Reader: The Hobbit. Chapter 17 “The Clouds Burst”

The Hobbit Book Cover

Summary Points

  • Early the next day, banner standards were brought up to the Front Gate of Erebor, with both chiefs in attendance.
  • Thorin was smug in the surety of Dain’s arrival swinging things in his favour and was displeased to see the Elves still among the Men.

  • Bard disenchanted him with the Arkenstone reveal.
  • Thorin was furious, and was further incensed when Bilbo confessed, without prompting, to being the one who gave the Arkenstone to the host.
    • Thorin even invoked Gandalf in his anger and was convinced of a conspiracy against him when the old accompanying the chiefs revealed himself to be the wizard.
    • Bilbo claimed the Arkenstone as his share, to be disposed of as he will, and in turn Thorin agreed to redeem the Arkenstone with Bilbo’s expected share of the treasure.
    • Thorin banished Bilbo then, calling him “descendant of rats”. Bilbo returned to the host’s camp with only the mithril shirt and armour he was wearing but he had his own back:
      ‘Perhaps I took it too literally—I have been told that dwarves are sometimes politer in word than in deed. The time was, all the same, when you seemed to think that I had been of some service. Descendant of rats, indeed! Is this all the service of you and your family that I was promised, Thorin? Take it that I have disposed of my share as I wished, and let it go at that!”’
    • Some of the Dwarves had the decency to feel ashamed at his treatment.
    • Bilbo’s loyalty was still with the Company, though Thorin neither saw nor appreciate it, even threatening him if he did not get out of range quickly enough.
  • Bard gave Thorin until noon the next day to prepare the share of Bilbo’s loot in exchange for the Arkenstone.
  • Thorin, still undaunted, sent word via Roac for Dain to hurry.
  • Dain reached the campsite of the combined host the next morning, a day earlier by marching through the night.
    • He demanded to be let through with his five hundred hauberk bearers to join Thorin, and had brought supplies to last weeks, hoping to weaken the host’ ability to siege them and buying time for more help to arrive.
    • Seeing through Dain’s intent, Bard rejected the request after checking, in vain, for Thorin’s promised payment at Erebor’s gate for the Arkenstone. He also displayed a little contempt for Dwarven battle abilities above ground.
    • The Elvenking counselled pacifist passiveness instead.
    • Dain attacked anyway.
    • Gandalf stopped the scrimmage before it got serious, pointing out the advancing goblin hordes from the North.
  • So began the “Battle of Five Armies”.
    • Interestingly, even the ravens were caught unaware, and Gandalf.
    • Dain, Bard and the Elvenking made plans in the truce Gandalf imposed on them. Nothing like a common enemy to unite frenemies.
    • The allies used Erebor to buttress their flanks and for strategic assaults.
    • The Battle took place in the day.
    • The allies had the upper hand initially but was overwhelmed at some point.
    • Thorin and Company emerged suddenly and invigorated the allies, but they could not overcome the enemy.
    • Bilbo stood with the Elvenking on Ravenhill, disheartened, with Gandalf brooding nearby.
    • At dusk, Bilbo spotted the Eagles who appeared and gave the allies a boost. But he was soon out cold and no longer a participant.

Key Notes/Quotes

“Fools!” laughed Bard, “to come thus beneath the Mountain’s arm! They do not understand war above ground, whatever they may know of battle in the mines. There are many of our archers and spearmen now hidden in the rocks upon their right flank. Dwarf-mail may be good, but they will soon be hard put to it. Let us set on them now from both sides, before they are fully rested!”

But the Elvenking said: “Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold. The dwarves cannot pass us, unless we will, or do anything that we cannot mark. Let us hope still for something that will bring reconciliation. Our advantage in numbers will be enough, if in the end it must come to unhappy blows.”

But he reckoned without the dwarves. The knowledge that the Arkenstone was in the hands of the besiegers burned in their thoughts; also they guessed the hesitation of Bard and his friends, and resolved to strike while they debated.

Suddenly without a signal they sprang silently forward to attack. Bows twanged and arrows whistled; battle was about to be joined.

The quote of quotes where the Elvenking was concerned. Despite the unfavourable characterisations of him in the beginning, through the higher EQ he displayed when Bilbo met him in the camp, this was a defining moment, and an intriguing one. Though the next paragraph refuted his own reckoning to Bilbo that he might know somewhat of Dwarves – clearly that race was too confounding even to the very wise.

So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.

The armies of the Battle, with the the goblins and wargs mustering beneath Gundabad.

Not even the ravens knew of their coming until they came out in the broken lands which divided the Lonely Mountain from the hills behind. How much Gandalf knew cannot be said, but it is plain that he had not expected this sudden assault.

Interesting bit alluding to the resources Gandalf might have at his disposal.


This is the centrepiece of the book, as far as I am concerned, and also apparently, the focus of the movie. Of course I can hardly wait!

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