Thu
Feb 28 2013 1:00pm

The Hobbit Reread: Chapter 14, “Fire and Water”

The Hobbit reread on Tor.com 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 14, “Fire and Water,” in which we leave Bilbo and the dwarves for major happenings elsewhere.

 

What Happens

The narrative jumps back two days to the people of Lake-town, who see a golden light from the Mountain and rejoice, thinking that the legends have come true—all except Bard, who correctly has the town prepare for Smaug. The dragon is thus briefly foiled (and enraged) when he finds the bridges cut, but manages to set fire to the town despite the many arrows the townspeople fire at him. Bard, nearly the last person defending the town, is astonished to find the old thrush from the doorway telling him about Smaug’s unarmored spot. He shoots Smaug there, killing him. Smaug’s fall destroys the town entirely.

On the shore, the townspeople try to acclaim Bard as their King; the Master points out that Bard is descended from the lord of Dale, not the town, and he and anyone else can go back there now—and, also, what about those dwarves who stirred up the dragon in the first place, aren’t they the ones you should really be angry at? Which is a fine distraction and allows the Master to keep receiving the physical comforts of being in charge while Bard does all the actual work.

Meanwhile, birds have spread news of Smaug’s fall far and wide. In response, the Elvenking rides out. Though he detours to aid the people of Lake-town, he, many Elf warriors, and the men of arms of Lake-town soon head for the Mountain.

 

Comments

When I first read this chapter for this project, I put down my ereader and thought, “I ought to like this better than I do, and I don’t know why.” So I read it again. And then again, to make notes. And then I went away for a few days and came back and read it again.

Here’s what I’ve decided. There’s nothing wrong with this chapter, but it doesn’t make me happy. And that’s because it—very effectively!—takes a cool big heroic set-piece, the death of Smaug, and immediately shows the start of the sordid aftermath. There’s no time for “Ding-dong, the dragon’s dead,” no joy or celebration, just blame and politicking and unashamed greed.

In other words, the chapter applies psychological reality to characters’ reactions and requires me to confront my narrative expectations, and I can respect that intellectually even if I don’t love it emotionally.

Anyway. Before we get into all that: can anyone tell me why Smaug is thwarted to find the bridges cut? Specifically:

Amid shrieks and wailing and the shouts of men he came over them, swept towards the bridges and was foiled! The bridge was gone, and his enemies were on an island in deep water—too deep and dark and cool for his liking. If he plunged into it, a vapour and a steam would arise enough to cover all the land with a mist for days; but the lake was mightier than he, it would quench him before he could pass through.

Yes, true, water is bad for fire-breathers, but Smaug my dear, you can fly. What do you care if the ground-based approach to your enemies is gone? Surely it’s better to attack from above, where you can only be reached by projectile weapons?

Seriously, I find this completely baffling. What am I missing?

As for the death of Smaug: Terry Pratchett may have had his characters observe, when they were trying to hit a dragon’s vulnerable spot in Guards! Guards!, that “last desperate million-to-one chances always work,” [*] but Tolkien sets up this last desperate chance pretty carefully. Smaug is “blind and mad with” his rage at being opposed by the fighters of Lake-town, so that when he starts diving into the town, “reckless in his rage,” he took “no heed to turn his scaly sides towards his foes.” Bard, of course, has a magical bird to tell him exactly where to aim. The moon rises just in time to show Bard the right place. He has a special arrow, a family heirloom, that may have been originally made by the dwarves under the Mountain. Heck, with all that, it was practically a sure thing, so it’s amazing that it worked at all.

[*] I know what many Pratchett fans are thinking now, but the specific idea that “Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten” does not, in fact, appear in Guards! Guards!, at least if my ebook’s search function can be trusted. Many other Discworld books, but not this one.

Personally, I’m just glad Bard’s special black arrow didn’t talk back to him like Turin’s sword, because that was creepy.

Regarding the characters involved in the Lake-town section:

Does Bard feel like a trial run for Strider to anyone else? Dour, considered a bit out there by those around him, but exceedingly competent and proved right in the pinch? I don’t believe he gets the time to be more interesting than that, so for now he’s another thing about this chapter I respect rather than like.

