Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

The Hobbit is one of the biggest-selling books of all time. An estimated 100 million people have read Tolkien’s classic children’s novel since it was first published in 1937. The story of its origins, and Tolkien’s supposed invention of the word ‘hobbit’ (of which more below), are well-known. But how should we ‘read’ The Hobbit ? What does the story mean?

Before we offer a textual analysis of Tolkien’s novel, it might be worth briefly summarising the plot.

The Hobbit : plot summary

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit (a species of small creature which Tolkien invented) who lives in Bag End, in the rural loveliness of The Shire. The wizard Gandalf turns up one day, accompanied by thirteen dwarves, who are on a mission to reclaim their gold, as well as their kingdom, from beneath the Lonely Mountain. This land, which was once theirs, has been taken over by a fearsome dragon named Smaug.

Bilbo has been approached because they need a burglar: someone to break into Smaug’s cave so they can go in and defeat the dragon and recover their gold. Bilbo reluctantly agrees to accompany them. However, the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, is even more reluctantly than Bilbo to have the hobbit come along with them, because Bilbo is not a fighter as the dwarves are. However, the others persuade him, and they all set off together.

They travel to Rivendell, the home of the Elves, where Elrond gives them help with their map. But the gang are then caught by goblins while attempting to cross the Misty Mountains, and Gandalf has to rescue them. Bilbo, however, gets lost deep in the underground tunnels, and encounters Gollum, a mysterious creature whose magic ring Bilbo accidentally acquires.

The ring confers invisibility upon whoever wears it, and – to escape Gollum, having played a game of riddles with him – Bilbo uses the ring and finds his way out of the tunnels. He rejoins the dwarves and they once again have to flee the pursuing goblins. They are assisted by eagles and find their way safely to the house of Beorn, who can transform into a fearsome bear.

In the enchanted forest of Mirkwood, Bilbo uses his sword, Sting, to fight off giant spiders which attack them and ensnare the dwarves in webs. Nearing their destination, the gang are helped by the inhabitants of nearby Laketown, who want Smaug defeated as much as they do. Entering the mountain via a secret door, Bilbo finds Smaug’s lair and identifies a weakness in the dragon’s armour.

When Smaug notices him, he flies into a rage, realising that Laketown has helped Bilbo to find his cave; the dragon flies off to burn Laketown to the ground. Thanks to a thrush overhearing Bilbo’s account of Smaug’s weakness, and then flying to the town to tell them, a man named Bard is able to find Smaug’s weak spot and shoot and kill the dragon with an arrow, halting the destruction.

The dwarves are now able to regain their mountain, and Bilbo finds the Arkenstone, a stone precious to Thorin’s family. But he hides it rather than handing it over to Thorin. When the men of Laketown demand a cut of Smaug’s treasure to help repair their town, Thorin refuses, drawing on the surrounding armies of dwarves to defend his position.

Bilbo attempts to intercede, using the Arkenstone to bribe the Laketowners, but when Thorin finds out he sends Bilbo away, angered at having been betrayed by the hobbit.

With the help of the eagles and Beorn, the dwarves win the Battle of Five Armies. However, in the battle Thorin is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he forgives Bilbo. Bilbo returns home to his hobbit-hole, with a small cut of the treasure.

The Hobbit : analysis

We should, according to Tolkien, resist the urge to analyse The Hobbit as an allegory of any kind. Tolkien disliked allegory, and for this reason he wasn’t keen on his friend C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books (although Lewis denied that these were allegory, too).

In his preface to the second edition of the vast sequel to The Hobbit , The Lord of the Rings , Tolkien wrote that many people confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’, and this distinction is worth pondering. ‘Applicability’, to use Tolkien’s phrase, gives the reader freedom in how they interpret and analyse the story, whereas ‘allegory’ involves a very top-down ‘you should read X here as representing Y’ instruction from the author.

So if we read one of the most famous allegories in twentieth-century literature, George Orwell’s Animal Farm (which appeared just eight years after The Hobbit : we have analysed Orwell’s book here ), as simply a tale about animals and their relationships with their human masters, we are missing something vital from the story.

With The Hobbit , we may detect possible meanings beneath the leafy Shire, the dragon guarding his gold, the novel’s quest motif, and many other details, but Tolkien refuses to prescribe one meaning that we’re meant to follow.

So it was with the great Anglo-Saxon and Middle-English epics which he admired and wrote about as part of his day job as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford. Grendel and the dragon in Beowulf may mean any number of things: their meaning is in the eye, and mind’s eye, of the reader or listener.

Of course, it helps with old epic poems like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that the identity of the author remains unknown to us, so even if they were intended as allegory, we have lost the ‘key’ that supposedly unlocks them.

But even though we know The Hobbit was written by someone who had first-hand experience of war (like many men of his generation, Tolkien had fought in the First World War) as the inevitability of another war was growing even more urgent, we should refuse to draw any clear line between real-world events and the work of imaginative fantasy which Tolkien wrote.

So, if not as allegory, how should we interpret this quest tale for a modern readership, which is clearly indebted to Germanic and Norse myths of the Middle and ‘Dark’ Ages? On a structural level we can be more confident. In his vast and brilliant study of plot structures, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories , Christopher Booker gives us two pointers which we might apply to The Hobbit : Tolkien’s tale is an example of both the ‘quest’ story and the ‘voyage and return’ narrative.

