The Hobbit – Chapter 15: “The Gathering of the Clouds”

Let’s say you had wealth beyond imagination quite literally at your feet.  But you’re besieged on all sides by foes, and the only rations you have are what’s left of some pitiful excuse for food called “cram.”  What’s it worth to you get some real food and be left in peace?

And what if your sworn leader would rather sit on his gold and starve?

Roac the raven wishes to see the races of men, elves, and dwarves at peace as they were in days of old, before the desolation of the dragon.  He offers the wise counsel that Thorin should listen to the one who felled the dragon and not to the master of Lake-town.  But Thorin declares those at his gate to be thieves and even after meeting Bard, the dwarf lord will not parley.  The men are marching side-by-side with the elves, and Thorin is not exactly on the best terms with elves after all that back there.  And besides, how much of the treasure would find its way to dwarven people if they were not here to claim in the name of their ancestors to whom it belonged?

Behold… dragon sickness.  It sounds justifiable from one point of view, but there is always an absolute moral view in the world of Middle-Earth that Tolkien operates from, and greed is not a part of that view.  War is possible, peace is preferable, and Thorin sees none of the intricacies of his situation.  He sees only that an army is here to rob him of that which is rightfully his.

The elves are here to profit.  It’s just that simple.  Thranduil wishes to increase his own glory, even if the elves themselves are still good people.  Bard comes to the mountain in peace, but when confronted by the dwarves’ very sensible questions of “who are you and why are you here,” Bard’s primary response has already been given.  His army has been positioned for attack.  The mountain is under siege even before talks begin.

Thorin’s mind is revealed in the dwarven song, which matches in form the song they sang way back at Bilbo’s home before all this began.  As an aside, I found myself singing along with it to the tune of the version in the Peter Jackson movie.  I really love that interpretation of the Misty Mountain song.  But while the original song speaks of the beauty of their home and of lost treasures and of the desire to recover it all, the new song is a battle hymn against all who are not “friend and kin.”  Thorin sees himself as generous and defensive, but he’s about as paranoid as any can be at this point.  Professor Olsen points out, which I don’t think I’ve ever paid much attention before now, that while the song demonstrates the dwarven king as passing out rivers of gold and gems at the gate to all of his friends, Thorin in fact has no gate.  He’s walled it up, making it the perfect symbol of his kingdom.

As Bard points out, it is he who killed the dragon, so if anyone’s earned reward, it’s him.  Smaug collected not only the treasures of the dwarves, but also that of the men of Dale, thus not all the treasure is Thorin’s.  And because everything great happens in threes, a third reason is offered, appealing to Thorin’s sense of honor and compassion, but Thorin calls this last one Bard’s “worst cause.”  He argues back like a lawyer rather than like a just and noble king.

And so the stormclouds gather, just as the chapter title suggests, with three of the five armies assembled and fueled on dragon sickness.

Four chapters remain.  Four more weeks until we begin the masterpiece of Middle-Earth… The Lord of the Rings.