In a 1977 speech to the Tolkien Society in England, Tolkien’s second son, Michael, said that as children, he, his two brothers, and his sister had each, at some point in their development, thought that the Troll chapter was the best chapter in the book. He continued, “We thought there was something rather nice about Trolls, and it was a pity they had to be turned to stone at all.” ~The Annotated Hobbit, annotated by Douglas A. Anderson.
Z-baby says it’s “the kind of story that you remember whenever you think about it later.”
Indeed. In this chapter, the dwarves and Bilbo get into their first fix, Gandalf rescues them (not for the last time), Bilbo tries his hand at petty burglary, and we are introduced to trolls, the first villains of the Wild places that Bilbo and his friends have chosen to traverse.
At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business. Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely, and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before. Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees.
Sometimes an Adventure doesn’t feel much like an Adventure anymore, but rather more like a dreariness and a muchness of a slough. It’s how I’ve been feeling a lot these days: no people, no inns, and muddy, mucky road ahead. And if I were a pessimist (which I sometimes am), I would predict Trolls on the horizon, too. In the words of Bilbo Baggins:”‘Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!’ It was not the last time that he wished that!”
Oh, for nice hobbit-hole, with a library of books, and a bit of jolly conversation and music for when it’s cold outside or when I’m feeling lonesome, but no dirt or danger or bad decisions or sore muscles or Wild Trolls. It sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? But then again, God didn’t make this world a safe, little hobbit-hole, and maybe it’s best He didn’t. We were made for home and for heaven, but we were also built for adventure and challenge. Who ever said that heaven, although sometimes the metaphor is “rest” and “peace”, isn’t a place where we will still have mountains to climb and even trolls to fight? In Lewis’s The Last Battle, the heavenly travelers are called to go “further up and further in.” The adventure continues.
So maybe all I need is a miracle or two (where is Gandalf when you need him?), and a short rest, which happens to be the title of the next chapter.
Oh, and I agree that the story of the trolls is one of the best and most memorable parts of the book. However, I prefer my trolls turned to stone at the break of dawn.