Indeed, Tolkien’s subtitle for The Hobbit , There and Back Again , even spells this out for us. Bilbo is the reluctant hero who must leave home – as in countless fairy tales – and go out on an adventure which will make him a wiser (and certainly richer) person.

In this connection, it’s worth stopping to analyse both the similarities between The Hobbit and many earlier folk tales and myths and the crucial ways in which Tolkien departs from these tropes and conventions. Vladimir Propp, in his influential work on the ‘ morphology of the folk tale ’, identified a number of plot details and character types which we find in various European fairy stories: a hero has to leave home, a hero is challenged to prove his heroic qualities, a hero is tricked by the villain, and so on; ending, of course, with the hero returning home and order being restored to the world.

Identifying many of Propp’s features in Tolkien’s novel helps to explain (or partly explain at least) why The Hobbit has become such a favourite novel among both young and old readers alike. There is something primal and mythic about its plot elements, as well as its local detail (dragons, treasure, giant eight-legged foes, shape-shifting bears, and the rest of it). Tolkien taps into the need for fireside tales told by travelling mythmongers and local bards which seems hard-wired into our brains.

With The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion it’s clear that Tolkien set out to create a full-blown mythology for England, drawing on its Germanic and Norse heritage, complete with fully developed languages like Elvish (Tolkien’s speciality was philology, or the study of languages). But with The Hobbit he was doing something less ambitious but no less mythic: creating a sort of modern-day fairy story.

And it is those elements of The Hobbit which depart from the traditional folk tale that make the novel something recognisably modern. The hero is not some wet-behind-the-ears youngster who needs to go out and find his way in the world: he is a middle-aged and perfectly settled creature of habit who has his life all sorted and only agrees to leave his comfortable hobbit-hole with the greatest reluctance.

He is not tricked by the villain but turns out to be the arch-trickster himself, outwitting Gollum and winning, for his efforts, the fated magic ring (another well-worn idea even when Tolkien used it: see the Ring of Gyges ) that would become the centrepiece of The Lord of the Rings .

And, of course, Bilbo is knocked unconscious soon after the climactic Battle of the Five Armies begins. Here, perhaps, we might be permitted a smidgen of biographical analysis: Tolkien, having fought in and survived a mass industrial war which afforded little opportunity for old-fashioned heroism, seems to be commenting on the unheroic nature of war and adventure. You’re more likely to be the fellow zonked out on the ground during the battle than you are the warrior wielding the sword and winning the day.

Indeed, even the story’s other main hero, Thorin, doesn’t survive the battle. The Hobbit offers a very cautious and critical account of war, with the costs often outweighing any perceived benefits.

However, this is not to say that Bilbo fails as a ‘hero’: merely that Tolkien is at pains to highlight a quieter, more diplomatic kind of hero whose work goes on behind the scenes (Bilbo’s role as burglar scouting out Smaug’s lair). He tries to prevent the final battle by bargaining with the Laketown residents and Wood-Elves. Thorin is enraged by this, but he ends up paying an even higher price than his family’s precious Arkenstone, giving his own life in the course of the battle.

Contrary to popular belief, the word ‘hobbit’ did exist before The Hobbit . The famous story is that Tolkien, while marking some of his students’ exam papers in Oxford one day, came to a blank sheet which had not a single word written on it. Out of nowhere – or so it seemed – he had a flash of inspiration, and hastily scribbled down the sentence, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’

For all that Tolkien’s origin-story offers a delightful ‘Eureka’ moment for the novel’s (and word’s) conception, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. And ultimately, the strength of Tolkien’s novel lies not in its originality but in its superlative assembling of existing tropes and ideas into a story that offers a quiet commentary on the meaning of ‘heroism’ in the modern age.

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Home › Fantasy Novels › Analysis of Tolkien’s The Hobbit

Analysis of Tolkien’s The Hobbit

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on February 18, 2021 • ( 0 )

The origin of The Hobbit (1937) is well known. One day in the late 1920s, Tolkien was grading essays when he came across a blank page and absently wrote the sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” In a letter to W. H. Auden more than 25 years later, he wrote, “I did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of Thror’s Map” ( Letters 215). In the early 1930s, the story of the hobbit became one that he shared with his three sons during what he called their “winter reads.” By 1932, Tolkien had completed a manuscript that he shared with his Oxford friends, but most of those scholars saw the book as merely a children’s story. In 1936, Tolkien’s student Elaine Griffiths showed the manuscript to Susan Dagnall of George Allen & Unwin, who brought it to the attention of Stanley Unwin. Unwin asked his 10-year-old son, Rayner Unwin, to read it, and after Rayner gave it a positive review, Stanley published the book in 1937, with a cover designed by Tolkien himself and decorated with Old English runes. A first edition of 1,500 sold out quickly, and the book was published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin early in 1938. When

Unwin asked for a sequel to The Hobbit but showed no interest in The Silmarillion , Tolkien began work on The Lord of the Rings . In order to make The Hobbit fit more coherently as a “prequel” to the trilogy, Tolkien revised the chapter on Gollum (“Riddles in the Dark”), changing the part played by the ring, so that in the revised version, Gollum blames Bilbo for what he sees as the theft of his ring and curses Bilbo forever. It was this revised chapter that was published in the second edition of The Hobbit in 1951.