The Master continues to be characterized as plausibly and perfectly loathsome. And to some extent the chapter suggests that he’s what the townspeople deserve, because they are so susceptible to his blatant manipulations:

As you see, the Master had not got his position for nothing. The result of his words was that for the moment the people quite forgot their idea of a new king, and turned their angry thoughts towards Thorin and his company. Wild and bitter words were shouted from many sides; and some of those who had before sung the old songs loudest, were now heard as loudly crying that the dwarves had stirred the dragon up against them deliberately!

Finally, there’s Smaug, who turns out to be not only a cautionary tale against greed but also against not having any fun. He’s only around for Bard to kill because “[j]ust now he was enjoying the sport of town-baiting more than he had enjoyed anything for years.” Smaug, if only you’d taken up poetry or something, you wouldn’t have needed to get your kicks terrorizing Lake-town, and you’d have taken care of business and been gone before the moon rose and the thrush found Bard.

As for the setting up of future events: finders-keepers is probably an accurate depiction of people’s attitude toward treasure in these kinds of societies? My mindset is such that I can’t help but be critical of the Elvenking for setting out to take what he can get—what possible claim does he have? Bard I consider to have some justification because I imagine Smaug plundered Dale too, but the only motivation that the Elvenking can be acting on is “hey, it’s there,” which is something I understand but don’t sympathize with.

I tried to track down how obvious it should be to everyone that there are still dwarves out there with ancestral ties to those driven out by Smaug, and I was surprised by what I found. Thorin says there were very few survivors; he doesn’t give numbers, so it may actually be the case that all the survivors are on this quest, or at least that the people who dealt with them could think that. Thorin calls Dain in the Iron Hills his cousin (in Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings they are second cousins); later in this book, the Elvenking says that he’s heard of Dain “a long time ago” and doesn’t see his relevance to the current issue. So, it might actually be reasonable for everyone to think that there was no living dwarf who was heir to the former Kings under the Mountain. I’m never going to be gut-level happy with first-come first-served as a principle for the disposition of property that had been stolen from known legal owners, but within the context of the characters’ values systems, the possible absence of obvious dwarf claimants casts a better light on the Elves’ behavior.

No end-of-chapter tallies because no dwarves or Bilbo. See you next time when we return to them.


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.

There and Back Again... Again: The Hobbit Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
56 comments
Thomas Thatcher
1. StrongDreams
A dragon that can land in front of his prey can aim his fire more accurately and also can bite, grab and eat things more easily.
Herb3
2. Herb3
This chapter is a particularly good example of how thoroughly Tolkien subverted the tropes of the old fantastical myths (many of which were nonetheless resurrected in full by his much-maligned poor imitators).
Kit Case
3. wiredog
In FoTR the author says something along the lines of treasure that is mysteriously obtained, if not positively ill-gotten, being anyone's for the finding.
Herb3
4. Involunteer
Flying is very energy intensive, and I imagine breathing fire would be too. It would be much simpler for Smaug to be able to land than engage in (probably inaccurate) strafing attacks.
David Levinson
5. DemetriosX
I'm with Kate on the bridge issue, though I suppose StrongDreams @1 has it. Smaug might also be a little worried about misjuding a dive or a turn close to the water and winding up in the lake.

Pratchett was undoubtedly riffing on this scene in part in Guards!, Guards! Of course, there are other influences from lesser works as well as TV and movies in his "It's a million to one, but it just might work!" The idea that the million-to-one chance is as good as a sure thing on the Disc probably evolved over time in later books.

The Elven king's claims probably stem from age-old elf/dwarf enmity, anger at the dwarves' escape from his dungeons, and a memory of having given or traded a number of very nice things to the dwarves in the past. Of all the other leaders, he would also be most likely to be thinking of the Arkenstone.

