The elves exchange goods with the men of Lake Town via barrels that are floated on a river that flows under the elves’ dwelling. Empty barrels are sent floating back down the river from a storeroom. In the storeroom, Bilbo catches a guardsman napping. He steals the guardsman’s keys, frees the dwarves, and puts his plan into action. He helps pack each dwarf into an empty barrel just before the elves return and shove the barrels into the river; then, still invisible, he hops onto an empty barrel. The trapdoors open and the dwarves speed out along the river toward Lake Town.
A key turning point in Bilbo’s development comes when he kills the spider that wrapped him in its web as he slept. After killing the spider, Bilbo feels like “a different person.” The spider is the first enemy that Bilbo defeats in combat, and the incident serves as a rite of passage. This change is marked by Bilbo’s decision to name his sword. In ancient epic literature, named swords are important symbols of courage and heroism, so by giving his sword a name, Bilbo signifies his new capacity to lead and succeed. From this point on, Bilbo begins to take action and make plans on his own—his plan to free the dwarves from the wood elves is the first instance of his newfound resolve. The peril and enmity that Bilbo and his group encounter in Mirkwood, combined with Gandalf’s absence and the dwarves’ bad luck, provide Bilbo with a grand opportunity to continue his development into a hero.
The narrator’s description of the wood elves as “Good People” who have become less wise, more suspicious, and more dangerous than the high elves, their relatives, illustrates how race and moral condition are closely linked in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. We have not yet encountered any humans in The Hobbit, so it is still difficult to figure where humans fit within Tolkien’s hierarchy of good and evil. From the passing references that we do hear, we get the impression that humans are mortal, often unwise, out of accord with nature, and prone to feuding. Still, humans do not seem to be uniformly evil like the goblins and the Wargs. Soon, at the end of Chapter 9, we encounter more substantial evidence of man when the company, waterlogged but alive, floats toward the human settlement Lake Town, just south of the Lonely Mountain, which is the group’s ultimate destination.
An evil aura pervades the forest of Mirkwood. As Gandalf explains, the evil atmosphere stems mostly from the presence of the mysterious Necromancer in the south of Mirkwood. The Necromancer does not figure in The Hobbit in a significant way but provides another important link between this novel and The Lord of the Rings. The Necromancer later proves to be Sauron, the Dark Lord, who is rebuilding his evil power in Mirkwood before returning to his stronghold of Barad-Dur in the blighted land of Mordor.