The Hobbit – Chapter 18: “The Return Journey”

Bilbo awakes to discover… the battle is over.  All is “deadly still.”  To Bilbo’s mind, victory is “gloomy business.”  It’s such a simple phrase, but as discussed in the previous chapter, it’s so indicative of Tolkien’s mind.

Bilbo has been searched for and would have been numbered among the dead because the ring hid him.  The man who finds him takes him to Gandalf, who in turn leads Bilbo to the wounded and dying Thorin.  Thorin uses his dying words to heal the rift between him and Bilbo and demonstrating just how far he’s come, stating that if more people valued food and song as Bilbo did, the world would be a happier place.

Learning the rest of the events that happened between his blackout and the end of the battle, Bilbo is filled with sorrow and longing for home, even if he’s a bit delayed in setting off, dealing with aftermath.

The events of that battle are recounted, how the eagles chased the goblins to the battlefield in the first place, and how Bjorn joined the battle for reasons beyond anyone’s expectation or explanation.  If the eagles are hope, Beorn is nature’s wrath.  Despite that the goblin army outnumbered the other four armies combined, Beorn and the eagles turned the tide.  Indeed, it is Beorn who destroys the goblin-king and ends the battle singlehandedly.  The narrator says that songs were sang of how three-quarters of the goblin host perished that day, and how peace was kept for many a year.  Well and good for this first book, but we all know that when evil surrenders, retreats, or offers a cease-fire, all that means is their side is reloading.  We understand that in those 60 years that follow, the goblins were gathering and replenishing their numbers, and that the Necromancer was drawing his power evermore to him.  But we know none of that in this book as Tolkien himself didn’t yet know it.

Thorin is buried with the Arkenstone, with the sword Orcrist glowing in the darkness of the tomb for all time.  Fili and Kili had also fallen in battle.  A 14th share of the treasure was given to Bard, who in turn distributed it amongst his people.  Bilbo himself left most of his allotted treasure behind, taking only a chest of silver and one of gold “such that one strong pony could carry.”  Anything more would no doubt incite wars, not only just getting home, but also in dealing with his neighbors once he gets there.

Gandalf and Bilbo set off with the Elven-king, with Beorn striding alongside.  Once near the borders of Mirkwood, Gandalf and Bilbo are invited in, but they decline, opting to avoid the forest completely.  Makes me wonder what else they expected to find after all that back there.  Bilbo gives Thranduil a gift of a necklace in return for the king’s “hospitality.”  It is both a kingly gift, and a kingly way to give it, both of which the Elven-king acknowledges in his own way.

Beorn accompanies Gandalf and Bilbo for most of the journey from there.  The narrator tells of other adventures they encountered along the way, for there are other things that live in the wild than goblins.  They spend Yuletide with Beorn at his home (I love that this is timed so close to our own Yuletide at the time of this writing).  It is suggested that rather than returning to the mountains as he planned when the goblins were driven out, Beorn instead became a chief among men.  It also further demonstrates that Bilbo’s journey has brought together disparate entities, their individual tales being woven together to the climax of the battle, and offers us positive repercussions of that event.  Peace would reign here in Middle-Earth, if not for the unknown element of the Ring of Power in Bilbo’s possession, which again, even Tolkien did not realize at the time.  Even so, it’s so hard not to see it.

As spring breaks, Gandalf and Bilbo take their leave of Beorn .  Once Bilbo gets to the point where he once looked back to the Shire, he looks back the other way to see the Lonely Mountain and Mirkwood and all that he’s been through, declaring that he only wants his armchair.  The Tookish side is waning as he turns his back on his adventure and gives in to his Baggins side, making the final push towards home.  Neither side has won.  Instead, the dual nature of his personality has been reconciled.  He may not be for more adventures, but unexpected parties are now welcome.

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