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Estelyn Telcontar 11-02-2012 03:22 PM

Hobbit2 - Chapter 16 - A Thief in the Night
The title of this very short chapter sounds misleading - we would normally consider a thief in the night to be an evil person. However, it is our hero who has already stolen and who now uses his spoils for a good purpose. Does the end justify the means in this case?

Thorin speaks a curse at the beginning of the chapter:

That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it.
Interestingly, this curse does not come to pass. Does Thorin's greed negate it, or does Bilbo's peaceful motivation do so?

The raven again speaks against Thorin's plans, and those words are indeed prophetic:

The treasure is likely to be your death, though the dragon is no more!
My favourite part of this chapter is Bilbo's "speech" to the Elvenking and Bard. There is so much practical common sense to it! As Thorin himself says later,

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Thief, spy, servant - for an upper class Hobbit, Bilbo does have to put up with some negative opinions from others! I suppose it's natural that they should suspect him of betraying his Dwarven friends, but his actions at the end of the episode show his good intentions. The Elvenking realizes his worth and praises him for it. What would have changed if the Hobbit had accepted his offer and stayed there?

Bilbo has grown - he takes responsibility for his actions and is willing to face Thorin's wrath and to save Bombur from the negative consequences of his lapse. Gandalf shows up after his lengthy absence and also praises him, and his conscience is obviously clear enough to allow for a good night's sleep and a Hobbit's favourite kind of dream...

In my opinion, this chapter gives us the pinnacle of Bilbo's personal development - he is able to let go of a highly desirable treasure for the greater good. In contrast, Thorin has become a less noble person because of greed. How does this compare to other personalities of Middle-earth? Do you see Tolkien expounding upon a theme here?

jallanite 11-02-2012 06:09 PM

Yes, near the beginning of this chapter Thorin does say:
That stone of all in the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it.
But this is not a curse, only a threat. Thorin does not say, “cursed be anyone who finds it and withholds it!” This may be because Tolkien does not wish to bring any suggestion of a curse into this tale because in genuine folktales and traditional tales curses and pronounced fates often have dread effect, and give many tales their power. It would be a cheat to the reader who would expect anything presented as a curse to eventually take effect, or at least take partial effect and the tale then perhaps turn to how the cursed person manages to get out of it.

This brings up the question of why Thorin doesn’t pronounce a curse on the possible thief. Cursing worked for Mîm the Petty-dwarf against Andróg in The Children of Húrin and Unfinished Tales.

Perhaps the reader must accept that cursing only works in Tolkien’s tales when the curser is, perhaps momentarily, foresighted and that there are thousands of empty curses not mentioned in the tales that just don’t take effect. Sauron (and Saruman and Denethor and Gollum) might just have pronounced, ″I curse anyone who finds the One Ring or otherwise obtains it (except for myself) to do all in his (or her or its) power to bring the Ring to me or do whatever seems best to further this!” But then Elrond and Gandalf might have pronounced, “I curse anyone who finds the One Ring or otherwise obtains it to cast the Ring into Mount Doom or do whatever seems best to further this!” Of course good people would have to add a rider, something like, “if this be according to his (or her or its) will and may the Valar and/or Eru use what powers they are allowed to persuade him (or her or it)!”

The conversation between Bilbo with the Elvenking and Bard is most enjoyable, with Bilbo speaking informally in modern idiom and the other two responding in high and formal and somewhat staid translation talk. Tolkien must have much enjoyed writing this as he must have enjoyed the chance to do it again with Merry and Pippin meeting King Théoden. This works so well because Tolkien avoids doing it often.

Tolkien never explains the coincidence that Bilbo and his escort just happen to pass by the tent which is hiding Gandalf and what Gandalf is doing there nor why neither the Elvenking nor Bard saw fit to summon Gandalf when Bilbo appeared, assuming the Elvenking and Bard knew that Gandalf was in the camp. It is reasonable to assume that the Elvenking and Bard had previously welcomed Gandalf when he appeared and had assigned him that tent.

Faramir Jones 11-06-2012 12:50 PM

An honest burglar
Esty, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you and agree with jallanite that Thorin did not place a curse on the Arkenstone. He in fact claimed it specifically as his, and promised vengence on anyone who took it and withheld it from him. :eek: Bilbo, however, could be said to be unaffected; because we've read that Thorin earlier promised him that he could pick and choose his own fourteenth share of the treasure; and Bilbo picked the Arkenstone as that share, before Thorin stated his claim.

I find this chapter nearly as interesting as the one before; because Bilbo is doing everything here legally and legitimately. As he correctly says, he is an honest burglar.:D

First, he took the Arkenstone as his fourteenth share of the treasure promised by Thorin; so it is his to give. Second, he was originally hired as an independent contractor, to help the dwarves get back the treasure, not as their employee. Bilbo has now fulfilled his contract, having taken his payment; and because, unlike the dwarves, he has no ties of allegiance to Thorin, he is both legally and morally free to make his agreement with Bard and the Elvenking. (When the elves referred to him as the 'servant' (i.e. employee) of the dwarves, he got quite indignant.)

Like jallanite, I like the conversation between Bilbo and Bard and the Elvenking, with

Bilbo speaking informally in modern idiom and the other two responding in high and formal and somewhat staid translation talk.

However, I would say that Bilbo and the two leaders fully understand each other, despite this apparent difference. Bilbo produces his original contract, in which he was promised up to a fourteenth share of the profits, later altered to a fourteenth share. Bard is the leader of a group of Lake-men, a people whose existence depends on trade and commerce; so commercial contracts would be familiar to him. The Elvenking also involves his kingdom in trade with outsiders, including Lake-town; so he would also be familiar with such things. Both, I feel, fully understand what Bilbo is talking about.

The title of the chapter comes from the New Testament of the King James translation of the Bible, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians:

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians, 5: 1-5) (Emphasis is mine)

St. Paul was saying here that when Jesus returns, in the Second Coming, it will be sudden and unexpected, like a robber breaking into a dwelling at night. This coming will be terrible for the ungodly, but happy for the righteous. The meatphor 'thief in the night' later became a general one for an unexpected event that has tragic consequences.

In this context, what Bilbo did in this chapter was certainly unexpected, for both the dwarves and their enemies. In terms of tragic consequences, they will be seen in the next chapter... :(

Estelyn Telcontar 11-23-2012 07:01 AM

This episode is one of the central points of a new online article by Michael Drout on "The Heroic World and the Bourgeois World". He explains that it is the clash of values and customs between those two different cultures in Middle-earth that make up not only much of the humour of the story, but also some of the moral conflicts, such as that of the Arkenstone. The article gives excellent insights and food for thought, especially concerning this chapter. Enjoy - and if you like, discuss!

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