Tolkien Re-read Part I: The Hobbit (Chapters 11-13)

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 11: On the Doorstep

There’s no laughter or singing on this leg of the trip, perhaps because Bilbo, Thorin & Co. have all begun to realize that they’re marching toward their fiery dooms. After much gloomy journeying, they come to the Desolation of the Dragon at the skirts of the Lonely Mountain.

They make camp on the western side of the mountain, and Thorin sends Balin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo to scout out the Front Gate. On their way, Balin points out the ancient ruins of Dale. When they reach the Front Gate, they can see the Running River flowing out from its source deep in the mountain, but there is also a black smoke escaping from the gate and crows circling the area. All together pretty ominous, so it’s no wonder Balin wants to get out of there fast:

Balin: Let us return! We can do no good here! And I don’t like these dark birds, they look like the spies of evil.

Bilbo: The dragon is still alive and in the halls under the Mountain then—or I imagine so from the smoke.

Balin: That does not prove it, though I don’t doubt you are right.

With that they head back to camp. Here the narrator informs us that, while it was June when they were with Elrond and learned of the secret entrance into the mountain, autumn is now turning to winter (because that’s important later).

the front gate

Surprisingly, it’s Bilbo who convinces the dwarves to start searching the western slopes for the hidden door marked on Thror’s map. Who would’ve thought that the waffling hobbit from chapter 1, who could hardly decide to go on this adventure at all, would later be the one to encourage the rest of the party to continue on? The answer, of course, is Gandalf.

So, they move their camp to a grassy valley shadowed by a cliff and begin searching for paths up the mountainside. Fili, Kili, and Bilbo are the ones who finally find it and they follow it up to a walled-in alcove of stone with a grassy floor open to the sky and a back wall that appears “mason-smooth.” Although they don’t see any indications of a door, they’re certain they’ve found the secret entrance and hurry back to camp with the news.

The next day Bilbo, Thorin & Co. (minus Bofur and Bombur, who stay behind with the ponies) all head up the mountainside to the grassy alcove, where they make camp number three. From there they are able to use ropes to haul up supplies from camp number two, as well as Bofur. Bombur remains behind:

Bombur: I am too fat for such fly-walks. I should turn dizzy and tread on my beard, and then you would be thirteen again.

And nobody wants that, so there Bombur stays for the moment.

So, remember those moon-runes Elrond told our heroes about back in chapter 3 (stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole)? Well, our heroes forget all about those in their eagerness and immediately set to prying the door open with picks and other mining accoutrements. (Silly dwarves, this is clearly a magic door.)

When it becomes apparent that this method isn’t going to work, they give up on trying to force the door open. Also, the noise they’re making is starting to make them nervous. Afterall, they don’t want to wake the dragon, do they? (With much effort, I am resisting the urge to go off on a Harry Lloyd squee-fest. But, seriously, his Viserys Targaryen was brilliant.)

After that, the dwarves set themselves to pacing and grumbling while Bilbo spends his time staring “moodily” at a large grey stone that sits in the center of the cove’s grassy floor. (Yeah, that’s the grey stone mentioned in the moon-runes, but Bilbo hasn’t made the connection yet.)

Thorin: Tomorrow begins the last week of autumn.

Bifur: And winter comes after autumn.

Dwalin: And next year after that.

(Did you get all that foreshadowing? Here you’re supposed to recall that Durin’s Day happens during the last moon of autumn.)

The next evening as the sun begins set, the dwarves have wandered off and left Bilbo alone in the cove. As he’s watching the sun set he sees the pale, thin line of a new moon at the horizon. Then he hears a sharp crack behind him and, turning, sees an enormous thrush knocking a snail against the grey stone.

Finally, Bilbo understands—when the thrush knocks, stand by the grey stone, Durin’s Day. He calls to the dwarves, who all come running (except for Bombur, of course).

The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through the opening into the bay and fell on the smooth rock-face. The old thrush, who had been watching from a high perch with beady eyes and head cocked on one side, gave a sudden trill. There was a loud crack. A flake of rock split from the wall and fell. A hole appeared suddenly about three feet from the ground.

The dwarves rush to the rock and push, to no avail. Bilbo reminds them that this is the keyhole and they need the key that Gandalf gave to Thorin back at Bilbo’s house. Thorin quickly produces it and unlockes the door. Bilbo, Thorin & Co. all push together and, soon, the rock gives way and a five-foot-high door opens onto darkness.

Chapter 12: Inside Information

Having managed to find the secret door, and to open it, the dwarves start to argue about what to do next.

Thorin: Now is the time for our esteemed Mr. Baggins, who has proved himself a good companion on our long road, and a hobbit full of courage and resource far exceeding his size, and if I may say so possessed of a good luck far exceeding the usual allowance—now is the time for him to perform the service for which he was included in our Company; now is the time for him to earn his Reward.

Bilbo: If you mean you think it is my job to go into the secret passage first, O Thorin Thrain’s son Oakenshield, may your beard grow ever longer, say so at once and have done! I might refuse. I have got you out of two messes already, which were hardly in the original bargain, so that I am, I think, already owed some reward.

