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”.