WARNING: I fully intended to write a straightforward reflection on chapter VII of The Hobbit. Really. But something happened as I started writing and I couldn’t stop myself. So I went with it, for good or ill. You have been warned.
So I’m reading chapter VII of The Hobbit, called “Queer Lodgings,” and I’m thinking to myself, “Didn’t Bilbo and
Thorin and the boys just have a rest three or four chapters back?” In fact they did, and the chapter was even called “A Short Rest.” Well, not that short really. They spent two weeks in Rivendell as guests of Elrond, for crying out loud! Sure, they had just escaped from some nasty trolls, but don’t you think three or four days would have sufficed?
So here we are four chapters on and the gang is taking another rest. Honestly, is this an adventure or a bed and breakfast tour? (Oh, but wouldn’t The Last Homely House be a great name for a B&B?) I guess I should cut them a little slack. After all, they did just escape lots of goblins and Wargs, and we all know how stress inducing THOSE can be! Besides, who can complain about free airfare?
This time the accommodations, and the host, are a bit, ah, different. Unlike Elrond, the new proprietor is large, hairy, gruff, easily angered and somewhat rude. Did I mention he’s also a skin-changer? Some cultures might call him a shape-shifter. He can transform himself into a bear. At will, evidently. His name is Beorn, which comes from Ye Olde English and means “bear.” So our heroes are holed-up with a werebear berserkr. (See, if I were writing a serious analysis of this chapter, I would tell you how the word “berserkr” comes from the Old Norse words, bjorn bear + serkr shirt. But I’m not so I won’t.) Guess there’ll be no “O, tra-la-la-lally here down in the valley!” during THIS stop.
Thank you very much, Gandalf! Did any of the traveling party think to check this guy’s references?
Now the actual facilities are pretty nice. A large lodge made of wood, clean and warm, with straw mattresses and woolen blankets. Plenty of food served by magical white ponies, grey dogs and white sheep. Most important, there is lots of mead! This is a very good thing. Trust me. I’ve had mead.
So Bilbo, Thorin and the gang have a grand meal with Beorn and listen to him tell tales of Mirkwood forest, which is a dark and terrifying place and which happens to be their very next destination. Cheery. But wait, there’s more! Not long after the meal is finished, the door to the lodge slams shut and Beorn is gone and Gandalf tells them, “you must not stray outside until the sun is up, on your peril.” So do you think a dwarf or two regretted drinking that sixth bowl of mead?
OK. Maybe this stop isn’t really much of a rest.
So after two nights away, Beorn returns in a very jovial mood. Nothing lifts the spirits like decorating your property with goblin heads and Warg pelts. Just in time for Halloween, too. He’s in such a good mood that he tells our company even more about the wonders of Mirkwood: “your way through Mirkwood is dark, dangerous and difficult. Water is not easy to find there, nor food. . . in there the wild things are dark, queer and savage.” Yes! On the plus side, Beorn does supply them with food, water and ponies to ride, but they have to send the ponies back when they reach the gate of the forest. (Forests have gates?)
Not to be outdone, Gandalf decides now’s the time to leave. He leads the company right to the forest’s gate and then says: “And good-bye to you all, good-bye! Straight through the forest is your way now. Don’t stray off the track! – if you do, it is a thousand to one you will never find it again and never get out of Mirkwood; and then I don’t suppose I, or any one else, will ever see you again.”
In a touching group farewell, the dwarves reply to Gandalf: “O good-bye and go away!”
Now I don’t know about the dwarves, but Bilbo evidently didn’t learn his lesson about Gandalf. He didn’t even bother to warn his cousin, Frodo, about getting involved in any adventures with this guy. Sure enough, guess who doesn’t show up at the Prancing Pony? Maybe someone should give Gandalf’s cousin Radagast a try.
One last thing. Frodo and his traveling buddies have an encounter strangely similar to the one Bilbo and Thorin had with Beorn. They accept lodging with a strange character in an amazing place in the middle of nowhere. And get this: both incidents happen in CHAPTER VII!
Coincidence? I think not.
The Hobbit Read-Along continues on Thursday with Chapter VIII, Flies and Spiders, over at http://jubilare.wordpress.com/. Don’t miss it!