Tolkien later worked on another revision of The Hobbit, in which he tried to alter the narrative voice, the avuncular tone of which he, and a number of readers, had come to see as occasionally condescending and intrusive. Certain passages are clearly imagined as narrated by an older figure addressing children; for example, in the chapter “Barrels Out of Bond,” in which Bilbo comes up with the plan of how to save the dwarves, the narrator makes these comments:

It was just at this moment that Bilbo suddenly discovered the weak point in his plan. Most likely you saw it some time ago and have been laughing at him; but I don’t suppose you would have done half so well yourselves in his place. ( Hobbit 177)

This is undoubtedly the kind of passage Tolkien had in mind when he wrote to Auden that the novel “was unhappily really meant, as far as I was conscious, as a ‘children’s story’, and as I had not learned sense then, and my children were not quite old enough to correct me, it has some of the sillinesses of manner caught unthinkingly from the kind of stuff I had had served to me” ( Letters 215). However, when Tolkien sought to revise the book, he was discouraged from doing so by readers who thought that it would simply not be The Hobbit without that narrator.

The second edition, with the revised Gollum chapter, appeared in 1951, and subsequent editions followed in 1966 (to compete with a pirated edition that had been released in the United States by Ace Books), 1978, and 1995. At this point, The Hobbit has sold more than 100 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 different languages, making it not only one of Tolkien’s most popular works, but one of the most popular children’s books of all time. Citations of the text in the following commentary are to the second edition of the text as revised in 1966. An annotated version of the text edited by Douglas Anderson appeared in 1988 and was revised and reprinted in 2002. A two-part film version of the book produced by Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings ) is projected to appear by 2012, an event that will probably spark a new edition and renewed interest in the book.

The Hobbit may be considered in a number of different ways. It is, as Tolkien intended, a fairy story for children, and Bilbo, as a small person leaving home for the larger world, is in some ways a typical fairy-tale hero. (Bilbo is, however, 50 years old, which is certainly atypical for such a hero.) His career conforms to the conventional structures of folktales and mythic archetypes of the hero as outlined by scholars such as Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell, and particularly to the patterns of narrative romance as outlined by Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism . The conventional patterns in the novel should not be surprising, since Tolkien was drawing on traditional Old Norse and Old English literature (including, in particular, stories of the dragon slayers Sigurd and Beowulf), as well as medieval chivalric romance as the sources for his narrative. The basic form of the medieval romance involves an initiation (Bilbo’s adventure with the trolls), a quest (Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain to find the dragon’s treasure), a descent into an underworld (Gollum’s cave, the elven king’s castle, and the dragon’s lair), and a return. More specifically, Bilbo’s adventure recalls romances concerned with the quest for the Grail. Such romances involve a wasteland; the restoration of a king; and a protagonist who, like Bilbo, asks questions.

The novel also can be seen as a bildungsroman, a “novel of education” or “formation novel” that traces the development of a young person from childhood or adolescence into maturity in a kind of quest for identity, in the manner of Dickens’s Great Expectations , Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , or Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship . Of course, Bilbo is only young in experience, but he, too, must mature; in fact, many medieval romances, including Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, the original Grail romance, are stories of a maturing hero on a quest for identity.

Given The Hobbit ’s generic affinity with fairy tales, folktales, myth, romance, and bildungsroman, it seems natural to look at the book in terms of what the psychologist Carl Jung called archetypes; Jung looked particularly at myths, romances, and folktales for examples of archetypes, or universal symbols. The application of Jungian principles of maturation and psychological development to the character of Bilbo began with Dorothy Matthews’s article “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins” in 1974, and it was developed at greater length in William H. Green’s book-length commentary The Hobbit: A Journey into Maturity in 1995. Both of these studies are referenced in the commentary below.

Chapter 1: “An Unexpected Party”

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, living in a quite luxurious hole in the ground under the Hill in the village of Hobbiton in the Shire. hobbits, the narrator tells us, are little people, shorter than dwarves, who love to eat and smoke pipes, and have large, hairy feet on which they wear no shoes. They enjoy the comforts of home and tend to be suspicious of anyone engaging in unusual behavior, such as having adventures. Bilbo’s father was a very respectable and ordinary hobbit, but his mother, Belladonna Took, daughter of the Old Took, came from a family that was more irregular by hobbit standards, since some of its members had occasionally had adventures in times past. One of Bilbo’s more distant ancestors, Bullroarer Took, had won the Battle of the Green Fields by riding a horse and cutting off the head of a goblin. Bilbo, however, has succeeded in suppressing this Took side of his nature for 50 years.

One May morning, while Bilbo is enjoying a pipe outside his front door, he greets a stranger who is passing by and smokes with him for a brief time. The stranger reveals himself to be Gandalf the Grey, a powerful wizard and former friend of Bilbo’s mother and grandfather, the Old Took. Bilbo had known Gandalf as a child, and he remembers the fireworks shows the wizard had put on. Gandalf tells Bilbo he is looking for someone to take part in an adventure, but Bilbo wants nothing to do with it, though he does invite Gandalf to tea the next day. When Bilbo goes into his house, Gandalf makes a mark on the door with his staff.

