In the seventeenth chapter of The Hobbit, jesus goddamn christ WHAT THE FUCK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hobbit.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE CLOUDS BURST
Well, this is not what I expected.
It seemed to me that what Bilbo had done was leading towards some sort of reconciliation, that even if Thorin was horribly upset with the hobbit for what he had done, it was a way for there to be a solution without a war. It seemed like a fairly obvious message, too: there is a way to resolve things without bloodshed. And that is certainly where this was headed, wasn’t it?
As Dain converges on the mountainside with all the dwarves he’s brought along, I now see how Tolkien has gone to great lengths to basically obfuscate what he actually has planned here, despite that there have been a couple of clues along the way. Predictably, without knowing that Bard has the Arkenstone, Thorin refuses to budge. Again.
“My mind does not change with the rising and setting of a few suns,” answered Thorin.
Okay, that’s real nice, Thorin, but what the fuck are you doing. I get that you’ve got the moral fortitude of an old oak. That’s great! It shows that you commit to what you set out to do. But this is getting to be absurd. Appropriately so, as Bard decides at this moment to ask if Thorin will yield in exchange for the Arkenstone.
When the moment comes, it’s…well, it’s not quite as badass as I anticipated. It’s actually kind of sad! Thorin realizes he’s been tricked and that Bard is trying to manipulate him. The fact that Bard’s reveal shocks him into silence is an indication of how much this hurts him. I sort of feel a bit bad about feeling so gung-ho about Bilbo’s plan? Maybe just a little bit. The practical side in me still thought this would work out for the best after some uncomfortable moments, which we do get anyway. The first of which…holy shit.
“By the beard of Durin! I wish I had Gandalf here! Curse him for his choice of you! May his beard wither! As for you I will throw you to the rocks!” he cried and lifted Bilbo in his arms.
“Stay! Your wish is granted!” said a voice. The old man with the casket threw aside his hood and cloak. “Here is Gandalf! And none too soon it seems. If you don’t like my Burglar, please don’t damage him.”
A few things:
1) I need to start yelling the following at people: “BY THE BEARD OF MARK.” It will make things more effective.
2) How embarrassed would you be if you were Thorin? He makes some flippant remark about the wizard knowing he’s not there and it turns out he’s hiding out right in front of him. I have a feeling Gandalf just hides around and waits until someone shit talks him so he can make them feel ashamed within ten seconds of doing so.
3) I need to start yelling the following at people: “MAY YOUR BEARD WITHER!” Bonus points if they don’t have a beard.
4) Okay, why is Gandalf talking about Bilbo as if he belongs to him? He’s not your property, Gandalf. RUDE.
5) Gandalf only speaks in the third person about himself, doesn’t he? WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS.
So Gandalf…I’m a bit confused. You’ve set up Bilbo to be part of this wonderful, fantastic adventure, and he’s grown and matured in ways that he never would have otherwise. I actually think this is pretty great, even considering that this adventure you sent Bilbo on (by tricking him, I might add) has put him in mortal danger! Bilbo even uses his newfound sassiness to tell Thorin what a fool he’s making of himself and his fellow dwarves before taking off to join Gandalf.
My question is: Gandalf, what exactly are you doing here in this story? As Bilbo turns himself over to the elves and the lake men, and the wait continues for anything to happen, I can’t help but wonder how Gandalf plays into this and, more important than that, HOW DOES HE KNOW SO MUCH OF WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? This actually bothers me just a little bit because the key turning point in chapter seventeen (and when everything goes to hell) is right as the dwarves and the lake men/elves look like they’re going to clash in battle. A sudden cloud of darkness swarms over the entire party and the wizard reveals what his warning to Bilbo days earlier actually means:
“Dread has come upon you all! Alas! it has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! the bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!”
Okay, let me first say that the image of hundreds of thousands of bats that block out sunlight to make it seem like a cloud of darkness has descended on the entire mountain? That shit is fucking magical. Bravo, Tolkien, that is fantastic. HOWEVER–and yes, I have to say this–WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING DAYS AGO, GANDALF??? No, seriously, if a few days ago, you had either crucial information or an inkling of a clue that the goblins were coming to waste all of these creatures, why would you keep that to yourself? I don’t understand this! Did I just read this section wrong? Look, I’m willing to admit that I goofed this up if I read something wrong, but it seems to me that he is purposely holding on to information in order to….be an elitist wizard? “Oh, I knew about the goblins way before you did.”
Yet even with this bizarre behavior, I can’t deny that I was totally taken aback and shocked by this huge twist. Tolkien doesn’t waste any time dropping us directly into the chaotic and violent battle against the dwarves. I think that aside from feeling like that came out of right field, though, I was struck by how much death there is here. Tolkien sort of glosses over it in a way until one very distinct image towards the end of the chapter:
Once again the goblins were stricken in the valley; and they were piled in heaps till Dale was dark and hideous with their corpses.
That is not sugar coating anything. It’s actually a rather disturbing image, to be honest, one I didn’t really expect in a book that is generally geared towards a slightly younger audience. The deaths at Esgaroth aren’t ignored, to be fair, but there’s no description of the bodies like there is here. What it got me thinking about was how death is used in fiction and how it doesn’t hold the same emotional weight in The Hobbit as other stories.
I acknowledge that this isn’t really the point of this book, but coming from Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and A Song of Ice and Fire, death has a much more intimate and horrific consequence and it’s something I’ve actually been pondering for the past few weeks. In the case of George R.R. Martin’s series, death hangs over everything. (I’m not going to discuss specifics, for the record. NO SPOILERS ALLOWED.) Most deaths are described in excruciating detail and even larger battles acknowledge countless deaths over the pages. It’s weird, then, to read about so many creatures dying without any sort of sympathy from the author or any of the characters. To be fair, a lot of the elves, dwarves, and lake men die, too, but I don’t know that I’m totally into the idea that Wargs and goblins are always evil all of the time, that they’re an irredeemable race, that they are always villains forever until the end of time.
Does this strike anyone as something that’s a bit bizarre? I know that coming from shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Battlestar Galactica, I’m going to biased since I’m so used to ambiguity from the face of the “enemy,” so it’s a bit disrupting to have something be so one-sided, you know? I don’t imagine we’re going to spend the last two chapters validating the concerns of the goblins, so I think this is all we’re going to get.
I will say that the end of this chapter (and what leads up to it) made me smile. I kind of adore the idea that Tolkien doesn’t turn Bilbo into some merciless warrior by the end of this book. Honestly, it wouldn’t make any sense. What would make sense would be for him to put on the ring and hide out until things got better. That’s very Bilbo, isn’t it?
I would also be lying if I didn’t admit I was surprised by the end of chapter seventeen. THE FUCKING EAGLES HAVE RETURNED. Just when I’m thinking that everything is perfect and wonderful, Tolkien gives me this:
“The Eagles!” cried Bilbo once more, but at that moment a stone hurtling from above smote heavily on his helm, and fell with a crash and knew no more.
Wait. No more…what??? More of that moment? MORE EVER? I meant he just got knocked out, right? DAMN YOU, AMBIGUOUS WORDING.