Bilbo and the barrels float into the Long Lake and to the bay of Lake-town. Bilbo releases the bedraggled but grateful dwarves from the barrels. When Thorin announces the companys arrival, he creates a stir among the citizens of Esgaroth the lake-town. Some remember ancient prophecies and legends about dwarves return to the Lonely Mountain, but others do not and treat such talk as foolishness. The Master of the town, for example, does not believe any “king under the mountain” will ever appear. He is wary of welcoming Thorin and the company because he does not wish to create any more animosity with the Wood-elves than already exists. Still, popular sentiment runs in the dwarves favor, for many people in the town expect Thorins arrival to usher in a new age of prosperity. They treat the dwarves with great favor, even though the dwarves do not entirely embrace the high expectations some of the men hold of them. Thorin, however, “looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little bits.” The Master of the town, upset with the disruption the dwarves have caused and eventually suspicious that perhaps Thorin really is the rightful heir to the dwarf kings, is eager to see the dwarves depart for the Lonely Mountain, where they expect to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
This chapter suggests that more than mere circumstance may have been at work in the way in which Bilbo and his friends came to Lake-town. Because of the dispute over river traffic between Wood-elves and men, and because of the “earthquakes” that Smaug has been causing, “Bilbo had come in the end by the only road that was any good,” despite his and the dwarves having lost the path through Mirkwood. As he did when describing how Bilbo came to be in possession of the Ring (see Chapter 5), Tolkien hints that “fate” or “luck” plays just a much a part in the lives of his characters-and, perhaps, in everyones life-as do their own, self-willed actions. (Incidentally, Tolkien will develop this themes significance for Middle-earth further in The Lord of the Rings. Critic Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century [Houghton Mifflin, 2001], suggests that this theme reflects Tolkiens own Christian belief in providence, or the guiding foresight-pro + video; literally, “to see before”-of God.)
The narrator points out that men “remembered little” of the ancient history of the Lonely Mountain and Lake-town: the past wealth of the dwarves, the vast wars of ages gone by, the prophecies that the dwarf kings of old would return to inaugurate a new golden age. Such belief men now dismiss as a “pleasant legend.” If Thorin, in a sense, remembers “too much”-see the discussion of his possibly unhealthy pride in the Analysis of Chapter 1, a pride also seen in his over-confident swaggering in this chapter-then the men of Lake-town remember “too little.” They are unaware of their lands history, which, even though it may seem to be only the dwarves history, is really part of their own history as well. Note also that Tolkien here continues to develop the theme of conflict among the disparate peoples of Middle-earth by a reference to the Wood-elves and mens dispute over the upkeep of the river. As The Lord of the Rings will further demonstrate, people must recognize their common heritage and interdependence in order to ensure a positive future. The Hobbit is becoming, in this chapter, more and more a direct thematic introduction to Tolkiens larger work.
As a further example of this tendency, note the Master of the towns reaction to Thorin: his suspicion by chapters end that Thorin is really the prophesied King Under the Mountain anticipates Denethors refusal of Aragorns claim to the throne of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkiens Middle-earth-as in the real world-power seduces, and people do not easily relinquish it.