Welcome back to the chapter-by-chapter reread of The Hobbit. You can find past posts at the reread index, or you can catch up with our previous reread of The Lord of the Rings. As always, the discussion will contain spoilers for everything Tolkien wrote about Middle-earth (that is: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and various posthumous tidbits); if you haven’t read the book before and would like to remain unspoiled, I recommend reading along with Mark Reads first.
This week, we consider Chapter 13, “Not at Home,” which title has a couple of meanings.
The dwarves and Bilbo wait in silence after Smaug’s attack. When they finally dare to try the door, they discover that there is no exit. The dwarves despair, but Bilbo proposes that they all go down the tunnel, which they agree to, having no other option.
The darkness is so complete that Bilbo actually stumbles and rolls into the hall. He has to pitch a fit to get the dwarves to bring torches, and even then he cannot persuade them to enter. So Bilbo is the one to find the Arkenstone, and under “its enchantment,” he takes it, despite “an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvellous gem, and that trouble would yet come of it.”
Bilbo’s explorations bring him to the large entry doors, where a bat startles him and causes him to drop his torch. He cries for help, and the dwarves go find him and then explore the treasures of the hall. They arm themselves, and Thorin gives Bilbo a mithril coat of mail.
At Bilbo’s prompting, Thorin leads them through the ruins to the Front Gate. They hike to a lookout post without incident. They settle in, and “In all their talk they came perpetually back to one thing: where was Smaug? They looked West and there was nothing, and East there was nothing, and in the South there was no sign of the dragon, but there was a gathering of very many birds. At that they gazed and wondered; but they were no nearer understanding it, when the first cold stars came out.”
So I’m sorry life required me to be largely absent from comments last post after bringing up a controversial subject (I did respond to things last night). Thank you all for being civil about it and disagreeing with me, where you did, in frequently-useful ways. (If you haven’t checked back in a bit, I recommend Rush-That-Speaks’ comment in particular.) This chapter should hopefully be less controversial, though it can’t help but echo some of the issues I raised last time.
This is because this chapter focuses again on Bilbo and the dwarves and their respective attitudes toward risk and treasure. It’s played for comedy a bit:
As Thorin carefully explained, Mr. Baggins was still officially their expert burglar and investigator. If he liked to risk a light, that was his affair. They would wait in the tunnel for his report.
Note that when Bilbo falls and drops his torch, Balin particularly speaks up in favor of going to help, though again with a little comedic flavor: “‘It is about our turn to help,’ said Balin, ‘and I am quite willing to go. Anyway I expect it is safe for the moment.’” Nevertheless, because these are the best dwarves that exist in The Hobbit (though not in Tolkien’s larger body of work), they do go help, and that is unquestionably a significant trait in their collective characters when not under the influence.
Said influence, of course, being not alcohol or pipeweed but treasure. Here again the chapter shows some complexity: on one hand, the dwarves are intrinsically particularly susceptible to the desire for treasure, in contrast to Bilbo, who recovers more quickly. More, they react differently—Bilbo steals, while “a dwarf…grows suddenly bold, and…may become fierce.” But the chapter also emphasizes that the treasure itself has its own independent power, speaking of “the bewitchment of the hoard” and the “enchantment” that Bilbo is under when he takes the Arkenstone. And as in last chapter, Thorin is the first to come to his senses when Bilbo prompts them all to remember practicalities—either I wasn’t looking for that lead role in the early chapters or it’s freshly-emphasized here. (I’ve spent a large chunk of my recent time dealing with a sick kid, so I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to check that. I’ll try to update in a comment.)
What about Bilbo? Well, he takes the Arkenstone (which I vaguely picture as something like a cross between an opal and a diamond; The Annotated Hobbit links it to the Silmarils etymologically, but I don’t think they’re supposed to look alike, because the light caught in the Silmarils is both gold and silver). That’s probably enough for one chapter, heh.
Another thing I did note is that he quotes his father again (twice, even). I can’t quite put my finger on the effect this gives; it’s very hobbit-ly prosaic, I suppose, and more so because it’s from the Baggins side not the Took side. (Also, it is in keeping with the complete absence of women in this book.) I feel like there’s something else here, or possibly that I’m overanalyzing things. Your thoughts?
The bit where he “actually began to stamp on the floor, and screamed out ‘light!’ at the top of his shrill voice,” made me laugh a bit, and I think is supposed to be funny even to people not operating keyboards under the influence of sleep deprivation. Which lighter notes are welcome considering that later they walk through the actual “[s]kulls and bones” of Thorin’s friends and relatives, to get to the Front Gate. (This section, perhaps as a result, did not remind me of Moria until after the fact.)
This chapter ends with an implicit promise of us finding out next time what happened with Smaug—a much-shorter version of the split timelines Tolkien used in The Lord of the Rings. Can anyone with a better grounding in pre-1930s literature than I tell me if the idea of intercutting timelines was just not a thing back then, or if it was a preference of Tolkien specifically? I think today what Tolkien does would be a very unusual choice, which seems intuitively to me to be related to contemporary cinematic styles, though again I don’t have the history to support this.
Finally, the chapter title. At first glance I took it to be a reference to Smaug, who is very much not there. It didn’t occur to me until quite late that it could also be referring to the dwarves, who have far more of a right to call this “home” than the murderer who drove them out. (Mountain-jacking?) And it’s quite true, they’re back in their former city but they are not at home, not yet. They don’t dare stay without knowing where Smaug is, and they don’t have any significantly greater hopes of evicting him than before (as Bilbo points out: “We are armed, but what good has any armour ever been before against Smaug the Dreadful?”). I don’t think I can quite stretch this to be foreshadowing that Thorin will never be at home here, unfortunately.
Dwarf characteristics roundup:
- Thorin: long-winded and self-important (Chapter 1). Good with a bow and perceiving the possible need for it (Chapter 8). Capable of stubbornness when he perceives his treasure being threatened (Chapter 8). Sees the necessity for practical action first among the dwarves (Chapters 12, 13).
- Dori and Nori “shared the hobbit’s views about regular meals, plenty and often.” (Chapter 2)
- Dori is “a decent fellow” (Chapter 4, 6) and the strongest (Chapter 8).
- Oin and Gloin are “specially good at” making fire. (Chapter 2)
- Balin “was always their look-out man.” (Chapter 2), and shows a particular concern for Bilbo (Chapters 12, 13).
- Fili and Kili “had very sharp eyes” and are “the youngest of the dwarves by some fifty years” (Chapter 4), though of the two, Fili is apparently the youngest and has the sharpest eyes (Chapter 8).
- Bombur is “fat.” (Chapter 4, 6)
Does Bilbo think wistfully of his home in this chapter? No, surprisingly (10/12). He wishes for “a drink of something cheering out of one of Beorn’s wooden bowls,” and a looking-glass, but not to be at home.
Dragon next time, and if I recall correctly neither dwarves nor hobbits. See you then.
Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at Dreamwidth and her booklog. She also runs Con or Bust, which helps fans of color attend SFF cons and is conducting an online fundraising auction through February 24, 2013.