Chapter Twelve: Inside Information
“Now is the time for him to perform the service for which he was included in our Company; now is the time for him to earn his Reward.”
In his new book “Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit”, Corey Olsen (AKA as “The Tolkien Professor”) describes three choices that Bilbo is faced with throughout the story that deal with his overall character arc. These choices (or “turning points”), explains Olsen, allow Bilbo Baggins to delve ever deeper into the qualities of his “Tookish” lineage. The first one takes place in Chapter Five when he is confronted by Gollum. Armed with his newly acquired blade, Sting, Bilbo takes the first step in transcending Gloin’s assessment that the hobbit seems “more like a grocer than a burglar” – an observation to which Bilbo takes great offense. He must get himself out of a mess relying only on his wits (in asking and answering riddles) and the luck that allowed him to find the magic ring that makes him invisible.
The second turning point comes in Mirkwood. While once again Bilbo initially thinks back to his safe, comfortable hobbit hole when faced with danger he realizes that he must act to not only save himself but also his friends from the spiders. And, again armed with his blade and his invisibility, he must use resourcefulness to devise a plan that will lure away the spiders so that he may free Balin and company from the webs. Whereas the experience under the Misty Mountains left Bilbo rather pleased with himself for his success, this encounter resulted in him feeling like “a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach.”
In this chapter, he faces a much more daunting task that requires much more than wits and resourcefulness (and luck). For this third task of actually getting close to a dragon Bilbo will for the first time find true courage. Rather than finding himself or his friends stuck in a dangerous situation, he must voluntarily place himself into harm’s way. And this part of his journey will forever change Bilbo from the timid, stay-at-home, respectable hobbit to the daring, wide-eyed adventurer longing to see mountains again that his nephew Frodo will become familiar with.
So now, looking down into the darkness of the tunnel, Thorin Oakenshield informs the company that the time has come for their resident “burglar” to fulfill his destiny and travel down into the bowels of the mountain to investigate. As reticent as Bilbo may be to comply, he admits that the “third time pays for all” and accepts the challenge, though he hopes someone will accompany him. Incidentally, this “third time pays for all” quote will be used again in The Lord of the Rings, most notably by Samwise Gamgee as he cajoles Smeagol/Gollum into hunting him up some ingredients for dinner in the chapter “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit Stew” (see: The Two Towers).
Alas however, not one of the Dwarves is up for the challenge except old Balin who agrees to at least accompany him partway down the tunnel. As Tolkien points out “Dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money.” However, the film depiction of the Dwarves in “An Unexpected Journey” was quite heroic and I wonder if this scene will be altered a bit in “The Desolation of Smaug”. I mean to say that perhaps Balin (or Fili and Kili) will offer to accompany him with Bilbo refusing – perhaps on the pretext of wanting to maintain the secrecy of his ring. Or perhaps Thorin will insist that Bilbo’s talent for stealth would be best unhindered by companions. Honestly, having already seen Peter Jackson’s Dwarves in action I find it hard to accept that they would appear so timid in the face of danger.
Nonetheless, Bilbo enters the tunnel with Balin at his side until the Dwarf stops to wish him good luck, turning back towards the still visible light from the outside. Here Bilbo puts on the Ring. We’ve now seen the depiction of what the change in perspective looks like while wearing the ring but I think in the film this will be held off for as long as possible. He journeys down until the cavern opens up to the main chamber where the dragon Smaug is lying atop the enormous hordes of gold.
We have seen faint glimpses of Smaug from the first film but here we will finally get to view him in all his CGI glory. In early stages of production, Guillermo Del Toro had said his favorite “look” for a dragon was based on Maleficent from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as well as the creature from the 1981 film Dragonslayer. (photos available on Wikipedia). But Peter Jackson has not given us any real glimpse of the dragon he will present to us. And his operation has been very protective of the concept art and images in their possession. It will be interesting to see if anything leaks prior to the film’s release in December.
The voice of Smaug is credited to actor Benedict Cumberbatch who I was not familiar with until recently. However, having just seen him as the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness I can understand all the positive buzz from this casting choice. Cumberbatch’s voice is a solid, rich baritone that can generate the optimum amount of cool malevolence. The expressions of Smaug will also be provided by the actor via motion capture.
Bilbo is shaken by the sight of Smaug but decides that, while the beast is still sleeping, he should grab an item of treasure and head back out as quickly as possible. He seizes a gold cup and scurries back up the tunnel. The Dwarves are thrilled to see Bilbo return and congratulate him for his success. However, Smaug awakens and detects that the cup is missing. He emerges through the front entrance and attacks the mountain, forcing the Dwarves to head into the tunnel to escape the dragon’s flaming wrath. Smaug finds and destroys their camp, consumes their ponies, and searches in vain throughout the valley for any sign of the intruder.
As dawn arrives the next day, the dragon re-enters his lair and once again lays guard over the treasure. The Dwarves’ joy has now been turned to fear and doubt and they actually turn on Bilbo, blaming his stealing of the cup for causing Smaug’s rage. They agree that for the time being they should remain hiding in the tunnel until they can figure out a plan of what to do next.
Eventually, Bilbo offers to take another trip into the main chamber to reconnoiter and get a better appraisal of the situation. Once again, Bilbo slips on his ring and hopes that his invisibility will be his best protection. Smaug, however, is not asleep this time and detects Bilbo by means of smell. The dragon welcomes him as he searches all around for a glimpse of the “thief”.
Here the hobbit and the dragon engage in a conversation and Bilbo, newly flush with confidence, decides to first flatter Smaug and then taunt him with a series of cryptic clues as to his own identity. He refers to himself by many fancy titles such as “web-cutter” and “stinging fly” and that he was “chosen for the lucky number” (which would be as the 14th member of the party). He says he is the “ringwinner” and “luckwearer” and that he is one who “buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water” – this last being a reference the escape from the Elven-King’s lair.
It is however Bilbo’s slip in naming himself “barrel-rider” that causes Smaug to believe that he is from Lake Town. When Smaug boasts of his strength and the protection of his armor, Bilbo entices the dragon (again, with flattery) to show him his underbelly. This allows the hobbit to observe a small bare patch on Smaug’s left breast. This “inside information” will prove to be the dragon’s undoing as we shall see later.
The hobbit decides that it is time to leave but his parting comment about the difficulty of catching a burglar was unfortunate in that it stokes Smaug’s anger and he barely manages to escape without being cooked by dragon fire.
After recounting his story to the Dwarves, Bilbo began to regret the amount of information that he gave to Smaug and grew concerned about the fate of the men of Esgaroth. The thrush who originally helped them find the hidden door was perched nearby and heard everything the Bilbo recounted, including the weakness the he spotted on the dragon’s underside. Bilbo is concerned about this but Thorin points out that thrushes were friendly and, in fact, the Men of Dale could once understand their language.
As night falls, the party takes shelter inside the hidden door and fearing the dragon Bilbo asks them to close the door behind them. When they do however, they discover that they cannot open it again from the inside and realized that they are now trapped. At that moment, Smaug crashes the rock outside with his huge tail. Apparently, the dragon had stealthily left his lair and was attacking. He then decides to turn his anger towards the Men of Esgaroth on the Long Lake.