The next morning, when a knock comes on his door, Bilbo assumes Gandalf has come to tea. But the visitor turns out to be a dwarf named Dwalin, who enters his house and sits down to tea. Soon after, another dwarf, Balin, arrives and joins the first. He is followed soon after by Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and finally the dwarves’ leader, Thorin Oakenshield, accompanied by Gandalf himself. At first, Bilbo is kept quite busy as the host, rushing to find food and drink for all of his unexpected guests. But he is also fascinated by the songs the dwarves sing about hidden gold, guarded by a dragon under a faraway mountain.

Finally, Thorin begins to address the company. He speaks of departing the next morning on a dangerous journey from which some may not return, and he refers to Bilbo as a “fellow conspirator.” This shocks Bilbo so much that he screams and leaves the room. The dwarves complain to Gandalf that Bilbo does not seem to be the right kind of person for their adventure, but Gandalf assures them that he is quite fierce. Bilbo, listening from the other room, yields to the Took side of his nature and reenters the room, insisting that, while he is sure they have all come to the wrong house, he is prepared to do whatever it is they want from him.

Gandalf reveals that it was he who recommended Bilbo as a burglar and explains to the dwarves that Bilbo is his choice, reminding them that if they decide not to bring Bilbo, there will be 13 of them, an unlucky number. He then shows them all an old map, obtained, he says, from Thorin’s father, whom Gandalf had met, he says, in the dungeons of the Necromancer. By then the old dwarf was nearly mad, and it has taken Gandalf some time to track Thorin down. Thorin vows to kill the Necromancer, but Gandalf insists that such a task is beyond the strength of all living dwarves together.

The map reveals the Lonely Mountain, which had been Thorin’s home before the dragon Smaug laid waste to the lands around it, including the town of Dale, where men had lived who were friendly to the dwarves. Smaug occupied the Lonely Mountain and killed all the dwarves within, stealing their vast treasure for himself. Thorin had been away from the mountain at the time, and his grandfather and father had escaped, apparently through a secret door. Gandalf’s map reveals the door’s location, and Bilbo’s job will be to find his way into the dragon’s lair through that door. Gandalf also gives Thorin a key, handed down from Thror, Thorin’s grandfather. The long trek to the mountain, including a journey through the dark and dangerous forest of Mirkwood, will be the group’s business for the next several weeks.

As Bilbo, Gandalf, and all the dwarves retire for the night, Bilbo wonders what he has gotten himself into while he falls asleep listening to Thorin singing in the next room.

Chapters 2–3: Trolls

In chapter 2 (“Roast Mutton”), when Bilbo awakens the next morning, the dwarves have gone, and as he cleans up the mess, he is relieved not to have to go on the adventure, though also somewhat insulted that they have left without him. But Gandalf appears and shows Bilbo the note that Thorin and Company have left on his mantelpiece, agreeing to pay him one-fourteenth share of the treasure and all traveling expenses, and directing him to meet them at the Green Dragon at exactly 11 a.m. Bilbo is forced to rush out the door without his hat or walking stick, and he realizes that he has forgotten his pocket handkerchief but has no time to turn back. He arrives at the Green Dragon just in time, borrows a hood from Dwalin, mounts a pony Thorin has provided for him, and sets off eastward with the dwarves. Soon they are joined by Gandalf, who has brought Bilbo a number of pocket handkerchiefs and his pipe.

At first, the journey is pleasant as the group rides through familiar hobbit lands. But by the time they get into the sparsely populated Lone-lands near the end of May, Bilbo begins to grow tired of the journey and wishes he was back in his warm hobbit hole. One night, after riding through a downpour, the group must camp for the night and have supper; however, they realize that Gandalf has left them, and they are unable to start a fire. One of the ponies bolts and is nearly swept away by a river along with Fili and Kili before the two young dwarves can rescue him. As it is, the food the pony was carrying is carried off by the river, leaving the company cold, hungry, and wet.

Just then, they catch sight of a fire in the distance. The dwarves decide that Bilbo, as their designated burglar, should go and investigate. As Bilbo creeps close to the clearing, he finds that there are three trolls—Bert, Tom, and William—sitting around the fire, roasting mutton. Not sure what is expected of him, Bilbo decides to try out his new profession as burglar and pick the pocket of one of the trolls. As it turns out, trolls’ purses have a life of their own, and when Bilbo snatches one from William’s pocket, it cries out, and Bilbo is caught. As they hold him, the trolls begin to argue about whether something as small as Bilbo is worth eating, and they demand to know whether there are any others around. The terrified Bilbo first says, “Yes, lots,” but he then corrects himself, saying, “No, none at all.”

As the trolls begin to fight one another, the battered Bilbo is able to crawl outside the circle of firelight. Just then, however, Balin appears; having heard nothing from Bilbo, the dwarves have decided to investigate. The trolls, realizing that Bilbo had meant there were no more hobbits about, but lots of dwarves, pop Balin into a sack and lie in wait for the other dwarves. One by one, all of the dwarves are captured in this way, until at last Thorin appears. Bilbo, hiding behind a tree, is able to warn Thorin of the trolls, and he puts up a terrific fight, but eventually he, too, is captured and bagged, while Bilbo hides in the top of a bush.

At that point, Gandalf returns, though no one sees him. The trolls begin to argue about how to kill the dwarves and how to prepare them for eating, and Gandalf, disguising his voice to imitate the trolls themselves, keeps the three of them arguing and fighting one another until the dawn breaks. At that point, the trolls turn to stone, for all trolls must be hidden underground before sunrise or they revert to the stone from which they were made.

