Mark Reads ‘The Hobbit’: Chapter 14

In the fourteenth chapter of The Hobbit, I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hobbit.


Well. WELL. THIS IS REALLY COOL. Like, this is genuinely my favorite chapter so far, both because it’s so surprising and because of the purpose it serves at this point in the narrative. This book has always followed Bilbo Baggins, never straying very far from him when it would focus on another character. It’s why chapter fourteen caught me by surprise: there’s not a single line of narration here that is from Bilbo’s point of view.

The primary question that this chapter answers is, “Where the hell did Smaug go, and why is it taking him so long to return to roast Bilbo and the dwarves?” For the most part, The Hobbit only uses violence sparingly, and when it does, it’s sort of glossed over. Which is fine, by the way, since this is intended to be like a fairy tale of sorts. There’s nothing particularly gory or detailed in this part of the book, either, but as Tolkien begins to describes what happens in Esgaroth, he doesn’t sugarcoat how horrific and creepy this situation is. It all starts with a sign: flashes of light from the Lonely Mountain appear in the distant horizon.

“Perhaps the King under the Mountain is forging gold,” said another. “It is long since he went North. It is time the songs began to prove themselves again.”

YEAH, IN WHAT WORLD DO YOU LIVE IN. Do you genuinely believe this? What creature lives in the mountain than can create something large enough to produce light that can be seen that far away? Oh, a dragon, you say? THEN PERHAPS IT IS A DRAGON.

But other people in Esgaroth totally believe this! Because obviously some King under the mountain will suddenly give away his gold by sending it down a river because treasure floats. Okay, I’m being ridiculous. I can’t get over the idea that people would think golden treasure would float down a river. It’s not ever really spelled out, but I imagine that the men who decided to rush out of their homes in a gleeful hope that gold would come floating down to them never really made it out of town:

Before long, so great was his speed, they could see him as a spark of fire rushing towards them and growing ever huger and more bright, and not the most foolish doubted that the prophecies had gone rather wrong.

YEAH THIS IS REALLY UNSETTLING TO ME. I mean…how can anyone survive this? This is what Tolkien does so well with the arrival of Smaug: he describes the sheer physical size and power of him by showing us how he affects the things around him, from the lake below to the people on Esgaroth. I mean, the only thing that could basically “put out” this particular dragon. A lake. Do you understand that? Smaug is such an immense and gigantic source of power and fire that IT TAKES A WHOLE FUCKING LAKE TO EXTINGUISH HIM. What the fuck!!!!!

He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake; the trees by the shores shone like copper and like blood with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet. Then down he swooped straight through the arrow-storm, reckless in his rage, taking no heed to turn his scaly sides towards his foes, seeking only to set their town ablaze.

Okay, maybe it’s weird that this is the one passage I’m ready to proclaim as my favorite, at least in terms of the writing, since it’s basically announcing the oncoming doom for the Lake town. But in just a few sentences, Tolkien paints the scene so beautifully, even if it is inherently horrifying. And then, because my mind works in mysterious ways, I was immediately distracted by this:

Fire leaped from thatched roofs…

ONE OF YOU HAS TO KNOW WHAT THIS IS. Okay ANYWAY. On a completely serious note, once Smaug started destroying the actual town, I knew that whatever the outcome, this wasn’t something that Tolkien could ever erase. It’s the point of no return, made all the worse by the fact that not a single arrow can pierce the dragon’s scales.

Already men were jumping into the water on every side. Women and children were being huddled into laden boats in the market-pool. Weapons were flung down. There was mourning and weeping, where but a little time ago the old songs of mirth to come had been sung about the dwarves. Now men cursed their names.

Amidst the chaos, Tolkien introduces the one thing I am impressed with most in this chapter: accountability. I’d not thought about things this way until this line, but Smaug wouldn’t even be in Esgaroth if it weren’t for Bilbo and the dwarves. The fact that Tolkien doesn’t ignore this gives this whole book a brand new dynamic that didn’t exist before this chapter. It’s here that this stops being a neat fairytale because the story now addresses cause and effect, showing us that the dwarves’ quest for gold, while possibly necessary in some sense, is not without its ill effects. That’s not to say this is all a hyper-realistic study of the interactions between various social groups in Middle Earth (OMG SOMEONE PROBABLY WROTE THAT OMG), but it’s a surprising addition that’s pleasant to read.

That was the dragon’s hope. They could all get into boats for all he cared. There he could have fine sport hunting them, or they could stop till they starved. Let them try to get to land and he would be ready. Soon he would set all the shoreland woods ablzze and wither every field and pasture. Just now he was enjoying the sport of town-baiting more than he had enjoyed anything for years.

WHAT THE HOLY FUCK. Sorry, if someone told this to me as a bedtime story, I would expel them from my room forever. BEDTIME PRIVILEGES REVOKED. Wait….that sounds awkward. Whatever, I’m leaving it. The very idea that Smaug is going to get revenge by a prolonged hunting session is fucked up. But it also makes it rather easy for one to believe that this chapter can only end in absolute destruction, and Tolkien’s introduction of Bard seemed to lend itself to this, too. Sure, he’s presented as a brave and capable warrior, but then we get this:

The flames were near him. His companions were leaving him. He bent his bow for the last time.

Okay, so he’s going to die. It’s meant to show us how everything is destroyed by what the dwarves and Bilbo did. So you can imagine how surprised I was by the fact that instead, that mysterious thrush shows up. OH. IT WAS AN IMPORTANT DETAIL. And it can talk!!! Which…why aren’t there talking ponies again?? Ugh, Tolkien, you are seriously apony bigot.

