As the siege of the Lonely Mounain wears on, Thorin continues to seek the Arkenstone, speaking of his desire for it: "to me it is beyond price." Upon hearing these words, Bilbo begins to form a plan by which the stone might become an occasion for peace-making. Under cover of night, and wearing the Ring, Bilbo takes the Arkenstone to the seigers' camp. He reveals himself and asks elf guards to be introduced to the archer. He shows Bard the Arkenstone and gives it to him as an aid in negotiations. As he leaves, he meets Gandalf, who has returned and who congratulates Bilbo on a job well done. Bilbo has no time to ask Gandalf any questions about the wizard's absence, for, as Gandalf says, "Things are drawing towards the end now." He does, however, allude to news that not even the ravens know.
Although Bilbo states that his only motivation in giving the Arkenstone to Bard is to be done with a tiresome affair, readers may not be far off the mark in suspecting that Bilbo-who, as we will see, has grown genuinely fond of Thorin-truly wishes to do what he can to bring about peace between the dwarves, the elves, and the men as well.
Gandalf's sudden return at the end of the chapter reminds readers that, like the characters in a book's plot, we may not have all the information about any given situation. The wizard is aware of news that not even the ravens know-and, at this point, we as readers do not know it, either. Tolkien is doing more than merely heightening suspense; he is making a point that is crucial to his own personal philosophy and thus is writ in an even larger manner in The Lord of the Rings. As stated in the Analysis of the previous chapter, Tolkien believes that we must engage with the world and continue to do so come what may. In this chapter we realize that Tolkien believes we must so act even without benefit of all information, without benefit of having all our questions answered, without benefit of knowing exactly "how it will all turn out." Not for nothing does Gandalf tell Bilbo, "You may come out all right" (emphasis original to the text). Not even a wizard knows the final outcome; nevertheless, he, Bilbo, and we as readers must continue to live our lives, hoping for the best, even if things seem to be at their worst. Critic Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, explains this attitude as one that Tolkien absorbed from the Norse mythology that he loved as a young man. In Tolkien's case, however, that philosophy was tempered by his deep Christian faith that, in the end, all would turn out well. Even so, Tolkien believed, all people must do their duty in the moment, regardless of outcome. There is worth and value in doing the right thing, even if it seems the right course of action will not be rewarded as we think it ought to be. (There is some irony, then, in the fact that the right thing for Bilbo to do at this juncture-the thing that will make for peace-involves secrecy and burglary!)
The Hobbit: Novel Summary: Chapter 16