The eagles carry the company to a great rock in the grasslands. After the eagles leave, however, Gandalf announces-to the dwarves and the hobbits dismay-that he, too, will soon be leaving, “for after all this is not my adventure.” Before he departs, however, he takes them to the home of Beorn, a skin-changer: “He changes his skin; sometimes he is a huge black bear, sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard.” Gandalf brings the group before Beorn gradually, two-by-two, so as not to offend him. Beorn receives Gandalf and Bilbo first, rather gruffly. But, as Gandalf tells Beorn the tale of the journey to this point-every so often changing the number of people involved in the quest, so that Beorn must ask questions-the skin-changer is so swept up in it that, by its end, he cannot help but welcome his visitors: “A very good tale! The best I have heard for a long while. If all beggars could tell such a good one, they might find me kinder.” Beorn offers the travelers food and lodging. He warns them not to wander outside during the night. Bilbo does not, but he does awaken during the night, and he hears the snuffling and scuffling of a creature outside. He wonders if he is hearing Beorn in his bear form. The same thing happens the next night. As it turns out, Beorn is verifying the companys story for himself, covering the ground between his home and the Misty Mountains, looking for evidence to corroborate the tale. Beorn encounters a Warg and a goblin who tell him of the Great Goblins death, and that the goblins and wolves might soon set out in search of the dwarves, or to fight the men whom the goblins think might be aiding Thorin and his fellows. Beorn sends the company on its way with new ponies and food. He warns them that they are about to make a difficult journey through the dark, dangerous forest of Mirkwood. He demands that they not stray from the path through the forest for any reason.
When the company reaches the edge of the forest, they send back the ponies to Beorn as they have promised him. Gandalf chooses that moment to leave them, as he has “some pressing business away south.” He, too, warns them not to leave the path. Bilbo asks if there is not some safer way through, but Gandalf tells him there is not: “You must either go through or give up your quest.” Somewhat despairingly, the dwarves and hobbit watch Gandalf gallop away, and then turn to enter the wild forest of Mirkwood.
There comes a point in the heros journey when the mentor departs. The absence of the guiding figure is crucial, in fact, if the protagonist is ever to develop into the hero at all. To this point, readers have seen only glimpses of Bilbos heroic potential-and, of course, they have heard Gandalfs repeated assurances that this potential exists within the hobbit. Readers have watched Bilbo fail (as in the episode of the trolls), but have also watched him succeed (as in his escape from the Misty Mountains). From this point in the plot forward, readers will be able to see what fate-failure or success-ultimately awaits this would-be hero. In this respect, as in so many others, the heroic journey reflects common human experience. Most people must face a time, at some point in their lives, when mentors (parents, older siblings, teachers, etc.) are no longer with them, and they must continue the journey of life on their own. The motif of the mentors departure also mirrors the inner, psychological process described as “individualization,” “actualization” of the ego, and so on. Although-as posited earlier (see Analysis for Chapter 5)-we only know who we are in relationship to others, we must also clarify and test our understandings of ourselves as individuals.