Gandalf and Bilbo free the dwarves and, with the help of a key Bilbo has found on the ground, they are able to search the trolls’ underground hideout, where they find food as well as some pots of gold coins. Gandalf and Thorin appropriate two well-made swords belonging to some of the trolls’ victims, while Bilbo finds a knife in a leather sheath that he can use as a short sword. After a sound sleep, the company loads their ponies with the new provisions and buries the gold where they hope to find it again on the way back. As they start off, Gandalf explains that he had been scouting out the road ahead, and he had heard from the elves that a trio of trolls was active along the road, which is why he was able to hurry back to save them.

The company continues its trek eastward in chapter 3 (“A Short Rest”), approaching what Gandalf tells them is the edge of the Wild. The weather is better, but the dwarves refrain from the singing they had engaged in earlier in the trip, as danger seems to be all around them. After crossing a river, they come within sight of the distant Misty Mountains. Bilbo mistakes the first mountain for the Lonely Mountain, goal of their quest, but Balin disillusions him, saying they still have a long way to go. Bilbo once again longs for home.

Their goal for the night, however, is Rivendell, home of Elrond and the Last Homely House west of the mountains, where they can rest. Gandalf leads them along a difficult road marked by white stones, until at last they reach the Valley of Rivendell. Here their cares seem lifted from them, and the teasing songs of elves greet them from the woods around them as they descend to the valley. These elves invite them to supper, but the company wants to move on to Elrond’s house. Bilbo has always liked elves and has loved to listen to their songs. The dwarves are traditionally suspicious of elves but suppress their distaste for their company in order to gain much-needed rest.

Elrond, a descendant of elves and heroes of ancient days, proves to be a generous host, and the company stays with him for two weeks. Bilbo eats his fill of cakes and enjoys the elves’ tales and songs so much that he wishes he could stay longer in Rivendell, preferring it even to going back to his own home. But eventually the time comes for the company to resume its journey. Before they leave, Elrond is able to read the inscriptions on the swords that Gandalf and Thorin have brought from the trolls’ hoard. He informs them that both swords were forged by the elves of ancient Gondolin before that city was destroyed in the “goblin wars.” Thorin’s sword is named Orcrist (“Goblin Cleaver”), while Gandalf’s is called Glamdring (“Foehammer”) and was worn by the high king of Gondolin himself.

Elrond also examines their map, and he is surprised to find it inscribed with Moon-letters— runes that may only be seen by the light of the same moon under which they were written. These runes tell how to find the secret door into the Lonely Mountain: “Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks . . . and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole” (62). Thorin explains that Durin’s Day (named for the father of the dwarvish race) is the dwarves’ New Year—the first day of the last moon of autumn. Thorin also reveals that he is himself the heir of Durin.

The next day is Midsummer’s Day, and the company leaves Rivendell refreshed and ready to ride toward the Misty Mountains.

Chapters 4–7: Goblins and Wolves

In chapter 4 (“Over Hill and Under Hill”), the company makes its way up into the mountains, staying on the right path only through Gandalf’s leadership. The dwarves are hopeful that they can reach the Lonely Mountain by Durin’s Day, but Gandalf, who has seen much of these wild regions, is much more cautious and aware of the dangers of their road. The weather is turning colder, and one night, during a terrible thunderstorm, the group is forced to seek shelter. Fili and Kili, the younger dwarves, are sent ahead to find some protected place, and they return with the news that they have found a dry cave large enough to shelter in overnight with the ponies.

Here all the dwarves fall asleep, as does Gandalf. But Bilbo has trouble sleeping and has a nightmare in which a large crack opens in the cave. He awakens to find that the dream is true—all of the company’s ponies have been led through a large crack and from it have issued numerous large goblins. He lets out a cry just in time to warn Gandalf, who disappears in a flash of light and smoke, striking several goblins dead as he does so. But the others grab Bilbo and the dwarves and drive them through the crack into the depths of the mountain, spurring them on with whips and singing that they are to be brought “down to goblin-town.”

They arrive in a great fire-lit cavern, where they are brought before the Great Goblin, who accuses Thorin of spying on them and of being a friend of elves. When the Great Goblin recognizes Thorin’s sword as Orcrist, a legendary goblin-slaying sword that the goblins call “Biter,” he is enraged and rushes at Thorin. Just then the cavern is plunged into darkness, and the shining blade of Glamdring (which the goblins call “Beater”) flashes out, killing the Great Goblin on the spot.

Gandalf’s voice then commands them to “follow me quick,” and Bilbo and the dwarves rush to escape. Gandalf leads them farther and farther into the mountain, and the dwarves take turns carrying Bilbo, who is unable to keep up on his own. With the goblins in hot pursuit, Gandalf and Thorin turn a corner and unsheathe their swords, waiting for the goblins to come. The pursuers are surprised by Beater and Biter, and many are slaughtered before they retreat. Again the dwarves flee, with the goblins now pursuing more stealthily. Finally, they creep up behind Dori while he is carrying Bilbo and seize the dwarf from behind. Bilbo tumbles off into the darkness, where he strikes his head on a rock and passes out.