But let’s talk about what a neat moment this in the story. By all rights, this book seemed to be one specific thing: Bilbo and company would go to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo would probably slay Smaug, and the dwarves would get their treasure back. There’s nothing wrong with that narrative! That’s the point of the story, or at least what I expected. But as soon as the thrush tells Bard how to kill Smaug, I realized that this book was certainly not going to end how I thought it was. In a wonderful sleight of hand, Bard is the one to end Smaug, ironically in a way that could only have happened because of Bilbo. (Though, to be fair, Smaug wouldn’t even be in Esgaroth if it weren’t for Bilbo and company. OH GOD CAUSE AND EFFECT.)

While the victory against Smaug is definitely something to celebrate, that’s not really what happens with the citizens of this city on the Lake. Esgaroth was lost and there’s no way around it. Yes, Smaug is gone, but their city (and a quarter of the population) was destroyed. The group is largely furious at the Master as well, since he deserted Esgaroth so soon after Smaug arrived. (It is so distracted that he’s named this way, because I just imagine John Simm running around Esgaroth.) When it becomes clear that they’d rather have Bard running things, the Master gets a bit snappy. Oh, now you care? Unsurprisingly (and very much like the politician he is), he deflects the blame for Smaug to refocus the anger of the survivors towards the dwarves.

I admit that the dwarves did basically upset Smaug, and Bilbo had a part in that, so a part of me gets this, and it’s hard to argue against the Master, even if he’s totally being a turd about this all. I was impressed that Bard was practical enough to announce that it was a ridiculous time to discuss this idea, of getting revenge against the dwarves, because…well, their entire city was just obliterated. There’s a lot to enjoy in chapter fourteen, so I’ll add this to the list, too: Tolkien gives us a glimpse into the repair of Esgaroth. He could have rushed into it. It’s not really necessary to the main bulk of the plot, but it’s a pleasant addition. It helps give us an idea of the mental state of the community as they deal with so much loss, and then plays directly into the Elvinking’s reaction to the destruction at Esgaroth. As a great deal of elves arrive to help rebuild the city days after the attack, another group heads out of Esgaroth.

To the Lonely Mountain. They’re going to find Bilbo and the dwarves. Holy shit, what has this book become? I AM TOTALLY INTO THIS.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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133 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Hobbit’: Chapter 14

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    This is where you really start to consider that Bilbo and the dwarves have basically been stomping around pissing people off wherever they go, and now it's going to bite them in the ass.

    I really can't wait to see this sequence onscreen, though hopefully Jackson will find a way to work Bard into the story earlier so he doesn't jump out of nowhere to kill the main villain like this. His changes to Lord of the Rings to make it more suitable to film mostly worked very well, so I'm confident he can pull this off too.



    ANYWAY. Yes. Ahem. This is quite possibly one of my favorite chapters in the whole book, and yes, I've said that about quite a few- I just really adore this book, all right? I did have this read to me as a bedtime story- I think I was seven or eight or so, and I have to say that I was completely riveted. It was glorious to me as a child to read a dragon battle that was actually pretty realistic. Like you said, there's a very grim reality to all of this battle, not the least of which being the fact that our wonderful band of protagonists has brought this on Lake town. It's a horrific thought when you think about it, and I also love that Tolkien doesn't just ignore the displaced people here; he shows pretty clearly that their lives are going to be awful because of this. There's more realism in this 'children's' book than in several adult fantasies I've read right there. He doesn't brush away the plight of the ordinary people and shows that the actions of heroic quests have some pretty far-reaching consequences.

    That passage you cited that paints such a vivid picture, with the red light and the dark shadows of the trees is one of my favorites too. But the sentences that always stand out to me? At the end of this chapter.

    They removed northward higher up the shore; for ever after they had a dread of the water where the dragon lay. He would never again return to his golden bed, but was stretched cold as stone, twisted upon the floor of the shallows. There for ages his huge bones could be seen in calm weather amid the ruined piles of the old town. But few dared to cross the cursed spot, and none dared to dive into the shivering water or recover the precious stones that fell from his rotting carcase.

    As someone who's an aspiring writer, I cannot describe how powerful these sentences are to me. It shows even in death the power that Smaug held, and it demonstrates at the same time the very real difficulties that rise when you have a corpse that enormous. The realism of the Lake-men's avoidance of the water, combined with the fantasy of the gem-encrusted dragon, is to me really powerful and effective.

    I love this book.

  3. Becky_J_ says:

    The reason I love this chapter so much, why it's probably my favorite in this book, is because Tolkien just totally and completely fucks with you. The ENTIRE book, you think they're going to the Mountain to fight a Dragon, that somehow Bilbo will kill the dragon, and then everything with be gold and talking ponies. NO. NO. Bilbo doesn't even kill the dragon, some guy we never met does, and then all of a sudden there's going to be a smackdown with the men of Esgaroth?! WHAT?!

    Please raise your hand if you guessed this was going to happen. And then get out, cause you're a dirty liar.

    • Ryan Lohner says:

      My edition has a pretty sneaky summary on the back, saying something like "And ultimately, it would be Bilbo who would confront the dragon Smaug, the terror of an age." Technically Bilbo does confront Smaug, and it's pretty much the emotional climax of his character arc, but then he just runs away afterward. I love when that happens.

    • Nerdfoxy says:

      Well, I read this book so long ago, I can't remember making predictions. But I will say, that, with a few exceptions of Gandalf and the Eagles being deus ex machina, the Hobbit etc seems to have this theme of great challenges needing the collaboration of the unique skills of all peoples great and humble working together.

      So, it would seem pretty odd to have Bilbo suddenly become super physically powerful and slay the dragon. Bilbo rocks but he's more of a puzzle solver than an archer/slayer.

