The Hobbit Summary and Analysis
Chapter Nine: Barrels Out of Bond
Bilbo and the dwarves are still near starving, though they are happy to be alive. They search for food but they are apprehended by a large group of wood-elves. Bilbo slips away and makes himself invisible but the dwarves are blindfolded and led towards the fort of the Elvenking. Bilbo follows behind them as best he can and when the dwarves are made prisoners by the suspicious king, Bilbo realizes that he must do something. The dwarves have separate cells and they are able to eat but Bilbo is still alone, invisible and hungry. He learns a bit about the region by sneaking in and out with differing cargo but as much as he wants to get a message to Gandalf, he knows he will have to save the group on his own. Bilbo visits Thorin and raises his spiritsof course, Thorin is shocked to hear Bilbo's voice. Bilbo is able to send messages from Thorin to the other dwarves and they agree not to mention their original mission to the Elvenking, as he will want a hefty share of the treasure.
During a night of festivity, Bilbo saves his group by stealing the keys of the drunk jailer, unlocking the cells of the dwarves and helping them fit in a flotilla of empty wine barrels that are being floated downstream. Bilbo has some difficulties but he manages to stay afloat, clinging to the side of a barrel. In the meantime, he hopes that his friends are not drowning in their heavy casks. But at least they are out of the castle-fort and will soon drift onto the banks of Lake-Town.
This chapter focuses on the theme of captivity, and we can clearly see the contrast between our two heroes: Thorin is shackled and imprisoned while Bilbo is maneuvering and invisible. As negative as a prison might be, it is certainly better than a cave and we should note that the shelter motif is further complicated here. They have suffered in goblins' caves, but the dwarves are able to feed and sleep inside of the elves' prison. Ironically, Bilbo is free and free to go hungry. We see fate at work, in regards to Bilbo's character development for he is becoming more of a thiefand this is essential to his ability to succeed as a hero.
Bilbo's devices are the last major point of analysis that we should focus upon. First, we can see his successful theft of a key as a symbolic grasp for knowledge and opportunity; we should also see this as foreshadowing the same lock-and-key burglary that will be required of Bilbo at Smaug's cave. Second, Bilbo is able to maintain clear thinking while the dwarves are depressed and the jailers are drunk. The combination of wine imagery and the method of escape that is employed are allusions to Ulysses's escape from Polyphemus' cave. Liquor was used to lull the captor into a deep sleep and Ulysses had his men escape within the outflow of cargo. Bilbo's sympathy is evidence that he is not the simple archetypal hero: while Ulysses taunted his tormentor, Bilbo returns the set of keys after he has finished using them. This way, the jailer will not be seriously punished. Though he is willing to use an imbalance of power to his advantage, his Trojan Horse style of battle never becomes offensive and within a broader literary context, we can see Bilbo's ability to remain "moral" while using deceit as a revision of the Ulysses story that began in Dante's Inferno.
Chapter Ten: A Warm Welcome
Bilbo is still separated from his compatriots and he has the task of separating their barrels from the rest of the group. As they approach Laketown, Bilbo is sure to listen to the different wood-elves and lake-men that he remains hidden from. But for a long while, all Bilbo can do is wait for the seemingly endless river to take its course and bring him and his cargo to a place where he might safely bring them to shore. When Bilbo is able to do this, he finds the barreled dwarves in poor conditionbut at least they are alive, and very grateful to Bilbo for his services. The Master of this region is familiar with the prophecy that foretells the reclamation of Smaug's horde of stolen treasure. Accordingly, Thorin is heralded and celebrated as a hero, for he is the descendant of Thror, King under the Mountain.
The Master permits several days of celebration, offers aid and is happy when the group leaves he is rather sure that they are going to fail on their mission: Smaug is dangerous. When they leave, the dwarves and Bilbo now take the watery course, replenished and more confident than before. Bilbo is "the only person thoroughly unhappy."
