Dáin arrives in early morning. The Battle of Five Armies. Thorin and Bolg slain.
They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain,....
© Alan Lee.
This is truly a momentous day in the history of Middle-Earth. Dáin arrives early in the morning, and the weather turns appropriately dark and gloomy. The combined forces of Bard and the Elvenking move forward to block Dáin's approach and prevent him from joining forces with Thorin before the promised ransom of the Arkenstone can occur. Although Bard proposes that they should attack Dáin's forces before they can rest, the Elvenking displays his nobility of spirit by declaring, "Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold. . . . Let us hope still for something that will bring reconciliation." (If only our own leaders had such scruples!)
Dáin, however, decides to attack quickly while the men and elves are debating, but before the three armies can engage, a sudden darkness descends with wind, thunder, and lightning, and from the North a black whirling formation like a "vast cloud of birds" can be seen rushing forward. Gandalf leaps forward, his staff flashing like lightning, and cries out, "Dread has come upon you all! Alas! It has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dáin! whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! the bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!"
In the face of this terrible new enemy, Dáin, Bard, and the Elvenking set aside their enmity, and so begins The Battle of Five Armies - the Goblins and Wolves against the Elves, Men, and Dwarves. In his description of this great battle, Tolkien creates images for us that he will draw upon yet again in The Lord of the Rings - Bard and the Elvenking defending separate spurs of the Mountain as they are slowly surrounded by foes will reappear during the Battle of the Morannon, when Aragorn, Gandalf and the Dunedain are surrounded upon one hill and Imrahil and Eomer on another; when all appears lost, a hobbit - Bilbo in this tale and Pippin in LOTR - looks up and cries out, "The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!"
But it is the great charge of Thorin and his companions that provides us the most parallels between the two works. We hear echoes of Thorin's rallying cry, "To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk!" yet again in Theoden's battle cry on the Pelennor Fields, "To me! To me! Up Eorlingas! Fear no darkness!" Thorin's reckless, heedless attack upon the main force of Bolg's bodyguard recalls both Theoden's headlong charge against the leader of the Southrons, as well as Eomer's mad, grief-stricken charge into the enemy crying, "Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world's ending!" after he believes he has lost both Theoden and Eowyn. But the strongest parallel I believe is between Thorin and Boromir in their efforts to regain their honor in battle after having lost their reason to the pressure of an exterior force - Thorin to the "bewilderment" of the dragon treasure and Boromir to the lure of the Ring.
In the end, when all appears lost, the Eagles arrive to help turn the tide of battle, and Beorn himself arrives in his great bear-shape just in time to rescue the mortally wounded Thorin and then return to the battle "grown almost to giant-size in his wrath" to kill Bolg and begin the rout of the remaining Goblin/Warg army.
Bilbo himself took no part in the fighting, putting on his magic ring very early on in the nasty business and then having the bad luck of getting knocked out by a falling stone just after spotting the arrival of the Eagles. Fortunately, he regains consciousness in time to be taken back to camp and bid farewell to a dying Thorin, who has the good grace to mend his relationship with the little hobbit, "Farewell, good thief . . . I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate . . . . There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
Here again Tolkien creates a moment that will be relived in LOTR, as echoes of Thorin's situation and words of farewell can be heard in the final words of both Boromir, "I am sorry. I have paid," and Theoden, "Farewell, Master Holbytla! . . . . I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed."
For poor Bilbo, the day ends in tears, "You are a fool, Bilbo Baggins, and you made a great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet, but I suppose you can hardly be blamed for that."
© Middle-earth Journeys. Images © Alan Lee.