      • Becky_J_ says:

        That's true…. I think that the reason I thought Bilbo would be the one was, like Ryan said above, the summary that hinted heavily that Bilbo would destroy the dragon. Sneaky, sneaky! I never thought that he would slay the dragon with strength…. I always thought he would slay it with trickiness and cleverness and go all Hermione on it, lure it into the lake or something. Who knows.

        • Nerdfoxy says:

          OH my gosh, I lovelovelove this idea!

          It would be the cutest, most endearing, and cleverest dragon slaying of all time!

          I like it so much more than the "Cool guys don't look at explosions" style dragon slaying, if it is probably a lot less cinematic. 🙂

    • Dreamflower says:

      The ENTIRE book, you think they're going to the Mountain to fight a Dragon, that somehow Bilbo will kill the dragon, and then everything with be gold and talking ponies.

      Gur shaal guvat vf, WEEG uvzfrys gubhtug vg jnf tbvat gb raq gung jnl hagvy ur cybggrq vg bhg, naq gura gubhtug "Guvf jba'g qb ng nyy", naq punatrq uvf zvaq!

      Ohg vs ur unq Ovyob jbhyq unir raqrq hc punatrq va n ybg bs abg fb qrfvenoyr jnlf, naq ur jbhyq abg unir orpbzr gur Ovyob jubz jr xabj naq ybir va YbgE!

  4. Jenny_M says:

    Bard is such a friggin' winner. I love him so much.

    I love the detail of how Smaug's bones are sometimes visible under the lake, and how nobody ever goes there, even to get the jewels and treasures that lie with him. I hope they find a way to show that in the movie. Somehow. It's just such a cool visual.

  5. bookworm67 says:

    Ahh, I don't know what the picture is? Should I? I probably should!

    I love this chapter too, I literally cannot wait until we see it on screen (DECEMBER 2012 WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAYY).

    "Unsurprisingly (and very much like the politician he is), he deflects the blame for Smaug to refocus the anger of the survivors towards the dwarves."

    Clearly the Master is at the heart of a cunning plan to destroy the Middle Earth by throwing the surviving townspeople, Bilbo, and the dwarves into a pit to duke it out. Tsk, politics.

  6. knut_knut says:


    AHAHAH I can just imagine someone with a fire extinguisher trying to put out Smaug. All these years we’ve been fighting dragons incorrectly! We don’t need soldiers, we need the fire department!

    Which…why aren’t there talking ponies again?? Ugh, Tolkien, you are seriously apony bigot.

    <3 Beorn <3 can probably talk to ponies (he talks to his horses so why not ponies too?)! So maybe the problem isn’t that there are no talking ponies, but no one will listen to them 🙁

    I don’t think I’m visualizing this scene correctly because I always find it weird that Smaug is like DAMN, THERE’S NO BRIDGE! YOU’RE A DRAGON, YOU DON’T NEED A BRIDGE. Was he going to stand on it or use it to waltz into town? Death by flying dragon is probably more effective anyway.

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      Seriously. I was sitting on the train listening to this chapter on my home last night and I kept asking Smaug, "How is the lack of bridge a problem for you? I assume you just flew from the Lonely Mountain, right? How about you fly over the water to the town? The villagers have made it even easier for you since now nobody can escape via bridge! Just go!"

      I guess hoarding treasure in a dark cave by yourself makes logic take a little vacation.

    • monkeybutter says:

      apony, noun, a ponyless state

      I'm sure Beorn talks to his ponies because he is a wonderful person.

    • readerofprey says:

      I think he wanted to land on the bridge to be safe from the water while he attacked the town, but now he has to stay airborne, which is how Bard managed to kill him. It might have been more difficult with the dragon on the ground.

  7. Darth_Ember says:

    Bard is awesome. Badass Normal like anything; here he is, one human archer, with no special powers, only the skills of his trade. And he's willing to die to protect his home if he must.
    And kills a friggin' dragon. He, one lone human archer, kills the ancient and terrible creature that drove a settlement of dwarves, mighty warriors themselves, away from their home and their treasure.
    I repeat, Bard is awesome.

    Also, on another note, I was always a bit impressed that the Elvenking chose so quickly upon hearing of this to help the Lakemen; he's clearly and evidently a whole lot more benevolent and compassionate toward known allies than he is to trespassing dwarves who refuse to state their business.

    • atheistsisters says:

      Vg nyjnlf zrffrf jvgu zl urnq gb ernq guvf obbx naq ernyvmr ur vf eryngrq gb Yrtbynf. Whfg, fb ZNAL DHRFGVBAF.

    • chikzdigmohawkz says:

      trespassing dwarves who refuse to state their business

      Well, I'd say that explains it right there. I'd probably react the same way.

      • Darth_Ember says:

        You'd think so, wouldn't you? But any number of fans seem to have concluded he's just a big meanie-pants.
        I think perhaps some people expect a setting in which all of the good people support the hero, and only bad people hinder them in any way whatsoever. And where it doesn't matter if the heroes trespass or cause incidental damage. I mean, they're on an adventure! The normals will just have to cope!
        Silly stuff, really, especially when you consider that the dwarves just want their loot and their old home back. They are not exactly questing to save the world here.

        Gura, gbb, onq snasvp jevgref yvxr gb ghea uvz vagb na nohfvir sngure gb Yrtbynf, sbe gur fnxr bs purnc natfg be qenzn. Vg'f evqvphybhf.
        There's an essay out there – 'In Defense of the Elvenking' that rebuts the whole 'mean guy' thing. Warning, spoilers for The Hobbit, LotR, and the Silmarillion, since it does discuss a wider context of Elves.

  8. Larisa says:

    Burninating the countryside! Burninating the peasants!

  9. krystalreid says:

    I'm glad you're getting so into this book!

    "But other people in Esgaroth totally believe this! Because obviously some King under the mountain will suddenly give away his gold by sending it down a river because treasure floats."

