The Hobbit Chapter summarizations
Summary — Chapter 14: Fire and Water
The narrator suspends telling the story of Bilbo and the dwarves at the mountain and focuses on Smaug as the dragon flies toward Lake Town to wreak vengeance. The people of Lake Town see the dragon coming from a long way off (some think at first that his fire is the river running with gold) and prepare archers and many buckets of water to douse the coming flames. Their readiness is of little help, for Smaug flies over the town and lights every roof on fire. The men’s arrows bounce harmlessly off the dragon’s diamondlike hide. When most of the men have abandoned the city, one man, Bard, the captain of the archers, readies his last arrow. Suddenly, a thrush lands on his shoulder and speaks in a language he can understand. The bird tells Bard to watch for the dragon’s weak spot in the hollow of his left breast. Bard looks, sees the open patch, and lets fly his arrow. It plunges through the chink in the dragon’s armor and buries itself in his heart. The beast comes crashing down, destroying the rest of Lake Town as he dies. Bard manages to dive safely into the water and join the rest of his people, who are mourning the dead and their lost town. Some blame the dwarves for waking the dragon, but most assume that they too are dead. Then the lake men remember the gold in the Lonely Mountain, and they think eagerly of how the wealth could rebuild their town. News of Smaug’s death spreads quickly. It reaches far and wide, bringing the Elvenking and an army of elves, who stop at Lake Town to lend aid. The humans and elves then gather together in a single army and march toward the Lonely Mountain. Most of them expect to find a massive treasure left unattended.
Summary — Chapter 15: The Gathering of the Clouds
Meanwhile, the thrush returns to the company on the mountain. Finding that they cannot understand its speech, the thrush brings an old raven that can speak in the common tongue. This bird informs Bilbo and the dwarves of Smaug’s death, and they rejoice. However, their rejoicing is short-lived, as the raven goes on to describe the huge army of humans and elves marching toward them, as well as the suffering of Lake Town’s people, who surely deserve some share of the massive treasure in the mountain. Thorin regards the treasure as his inheritance and plans to fight for it, however, regardless of what the people of Lake Town have suffered.
Under Thorin’s orders, the company retreats to the mountain and fortifies it by building a formidable wall at the main gate. From there, they watch as Bard and representatives of the elves approach. Bard informs them that he killed Smaug and that Lake Town has been destroyed. He asks that the dwarves be generous in sharing the wealth of the mountain, since they have benefited so much at the expense of the humans. Thorin flatly refuses. He feels that he owes the humans nothing since the gold belonged to his people originally. Bard gives Thorin some time to reconsider, but Thorin will not change his position. The mountain is declared besieged: nothing and no one will be let in or out if elves and men can help it. Bilbo, for his part, would gladly share the treasure. He is entirely discouraged by the whole turn of affairs. However, no dwarf questions Thorin, and the hobbit has no say in the dwarves’ decision.
Analysis — Chapters 14–15
Bard, the only human hero in The Hobbit, is grim, courageous, and honorable. Bard’s descent from the people of Dale—who lived in peace with Thorin’s ancestors in happier times, before Smaug—allows him to hear the words of the thrush that communicates Bilbo’s message. Bard is brave enough to be the last man standing in the town and skilled enough to kill Smaug with a shot. Bard is kind and reasonable, presenting the demands of the men and the elves as politely as possible to Thorin and asking only for what is needed to rebuild Lake Town and help alleviate his people’s suffering.
After they find the treasure, the dwarves’ disturbing greed escalates to the extent that Thorin seems more like a villain than a hero by Chapter 15. We sense that poor Bilbo, as an ally of the dwarves, is stuck on the wrong side of the conflict. When the elf and human armies advance to propose that the treasure be shared, the narrator observes that Thorin’s lust for gold has been building ever since he entered the dragon’s lair. This lust has made Thorin and most of the other dwarves totally unreasonable. We are told that only Bombur, Fili, and Kili do not completely share Thorin’s stubbornness.
