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Chapter 12: Inside information
Bilbo knows that it will fall upon him to go inside the mountain, so when Thorin starts a speech about it. Bilbo cuts him short and asks whether any of them will come with him. Balin, who is fond of the hobbit, agrees to come part of the way, and the two venture inside. While the door is still in sight, Balin stops and decides to wait there, ready "to call for help, if necessary." Bilbo slips on his ring and proceeds down the tunnel alone. As Bilbo sees a glow ahead of him, the tunnel starts growing warmer, and he can hear huge snores. He stops out of fright and has to fight a battle with himself, which is the "real battle;" when he calms himself and goes forward again, he seems to be a changed person, no longer fearful.
Bilbo comes to an opening and sees a large treasure-filled cave. In the center lies Smaug, asleep on piles of gold and jewels. Bilbo quietly steals into the cavern and takes a large, two-handled cup to give to the dwarves as proof. The dragon stirs but does wake, allowing Bilbo to escape.
The dwarves are delighted to see Bilbo and the cup. As they rejoice and make plans for the future, they hear ominous sounds. They realize that Smaug is awake and has discovered that someone has stolen from his lair. Enraged, he comes to find the thief and finish him off. Bilbo is the only one who keeps his wits. He tells the cringing dwarves to hide in the tunnel where they will be safe. Through the night, they cower as Smaug unsuccessfully hunts all over the mountain for them. In the morning the dragon returns to his lair to rest and gather new strength.
The dwarves, over their initial terror, start blaming the hobbit for their troubles. Bilbo stills their grumbling by offering to go back into the mountain to discover if Smaug has any weak spot. At midday, he goes down the tunnel, hoping that Smaug will be asleep. The dragon, however, is awake and strikes up a conversation with Bilbo, even though the latter is invisible. Bilbo uses riddles to both hint at and hide his identity, all the while trying to extract useful information from the dragon. Smaug tries to weaken Bilbo's resolve by talking of his knowledge and power and planting suspicions in Bilbo's mind about the motives of the dwarves. He almost overpowers Bilbo with his wily words, but the hobbit manages to keep himself safe and even flatters Smaug into revealing a large bare spot on his breast unprotected by scales. Having gathered the information he wanted, Bilbo speeds back up the tunnel. Smaug, too big to fit into the tunnel, breathes fire up it, but Bilbo escapes, though he is singed and scorched.
Bilbo tells the dwarves about his encounter with the dragon and also about the vulnerable spot on his breast. The dwarves tell Bilbo about the many lovely things in the treasure horde, especially the Arkenstone, a huge white gem, which is Thorin's family heirloom. An old thrush listens to the entire conversation.
Once again all the dwarves and Bilbo shelter in the tunnel, but Bilbo is worried that Smaug will strike back. As they retreat into the tunnel and shut the door, Smaug comes stealthily and smashes the entire face of the mountain, but does not capture them. In his rage at being unable to catch the dwarves, he decides to devastate Lake-town because of their aid to his enemy.
Bilbo's personal climax is reached in this chapter, for he faces and overcomes his fear and becomes a brave hero, willing to face the dragon; he knows it is the "bravest thing he ever did." Filled with a newly found self-confidence, he goes into the dragon's lair and steals a cup, without waking Smaug. He later returns, finds Smaug awake, makes himself invisible, and has a conversation with the dragon.
The chapter also marks the approach to the plot's main climax, for the dwarves' quest has nearly come to an end. Hidden within the mountain and terrified by Smaug, the dwarves are still willing to battle to the end for their treasure. When Bilbo discovers Smaug has a weak spot, there is a hope for victory for the forces of good.
The mood in this chapter varies. Bilbo's first trip into the mountain, his first sight of the immense treasure, and his successful return are positive and hopeful. With Smaug's discovery of the theft and his subsequent rage, the mood becomes darker and more terrifying. Even talk about the treasure, which usually makes the dwarves happy, fails to lighten the mood, and they fear they will be able to overcome the dragon.
Another theme of the novel, the negative effects of wealth and greed, is developed in this chapter. Although powerful and intelligent, Smaug is greedy and overly proud; he is obsessed with his possessions, like all those who have "more than they can enjoy." His arrogance, however, makes him susceptible to Bilbo's flattery, causing him to foolishly reveal his weak spot. The dwarves also have an excessive, and potentially destructive, interest in the treasure. They constantly talk of it and are willing to sacrifice Bilbo, if necessary, to gain what they want.