    This seems entirely human to me. One person's belief system is another person's pot of crazy. You could name any myth, legend, or religion in this world that some people would stake their lives on, and other people will just shake their heads at it.

    It may be too soon to bring this up, so rot13 just in case: Oneq vf gur zna naq V qba'g zrna gb gnxr nalguvat njnl sebz gung, ohg vg obguref zr n yvggyr ubj cerggl zhpu rirel fvtavsvpnag uhzna punenpgre va guvf frevrf pbzrf sebz fbzr aboyr urevgntr, Oneq orvat qrfpraqrq sebz Tvevba, gur sbezre ybeq bs Qnyr. Fnzr jvgu Nentbea, Rbzre naq Rbjla, Obebzve naq Snenzve. Gung'f svar vs Gbyxrva jnagf gb cynl vg gung jnl, ohg whfg bapr V'q yvxr gb frr n snezre xvpx fbzr nff.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Please don't use "crazy" on this site.

    • ravenclawgirl says:

      Naq lbh unir gb erzrzore gung gurfr fgbevrf jrer Gbyxvra'f nggrzcg gb tvir Oevgnva fbzr fbeg bs rcvp zlgubybtl, fhpu nf gur Abefr unq. Rcvpf ner nobhg aboyrf, bgurejvfr gurl nera'g rcvpf, vg whfg tbrf jvgu gur traer.

      Ba gur bgure unaq, ABAR bs gur uboovgf ner sebz aboyr snzvyvrf (jryy, Zreel, Cvccva naq gur Onttvafrf ner sebz cebzvarag uboovg-snzvyvrf, ohg uboovgf qba'g ernyyl unir aboyrf, cre fr). Gur ragver enpr bs uboovgf vf onfvpnyyl n ercerfragngvba bs gur rirelzna. Naq Fnz vf gur rirelzna bs gur rirelzna, orvat gung ur'f whfg n fvzcyr tneqrare. Naq ur urycf fnir gur jbeyq. Vg'f pbby ubj Gbyxvra qrpbafgehpgf gur rcvp pbairagvbaf ol pbagenfgvat gur aboyrarff bs nyy gur frpbaqnel punenpgref jvgu gur beqvanevarff bs gur znva punenpgref.

    • rosepug says:

      Fnz Tnztrr, snezre rkgenbeqvanver naq ONZS

    • It's one of Tolkien's more tongue-cheek stories, but I think "Farmer Giles of Ham" might be what you're looking for. One of my favorite short stories ever- not to mention the illustrations are phenomenal.

      • krystalreid says:

        Thanks! I need to track this down.

      • chikzdigmohawkz says:

        I'm reading that book right now! (The collection of short stories, that is.) I haven't gotten to that story yet, but that's probably because I'm reading about five other books at the same time, including The Hobbit and Pyramids. (I'm terrible at focusing on one book at a time. Should probably work on that…)

    • Dreamflower says:

      Uboovgf nfvqr, rire ernq uvf "Snezre Tvyrf bs Unz", jub svgf gur ovyy cresrpgyl. Bs pbhefr gur tbbq snezre vf abg bs Zvqqyr-rnegu…

    • notemily says:

      V guvax Fnz vf gur snezre jub raqf hc xvpxvat nff, ubarfgyl. Gur uboovgf va trareny ner yvxr gung, nygubhtu jr xabj gung Zreel naq Cvccva ner onfvpnyyl Uboovg eblnygl naq Sebqb vf nyfb qrfpraqrq sebz gur Byq Gbbx, fb lrnu, vg'f cerggl zhpu Fnz. Ur qbrfa'g pbzr sebz nal xvaq bs aboyr onpxtebhaq gung jr xabj bs, naq ur'f n tneqrare–n jbexvat zna, abg bar bs gur evpu uboovgf.

  10. bearshorty says:

    I was certainly not expecting where this chapter takes the book after Smaug dies. I really forgot most of the plot since I read it last. I figured out the thrush and the last arrow before it happened but not how Master and Bard and Elvenking would respond to the situation. It is not simple for dwarves anymore and they need to deal with consequences and the situation just became really complicated and highly realistic. I love that. And all men start to think of that gold too no longer guarded by the dragon.

    Illustrations to Chapter 14:

    <img src="; alt="burning town" border="1" height="300"/>

    <img src="; alt="kill the dragon" border="1" height="300"/>

    • knut_knut says:

      Poor Smaug looks really stressed out in the first picture. I love these illustrations!

    • settlingforhistory says:

      'It is not simple for dwarves anymore and they need to deal with consequences and the situation just became really complicated and highly realistic.'

      Yes, especially as they are not there to save the day. I mean, I love Harry Potter with all my heart but the trio could basically make all those barmy thing they did (like robbing a bank) without having to face the consequences, because they where heroes.
      Bilbo and the dwarves however, are held responsible for the destruction of an entire city.
      I can't imagine how they are going to get out of this mess. (And that makes me love the book even more!)

      • notemily says:

        I was kind of sad that they never had any consequences for Harry and co. using the UNFORGIVABLE CURSES. I mean, maybe the point was that they could be used for good, but they didn't even think about the ramifications of using them or whether they were turning into what they hated the most.

        • Tauriel_ says:

          Totally agreed. This is what I love about Tolkien's books – there are ALWAYS consequences, for good or bad actions alike, whether you're a hero or a villain or an ambiguous character.

    • flootzavut says:

      Fantastic illustrations 😀

    • notemily says:

      lol I love the second one. He's just like "OH NOES!"

  11. stellaaaaakris says:

    I'm not sure how I got this impression, but Bard is really attractive in my head. The physical description we get isn't very helpful and I certainly wish he didn't speak about himself in the third person, but he just finished slaying a dragon, I'll give him a pass on that for a moment. And I imagine him emerging out of the lake to Lonely Island's "Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions" with the lake on fire. He's such a cool guy. *swoon* Maybe he won't be so gloomy now.

