Chapter Seventeen: The Clouds Burst
Trumpets blare and there is going to be war. Dain, the cousin of Thorin, has arrived with soldiers and supplies. Bard approaches the mountain and offers the Arkenstone in exchange for peace and a fair share of the mountain's treasure. Thorin turns on the hobbit and attacks him, saying "I wish I had Gandalf here! Curse him for his choice of you!" Gandalf appears and defends both himself and Bilbo. Bilbo leaves, relinquishing his share of the treasure, counting it as the Arkenstone. Thorin is thinking of ways to avoid a fair bargain and when battle erupts, it includes men, elves and dwarves. They are ready to attack one another until Gandalf announces the approach of the Goblins, bats, wolves and Wargs.
The armies re-align themselves and conduct what became known as the "Battle of Five Armies." The Goblins and Wild Wolves battle against the Elves, Men and Dwarves. Gandalf has expected some sort of assault but it did come swifter than he had expected. The Goblins are initially repelled and ambushed by the Elves, but a reinforcement of Goblin troops tilts the balance of the battle. It is only with the final arrival of the Eagles, that the forces of good are sustained. Unfortunately, Bilbo is "smote" with a "stone hurtling from above...and he fell with a crash and knew no more."
This is the one major battle scene of the novel and while we make numerous comparisons between this war and events of human history, the most important thing to grasp is that this is a polarized struggle between good and evil. Within the genre of fantasy and mythology, Tolkien is able to establish gradations of good and evil and it is worth noting how quickly enemies became allies. Bilbo's wound at the end of the chapter is a cliffhanger that repeats the same scene that ended Chapter 4. As far as the themes of consciousness and knowledge are concerned, Bilbo needs to avoid rocks and stones, as they tend to knock him out. Still, if we follow the trajectory of Christian allusions attached to Bilbo, his recovery in the next chapter can be considered as a resurrection, much as his return "home" can parallel a final departure/ascension. Most important, Bilbo proves himself as the savior-hero of the scene, not by fighting, but by his knowledge and insight. His "eyes were seldom wrong" and he is the one who sees "the sudden gleam in the gloom"...a sight that made his heart leap." His announcement of the Eagles' approach is what enables the victory. As a final irony, a scene of birds flying overhead or a cry of "The Eagles" or "The Birds" is usually a symbol of doom. Here, Bilbo's cry of "The Eagles" is a herald of something positivethough it may account for his own unfortunately injury.
Chapter Eighteen: The Return Journey
When Bilbo regains consciousness, he finds that he is alone and he has to take his ring off so that the individuals who were sent for him can find him. After recovering in the company of Gandalf, Bilbo makes his way back home and their journeythough covering the same perilous terrainis far more pleasant and mild than it was the first time. As Bilbo says, "So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending."
In terms of narrative structure, this chapter and the next one offer two endings to the story. This chapter gives us a visual panorama of the landscape of Middle Earth and it establishes Bilbo and Gandalf as characters who will reappear in later works. Chapter 17 presented a battle involving five armies and while this has no direct reference to any anterior work, it does seem to be a threat to the peace of the world. The images of Chapter 18 are all muted, pale and subdued. "A new peace came over the edge of the Wild." We can argue about whether or not this is a case of what Ruskin calls the "pathetic fallacy"and indeed, we ought to always bear this in mind when reading fantasy work. It is one thing when the terrain or setting is passive and the emotions of the actors are projected upon the scene. Here, there is no differentiation between human or animal actors, and we have seen that even mountains and caves were so entwined within the plot-structure of the novel that it is hard to determine whether the peace that reigns over the Misty Mountains is at least in part, because the Mountains wish this to be the case. Finally, the archetypal spring and summer that are spent with Beorn, revive the Garden of Eden motif introduced in "Queer Lodgings," except there are no threats, demarcations or limitations. Finally, Bilbo comes "full circle" in terms of character development. Undeniably heroic, Bilbo plays student-disciple to Gandalf even as he dominated much of the novel as a savvy thieving Ulysses type of hero. What makes him a complex and round character (and the only character of this kind in this novel), is that he never becomes a leader and at the end of the journey, his "Tookish part was getting very tired, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger," i.e. he wants to be a domestic hobbit again. The chapter ends with his statement: "I wish now only to be in my own arm-chair!"
There is, however, "The Last Stage," awaiting us the last stage of Bilbo's travel and his development. So, for the sake of clarity, we will analyze this final exclamation of Chapter 18 when we conclude our analysis with Chapter 19.
Chapter Nineteen: The Last Stage
Gandalf and Bilbo pass through Rivendell and eventually make their way to Hobbiton. It is summer and Bilbo is disappointed to learn that he is legally dead. Greedy cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses are auctioning his property because he is "Presumed Dead." They are more than a little displeased at his arrival and it takes several years for Bilbo to sort out the legalisms. In fact, Bilbo had to buy back a good deal of his own furniturehis reputation, for better or worse, was harder to reclaim. But as for Bilbo, son of Belladonna Took, "for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way. True, he was "held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be 'queer'except by this nephews and nieces on the Took side....[but] he did not mind."
It's hard to care about these things when you are happy, you have a magic ring, you are writing poetry, you are visiting the elves and you have plenty of time to discuss "prophecies" and "mere luck" with your good friend Gandalf.
Bilbo's return to his home isn't quite like what we find in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy names her wish and clicks her heels a few times. Here, Bilbo has to play a civilized revision of Ulysses, to the end. He desires his arm-chair, a symbol that parallels the bed that Ulysses longs for. Like Ulysses, Bilbo is presumed dead, but instead of having to battle the suitors of his un-widowed wife (for Bilbo has no wife nor son to aid him), Bilbo must battle the aptly named Sackville-Bagginses who have "sacked" the "ville" (city, living place). And of course, they are on the respectable side (Baggins) as opposed to Took. We get a bit of social commentary here, which is not so surprising because the Hobbits really are so very British. Tolkien infuses the fantasy/mythology genre with legalism that can take the place of bloodshed, and in addition to remaining with the bounds of the law, there is a certain grace, sacrifice and desire for peace that dominates Bilbo's behavior. On the negative side, this novel has successfully portrayed good and evil without resorting to legal standards and here, as law is introduced, it is a corrupted thing. While Bilbo is a pariah because he does not cater to foolish prejudices (and what is a Hobbit anywaythat they might look down upon other fictitious and weird-looking creatures), the mention of his similarly inclined Tookish nephew foreshadows Frodo Baggins of the LOTR trilogy. On a final note, it is very ironic that The Hobbit ends with a discussion debating prophecy, fate and free-willwithout the One Ring ever being mentioned!