Chapter Ten: A Warm Welcome
This is a relatively short chapter but nonetheless it is important in establishing the Men of Lake Town as an important faction in the upcoming conflict over the treasure of Erebor.
The barrels wash up along the shore of the Long Lake with the assistance of Elf raft riders who assume the barrels are empty. The date of their arrival is September 22 – Bilbo’s 51st birthday - though this is not mentioned in the text. We know the date because when Bilbo makes his speech at the “Long Expected Party” in The Fellowship of the Ring he mentions that it was his birthday though he says “it slipped my memory on that occasion”.
The Annotated Hobbit notes that Bilbo also refers in this speech to a splendid banquet in honor of this occasion that he attended while enduring a bad cold (hence the “Thag you very buch” quote that he recalls and is present here). However, this is not mentioned specifically here in this chapter. In fact, Tolkien actually wrote on page 252 that Bilbo was too sick to attend any banquets “for three days…and he could not go out”. He was able to attend a banquet or two, however, later during his stay at Lake Town.
Tolkien got the idea of a town built on top of a lake from his experiences traveling in Switzerland where there is evidence that ancient dwellings of such a sort once existed (as well as other locations in England and Scotland). The author became familiar with several artist renderings of what these small houses standing atop platforms off the shores of the lake looked liked. Indeed these sketches inspired his own drawing “Laketown” which is an illustration included in The Hobbit.
I would expect the design of Lake Town to be very close to this drawing with some minor changes and enhancements by production designers (and famed Tolkien artists) Alan Lee and John Howe. Ever present in the background should be the Lonely Mountain to give a sense of proximity to their objective.
In the text of the chapter there is a lot of exposition about the state of this community of men and the recent changes that have been taking place in Mirkwood. Here in fact we find out about the dead end at the untended eastern terminus of the Old Forest Road that the dwarves would have run into had they taken that route. Once again, we almost see a greater power guiding the fortune of the companions. All this information, however, will likely be shared with the audience through interactions with the Men during their stay.
Now, at this time, stories of the Dwarf-kings of the Mountain still reside in the memories of these people (an era shown in the prologue of film one). In particular there is a popular legend foretelling the return of Thror and Thrain to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim their gold and restore prosperity to region – including Dale - once again. Tolkien notes, however, that the younger inhabitants of Lake Town are openly skeptical about the existence of a dragon living in Erebor.
In fact, it is interesting to note that The Annotated Hobbit comments on Tolkien writing that these youngsters “laughed at the greybeards and gammers” who told these stories. They go on to point out that “gammer” is a term for an old woman – a contraction of the word grandmother. The corresponding term for an old man is – you guessed it – gaffer. Of course, we see this later in the LOTR when Samwise Gamgee repeatedly refers to his father, Hamfast, as “the old Gaffer”.
After the barrels are left behind, Bilbo first removes Thorin from his wooden prison and he is later assisted by Kili and Fili, who states “I hope I never smell the smell of apples again!” The Dwarves, all in all, are in sorry shape. Thorin proceeds to the entrance of Lake Town along with his younger nephews and Bilbo in tow. They are met by the guards who ask who they are. Thorin announces himself and introduces his kin and the Hobbit and he requests that they be taken before their “master” who is currently feasting.
The Master of Lake Town will be played by veteran British actor and comedian Stephen Fry. Fry comments on his portrayal:
"My character is an opportunity for sheer grossness... [Peter Jackson] had me eating testicles... gross appetites. I mustn't give too much away but I've got a bald cap and then on top of that a really bad comb over wig and this wispy mustache and wispy beard and horrible blotchy skin and disgusting fingernails... And generally speaking a really unappetizing piece of work. And a coward to boot and very, very greedy."
The Master is pleased to see them and the news of the return of Thror’s grandson spreads quickly through the town, causing all sorts of gossip. For the film, an additional character will complement the Master of Lake Town – a servant named Alfrid who will no doubt act as a sounding board for the Master’s thoughts and schemes relating to the Dwarves.
Present at the feast where Thorin is introduced are Wood Elves, the raft riders and emissaries of the Elven King. They recognize the Dwarf and they are none too pleased that he and his companions appear to have escaped their imprisonment. They will eventually return to Thranduil to report back these tidings to him and the Elves now know for certain what the errand of the Dwarves is. The Elven King declares that no treasure will return through Mirkwood without his having something to say in the matter and he sends spies to track the Dwarves for the remainder of their quest.
The Men provide Thorin and company lodging and amenities and their stay lasts for about two weeks – a period of time that needs to be shortened for the film.
Now, another important resident of Lake Town – Bard the Bowman – will not be introduced in the book until Chapter Fourteen: Fire and Water. However, I expect Peter Jackson to broaden this role a bit and introduce him here during the period of the Dwarves’ stay. Bard should be presented up front as a descendent and heir of Girion, the last king of old Dale before it was destroyed by Smaug.
According to the official cast lists Bard’s son, Bain, who is not present in the book, will make an appearance in both films two and three. He is described as “confident and brave and ready to do battle if required even though he is still a boy”. It is Bain’s future son, Brand, who will participate in a battle against an army of mountain Orcs during the War of the Ring almost seventy years in the future. This battle will take place “off screen” during the same time period as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and we will only read of it in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings.
When it comes time for Thorin and his party to leave and head for the Lonely Mountain, the Men are surprised that they actually intend to continue on with their mission. Many had wondered if it was all a bluff. In any event, the inhabitants of Lake Town send them off on boats that take them to the other end of the Long Lake and wish them luck (undoubtedly with thoughts of their own benefit from this endeavor).
As they depart, Tolkien writes that “The only person thoroughly unhappy was Bilbo.”