The Last Stage
After Bilbo and Gandalf return to the Shire, the hobbit stops to recite a poem. The wizard responds by saying Bilbo is not the same person he was before and implies that he has become who he was always meant to be. Bilbo comes home with his worldly treasures in time to stop the remaining auction of his more homely ones. In the aftermath, he discovers that not only are his silver spoons beyond recovery, but so is his reputation as a conventional hobbit. The latter does not matter to him because through such loss, he has gained so much more. He has taken advantage of the slow-kindled courage of his kind and given full rein to his Tookish side without abandoning his Baggins side. As a result, the Baggins part has decided that it is not so bad to be a Took, and the Tookish part has discovered that it is not so bad to be a Baggins. Each can enjoy the good things of the other, and Bilbo can indulge them both as he pleases without worry of conflict.
This integration of both sides of Bilbo is something we should strive to achieve in our own life. How wonderful it feels to pursue and achieve our dreams with the different parts of ourselves happy and willing to live in peace with each other rather than always in a state of tension. This new, unrespectable, ‘mad’ Baggins is the one who Frodo will love and who will also deeply influence Sam. Without even knowing he is doing so, Bilbo prepares them for their own Quest. It is another note in the Song of the long planning that went into molding them so their hearts would be ready. Nothing is wasted, all is used. If we look back on our own lives we will see how certain things were ‘meant’ to happen to bring us to fulfill our own reason for being created.
Just as Bilbo’s tale is at its end, Gandalf makes one of the clearest statements about the role of providential guidance in the hobbit’s life: “You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” (Hobbit, 276). These veiled words become evident after it is understood Who preserved Bilbo through his trials, so that the hobbit could play his part in the Great Music and later help Frodo to do so as well. It is also nice to know Elrond is wrong in his fear that the Necromancer’s final downfall will not happen for many ages to come. In less than a century, a blink of an eye for an Elf, it will occur. All of this is a part of it, though for now, only the Writer of the Story knows it.
What inspiration do you draw from Bilbo’s growth due to his adventure?
The Return Journey
Thorin reaches the high point of his life on his deathbed after the battle is won. He realizes that he cannot take with him any of the treasure that had so consumed him shortly before. He acquires instead true wealth after he comes to understand that the uncomplicated, cheerful, and peaceful life of a hobbit detached from greed is the way to achieve contentment. It would indeed be a better world if we could each let go of what we think we must have and simply enjoy God’s bounty as He bestows it upon us. He will always make sure that we never lack anything that we truly need.
Another moment of grace is Thorin’s belief in the afterlife. He says that he will pass “to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed” (Hobbit, 262). He dies repentant of his harshness toward Bilbo and cleansed of the dragon-sickness. This comes too late to save his body but in time to save his soul. The grief-stricken hobbit recognizes how blessed he was to hear the dwarf’s last words to him and that they parted as friends. Thorin acquires the Arkenstone at last but only after death.
What do you think of Thorin’s last words?
The Clouds Burst
This is the lowest point in Thorin’s life. He is so bewitched by his lust for the Arkenstone that he is ready to murder Bilbo when our dear burglar bravely confesses to his ‘crime.’ Thorin is like those who are addicted to any evil, whether it be gambling, drugs, pornography, or whatever enslaves them. They have eyes turned only onto that which is destroying them and are blind to all beauty around them, including friends who are trying to help them.
This is also certainly a low point for the other dwarves and the Elves and men involved because they are all ready to go to battle and destroy each other over Smaug’s treasure hoard. What a terrible waste that would have been! But then the goblin army comes and unites all the adversaries against their true foe. The Orcs have come out of rage and hate after the death of the Great Goblin, and they seek to destroy any and all, whether they were involved or not. Such evil will and intent is, however, used against them when many of them are slain who would not have been had they not marched to war.
