A Thief In The Night is a short, but crucial, chapter. The action is really straightforward. Bilbo, you may remember from Chapter XIII – Not At Home, is in possession of the Arkenstone. Thorin has basically lost his mind. He is completely obsessed with the treasure, and the Arkenstone in particular. He will not listen to reason, not that many of the dwarves were feeling reasonable. Thorin and his group are willing to fight all of the men and elves for their treasure. Bilbo, of course, is the reasonable one. He realizes that there is no reasoning with the dwarves, which means no fair or peaceful solution to the problem. So, he takes the Arkenstone and sneaks over to the camp of the men and elves. He gives the gem to Bard to use as negotiating leverage, then sneaks back to his place with the dwarves. And on his way he has a brief conversation with Gandalf. Yes, Gandalf is back, but he has only shown himself to Bilbo at this point.
I like this chapter a lot, but it is hard to explain why. I think, mostly, it comes down to Bilbo gets to show what kind of hobbit he really is in this chapter. The act of taking the Arkenstone and giving it to Bard is really an act of self sacrifice. Bilbo has shown uncommon courage throughout the book, but this is a different kind of courage. He knows exactly what Thorin will do. He knows that his friends will see it as a betrayal. But he knows what is right and he knows that he is the only one who can make things right.
I also enjoy this chapter because a lot of people come to the realization that it’s best not to underestimate the hobbit. People are always so condescending towards Bilbo. The dwarves are repeatedly. The trolls were. Gollum was. The people of Lake Town, the elves and Beorn were. Really everyone except for Gandalf has underestimated Bilbo. It’s just nice to see him take matters into his own hands and show everyone who’s boss.
I also mentioned at the beginning that this is a crucial chapter. Basically what I mean is that it is how Tolkien escapes the corner he had written himself into. The book couldn’t just end with the death of the dragon. And the dwarves couldn’t just live happily ever after with their treasure. There had to be repercussions. But the book can’t end in tragedy and the repercussions have to be real. This is the chapter that allows the repercussions to be real and sets up the happy ending.
So, it’s a short chapter, but it’s pretty packed. We grow to appreciate Bilbo even more. And the end is in sight. Just three more chapters to go.