Looking at it objectively, the people of Lake-town do have at least a partial claim, since Smaug undoubtedly looted Dale. But I know that my sympathy the first time I read this was entirely with the dwarves and their claim. I think Tolkien is indicating that we should feel that way. Certainly, the idea coming from the Master and his underhanded reasons for stirring the people up just to hold on to his power argues against a human claim. (Although, Bard later legitimizes the claim somewhat as a true and rightful king and a hero.)
Pamela Adams
6. Pam Adams
This chapter was the most surprising part of the re-read to me. I had entirely forgotten that the dwarves and Bilbo didn't kill Smaug. Certainly they would have done so in a traditional tale. (Yeah, Beowulf showed up, but the shopkeeper down the road killed Grendel)
Steven Halter
7. stevenhalter
Also, if Smaug was able to land on the bridge his tender underbelly would not have been exposed. Walk forward, roast, eat, repeat.
Herb3
8. pilgrimsoul
I think Kate is on to something about Bard being a proto Aragorn. He Just Happens to be the Lost Heir of Dale after all.
And don't all the townspeople, Bard, the Elvenking and all think Thorin and Co. are fried? They are pretty much showing up to do some salvage and are astonished (and disappointed?) to find Thorin still alive and very much in possession.
Herb3
9. Gardner Dozois
I always found this chapter somewhat disappointing. I wanted Bilbo to be the one to defeat the dragon--which I suppose he was, in a way, spotting the vulnerable spot, talking about it to the dwarves, being overheard by the thrush, who then went to tell Bard about it, but I liked the face-to-face exchanges between Smaug and Bilbo, and would have been happier if they'd both been in the same place at the same time when Smaug was defeated, rather than Smaug's defeat happening, from Bilbo's point of view, offstage.

I suppose that Bard could be considered to be an early draft of Strider, the grim, silent, competent man distrusted by those around him, but he pops up at the last possible moment in the plot, so there's a rather perfunctory air about him, and you don't have time to come to know him at all before his big moment upon the stage, which drains some suspense from the battle.

They're going to have trouble with this scene in the movie; having a little birdie fly down and tell Bard how to kill the dragon is going to be hard to do on the screen without having it seem silly, and I wonder if they'll handle it some other way altogether.

I too wondered why tearing the bridge down would be all that much of a bar to Smaug, who can fly; I think the most plausible answer is DemetriosX's, that Smaug would be worried about misjudging a dive or a turn close to the water and ending up plunging into the lake by mistake.

The men of Laketown, not just those descended from people who lived in Dale, do absolutely have a claim on at least some of the treasure; it was helping the dwarves on their quest that caused Smaug to attack and destroy their whole town in retribution, killing many of them. In fact, you could argue that it was BILBO who caused the destruction of Laketown, by stealing the goblet, so enraging the dragon by this act that, once he couldn't get at the dwarves, and knowing that the Laketown folk had helped them, he flew off to attack the town in retribution. If the dwarves hadn't come, and if Bilbo hadn't enraged the dragon by stealing the goblet, the town wouldn't have been destroyed and those people who were killed wouldn't have died. So it seems to me that the Laketown folk absolutely have a claim on some of the treasure. The Elvenking, less so, and it's hard to argue against the idea that knowing that the dragon was dead and assuming that the dwarves were too, he set out to seize the treasure because he knew that it was just sitting around undefended, or so he thought. Which does seem a bit self-servingly greedy for Elves.
Herb3
10. Porphyrogenitus
Re: the bridges. I assume that, since it was specifically mentioned that Smaug only forgot to be watchful of presenting his belly because he was overcome with anger, it can be inferred that ordinarily he takes especial caution to protect his underside.

I would guess that his preferred method of attack was to appear suddenly, land (thereby protecting his only vulnerable point), and murder everything systematically, using claws, teeth, and tail as much as flame. The bridges being taken down prevented this plan, which forced him to attack on the wing, where his strafing runs would be more haphazard and the arrows were able to anger him such that he grew careless and vulnerable.
Liz J
11. Ellisande
While I acknowledge the text does make it pretty clear that Thranduil is primarily interested in salvaging the treasure, I think Mirkwood has suffered somewhat under the dragon as well. It had to be a concern that Smaug, once he denuded Dale and Erebor, might go after the Mirkwood caverns next. Their place isn't that far away, relatively, and I'd think any responsible ruler would have worried over an attack.

And given how the rest pans out, I don't think he ever intended to take it all for the elves. Or if he did think that, he abandons the idea pretty quickly. But he also is aware that other parties, including orcs, will go after it (he brings an army, so he knows the taking might not be uncontested). And once he finds out that Lake-town was destroyed, he allies with them right away. I don't think it says so, but I tend to the idea that he thought everyone in Lake-town was dead, too, and when he discovers they're still alive, that's what changes his plan.

But for the chapter itself, I've always thought it was terribly anticlimactic, and feels like Tolkien rushed to dispose of the dragon and move all the pieces around for the big fight. The entire aftermath is basically a laundry list of Things that Happen Afterward, shoved in at the end of the chapter like he had to get through it as quickly as possible.

