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Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders
Bilbo and the dwarves find the forest of Mirkwood intimidating and cruel. During the day, the lack of sunlight, the stuffiness, and the immense quiet jar their nerves, and at night hundreds of eyes seem to gleam down around them. Soon their food and water supplies start to run out. When they reach the stream that Beorn has warned them about, they do not drink from it, though they still have to find a way to cross it. They find a boat, and just as the last of the group crosses the stream in it, a deer darts out of the forest. As it tries to jump over the stream, Bombur, the fattest of the dwarves, is distracted. He loses his balance and tumbles into the water. He is lifted out, fast asleep, and asleep he remains for many days to come. The dwarves also lose all their arrows by shooting at the deer, which disappears. Now their bows are useless.
Growing increasingly hungry, thirsty, and weary, the group journeys on, carrying the sleeping, smiling Bombur. Bilbo climbs up a tree to find the end of the forest, but he only sees all around him "a sea of dark green." (Actually they are near the forest's edge, but at the bottom of a valley, though Bilbo does not recognize this.) Filled with despair, the company finishes all their food the same night. The only consolation is that Bombur wakes up; however, he complains that there is nothing to eat and tells them that he has been dreaming about food. His complaints infuriate the rest of them.
As they travel the next day, the group spies a light off the trail. Although they remember Beorn's warning not to stray from the path, they all plunge into the forest to find the light. They come upon a group of elfish folk having a feast, but the minute they step amongst them, their fires go out, everything disappears, and the dwarves are left confused and crying out in the dark. Twice more they see similar lights, and the same thing happens. The last time, however, Bilbo gets separated from the party and finds himself on his own in the dark forest.
As he sits thinking of food and home, Bilbo finds himself being tied up by a gigantic spider. He sets himself free with his small sword and, after a fierce struggle, kills the spider and falls down in a faint. When he comes to, it is morning. He feels much more brave and strong and decides to name his sword "Sting." He sets out to find his friends and discovers them all prisoners of the spiders. He sets about the task of rescuing them, using his wits, his sword, and his ring, as well as his skill at throwing stones.
Taunting the spiders with mocking songs, he lures most of them away, then returns, kills the guard, and starts setting his friends free. Halfway through his rescue he is interrupted; he realizes that he must tell the freed dwarves about his ring and its powers. Using the ring, Bilbo once again lures the spiders away while the rest free their friends. A huge melee ensues. Finally, after defeating the spiders, they make their way to an elf-ring in the forest, where they sit to rest and recover from the spider adventure. It is then that they notice Thorin's disappearance. They are full of fear and anxiety as to what could have befallen him
When Thorin stepped into the circle of feasting elves, he fell into an enchanted sleep. He was then carried off to the dungeon of the king of the Wood-elves. When he awoke, he was taken to the king, who questioned him as to what the dwarves were doing in Mirkwood. Thorin, knowing of the greed of the elf-king, refused to answer and was, therefore, sent back to the dungeons!
This chapter, marked by a dark and depressing mood, is filled with adventure as Bilbo and his companions encounter more forces of evil. The travel through Mirkwood is hard and dreary, and their encounters with other creatures are frightening. Bombur accidentally falls into the river of forgetfulness, is overcome with a deep sleep, and must be carried by the others. When he awakes several days later, he complains loudly, for he is starving and the dwarves have run out of food.
They stray from the trail, against Beorn's warning, in search of a series of lights, which they hope will lead them to food and provisions. Instead, each time they find the fires, lighted by elves, everything disappears in front of their eyes, leaving them in total darkness to find their way through the forest. The last time, Bilbo is separated from the group and must save himself from a spider. He then discovers all his friends have been tied up by the spiders, and they must do battle to free themselves. Finally, it is discovered that Thorin has been lost during the course of the adventures. Nothing seems to be going right for the dwarves.
The chapter greatly develops Bilbo, as he approaches heroic stature. It is he who sees the boat that enables them to cross the stream of forgetfulness. He battles the spiders to rescues his friends, who would have met their end without his help. He assumes the role of their leader when Thorin disappears. Though Bilbo makes a mistake when he is asked to climb up and locate the end of the forest, for the major part of the chapter he is projected as a growing hero, whose boldness and courage have come a long way.
Despite the capture of Thorin, the Wood-elves are basically good and treat Thorin as kindly as a prisoner can be expected to be treated. Since they are not as wise as other elves, they are suspicious of anyone traveling in the forest. Their king, too, is greedy, and there is an old dispute between him and Thorin's people. This Background Information foreshadows the troubles that arise after the dwarves take over Smaug's treasure.