View Full Version : The Hobbit - Chapter 12 - Inside Information

Estelyn Telcontar
04-02-2006, 03:57 PM
Finally – this chapter introduces us to the Dragon Smaug! Despite the danger and excitement that this brings, for me the most important element of the chapter is dialogue, especially between Smaug and Bilbo. We have witty exchanges, proverbial sayings, and significant informational connecting passages.

The dwarves, as so often in this book, don’t look too good in this part of the story.
They hang back from entering the caves and tunnels of the Mountain and let Bilbo go into danger alone. “Decent enough... if you don’t expect too much” is as good as comments about them get. Of all of them, Balin is shown to be the best in this situation. In Tolkien’s other books, we see dwarves who are heroes.

Bilbo shows his courage here, with his going on into unknown danger praised as his greatest bravery. He manages to converse with the dragon skilfully, keeping Smaug intrigued with his riddles, and even withstands the spell tolerably well. We do read that he feels as a dwarf when he sees the treasure – do you think that would apply to any race, or are hobbits naturally closer to dwarves?

What do you think of the description of Smaug? At any rate, the question of whether or not he is winged is not enigmatic! ;) Obviously the dwarves did not really think through what they would need to do to get rid of him and reclaim their treasure. The dragon himself points out the problems to Bilbo – and plants the seeds of doubt and suspicion over their truthfulness in his mind. How do you feel when you read Smaug’s conversation with him?

Again, a thrush plays a role in the development, though we don’t know what significance it will have yet. I can’t help but wonder why Tolkien chose thrushes to be magical and important birds in this story. Why do you think Bilbo does not trust the bird?

We hear the dwarves tell of the various treasures, with the Arkenstone being the most significant. What do you make of it?

At the end of the chapter, the point of view changes, and we follow Smaug, hearing his thoughts and knowing what he plans to do next. That gives the reader a cliff-hanger feeling, though Bilbo and the dwarves do not know what occurs while they wait in the tunnel.

What aspect of this chapter is special to you?

I enjoy the proverbs with a twist; here are a few of them:
'Third time pays for all.' (Bilbo quoting his father)
'Every worm has his weak spot.' (ditto)
'Never laugh at live dragons.' (Bilbo’s own invention)

04-03-2006, 08:50 PM
I am rather fond of this chapter - largely because, I suppose, I am rather fond of Smaug. After eleven chapters leading up to a confrontation of some kind with the dragon, it would be easy for his eventual introduction to be a disappointment. It is not. On the contrary, the powerful and somewhat "high-mythological" character of Smaug makes quite an impression after the many "lower", more comic, adventures of Bilbo and the Dwarves.

But Smaug is no mere villain. He is a dragon. And Tolkien was well aware that dragons are special. In "On Fairy Stories" he says:

I never imagined that the dragon was of the same order as the horse. And that was not solely because I saw horses daily, but never even the footprint of a worm. The dragon had the trade-mark Of Fairie written upon him.

In "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics":
A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men's imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.

And he further notes:
. . . dragons, real dragons, essential both to the machinery and the ideas of a poem or tale, are actually rare

I think that this is a very perceptive point. Dragons are not appropriate for every tale, and there are actually rather few in western literature - there is the dragon in "Beowulf" of course; and there is Fafnir. But these are the only two really important dragons from Germanic myth.

So Tolkien understood what dragons are about. They are not just powerful villains; they are the embodiment of evil, cunning, greed, and, of course, Faerie.

Look at the way Smaug speaks:
Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear your breath. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!

His sentences are terse and to the point; his speech in fact seems to have a very Anglo-Saxon quality to me.

We get a few more details about dragons and about Smaug:
This [speaking in riddles] is the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise) No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it.

This recalls, to a degree, the dialogue between Turin and Glaurung in the Silmarillion. There, of course, "proper names" are again an issue. Glaurung states that the Dragon-helm of Dor-Lomin will have to "await a master of another name" before its bearer deals him his doom; it finds that master of another name when Turin takes the name "Turambar".

Whenever Smaug's roving eye, seeking for him in the shadows, flashed across him, he trembled, and an unaccountable desire seized hold of him to rush out and reveal himself and tell all the truth to Smaug. In fact he was in grievous danger of coming under the dragon-spell.

Again, we have an element present (and important) in the story of Turin and Glaurung. Turin falls under the "dragon-spell" when he lifts his visor and looks Glaurung in the eye.

"I have always understood," said Bilbo in a frightened squeak, "that dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the - er - chest; but doubtless one so fortified has thought of that."

Though, of course, Bilbo's "information is antiquated", it is nonetheless a valid bit of dragon lore. For again the tale of Turin comes to mind - Turin slew Glaurung by waiting in a ravine for him and striking him in the underbelly as Glaurung crossed it.

My point here is that, despite the great disparity in tone between The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, Tolkien is completely consistent in his characterization of dragons. Glaurung was, of course, already in existence when Smaug was invented. By placing a dragon - and one very much like Glaurung - in this work, Tolkien is, in my opinion, lifting The Hobbit into another plane.

