A longer chapter that might just be the best one so far and by might I mean definitely is. Can a literary character give a tour-de-force performance? Because I'm pretty sure one just did.
So this chapter was very exciting. We had Bilbo exploring in the darkness, finding out he's got himself a couple of magical items that should vastly improve his burglaring success in the near future, and then facing off against heavily-armed goblins in his flight to freedom. Yep. That's aaaall that happened this chapter. Nothing else. :D
Let's break down some of this: first off, it's cool that he's got himself a magic sword/knife too, now, since I'm still not 100% on what his role is when it comes to dragons and wizards. This one doesn't have a name, though, does it? Or at least nothing is written on it. Either that or Gandalf overlooked it, which he may well be prone to doing. Still, with this much of the book left, I'm sure we'll run afoul of some undead courtesy of a Necromancer and then an enchanted blade will be a fine thing. Shame sneak attack doesn't work against them, but regular attack can make up for that, right?
Speaking of sneak attacks, Ring of Invisibility!!! What an awesome find. Not all that ceremonious a find, mind you, but awesome nonetheless. I like that it has a weakness to bright sunlight, although I bet Bilbo would disagree with me, what with the goblins spotting him and all. THIS will be helpful in dragon mountains and wizard... I still don't know, the Necromancer has dungeons according to Gandalf, but does that imply a fortress or tower, or is he in part of the mountain? Bah. I will find out in due course. Point is, being able to go invisible will go a long way toward making Bilbo look like he's got more ranks in Hide than people (rightly) give him credit for. What an archetypal image, a halfling rogue with a magic dagger and a ring of invisibility. I'd kind of prefer a cloak, really, I like hoods and capes and whatnot. Haberdashery over jewelry any day, that's my position.
So I guess that's all there is to talk about EXCEPT GOLLUM HOLY CREEPING CRACKLY CHIPMUNKS you guys there's a creepy glowing-eyed frogman lurking in the deeps who eats raw fish and dead goblins and doesn't cause a ripple when he moves through the water oh god that is a ridiculously creepy image. I was feeling the cold and the damp (it was a gray and humid day today) and then WELL HOLY SHIT the crazy murderous creature in the darkness has, uh, "introduced," uh, themselves.
Gollum's all over the map and absolutely none of it is charming in any way. He's eerie at best, haunting when anything else would be whimsical or cartoonish, and absolutely terrifying when he's gone off the deep end. If You Know What could talk, swim and obsess over childrens' games, it would act like Gollum. This is, for all intents and purposes, a two-man (one hobbit and one what the fuck is that, actually, but let's not with the splitting of the hairs) play, a whole chapter almost entirely given over to a character we know well enough and one we get tremendously fleshed out through seeing a lot more of his thoughts than anyone else yet in the story except maybe Bilbo himself. A worthy adversary for Bilbo to have to deal with entirely solo, the little flashes of Gollum thinking about his distant past make me think he might be some sort of "dark-hobbit." You know, like a dark elf or svirtzneflungle I don't know how to spell that but you get my point. Small, lived in a hole, sociable, had a grandmother and a Master who ruled over his people; it's certainly feasible that Gollum was a sort of civilized cave-person before losing everyone (goblin attack? I think goblin attack. A victim, perhaps, of the sort of thing that made the Lone-lands so Lone). On the other hand, the glowing eyes, that's not a thing of hobbits, that's just eerie, and the book even says he used to spend his days with other funny creatures living in holes and grottos on the river and the like. So dark-hobbit probably not. Some sort of troglodyte or creature of which far nicer versions might be available to meet? More likely.
Actually, what Gollum reminds me of more than anything, and Roomie came through with a link here, is a creature I remember out of an older D&D book. Like older than the ones I played with. Creepy sort of thing and I'm sure that they ripped it off of Gollum: the blindheim. That picture is pretty close to what I imagined Gollum to look like, certainly far more so than the art in the book. He doesn't get a terrible amount of physical description, because he doesn't really need it. As far as the story is concerned, and the original description makes this plain, Gollum is just the darkness looking back at you. He's the incarnation of the hole, the pit, the darkness in the deeps. He'll threaten you, he'll puzzle you, he'll eat you if you're not careful. There's some cleverness in the riddles that the two contestants pick, in that Bilbo keeps picking positive imagery (even the teeth are a healthy set; as Gollum notes, he's got only six) and Gollum tries for the creep factor every time, even though it's not helpful, per se. I liked the idea that the challenge of riddles was an ancient ceremony with rules that are not broken, it's a cool concept to add to the world. Could you challenge a knight to a riddle duel? I would. I'd lose (I tried my luck at all of these and answered... I'm going to say at least one of them and leave you all guessing). Bilbo, a hobbit from the upper world seeking to get back to it, bears a dagger that sheds light and wields imagery of sunlight on daisies, eggs, sitting at the dinner table. Gollum, the thing of darkness with the life of darkness, lays down cold, clammy fish; biting winds; darkness and the destructive aspect of time.
What a fantastic foe for Bilbo to have to take on alone, and in such a unique way! Neither of them dares try force against the other (initially. Psycho Precious Gollum seems a lot more inclined to dare the dagger). Instead it's a game, a deadly game where both Bilbo and Gollum are resorting to being on the up-and-up like a bizarre, creepy mockery of Bilbo's earlier manners scenes with the dwarves. We get real character development from Bilbo here, finding his courage, keeping his wits about him, and most importantly realizing that he has the power to take life and finding it in himself to empathize with a creature that only a mother could love. I felt sorry for Gollum, reading Bilbo's feelings on what it must be like to live the life of the poor creeping thing, and despite that yes, Gollum did in fact basically threaten to kill him, Bilbo makes not a move against him. Still, he took something precious, possibly the only precious thing in Gollum's creepy underground life, and there's only so much mercy you can measure out when you figure Gollum's got no defense against the goblins anymore.
In a handful of pages, the author managed to serve up a complete, complex and creepy antagonist, whose plight is haunting even as his threat is oh-so-real and stressful. I picture a dark thing with glowing eyes that strangles to kill stalking through a labyrinth of narrow corridors and - well, you know. Gollum is hugely eerie. I'm surprised we got done with him in only one chapter, although since the entire thing was that encounter it makes more sense. If the author is this talented at creating new challenges wholecloth and making them so interesting, then I am really looking forward to what awaits. So long, Gollum, it was something knowing you. On to new adventures with some character development and a few magical trinkets into the bargain! :D
(Side notes: 1) I wish I'd had a DM do riddles half so well. Even though I'm no good at them. 2) I forgot to do my thing this chapter, I was too caught up in it. Don't remember any tricky words sticking out, though).