The Hobbit: Chapter 2

Roast Mutton

Bilbo wakes to find his home in an utter mess, the results of a ‘hurried breakfast’. It seems the Dwarves have used the facilities without tidying up after themselves. To my mind this can only be read as an insult as they had proved the night before how effortlessly they helped clear things away. The hobbit felt a few things, first relief, then disappointment that he had been left behind.

He got on with the job of tidying up, re-ordering his life back into its safe and familiar state after its short sojourn into uncertainty and possible adventure. In fact he’d reverted back to his ‘normal’ so well that he began to forget about the prospect of adventures until Gandalf stepped back into the pristine hallway with his big wizard boots.

Gandalf takes great pleasure pointing out that Bilbo had neglected to dust his mantlepiece where he would have discovered a letter from the Dwarves. It seems that the quest party assumed that the hobbit would be as good as his word from the previous evening. Though I’d suggest that it is no accident that Gandalf is the one to go back and fetch Bilbo.

The note explains that the Dwarves had left early to make preparations for the journey and they confirm the offer of employing Bilbo as their burglar. They also set a time to depart. A time only ten minutes from when Gandalf intrudes upon Bilbo’s domestic idyll.

This seems to me to be another ruse of Gandalf’s. He goes back to the hobbit hole and gives Bilbo a ticking clock, he forces a fight or flight response that encourages him to run from his comfortable home to meet the Dwarves and embark upon a journey into the unknown. Gandalf, at the very least, had a suspicion that left to his own devices Bilbo’s Baggins side would win and he’d opt for safety and comfort. By flustering him and seemingly giving him no choice he runs off without thinking. 

Bilbo finds himself about to embark upon a journey without any of the usual trinkets he would have picked up if he’d had time to prepare properly. Handkerchiefs seem to be an abnormally prominent concern, to my mind! But this prompts the first show of fellowship between Bilbo and the Dwarves. Dwalin offers him a spare hat and cloak, he also comments that he will have to get used to ‘doing without’. Which in fact he didn’t have to in the end as Gandalf caught up with the group and bought a few comforts for Bilbo that he would have packed with more time.

Bilbo’s first impressions of adventures were rather positive. Trotting through familiar countryside as part of a group singing and telling tales, stopping now and again for meals (not often enough of course) but generally he was enjoying himself.

That first impression faded with time and distance. As they passed into unknown lands (at least for Bilbo), encountered unfamiliar people and vied with unpleasant weather, adventures suddenly seemed less attractive. This all plays into the main theme of discomfort but more acutely unfamiliarity. As this is a big part of what makes anything uncomfortable. Any new experiences, depending on your outlook, can be exciting or shrouded with anxiety and fear. Bilbo always seems to be across all of these emotions, his Baggins side yearning for all of the things and places he knows and derives comfort from while his Took side seeks excitement and discovery in all the strange and uncomfortable situations he finds.

All of a sudden (when the party is particularly miserable from hunger and foul weather) they realise the wizard is no longer with them! This is an important moment for our adventurers. I particularly enjoy the comment that Gandalf had ‘eaten most, talked most and laughed most’ while he was with them, yet had slipped away unnoticed by all. Nobody really knows if Gandalf is part of the adventure or not, and it seems they have not plucked up the courage to ask outright. It is clear they all hope that he will accompany them, for their own convenience of course. 

In these first initial flushes of discomfort some of the Dwarves are making comments that chime nicely with Bilbo’s thoughts reinforcing my supposition that the Dwarves are not as well traveled or hardy as the reader might first assume. This also strengthens the camaraderie of the group, the Dwarves have more in common with the hobbit than either party might have thought.

Luck or fate goes against our group as a string of misfortunes befall them leaving them wet, cold hungry and miserable out in the wild with no prospect of aid when Balin spots firelight in the distance. They must decide what do do and there us much debate between the fourteen of them, a regular question being ‘Where has Gandalf got to?’, underlining their reliance upon the wizard in tough situations, and their relative inexperience.

