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 reach the halfway point of the book, Chapter 10, “A Warm Welcome,” in which (almost) everyone but Bilbo is pretty happy for a change.
Bilbo, invisible on the raft of barrels, sees the Lonely Mountain and does “not like the way the Mountain seemed to frown at him and threaten him as it drew ever nearer.” In the night the raft comes to Lake-town, which is built literally upon the Long Lake and connected to the shore by a bridge. The elves go to feast, and Bilbo gets all the dwarves out, most rather the worse for the wear.
Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo go to the bridge and surprise the guards there. Thorin declares himself King under the Mountain and demands to be taken to the town’s Master. The guards bring him into the town, where the Master and many others are feasting, and Thorin again declares himself. The elves recognize the dwarves as escaped prisoners, but the townspeople acclaim Thorin before the Master can decide who to side with.
The dwarves spend two weeks recovering and being celebrated (though Bilbo has a hard time shaking his cold), while the Elvenking decides to bide his time. Thorin asks for and receives help from the Master in continuing on to the Mountain, to the Master’s surprise, since he thought they were frauds. They set off across the lake “on the last stage of their long journey,” and “[t]he only person thoroughly unhappy was Bilbo.”
A short transitional chapter, setting the scene in Lake-town. I seem to recall that the Master is later shown to be untrustworthy, and the omniscient narrator sets that up here. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with not “think[ing] much of old songs, giving his mind to trade and tolls, to cargoes and gold, to which habit he owed his position.” Nor is it any great sin, as far as I am concerned, for a leader to be more polite to potentially-powerful individuals than their personal feelings would counsel. Yet the overall effect is clearly underhandedness: the new songs about the death of Smaug and presents to Lake-town could be amusing in other contexts, but the smarminess of his dialogue with Thorin puts it over the top for me:
But the Master was not sorry at all to let them go. They were expensive to keep, and their arrival had turned things into a long holiday in which business was at a standstill. “Let them go and bother Smaug, and see how he welcomes them!” he thought. “Certainly, O Thorin Thrain’s son Thror’s son!” was what he said. “You must claim your own. The hour is at hand, spoken of old. What help we can offer shall be yours, and we trust to your gratitude when your kingdom is regained.”
It’s a neat bit of economical characterization.
As for Lake-town, I somehow did not remember that it’s a town actually on the Lake. This is probably because the non-Mountain scenes do not stick with me now that we have arrived; you’ll have guessed that already, from my not being sure what happens to the Master. Being on the Lake strikes me as more wishful thinking than sound defense against a fire-breather, unless you are scrupulous about keeping everything wet (and how annoying would that be, to live in some place constantly damp?). Which, as I recall, will prove to be the case.
I also hadn’t previously recognized that the town’s marketplace “was a wide circle of quiet water surrounded by the tall piles on which were built the greater houses, and by long wooden quays with many steps and ladders going down to the surface of the lake.” I always vaguely envisioned it as a fairly solid thing, and indeed Tolkien’s illustration looks rather rectangular, but it makes sense that the market would have lots of access to the water, since that’s how much of the trade would come.
The reaction of the people of Lake-town is interesting. Well, first, it’s good to know that Thorin can put on an air of majesty when he needs to. (Also, my edition appears to be missing a “neither,” when Thorin says, “But lock nor bar may hinder the homecoming spoken of old.” Unless this is British idiom?) But I was trying to think of any new arrival that would cause me to join “crowds [that] sat outside and sang songs all day, or cheered if any [companion] showed so much as his nose,” and I can’t. This is probably because I am (1) USian and (2) not religious. U.S. non-religious culture isn’t big on long-awaited prophesied returns, at least not that I’ve been able to think of. No King Arthur, no lost heirs to the former royal family. Religious prophecies of return, sure, we’ve got those, but again, not my thing. I’ve been very excited to meet people who I particularly admired or found charismatic, but not because I expected them to usher in a new era even for my town, you know?
Which, in a nutshell, is why fantasies of political agency have such appeal.
But, getting back to the main point: I can intellectually understand the reaction of the townspeople, but I don’t feel it in my gut, I just don’t share that worldview sufficiently. How did you all react?
(The song in the text does seem like it would be fun to sing, at least, though I’m probably assigning much too simplistic a rhythm to it.)
End of chapter tallies: no updates to dwarf characteristics list, which I carry over for ease of reference as usual:
- 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).
- 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)
- 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? Surprisingly, no (8/9). I thought he would have, since the few bits of foreboding about the Mountain are tied to him, but I didn’t see anything. I predict we will return to this in the next chapter, however, since as I recall we descend out of the warmth of this chapter pretty quickly.
Which is appropriate, as we’ve hit a very cold snap here in upstate New York. Stay warm, those of you similarly affected, and have a good week, everyone else; see you next time, “On the Doorstep.”
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.