A Warm Welcome is quite similar to A Short Rest, and not just because of the three word chapter titles. Both chapters are kind of a pause in the action. They are both a chance for the company to rest a little and heal before they move on to something more difficult. And both allow the group to get resupplied, which is important since they keep losing their supplies and ponies.
The chapter opens with Bilbo finally releasing the dwarves from their barrels. Except for Thorin, Fili and Kili, they continue to be very little help. They are bruised, wet and grumpy. But they all survived the trip. Thorin wastes no time in announcing himself to the master of Lake Town.
Lake Town has been living in the shadow of the dragon for years and years. Some of the younger people don’t even believe in the dragon anymore, but there are songs and stories about the old days when the dwarves ruled the mountain. So, when thirteen dwarves and a hobbit appear, most of the town takes it as a sign. The dwarves will free them from the tyranny of the dragon. The master is suspicious, but as a politician, follows the people. The dwarves are treated royally (and the hobbit is mostly ignored).
One thing that struck me in this chapter is the way Tolkien so effectively keeps the dragon ever present throughout the book. It’s almost a little like Jaws. The actual dragon doesn’t appear until the end of the story, but he is a presence from the very first chapter. No matter what the party has to endure, there is always the thought that they still have a dragon to deal with if they get through it.
This chapter also plants some seeds that will bear fruit later. I mentioned that the master of the town is suspicious of the dwarves. But, he is also thinking ahead to what will happen if the stories are true. The dragon has accumulated a spectacular hoard of treasure. He hopes that, if he helps the dwarves, and the dwarves are successful, he can lay claim to a portion of the treasure. This is really the first sign that things aren’t going to be simple, even if the dwarves are successful.
It feels a little funny, but I have barely mentioned Bilbo in this chapter. That’s because the hobbit has very little to do in the chapter. He catches a really bad cold and spends most of his time feeling lousy and sneezing. However, he is the one member of the company that is uncomfortable with the reception in Lake Town. Now that he can see the Lonely Mountain, he knows that the worst is still ahead. He doesn’t want the distractions or celebrations when they haven’t really accomplished anything yet.
After a couple weeks of resting and feeding, Thorin decides it is time to continue their quest. They are fitted with new supplies, food and ponies. Now they are about to begin the most dangerous phase of their journey.