In the region called Mirkwood, we learn of the murky nature of politics in the Middle Earth. The chapter's title "A Warm Welcome" is a combination of understatement and ironyindeed, this is a celebration of heroes and not an imprisonment, but the ruler's warmth is disingenuous. Nonetheless, the river and the waterways are archetypal representations of life's course and we can see that Bilbo has successfully navigated water-logged barrels to safety. Let us take this as an obvious parallel to the more traditional travel-by-ship that the company, led by Thorin, takes at the end of the chapter. We might look at the narrative structure of this short chapter and find a transition of leadership from Bilbo to Thorin and this is a foreshadowing of Thorin's increasingly dominant role in the politics of the group's maneuvers. As another case of foreshadowing: a similar scene appears between Bilbo's nephew, Frodo, and a Thorin-like compatriot in the first novel of the LOTR trilogy.
In light of the dominant Ulysses allusions that are attached to Bilbo, the transition from barrels to ships is an interesting development of the shelter theme. Until now, "shelter" has been a condition sought when the group was not in transit. Much like Ulysses' Trojan Horse scheme or his scheme to escape the cave of Polyphemus, Bilbo has successfully offered shelter en route. This is important because Bilbo wants true shelterhis homeand this chapter's warm welcome represents a celebration of heroism that pleases Bilbo's company, but leaves him in the symbolic role of shelter-provider (yet nostalgic. Like the archetypal Ulysses (for this hero has appeared in so many distillations), Bilbo never enjoys the warm welcome of home, the upcoming motifs involving "doorsteps," and "keys" are highly ironic, and he is permanently separated from his group in a way that makes him unable to take pleasures in the temporary bright spots of the journey.
Chapter Eleven: On the Doorstep
The group makes steady progress down Long Lake, the River Running and towards the Lonely Mountain. The surrounding land is desolate and the travelers have low spirits because there is a long road ahead and it does not seem that they are going to reach the caveif they reachat the prescribed time (midsummer). They persist through the area called the "Desolation of Smaug" and see the remains of a town called "Dale." Balin remembers the stories of this forefathers' narrow escape from the dragon's destruction and this only re-kindles the dwarves desire to reclaim their stolen jewels and wealth.
When they reach the mountain it is clear that Smaug is still alive, for his smoke is all about the place. Again, Bilbo is the hero and he manages to lead them up the mountain and successfully decipher the runes of Thorin's map. But after this, Bilbo has to find the correct path; and after this, Bilbo has to find the doorstep. The dwarves may be excited about the treasure inside but they are not excited enough to enter the cave on their own, and so Bilbo must enter alone.
With the genre of quests and tales of heroism, we find that place names like "Long Lake" and "Lonely Mountain" are examples of what John Ruskin referred to as the pathetic fallacy. The landscape is described in terms of the emotions that are inspired in the actual creatures. The Lonely Mountain, described as "towering grim and tall" towers in the imagination and that is what makes it a symbol of evil and, to a certain degree, a metonym of Smaug, the dragon. We should maintain our focus on the themes of shelter, home and nostalgia when we think about Smaug's cave, Gollum's grotto and Bilbo's Hobbit-hole. Just because you're beastly doesn't mean you can't have a home. But if you are a monster and your doorway is hidden, only to be revealed as a "yawning mouth leading in and down" your cave is a stacked symbol of a mouth (for eating), of an expanse of underworld (yawning, down), and treachery (leading). In the end, this is an image of hellthe fire and devil character of Smaug, makes this a pretty deliberatealbeit subconsciousstructure.
Archetypes, as used in this chapter, only make the scene depressing. The dark birds seem to be symbols of doom, though this is not the case in the end. The mountain is a negative archetype, signifying obstacles and in this case it is also a tomb or crypt. This motif of cave/tombs recurs throughout Tolkien's work. The town of Dale, a name that means 'green pasture' is the desolation of an archetype. Smaug is destroying life, greenery and pastures. And the idea that time is not on the travelers' side is confirmed in a sentence like: "Only in June they had been guests in the fair house of Elrond, and though autumn was now crawling towards winter that pleasant time now seemed years ago." The confusingly swift pace of seasons is a metaphor for approaching death. The unity of the key and map (both must be used at the right time), strengthen the motif and foreshadow Bilbo's heroics in the next chapter. In a scene that parallels Chapter Five's scene with Gollum, closely follow the themes of knowledge and surveillance when Bilbo meets Smaug in Chapter Twelve.
