The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
For Thorin had taken heart again hearing how the hobbit had rescued his companions from the spiders, and was determined once more not to ransom himself with promises to the king of a share in the treasure, until all hope of escaping in any other way had disappeared; until in fact the remarkable Mr. Invisible Baggins (of whom he began to have a very high opinion indeed) had altogether failed to think of something clever.
The other dwarves quite agreed when they got the message. They all thought their own shares in the treasure (which they quite regarded as theirs, in spite of their plight and the still unconquered dragon) would suffer seriously if the Wood-elves claimed part of it, and they all trusted Bilbo. Just what Gandalf had said would happen, you see. Perhaps that was part of his reason for going off and leaving them. (9.16)
Gandalf's probable reason for leaving the dwarves behind is so they can grow to trust Bilbo. But Gandalf's reason is also Tolkien's reason: he has to develop the relationships between the dwarves and Bilbo before the end of The Hobbit, which can only happen once Gandalf is gone (check out our "Character Analysis" of Gandalf for more on this). We find Gandalf's sudden departure a little contrived, actually – is there a more natural way that Bilbo and the dwarves could have been left on their own to grow to trust one another? There is a similar moment of Gandalf's departure in The Fellowship of the Ring. How does Gandalf's scenes in the Mines of Moria compare with his plan to pursue other business with the Necromancer in The Hobbit? And what evidence do we get before Bilbo and the dwarves enter Mirkwood that Bilbo is going to become an expert at "[thinking] of something clever"?
"I suppose you got a fair price for that cup last night?" [Smaug] went on. "Come now, did you? Nothing at all! Well, that's just like [dwarves]. And I suppose they are skulking outside, and your job is to do all the dangerous work and get what you can when I'm not looking – for them? And you will get a fair share? Don't you believe it! If you get off alive, you will be lucky."
Bilbo was now beginning to feel really uncomfortable. 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. (12.62-3)
All of this time, we've been thinking Bilbo's the cunning one. Smaug has just seemed like a toothy, fire-breathing abstract threat, and not necessarily a thinking being. But here we get proof that dragons are surprisingly wily and well-spoken. And they can enchant you with their talking; they can put you under "the dragon-spell." Do we get any sense of Smaug as a character? Does he have any character depth or motivation for what he does?
"But [Dain and his dwarves] cannot reach the Mountain unmarked," said Roäc, "and I fear lest there be battle in the valley. I do not call this counsel good. Though they are a grim folk, they are not likely to overcome the host that besets you; and even if they did so, what will you gain? Winter and snow is hastening behind them. How shall you be fed without the friendship and goodwill of the lands about you? The treasure is likely to be your death, though the dragon is no more!" (16.5)
Roäc the raven isn't just a messenger. He also tells Thorin when he's being an idiot. For example, Thorin is counting on Dain and his reinforcements to hold the Lonely Mountain against Bard and the Elvenking. But Dain can't get into the Lonely Mountain without fighting his way through the valley where the elves and men are camped. And then what? Does Thorin just want to stay at war with everyone around him, just for treasure? Tolkien represents treasure as an actual sickness that can overcome your reason just like any other mental illness. This isn't his idea alone; according to Anderson's Annotated Hobbit, Tolkien gets his ideas about the maddening effects of treasure from the Old English epic Beowulf.