The Hobbit: Chapter 11 Summary: On the Doorstep

In three days, they come to the meeting place with the ponies, past where the Long Lake meets with the Running River. Here the men leave the ponies and return, not wishing to stay anywhere near the mountain. Then the party sets out on a long, quiet journey toward the mountain through the Desolation of the Dragon (214–216).

The reach the mountain without seeing the dragon. Balin, Fili, Kili, and Bilbo are sent to scout out the southern end of the mountain where the gate is. They see the opening and the ruined town of Dale, but little else. They return with little spirit here “at the end of their journey, but as far as ever, it seemed, from the end of their quest.” Yet Bilbo has more spirit than the rest, and through his encouragement they begin the search for the secret door on the western slopes. From here they begin the long search up and down the mountain for the door (216–218).

At last Fili, Kili, and Bilbo find traces of rough steps and a narrow trail. They follow this up until they find a shelf with what is clearly a door, but they are unable to open it or budge it with either force or spell. And the end of the day they return to camp with the news of their discovery (218–219). 

Bofur and Bombur are left behind to guard the ponies and stores, and the rest follow the narrow, dangerous trail to the doorstep. They use ropes to haul up what they need, but Bombur refuses, for the time being, to be hauled up or go up. Try as they might, they are unable to open the door or discover exactly where in the smooth rock face the door actually is. Bilbo sits and thinks of the lands beyond and watches the snails crawling around the walls of their new camp (219–221).

The last week of autumn arrives, and the dwarves begin thinking that Bilbo should put on the ring and try the front gate. The next day Bilbo continues to sit and think with the feeling he is waiting for something. He then notices the sun setting and a thin crescent moon. And then he sees a thrush and hears a “Crack!” Bilbo remembers the message on the map and hurriedly calls the dwarves. They wait patiently as the sun sets, and at the last gleam of light, a flake of rock splits from the wall. Bilbo calls for the key. Thorin inserts it, and with the dwarves pushing, the door gives way, and the darkness of the mountain flowed out of the tunnel (221–223). 

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