    Did you have John Simms in your head when reading about the Master in HDM? I did. It certainly didn't help that I was half convinced all the scholars were time lords.

    I cannot wait to see this on film. It will be glorious, I'm sure.

  12. Ryan Lohner says:

    And now you can have a lot of fun reading the previous chapter, knowing Bilbo and the dwarves are all scared as hell for nothing, because Smaug is already dead. I noted that in rot13 yesterday, so it's fun to be able to talk about it openly so quickly.

    • notemily says:

      It's funny, they could have just gone wild with the treasure like "Dragon's dead, PARTAAAAY!" but they didn't know, so they expected him to come back and kill them at any moment.

  13. Idapida says:

    I don't really have much to say to this other than that this is one of my favourite The Hobbit chapters. It's the first time in the book that I really felt like Middle Earth was a place where real people lived their everyday lives. I love the Bilbo centric chapters too of course, but the shift in point of view is a really good way to develop the world of Middle Earth some more. It's definitively the chapter I remember the most vividly, the image of Smaug destroying the city while people go out on the lake in their boats is just so clear in my mind. Can't wait to see it in the movie!

    Also, Smaug is an awesome name for a dragon.

  14. PrefectSarah says:

    TROGDOOOOOORRRRR!!!! HAHAHA! Oh man, that takes me back.

    I love this chapter too! The imagery here is fantastic. I don't have my book with me, but my favorite part was when Tolkien describes how the water steams when Smaug dips in the lake. I never imaged his body would be that hot, but it makes sense.

  15. amyalices says:

    Testing new account, mwahaha.

    Anyway, I like that this kind of improves Bilbo and the Dwarves' (new band name?) position – they're not killing Smaug for his treasure, or because he's a dragon; they're killing him because he is a) a threat and b) a bastard. (In that order, one assumes.)

  16. @unefeeverte says:

    You may call him Master Fry, lad. (I absolutely ADORE Peter Jackson for his casting.)

    • notemily says:

      I adore Peter Jackson too, but there are five people credited under "casting" and none of them are Peter Jackson. I'm just saying.

      • Tauriel_ says:

        Yes, these folks run the casting process, but I believe that PJ still has the final word. 🙂

        Remember what happened in LOTR with Nentbea? They cast someone and then PJ realised that it wasn't working out and we got Ivttb Zbegrafra instead. Which was THE perfect choice.#

        But anyway – STEPHEN FRY!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3


  18. SporkyRat says:

    I'm so glad to see I'm not the only one who was thinking of John Simm as the Master of Lake-town here! I was reading and the Husbandthing turned on The Sound of Drums and….that's all it took!

    He circled for a while high in the air above them lighting all the lake; the trees by the shores shone like copper and like blood with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet.

    Papaw said this is exactly what it looked like when fire bombs came raining down during the Second War, so I bet Mr Tolkien didn't have to think too hard to imagine what it would look like, having survived the trenches of WWI.

  19. ravenclaw42 says:

    Durr, I completely missed yesterday. How dare life have things in it other than the internet during my Mark-reading time! Anyway…

    From "Not At Home":

    <img src=""&gt;

    A lovely sky and a long drop.
    <img src=""&gt;

    From "Fire and Water":

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    This is the first time I've really registered that Bard says the black arrow came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain. Which is cool, it means Thror and Thrain contributed to their own avenging, in a way. And that the dwarves of old are at least justified in the quality of their workmanship, though so far Thorin & Co. haven't shown any interest in a practical application of dwarven talent, and their desire to just have their gold but not share it or do anything useful with it has only led to them pissing people (and dragons) off. Granted, Thorin & Co. are too busy traveling and surviving to do any smithing or stoneworking, but their driving agenda to get to the Mountain has never included a mention of how much they want to be artisans again, just how much they want to be rich and powerful again. I see what you're doing there, Tolkien.

    Naq Gbyxvra vfa'g n cbal ovtbg! Whfg jnvg hagvy Ovyy! Znlor Gbyxvra ernyvmrq gung uvf cbal obql pbhag jnf trggvat dhvgr uvtu naq jnf gelvat gb znxr hc sbe vg.

    • flootzavut says:

      Reminds me of in very early chapters when the dwaves sing and Bilbo is listening and it awakens in him the love of made things and cleverness – OK I can't remember the exact quote and Tolkien puts it together sooooo fantastically, but that's where it took me to.

      Fnz'f pbaprea sbe Ovyy vf fbbbbb phgr <3

  20. MKD says:

    The only thing I could think of to comment on would probably be considered spoiling, so instead I will say that I was entertained and loved this review, as per usual.

  21. Genny_ says:

    This is such a completely fascinating way to write a book, because up until now everything has been so incredibly archetypal and trope-y (admittedly The Hobbit invented/popularized a lot of those tropes, but still), and then WHAM. The idea of the heroes having absolutely no idea that their main antagonist is being killed without their help is such a cool one. Suddenly this book kind of stops being a heroic quest type book, I think? Because in those stories the main heroic deed is, well, killing the dragon or whatever monster it is that the story uses. That's how you know you have your hero. But not here. In retrospect it changes how you view *the entire book*, even though the events leading up to it are actually completely the same. SO COOL.

    I was really surprised because I had completely forgotten this was how the book went until I re-read it, actually. It was nice to read it and be all 'ooooh!'.

  22. kartikeya200 says:

    I don't have a lot of time to comment (yet) but I just want to note that in Lord of the Rings Online, one of the hunter's penultimate abilities (and arguably one of the most useful, especially for soloing) is called Bard's Arrow.

    What does it do? It makes your enemy run away in terror.

