One of the nice things about Tolkien is that he lets his stories end naturally. Of course Bilbo can’t stay with the dwarves. The story isn’t finished until he goes home. It might seem a little anticlimactic, but I like the fact that we get to see the true end of the journey. Although, I suppose that’s not really until next chapter.
This chapter is, naturally, about the return journey. But there is some business to finish up before we get there. Bilbo needs to regain consciousness (and take the ring off) as no one knows if he survived the battle. Bilbo needs to find out how the battle ended, since he was unconscious. And, most importantly, Bilbo needs to come to a resolution with the dwarves.
All of these are accomplished in short order. Bilbo finds his way back to camp and learns that the eagles and Beorn both arrived to fight the goblins. It was still a fierce battle, but they turned the tide and the good guys won. Thorin was mortally wounded during the battle. Luckily, he was still alive when Bilbo made it to camp. Thorin gave Bilbo a sincere deathbed apology. Bilbo accepted, so they could part as friends. Fili and Kili were also killed in the battle. Bilbo mourns their losses. The rest of the dwarves held Bilbo in high honor and will miss his company. And Dain, who was now King Under the Mountain, is much more generous that Thorin and gives treasure to all the deserving parties.
One thing that struck me while reading this chapter, as Bilbo names all thirteen of the dwarves (Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili and Thorin Oakenshield), is how little we learn about most of the dwarves over the course of the book. Thorin is the only one that can be considered a main character. We learn that Bombur is fat, Fili and Kili are young and Balin is fond of Bilbo. That leaves eight of the dwarves as virtually non-characters. I don’t think this is a flaw, after all, it is Bilbo’s story. It’s just something that struck me. Given how well thought out Middle Earth is, it seems likely that Tolkien knew all kinds of things about all of the dwarves. He just only chose to share what was important for this book.
Finally we get to the return journey itself. It is pretty uneventful. Bilbo is accompanied by Gandalf, and Beorn for part of the trip. They make a point of going around Mirkwood. Tolkien does say that Bilbo had many adventures on the way back, but he was never in real danger. Again Tolkien shows a good deal of restraint. Those adventures may be interesting on their own, but they aren’t part of this story, so they are left out. All we know for sure is that Bilbo is more than ready to be finished with his adventure.
And that sets us up for the final chapter.