dwarves from the Iron Hills. Then, one day Thorin declares that the Arkenstone is priceless to him and the he “names it unto himself” and “will be avenged on anyone who finds and withholds it.” This worries and frightens Bilbo and he begins to wonder what Thorin will do if he discovers that the hobbit has had the Arkenstone for days.
Then Roäc the raven returns with the news that Dain and 500 dwarves from the Iron Hills are two days away, but are unlikely to reach the Mountain without a battle.
Roäc: Though they are a grim folk, they are not likely to overcome the host that besets you; and even if they did so, what will you gain? Winter and snow is hastening behind them. How shall you be fed without the friendship and goodwill of the lands about you? The treasure is likely to be your death, though the dragon is no more!
These things, they are all true. Thorin, however, is unmoved and apparently stupid with greed over the treasure. So that night, Bilbo decides on a plan of action.
Bilbo’s Plan, Part 1
1. Pocket the Arkenstone
2. Switch watch duty with Bombur
3. When Bombur has gone to bed, use the ring to become invisible and climb over the barricade blocking the Front Gate
4. Head to the camp of elves and men
5. Sneak past the sentries
6. Remove the ring
7. Demand to speak with their leaders
The elves that discover Bilbo do just as he asks and soon the hobbit is meeting with the Elvenking and Bard. He explains to them that he is “tired of this whole affair” and wishes to go home, except he has an interest in the outcome since, as promised by Thorin & Co.’s letter, he’s owed 1/14 of the profits of their adventure. And then this amusing exchange happens:
Bilbo: Personally, I am only too ready to consider all your claims carefully, and deduct what is right from the total before putting in my own claim. However you don’t know Thorin Oakenshield as well as I do now. I assure you, he is quite ready to sit on a heap of gold and starve, as long as you sit here.
Bard: Well let him! Such a fool deserves to starve.
Bilbo: Quite so. I see your point of view.
Bilbo goes on to remind them that winter is coming and lets them know about the approach of Dain and the dwarves from the Iron Hills. This alarms Bard, but also makes him suspicious—is Bilbo betraying his friends or threatening Bard and King Thranduil? Neither, of course. Bilbo tells them he wishes to avoid conflict and has come to them with an offer.
Bilbo’s Plan, Part 2
1. Give Bard and the Elvenking the Arkenstone to help them in their bargaining with Thorin
Oh, Bilbo. You’re the worst. This is most definitely not going to make Thorin happy.
Favorite Quote Break!
Bard: But how is it yours to give?
Bilbo: Oh well! It isn’t exactly; but, well, I am willing to let it stand against all my claim, don’t you know. I may be a burglar—or so they say: personally I never really felt like one—but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less. Anyway I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me. I hope you will find it useful.
At this, Bard and the Elvenking insist that Bilbo stay in the camp with them (for his protection) but Bilbo refuses. Soon he is heading back to the Front Gate, but on his way he’s stopped by an “old man” who claps him on the back and says, “There is always more about you than anyone expects!”
Yep, that’s right. Gandalf is back from his mysterious wizardly travels. Before sending Bilbo back to the dwarves, he gives the hobbit some encouragement about things “drawing towards the end now” but then mucks it up by saying that there is “an unpleasant time” just ahead of him.
That’s it for this week! There’s just three more chapters left until the end, so be sure to come back next week for discussion of chapters 17-19. Until then, please enjoy these new(ish) pictures from the movie, and don’t forget to add your thoughts to the comments!