The Hobbit Read-Along: A Warm Welcome

Hot food, comfortable clothes, soft beds, and happy cheers.

It seems that Thorin & Co have finally reached a safe stage in their travels. Even, dare we say it, a peaceful stage. A nice chapter.

It sets my teeth on edge.

This entire chapter is eerily unsettling to me.

I feel much more at home in the Mirkwood chapter, even though that is rife with deprivation and danger. As Jubilare points out, there is something in that perilous umbra that appeals to our aesthetic sense.

But somehow the juicy comforts this chapter echo the unease of Riddles in the Dark.

Although the chapter opens with the awkward position of barrel-riding, it seems that thing are getting better: the day is getting warmer, it becomes clear that the adventurers could never have traveled by any other way, and we the readers are given the privileged information that Gandalf is heading back.

But all that is very quickly – in the second paragraph! – is overshadowed by the Lonely Mountain. Both actually and metaphorically. Just as the solitary dominates the landscape, it start to dominate the atmosphere of the story.

Both Bilbo and the narrator (ahem! *cough cough*) seem to feel that something is  . . . not well. The sleek present town squats in the remnants of the rotting “greater” town. The lore of ancient days does live, “but this pleasant legend did not much effect their  daily business”.

And so our first encounter with Men finds them sadly prosaic.

The newly released dwarves seek and find a warm welcome in the town. At least, from the common people. The good Master of the town is dubious, but indulgent.

Thus far, all the untruths that our heroes tell have been fairly excusable. Sympathetic, even. What good would telling Gollum the truth do?

And when the people of the Laketown assume that the legends will come true literally, it does seem a waste of breath to correct them. But when the more practical townsfolk assume that part of the recovered treasure will belong to the town, the dwarves shuffle their feet and look the other way.

This is an omission that promises, at the very best, a very uncomfortable return journey.

And then, the dwarves continue to take advantage of the hospitality of these people. This is something that they would never have dared done with Beorn.

This marks what seems to be a change in the dwarvish attitude, and the first indication that Thorin’s pride might be something more dangerous than simple haughtiness.

So, helped along by the equably false Master, they depart on the last leg of the journey. They are sent away with provisions and songs, and only little Bilbo is “thoroughly unhappy”.

Not just, I believe, at the prospect of  facing a dragon, but also false hopes arisen from this “warm welcome”.


14 thoughts on “The Hobbit Read-Along: A Warm Welcome

  1. Is “Jubilee” a new nickname or a spell-checker-attack? If the former, I like it, if the latter, I thought you oughta know. 😉
    Also? “Umbra” is a fantastic word!
    I agree with you. This chapter is distinctly un-restful, and the somewhat slimy Master of the town makes me uncomfortable. It’s a good introduction to our grim archer, too. He has a clearer view of what is coming than the others seem to.
    I don’t doubt that the dwarves would have been generous with the townsfolk for helping them, if other unfortunate events hadn’t taken place, though.

  2. I’m glad you talked about the unsettling undercurrent in this chapter. Sure, it’s nice for the party to get some good food and rest finally, and not have to worry about getting arrested or attacked as they sleep. But the Mountain is inescapably there. None of them, it seems know much about dragons, even though some of the dwarves remember Smaug’s coming, and they haven’t shown themselves to be quite the amazing elite squad of warriors that we might expect from a band of close-knit dwarves trying to reclaim their kingdom and gold. In fact, throughout the book it doesn’t sound like they have weapons beyond knives and short swords; Bilbo has Sting, of course, but Thorin has already lost Orcrist. To the men of Laketown, this must only make it seem less likely that Thorin is who he says he is, for what fool moves to slay a dragon without big, strong weapons and armor (if he lacks strong magic)?

    Actually, what fascinated me so much about this chapter and the last, was how the local economy plays such an important role. We tend to credit Tolkien with building his world mostly through languages, myths, and wars, but here he’s thought of how the Elves and Men of Laketown make their living, and what sorts of interactions they have. I love how naturally Tolkien’s able to show us this, without going out of his way to describe societal structure or anything like that. The practice of using the river to send goods and wine between the two settlements just happens to be the perfect way for our heroes to escape Mirkwood. And where else would we hear of raft-elves? It’s too easy to think of elves as being too uppity and ethereal for physical work that isn’t stylish or “cool,” but here they are pushing rafts down the river, getting wet and muddy, presumably, and hauling goods.

    • I think that somehow the Mountain has poisoned all who live it its shadow; either literally like Laketown, or metaphorically like Thorin. And as we know form our own culture and Tolkien probably foresaw, feeling comfortable near evil – or disbelieving its existence – is the first step to step to destruction.

      It amazing how universal Tolkien’s worlds are! The laws of reality, so far from being made obsolete, as many people seem to think fantasy does, have even more immediate consequence. Not just in the interactions of evil and life, but also in the smaller details such as economy!

    • This is an important point in this chapter: the economy vs the Old Stories (represented by the Master, who is shocked when Thorin moves on toward the mountain–he assumed he was a fraud, and welcomed him). I wonder if this is why politicians in Canada and the U.S. lack vision: they have preferenced the economy of the Old Songs.

  3. Pingback: The Hobbit: Chapter 17, The Clouds Burst « My Seryniti

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