  23. arctic_hare says:

    <img src="; border="0"/>

    Well, that looks like a fun time, doesn't it? This is why I laughed yesterday when you said you had a bad feeling the dwarves & Bilbo were going to go back through and find that Smaug had destroyed Laketown and wouldn't that be awkward? YOU HAD NO IDEA. I love that Tolkien just outright tosses our expectations through the window by doing this, by showing us cause and effect in a somewhat tangled way: if it wasn't for Bilbo, Smaug wouldn't have attacked the town, but also thanks to Bilbo, Smaug is now dead. It's an interesting situation, because in the long run the death of the dragon is going to benefit everyone in the area, but at the same time the people of Laketown justifiably feel that their hospitality was repaid with fire and ruin and death. How sad is that line about how people got cold and sick and died after escaping the destruction? Awful. 🙁 I'd be pretty unhappy too, if I were one of the survivors. Methinks things are only going to get MORE awkward from here on out.

  24. dasmondschaf says:

    Trogdor??? More like SMAUGDOR.

    …yeah that's all I got today.

  25. littletonosense says:

    The other day, I walked into a dark, empty classroom and drew Trogdor on the chalkboard. Also, the tardis. I do not know what classes are held there. But they are probably relevant.

  26. Stephen_M says:

    Argh, I don't know whether this is a spoiler or not! It doesn't touch anything on the reading list but…. oh just to be safe ROT13 time:

    V erzrzore guvaxvat jura V svefg ernq guvf znal, znal lrnef ntb gung Ynxrgbja jnf cerggl zhpu qbbzrq naq gubhtugf jrag nybat ebhtuyl fvzvyne yvarf gb Znex (v.r. Oneq vf qrnq objzna jnyxvat). Vg jnfa'g hagvy ZHPU yngre jura V tbg qrrc vagb gur onpxfgbel bs ubj gur qentbaf pnzr nobhg va guvf jbeyq gung lbh ernyvfr guvf ernyyl vf whfg fcbeg sbe Fznht. Qentbaf ner trggvat ba sbe jrncbaf bs ynfg erfbeg, vaqrrq gur svefg jnf oerq cerggl zhpu whfg sbe gung checbfr bevtvanyl, naq n fznyy gbja yvxr guvf vf nyzbfg orarngu uvf nggragvba zbfg bs gur gvzr.

    This is DEFINATELY a spoiler for LotR, you have been warned! 😀

    V nyfb nqber gung guvf jubyr vapvqrag gheaf bhg gb or n 'jurryf jvguva jurryf' cyna bs Tnaqnysf' gb erzbir na nyyl bs Fnheba sebz gur Ybaryl Zbhagnva naq frpher gur abegura synax va gur pbzzvat jne. Vg'f gur jnl Gbyxvra raqrq hc jrnivat nyy bs uvf fgbevrf gbtrgure gung V guvax tvirf uvf jbeyq fhpu ybat ynfgvat nccrny. Ba gur fhesnpr vg'f n frg bs ernyyl, ernyyl tbbq obbxf gung pna unccvyl fgnaqnybar ohg vs lbh qvt vagb gur fhccyvzragny zngrevnyf be Gur Fvyznevyyvba vg whfg gnxrf ba n yvsr bs vgf bja!

    • flootzavut says:

      Re: the LOTR spoiler: V ybir ubj pbzcerurafvir vg nyy vf… vg nyzbfg qbrfa'g znggre gb zr vs V rire znantr gb trg zl urnq ebhaq vg nyy, orpnhfr gurer'f fbzrguvat jbaqreshy nobhg nyy gung qrcgu rira vs fbzr crbcyr jvyy arire or njner bs vg, arire zvaq ernq vg nyy. V thrff vg'f fvzvyne gb svaqvat bhg whfg ubj zhpu Wb Ebjyvat xabjf nobhg ure jbeyq gung gur ernqre qbrfa'g naq vaqrrq znl arire xabj… V guvax jvgu ertneqf gb Gbyxvra vg nyfb svgf ornhgvshyyl vagb uvf vagragvba bs perngvat n zlgubybtl, orpnhfr yrg'f snpr vg, gurer'f fb zhpu zber gb fnl, Abefr yrtraq, guna zbfg crbcyr rira jub ner dhvgr vagrerfgrq va fnvq yrtraqf jvyy rire obgure gb ernq. Be gur Neguhevna yrtraqf… gurer'f fbzrguvat jbaqreshy va gur snpg gung, rira va guvf *perngrq* zlgubybtl, gurer vf fb zhpu oernqgu naq qrcgu. V whfg ybir gung…

  27. readerofprey says:

    I love how Bard sort of comes in from left field, but sort of not. Smaug, in his bragging, asks Bilbo where the descendants of Gideon, Lord of Dale are – and there's bard. And Balin mentions in the last chapter or the one before that some of the men of Dale used to be able to talk to thrushes and use them as messengers, although he seems to be under the impression that this is a learned language rather than an innate skill. And then Bard, man of Dale, can understand the thrush. It's an awesome twist!

  28. hick says:

    I'm probably completely stupid. But how do I read the spoilerish posts? I should probably know this, but I read both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings only once, so forgive me.

  29. Dreamflower says:

    Because obviously some King under the mountain will suddenly give away his gold by sending it down a river because treasure floats.