When Bilbo comes to at the beginning of chapter 5 (“Riddles in the Dark”), he finds himself alone in the darkness and begins groping his way along on all fours. His hand comes across a metal ring, which he absentmindedly puts into his pocket. Again he wishes he were back home, cooking bacon and eggs, and, finding his pipe and tobacco, he thinks about having a smoke but can find no matches. In looking for them, however, he does feel his short sword, which he draws. When it begins to glow, he knows that it, too, is an elvish blade from Gondolin, and with determination he decides to move on, looking for a way out. On he goes through the dark tunnels and deeper into the mountain until he splashes into an underground pool or lake, Not knowing how deep it is or what is in it and being unable to swim, Bilbo hesitates, wondering what to do next.

The water turns out to be the home of a slimy creature called Gollum, who lives on an island and navigates the lake in a small boat. Gollum has large bright eyes that see in the dark, and he has lived alone under the mountain for untold years, surviving on fish and goblin meat. He speaks to himself in a hissing language and calls himself “Precious.” He approaches Bilbo in his boat, wondering what he is and if he will be good to eat. Soon he engages Bilbo in a riddle contest, declaring that if Bilbo wins, he will show the hobbit the way out of the caverns, but if Gollum wins, he will eat Bilbo for dinner.

The riddle contest goes back and forth for some time: In fear for his life, Bilbo is distracted and has difficulty focusing on Gollum’s riddles, while Gollum has a hard time remembering details concerning the outside world, having lived in the gloom of the cave for centuries. Finally, Bilbo, desperately trying to think of a riddle to stump Gollum, puts his hand in his pocket and wonders aloud, “What have I got in my pocket?” Interpreting this as Bilbo’s riddle, Gollum protests that it is unfair and that he must be allowed three guesses. Believing he has the game won, Bilbo asserts that this is indeed his riddle, but he allows Gollum the three guesses. Gollum fails to answer correctly, and Bilbo demands that he keep his word and show him the way out.

Gollum says that before leading Bilbo out of the cave, he must pick up something he needs for the journey, and he goes to his island to look for it. But soon, he begins to panic, crying out that he has lost what he needs, which he calls his “precious” and his “birthday present.” Bilbo asks what he has lost, and Gollum, now suspicious, demands to know what Bilbo does, in fact, have in his pocket. Gollum realizes that Bilbo has his ring, and Bilbo realizes that the ring is what Gollum is seeking. As Gollum rushes to attack him, Bilbo accidentally slips his finger into the ring, and Gollum dashes past him without seeing him. This confuses Bilbo until, following the creature, he learns from Gollum’s incessant whining monologue that the ring makes its wearer invisible.

Now Gollum, believing that Bilbo has lied to him about knowing the way out, makes a dash for the exit in hope of heading off Bilbo and getting his “birthday present” back. The invisible Bilbo follows quietly behind, hoping that Gollum will lead him out. They reach the entry to a passage that Gollum says leads to the exit, but he can smell goblins down the passage and, unprotected by the ring, is afraid to enter. But as he turns, it is clear that he has caught Bilbo’s scent and knows he is near. Now Gollum blocks the passage, poised to attack Bilbo if he can determine just where he is. Bilbo, his sword drawn, is tempted to kill the creature, but a moment of pity stops him. The fight is not fair, he decides, since Gollum is unarmed and Bilbo is invisible, so instead of murder, he opts to leap over Gollum into the passageway. He does this successfully, racing down the passage with Gollum fearing to follow and crying out impotently after him that he “hates Baggins forever.”

Now Bilbo, no longer wearing the ring, emerges into a large, open area, where a great stone door stands ajar. But the area is filled with armed goblins, who start toward him, and he slips on the ring once more. In the confusion, the invisible Bilbo is able to make his way to the door, which is open just enough for him to squeeze through. But the goblins see a shadow in the doorway and come after him, just as he gets stuck in the door, caught by his brass buttons. With one last lurch, he squeezes through, leaving his buttons behind, to the puzzlement of the goblins.

As Bilbo makes his way from the cave at the beginning of chapter 6 (“Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire”), he finds himself alone again and without any notion of where he is or where his friends are. He realizes, looking back, that he has come out on the other side of the Misty Mountains and is at the edge of the Land Beyond. But he also recognizes that his friends are probably still in the caverns under the mountains, prisoners of the goblins. After some soul-searching, he resolves that he must return to the caves and help his friends if he can. But just as he begins making his way back, he hears voices and discovers it is the dwarves and Gandalf discussing whether to go back to look for him. While some of the dwarves are of the opinion that Bilbo has been more trouble than he has been worth so far, Gandalf insists that Bilbo will be a valuable member of the company, and he will not go on without him. Bilbo, wearing the ring, sneaks past Balin, who is standing guard, and appears in the circle, surprising everyone. When he tells them how he managed to escape (keeping to himself the part about the magic ring), he gains the dwarves’ grudging respect.

Gandalf convinces the group that they must set off quickly, since the goblins will be after them to avenge their lost leader. Having come out of the mountains far to the north of their road, they must travel south, and as they do, Bilbo complains of hunger—none of them has eaten for several days, since their ponies have been lost and eaten by the goblins. Now they move ahead, sliding down a rocky slope, until evening falls, when they hear the howling of a pack of wild wolves, called wargs.

