Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


Chapter Thirteen: Not At Home

As written, the perspective of this chapter deprives the reader of the knowledge of what exactly transpires at Lake-town. As a result, everyone is on the same “page” in terms of being unaware of some of the consequences of the Dwarves’ return to Erebor. In the film, however, we are likely to already have this information as it relates to the Men of Esgaroth and the death of Smaug. Reading this chapter before “Fire and Water” we are able to keep our focus on Bilbo and his companions where we are a kind of “lull” in the action. For the purposes of analyzing the translation to film, we already looked at Chapter 14.

For “The Battle of the Five Armies”, the return to the Lonely Mountain will serve as an opportunity for us to catch our breath having just experienced the rampage and destruction of the dragon. So I think that Peter Jackson and company will take advantage of the audience’s attention and give us more focus on the gradual change that is taking hold of Thorin as he becomes more and more obsessed with recovering his Kingdom Under the Mountain.

In a very similar way that the Fellowship was trapped behind the West Gate of Moria by the Watcher in the Water the companions find the hidden door destroyed from the outside and have no choice but to delve further under the mountain to find a way out. In “The Desolation of Smaug” they had already plunged their way into the Dwarven realm and no longer need that motivation. In their adventure with Smaug they did encounter an access way that had been sealed long ago but at this point they have already seen the cavernous horde of treasure. So, given Thorin’s desire to find the Arkenstone, I believe that we will find them already knee-deep in gold and jewels when we cut away from Lake-town.
There are three primary plot points covered in this chapter that need to be explored in the film. The first deals with the discovery of the Arkenstone itself. The chapter starts off with the dwarves sitting in darkness since Smaug violently attacked them and sealed the hidden door. They are at first despondent, feeling that they “shall die here”. Bilbo, however, is a source of optimism and he encourages them to all go down the tunnel again with him.

Much time has passed and they are not sure if Smaug has returned or not. But Bilbo goes ahead and, fumbling around in the dark with his torch, he stumbles upon the great jewel by blind luck. Hepicks it up and puts it in his pocket. There really is no explanation as to why he hides it from the rest of the company other than a fleeting desire to claim it for his own as his share of the plunder. It’s almost reminiscent of how he discovered the Ring and instinctively (in a very burglar-esque manner) tucked it away.

The Annotated Hobbit lists the origin of the name Arkenstone as coming from the Anglo-Saxon word “eorclanstan” meaning “precious stone”. This is a word that even makes an appearance in the original text of the Old English story Beowulf. The description of the stone appears to be very much like the words written about the great jewels in Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”. It is likely that the Silmarils, which Tolkien had already written about in his notes, were the inspiration for this particular gem. Bilbo’s torch goes out and, in the darkness, he calls to the Dwarves to come to his aid. At this point he momentarily forgets about the Arkenstone. Discovering that the dragon is “not at home” they all begin to explore the surrounding treasure.
Now we have already seen in the second film that 1) Balin emphasized the importance of the Arkenstone when he sent him down the tunnel and 2) Bilbo has in fact already sighted the jewel and lost it again during the melee in which he tries to evade Smaug. There will have to be a point at which Bilbo separates from the Dwarves so that he has the opportunity to find it again.

He will also have to be given a motivation for keeping it from Thorin. This, I think, will be the writers’ biggest challenge. I surmise that it may have to do with Bilbo observing that Thorin is becoming consumed with what Tolkien described as “the dragon sickness”, the same greed that consumed Thorin’s grandfather, Thror, until his untimely end. It could also be because the Dwarf displays a lack of concern over the fate of Lake-town but this is not likely since his two nephews as well as Oin and Bofur were left there. Ironically, it is Fili and Kili who are two of the specific Dwarves that Tolkien mentions in the text – being in a particularly merry mood they start plucking out music on a pair of harps.

In my opinion, the real lack of an explanation as to why Bilbo conveniently decides to keep the discovery of the Arkenstone to himself is a weakness in the narrative. Naturally, it will come into play in the prelude to the coming battle but Bilbo has no grasp of its future importance at this point. So it will be up to Jackson, Walsh and Boyens to untie that knot.

The second major plot point is the “kingly gift” (as Gimli would call it) of the mithril coat to Bilbo. Thorin discovers the silver mail and presents it to Bilbo as “the first payment of your reward”. Interestingly, not much is made of this coat other than its apparent beauty. When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings this item was of considerable importance in being worn by Frodo throughout his post-Rivendell adventures. But there is no real description here of its toughness against spears or swords. Certainly the significance of this quality had not yet occurred to Tolkien. Nor it seems was its overall value if Thorin considered it merely a first payment towards Bilbo’s share.
Again, the Annotated Hobbit makes reference to the origin of “mithril” – a Sindarin word that means “grey glitter”. It is also known as Moria Silver and, indeed, can only be found in Moria (a place readers would not actually experience until the later trilogy was published). Also of note, the actual word mithril did not appear in the original 1937 edition but rather was added in the 1966 revision to more accurately identify it as the same coat appearing in Lord of the Rings.

Lastly, the question of Bilbo to Thorin now is “what next?” Here the party must decide the meaning of Smaug’s being “not at home”. They have no idea what became of the dragon and must ponder whether or not it will return. How Jackson has devised the means for getting the information concerning the fate of Smaug and Esgaroth is a big question. Tolkien’s solution to this plays out in the next chapter. But in any case, Thorin may at this point feel that Erebor has for all intents and purposes been retaken and perhaps it might be a good opportunity to now summon his cousin Dain and his folk from the Iron Hills to join them. It would certainly make his arrival with 500 Dwarves just before the battle more plausible considering how long that journey would take.

They finally discover the front gate and the source of the River that flows to the Long Lake. Several days pass and Balin suggests that they continue along a path outside the mountain that leads to a lookout post on the southwest corner. When they arrive they decide to set up camp and keep an eye out West, East and South for any sign of Smaug. They attempt to keep their hunger at bay by eating “cram”, a chewy “bistcuitish” food made by the Men of Laketown. Gloin must have shared this experience with Gimli later on at some point because the younger Dwarf at first mistakes the Lembas bread of the Elves for cram in the Lord of the Rings.
I suspect Jackson would now cut back to the aftermath of the attack at Laketown before continuing with Bilbo’s activities and perhaps we’ll even get a scene showing Gandalf being rescued by Galadriel at Dol Guldur. But the continuation of this part of the story gets us back on to proper chronological order in Chapter Fifteen: The Gathering of the Clouds.