    Bilbo and company would go to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo would probably slay Smaug,

    Oh, golly! I don't know if this is spoilers or not, since JRRT ultimately discarded it, but on the off chance that someday there might be a "Mark Reads The History of The Hobbit" I will rot-13 it:

    Bevtvanyyl Ovyob QVQ fynl Fznht, naq gura SYBNGRQ NJNL VA N TBYQRA PHC BA N EVIRE BS FZNHT'F OYBBQ!! Gura WEEG nccneragyl ybbxrq bire uvf cybg abgrf, naq va n fhqqra ohefg bs vafcvengvba fynfurq nyy gung bhg naq chg va "Fznht xvyyrq va onggyr bs Ynxrgbja"! Vg frrzf ur ernyvmrq va gvzr whfg ubj zhpu orggre vg jbhyq znxr gur fgbel, be ubj zhpu BBP vg jbhyq or sbe Ovyob, be fbzrguvat (creuncf uvf fbaf unq n artngvir ernpgvba gb gung vqrn)– fb ur punatrq uvf zvaq naq jebgr vg guvf jnl. Juvpu jnf OEVYYVNAG, orpnhfr V jbhyq abg unir yvxrq jung gung jbhyq unir qbar gb cbbe Ovyob gb unir gb qb gung…

    Anyway, I am very glad the story did what the story did in the end!

  30. SisterCoyote says:

    I'm loving rereading this book chapter by chapter like this, and this chapter especially, because the opening dialogue with the men and Bard made me think of Mark and laugh aloud! Because he always (you always? I don't know how to address these comments) talks about how he/you used to be the most dour cynic, but you're so awesome, and it's like Bard! Everyone's all "Whee! Treasure is going to float down the river and everything will be sparkles and pies forever!" And Bard is like "Yeah, no, I'm gonna go with "dragon coming to kill us," and they're all "Pffft, you're just incapable of happiness," even though they do love him. Bard = Middle-earth Mark!

  31. pennylane27 says:

    I am so angry at technology today. First, as I was about to post my awesome comment, my battery died. And then I tried to vent this anger by posting a comment from my phone, but the internet connection is a joke in my country, so I couldn't. Definitely not my day today.

    Anyway. I'm continuing my all praise John Howe's godlike skills spam with this:

    <img src=""&gt;

    And to be fair, some Alan Lee, because I love him too:

    <img src=""&gt;

    Also, talking ponies and bedtime privileges. HOW DO YOU DO IT, MARK? I guess Tolkien only wanted talking birds in his books or something.

    Oh and to conclude: BARD. That is all.

  32. flootzavut says:

    I love how unprepared you were Mark 😀

    I also adore the idea of John Simm as The Master in Esgaroth! lol

    Re thatched roof – I grew up in a 500 year old black and white cottage with a thatched roof 🙂 I can't find a picture at the moment of MY house, but this is in the same village up the road from there I grew up:

    It's actually a very good roofing – my mum still lives there and it keeps cool in summer and warm in winter. It was thatched when I was three and then a few years ago, the thatch was still in pretty good shape after 25 years.It's expensive mind! But waterproof and very good insulation. And surprisingly robust too 🙂 it's a proper old tradition, though I guess I can see why it might not be a common sight in the US… especially in CA! 🙂

    • notemily says:

      I think this is interesting, from the Wikipedia article:

      Thatch is still employed by builders in developing countries, usually with low-cost, local vegetation. By contrast in some developed countries it is now the choice of affluent people who desire a rustic look for their home or who have purchased an originally thatched abode.

      The way things like this go around from "practical choice of poor people" to "aesthetic choice of rich people" always fascinates me.

      • SisterCoyote says:

        Seriously! So many 'rich, gourmet' dishes started out as what you can afford to scrape together at the end of a work week. It's really a fascinating cultural trend.

        • notemily says:

          I've heard that Cajun cuisine started this way, because the Cajuns were poor and made meals with the stuff nobody else wanted, which it turned out was delicious. Not sure if that's true. I am of Cajun descent but living in Wisconsin the only actual Cajun I know is my dad.

        • notemily says:

          Also I heard that poor punk kids started holding their clothes together with safety pins because they couldn't afford new clothes, and then it became a fashion trend.

        • flootzavut says:

          There'a another Pratchett quote about this – ROT-13 for Interesting Times spoilers:

          V pna'g svaq gur rknpg dhbgr, ohg fbzrbar pbzzragf ba gur ybpnyf znxvat qryvpvbhf sbbq bhg bs n cvt'f rne, naq jung qbrf gung gryy lbh nobhg gurz?

          "Fbzr bgure ohttre fgbyr gur cvt"

      • flootzavut says:

        Yup! It's very expensive even where I live where it's not that uncommon. The main reason anyone would have it these days (in my experience!) is because if you live in a listed building you don't have a choice to replace it with something cheaper.

        Ironically my parents bought the house for £16,500. These days that would buy you a medium sized cardboard box in the city centre of your choice… well no maybe a bit more, but not a heck of a lot.

  33. BumblebeeTuna says:

    Ahhh man I've been so busy I've missed a week of reviews! 🙁 But all caught up now. Oh, I do love how the hero of the story is the gloomy, pessimistic guy from laketown who kills the dragon in a million-to-one shot. Luckily, as we all know, million-to-one shots come up nine times out of ten.
    This is definately one of my favourite chapters, despite the lack of Beorn and Balin and Bilbo. It doesn have Bard though. (A lot my favourite characters have names beginning with B. I've never noticed that. Bellatrix Lestrange, Obebzve, Balthamos, Iorek BYRNISON, Sirius BLACK. Okay I'm grasping at straws now…)
    ANYWAY, one of my favourite chapters, mainly due to beautiful passages such as this:

    "He would never again return to his golden bed, but was stretched cold as stone, twisted upon the floor of the shallows. There for ages his huge bones could be seen in calm weather amid the ruined piles of the old town. But few dared to cross the cursed spot, and none dared to dive into the shivering water or recover the precious stones that fell from his rotting carcass."

    Chills down the spine. Can't you just picture it? Even hundreds of years later, that area being abandoned and used to frighten naughty children.

    • flootzavut says:

      "Luckily, as we all know, million-to-one shots come up nine times out of ten."

