After two days up the river, the dwarves and Bilbo meet their supplies from Lake-town on the shore. The Lake-town escorts do not wish to stay, with the dragon so near and the tales yet unfulfilled. The party is less enthused that night and sets off on a slow road toward the Lonely Mountain. They meet no one of their road, but can see the signs of the dragon’s habitation. Bilbo, Balin, Fili, and Kili set out to spy on the front gate, but evil looking birds and smoke rising from the gate make them weary to tarry long. While Bilbo sees the smoke as a sign of the dragon being still alive, Balin makes the point that the halls are probably so full of its reek that it would smoke even when he was gone. But, all the dwarves believe that the dragon still lives.
Their spirits low, Bilbo forces the dwarves to look for the secret door and studies the maps that had had the moon runes. After days of searching and returning to their newer camp without luck, Bilbo, Fili, and Kili stumble upon rough steps going upward. They keep losing and refinding the narrow track, but finally get to the small, narrow cave that houses the secret door. No broken spells or pounding can force the door to move, so the trio heads down at dusk without luck of entrance but knowing where they must go. Elated, the dwarves move their camp up the narrow path and onto a grassy ledge. Using ropes, they pull up the supplies they need as there would be no room for the ponies. The animals they leave in the care of Bifur and Bombur, who feels he is too fat to come up anyway. The ledge-dwellers spend days trying to mine into the door or think of something else that might work to open it. Bilbo takes to sitting on its doorstep (as he said he might in the beginning) to think of a way in, but spends most of that time staring off into the distance at Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains. The dwarves, restless, discuss sending Bilbo in through the front gate with his invisible ring, something he does not like the sound of. Bilbo feels resentful that now that the wizard is gone, he is the one always saving the dwarves from their scrapes.
It is then that Bilbo, watching the moon rise and a thrush crack a snail, remembers what the rune letters had said. He hails the dwarves to come to him quick, and a small sliver of moonlight lights the door just long enough for the keyhole to appear and Thorin to put the key in and open the secret door. All they could see inside was a deep darkness.
The dwarves debate in the dark of the door before Thorin tells Bilbo (in a long-winded speech) that it is his turn to earn his reward. Bilbo interrupts Thorin, reminding him that the burglar has already done more than was bargained for, but he will go, trusting his unusual bit of luck. He asks for volunteers, but only Balin agrees to come inside a little ways, ready to call for help if need be. Bilbo walks into the smooth-walled cave, bidding Balin adieu after a short time. Bilbo slipped on his ring and crept silently down into the dark. More courageous than he had ever been in Hobbiton, he walked on with his face set, dagger loose, and belt tight.
As he walks, a red light glows in the distance, getting redder and redder as he nears. Hot in the tunnel, vapor surrounds him and he begins to sweat. He hears snoring, as if it was a cross between a gigantic cat and a large pot on the fire. Bilbo presses forward, feeling it the most brave thing he had ever done. He peeks his head through the door, and there lay Smaug, the red-golden dragon. Smaug sleeps on piles and piles of gold and precious jewels, with armor, swords, and spears hanging nearby. Bilbo is astonished at the gold, and stares and stares, until he moves from the doorway and towards the nearest pile of treasure. There he grabs a two-handled cup and Smaug stirs. Bilbo flees, finding a surprised Balin in the tunnel who carries the hobbit out on his shoulders to more rejoicing dwarves.
Suddenly, they hear a rumbling in the mountain, and the secret door almost closes save for a rock keeping it open. Dreadful sounds come up from the tunnel, scaring the dwarves. Smaug, as many other dragons, knows every ounce of his own treasure, and with a breath of different air in his cave, grows angry and flies towards the front gate when he cannot get up the little hole. The party all hear the dragon’s noise and Bilbo directs them inside the tunnel to hide. A few run in while Thorin wrangles the others to pull up Bofur and Bombur and some of the stores. They make it just barely in the tunnel when Smaug comes round the Mountain, breathing fire on the hillside. They know that the ponies are lost, but must spend the night in the tunnel.
Smaug returns to his golden couch at dawn, and the dwarves begin to be sore at Bilbo for bringing up the cup. He points out that the wealth was too great for him to carry in one turn, and that he was not hired to kill a dragon. After some arguing, they agree to stay in the tunnel by night and near the door by day. Bilbo offers to go down at midday to spy on the dragon, hoping to catch him napping. Bilbo moves quietly, but does not realize that dragons have a keen sense of smell and can sleep with an eye half open. Bilbo notices the eye is open just in time to creep back behind the door, but Smaug speaks, inviting him in to steal again.
Bilbo, knowing how to speak to dragons, compliments him and states that he only came for a look. Smaug asks for Bilbo’s name, and Bilbo in turn speaks in riddles about his home and name. Smaug thinks that Bilbo’s riddling talk means he is a man from Lake-town and tells him that he enjoyed the dinner of the ponies the night before. He also knows that he came with dwarves and tells Bilbo not to trust them. They continue talking, with Smaug asking how the treasure was going to be removed and why else they might have come except for gold. He does not believe it when Bilbo speaks of revenge, stating he is too mighty to be taken on. Bilbo manages to convince the dragon to show his underbelly, noting that there is a patch without diamonds guarding it. He manages to get away, but accidentally makes Smaug mad when he calls himself a burglar, and barely escapes the flames that lick the tunnel behind him.
The dwarves doctor Bilbo’s burns, but with some distance, Bilbo now regrets many of the things he told the dragon. In anger, he throws a stone at a thrush, and is then scolded by Thorin. Thorin’s father and grandfather had thrushes tame to them, and some of the men of the lake used to speak to the birds and use them as messengers. Bilbo then relates all that was said, and feels guilty that Smaug may now be headed towards Lake-town for revenge. They discuss ways of killing a dragon, but cannot think of anything that would really work, even with the bare patch on his chest. Bilbo, worried that Smaug knows where on the hillside they sit, begs the dwarves come into the tunnel before it grows too dark. In the tunnel, they talk of the treasure and reassure Bilbo that they will figure out how to get his share home again, even with the world so wild. Thorin and Balin then move on to discussing the treasure and pieces they remember, which leads them to the Arkenstone. The Arkenstone “was like a globe with a thousand facets; it shone like silver in the firelight, like water in the sun, like snow under the stars, like rain upon the Moon!” Bilbo, however, is too scared to think of treasure and begs them to shut the door for good. Thorin finally agrees and does so just in time, with Smaug smashing up the hillside in anger moments later. Unable to get to the thief, the dragon heads to Lake-town for revenge.
- Why does no one remember the moon runes? Are they just too eager, too excited, to remember the talk of Durin’s Day?
- Silly Bilbo stealing the cup. Of course, he wasn’t to know that Smaug would notice, but it is a bit of common sense, isn’t it?
- Would love to hear more of Tolkien’s version of dragon-lore and riddling talk.