Though this chapter is one of the ones that helped me understand more than one movie, though. There's only nine pages of text, but those pages are super dense: they cover the death of Smaug, the destruction of the town, Bard and the Master, and then the entire Elven march. The movie can't brush through those eleven days as Tolkien does with just a couple of lines of narration. Even if they montage some of it, it's still a couple of conversations that'll have to be filled in.
Liz J
12. Ellisande
instead of my fail double post, I'll add that I'm amused that the elvenking heard of Dain "a long time ago." Dude, you're an elf, it can't have been that long ago. Unless he's making a snarky point about Dain I, who was the most recent common ancestor between Thorin and Dain II, and who lived long enough ago that yeah, Dain II's claim is pretty distant. And of a lineage that left Erebor to found the Iron Hills, so y'know, at least by some reckoning, abandoned their claim anyway.
Herb3
13. oliveramy
Ellisande @ 13. Thank goodness for three movies, then, right? So things in text just dont translate well into movie. It'll be interesting to see how Jackson handles this chapter.

It'll also be very interesting to see how he handles the thrush. We see the thrush at the very end of the movie (and the Doorstep looks nothing like what I had imagined.) Since Jackson decided to leave out the Eagles' talking, it will be very interesting to see how he handles not only the thrush, but Beorn's animals as well.
I have seen the movie more times than I care to admit, but I did pick up on the Rhosgobel Rabbits muttering amongst themselves as they nearly left Radagast behind in the Necromancer scene. So far, those have been the only talking animals in Jackson's Middle Earth.
I guess we can only speculate and wait at this point.
Herb3
14. Gardner Dozois
The rabbits talked in the movie? I totally missed that, and would have said that Jackson wasn't going to have any of the animals talking that talk in the book: eagles, spiders, Beorn's servants, thrushes. That would seem to go along with the aesthetic he evolved in the LOTR movies.

The thrush fluttering down and telling Bard where to aim is going to look silly anyway, if they're not very careful, even if other animals do talk.

I agree with Ellisande. The climax of the book SHOULD have been Smaug being defeated by Bilbo and the dwarves, instead the defeat is glossed over quickly and somewhat anticlimatically and all the climax of the book is The Battle of the Five Armies. I guess that shows that Tolkien's interest was in the Middle Earth history, and he considered the runup with Smaug to be more of a reason to be able to have the Battle than a thing in itself. But having coming up with a villain as magnificent as Smaug, he really should have been more central to the last part of the book.
Alan Brown
15. AlanBrown
I agree with @2, this chapter is an example of Tolkein working against the tropes of traditional myth.
I think there is a prototype for both Bard and Aragorn, especially in his Strider phase. That prototype is the sergeant who is the backbone of the Army. Competent, quiet, not putting on airs, but there when you need him to get his hands dirty, stiffen the troops and take the battle to the foe. Someone who can look a dragon, or an army of the dead, in the eye without flinching. I suspect that both characters draw from real life examples that Tolkein encountered during his WWI service.
And again, the fact that the narrative does not follow a more predictable and satisfying arc also draws from wartime service, where the best laid plans of men (and especially generals) often go astray.
Herb3
16. EmmaPease
The Elven king was moved by desire for the treasure, but, there were also good reasons to make sure the apparently now unoccupied Lonely Mountain wasn't taken over by some other enemy force (e.g., orcs) to use as a staging point for attacks elsewhere such as Mirkwood (and orcs unlike a dragon don't tend to sleep for several decades between attacks).
Herb3
17. Rush-That-Speaks
Re: the bridges: attacking from the air means Smaug cannot eat any of the Laketowners, or their livestock, and cannot steal any of their belongings to add to his hoard (a major consideration for a dragon, after all). He can destroy all the property, but not possess it; and the people escaping will scatter and be harder to chase down. I think he would have preferred coming over a bridge and having the townsfolk attempt to fight him until it turned out to be too late for them to escape-- keep them in a group in the town as long as possible.

Re: the Mountain: the treasure is something of a complication to the strategic point that in a land containing orcs, Wargs, and the threat of the Necromancer you do not leave a fortress so solid it can only be conquered by dragon sitting empty. I mean, Thorin and company could have defended the Mountain by themselves against non-dragon adversaries-- that's a good fortress! Seriously, if the orcs got in there they'd never have gotten them out again, which is a chunk of what the Battle of Five Armies is about: the forces of evil have lost a major citadel and the balance of power in the region destabilizes with a crash.

