The Hobbit – Chapter VIII – Flies and Spiders

From the very first time I read The Hobbit, Flies and Spiders has fascinated me.  It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I can always speculate.  It is the first chapter without Gandalf.  Before this, there was always the sense that Gandalf could take care of whatever problem they faced.  His absence raises the tension.  We finally get the payoff of Bilbo being the fourteenth member of the party, too.  I remember as a kid being a little frustrated by the talk of thirteen being unlucky when there were fifteen in the party.  Now it makes sense.  And, of course, there are the spiders.  I’ve always liked spiders and other creepy crawlies, much to my mother’s horror.  As an eleven or twelve year old, giant talking spiders were about the coolest non-Star Wars things I’d ever heard of.

The other great thing about this chapter is that the dwarves finally find out why Gandalf wanted Bilbo on this quest.  The dwarves are pretty much useless throughout the chapter.  They complain a lot, make bad decisions, point fingers, and Bombur is asleep and has to be carried because he falls into an enchanted river.  This, of course, is all before getting captured by the above mentioned spiders.  Bilbo is the only one who keeps his wits, keeps them close to on track and rescues the dwarves from each of their troubles.

This is also the chapter where elves become an important part of the story, although they will be more important in the next chapter.  As the party is reaching the end of the forest (Of course they don’t know they’re anywhere near the end of the forest, they feel like it goes on forever.), they are almost out of supplies.  They are hungry and tired and desperate.  Then, they start seeing fires burning just off the path.  They are desperate enough to decide to go ask whoever is tending the fires for help.  Only whenever the reach a fire, it goes out and everyone has a hard time finding each other again.  The group doesn’t know it, but the fires are lit by elves.  The Mirkwood elves are ancient, but mostly isolated.  They don’t trust outsiders generally and when a group of dwarves stumbles into their camp, they scatter.  Except for the last time, when they capture Thorin before they scatter.

Bilbo’s elvish sword gets its name in this chapter.  It’s really just an elvish knife, but that makes it plenty big enough to be a sword for a hobbit.  He uses it to free himself from the spider silk and then to fight off the spiders.  It stings them, so Bilbo calls it Sting.  It’s a simple origin story, but I like it.  Tolkien had a way with names.  Hobbits are simple folk.  It wouldn’t make sense for Bilbo to call it something grandiose.  It’s a fitting name all around.

So, those are some guesses as to why I like this chapter so much.  Every time I read the book, I look forward to Flies and Spiders and it always pays off.  Now on to see what those elves are all about.

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