Reader: The Hobbit. Chapter 8 “Flies And Spiders”

The Hobbit Book CoverSummary Points (an eventful chapter indeed!)

  • Mirkwood was truly a scary, forbidding, creepy, gloomy place with huge trees and super dense foliage needing serious trimming above, while strange unknown critters nosed about in the undergrowth and thick leave piles. There were black squirrels abound too. Cobwebs seemed copious and super-strength industrial grade. Air quality was nothing to shout about either depressing even the Dwarves with its stuffy stillness.

  • Even from the Forest Gate, Mirkwood was already depressing and gloomy.
  • The Elf-path was a narrow pathway good for single-file only, and was surprisingly well-maintained. No cobwebs across it.
  • Night-time Mirkwood was even worse than the day. Utter pitchy black with nothing visible but eyes of different colours staring at the Company, both at ground level and from on high, as they slept huddled together.
  • All in the Company took night watch duty.
  • Campfires in Mirkwood was a bad idea, attracting more eyes and huge black moths and bats.
  • Either black squirrels were ninja or dwarves were categorically bad at archery for wasting many arrows just bringing down one.
  • Black squirrel meat was an acquired taste neither Dwarves nor Hobbit appreciated.
  • Portable water was important for Mirkwood forays. Also Dwarves and Hobbit need lessons in en-route water rationing.
  • The Enchanted Stream looked as bleak as the Mirkwood air felt to the Company.
  • Even Dwarves, among them Thorin, acknowledged the prowess of Bilbo’s eyesight. Thorin though, probably had age-related night vision issues anyway.
  • Dwarves were a working collective if nothing else. Bilbo’s best position was as the Company’s eyes. And once again, he proved his worth when he managed to yell for help, and simultaneously keep the boat from drifting off while the tugging Dwarves fell over from the effort.
  • Thorin always allowed himself to go first, and Bombur was always bringing up the rear, but he made it clear on this boating foray he was not having it. But Thorin could be artlessly heartless when he was so minded, and he settled the argument with Bombur still in the same position.
  • In a series of unfortunate events, a hart charged into the Company as they gathered on the other bank, and sprang across the stream as Bombur was embarking. The Dwarf toppled and got a good dunking in the stream while the hart was injured by Thorin’s arrow as it reached the bank they were formerly on and disappeared, probably injured. Bombur became unconscious.
  • Dwarves gave more proof of being bad archers when they wasted all their arrows trying to shoot the hind and her fawns. No mind for strategy nor sustainable resource use.
  • It took four Dwarves’ effort (and much lighter food packs) to carry Bombur.
  • Four days after crossing the Enchanted Stream, the lands seemed to get greener and lighter, and they heard laughter and singing. Bombur continued to sleep.
  • Another two more days found the Company in a valley of mighty oaks.
  • As usual, Bilbo was tapped to climb the tallest tree and ascertain their bearings.
    • Dwarves could get peevishly petty, when they could not enjoy the good stuff and had no one else to blame but their own physiology.
  • Bombur woke up at last, though he wasn’t happy to be awake and away from the prescient dreams he was having of elf-feasts. But the others were understandably relieved.
    • FAT, hungry Dwarves were prone to dummy-spitting tantrums.
  • When push comes to shove, Dwarven “gut feels” took precedence over prudence.
  • Elf-feasts were invite-only nighttime events, and they had super-fast MOs for camp-moving to avoid party-crashers.
  • Dwarves were persistent if nothing else. They had 3 attempts, the last one featuring the Elvenking.
    • Bilbo was again used as the lucky mascot/bellweather when it came to dangerous manoeuvres at their second attempt. Bombur’s vicarious party-going might be infectious – Bilbo certainly exhibited the same symptoms.
    • Thorin himself tried the last time. Bilbo proved himself easily lost yet again, ending up asleep both times. He was retrieved by the tenacious Dori in the second party-crash, but no such luck in the third round. Thorin was separated during the confusion and taken prisoner by the Elves.
  • Mirkwood Spiders were huge, quiet and good with gift-wrapping, but they were unused to takeaways offering resistance.
  • Having a means of personal defense at hand was a good idea. Bilbo’s knife was blooded on Spider and christened “Sting”, Bilbo earned himself some self-cred and grew a spine in the process.
  • Elvenking!
  • Hindsight was truly perfect. Bilbo regretted the Company not sticking to Gandalf and Beorn’s advice and plan.
    • Bilbo found the Dwarves, all gift-wrapped by Spiders. Bilbo saved the Dwarves, again.
    • Dwarves could fight. So could Bilbo.
    • The Ring saved them all.
    • Even the after-party of Elf-feasts possessed goodness enough to deter Spiders.
    • Dwarves’ opinions were easy to sway, especially after acts of heroisms benefitting them.
    • Balin was surely happy to know it wasn’t his failing senses that allowed Bilbo to sneak past him outside the Goblin neighbourhood in the Misty Mountains.
    • The Company only realised Thorin was missing when all were safe.
  • There were different kinds of Elves. The ones who were holding the parties were Wood-elves, and they were “Good People’ who were “less wise, more dangerous”. They lived in a vast multi-purpose cave system with magic doors, which served as palace, stronghold and treasure vault for their king who loved treasure, and from which no one left without his consent.
  • Dwarves were stubborn but were not averse to taking advantage where they could.
  • Elves were gracious with their prisoners. Someone ought to see about nominating them for poster-children for the Geneva Convention.