This is why I love The Hobbit as an anti-epic so much: the overarching plot appears to be about the dragon, about the hero slaying the dragon, about the return of heirs to long-conquered kingdoms. And to some extent, the book is about that, but it's also about the way that these things do not take place in a vacuum, and one hobbit's moral decisions may be far more important than the weight of how stories are supposed to work. And the end result is that not only is the dragon gone, but the strength of the orcs of the Misty Mountains is removed for basically a generation... an outcome which Gandalf, at least, regards as more important than pretty much anything else in the book.

This chapter is purposeful anticlimax, because the events which take place in it aren't where our focus is supposed to be. As with all anticlimaxes, it's aggravating. It's meant to aggravate. If this weren't an anticlimax, the Battle of Five Armies wouldn't be anything like as interesting as it turns out to be.
Birgit
18. birgit
There is a precedent for the thrush in the movies: Gandalf using the moth to call help both in LotR on Orthanc and in the first Hobbit movie.
Herb3
19. Dr. Thanatos
Interesting chapter as noted above, JRRT overturns the idea that defeating the dragon is the climax; it's the aftermath that counts.

I have a creepy question about the Elven-king: If he is there to help the Men of the Lake, as he says, and if he is also there to collect treasure from the (clearly stated as unguarded) Mountain, why does he show up with an army? Sounds like he has an ulterior motive, such as laying claim to Mountain, Dale, and remnants of Laketown before Dain can make it in from the Iron Hills. Perhaps he has plans to build an Evil Lighthouse at the edge of the Long Lake?
Herb3
20. Gardner Dozois
@ 18 On the other hand, although you could see Gandalf speaking to the moth, it didn't say anything BACK. It didn't say, "Hiya, Gandalf, this is another right mess you've gotten yourself into, haven't you? Glad to see me? Oh right, go get the fucking eagles again, I know, I know, its always the same thing."

It's going to be hard to show the thrush conveying the vital information to Bard without having it trill, "Bard, you nitwit! Shoot it in the belly next time it comes over!", which I still think is going to look a bit silly.
Herb3
21. Cassanne
Well, they could have the bird fly up to the dragon, peck him in the vulnerable spot and draw a drop of blood, in a beam of moonlight or something. That's my guess.
Herb3
22. Dr. Thanatos
Perhaps the thrush could:

Do an interpretive dance like a honeybee
Pantomime sticking something in the breast of a winged creature
Hand Bard a note saying "Shoot him in the chest, you idiot. Signed, A Friend"

The amusing possibilities for Bard trying to figure this out are limitless.
Michael Ikeda
23. mikeda
Obviously we simply have the thrush tweet the message... :-)

Seriously, the simplest thing to do would probably be for Bard to say something along the lines of "The left breast, you say" in response to the thrush.
Herb3
24. Dr. Thanatos
Mikeda,

And the Master overhears this and says to one and all "He gets messages from birds. Who do you want to make king again?"
Herb3
25. Gardner Dozois
"Bard! Baby! Sweetheart! In the CHEST, you moron, on the left side! In the CHEST. Jeez, you want anything done right, you got to do it yourself! What, are you deaf? IN THE CHEST!"
alastair chadwin
26. a-j
Rush-That-Speaks@17

I agree absolutely. Smaug's death is deliberately underplayed by Tolkien as part of his mischievous deconstruction of epic tropes - the reason, fwiw, I adore this book so much.

As to what the elves etc are doing and the morality of their actions, I think it is fairly clear that it is pure and simple greed. Isn't the elf-king described early as being overfond of gold? At this point, the elves aren't the perfect beings that Tolkien portrays in LOTR, they are more akin to humans and act badly, but never too badly because they are elves and therefore good people. The point is that everyone except Bilbo and Gandalf are willing to kill to obtain/keep the treasure and it is only the goblin threat that stops them. Grim, but depressingly recognisable.
Herb3
27. Dr. Thanatos
I picture the thrush setting up an easel, mounting a diagram of a dragon with arrows and circles and such like a pre-mission military lecture. Appropriate for a bird colonel...
Herb3
28. Dr. Thanatos
Insert imagery from Star Wars briefing with video of black arrow penetrating armor of dragon causing explosion...
Herb3
29. Dr. Thanatos
a-j,

What you say about the charming elves is true. But I continue to wonder, why does the elf-king need an army to loot an unguarded treasure.

