The Hobbit | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Chapter 8 : Flies and Spiders | Summary

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Summary

The group enters the dark and dreary forest. The farther along they go, the more downcast and hopeless they feel. They come to a river across the path. It is much too wide to try to wade or swim across, and they heed Beorn's warning to not touch or drink any water in the forest.

Bilbo Baggins saves the day again as he spies an empty boat on the other side. They manage to throw a rope with a hook and pull the boat across. When they are almost across, a giant stag-like creature charges down the path and leaps to the opposite bank, causing the dwarf Bombur to fall into the water. They save him, but he is in a deep sleep for days, so they must carry him. They are almost out of food and water when they spy lights in the forest that come from elves having a feast. Every time they try to approach the elves, the lights magically turn out. They try three times. On the final try the lights go out, and they all get separated.

Bilbo almost ends up being spider bait, but he manages to kill the spider with his sword, enhancing his confidence. With a victory under his belt, Bilbo names his sword Sting and goes in search of his friends. He finds the dwarves shrouded in huge spiderwebs. Bilbo has a good throwing arm, and he throws rocks and kills a number of spiders. However, as he slays the spiders more arrive.

Bilbo puts on his invisibility ring and lures the spiders away by singing an antagonizing song. He doubles back and releases his friends. As the group tries to escape they find themselves surrounded again. This time the dwarves and Bilbo battle with Sting's help—and the spiders finally crawl away in defeat. The group makes their way to one of the deserted elf encampments and discovers that Thorin is gone. He has been captured by the Wood-elves and taken to their king's caves. The king thinks he is an enemy, but Thorin will not reveal why he was in the woods.

Analysis

In this chapter Tolkien makes it pretty clear: darkness equals evil. Even the name of the forest, Mirkwood, lends itself to thinking of darkness and evil. Most of what happens in this chapter is evil: the dwarves can't touch the dark, unpleasant water; the squirrel meat tastes horrible; and the forest is infested with evil spiders. The events that take place in this chapter represent major trials in the step of the road of trials.

The forest is corrupted, and all who enter it appear to lose hope. It is unclear whether just the environment makes the dwarves and Bilbo lose hope or if it is a great force of darkness that causes them to lose faith. Tolkien addresses the power of hopelessness. There are beautiful white deer that should give them hope that the exit from the forest is near. Bilbo also goes up to the top of the trees where there is sunshine, but because he is without hope he cannot see that the forest ends just over the valley.

Tolkien appears to be saying that without hope even the light becomes invisible. Still, although it is extremely dark, Bilbo manages to have quite a bit of luck. For example there just happens to be a strand of web hanging loosely for him to crawl up and rescue his friends. It is almost comical how Tolkien throws in luck whenever Bilbo is in a seemingly hopeless situation. Of course, The Hobbit was written to entertain children, so Bilbo's luck is part of the charm that makes for an endearing story.

In the darkness there appears to be a parallel universe where there are bright fires, laughter, singing, and pleasant dreams. This is where Tolkien inserts the faery (fairy) world that he is so enchanted with in his stories. When the Wood-elves, frightened by the dwarves' actions, quiz Thorin about their intentions, he remains silent. The dwarves intend to reclaim Smaug's treasure. Although Thorin's reasons for not revealing their intentions are not made clear, greed is his most likely motive.

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