Looks like Bilbo has got the hang of this adventuring business, no? In any case, he eventually agrees to “go in and have a peep,” but when he asks who will accompany him only Balin offers to join him, and only for “a bit of the way.” (Seriously, Thorin & Co.? Seriously?)

Quick Facts About Dwarves

– They are not heroes

– They are calculating

– They have a keen sense for the value of money

– Some are tricky and treacherous

– Some are pretty okay if you don’t have high expectations

So, Bilbo heads into the secret passage with only Balin as a companion, and Balin eventually leaves Bilbo to go on alone. Soon Bilbo hears a “rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring,” and it’s all he can do to keep himself moving forward to the end of the tunnel where the ancient dungeon-hall of the dwarves—now the lair of Smaug—is.

Remember last week when I said Sherlock Holmes would be turning into a dragon in this post? Well…

There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; a thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.

(Okay, so maybe Sherlock—aka Benedict Cumberbacht—isn’t actually turning into a dragon, but he is listed as the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit movies.)

Favorite Quote Break!

To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.

After observing the room from the safety of the doorway, Bilbo scrambles into the chamber, past the sleeping Smaug, and snatches up a two-handled cup from the nearest pile of treasure. Then he flees back to the tunnel and starts the long climb back up to the door. Balin meets him on the way and, in his delight to see him, the dwarf picks the hobbit up and carries him the rest of the way. (They’re totally bros, now.)

When the rest of the dwarves see Bilbo and the treasure he’s brought back with him, they begin praising the hobbit and swearing themselves (and all their decedents) to his service. But their excitement dies pretty quickly when it becomes apparent that they’ve woken the dragon. Good job, Bilbo. Everyone knows you shouldn’t try to sneak treasure away from a dragon.

Quick Facts About Dragons

– They like riddling

– You should never tell a dragon your name

– They have no use for their treasures

– They know every inch of their treasure hoard and know when something goes missing

Apparently, Smaug woke up and immediately missed the cup that Bilbo snatched during his little scouting mission. Missing treasure means an intruder is in his mountain, and this makes Smaug rather angry.

Favorite Quote Break!

His rage passes description—the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.

Smaug shakes the whole mountain in his fiery tantrum and then flies through the Front Gate. He knows that the intruder must have used the tunnel, but it is too small for him to fit through, so he plans to search the mountain for its exit and hunt down the thief.

Meanwhile, Bilbo urges the dwarves to flee into the tunnel, where they’ll be safe from the dragon’s search of the mountainside (first they hastily retrieve Bombur from camp number two, of course). Then, just as they’re all safely inside, Smaug comes and sets the little grassy alcove ablaze. Bilbo and the dwarves can hear the screams of their ponies as they break free of their ropes and run off with the dragon in pursuit. (I really would not want to be a pony with this group. For realsies. They have a startlingly high mortality rate.)

Trapped in the tunnel, and with Smaug hunting them (and eating their ponies), the dwarves turn to Bilbo and ask him what they should do next.

Bilbo’s Plan

1. Stay in the tunnel for now

2. At noon, he will put on his ring and return to Smaug’s hall

3. While invisible, he’ll try to discover a weakness they can use against the dragon

The dwarves heartily agree to this plan (probably since Bilbo will be doing all the dangerous work) and at noon Invisi-Bilbo creeps back down the tunnel. When he reaches the entrance to Smaug’s hall it appears that the dragon is sleeping, until Smaug speaks to him.

Smaug: Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear your breath. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!

Bilbo: No thank you, O Smaug the Tremendous! I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say. I did not believe them.

Smaug: Do you now?

Bilbo: Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.

Apparently, the way to talk to dragons is to flatter them, which Bilbo knows from dragonlore. And, since you should never tell a dragon your name, when Smaug asks Bilbo who he is, the hobbit craftily (and politely) avoids telling him.

Riddles Bilbo Tells About Himself

– I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through air.

– I am he that walks unseen.

– I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly.

– I was chosen for the lucky number.

– I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water.

– I come from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.

– I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles.

– I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.

Smaug doesn’t understand all of these riddles, of course, but he understands enough to guess that Bilbo has come from Lake Town (and he wickedly promises to pay the people there a visit), that Bilbo traveled via pony (such tasty ponies), and the hobbit is traveling with dwarves (he could taste them on the ponies). Smaug also gives Bilbo an unexpected piece of advice: don’t do business with dwarves because they’re liars and cheats.

This gives Bilbo pause. After all, the dwarves are waiting outside, away from the danger, while he does all the work. But the hobbit gathers his courage and informs Smaug that the dwarves haven’t just come for gold, they’ve also come for revenge. Smaug only laughs, and there’s a bit more back and forth in the conversation before this happens:

Bilbo: I have always understood that dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the—er—chest; but doubtless one so fortified has thought of that.

Smaug: Your information is antiquated. I am armoured above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me.