I suspect that he was waiting for the balance of power to shift to make his move. Why do you think the Dwarves were able to escape so easily by such a ridiculous plan? You think the butler brought the good wine to the guard that night by coincidence (as some in Middle-Earth call it?) No, I suspect the Dwarves were let go so they could stir up the Dragon, destroy those parasitic leeches of Laketown. Then the King's pet thrush gets Bard to off Smaug. The ever-victorious Elf army marches in to the power vacuum and he rules everything from Mirkwood to the borders of the Iron Hills. Obvious in retrospect...
Kate Nepveu
30. katenepveu
Hi, all.

Thank you for ideas on why Smaug would prefer to land; those all make sense to me. Except for the bit about protecting his belly, because he seems to certain that it's armored when he shows it off to Bilbo.

Herb3 @ #2, yes, a lot of third-hand copies of Tolkien give rather the wrong impression about a lot of the things in his books.

wiredog @ #3, right, that's a line about hobbits' attitude, and if anything I'd expect them to have more of a strict attitude about this since they love contracts, so that is indeed evidence.

DemetriosX @ #5, a city person trying to shoot a flying dragon with a lucky arrow might be the most direct and extensive Tolkien reference that Pratchett has ever done, actually.

Pam Adams @ #6, I did knew and yet I still was a little surprised when I got to the mystery of where's-Smaug and said to myself, "Oh, right, he doesn't come _back_ to the Mountain!"

pilgrimsoul @ #8, they do indeed think the dwarves are toast.

Gardner Dozois @ #9, I'm fascinated to hear you wanted Bilbo to defeat Smaug more directly. Would you have preferred that he take the place of the thrush, then?

Ellisande @ #11, there is a certain sense of anticlimax, which must have been another thing that was bothering me even though I didn't call it quite that, you're right. I'm inclined to think both that the effect was deliberate and that it contributes effectively to the overall theme of the book, but again, respect it don't love it.

and @ #12, not only is the Elvenking an Elf, but at this point he's _Thingol_, who's been ruling this part of the world since the First Age! (Tolkien had a better idea later.)

AlanBrown @ #15, I feel like Strider and Bard are too much outsiders to have strong military analogues, but as a source of examples of competence, sure.

EmmaPease @ #16, Rush-That-Speaks @ #17, excellent point about the strategic nature of the Mountain . . . which this chapter entirely fails to convey as a motivation for the Elvenking. ("'That will be the last we shall hear of Thorin Oakenshield, I fear,' said the king. 'He would have done better to have remained my guest. It is an ill wind, all the same,' he added, 'that blows no one any good.' For he too had not forgotten the legend of the wealth of Thror. So it was that Bard's messengers found him now marching with many spearmen and bowmen . . . ")

mikeda @ #23, GROAN.

The rest of you, you are very silly and you made me laugh, thank you.
Herb3
31. Gardner Dozois
Having Bilbo assume the role of the thrush would make a good deal of sense, acutally, although getting him from the Lonely Mountain to Laketown in time would present some logistical difficulties, unless they move Laketown to being right next to the Mountain (which is not impossible). Actually, it would be so much easier and so much less silly-looking to film Bilbo filling the role of the thrush that I wonder if Jackson might not really do it that way.

If you're going to claim a vast treasure that is supposedly lying unguarded, it makes sense to take an army along with you to prevent somebody from taking it from you in turn, especially in wild and dagerous country full of bandits and orcs, so I can't really fault the Elvenking for that.
Herb3
32. (still) Steve Morrison
Here is how Tolkien originally planned to kill the dragon, in the jottings which Rateliff designates “Plot Notes C”:
Dragon comes back at last and sleeps exhausted by battle. Bilbo plunges in his little magic knife and it disappears. He cannot wield the swords or spears. Throes of dragon. Smashes walls and entrance to tunnel. Bilbo floats away in a golden bowl on D’s blood, till it comes to rest in a deep dark hole. When it is cool he wades out, and becomes hard & brave. Discovers sources of Running River and floats out through Front Door, in a golden bowl. Found by the scouts of the Lake-men.
He later slashed out this entire passage (and some material before and after it) and wrote in the margin: “Dragon killed in the battle of the Lake”. He then wrote a chapter generally similar to the published one; but at first the sentence “And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth, but not of Bard” read “And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth and Bard”.
Herb3
33. Dr. Thanatos
Gardner,

I don't know. It seems to me that there's a difference between an escort to protect precious cargo and a full-blown army that is capable of taking on a whole buncha goblins and wargs. This Elven-King came prepared for a full-scale battle.

