Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 - Flies and Spiders
Bilbo and the dwarves begin to go through the dark and dreadful forest of Mirkwood. They come to the enchanted stream Beorn warned about, and Bilbo sees a boat on the other side. With great difficulty, they use iron hooks from their packs to pull the boat toward them. They have just disembarked on the other side when they are startled by a deer leaping the stream. Thorin fires an arrow at him, as they need the meat, and in the confusion Bombur sets the boat adrift and falls into the stream. When they pull him out, he is asleep — enchanted by the waters of the stream. More deer appear, and the dwarves use all their arrows trying to kill one.
Bilbo and the dwarves travel on, hungry and discouraged, through the forest of Mirkwood, carrying the sleeping Bombur. Bilbo tries to find where the forest ends by climbing a tree to survey, but they are in a valley and he cannot see above the tops of the surrounding trees. They eat the last of their food that night.
The next morning, Bombur wakes up from a dream of a feast in the woods; he remembers nothing of their journey. Bilbo and the dwarves see a twinkling light ahead of them in the forest and follow it to find a party of feasting elves, who disappear when the dwarves approach. Thorin sends Bilbo alone into their midst but they disappear again; Thorin himself goes, but the elves disappear a third time. Bilbo dozes off, dreaming of dinner.
He awakes to find himself bound up by the sticky threads spun by a giant spider. With some difficulty, he frees himself and kills the spider with his sword. He passes out from the exertion and when he regains consciousness, he finds that he feels much braver. He names his sword Sting. He puts on his ring, becoming invisible, and goes looking for his friends. He finds the dwarves bound as he had been, hanging in spider webs guarded by giant spiders. Bilbo throws stones to scare spiders off and uses his sword to free the dwarves. He reveals the secret of the ring to the dwarves and lures the spiders into a battle, wounding and killing some and frightening others away.
In the meantime, Thorin has been captured by the Wood-elves who were feasting in the forest. They take him to their king, who has him thrown in the dungeon.
Bilbo and the dwarves appear to be in real trouble without the guidance of Gandalf, as is indicated when they use all their arrows in a futile attempt to kill the deer and when Bombur falls into the enchanted stream. Even in this episode, however, Bilbo continues to emerge as a far more useful character than the dwarves originally estimated. It is Bilbo who spots the boat that can carry them to the other side of the stream; he is described as having the best vision in the group. His ingenuity is responsible for the plan that allows them to cross the stream. It is an indication of the dwarves' increasing respect for Bilbo that Thorin sends him to investigate the elves they spot in the forest. Nevertheless, Bilbo is still enough of a hobbit to dream of food and feasting in the midst of their peril.
Bilbo's waking to find himself entrapped by spiders appears to be almost a correction to such hobbit tendencies, and he exercises real physical courage in freeing himself and killing the spider. It is a bravery he did not know he had within himself; it is unusual enough that he passes out afterwards.
The episode of killing the spider marks a turning point for Bilbo. He is conscious of feeling braver than he ever has before, and in naming his sword, he joins the ranks of legendary heroes like Arthur and Beowulf. He also places himself in a league with Gandalf and Thorin, rather than with someone like Bombur, who was also dreaming of food. With Gandalf gone, Thorin's capture demands leadership of Bilbo.
hart male red deer, usually over five years old.
hind female red deer.
short commons minimal rations.
mirth joy, playfulness.
watercourse any waterway, such as a stream or river.
quoits a game in which a ring of iron or rope is thrown at an upright pin; similar to the game of pitching horseshoes.
thongs a strip of leather or hide.