 

Key Notes/Quotes

The first paragraphs 7 paragraphs. Mirkwood is definitely a forest with character.

They were thirsty too, for they had none too much water, and in all the time they had seen neither spring nor stream. This was their state when one day they found their path blocked by a running water. It flowed fast and strong but not very wide right across the way, and it was black, or looked it in the gloom. It was well that Beorn had warned them against it, or they would have drunk from it, whatever its colour, and filled some of their emptied skins at its bank. As it was they only thought of how to cross it without wetting themselves in its water. There had been a bridge of wood across, but it had rotted and fallen leaving only the broken posts near the bank.

Bilbo kneeling on the brink and peering forward cried: “There is a boat against the far bank! Now why couldn’t it have been this side!”

“How far away do you think it is?” asked Thorin, for by now they knew Bilbo had the sharpest eyes among them.

“Not at all far. I shouldn’t think above twelve yards.”

“Twelve yards! I should have thought it was thirty at least, but my eyes don’t see as well as they used a hundred years ago

The disrepair of the bridge was interesting. Was it a strategic decision?

In this way they were all soon on the far bank safe across the enchanted stream. Dwalin had just scrambled out with the coiled rope on his arm, and Bombur (still grumbling) was getting ready to follow, when something bad did happen. There was a flying sound of hooves on the path ahead.Out of the gloom came suddenly the shape of a flying deer. It charged into the dwarves and bowled them over, then gathered itself for a leap. High it sprang and cleared the water with a mighty jump. But it did not reach the other side in safety. Thorin was the only one who had kept his feet and his wits. As soon as they had landed he had bent his bow and fitted an arrow in case any hidden guardian of the boat appeared. Now he sent a swift and sure shot into the leaping beast. As it reached the further bank it stumbled. The shadows swallowed it up, but they heard the sound of hooves quickly falter and then go still.

The appearance of an actual animal that did not seemed like it belonged to the creepy clubhouse the Company had been used to seeing in Mirkwood thus far was probably an indication they were entering Elven lands.

They were still standing over him, cursing their ill luck, and Bombur’s clumsiness, and lamenting the loss of the boat which made it impossible for them to go back and look for the hart, when they became aware of the dim blowing of horns in the wood and the sound as of dogs baying far off. Then they all fell silent; and as they sat it seemed they could hear the noise of a great hunt going by to the north of the path, though they saw no sign of it.

There they sat for a long while and did not dare to make a move. Bombur slept on with a smile on his fat face, as if he no longer cared for all the troubles that vexed them. Suddenly on the path ahead appeared some white deer, a hind and fawns as snowy white as the hart had been dark. They glimmered in the shadows. Before Thorin could cry out three of the dwarves had leaped to their feet and loosed off arrows from their bows. None seemed to find their mark. The deer turned and vanished in the trees as silently as they had come, and in vain the dwarves shot their arrows after them.

“Stop! stop!” shouted Thorin; but it was too late, the excited dwarves had wasted their last arrows, and now the bows that Beorn had given them were useless.

Was the dark hart the target of the mysterious hunt? Were the hind and her fawn known to the hart? The Dwarves were certainly reckless when stressed.