Chapter Twelve: Inside Information
The dwarves argue about who will enter Smaug's cave and since Bilbo is the burglar, Bilbo must go ahead and face the challenge. He follows the treacherous course into the heart of the cave and though he is sure he is in danger, he is attracted by a red glow that compels him to approach. This is the glow of Smaug. Bilbo manages to steal a cup and hurriedly exits but Smaug awakens and begins to rage. The cowardly dwarves decide that Bilbo must re-enter the cave and somehow alleviate the situation as Smaug is now set upon destroying the countryside and has already prevented the company from escaping because he has destroyed their ponies.
Bilbo has returned to the cave and though he is on his guard, he riddles and discusses various topics with Smaug. He escapes with his life and as Smaug begins a rampage on the countryside, Thorin sees his imminent kingdom approaching. For once, Smaug is gone, the prophesied reclamation of old dwarf treasure will come to pass.
What we find in "Inside Information," is an array of images that are based upon various Greek and Anglo-Saxon representations of the mythological underworld, dragons and wealth. First, we should notice that Smaug is a "red-golden dragon" whose "fires were low in slumber." In the Greek god of the underworld, Hades, was also the god of wealth (mines and metals are his domain) and so the juxtaposition of fire and gold may seem atypical, but the fusion of these images makes perfect sense within a literary project that is seeking to combine as many different motifs as it can. The strongest and most important thing to gather from this chapter is the power of allusion. When reading this chapter, any number of scenes may come to mind (David and Goliath, Indiana Jones, "Jack and the Bean-stalk, etc.) because this scene is not a very unique one. It can't quite be labeled as an archetype because dragons and monsters and miniature heroes and theft appear separately more often than they do as a unit. We can use allusion as a means of understanding how Bilbo is a traditional hero. The Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, is Tolkien's major source for this scenethe villains are dragon-like creatures whose hoards of jewels and treasure must be reclaimed by heroes who are often young but always stand in contrast to the other characters who reveal themselves to be cowards. The simile that describes Smaug as a "worm" is not an accidental reference to the word "wyrm," used in the Anglo-Saxon epics to describe dragon-like monsters. Finally, there is an interesting parallel between Smaug's pretending to be asleep after Bilbo's first visit was heralded in Smaug's contemporaneous dream. Remember Bilbo has also done well in feigning sleep or at least escaping sleep's grip, so that he might defend himself. Power over sleep is a mark of more than a few heroes, and in spite of Smaug's faults, he is a tragic hero. For a dwarf like Bombur, the dream is a symbol of decadence and worthlessness (he's no hero).
For Smaug, the dream is fatalism at work, exposing the "weak spot" in his armor. Within an English literary context we can recall the dreams of Caesar's wife in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as an example that might help to connect some of the larger themes of this chapter. The heroic Smaug exercises his free will but the fact that he must sometimes sleep means that he cannot always guard his treasure, and it is precisely within his dreams that the portent of his doom (not the mere loss of one cup) is delivered. When we find ourselves thinking something along the lines of "....If only Smaug hadn't ever slept, he might've...," then we know Tolkien has finally nailed down the Greek mythology recipes for fated doom (...If only he hadn't ever flown..., ...If only he hadn't ever married..., ...If only he hadn't ever touched anything). Smaug will fall, because Icarus and Oedipus and Midas and all of the others have fallen.
But as a final note, Smaug is a villain because the prophecy established at the beginning of the novel mandates this. The other villains and malcontents we find in Tolkien's work are not presented as historic and malingering evils. Our dragon Smaugsmoky, fiery and mountain-dwellingis a metaphorical volcano who has been awakened. The other "evils" are not sought out by maps, so we may want to map Smaug as a destructive force of nature, a symbolic evil perhaps, but not a symbol of evil.
The Hobbit Essays and Related Content
- The Hobbit: Major Themes
- The Hobbit: Essays
- The Hobbit: Questions
- The Hobbit: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- J.R.R. Tolkien: Biography
- The Hobbit Summary
- About The Hobbit
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-16
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-19
- Related Links on The Hobbit
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources