Chapter Eighteen: The Return Journey
As the title of the chapter indicates, here is where we begin the account of Bilbo going back home to his safe, secure Hobbit hole at Bag End. But the Hobbit that now returns is much different than when he last ambled out that round door, racing down the main road after Thorin and company early that year. But first we must address all that has come about in the aftermath of the battle.
The chapter opens with Bilbo gaining consciousness. Through his eyes, we the reader find out what has happened. He takes off his ring and sees a man nearby. He asks him for news and the man tells Bilbo that he has been looking for him. He says he is needed and carries him down to a tent in Dale. Here his is met by Gandalf who is happy to see him alive and takes him to Thorin who is clinging to life within the tent.
Most likely this scene in the film will take place shortly after Thorin receives his mortal wound and Bilbo, who we can expect will actually be present for this, rushes to him. This scene will be tearful as the two friends reconcile. A repentant Thorin praises Bilbo for demonstrating “some courage and some wisdom”. Here Tolkien gives us a description of the final synthesis that Bilbo has achieved in his character development. We see a blending of Bilbo’s two lineages – the Took (courage) side and the Baggins (wisdom) side. While Bilbo has shown great daring in his adventures he has also relied on his prudence to be the sole reasonable person in this whole conflict. It was the Tookish Bilbo that hid the Arkenstone and kept it from Thorin and the Baggins side that decided to ultimately hand it over to Bard. Here Bilbo’s character arc becomes complete.
As he slips from life, Thorin tells Bilbo that “if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Saying farewell, he dies. The film makers have invested so much time in building this relationship that there is no doubt they will expand this parting of friends on the big screen.
What follows throughout the rest of the chapter is a summary of what happened while Bilbo was unconscious. Of course almost all of these developments will have been seen by movie audience as parts of the battle. The Eagles turned the tide of battle back to the free folk. Beorn’s sudden appearance and participation gets recounted and the fate of Bolg and the scattered remnants of the goblin and warg army are revealed.
Alas, the deaths of Fili and Kili are given a mere mention here but Peter Jackson has expanded the roles of these characters too much to not give them appropriate death scenes. Kili in particular will be grieved by Tauriel with whom he has formed an inter-species love interest, which I see as something of a homage to the one between Aragorn and Arwen (not to mention Beren and Luthien).
Now the Arkenstone is buried with Thorin under the mountain in a great ceremony. With the death of Fili and Kili, Dain Ironfoot becomes the rightful heir to become the new King Under The Mountain and all the surviving Dwarves will remain (at least for a time) at Erebor. It wouldn’t surprise me if Balin makes more than a passing reference to wanting to retake Moria now that so many of the orcs have been destroyed. Also assuming his birthright, Bard as grandson of Girion will become King himself and rule a rebuilding Dale. The characters of Legolas and Thranduil will also need some sort of resolution.
The time has come for Bilbo to leave and he says goodbye to Thranduil and the Elves and gives to them a necklace of silver and pearls. In the longer prologue scene from the extended edition of “An Unexpected Journey” we see an exchange between Thranduil in Erebor being refused such an item by Thror. If this is included here there may be a tie in to that same piece of jewelry.
As Bilbo departs, Balin invites him to return to Erebor when their halls are “made fair once more” and in turn Bilbo lets the Dwarves know that they are to come see him again at Bag End if they are ever near the Shire. He reminds them that “Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time.” This of course is a stark contrast to the Bilbo we met at the start of the novel who was horrorstruck at the prospect of having this pack of Dwarves emptying out his pantries.
Tolkien writes “He had many hardships and adventures before he got back.” Indeed, this journey home spans a considerable amount of time, most of which is skated over both here and in the concluding chapter. Essentially, with Gandalf accompanying him, he returns by the same route he struck out on to get to the Lonely Mountain. The road that goes ever on and on leads him back westwards into Eriador. It takes him several months with a stop at Beorn’s home during the holidays. He stays over during the “Yule-tide”, or (by Shire-reckoning) the two extra days flanking the end of the old year and beginning of the new. Analysis of the Middle-Earth calendar can be found here.
By the end of the chapter, Bilbo has yet to reach the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains. For the remainder of this trip “back again” is covered in the final chapter, The Last Stage.