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Chapter 9: Barrels Out of Bond
The next morning, Bilbo and the remaining dwarves struggle on, hoping to find a way out of the grim forest. When they are captured by the elves at dusk, they are almost thankful. Bilbo, however, uses his ring to become invisible and slips away to secretly follow them. The captive dwarves are taken to the Elvenking's underground cavern. There he questions them as to what they are up to in his forest. The dwarves, indignant at their treatment, refuse to answer; as a result, they are locked up, each in a separate cell.
Bilbo spends a long time wandering in the palace, finding out where each of the dwarves is imprisoned and discovering that Thorin is also imprisoned here. He sends an order to all the prisoners that they are to remain silent when questioned. The dwarves are delighted by this message, for they do not wish to share their treasure with the Wood-elves. Bilbo, meanwhile, tries to find a way by which he can rescue his companions. One day he locates a stream that flows from the elves' caverns to the Forest River and down to Lake-town, from where the elves get much of their wine and food supplies. They use barrels to transport the provisions.
Bilbo formulates a rescue plan. He will smuggle the dwarves into the barrels and float them downstream so that they can escape from the elves and Mirkwood. One night when the elves are having a festival, the chief guard and the butler get drunk and go to sleep. Bilbo obtains the guard's keys, releases the dwarves, and stuffs them into barrels. After pushing them into the river, Bilbo jumps and catches hold of the last barrel. After a rough ride to safety, they pull the barrels from the river, rope them together, and rest for the night. Using his ring, Bilbo goes and steals some food and drink for himself. The next morning, the barrels are pushed off, and Bilbo and the dwarves continue their journey to Lake-town.
The rising action continues to build in this chapter, as Tolkien hurries his tale to the "last and greatest adventure." With little detail, he describes how Bilbo rescues the dwarves and floats them down river in the barrels. Since the difficulties continue for the dwarves, the mood is still grim, but not hopeless; the reader is reassured that the captors are elves who will not mistreat their prisoners. It is really ironic that the dwarves are taken captive by the Wood-elves, for both of them are ultimately on the side of good. The capture and imprisonment of the dwarves by the good elves seem to foreshadow the later antagonism amongst the good characters once the treasure has been reclaimed.
Bilbo's growth as a hero is clearly seen in this chapter. Using the ring and his own resources, he takes care of himself, comes up with an ingenious plan, and rescues his friends. He still, however, is greatly concerned about food and uses the ring to make himself invisible so that he can steal a feast for himself.