I was struck with what most brings home the tragedy of war: “many a fair elf that should have lived yet long ages merrily in the wood” lay dead upon the field of battle. Tolkien personally what that was like, to have seen so many young men dead in WWI, including many of his closest friends. His son, Christopher, saw the same in WWII. But war is necessary at times to prevent a greater evil. The Orcs had to be battled. The loss of the lives of men and Elves is tragic, but how much worse would it have been if they died over greed for treasure.
What struck you the most in this chapter?
A Thief in the Night
Bilbo is the only one not overcome by greed and lust for treasure and indeed holds the greatest treasure without harming himself. He does what he thinks is best not only for his side, but for both sides when he goes into the ‘enemy’ camp on his own and gives over the priceless Arkenstone and even tells them an opposing army is coming toward them. “Personally I am tired of the whole affair.” He just wants to get home. Doing what his heart tells him is the right thing to do will help achieve this and will help both sides. Bilbo knows Thorin will not be pleased after he finds out what the hobbit has done, but he returns out of loyalty to his friends. This takes great courage since doing the right thing is not the easy thing, and we may even get grief from it. But we will also have peace within ourselves that it is indeed the right thing. This is why Bilbo can sleep so contentedly. He has served the dwarves well and faithfully. This ‘theft’ of the Arkenstone is part of that, even though they won’t realize it at first. As Gandalf says to our dear burglar upon the wizard’s welcome return to the story, “There is always more about you than anyone expects!”
What do you like most about this chapter?
The Gathering of the Clouds
Thorin now faces a much greater foe, as Smaug’s vast treasury remains to be plundered by whoever can. The dwarf does not know that Bilbo already possesses the greatest prize of all. The demonic Balrog that woke in Khazad-dûm is aptly called Durin’s Bane, but this title could also describe the greed that roused the hidden enemy there. Such avarice inflames Thorin’s heart. He claims Smaug’s holdings for the dwarves and refuses to share any of it. Bard reminds him of the care given to him and his companions in their need and says those who succored them now require his aid. Thorin responds that he will repay the people of Lake-town, but he has no intention of sharing anything at all under the threat of the gathered force of Men and Elves. The dwarf considers the wealth solely the property of his people. Bard leaves, but another representative comes to claim a portion of the treasury for him and reports that the man will share some with those newly homeless. The speaker encourages Thorin to do the same, but lust for the dragon’s purloined wealth so overwhelms the dwarf that he shoots an arrow at his foe instead.
What do you think of Thorin’s actions?
Fire and Water
An exciting but terrifying chapter as Smaug is determined to destroy Lake-town. He seems to be going at it quite well, but then that thrush and Bard ruin everything for him. How thrilling and horrifying at the same time that must have been to witness! The lesson for this chapter is that, even if all is lost, the most important things are still saved. You may get into an accident and total your car, but you are still alive. Your house may burn down, but everyone got out or weren’t even home. Your business is broken into, but you weren’t there to possibly be harmed or killed by the burglar. Things may seem terrible at first, but then you realize how lucky you were, just as the residents of Lake-town did. You have to admire all those who grieve for what is lost after a natural disaster, but do not sink into despair, and just pick up the pieces and rebuild, just like the people of Lake-town did. It would have been a neat place to go to, to see the corpse of the dragon and much later on, the bones.
Would you have liked to have seen Lake-town and Smaug’s body?
Not at Home
The first moment of grace in this chapter is “But somehow, just when the dwarves were most despairing, Bilbo felt a strange lightening of the heart…” He guides the dwarves away from Smaug by the strange way of drawing them into the dragon’s very chambers and out again. I thought of Sam near the very end of the Quest when he and Frodo are so close to the heart of evil. They are starving, dehydrated, exhausted, but their wills are steady and fixed. Sam had had his argument with the voice that wished him to despair and he would not. His heart was lighter. He was going to get his master to the Fire, and if he then lay down to die with him, this did not trouble his heart. There is truth in the old saying that it is darkest before the dawn. The dwarves thought they would die in that tunnel in which they hid from Smaug, but this was not to be their fate. It was certainly not for nothing that Gandalf was guided to enlist Bilbo to be their companion and more than once their savior.