When he heard that there was nothing to eat, he sat down and wept, for he felt very weak and wobbly in the legs. “Why ever did I wake up!” he cried. “I was having such beautiful dreams. I dreamed I was walking in a forest rather like this one, only lit with torches on the trees and lamps swinging from the branches and fires burning on the ground; and there was a great feast going on, going on for ever. A woodland king was there with a crown of leaves, and there was a merry singing, and I could not count or describe the things there were to eat and drink.”

Interesting dreamscape for Bombur to be in, especially when it was followed by the Company’s encounter with the real event. Was it coincidence? Or was this induced by the Enchanted Stream’s water? What was the real use of its water? For dream-walking like the Red Indian shamanic Pipe Ceremony? But by whom then?

After lying and listening for a while, they found they could not resist the desire to go nearer and try once more to get help. Up they got again; and this time the result was disastrous. The feast that they now saw was greater and more magnificent than before; and at the head of a long line of feasters sat a woodland king with a crown of leaves upon his golden hair, very much as Bombur had described the figure in his dream. The elvish folk were passing bowls from hand to hand and across the fires, and some were harping and many were singing. Their gleaming hair was twined with flowers; green and white gems glinted on their collars and their belts; and their faces and their songs were filled with mirth. Loud and clear and fair were those songs, and out stepped Thorin in to their midst.

Dead silence fell in the middle of a word. Out went all light. The fires leaped up in black smokes. Ashes and cinders were in the eyes of the dwarves, and the wood was filled again with their clamour and their cries.

The Elvenking and his folk unveiled! And just as Bombur dreamed.

There was the usual dim grey light of the forest-day about him when he came to his senses. The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.

&

In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew tall in lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk. Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People.

So even early, the Elves’ love of stars was established by the prof.

 

Bilbo earned some self-cred indeed, the pebble that started an avalanche of esteem accumulation in Dwarven eyes. Good thing he was no arachnophobe.

In the end Bilbo could think of no plan except to let the dwarves into the secret of his ring. He was rather sorry about it, but it could not be helped.

“I am going to disappear,” he said. “I shall draw the spiders off, if I can; and you must keep together and make in the opposite direction. To the left there, that is more or less the way towards the place where we last saw the elf-fires.”

It was difficult to get them to understand, what with their dizzy heads, and the shouts, and the whacking of sticks and the throwing of stones; but at last Bilbo felt he could delay no longer—the spiders were drawing their circle ever closer. He suddenly slipped on his ring, and to the great astonishment of the dwarves he vanished.

The Ring unveiled to the Company. And this bit showed Bilbo starting to strategise, and thinking about opportunity cost: keep his secret or keep everyone alive.

The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course. These are not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise…. … In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew tall in lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk. Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People.

In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; …. In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favourite trees. The king’s cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies.

It was also the dungeon of his prisoners. So to the cave they dragged Thorin—not too gently, for they did not love dwarves, and thought he was an enemy. In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves, whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the elfking had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay. If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems; and though his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. His people neither mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or with tilling the earth. All this was well known to every dwarf, though Thorin’s family had had nothing to do with the old quarrel I have spoken of. Consequently Thorin was angry at their treatment of him, when they took their spell off him and he came to his senses; and also he was determined that no word of gold or jewels should be dragged out of him.

The Elvenking, his Wood-elves and their life-style, and his realm.

 

Thoughts

So much happened in this chapter. Personally, I have a vested interest of course, given my fascination with the Elvenking and his realm, the Mirkwood-at-large included. The Elvenking was never given a name in TH, but we know from LotR he was Thranduil Oropherion, father of Legolas, the only Elf in the Fellowship of the Ring. There’s not much else to say except all my thoughts and impressions about Mirkwood and the Spiders are translated onto the virtual page for my hunt-for-Gollum fic. The Elvenking I have made a pass at a character arc for him for the same fic, which I was happy with until TH, the movies came along which means I am enthralled worse than ever before, and the muse is languishing for a lack of outlet with regards to fleshing out the cool badassery of Thranduil. Anyway, again, TH is not the definitive codex, in my view, but rather a complement to LotR. But, as mentioned, it can be very helpful in plugging some gaps here and there, like the Mirkwood realm and its King.

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