I still think Elven-King has something up his sleeve other than an arm that has a bunch of missing Dwarf Rings...
Herb3
34. pilgrimsoul
@ Dr. T.
Indeed there seems to be a power vaccuum around Erebor, and an Eleven Army can always come in handy--you know--just in case . . .
Herb3
35. Dr. Thanatos
Pilgrimsoul,

They didn't mention if Legolas brought any oliphants with him on this little expedition. Not for military purposes, of course; we know how he loves to use them for skateboarding...
Herb3
36. Gardner Dozois
Interesting thought, one I hadn't had before, that Legolas was probably out there amongst the Elves that the Elvenking had brought with him from Mirkwood. Wonder if Gimli was out there among the dwarves from Dain? Or is he too young? Legolas certainly ought to be old enough to have been there.

Everyone who WAS there could be recognized afterwards by their I SURVIVED THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES t-shirts.
Robert Evans
37. bobsandiego
I think the most liekyl answer to the throny thrush tangle is that thrust will still be the key, but it will not speak and tell Bard the answer, but show by way of flying to the exposed spot. (I see someone has already suggested this, consider this my second.) the problem with speaking is that so far only wizards have been shown communication with animal. (Gandlof with Shadow Fax and assorted moths, Saruman with his murder fo crows/raven, and Radaghast with the forest creatures.) There's no establishment for a non magical human understanding an animal on that level.
Rankin/Bass in the Animated film had Bard understanding and doing to cliche both side of the convesation to clue in the viewers.
Herb3
38. (still) Steve Morrison
According to Unfinished Tales, Gimli was too young. At one point he says the following:
I knew Thorin, of course; and I wish I had been there, but I was away at the time of your first visit to us. And I was not allowed to go on the quest: too young, they said, though at sixty-two I thought myself fit for anything.
Kate Nepveu
39. katenepveu
(still) Steve Morrison @ #32, for all the problems caused by Tolkien's constant rewriting and rethinking, I've got to say that he really avoided a lot of terrible ideas in the process, and that is one of them.
Herb3
40. Gardner Dozois
Probably just as well he rewrote that particular ending, especially the river of blood part, although sneaking up on Smaug, using his ring, and stabbing him in the vulnerable patch he'd spotted was where I thought matters were going to go the first time I read this.
Herb3
41. Bolg
Well, having survived my first viewing of The Hobbit (The Movie: Part 1), I can say this: in the movie Dale is perched under The Front Gate of Erebor. In the book it's between four and eight hours steady tramping distance down the valley. It's likely that the distance between Laketown and Erebor will also be shortened.

Thingol's motives in this chapter are well-established by his character description in "Flies and Spiders":
If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems; and though his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old.
So I took it that he was making plans to take the "long-forgotten gold" and other wealth that lay inside the now-empty Lonely Mountain, and taking his army to make an official claim to it.
For he too had not forgotten the legend of the wealth of Thror. So it was that Bard's messengers found him now marching with many spearmen and bowmen;
This chapter took me by surprise as well in my first reading.
Herb3
42. rausantaella
Just so you know, yes, it's in Guards! Guards? Colon is trying to feather the dragon from a rooftop - but is that a million to one chance? Surely not. Surely something like a half a million to one chance, and that doesn't sound right. So they start trying ludicrous things.
Herb3
43. Gardner Dozois
@38 That rules out Gimli, but you'd still think that Legolas would have been there; he's a Woods Elf from Mirkwood, and he's certainly old enough. Is there anything that says specifically one way or the other?
Herb3
44. pilgrimsoul
I have been pondering the matter and I don't think the movie thrush and Bard scene is going to be that problamatical. Thrush flies in under Smaug's radar. Finds Bard, perches on shoulder, chirps in ear. Bard looks up from contemplation of Black Arrow. Hmm
Herb3
45. (still) Steve Morrison
I'm not aware of anything at all in canon about what Legolas was up to at the time of The Hobbit (and I'm reasonably sure I'd know about it if there was anything).
Kate Nepveu
46. katenepveu
Bolg @ #41, thanks for the report on the location of movie!Dale.

pilgrimsoul @ #44, simplest is sometimes best, though Jackson et al. don't seem to have that as a significant guiding principle . . .
Herb3
47. Gardner Dozois
Well, without anything specific to say otherwise, I'd think that probably means that Legolas was there for the Battle of the Five Armies. That would be the way to bet it, anyway. Interesting.