In this passage there are a few interesting ‘textural ruins’, things that are referred to that bear no significance to the story, but help expand the world. The most interesting being the mention of ‘a king’. The comment is left hanging but invites all sorts of possibilities for the reader to infer so much onto the world of the story.

Then comes the moment that defines the Dwarves (in my mind), they repeatedly wonder where Gandalf is to get them out of trouble, eventually their minds turn to the only other member of the party in their ‘employ’. ‘After all we have got a burglar with us!’ It would seem as long as a course of action that does not place the Dwarves in trouble or danger exists, they will find it and utilise it. These are not brave and daring Dwarves (right now), they are a gaggle of sheep constantly looking for a shepherd. It is also notable that Thorin is not the decisive leader he is hinted at being, at this point, even though he gives the final instructions to Bilbo before sending him into possible danger.

Bilbo really isn’t all that assertive. He goes where he is told for the most part even though he has very valid and reasonable objections, for example not being able to make a noise like a screech-owl to tell the Dwarves he is in danger. It comes across to me like the hobbit’s natural sense of propriety and not wanting to be rude, but I spy a bedrock of self-belief under it all. There is a sense that he has something about him that will stand by him well.

This is proved as he begins to make his way through the trees toward the mysterious light. He moves silently using the natural gifts that come to hobbits. He has advantages that help in his accidental profession.

He approached a campfire to discover three trolls sitting by it roasting mutton and drinking beer. One of my favourite lines comments upon the language they used described as ‘not drawing room fashion at all, at all.’ They complain about their meals, being sick of mutton and wanting man flesh. Which thinking about the realities of these comments are quite strong for a kids book.

Here Bilbo is at a crossroads, he could retreat back to the Dwarves and warn them, but he stops himself. He feels a need to prove himself to the group. His expectations are not set by the realities of the situation in front of him, but from the stories and tales he has read. His bar for a first-class burglar are set from fiction and this spurs him on to do something rash to reach that unreasonable level. He tries to pick a troll’s pocket and snags a purse.

A purse that talks, which prompts many more questions that cannot be sufficiently answered using the information given in the book. Is the purse sentient? Is it under some sort of spell? Or is this simply a strange narrative device used that the author felt would raise a smile in his young audience?

The trolls capture poor Bilbo and begin to argue about eating him while wondering if there might be more of his like about to muster a decent pie. The trolls begin to fight and Bilbo gets thrown away and he would have gotten away if it wasn’t for Balin stumbling into the firelight.

I find it of note that Balin was first to set off in search of Bilbo, this will be the start of a particular friendship.

The trolls capture the Dwarves as each of them approach the fire in search of their comrades. Again, this really doesn’t paint the Dwarves in a very good light. Twelve of them stumble into danger without realising that something bad happened to the Dwarf before them. I think it goes this way as a method of setting Thorin apart from the rest. He gives a good account of himself, he avoids immediate capture and makes a decent fist of battling the trolls, even though he is eventually captured like the others.

Then Gandalf returns, as is his usual M.O., in the nick of time. ‘A voice’ keeps starting an argument between the trolls, not only does this voice start it but keeps perpetuating it until dawn, which turns the trolls to stone. 

It’s fair to say that Bilbo and the Dwarves failed their first test of the adventure. Without Gandalf they would have perished, at least the Dwarves would have and Bilbo would have been powerless to stop them being eaten.

The Dwarves don’t seem to be all that thankful… Their default setting seems to be grumbling, even when their lives have just been saved.

Gandalf leads them to a cave, with a locked stone door that he cannot open. Bilbo ‘luckily’ found a key in the fracas. This is a motif that the author will return to a few times.

Luck, providence or a particular brand of fate from a higher power brings the group into possession of some very special swords and a bit of treasure. So the chapter ends with a modicum of success.

Gandalf explains that he went off to scout ahead and heard reports of trolls which made him head back. We also get the first mention of ‘Rivendell’ but no proper explanation.

The most surprising part of the chapter are the very last words, when Thorin  thanks the wizard.

A lot of the happenings in this chapter build upon and confirm what was established in the first but it does so in a very interesting and entertaining way that expands the world and gives proof of some of the promises made at the start.