Jan 4, 2016

Let's Read Tolkien 16: A Thief in the Night

Now the days passed slowly and wearily.

After Thorin's dwarven diplomacy, Bilbo and the dwarves are besieged in the Lonely Mountain. Thorin redoubles the search for the Arkenstone, swearing vengeance on anyone who keeps it from him. This obviously makes Bilbo a little nervous, and the news isn't good, either: the ravens report that Dáin and his host are almost at the Mountain. Roäc, to his credit, protests that fighting over the treasure is madness, as Thorin can't rule without the friendship of his neighbors, not least for want of anything to eat. Thorin is unmoved, and intends to wait out the elves and Lake-men. His pigheadedness drives Bilbo to implement his desperate plan: when Bombur has the first night watch, Bilbo offers to relieve him. With the grateful dwarf gone, Bilbo abseils down the dwarves' wall and goes to see Bard and the Elvenking.

Bilbo lets the besiegers know that Dain is coming, and that Thorin won't negotiate - except for the Arkenstone, which Bilbo gives them, so they can defuse the standoff. Gandalf appears to congratulate him. Bilbo then heads back to the Mountain, wakes Bombur as promised, and turns in, dreaming of eggs and bacon.


That's it, really; this was quite a short chapter. Its impact on the story, though, is weighty: the handing over of the Arkenstone to the besiegers is the moment Bilbo really becomes a hero. To me, the essential definition of a hero is their moral sense. A hero must know right from wrong and act accordingly. Here Bilbo does just that; realizing that the arrival of Dáin may very well turn the siege into a pitched battle, he does his best to prevent it by tipping the scales in the negotiations. Honorably, he even goes back to face the consequences.

This is also our first proper encounter with Tolkien's favorite virtue: relinquishing either wealth or power for a greater good. Looking back at the sketchy way in which Bilbo grabbed the Arkenstone, knowing full well it was wrong and would get him into trouble, it's hard not to think that he, too, had a bit of the dragon-disease on him. Unlike Thorin and most of the dwarves, who are going mad with it, Bilbo conquers his lust for the treasure when lives are at stake.

Next time: consequences and combat.


Leon said...

+10 XP for using the word "abseil" in a Tolkien novel review.

Michael Halila said...

Thank you! =D