Gandalf instructs the company to climb trees, and he and the dwarves immediately do so, though Bilbo needs the help of Dori to get into one of the trees just in time as hundreds of wargs enter the clearing. Gandalf, who understands the language of the wolves, learns that they have come to this clearing to meet with the goblins of the mountains, with whom they have planned a joint raid on the human settlers who have been coming into the region from the south. The goblins are late, however, and Gandalf realizes it is because of the confusion surrounding the death of the Great Goblin and the company’s own escape from the caverns.

The wargs have Bilbo and his friends trapped in the trees, but Gandalf begins to sow confusion among them by tossing fiery acorns at them, setting many of them afire. At that point, the goblins arrive, and the goblins decide to use the fires Gandalf has started against him. They pile fern and brushwood around the trees in which the dwarves are perched, and set fire to the heaps. As the fire spreads to the trees, the goblins taunt the dwarves, asking why the little birds do not fly away. Gandalf climbs to the top of his tree, ready for one final stand, when suddenly he is snatched up in the talons of a great eagle. This is the lord of the eagles, who has noticed the smoke and fire in the woods and who is a natural enemy of the wargs and goblins. Other great eagles snatch up the dwarves, and Bilbo holds on to Dori’s feet and is flown to safety in the eagles’ eyrie.

Gandalf is known to the lord of the eagles and, in fact, had once helped him when he was wounded. Now Gandalf asks that the eagles fly the company far away, across the plains. The eagles cannot fly too close to the homes of men or they will be suspected of trying to steal sheep and be shot with arrows, but the lord of the eagles promises to take the company as far as they can. In the meantime, they bring rabbits, hares, and small sheep for the company to feast on, and after a good meal, they all rest in the eyrie for the night. Bilbo dreams he is back in his home, but that he has lost something important.

Chapter 7 (“Queer Lodgings”) begins the next morning: Bilbo travels on the back of a great bird as 15 eagles fly the travelers to a large rock, the Carrock, standing upon the plain to the south. Here Gandalf tells the company that it is nearly time for him to leave them, since he had only intended to travel with them until they had crossed the Misty Mountains. But he says that they are near the house of Beorn, a skin-changer who routinely changes himself into a great bear, and if they approach him cautiously and do not anger him, Beorn will be able to help them. Gandalf indicates that he and Bilbo will go first to meet the reclusive Beorn in his large wooden house, and the others should follow two by two at five-minute intervals.

Beorn, a huge man with black hair and beard, is initially not particularly welcoming, but when Gandalf explains that they have been beset by goblins and wargs, he invites them in to tell their story. Gandalf tells the tale in such a way that the constant interruptions as the dwarves keep arriving creates a great deal of suspense, and Beorn is less put out by the arrival of so many guests than he is eager to hear the end of the story. Beorn is sympathetic to the company once he finds that they have killed the Great Goblin, and he is angered by the treacherous alliance of the wargs and goblins. He then invites the travelers to stay for supper, where they are waited on by Beorn’s friendly horses and other animals, and entertained by Beorn’s tales of the forest of Mirkwood, which they must pass through to get to the Lonely Mountain. As Bilbo and the dwarves retire for the evening, Gandalf tells them that, for their own protection, they should not venture out of the house during the night. During the night, Bilbo hears the sound of growling and scratching at the door outside the house.

The next morning, Bilbo awakens to a fine breakfast, but neither Gandalf nor Beorn is in the house. Gandalf returns by evening and tells the company that he had gone out in the morning and seen the tracks of many bears outside the house and had followed the tracks back toward the clearing where the travelers had encountered the wargs and goblins a few nights earlier. When Beorn returns the following morning, he is in high spirits and reveals that he had confirmed Gandalf’s story about the death of the Great Goblin; he has also brought back the head of a goblin and the skin of a warg that he killed on his trek the previous night.

Now convinced that the travelers are friends, Beorn offers them large stores of food and ponies to carry it, as well as bows and arrows to help the company through Mirkwood. He directs them to follow a little-known road through the forest that will take them almost directly to the Lonely Mountain. He also warns them not to drink from or bathe in the dark stream that runs through Mirkwood and never to stray from the path. Finally, he instructs them to send his ponies back when they reach the entrance to the forest.

They journey to the edge of the forest, and as they ride, Bilbo notices a large bear that seems to be tracking them at a distance. When they reach the edge of the forest and are hesitant to send the ponies back to Beorn, Gandalf warns them that the skin-changer is close by. He also bids them farewell, saying he must now be about his own business. As Gandalf rides off, he gives the travelers one more important warning: Do not leave the path.

Chapters 8–10: Mirkwood

Chapter 8 (“Flies and Spiders”) opens with the company walking in single file, beginning their long trek through Mirkwood, the largest forest in all of Middle-earth. The trees are so high that they block all sunlight, and the walk is filled with gloom. They sleep on the path and avoid lighting fires because the light attracts beasts on both sides of the road, and the eyes of many looking back out at them are eerily insect-like.

