This drawing is the companion to this one. It needs very little explanation, I hope, but it is of course Bilbo Baggins at the entrance of Smaug’s Lair in the Lonely Mountain. It is the exact opposite to the first scene in the Hobbit, when we are introduced to Bilbo in front of his green, round, door at Bag-End, in the gentle peace of The Shire. There, he had not a care in the world, smoking his pipe, and without even a hint of adventure about him. Here, he stands behind an altogether different doorway, one that leads to possible death. The smokes that surrounds him are not pleasant, but are stinking, foul, suffocating fumes. He is in the very cauldron of his adventure, the same adventure he so resisted at the start; and it has altered him forever. As we are told at this scene:
“Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone…”
This marks the epitome of Bilbo’s transformation, and the final victory of his Tookish side. In the scene that follows, Bilbo fulfils his job-title as burglar and legally earns his contractual share of the treasure. But the real change is not in skill or stature, for he is still the little hobbit we know, whose special power is simply in being forgotten and not being noticed by anyone – not at all conforming to typical heroism or greatness. No, the change is psychological, internal. The fact not a soul was there to witness this moment does not make it any less significant. How often our greatest victories and achievements are those contained within us and understood only by ourselves. The scene foreshadows an even bigger internal battle Bilbo will have to face, sixty years later, back in the Shire in his comfortable hobbit-hole…
Two of the most memorable chapters in the book are this one, “Inside Information“, and of course “Riddles in the Dark“. Both involve a tense, gripping, dialogue between our protagonist, The titular Hobbit, and a dangerous and deadly foe – one foreseen, the other famously not. Both take place within the dark depths of a mountain, and rely on Bilbo’s separation from his companions for dramatic effect. And in both scenes, the Ring plays a key role. But while Gollum’s cunning is raw, spawned by years of snooping and stealing, and accompanied by a thick, strange, slang, Smaug’s cunning is patient and proud through sheer size and power. He speaks down to Bilbo in drawling, patrician tones.
My drawing, pictured above, takes inspiration from Tolkien’s own drawing of Smaug (below, right), as well as David Wyatt’s front cover illustration of The Hobbit (the 1998 Collins edition – below, left). I enjoyed adding the red glare cast over the gold and on the walls. I prefer the limited size of the cave shown in both Tolkien’s and Wyatt’s drawings – scenes don’t need to be spectacularly huge to be dramatic and climactic. I was stumped as to how I should depict the invisible, Ring-wearing Bilbo. At first I tried to follow Wyatt’s excellent example, by fading him from solid to invisible, and using white outline to denote transparency. But my skills were not up to scratch for that! I could have gone for Tolkien’s option, which was also effective. I solicited some opinions on Twitter, and would like to thank J Glover (who suggested a blue-ish tinge) and Tom Hillman (who suggested leaving Bilbo blank) for their ideas. I opted to combine both suggestions, and it works alright I think. Perhaps more ghost-ish than invisible, but ghosts are often invisible too, I guess.
Before I go on to quote the wonderful, evocative, passage that this drawing is based on, I’d like to say this drawing is for my niece, who has also just arrived at the door of Smaug’s Lair…
‘He was altogether alone. Soon he thought he was beginning to feel warm. “Is that a kind of glow I seem to see coming right ahead down there?” he thought.
It was. As he went forward it grew and grew, till there was no doubt about it. It was a red light steadily getting redder and redder. Also it was now undoubtedly hot in the tunnel. Wisps of vapour floated up and past him and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakeable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. At any rate after a short halt go on he did; and you can picture him coming to the end of the tunnel, an opening of much the same size and shape as the door above. Through it peeps the hobbit’s little head. Before him lies the great bottom-most cellar or dungeon-hall of the ancient dwarves right at the Mountain’s root. It is almost dark so that its vastness can only be dimly guessed, but rising from the near side of the rocky floor there is a great glow. The glow of Smaug!’
The Hobbit, Ch. 12, Inside Information, pp 260-261 (1998 ed.)