If they move Laketown to being at the foot of the Lonely Mountain, that makes it more likely that they might have Bilbo assume the role of the thrush.
Sorcha O
48. sushisushi
An idea about the thrush and the involvement of Bilbo - rather than the thrush doing an interpretative dance, maybe Bilbo ties a note to its leg and sends it off to find Bard? I haven't read the later chapters for long enough that I can't remember if someone sends the thrush to warn Bard, or if it does it of it's own bat, but that might be one less-silly way of conveying the necessary information to Bard (although I *do* like the tiny whiteboard idea :)
Herb3
49. Gardner Dozois
Just found out that the late Joanna Russ wrote a stageplay adaptation of THE HOBBIT. Now THAT sounds like something that would be interesting to read!
Kate Nepveu
50. katenepveu
sushisushi @ #48, the thrush is acting on its own, but as a messenger might work too--this would require them _meeting_ Bard ahead of time, but that's probably a good thing so he comes less out of nowhere.

We can at least say that the thrush will be a part of it, given the ending of the first movie (and looking better to me, as a CG creation, than the Eagles).
Herb3
51. Bolg
Just a revision on my distance estimations - it'd be closer to four hours. During the reign of the King under the Mountain, the roads would have been maintained, and I daresay it would've been in the order of an hour or an hour-and-a-half. The dragon doesn't do public work projects such as roads ... though he'll eat anyone who does ... :)

@49. Gardner Dozois

any chance of getting Joanna Russ' The Hobbit stageplay published? I for one would buy it - Joanna Russ is one of my favourite sixties/seventies feminist authors.
Herb3
52. Gorbag
Two points to consider in the movie adaption concerning our good friends the speaking birds, including the Star Billing the humble thrush:

PJ's already introduced a couple of characters with bona fide "talk-with-the-animal" ability: Gandalf and Radagast. And he's already introduced the thrush, flying off the Erebor ahead of the dwarves and Bilbo then on top of the Carrack - it's one of the last minor details of the first installment, though I suspect most people didn't notice it.

I assume the thrush will turn up in Laketown, and bring Bard to our attention?
Herb3
53. (still) Steve Morrison
I imagine the Elvenking’s behavior in showing up with an army is simply a holdover from the drafts, where everyone except the dwarves (and Bilbo) became very greedy at the thought of the unguarded treasure. Rateliff also points out that in some early versions of the Silmarillion, Thingol had sent out a party to loot the treasure of Nargothrond after Glaurung was killed; so this type of thing was in character for him!
Herb3
54. grantimatter
It never occurred to me that Smaug would want to enter the town on foot. I always thought he was anxious about steam. I imagine big clouds of it would make his wings soggy, make it hard to see what he was doing and put his internal fires out.

Bridges big enough to reach the town would suppress the steam or at least keep dragonfire from hitting the water directly.

No textual evidence for any of that, though.
Herb3
55. Thomas Cardew
Hhmm, I've been away for awhile and am just now catching up on the reread. I might just be projecting my pro-elven bias here but one thing, I don't think I saw anyone mention as a reason for the elven army: Logistics.

Armies are large, complicated, expensive, and can be diffucult to move around. As a result they become quite good at it. While today in there are several organization capable of moving vast quantities of anything across vast distance, back in the middle ages? Not so much. Move anything as vast as a fourteenth of the dragon hoard would involve, hundreds of men, horses, and wagons. Lots of food, and then guards for all the associated. Even if all the elf king wanted to was loot the treasure, he would have had to bring his army with him because it would be the only ready organization prepared to feed and move itself across that distance.
Kate Nepveu
56. katenepveu
Thomas Cardew, that is a perfectly good reason that is not hinted at all in the text.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment