The Hobbit | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Chapter 9 : Barrels Out of Bond | Summary

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Summary

As the dwarves desperately seek to find a way out of the forest before starving, they are taken prisoner by the Wood-elves. Bilbo Baggins quickly puts on the ring, so the elves never know he is there. He follows the elves into their cave and watches as they interrogate the dwarves. The dwarves do not reveal they are on a treasure hunt. Thorin and the other dwarves do not want to share their treasure with anyone, even if it means freedom. For two weeks Bilbo searches for a way to rescue his friends. Finally he devises a plan. He gets the keys from drunken guards to rescue the dwarves from their cells. By the banks of an underground river sit empty wooden barrels. These containers are filled with food by the Lake-men, sent down the river to the elves, and then sent back to be refilled. Now they will serve as escape vehicles for the dwarves.

Although the dwarves aren't too thrilled with the idea of being put into barrels, they go with the plan because there is no other way out of the magical caves. Bilbo has thought of almost everything except how he will make it out. He ends up holding on to the outside of a barrel and sits in the cold water as the barrels make their way down to a tributary that slows the barrels to a stop. While Bilbo searches for food and warmth, the barrels are tied together for the remainder of the trip toward the lake.

Analysis

Once again luck plays a major part in the dwarves' rescue. The servants in the elf caves don't look inside the barrels that contain the dwarves even though they are concerned that the barrels are full; likewise the servants drink a lot of wine and fall asleep so Bilbo can hatch his plan.

But luck carries Bilbo only so far; he has no plan for his own escape, so he nearly drowns while hanging on to the outside of a barrel as it sails down the river. This chapter also reveals Bilbo's growth toward becoming a burglar. He is able to sneak into the cave and move around as stealthily as any thief. He is also able to devise a plan for sneaking the treasure—or in this case the dwarves—out.

Something made clear in this chapter is that things or creatures that are good appear to care deeply for nature. Beorn is clearly such a character, as shown in his care for his environment and the creatures that occupy it. The Wood-elves, too, appear good, although the jury is still out as to how good they are because they are holding Bilbo's friends hostage. The goodness of the dwarves may be in doubt, and that doubtful factor may be what makes the elves wary of the dwarves. Quite likely they sense the dwarves' inherent greed and the troubles that it may cause.

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