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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Bilbo and the dwarves are helped by the people of Lake-town,
which lies in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. The
adventurers at last reach the mountain, and Bilbo comes face to
face with the dragon Smaug.

The barrels, along with Bilbo and the dwarves, have floated
down the river to Lake-town, in the shadow of the Lonely
Mountain where Smaug the dragon lives. The arrival of the
dwarves, after Bilbo frees them from the barrels, sparks great
excitement. The town had been very prosperous before the
coming of Smaug, and old songs predict that good times would
return with the dwarves. People begin to sing the old songs and
say that the prophecy will be fulfilled. Treated like heroes, the
dwarves are given a large house and good food, and are wildly
cheered in public.

The warm reception the dwarves receive may seem odd to you.
After all, they haven't done anything yet. But traditionally there
is a certain type of hero who is rewarded before the deed. This
is the person who is about to undertake a great task for the sake
of his people, and who is as likely to dies in the attempt as to
return successfully. The first U.S. astronauts in the late 1950s
were such heroes, receiving great fame and adulation before
the first mission was ever launched.

The dwarves at last depart for the Lonely Mountain with ponies
and supplies provided by the town. They are given a warm
send-off and everyone is in high spirits-everyone, that is,
except Bilbo, who's very unhappy at the thought of
approaching Smaug's lair. This is reminiscent of Gandalf, who
is wise enough to be aware of dangers even when everyone
else forgets them.

The land around the Lonely Mountain has been desolated by
the dragon. The dwarves are grim and sad as they remember
how beautiful it once was. Yet, as their spirits droop, Bilbo's
seem to lift. He studies Thorin's map and convinces the
dwarves to search for the secret door. At last they find it, far up
the mountain's slope, but they lose hope again when they fail to
open the door. They blame Bilbo (since he's the burglar) and
consider sending him through the front gate of the dragon's lair.

Once again it's Bilbo who takes charge and solves their
problems. He remembers the secret runes (mysterious writing)
that Elrond had discovered on the map, Just as the runes said,
the last ray of the sun reveals the keyhole to the secret door,
and at last the way is open.

You see how much the dwarves have come to rely on Bilbo.
He has in effect become their leader. Yet does he get the
respect due a leader? Why do you think the dwarves treat him
the way they do?

In chapter 12, Bilbo twice ventures down the secret passage to
the lair of Smaug. The first time, the dwarves send him, saying
that it's time for him to be the burglar. This is similar to the
scene in chapter 2, where they send him to investigate the
trolls' fire. But there are several important differences between
the two episodes that clearly show the changes in Bilbo. He is
now more assertive with the dwarves, pointing out that he's
already won his share of the treasure by rescuing them twice.
But he says he'll go anyway-he's begun to trust his luck more-
and dares any of the dwarves to come with him. Do you agree
with the narrator's defense of the dwarves' refusal to go with
him (except for Balin, who goes part of the way) that it's
Bilbo's job for which he'll be paid very well?

Bilbo is terrified but determined to see things through. When
he hears the rumbling of the dragon's breath, he pauses for a
moment. Facing his fear and going on despite it is the bravest
thing he's ever done. This sort of courage is the basis of
Tolkien's idea of heroism, which he sees as something internal,
rather than as the doing of great deeds. Once Bilbo reaches
Smaug's lair, he successfully steals a cup from the dragon's
hoard and carries it back with him. (Compare this to his
bungling in the scene with the trolls.)

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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes

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