      You are Terry Pratchett and I claim my $5 (Ankh Morpork dollars naturally ;))

      Guards! Guards! spoiler: Guvf znxrf zr guvax bs gur rssbeg Abool naq pb chg vagb nqwhfgvat gur bqqf bs Pbyba uvggvat gur qentba'f "ibbarenoyrf" fb gung vg vf vaqrrq n zvyyvba gb bar fubg – naq gurersber cenpgvpnyyl thnenagrrq:

      Gur enax fheirlrq gurve unaqvjbex.
      "Evtug," fnvq Abool. "Abj, jung ner gur punaprf bs n zna fgnaqvat ba bar yrt jvgu uvf ung ba onpx¬jneqf naq n unaqxrepuvrs va uvf zbhgu uvggvat n qent¬ba'f ibbarenoyrf? "
      "Zzcu," fnvq Pbyba.
      "Vg'f cerggl ybat bqqf," fnvq Pneebg. "V erpxba gur unaxl vf n ovg bire gur gbc, gubhtu."
      Pbyba fcng vg bhg. "Znxr hc lbhe zvaqf," ur fnvq. "Zr yrt'f tbvat gb fyrrc."

  34. nanceoir says:

    Oh, man, Mark Reads readers, I am disappoint.

    Mark gave us the opening right up top, and no one's taken him up on it yet.

    Alas, it falls to me.

    <img src=""&gt;

  35. Tauriel_ says:

    Mark really is obsessed with ponies, isn't he? 😀

    I have a very strong feeling that ur'yy nofbyhgryl ybir Ovyy gur cbal naq Byq Snggl Yhzcxva. 😀

    • sporkaganza93 says:

      Obsessed with ponies?


      I think he may need to be… LOVED AND TOLERATED.

      if you know what i am saying

  36. Lady X says:

    List time! 1. Bard = WIN
    2. John Simm running around Esgaroth = I can never re-read this chapter.
    3. Best chapter or best chapter?
    4. J.R.R Tolkien. Really. I don’t need to say any more.
    6. *swoons because of number 5*
    7. Esgarothesgarothesgarothesgaroth. It flows off your tongue so well! One of my faaaaavorite things about Tolkien is that all the names sound so middle-earthy and just not like humans would speak, and the languages are SO DETAILED.
    8. *swoons because of number 7*

  37. sporkaganza93 says:


  38. notemily says:

    So back when I was watching Battlestar for the first time, my friends and I had just watched Trogdor for like the twentieth time, and then we put on an episode of BSG. The words "The Cylons were created by man" flashed on the screen, and somehow we ended up singing:

    Cylon was a man!
    In fact he was a… robot man!
    Or maybe he was just a… robot!
    But he was still CYLOOOOOOON!!!

    Just had to share that.

    In retrospect it's kind of obvious that Bilbo wouldn't be the one to kill the dragon. I mean, we've established that Smaug is pretty much impossible to sneak up on, so it'd be pretty hard to get close enough to stab him in his weak spot. An archer is probably the most efficient way.

    Also, this puts me in mind of Katniss shooting the arena force-field's weak spot with her arrows. (Or I suppose the other way around, since this was first by several decades.) Especially the way the arrow just disappears INTO Smaug. Actually, we don't even know that it was the arrow that killed him–maybe it just wounded him. He fell into the lake, where his fires were extinguished or whatever, and maybe THAT killed him.

    If I lived in Esgaroth I'd be pretty pissed at the dwarves, too. PEOPLE DIED. I mean, the dragon is dead now, but so are LOTS OF PEOPLE. And I do like how Tolkien put in the bit about some people surviving the initial assault only to die later. He probably saw a lot of that in the war.

    The thrush doesn't speak HUMAN language, it just speaks thrush-language, but Bard can understand it because he's the descendant of the original king of Dale or whatever.

    (Can I just say that the name of the town of Dale annoyed me when I was a kid? Dale just means "valley." It's kind of like how Bilbo lives on "The Hill" and Hobbiton is across "The Water." Give things actual names! "Esgaroth" is much cooler than "Laketown.")

    The whole thing with the Master versus the people wanting Bard to be their king is interesting. The other day when we were discussing dwarves and Jewish culture, I found an article that said Tolkien was a fan of monarchy. He didn't like politics, basically because he thought the people who would most want power are those least suited for it. So I can see the Master here as being Tolkien's view of a politician, who desires power and therefore probably shouldn't have it, while Bard, who didn't ask for power but just did a badass thing, should be the King.

    (Tolkien also advocated blowing up factories and power stations as an act of patriotism. TRUE FAX. Warning: spoilers for LOTR at that link, but also a fascinating discussion of how hobbit society works.)

    I also like how the Laketown people are like "plz help us, elves" and the elves are like "no problem!" As opposed to the real world where the US doesn't seem to give a fuck that people are suffering in other countries unless it's politically expedient.

    • BornIn1142 says:

      Uh huh. Doesn't the United States hand out billions of dollars in foreign aid every year, much of it to developing nations? Or does that fall under "politically expedient?"

  39. ChronicReader91 says:

    Meanwhile, back at the lake…

    This is why I’ll never consider this story to be a “fairy tale.” There’s no “happily ever after” for the people of Esgaroth, with their town destroyed and a quarter of the people living there killed. Just because the dragon has been slain doesn’t mean the story has come to a conclusion. In that way this is one of the best examples of “realism” in Tolkien’s work. I think it says so much that even in the distant future, no one wanted to retrieve the jewels that Smaug used as armor.

    I had completely forgotten everything about the Thrush actually talking to someone, and that Bard was descended from the king of Dale or whatever. I just remembered him being the town’s resident warrior. So that all felt like I was reading it for the first time. Talking Thrush! 😀

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