In the eleventh chapter of The Hobbit, the dwarves ascend the Lonely Mountain to try to find the secret entrance. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hobbit.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: ON THE DOORSTEP
Until the final moments of chapter eleven, this is one of the bleakest sections of all of The Hobbit. Tolkien uses the oncoming change in season to drape the story in a sense of dread and gloom, and even when something positive does happen, we can’t forget the impossible odds that these characters have stacked against them.
It was easier to believe in the Dragon and less easy to believe in Thorin in these wild parts.
It’s such a simple sentence, but it communicates just how difficult this is. I don’t think that Bilbo lacks trust in the dwarves, but the reality of their mission is more apparent than ever. They can’t ignore what they’re about to do because they’ve actually made it to the Lonely Mountain and can literally see smoke coming out of the cave entrance. IT’S SMAUG OH MY GOD. It makes it all the more daunting that the dwarves have stopped singing, that most of the last bit of travel to the mountain is done in silence. The dwarves are a talkative bunch, but there’s not a line of dialogue for a huge chunk of pages in chapter eleven:
There was no laughter or song or sound of harps, and the pride and hopes which had stirred in their hearts at the singing of old songs by the lake died away to a plodding gloom. They knew that they were drawing near to the end of their journey, and that it might be a very horrible end.
THIS IS REASSURING. On cue, Tolkien shows us how the very landscape supports the mental state of the characters, and it’s one of the things he does well in this chapter. So much of the world of The Hobbit is this ever-changing geographical wonder and I’ve loved the different climates we’ve seen in the past ten chapters. Add in how much time has passed since they started their journey and I can get a better grip on how large Middle Earth is.
Which is why it’s so unsettling that the land is so barren around the Lonely Mountain, taking the name of the landmark and ascribing a psychological and geographical sense of vacancy to the story. This mountain is so distant from everywhere else in the story, and the separation causes the group to feel the effects of this desolate location. It’s even worse for some of the dwarves, such as Thorin and Balin, who remembered when Dale was a vast, rich valley full of prosperity and nature. God, I can’t even imagine returning to a place like this and seeing it scorched and destroyed and knowing that some goddamn dragon is hoarding your wealth in a cave just because it can. It’s not like Smaug is going to go out for a nice stroll on the Long Lake and do some shopping with the gold! God, WHAT A BIGOT.
With eight chapters following this one, I worried that this seemed to rush into a confrontation with the dragon inside the mountain, but Tolkien spaces things out to force the group to deal with find the secret entrance to Smaug’s lair. Overcome with dejection and fear, it’s not an easy prospect, and they all feel daunted by the sheer absurdity of the entire mission. It doesn’t help that before they are even inside the mountain, they face danger in ascending the tiny trails on the western slope for the hidden entrance.
I don’t think that Tolkien wrote The Hobbit to be some exercise in realism, but I’m constantly impressed by how grounded this feels. It would have been convenient for the group to find the secret door on the first day, but these characters are continually delayed on their quest. What good is a secret door if it can be located in just a few hours? Again, we are reminded just how much time it’s been since they left Bilbo’s home because the threat of winter hangs over them. OMG WINTER IS COMING.
Even when they do find the entrance, or what they think is the secret door, it’s not as simple as opening it and waltzing into Smaug’s hiding spot. There’s no indication of how the stone slab acts as a door, which stumps the dwarves and Bilbo for days on end. Unfortunately, the dwarves don’t make an effort to try to translate the runes or the moon-letters that might give them clue, choosing instead to focus entirely on physical means to open the secret door. Silly dwarves, when does that ever work?
I must admit that I found the scene following this where Bilbo simply sits in the doorway, staring off into the distance, to be kind of depressing. He’s so far away from home, away from things that are familiar and comforting to him, and even with all the success he and the dwarves have experienced, he is now stuck outside of a door that won’t open and he has not one idea how he’s going to get inside. So he just sits and thinks, rarely about the door, watching the snails scoot around the place. SWEET CHRIST. Goths, you ain’t got shit on Bilbo Baggins.
And all of this bears down heavily on the dwarves, who once again lapse into their familiar sense of feeling disappointment and frustration with Bilbo. To be fair, they are trying to get the door to open and Bilbo is literally sitting in the same spot for hours on end. And to be fair to Bilbo, he overhears the dwarves’ plan to send him straight through the front gate with just his invisible ring on. THAT SHOULD GO WELL.
Thankfully, this doesn’t happen, though I must admit I am not entirely sure what does happen. That night, as the sun sets and the new moon appears in the sky, a tiny ray of sunlight pokes through the clouds, shines on a smooth rock (where a large thrush is just hanging out, eating a snail), and a small keyhole appears on the stone door.
So….they just had to wait for a specific time? The door opens only at that moment in the year? So….what?
Okay, only if this is not further explained in the book, I am, for once, totally fine with someone explaining this. DID I NOT GET THIS. And I will not count it as a spoiler if you reply with, “KEEP READING, MARK.”
oh god must read on