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Chapter 11: On the Doorstep
After three days on the river, Bilbo and the dwarves arrive near the foot of the mountain, where their ponies and provisions await them. The men from Lake-town, who have brought and guarded the supplies, depart immediately, not wishing to remain near the mountain. The dwarves begin their journey to their final destination. Bilbo and three of dwarves scout out the south side of the mountain, where the Front Gate stands. They return and report that there is no sign of the secret entrance, but they have seen the ruins of the old town of Dale and smoke and steam emanating from the Front Gate.
The dwarves are dispirited and disheartened by the news, but Bilbo tries to be cheerful. For many days they search for the secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain. Finally, Bilbo, Fili, and Kili stumble upon an old flight of steps and, following these, come to a path. They find themselves before a sheer flat wall, without "joint or crevice," which they believe contains the secret entrance. They, however, are unable to open it, by magic or by force.
The dwarves relocate their camp in front of the door, leaving Bombur and Bofur behind to guard the ponies. During the day, the dwarves sit on the doorstep waiting and wondering how to open the secret entrance. As autumn draws to a close, they become more and more miserable at not being able to open the secret door and make suggestions that Bilbo should venture through the Front Gate.
As Bilbo's misery increases, he remembers the moon-letters, which Elrond had read to him long ago. He gathers the others at sunset; the last ray of the sun lights up the keyhole. Thorin uses the key that had come with the map, and they succeed in pushing open the door.
Although this chapter lacks action, there is no lack of tension. The dwarves unsuccessfully try everything to open the secret entrance. Their failure leads them to despair and a fear that they will never enter Lonely Mountain.
In the chapter, Tolkien shows the great changes that have occurred in Bilbo. Though initially terrified by the very thought of a dragon before the adventure begins, Bilbo has become much braver. He goes to look at the Front Gate, leads the search for the secret door, and remains hopeful and encouraging that they will succeed, even when the dwarves begin to be afraid and despairing. It is also Bilbo who recalls the moon-letters and successfully opens the secret door.
It is interesting to note how the dwarves have come to rely on Bilbo. They had initially despised him and thought of him as no particular asset. As the adventure has unfolded, the dwarves have turned to him time and again to find solutions to their problems or to come up with some plan in their time of need. As a true hero, Bilbo always succeeds.
The chapter stops at a moment of suspense. The door swings open revealing pitch-black darkness. The reader wonders what will be found inside this Lonely Mountain.