The Hobbit – Chapter XVII – The Clouds Burst
Here we have the Battle of Five Armies. If you’re keeping track, it’s the dwarves, the men, the elves, the goblins and the eagles. That is unless it is the dwarves, the men, the elves, the goblins and the wargs. Both the eagles and the wargs are involved, I’m just not sure which one constitutes an army. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The chapter opens, as it must, with the repercussions of the previous chapter. Bard and the Elf King return to try to talk to the dwarves, this time with the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip. When Thorin sees the Arkenstone, he is amazed and confused. He assumes they stole it somehow. But, Bilbo confesses what he had done. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before, but Bilbo is incredibly brave. And his plan worked. Thorin is almost ready to kill Bilbo, but Bilbo explains that the Arkenstone counts as his fourteenth of the total. Thorin grudgingly agrees that if he gets the Arkenstone back, the men and elves can have Bilbo’s share, one fourteenth of the treasure. When the deal is struck, Thorin wants nothing to do with Bilbo. So, Bilbo is forced to leave the dwarves and join the host of men and elves. Talk about ingrates. At least a few of the dwarves have the decency to feel bad about it.
Thorin is an unusual character, especially considering that this is really a children’s book. Throughout the book, until we get to the dragon, he was clearly a good guy. Pompous, sure, but a good guy. He falls fast and hard, though, once he sees a real chance of regaining his treasure. It is a well written book, so it isn’t shocking. The seeds were planted early. But this is a kid’s book. I’m not sure I understood Thorin’s transformation the first time I read it. This isn’t a complaint, just an observation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s confusing for most of the eleven and twelve year olds who read it.
The elves and men still want to avoid a fight, but they don’t trust Thorin. The say that they will keep the Arkenstone until all of the gold is delivered. Thorin, meanwhile, figures that he can keep all of the gold and get the Arkenstone back once his cousin, Dain, arrives. Everyone is at a bit of a stalemate.
After all the posturing, Dain does arrive. Bard is smart enough to realize that if Dain gets through to the mountain with his army, the deal with Thorin will be ignored. Bard blocks their passage. They insist he move. Just as the battle begins, the goblin army arrives from the north. The goblins are still angry that their king was killed and wouldn’t mind some of the treasure for themselves. At the arrival of the goblins, everything changes. The dwarves, elves and men unite to fight their common enemy.
A good chunk of the chapter is filled with a description of the battle. Basically, it goes back and forth, but gradually the goblins are winning. Bilbo sticks close to Bard, with his ring on and mostly stays safe. Just as it looks like the goblin army will overwhelm our heroes, Bilbo sees the eagles. He starts a cry, then is knocked on the head and falls unconscious. That is where the chapter ends.
I just have to say how much I like the way this chapter ends. After my complaints about Chapter XIV, Fire And Water, it should be obvious why. The ending of this chapter goes to show, once again, that this is Bilbo’s story. We only know what’s going on from Bilbo’s perspective and here, Tolkien sticks to that. It’s a beautiful thing. It only goes to make the mistake of Chapter XIV that much more egregious.
We end with a little bit of suspense, but not much. Tolkien doesn’t tell us how the battle ends, but it seems pretty obvious that the eagles will help the good guys prevail. And we will find out soon how the battle ended.