The sentence in question is from The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (page 103).
Bilbo was on the look out, however, caught the rope, and with a piece of stick fended off the little black boat as it came rushing across the stream.
To add some context: there is a boat they need to bring to their side of the river. And when they manage to finally snap the boat (it was fastened with a rope), the boat could swim away and Bilbo fended it off. So, my question is - what exactly does 'fended off' mean in this sentence?
The nature of my confusion originates from the fact that to fend something off means to stop something from coming too close. But in this case the hobbit wants the boat to come close to him. So, why did he fended it off? Maybe to fend off means to slow down something - could this be a possible meaning?
There is all the possible meanings of the word 'fend' from my dictionary:
fend 1) (; foll by for) to give support (to someone, esp oneself); provide (for) 2) (; usually foll by off) to ward off or turn aside (blows, questions, attackers, etc.) 3) () archaic to defend or resist 4) () and Northern English dialect to struggle; strive 5) and Northern English dialect a shift or effort •
There is some broader context from The Hobbit:
It was well that Beorn had warned them against it, or they would have drunk from it, whatever its colour, and filled some of their emptied skins at its bank. As it was they only thought of how to cross it without wetting themselves in its water.
Bilbo kneeling on the brink and peering forward cried: “There is a boat against the far bank! Now why couldn’t it have been this side!”
“Can any of you throw a rope?” “What’s the good of that? The boat is sure to be tied up, even if we could hook it, which I doubt.” “I don’t believe it is tied,” said Bilbo, “though of course I can’t be sure in this light; but it looks to me as if it was just drawn up on the bank, which is low just there where the path goes down into the water.”
Fili picked up the hook when he had drawn it back, rather doubtfully all the same. This time he threw it with great strength. “Steady!” said Bilbo, “you have thrown it right into the wood on the other side now. Draw it back gently.” Fili hauled the rope back slowly, and after a while Bilbo said: “Carefully! It is lying on the boat; let’s hope the hook will catch.” It did. The rope went taut, and Fili pulled in vain. Kili came to his help, and then Oin and Gloin. They tugged and tugged, and suddenly they all fell over on their backs. Bilbo was on the look out, however, caught the rope, and with a piece of stick fended off the little black boat as it came rushing across the stream. “Help!” he shouted, and Balin was just in time to seize the boat before it floated off down the current.