More than simply criticizing the dwarf race, Tolkien’s depiction of the dwarves’ insensitivity also serves as a warning against the destructive power of greed, which has turned those who were once friends—the dwarves under the mountain and the men of Dale—into enemies. Humans, dwarves, and elves who are all “Good People,” ought to be on the same side in Middle-Earth, and their common enemy ought to be evil creatures, such as the goblins. Such was the case while the dragon was alive, but now that Smaug is out of the way, lust for gold blurs the proper lines between good and evil.
In a sense, Bilbo’s desire for peace and his generous desire to share the treasure is another mark of The Hobbit’s swerving between the modern and ancient epic traits that shape his character. Bard’s slaying of the dragon is thoroughly drawn from epic literature, but Bilbo’s desire for a peaceful outcome to the conflict would be hard to find in Anglo-Saxon literature. In ancient Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, gold and treasure were treated with the same seriousness and reverence that is exhibited by the dwarves. Though the source of The Hobbit’s characters’ reverence for gold is different—gold in epic literature is valuable as much for its ability to create social stability as for its purchasing power—the strife that treasure creates mirrors the conflict found in epics like Beowulf. Bilbo’s desire for understanding and sharing is a sign that, having explored epic heroism both in Bilbo’s past actions and in Bard’s slaying of Smaug, Tolkien is also interested in exploring a more modern notion of heroism, which connects courage to sympathy and understanding.
Summary — Chapter 16: A Thief in the Night
As Thorin continues to search for the Arkenstone and as the rest of the dwarves worry about the armies camped on their doorstep, Bilbo decides that he must take matters into his own hands. With the help of the ring, he sneaks away from the mountain at night and into the camp of the lake men and the wood elves. There, he reveals himself and is brought before the leaders, Bard and the Elvenking. They are suspicious of him, of course, but they relax when Bilbo reveals his secret weapon: the Arkenstone. He gives it freely to Bard to be used as a bargaining chip against Thorin. Bard and the Elvenking are amazed that the hobbit would risk inciting the anger of the dwarves in order to prevent a war. They ask him to stay in the camp for his safety, but Bilbo decides to return to the mountain. On his way out of the camp, he runs into Gandalf, who pats him on the shoulder for his brave deeds. Gandalf has just arrived from his other affairs to see the end of this touchy matter. Newly hopeful, Bilbo sneaks back to the mountain unnoticed.
Summary — Chapter 18: The Return Journey
When Bilbo awakens, he is still lying with a bad headache on the side of the mountain, but he is otherwise unharmed. From the camps below, he sees that his side has won the battle against the goblins and Wargs. A man comes searching for Bilbo but cannot find him until the hobbit remembers to take off his magic ring. Bilbo is carried back to the camp where Gandalf waits and is delighted to see the hobbit alive. However, there is sad business to attend to. Bilbo must say farewell to Thorin, who is mortally wounded. Thorin asks Bilbo’s forgiveness for the harsh words spoken earlier.
Fili and Kili have also been killed, but the rest of the dwarves have survived. Gandalf describes the end of the battle for Bilbo: the eagles, watching the movements of the goblins, came just in time and turned the tide of battle. Yet things still might have gone badly were it not for the sudden appearance of Beorn in the shape of a bear, massive and enraged. This sent the rest of the goblins scattering, and now they are all either dead or in hiding.
Summary — Chapter 19: The Last Stage
The dead are buried, and Dain is crowned the new King under the Mountain. The dwarves are at peace with the lake men and the wood elves. Bard is the new Master of Lake Town, and from his share of the treasure, he gives Bilbo a handsome sum. Soon, it is time for the hobbit to return home. He travels with Gandalf and Beorn, taking the long way north around Mirkwood, for nothing could persuade him to enter that forest again. They spend most of the harsh winter at Beorn’s house, with much feasting and merriment.