Bilbo’s calling out for Smaug to come out and eat him and so end the terrible suspense, silence and darkness of the place will echo in Sam’s cry to his enemies in the Tower after he’s “rung the front-door bell.”
One of the greatest moments of grace in this tale, second only to the finding of the Ring, is procuring that mithril coat that will be so vital to the success of the Quest decades later. See how everything works together so well, how many details had to be set into place, how many notes in the Great Music had to be played out to make things right? Tolkien may not have known at first that he had wandered into a much grander tale, but the Writer of the Story had seen everything. If Frodo had been killed in Moria by the spear thrust that the mithril coat turned aside, then who would have been Ring-bearer and would the Quest have even succeeded without the one who had been born to fulfill it? Even decades before things are already put in place that will help that one. Bilbo is given his adventure not only so he can grow, but so Frodo would be helped also.
What inspiration do you draw from this chapter for your own life?
On the Doorstep
It is only after reading the entire Red Book, both Bilbo’s and Frodo’s tale, that you realize how similar they are. This chapter is another example. “They knew that they were drawing near to the end of their journey, and that it might be a very horrible end.” This is what Bilbo and the dwarves feel as they approach the Lonely Mountain. Frodo does not expect to survive his journey even before he leaves Bag End. Both traveled through “perilous waste without hope of further help.” Bilbo and company come to the Desolation of the Dragon; Frodo and Sam travel through the desolation that is Mordor and the surrounding lands. They all continue on and pushed through terror and despair and refused to let it strangle them. The hobbits are shining examples for us to follow when the trials of life seem too much. Frodo is such an inspiration, and besides the grace he was given, maybe the example of his cousin/uncle inspired him.
This chapter’s moment of grace comes when Bilbo “had a queer feeling that he was waiting for something.” With that comes the excitement at the end of the chapter as a ray of sunlight comes through clouds and shines on the key to the door into the Mountain that they had been searching for all day without success. It provides the way in and also the great ending to this chapter, which reminds me of the description of the door to the Paths of the Dead that decades later Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the Grey Company will pass through. The words are almost identical: “Darkness flowed from it like a grey vapour” as BBC Radio adaptation describes the latter door. There is no time in Bilbo’s, Frodo’s, or Aragorn’s quests that they were not being watched over. The same is true for us. Our hopes may rise and fall and at times we may not see any light, but God is always there, working with us and for us and beside us. Never doubt that! The darkest parts of our lives could be the thresholds of great light about to enter.
What inspires you about this chapter?
A Warm Welcome
Poor Bilbo with that terrible cold! It’s a wonder that they all didn’t get one and a miracle that they all survived with nothing but a few bruises.
Another moment of grace occurs in the arrival of Bilbo and the dwarves by river to Lake-town and so closer to the Lonely Mountain. The professor makes clear that this is the only way they could have come and so what seemed a terrible disaster in their capture by the Wood-elves was actually a good. So we must trust in our own lives that what seems to be horrible misfortune is actually the preparation for great good or the saving of us from greater harm. God does not allow evil to exist except to bring good out of it as He continually proves later on during the Quest to destroy the Ring. He may bring us into great darkness, as He brought Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, and Aragorn, but He will always be there for us and guide us through. Our enemy may also bring us into the blackness, but God will be there also. He will never abandon us and ever seek us. We can find our way back if we can just find His Hand and hold fast to it. Frodo certainly learned that, even if he wasn’t aware of exactly Who was leading him forward. God is certainly taking care of Bilbo and the dwarves too, even if the way is very rough. We have never been promised a smooth ride, just that we won’t be alone.
Bilbo and the dwarves arrive at Lake-town. Everyone celebrates the return of King Under the Mountain with great festivity.
What is your favorite part in this chapter?