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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Smaug awakes to discover the cup is missing. He goes on a
rampage, searching the mountainside for the thief. Some of the
dwarves risk their lives to rescue two of their company who
had stayed with the ponies further down the mountain. What do
you think Tolkien is trying to tell you through this act of
heroism by the dwarves? Is there a limit to the dwarves' kind of
heroism?

Bilbo goes down to the dragon's lair once again-but this time
on his own initiative. He has a conversation with the wily
Smaug and holds his own admirably. Smaug is the essence of
politeness, yet full of veiled threat. Bilbo intrigues him with
riddles by giving himself many names that refer to his
adventures. Barrel-rider, for example, refers to his escape from
the Wood-elves. (This kind of name-giving is a common habit
among heroes of legend and folklore.) Smaug tries to plant
suspicions in Bilbo's mind against the dwarves, but the hobbit
remains true to his friends. Is all that Smaug says untrue? Bilbo
cleverly tricks Smaug into revealing a bare spot in his armor of
gems. With a parting taunt Bilbo leaves, getting his hair and
heels singed for his boldness.



NOTE: DRAGONS IN LEGEND AND LITERATURE
Smaug has been compared most often to Fafnir, a dragon from
the Scandinavian legends, and to the dragon in Beowulf. Both
these famous dragons brood over a treasure, Fafnir in a cave,
and the other in a castle. The hero Sigurd comes seeking
Fafnir's treasure, and the dragon engages him first in
conversation. A wily talker like Smaug, Fafnir manages to
raise suspicions in Sigurd's mind about the trustworthiness of
his companions. Fafnir is killed when Sigurd hides in a hole
and thrusts his sword into the dragon's soft belly. The fire-
breathing dragon in Beowulf ravages the countryside in a rage
after a thief steals a single cup from his great hoard. Beowulf,
as leader of his people, undertakes the task of killing this
menace. He succeeds but is mortally wounded by the dragon.

Tolkien drew on both these stories in The Hobbit. He also drew
on the common association of dragons with the destruction of
landscapes (the desolation by Smaug), with the possession of
one vulnerable spot, with the insatiable desire for material
possessions, and with evil (some dragons were thought to be
the Devil himself).

Bilbo tells his tale to the dwarves, while a thrush listens
nearby. Remember this bird, because it will become an
important part of the plot in chapter 14. Bilbo grows
increasingly uneasy about the dragon, and at his insistence the
company hides in the secret passage. They shut the door-just
in time, for Smaug attacks the doorway. They're trapped, but at
least they're still alive. Meanwhile Smaug, satisfied he's taken
care of the intruders, departs for Lake-town.

After what seems days of waiting, with no hint of Smaug's
presence, the dwarves follow Bilbo down the tunnel to the
dragon's lair. Bilbo ventures into the dark cavern alone and in
the light of a torch discovers the Arkenstone. Thorin had
spoken of this great jewel the night before. It had been mined
from the Lonely Mountain and is greatly prized by the
dwarves. Bilbo hides it in his pocket, not telling the dwarves of
his discovery.

The dwarves are excited by the sight of so much treasure. They
clad themselves in armor from the hoard and give a suit of mail
to Bilbo. Bilbo feels magnificent wearing it, but suspects he
looks silly. Unlike the dwarves, he's not bewitched by the
treasure, realizing that they're not yet out of trouble. You can
see how Bilbo remains down-to-earth, not carried away by the
situations he finds himself in. Neither does he get caught up in
visions of himself as a great hero in his armor. Thoughts of
home help him keep things in perspective.

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