Bilbo: I might have guessed it. Truly there can nowhere be found the equal of Lord Smaug the Impenetrable. What magnificence to possess a waistcoat of fine diamonds.

Smaug, quite flattered by Bilbo’s praise of his awesomeness, rolls over to show off the splendor of his underside, thus giving Bilbo a glimpse of a patch on the dragon’s left breast that is bare and unprotected (how convenient!). Having found a weakness, Bilbo makes a hasty farewell and scrambles back up the tunnel before Smaug can snatch him or fry him or even locate him clearly (since Bilbo is still invisible).

When Bilbo reaches the dwarves, who are waiting outside in the burned-out alcove, he tells them all about his conversation with Smaug (including the not-so-terribly kind things the dragon said about the dwarves) and tells them of the Smaug’s unprotected left breast. Thorin does his best to assure Bilbo that the dwarves are grateful for his service and that he will be getting his share of the treasure, despite the words of Smaug, and soon the talk turns to the treasure itself.

Then Bilbo, feeling anxious and sensing danger, insists that they move back into the tunnel and close the door. So, they all move inside and Thorin kicks away the stone that props the door open and pushes it closed.

Just as the door seals itself shut, they hear the sound of stones collapsing on the other side of the door as Smaug attacks the mountainside. It’s a good thing Bilbo had that premonition, but now our heroes are trapped beneath the mountain with no way out but through Smaug’s lair.

Chapter 13: Not at Home

So, there’s Bilbo and Thorin & Co. sitting in the dark tunnel. All attempts to get the door open again have failed.

Favorite Quote Break!

“We are trapped! This is the end. We shall die here.”

Nothing like some melodrama when you’re stuck under a mountain with a dragon (although I guess Smaug is out wreaking havoc at the moment, so there’s that).

Bilbo realizes that the dragon is probably still outside of the mountain and that this may be their only chance to sneak through to the Front Gate and escape. The dwarves quickly agree—Thorin even walks in front, next to Bilbo, as they all head down the tunnel.

When they come to the end of the tunnel they find Smaug’s hall dark. Bilbo calls for light and Oin and Gloin come forward with a handful of torches, though only one has been lit. The dwarves refuse to come into the chamber with Bilbo until they’re absolutely certain that Smaug is not hiding in it somewhere. (Again, for realsies, Thorin & Co.?)

So, the dwarves watch from the tunnel opening as the hobbit explores the treasures in Smaug’s chamber. It’s too bad for them that they didn’t join Bilbo because he finds a treasure that the dwarves (particularly Thorin) had hoped to find: the Arkenstone.

Quick Facts About the Arkenstone

– It’s also known as the Heart of the Mountain

– It was dug from the mountain and fashioned by the dwarves long ago

– It’s larger than Bilbo’s hands

– It shines with its own inner light

After just a moment of contemplation, Bilbo pockets the gem (the dwarves did say he could have his pick of the treasure) and moves on. Then, just as he’s checking that the path to the front gate is clear, his torch goes out. He calls out to the dwarves for help and another torch, but the dwarves can only hear the word “help” echo back to them and are unsure what’s happened. Thorin calmly decides that it can’t be the dragon, or Bilbo wouldn’t go on making so much noise (Richard Armitage, you’re always so cold).

Thorin: Come, one of you, get another light or two! It seems we have got to go and help our burglar.

Balin: It is about our turn to help and I am quite willing to go. Anyway, I expect it is safe for the moment.

Balin, you’re such a bro. (Sorry. I’m so sorry about that link. Except not really. That anime is fabulous.)

So, Thorin & Co. quickly join Bilbo in the chamber. Finding him to be perfectly alright and just in need of some light, they go about exploring the treasure piles. Fili and Kili find some harps, some fill their pockets with smaller trinkets, others begin gathering weapons, and Thorin finds a coat of mail made of mithril (silver-steel), which he gives to Bilbo (and Bilbo later gives to Frodo).

Once they’ve all armed themselves, Thorin takes the lead and guides them out of the chamber (this is his childhood home, afterall). They travel up stairs and down endless hallways and through the ruined feasting hall of Thror until they reach the underground origin of the Running River. They follow the water all the way to the Front Gate and out into the fresh air.


Anyone else have trouble keeping track of the dwarves? I think the only ones that exist as individual characters in my head are Thorin (King Dwarf), Balin (Bro Dwarf), Fili and Kili (they kind of merge together as Young Dwarf), and maybe Bombur (Fat Dwarf). Oh, and Gloin, but only because I know he’s the father of Gimli from Lord of the Rings. The rest of them are just a vague ball of dwarfness in the background. This doesn’t surprise me—Tolkien is definitely more focused on plot and world-building than individual character development. I only bring it up because it makes me that much more curious about how they’ll flesh out these characters in the movies. Speaking of, check out this post over at on what was revealed about the Hobbit movies at DragonCon.

And that’s all I’ve got! Next up is chapters 14-16. Reading along? Don’t be shy—share your thoughts in the comments!