The eagles take Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves to a far-away place with woods and a river. Bilbo is afraid to fly, but loosens his grip around his eagle’s talons when the eagle tells him to do so. Bilbo will never see the eagles again, the narrator notes, except for during the Battle of the Five Armies, which will come much later in the story.
The way Bilbo overcomes his initial fears demonstrates that he is beginning to grow more comfortable with his quest. This isn’t to say that he isn’t still terrified of the goblins and trolls he encounters; rather, it suggests that he’s getting better at coping with fear.
Gandalf now announces that he has other business to attend to, and must leave the dwarves in the near few days. The dwarves are sad to hear this, and offer Gandalf gold and jewels to stay, but Gandalf is insistent; he also comments that he believes he has already earned some of the dwarves’ treasure already. He tells the group that he will take them to a place called the Carrock, where there lives a strange “Somebody,” of whom they must not ask too many questions. This person, Gandalf tells Bilbo, is a shape-shifter, and sometimes assumes the shape of a bear. He adds that he will have to introduce this person to the group very gradually.
Gandalf’s sudden need to depart is a surprise, especially since he’s proved himself to be extremely useful to the group, having saved them twice in the last few days. It’s not entirely clear why Gandalf needs to leave so soon—it’s possible that he has business to attend to, as he says, but it’s also possible that he wants to test the dwarves and make Bilbo a better adventurer by exposing him to danger.
The group comes to the Carrock, and Gandalf leads Bilbo to the home of a man so huge that Bilbo can walk between his legs without his head touching the man’s tunic. Gandalf introduces himself and Bilbo to the man, and mentions that the man might know Gandalf’s cousin, Radagast. The man, Beorn, comments that Radagast isn’t a bad sort, as wizards go, and asks Gandalf to explain how he has come to be here.
Gandalf is a master of words, spells, and fighting, but one of his most important skills is his experience, in and of itself. Gandalf knows a huge number of people, who he can ask to host him and his friends. Beorn proves himself to be a decent, if not an excellent, person insofar as he agrees to be a host.
Gandalf tells Beorn that he has been traveling with a friend or two; Beorn asks where the other friend is, and Gandalf calls for Thorin and Dori. Beorn says that he doesn’t like dwarves much, but since these dwarves have been fighting goblins, they’re welcome to stay with him. Gandalf goes on describing his travels through Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, and the woods, each time mentioning a few more of the dwarves; each time, Beorn questions Gandalf’s story, and Gandalf calls for a few more of the dwarves to come, until finally, Beorn has agreed to accommodate Bilbo and all of the dwarves. Bilbo is impressed that Gandalf has managed to convince Beorn to accommodate such a large group, especially since Beorn usually turns away visitors. Gandalf doesn’t tell Beorn that the dwarves are looking for treasure.
Gandalf manipulates language to trick Beorn into housing all fourteen of them at the same time. In many ways, this is the same trick that he used to convince Bilbo to invite all of the dwarves into his house when he was expecting Gandalf. This is important in and of itself—Bilbo is no longer the object of trickery, but an observer of it: he’s maturing. Gandalf continues to keep the goal of the dwarves’ quest a secret, knowing that if the information were to become widely available, many others would try to take the dwarves’ treasure. Greed abounds in the world.
Beorn leads the group into his hall, where he feeds them food and tells them tales of the dark forest, Mirkwood, through which Bilbo and the dwarves must soon travel. Beorn’s story makes everyone feel nervous for the journey that lies ahead. That night, as Bilbo is falling asleep, he wonders if Beorn has transformed into a bear and intends to kill his guests, but he puts this thought out of his head and falls asleep.
Bilbo doesn’t sleep well because he doesn’t entirely trust Beorn. But this is only appropriate—Gandalf has withheld information from Beorn, meaning that Beorn has no particular reason to trust the group he’s hosting. Hosting, then, is a two-way affair: the host must be accommodating to his guests, while the guests must give the hosts some kind of truthful information about what they’re doing. In the absence of this equal exchange, neither host nor guests feels entirely comfortable.
The next morning, Bilbo finds Gandalf, who explains that he found bear tracks outside, leading toward the woods from which the eagles saved them. Beorn, in the shape of a bear, may have led other bears to this location. Bilbo is afraid that Beorn will lead the Wargs and goblins to them, but Gandalf urges Bilbo to calm himself; the next day, Beorn has returned, and says that he went to the woods to confirm Gandalf’s story, and that he likes it better now that he knows it’s true.
Beorn confirms that Gandalf is telling the truth about the group’s adventures in the Misty Mountains, and this confirms the importance of the host-guest exchange. Beorn become more trustworthy to the group—he’s not leading the goblins to kill them—at the same instance that the group becomes more trustworthy to him.
Beorn gives the dwarves provisions, including bows and arrows, and sends them off to Mirkwood with the advice that they mustn’t leave the path for any reason, or wet their bodies with water from an enchanted stream. The dwarves are grateful to Beorn for his advice and hospitality, and set off toward Mirkwood. As they travel that night, Bilbo thinks that he sees the figure of a huge bear that might be Beorn, but Gandalf tells him not to pay attention to it.
Beorn proves himself to be a generous host after confirming that Gandalf is trustworthy. Again, truth is a kind of currency here, one that the group uses to “buy” important supplies from their host: weapons, food, advice, etc. It even seems as if Beorn—in the shape of a bear—is guarding them on their way.
The group reaches Mirkwood forest, and they let their ponies go as the ponies will not be able to travel through the forest. Gandalf announces that he is leaving them to attend to other business. Bilbo is especially sad to see Gandalf go, and wishes that he were going with him. Gandalf reminds Bilbo that there is no other way to reach the destination without traveling through Mirkwood; the only alternative would involve traveling near goblins or the Necromancer. Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the dwarves, reminding them not to go off the path. The group enters Mirkwood forest, and begins the most dangerous part of its journey.
Bilbo feels a special connection to Gandalf; it’s clear that he’s closer to Gandalf, who wanted to wait and find Bilbo in the Misty Mountains, than he is to the dwarves, who wanted to move on without him. Gandalf’s allusion to the Necromancer, who’s never fully explained in The Hobbit, suggests what his “other business” might be—but even so, it seems as if Gandalf is deliberately abandoning the group at the time when they need him most.