Chapter Six: Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Fire
Essentially a transition scene connecting the finding of the Ring to the introduction of Beorn, this chapter shows a notable step in the development of Bilbo’s character. Up to this point, the Dwarves in general – and Thorin in particular – have been fairly unimpressed with the talents that Gandalf attributed to the hobbit as a necessary member of the party.
Indeed, prior to Bilbo’s next appearance, they take to arguing with Gandalf as to why they should risk going back into the mountains to find him, one of them exclaiming “he has been more trouble than use so far.”
His possession of the Ring has now given Bilbo a boost of self-confidence and has perhaps stirred the “Tookishness” within his nature. As he comes upon the camp of Dwarves, he sneaks in under cover of invisibility past the watchful sentinel, Balin. Deciding to “give them a surprise”, he reveals himself to the Dwarves by removing the Ring and appears, it seems, out of nowhere. Having been givin the impression of Bilbo's great stealth and cunning, the Dwarves now see their hobbit companion in a new light.
Balin in particular is especially impressed that Bilbo was able to slip past his notice. Of course, Bilbo in false modesty says that he merely “crept along, you know – very carefully and quietly.” While keeping the Ring a secret, he is using it as a tool that will come to spur his sense of adventure and fortify his innate courage. He will, throughout the story, gradually discover the strength of character he has long buried in a life of ease and comfort. As a critical part of Bilbo’s story arc, this should be given special emphasis in the films.
As the sun sinks behind the mountains, the company comes to a clearing and they are attacked by a pack of Wargs. Since Wargs were introduced by Peter Jackson in The Two Towers I see no reason why they would not be presented in the same design here. The Dwarves scramble up some trees out of reach of the Wargs. Gandalf sends down flaming pine cones in an attempt to thwart them. This only angers the Wargs further.
Visually, a lot can be accomplished here. Imagine a pack of howling wolf/hyena-like creatures with flames running down their backs, rolling around and stamping to put out the flames. Soon, the goblins join the fracas and use the fires to try and flush the Dwarves out of the trees.
As with the encounter under the Misty Mountains, I would not expect these goblins to break out into song with their taunts of “fry them, boil them and eat them hot!” Any aspect of their presentation that appears comical or whimsical would detract from the tension and terror such a scene should inspire on film.
All seems bleak at this point. However, in a typical Tolkien “Deus Ex Machina” moment, Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves are rescued from the tree tops by a convocation of eagles and taken to their eyrie in safety.
In the film The Fellowship of the Ring, no animals or birds spoke. But Peter Jackson did demonstrate an ability of Gandalf to communicate with non-verbal creatures. Atop the tower of Orthanc, the wizard whispered instructions to a moth that in turn (presumably) passed along a message to the eagle, Gwaihir, that he needed rescuing. The idea of Gandalf or any other Maia having the ability to talk to nonverbal birds and beasts is no less plausible than speaking eagles.
Gwaihir does have three conversations with Gandalf in the text of "The Lord of the Rings" (two recounted from the past and one taking place in the present). However, for the sake of consistency in both tone and story with the film trilogy I would expect that Jackson will not have the eagles “speak” in the traditional sense. In conjunction with Gandalf’s talent for communicating with them, it is also likely that he will demonstrate at least a rudimentary understanding of the eagles’ method of imparting information. It may not be necessary, however, for Gandalf to actually communicate with them at all however. I will explain.
From official casting reports back in December 2010, we know that the role of the wizard Radagast the Brown has been filled by Sylvester McCoy. This character never appears in the book "The Hobbit" and only comes up in “The Lord of the Rings” during Gandalf’s account of his prior whereabouts as told to the Council of Elrond.
So the question is raised – how will Radagast be included here? In the next chapter, we find out that Beorn does not know Gandalf but he is familiar with Radagast. And there it is established (as it is reiterated at the Council of Elrond) that Radagast the Brown dwells near the Southern borders of Mirkwood.
The only use of Radagast I can imagine is for him to actually introduce Gandalf and the Dwarves to Beorn. In this context, he may even be the person to whom the eagles first deliver the company. Being as Radagast is described in the books as having “much lore of herbs and beasts, and birds are especially his friends” we can probably assume that he also has an established relationship with the eagles.
Perhaps it will be Radagast who sends them to search for and ultimately find Gandalf, leading to everyone’s rescue from the goblins and Wargs. This would give a decent explanation to the audience what eagles were doing in the vicinity to begin with. Will Radagast be present at the much anticipated meeting of the White Council? He may at the very least use his appearance to confirm to Gandalf the time and place of that meeting. It is shortly after their encounter with Beorn that Gandalf will part company with the Dwarves for most of the rest of the story. And, of course, the purpose of his parting is for him to take part in the Council and the attack on Dol Guldur.
At this point the eagles promise to take everyone Eastwards the next morning. For the night, Bilbo and his companions are fed and enjoy an evening of uninterrupted rest in the eagles’ nest. The chapter concludes: “So ended the adventures of the Misty Mountains.”
Here the story follows in the next leg of the journey in “Queer Lodgings”.
Having seen the film, we can revisit Chapter Six here.