They ford the Bruinen and reach Rivendell at dusk.
...a narrow bridge of stone...to the Last Homely H....
© Alan Lee.
Although he wouldn't have believed it in the morning, 4 June was to be a very important day for Bilbo. He has his first sight of mountains and realises how long a journey he's agreed to go on when he discovers that he's not looking at the Lonely Mountain, but only the start of the Misty Mountains that bar their way. He feels at a low ebb and longs for home. But Rivendell awaits - surely one of Tolkien's most magical places - and, did he but know it, one day he would be just as heartsick at home, longing for the mountains and Rivendell.
Rivendell is hidden from them, not by magic but miraculously by the very landscape itself. Even Gandalf has trouble finding it, searching out the white stones that mark the path. And so Thorin's party descend to The Last Homely House - at once comforting ('Homely') and unsettling ('Last'): there is nothing homely to be expected after it.
As the party reach the Bruinen they hear elves singing in the trees. But these aren't the noble, merry and sometimes fearsome elves we now associate with Tolkien. They are certainly merry but they are also teasing, mischievous and sing jolly rhymes. They are even rude. They are, in fact, the kind of elves that young children expect to meet, the kind of elves Tolkien's own children liked to hear about. But for today's Tolkien readers who have known Galadriel and the elves of Lothlorien, hearing them call 'Just look! Bilbo the Hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn't it delicious!' is a strange experience. Young first-time readers in the 1930's probably would never have wanted or expected anything different from their elves.
The Elves direct them to the bridge which leads to Rivendell. In this tale, Tolkien tells us very little about this wonderful place. He says '...days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to.' But in truth Rivendell captures the imagination so much that in The Lord of the Rings he clearly thought better of it and tells us enough good things to make us want to stay there as long as the aged Bilbo.
The bridge into Rivendell, where poor Thorin and Bilbo endure merciless teasing, is also a bridge that links The Hobbit to Tolkien's earlier elven mythologies, The Lost Tales, and his later masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings as Elrond, who the reading public met here for the first time in 1937, is in all three. Elrond, strong, wise, venerable and 'as kind as summer', brings with him tales of peoples and wars of long ago that we long to hear. Everything he says suggests the detailed background that authors hint at to make stories seem more 'real', but with Tolkien it was no trick. The stories were real. He had already written many of them and when Elrond identifies the swords found in the Trolls lair and refers to the destruction of Gondolin, there is an actual story to be told. And somehow, with Tolkien, you know it to be so. We long to sit in Rivendell at Elrond's (or is it Tolkien's?) feet and hear tales of 'evil goblins and the elves and the first men in the North'.
But they get more than rest and tales from Elrond. He examines Thorin's map and, holding it up to the moonlight, discovers the invisible moon-letters and a clue to finding the lost treasure in the mountain. All they have to do is be at a certain place at a certain time on Durin's Day and not even Thorin knows how to calculate when that might fall. It seems that along with a burgler the dwarves need a bit of luck and magic to succeed with their quest.
© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.