Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


Chapter Eleven: On The Doorstep

Chapter Eleven: On The Doorstep

Before we continue with Bilbo’s adventure, I want to take this opportunity to get back to Gandalf who left the party at the entrance of Mirkwood.  This aspect of the plot is absent from the book and is recounted by Gandalf later.  In fact, its inclusion in the film is very likely to be much expanded.  Allow me to elaborate.

What we know of Gandalf’s activities from the text of both The Hobbit and “The Quest For Erebor”, which is presented in Unfinished Tales, is that he was involved with one final meeting of the White Council and an attack on Dol Guldur to drive out the Necromancer.  But, going back to the unexpected party at Bag End, Gandalf presents a key and a map that was given to him by Thrain, Thorin’s father, who he had discovered as a prisoner in the pits of Dol Guldur previous to the quest.  The account of Thrain’s imprisonment and death in that old fortress, however, was removed from film one and it appears that it may take place at some point in film two.

Radagast, who does not make any appearance in the book, was given the task of discovering an evil force at Dol Guldur.  This threat was presented to the White Council by Gandalf at a meeting in Rivendell.  It looks as through Gandalf’s side trip will turn out to be his investigation into the matter.  We are not sure if he will encounter Thrain or not but it’s clear that he will have his own experience with the Necromancer.  Whether or not Gandalf or the council determines in the film series that this is in fact Sauron taking form is not for certain.  In Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”, it doesn’t seem like Gandalf is aware of Sauron’s returning presence until he proves his theory that Bilbo’s ring is actually The One Ring.  So, for continuity’s sake, the Necromancer’s true identity may not be revealed in either of the next two films though perhaps there will be speculation on Gandalf’s (and Galadriel’s) part.

But the fact is we already know we can expect a scene with Gandalf exploring Dol Guldur based on what we’ve seen in the trailers.  We are also not sure exactly when in film two that this will happen but I’m guessing it will probably be edited against a part when the action with Bilbo and the Dwarves is moving slower.  Here, prior to Thorin and company’s arrival at Erebor, would be a good time.  In fact, we could very well get more than one scene.  But regardless of the number of Gandalf’s appearances I would be surprised if we cut to the grey Wizard prior to this point in the film.

This chapter, like the preceding one, is very short and serves really one purpose – to fulfill the prophecy of the moon letters translated by Elrond back in Chapter Three.  We read about the three day trip up the Long Lake and the River Running that leads to their disembarking along the river bank in view of the desolate and empty land at the base of the mountain.  This is, in fact, the “desolation” of Smaug alluded to in the second film’s subtitle.
As the party draws nearer to the Lonely Mountain things appear gloomy.  Gloom actually becomes the mood among the Dwarves which will stand in contrast to the that of Bilbo who is focused on figuring out their problem about finding the entrance.  Thorin sends scouts to check out the land near front gate; specifically, he assigns the duty to Balin, Fili, Kili and Bilbo (notice this is same group that first approached Lake Town with Thorin).  They see a wide valley that was once Dale. Bilbo surmises from the smoke rising from a cliff-wall opening that Smaug is indeed still alive and occupying the mountain.

On a side note, there is an illustration called “The Front Gate” showing the Lonely Mountain as drawn by Tolkien that is include in most editions of the book.  In “The Annotated Hobbit”, there is a note about how the mountain is portrayed as “alpine” in shape, not unlike the Matterhorn in Switzerland.  J.R.R. Tolkien took a walking tour of Switzerland in the summer of 1911 that I referred to in the previous post.  It appears that not only is Lake Town inspired from what he saw on that trip but it’s very likely that his vision of Erebor got its inspiration from that trip as well.

Bilbo and the Dwarves then set about looking for the hidden door and, after several unsuccessful attempts, they finally find it but see no keyhole.  They’re attempt to open is not unlike Gandalf’s trying to open the West Gate of Moria in the “Fellowship” film.  However, they are forced to give up and head back down the mountain.

When they return the next day with several tools, their attempts again are fruitless so they sit in despair on the grassy space in front of the door that is referred to as “the doorstep”.  Now that they are actually at their objective all the spirit and enthusiasm seems to have drained from them, except for Bilbo.  It becomes clear to him that once again he will have to be the one to solve the party’s problem, though he secretly hoped that Gandalf would return and help them.

As the sun begins to sink below the horizon, Bilbo notices a “crack, crack” sound and sees a large thrush smashing snails against the rock.  The very last scene of film one shows a thrush doing just this and causing Smaug to stir (so we get a look at the dragon’s eye peeking out underneath the piles of gold inside).  At once, the prophecy of the moon letters comes to him:

“Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.”

Durin’s Day, or the last moon of autumn, happens to be that very day and the last light of the setting sun serves its purpose.  As the light hits a spot near the door about three feet from the ground, Bilbo sees the key hole and calls for the key from Thorin.  The key unlocks the door, the dwarves push it open and inside there is a tunnel five feet high and three feet across that leads into the darkness of the mountain.

Previously, Bilbo had experienced two character-building events – the encounter with Gollum and the attack of the spiders.  He is about to embark upon the third.  I will explain how each one is different for Bilbo in the next chapter, “Inside Information”.

UPDATE: 4/6/14
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Eleven here.


At 2:16 PM, Blogger TheClaud said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger TheClaud said...

Just discovered your blog... don't know how long it will take me but I will make my way through every post. You give great insights into the book and I love how you've broken that down chapter by chapter with thoughtful, clear analysis. You have excellent writing too. Thanks! Best, Claudia.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. Enjoy!


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