Gandalf leads the company to a time of rest in the idyllic valley of Rivendell, where Elrond, an elf-lord, lives in the Last Homely House. Bilbo loves to hear the elves sing, for “Elvish singing is not a thing to miss, in June under the stars.” The group spends two peaceful and refreshing weeks with Elrond (despite the fact that some elves tease the dwarves; the narrator notes in passing that the two peoples do not always get along well with each other). During the adventurers stay, Elrond deciphers the runes on their swords from the trolls larder and determines that the weapons are “very old swords of the High Elves of the West,” forged for an ancient war against goblins. Elrond also reads the runes on Thorins map of Esgaroth (the region over which the Lonely Mountain rises). Clearly visible runes give the dimensions of a door into the Mountain, but “moon-letters”-runes visible only by the same kind of moonlight under which they were penned-give instructions for finding the doors key-hole: “Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durins Day will shine upon the key-hole.” At last, with great reluctance, Gandalf, the dwarves, and Bilbo depart, headed toward the Misty Mountains.
For Tolkien, elves were not the “elfs”-the “brownies and pixies”-of so many folktales and fairy stories. Rather, elves are “aristocratic and full of the wisdom of the ancient world. Tolkiens image of elves now dominates most genre fantasy” (The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, p. 316). As Tolkiens biographer Humphrey Carpenter notes, readers can sense-especially in The Lord of the Rings and its mythological “backstory,” The Silmarillion-that Tolkiens elves “are to all intents and purposes men: or rather, they are Man before the Fall which deprived him of his powers of achievement” (J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 100). Tolkiens fiction was shaped by his devout Roman Catholic faith, and so some understanding of Christian ideas about sin is necessary to appreciate the nature of elves in his work as a whole. In The Hobbit, however, the elves of Rivendell function chiefly to provide a glimpse of-using Tolkiens own words in his famous essay, “On Fairy-Stories” (1938; first published 1947)-“Fa?rie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.[as well as] the air that blows in that country. Fa?rie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic-but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician” (The Tolkien Reader, pp. 38-9). Tolkien aims to create in this chapter such an experience of enchantment; in seeing Rivendell through Bilbos eyes, we, like him, are moving into a larger world, separate from the one we have previously known. We are entering “the Perilous Realm itself” (The Tolkien Reader, p. 38).
Readers of Tolkiens other work will note the admittedly minor way in which the author here introduces the theme of discord between elves and dwarves, a theme present in the origin myths of The Silmarillion and fully developed in the relationship between Legolas and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Though to a lesser degree, The Hobbit will also ultimately address the necessity of cooperation and friendship between disparate peoples (see, e.g., Chapter 16).