Bilbo finds himself on the other side of the Misty Mountains without a pony, buttons, or his companions. He walks along the mountains for some time, and eventually hears voices that don’t sound like goblins’. He is happy to find that they belong to the dwarves and Gandalf, but rather than greet them right away, he decides to have some fun, and puts on his ring and walks among them, invisible.
Here, Bilbo begins to enjoy himself for the first time on his journey. Instead of immediately rejoining the group, he asserts his independence by walking among them unnoticed. Bilbo’s ring has changed his personality—he’s braver and more adventurous than he was only a day before. And yet, his actions here are also somewhat unkind—his new power has made him at least slightly less sympathetic.
Gandalf is arguing with the dwarves; the dwarves are annoyed that Bilbo couldn’t stay with them, and had to get himself lost, while Gandalf insists that they find Bilbo instead of going on. Bilbo removes his ring and seems to appear out of thin air, startling everyone, including Gandalf. The dwarves are highly impressed, and Bilbo’s reputation as a burglar goes up considerably in their eyes. Bilbo doesn’t show his ring to anyone, but simply says that he snuck past Balin, the sentry, very quietly. When asked about where he has been, Bilbo only says that he fell off of Dori’s back and snuck past the goblins—Gandalf gives Bilbo a look as if he senses what Bilbo has left out. Gandalf explains that Bilbo’s cry woke him up, and he was able to escape from the goblins himself by using his enchantments.
It becomes clear that the dwarves aren’t at all loyal to their friend; indeed, this is an early clue that they’re not particularly moral people, especially compared to Bilbo. Even so, the dwarves begin to respect Bilbo much more after he appears before them, seemingly out of thin air. This suggests that the dwarves are somewhat shallow—they respect Bilbo because he’s a good burglar, not because he’s a good person—but it also shows how greatly Bilbo has changed in a short time. It’s also significant that Bilbo doesn’t tell the dwarves everything about his journey—he begins to develop a private life: a sure sign of his growing maturity. Gandalf senses this growing private life, these secrets that Bilbo is keeping, but also perhaps the greed that is also a part of Bilbo not revealing everything that has happened to him.
The dwarves have lost their supplies and ponies to the goblins, but the company proceeds on their route. Bilbo is enormously hungry, and the path is difficult. After a long time, the group hears the sound of wolves, which Bilbo recognizes from a relative who used to imitate wolf howls to scare him. Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gandalf climb into trees to avoid the wolves. Bilbo is unable to climb up, but Dori climbs down and pulls him up just as a wolf is about to bite him.
Again, Bilbo makes connections between the lessons he’s learned at home and his experiences on the road. Even after acquiring the ring, he’s unable to evade the wolves by himself –- he still depends in no small part on his companions for help.
The wolves are actually Wargs—wolves that can talk—and Gandalf overhears their conversation as they talk among themselves. They were supposed to meet the goblins there that night to raid a nearby town of men. The Wargs are “annoyed” to find that the goblins are late (Gandalf knows this is probably because of the death of the Great Goblin) and they’re equally angry to see that there are people in the trees, who they assume must be in cahoots with the men in the town. Gandalf, who’s scared despite being a wizard, takes the large pinecones growing in the trees, uses magic to set them on fire, and throws them down at the Wargs, who yelp and run away.
Since we’ve seen the extent of Gandalf’s abilities by this point in the novel, that fact that he is scared adds tension to this moment. But even so, Tolkien lightens the moods by anthropomorphizing the wolves and describing their feelings in dry, understated language—it would be terrifying to read that the wolves are angry, but not that they’re “annoyed.”
The Lord of the Eagles notices the commotion in his forest and summons other eagles to come with him and investigate. As they circle lower, they see a great crowd of wolves and goblins jeering at Gandalf and the dwarves in the trees. Gandalf, who’s now afraid that the fire he started will burn down the trees and kill the entire group, mocks the goblins, but also prepares to jump. Just as he is about to jump, the eagles arrive, snatching Gandalf and the dwarves out of the trees before they’re burned down. As an eagle carries Dori, Bilbo hangs on to Dori’s ankles, and lets go just as the eagles drop them in a nest.
The appearance of the Eagles is an example of deus ex machina—a sudden, unexpected resolution to a problem, which relies heavily on magic or the suspension of disbelief. Usually, this is frowned upon in fiction, because it takes readers out of the story and reminds them that they’re reading a work of fiction. Yet Tolkien counteracts these effects with lots of concrete details about Bilbo’s flight, such as the way he grips on to Dori’s legs. In this way, the scene becomes more satisfying as a work of fantasy.
The eagles are no friends of dwarves, but let them go because Gandalf is friendly with the Lord of the Eagles, having healed a wound the eagle had suffered many years ago. The eagles refuse to take the group anywhere near a city of men, since they’re afraid that men will shoot them with arrows, but Gandalf convinces them to take him and his friends much closer to their destination. Bilbo says that he is hungry, and the eagles bring the group hares, rabbits, and sheep to eat. Bilbo is too tired to help the dwarves prepare the food, but he eats it, and falls asleep. In his dreams, he walks through his home looking for something whose appearance or identity he can’t remember.
Gandalf’s experience continues to prove valuable, since without his friendship with the Eagles, the group would never have been saved. Bilbo ends the chapter in an almost childlike state, too weak to help make dinner. His dream might symbolize the rapid changes he’s experienced recently. Though he continues to occasionally and almost reflexively miss his home, he’s gradually forgetting what he misses about it as he becomes more familiar with travel.