Reading the Hobbit: Fire and Water or the Bait and Switch

With the second Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, fast approaching, there has been much speculation on where the film will end. The common consensus seems to be with the death of Smaug. Many look to the future and wonder, then, what is left for the third and final movie; a question that is popping up all over news and general media. Most of what I’ve seen claims all that is left is the Battle of Five Armies. While this is true, for those whose focus is where it should be, the death of Smaug is not the climax of the story. That is yet to come.

Though much of the focus of the first two thirds of the book is on the quest in relation to reaching the Mountain and confronting Smaug, the truth is that that is not what the story is about. This is Bilbo’s story! He plays a role in the destruction of Smaug, but Smaug’s death is really just an interlude, setting up for Bilbo’s climax to come.

Now if you’ve read The Hobbit, you know what I’m referring to, but if not, I will touch on all that later.

All that being said, I don’t have a lot to say about this particular chapter. It sets the scene, and while being an important and necessary event, is not the scene. Therefore, I thought I would do something different. Instead of preparing my usual post, I tweeted a stream of consciousness as I read the chapter:

  • Isn’t it odd that greed and wonder at fullfillment of legend prepare, albeit poorly, the men of Lake Town for Smaug’s coming?
  •  Tolkien describes dragons as machinery “of iron & flame,” “dragons of fire and… serpents of bronze & iron” in Book of lost Tales.
  •  Some of this descriptions still seems present in Smaug’s fear of the cold water of the lake and the steams created by his entry in death.
  •  The Master who flees or the ruffian of a fallen house who fights and protects. Who would you follow? Seems like a no-brainer.
  •  Reminder! The Hobbit is a tale for children. You have to love the offhand explanation ‘for he was of the race of Dale’ to explain Bard’s ability to understand the thrush!
  •  Remember! The story’s about Bilbo! Though he played a part in it, Smaug’s death is rather incidental to Bilbo’s story arch.
  •  The moment on the lake, where it’s full of refugees brings to mind the Italian refugees fleeing across the lagoon to found Venice…only in reverse. I hear the strains of Verdi’s Attila.
  •  “I am Bard, of the line of Girion; I am the slayer of the dragon!” Rough, but definitely getting a proto-Aragorn vibe here.
  •  Also echoes both Turin, in Tolkien’s mythos, and Sigurd who slayed Fafnir.
  •  Bard’s entry out of the lake and darkness, out of supposed death to life, again echoes Turin, and prefigures Aragorn.
  •  The Master is such a politician! Ugh…talk about a campaign speech.
  •  This part of the book always strikes me with the lack of nobility of character usually found in Tolkien’s protagonists…Greed.
  •  Whoever said Tolkien’s line between good and evil is clear, just read this chapter and the subsequent events
  •  Tolkien uses these scenes, and those at the gates of Erebor to show greed and materialism’s corrosive might, creating the perfect foil for Bilbo’s act to shine.
  •  That’s not to say some (large) share of the treasure is not due to the lakemen…but there are many on both sides firmly ensnared by goldlust.
  •  Ugh…The Elvenking’s greed is particularly distasteful. Yes, he helps the refugees, but really? He deserves treasure?
  •  Remember he is already on his way to claim some part of the treasure before the lakemen come for aid.
  •  Granted, it should be remembered, they are all assuming the dwarves are dead.
  •  Tolkien could have had some real suspense here with split narrative…if  he had reorganized the chapters somewhat, the reader wouldn’t know if the dwarves lived.
  •  That suspense would make the character’s motives here read in a better light. I don’t think, believing the dwarve’s dead, I would be as biased against the elves and lakemen.
  •  In the end, this chapter becomes a cautionary origin story for superstition. The site of Smaug’s fall becomes a place of fear.
  •  Do you have any scary, suspicious areas you avoid? The locales shrouded in legend? Might there be a dragon there? Think of those impulses, there could be a story there!
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