In the spring, they continue on to Rivendell. There, Gandalf and Elrond exchange many tales of great deeds, past and present, while Bilbo recovers from his weariness and wounds through rest and the magic of the elves. Bilbo learns the reason Gandalf left the company near Mirkwood: he was fighting alongside the council of wizards to drive the Necromancer out of the forest. Finally, Bilbo and Gandalf travel the last, long stretch of road back to the hobbit lands. Approaching his home, Bilbo receives a nasty surprise. He has been presumed dead, and the contents of his hill are being auctioned off.
Though he puts a stop to the auction and recovers most of his valuables, Bilbo is never again really accepted by the other hobbits. They view his adventuring with skepticism, and his return with gold and tales of dragons and war only confirms the hobbits’ suspicion that Bilbo has gotten in over his head. This Bilbo doesn’t mind—now that he has a wizard, elves, and the occasional dwarf coming to visit him, he does not care much for the company of respectable hobbits. Most important, however, he still has his kettle, his pipe, and all the comforts of his home at Bag End.
Analysis — Chapters 18–19
Thorin’s parting words resolve The Hobbit’s central conflict. Thorin at last regrets his greed, and he recognizes the value of a race like the hobbits (and particularly of Bilbo), which he had scorned at the beginning of the book. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world,” Thorin says. Bilbo’s love of food, cheer, and song seem like undesirable qualities when we first meet him in his hill at Bag End. However, the great elves share these qualities, while the ill-fated Thorin does not.
Throughout The Hobbit, Bilbo struggles to subdue his love of comfort, which is the product of his Baggins heritage, and to tune in to his love of adventure, which comes from his Took heritage. However, he never really loses touch with the Baggins in him. As he rests in Beorn’s house, we see a return to the Bilbo who wishes nothing more than to sit in his old armchair. If The Hobbit has an overarching message, it is that even a small, unassuming person such as Bilbo possesses the inner resources necessary to perform adventurous, heroic deeds and that the transformation that makes him a hero does not erase his essential nature.
Bilbo’s heroic deeds are all the more remarkable because they fail to change him. He possesses a new confidence and a drastically widened perspective on the world, to the point that he now prefers the company of elves and wizards to that of other hobbits. Much of The Hobbit explores the contrast between the world in ancient epics that Tolkien studied as a scholar and the modern, English world in which he lived. The novel closes with a compromise between the two worlds: Bilbo goes on living amid the comforts of Bag End, but he passes his time reading and writing about adventure and conversing with characters from his heroic quest. In a way, this image is a concise symbol of Tolkien himself, living his comfortable life at Oxford while immersed in the grim violent imaginative realm of heroic literature, which he both studied and wrote.
The company’s quest, which seemed tainted by the greed that motivated it, is redeemed by its wide-ranging and beneficial effects. Lake Town is rebuilt stronger than before. Humans can once again live in Dale, no longer fearing the dragon’s fire. The goblins have been conquered, and, thus, much of the wilderness of the east has been made safer for travelers. Moreover, Bilbo hears in Rivendell that the errand that Gandalf performed while he was away from the quest was to join a great council of wizards, who have succeeded in driving the Necromancer out of southern Mirkwood. This is another incident that will have important ramifications in The Lord of the Rings, as the dark lord merely leaves Mirkwood to return to his ancient stronghold in the land of Mordor, where he attempts to conquer the world.
Despite our sense that other, perhaps grander, adventures are happening at the same time as the events recounted in The Hobbit, Bilbo nevertheless ends up playing a significant role in the larger affairs of Middle-Earth. Certainly, without Bilbo’s intervention at several tough points, Smaug would never have been killed, the treasure would never have been recovered, and the goblins would still roam the Misty Mountains. He is without question a hero, although such a title would hardly suit his tastes. In the book’s last passage, Gandalf jokingly chides the hobbit about his insignificance, telling him that he is “only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” In part, the wizard is laughing at himself, because even he could hardly have foreseen just how important a role Bilbo would play.