A cautionary introduction to the shape-shifter. Gandalf cannot but take every possible care of how he presents himself as well as Bilbo to this unpredictable man. He may be reasoned with as Gandalf said, but he still airs on the side of caution when around him.
Honest and crude
Beorn: “A Halfling and Wizard. How come you here?”
Gandalf: “Oh, well the fact is that we’ve had a bad time of it from Goblins in the mountains.”
Beorn: “What did you go near Goblins for? Stupid thing to do.”
Gandalf: “You are absolutely right. No it..”
Bofur: “There it is. Go, go.”
Gandalf: “…was terrible.”
Sharp and to the point. Without knowing the exact way in which they were unpleasantly introduced to the Goblins, Beorn concludes them to be stupid for coming near them. A bonding human would have perhaps taken the time to enquire about the reasons behind the journey through the mountains and the whole story behind it. But not Beorn. He only utters his judgment and opinion whether they like it or not. Definitely not a character one would look to befriend.
Gandalf, out of his own mimicry raises his hand to acknowledge the opinion Beorn gives him. Bofur interprets it as a signal upon which the two of them never agreed upon and sends Dwalin out, together with Balin. It is only wise for those two to be the first of the Dwarves to introduce themselves. They are the two most important members of the company, apart from Thorin of course.
Balin is well-versed and polite whereas Dwailn is pure muscle and protection. An army sergeant almost. He would have come between Beorn and Balin had something gone wrong.
Dwalin: “Dwalin and Balin.”
Gandalf: “And I must confess that, uh, several of our group are, in fact, Dwarves.”
Beorn: “Do you call two “several”?”
Gandalf: “Well, uh, now you put it that way. Yes there could be more than two.”
Bofur: “Go, go.”
Glóin: “Wait, that’s us.”
Before Gandalf can stop the flood of Dwarves, he tries to somehow broach the subject of the Dwarves’ existence in the house. He fails because Bofur again takes Gandalf’s hand gestures as the signal to send out two more. This time it is Glóin and Óin. Gandalf’s expression of annoyance at Bofur’s signal reading is visible but still, he pretends to act stupid in order for Beorn not to use his ax, the one he took into his hands as soon as Dwarves appeared on the scene.
Gandalf: “Ah, and here are some more of our happy troop.”
Beorn: “And do you call six a “troop”? What are you, a traveling circus?”
Dori: “Dori and Ori at your service.”
Beorn: “I don’t want your service.”
Gandalf: “Absolutely understandable.”
Bofur: “Go, go.”
Gandalf: “Oh, Fili and Kili. I’d quite forgotten. Yes. Oh, yes, and Nori, Bofur, Bifur and Bombur.”
Beorn: “Is that it? Are there any more?”
And again Bofur interprets wrongly and sends the rest of the company, including himself out to meet the tall man with the ax.
For all his menacing behavior and threatening looks, one would have thought he would have taken on the Dwarves as they came out in pairs, but Beorn stood his ground, remained as calm as his character permits it, and waits eagerly to see if these are all the Dwarves traveling with Gandalf. As he asks his final question, out of the door and into the light comes Thorin. He takes his time to come into view, leaning against the wooden beam as he stops before the stairs.
Thorin looks at Beorn without a sign of either gratitude or humility, but with pride and self-assurance. A dangerous combination of character traits in this particular house. It is an unwritten rule that governs all beings, or at least should: when using another human’s house for illegal lodgings, the least you can do is show humility and gratitude for them not hurting you for doing so.
It could have all easily gotten out of control, had Beorn decided on another course of action. And with all his forced patience of the Dwarves, their leader comes in smug, with the air around him that suggests that Beorn should know who he is and act accordingly.
The story of Beorn
Beorn: “So you are the one they call Oakenshield. Tell me why is Azog the Defiler hunting you?”
Thorin: “You know of Azog? How?”
Beorn: “My people were the first to live in the mountains before the Orcs came down from the North. The Defiler killed most of my family. But some he enslaved. Not for work you understand, but for sport. Caging skin-changers and torturing them seemed to amuse him.”
Bilbo: “There are others like you?”
Beorn: “Once there were many.”
Bilbo: “And now?”
Beorn: “Now there is only one.”
A tragic story of Beorn. One can understand why he sought solitude after a life as wrought with pain and torture as his. Anger still lies behind the words spoken aloud. Bilbo, out of all the company members is the only one to ask the question that rendered an unfortunate answer. Bilbo remained shocked, almost apologetic to have asked the question in the first place. However, compassion in his eyes is inevitable. He cannot fathom what it means to be the last of your own kind.
To live knowing there won’t be any other like you ever again, to be faced with peril on a daily basis, and to be the only one you can depend on. It is no wonder then the unsocial behavior of Beorn. I suspect all would react in the same way, closing themselves in to protect that last surviving specimen of a bygone race.
As Beorn tells his story, the shackle on his hand reminds everyone sitting at the table of the brutality of the story he is telling. The shackles are also there to remind the others in whose dangerous and threatening presence they reside.
Less wise and more dangerous
Beorn: “You need to reach the mountain before the last days of autumn.”
Gandalf: “Before Durin’s day falls, yes.”
Beorn: “You are running out of time.”
Gandalf: “Which is why we must go through Mirkwood.”
Beorn: “A darkness lies upon that forest. Fell things creep beneath those trees. I would not venture there except in great need.”
Gandalf: “We will take the Elven Road. That path is still safe.”
Beorn: “Safe? The Woodelves of Mirkwood are not like their kin, they are less wise and more dangerous. But it matters not.”
When not even the one-man army Beorn would dare to enter Mirkwood, it must mean that its dangers are far more vicious than initially thought. Although Gandalf advises taking a road that he still deems safe, Thorin turns his back hearing it belong to Elves. As Beorn says, there is a great difference from the Elves of Rivendell or Lórien and the Elves of Mirkwood.
For one thing, they do not dwell on the surface of the earth or in trees but rather underground. This makes them automatically very suspicious of the outside world since they have done everything to preserve themselves underground. They also do not have the objective, altruistic, or welcoming nature that other Elves do. Therefore, going through Mirkwood will definitely be an adventure.
The blindness of Dwarves
Thorin: “What do you mean?”
Beorn: “These lands are crawling with Orcs. Their numbers are growing and you are on foot. You will never reach the forest alive. I don’t like Dwarves. They are greedy and blind, blind to the lives of those they deem lesser than their own. But Orcs I hate more. What do you need?”
Beorn explains the dangers the Dwarves are facing when they step out of his home, knowing full well in advance that he will be the one to help them through. However, not before he speaks his mind about the race first. As it happens a small white mouse runs across the table where everyone is gathered and eating.
The Dwarves look to the mouse in disgust, wanting to reroute him or simply discard it. Beorn takes the mouse into his large hand, wrapping his fingers gently around its body, leaving its head free to breathe. As he does so, he presents his opinion of Dwarves, to the point and without embellishment. And he is right. The Dwarves are just the way he described them. Thorin glares at him with displeasure in his eyes, hearing his race being described in such a manner.
It may very well be that Dwarves see themselves in a much more pleasant light than Beorn objectively suggests. It may be that they have strong arguments, reasons behind their attitude and opinions, or simply don’t care what other races think of them. Whatever the case, hearing the truth come out of someone like Beorn must be striking and a little infuriating. But between the two unwelcomed races, Beorn chooses to help the race that hadn’t caused him pain or tortured him in any way.
Follow me to my next post.