Tuor in Gondolin
04-04-2006, 07:39 AM
This chapter does point out some good qualities in Bilbo.
After all, say what you will, he had good manners
for a thief and a liar. :)

More later on this excellent chapter, however, it should be
noted that given Smaug's strength, ability to fly rings around
any balrog, and intelligence, his tale must have made an epic
tragedy in dragon lore (always assuming there were other lesser,
and literate, dragons around).

04-04-2006, 09:59 AM
This chapter alone marks the entire mythos of how to deal with dragons in every role playing game that ever came out after LOTR. They basically like thier butts kissed.

04-09-2006, 07:15 AM
Thank you Estelyn for another well done entry to this chapter by chapter discussion. You put us all to shame with your great dedication, patience and persistence.

Aiwendil's post is also very well done, putting Smaug in the context of story and fairie and dragon lore; I don't think I could add much.

Tolkien's initial description of Smaug is interesting in its familiar domesticity and in its details appealing to the senses. Sound must have been important to Tolkien I would think. And here we have another example of Tolkien's dislike of cats!

A sound, too, began to throb in his [Bilbo's] ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurglingnoise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there int he red glow in front of him.

Just a few other observations of things I enjoy in this chapter, aside from the dragon himself:

As Bilbo sneaks down the tunnel, I cannot help but recall that hobbits too lived underground and wonder if this familiarity with tunnels is something that aids Bilbo.

I enjoy Bilbo's riddling with Smaug, particularly his name-creation; it is almost a species of boasting and really lifts Bilbo's character, particularly in its lyrical quality. Here is a suggestion of Bilbo's penchant for writing which will later allow him to write his tales. Interesting too how he refers to the Ring:

'I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.'

'Lovely titles,' sneered the dragon. "But lucky numbers don't always come off.'

'I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.'

'These don't sound so credible,' scoffed Smaug.

'I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider,' went on Bilbo...

And trust our vain little hobbit who loves his waistcoat and buttons to notice that Smaug has a diamond waistcoat! It can't be said that hobbits are completely dissimilar to dragons!

There is one final passage I find particularly intriguing. It begins the description of Bilbo's coming under the spell of the treasure hoard.

To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.

As Aiwendil suggests, there are touches in this story which lift The Hobbit to another plane.

04-09-2006, 09:11 AM
Just on the titles Bilbo claims for himself here. I'm reminded of
The Song of Amergin (http://www.allaboutirish.com/library/tales/amergin.shtm). If you compare the two (first Bilbo's riddling titles, then Amergin's song

"You have nice manners for a thief and a liar,"said the dragon. "You seem familiar with my name, but I don't seem to remember smelling you before. Who are
you and where do you come from, may I ask?"

"You may indeed!

I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air,
I am he that walks unseen."

"So I can well believe,"said Smaug, "but that is hardly your usual name."

"I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly.
I was chosen for the lucky number."

"Lovely titles!"sneered the dragon. "But lucky numbers don't always come off."

"I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water.
I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me."

"These don't sound so creditable,"scoffed Smaug.

"I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles.
I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and
I am Barrel-rider,"

went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.

The Song of Amergin

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.

I suspect this is a deliberate parody - any thoughts?

04-09-2006, 09:43 AM
Bethberry wrote:
There is one final passage I find particularly intriguing. It begins the description of Bilbo's coming under the spell of the treasure hoard.

One interesting note on the bit you quoted - Douglas Anderson (editor of The Annotated Hobbit) speculates that this passage might relate to Owen Barfield's notion of "ancient semantic unity", with which Tolkien was quite impressed. To put it briefly, Barfield's idea is that over the course of history and linguistic evolution, there has been a fragmentation of concepts in human thought. He claims that, for example, the word spiritus in Latin was not a single word with various meanings (breath, air, spirit), but rather that the various meanings that we now distinguish were not then distinguished - so to the Romans "breath" and "spirit" were the same concept. So certain uses of words that we now see as metaphorical were not originally so; language, he claims had a pre-metaphorical stage.

Tolkien's statement that:
To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.

. . . could then mean that his breath was literally taken away, but that this is something that cannot be said anymore, since the statement "his breath was taken away" is now (post-fragmentation) automatically assumed to be metaphorical.

04-16-2006, 08:44 PM
Esty, you must be a saint, keeping up this task week after week, with so little public response...

As one of the tardy, I can only seek forgivenes.

And post.

Which I shall do now.

Anyway, this chapter, with the dialogue of Bilbo and Smaug, is the true high point of the story- for me. Dragons in general fascinate me, and dragons as Tolkien painted them in particular. Glaurung is probably one of my favourite characters in the Silmarillion, and I really have to thank and commend Aiwendil for his comparisons between Glaurung and Smaug.

Alas, but I still itch for more... what was the tale of Scatha? What of the other dragons, who drove Thrór and his kin out of the North? What, indeed, of Ancalagon the Black?

Ah well... at least there's Chrysophylax in Farmer Giles of Ham...

The dialogue, of course, is what makes the chapter. Smaug is probably the most entertaining character in the entire Hobbit. I would love to see him in conversation with other characters, like Thorin, Gandalf, Elrond, or someone from elsewhere in the Legendarium. Saruman would be particularly interesting, I think. Imagine the seductive power of his voice pitched against that of Smaug.