Monday 13 February 2017

The Hobbit - Chapters XI to XV

We are now at the half way point of February - how is your journey through Middle Earth going?

Have you past the Last Homely House? Maybe you're creeping your way through Mirkwood Forest? Or perhaps, like Bilbo, you've had your first sight of the Lonely Mountain?

Wherever you are, I hope you can take the time to rest up and let us know your thoughts so far.

A Dutch cover of The Hobbit

Chapter XI - On the Doorstep

This chapter has Bilbo and the dwarves on the march again - all the way to the foot of the Lonely Mountain.
They spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to find the secret door and curiously seem to have forgotten all the stuff about moon runes and secret writing, especially when the thrush turns up.

Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light will shine on Durin's Day will shine upon the key-hole.

I was disappointed that Tolkien went to all the trouble to set up this delicious moon rune code, only to ignore it when it was actually needed. It was pure chance that Bilbo and the dwarves were at the door at the right time. They didn't work anything out for themselves - it all felt too easy and too convenient. But not as big a cop out as what happens with Smaug in the next few of chapters.

I loved the final sentence in this chapter as they opened the secret door for the first time in a hundred years or so,
It seemed as if darkness flowed out like a vapour from the hole in the mountain-side, and deep darkness in which nothing could be seen lay before their eyes, a yawning mouth leading in and down.
It would have been the obvious thing to talk about the light piercing the darkness of the tunnel for the first time, instead Tolkien animates the darkness and gives it substance. I could feel the coldness ooze out and smell the old, musty, bad air just with this one sentence.

Chapter XII - Inside Information

The dwarves send Bilbo down the secret passage by himself to check out where Smaug is and what he is doing.

They are definitely not the heroes of this story - they do not seem to have grown personally or morally. They lack initiative and are not very well prepared or organised. And the closer to the treasure they get, the greedier they appear.

I have come across some discussions on antisemitism which seem to be pertinent in this chapter. It is thought that the dwarves were meant to represent Jews and that this means that Tolkien was antisemitic or racist.

I confess that I didn't think this was obvious at all as I read this chapter. So what does Tolkien say for himself?

In The Letters of J R R Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter & Christopher Tolkien, Letter 176 - From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 8 December 1955, says
I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.....
And in Letter 30 - To R├╝tten & Loening Verlag 25 July 1938, he says,
But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people

His views expressed here would seem to fit in more with his ideas about language and homeland, than about racial stereotyping or any rascism.

I'm beginning to see that many readers are keen to find deeper meanings and underlying themes in The Hobbit above and beyond anything that Tolkien originally intended.

Chapter XIII - Not At Home

Who's not at home?
The dragon? Thorin and the dwarves? Bilbo? The men of Dale?
Clearly Smaug is not at home and his absence is felt throughout this chapter. Where is he? What is he up to? And when will he return?

Greed also rears its ugly head. Bilbo finds and conceals again, the Arkenstone. While the dwarves become bewitched by the incredible hoard of treasure.

"Let us follow Balin's path."

Chapter XIV - Fire and Water

I'm still trying to work out why I find this chapter so disappointing.
It feels anti-climatic and somehow I feel that Bilbo has been denied his chance to be the hero. I wanted it to be Bilbo to fire the fatal shot - after all he found the weak spot in Smaug's armour in the first place.

I also don't understand why the town being built on water was a hindrance for Smaug. Why could he not fly over the water to get to the town? Is the lake so large and the town so far out, that a dragon can't fly that far safely?

The whole story was about this journey to defeat Smaug, yet when the action finally does occur, it happens off-screen, so to speak. We also don't get to enjoy Smaug's death for very long as events move on very quickly. There's more to be done. There's the spoils to share out, treaties to be made and one final battle to fight.

I like that Tolkien doesn't tidy everything up with a neat bow and comforting resolutions, but somehow I still feel let down here. It feels like Tolkien has run out of steam and wants to wind this story up quickly.

Full on the town he fell.

Chapter XV - The Gathering of the Clouds

I found this a frustrating chapter full of sliding door moments. If only Thorin was less stubborn and greedy. If only Bard had spoken more eloquently. If only, if only, if only!

Bilbo, like the reader, is becoming disillusioned with this quest and the dwarves. We all thought the death of Smaug would be the end of the adventure, but still it goes on.

"Who are you, and of what would you parley?"
How and when will this quest end?

Are you still with us? Which chapter have you reached at this point in the readalong?

Don't forget to check out and comment on our fellow #HLOTRreadalong2017 participants posts when you get the chance.


  1. I was also bothered by the dragon who could fly down from the mountain but would apparently be stopped by taking down the bridge. Huh?

    1. It was a weird moment...especially since he obviously could fly over the water and did eventually destroy the town. It didn't make sense.

  2. I too was confused that Smaug couldn't get over the lake. What? I'm done now, so I need to write it up, but I doubt I'll get to it today....

    1. I'm holding off my last chapter round up until the end of the month.

      I'm using the next couple of weeks to catch up on some new releases for work and some of those reviews that have got backed up, before jumping into The Fellowship of the Ring.


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