Their supply of food and water is becoming dangerously low, and when the dwarves come to the black stream that crosses their path, they would have been tempted to drink deeply from it if Beorn had not warned them against it. As it is, they are not able to get across because the bridge has long since rotted away. But Bilbo, whose eyes are sharper than any of the dwarves’, sees a small boat on the other bank of the river, some 12 yards away. Following Bilbo’s directions, Fili is able to snag the boat with an iron hook attached to a rope, and he pulls it to their side of the river. Using the rope, they are nearly able to get the entire company across the stream four at a time. But just as the last pair of dwarves are about to cross, a deer comes galloping down the path and leaps across the stream. Thorin, thinking fast, is able to shoot the deer with an arrow, but it falls on the opposite side of the stream. In the meantime, Bombur has fallen in the water, and as the dwarves fish Bombur out of the river, the boat drifts off. Though saved from drowning, Bombur is asleep and cannot be awakened. More deer come running across the path, and the dwarves waste all their arrows shooting at them before Thorin can stop them. Their bows are now useless.

The company keeps moving on, carrying the unconscious Bombur and becoming more hungry, thirsty, and disheartened as the days drag on. At the dwarves’ urging, Bilbo climbs to the top of one of the tallest trees to check whether he can see the end of the forest, but he can see nothing but the tops of trees. The dwarves are disappointed, and that night they eat the last of their food. The next morning, Bombur awakens, but when he realizes there is no food, he wishes he were back asleep. That night, the dwarves see a fire in the woods and hope that whoever has started it can give them some food. They smell roasting meat and rush forward to see a company of elves, but as soon as the elves see the dwarves, they and the fire disappear. Sometime later in the night, the dwarves see a campfire once again, and this time Bilbo goes first into the circle of firelight, but the elves disappear again. By now, the dwarves are far off the path, but they have decided that keeping to the path will do them no good if they starve to death. When the fire appears a third time, Thorin enters the firelight, but once again the elves disappear, and there is a great ruckus as the dwarves run about wildly. Bilbo, alone and under some enchantment, falls asleep and does not awaken until the next morning.

When he awakes, Bilbo realizes that his feet are bound together by some sticky substance, which he soon realizes is the thick web of a giant spider. The spider is attempting to poison him, but Bilbo fights it off, finally managing to draw his sword and kill the beast. He passes out from the struggle but comes to feeling far more confident in his own abilities, and he names his sword Sting. Slipping on his ring to become invisible, he searches for his friends and finds them all bound up by the webs of giant spiders and hanging upside down from large branches, surrounded by huge spiders intent on eating them. The invisible Bilbo throws stones at the spiders and taunts them with insulting songs in order to lure them away from his friends, then doubles back and begins cutting his friends loose. When the spiders return, they surround the dwarves, and Bilbo is forced to let the dwarves in on the secret of his invisibility. Under the cloak of the ring, Bilbo is able to kill many of the spiders with Sting, and the others finally flee.

When Bilbo and the dwarves finally have time to take stock, they realize that everyone is accounted for except for Thorin. Thorin, as it happens, had been taken prisoner by the Wood-elves the night before and was thrown into their dungeon when he would not tell their king why his company is crossing Mirkwood.

As chapter 9 (“Barrels out of Bond”) opens, Bilbo and the dwarves are starving, disgruntled because of the loss of Thorin and desperate to try to find a way out of Mirkwood. As they stagger in what they hope is the direction of the road, they are apprehended by troops of armed Wood-elves. Bilbo is able to slip on his ring in time to avoid capture, and he follows the blindfolded dwarves and their captors over the bridge into the cavern fortress of the elven king. The king interviews them but gets no more information from them than he had gotten from Thorin, and he puts all 12 of them into his dungeon, in separate cells. Bilbo wanders about the halls of the castle for two weeks, knowing that the dwarves’ lives are in his hands but unsure what to do. The only way into the castle is a magical door from which it will be impossible to escape, but in exploring the cavern, Bilbo learns a great deal about the workings of the elven king’s fortress.

One day, Bilbo learns that Thorin is a prisoner and is able to find his cell. Thorin is astounded to hear Bilbo through the keyhole of his cell and gives him a message to take to the rest of the dwarves: Tell the elven king nothing about their quest. Thorin has no wish to share any of his treasure with the elves.

In his exploration of the fortress, Bilbo has discovered that a stream runs under the castle, and that the elves put empty wine barrels through a trapdoor into the stream so that they will float downstream all the way down the river to Laketown on Long Lake, outside of Mirkwood. During a festival one evening, Bilbo is able to steal the keys from a drunken jailer and release all of the dwarves from their cells. His plan is to conceal each of the dwarves in a barrel and float them all to freedom in Lake-town, but the dwarves balk at this, fearful that they will drown or be battered by the current. However, having no alternative, they agree to the plan, and Bilbo seals them up in barrels. He then returns the keys to the stillsleeping jailer and hops atop one of the barrels himself as they are tossed into the stream by a group of elves.

After a rough ride in which he has difficulty keeping his head above the water, Bilbo and the barrels containing the dwarves get free of the castle and float to the point where the stream empties into the river flowing toward Lake-town, where a group of elves binds the barrels together into a kind of raft and sends them downstream. Bilbo rides the raft all the way to Lake-town.

In chapter 10 (“A Warm Welcome”), as Bilbo floats down the river on the raft of barrels, he sees the Lonely Mountain in the distance, but he does not like the looks of it. He listens to the talk of the raftsmen and learns that the landscape has changed a great deal in recent years. It has been desolated since the coming of the dragon and the destruction of the dwarves’ kingdom, so that, despite the instructions of Gandalf and of Beorn, Bilbo and the dwarves have by chance entered the lands east of Mirkwood in the only way that was still available to them—the river. Though Bilbo is unaware of it, Gandalf has heard of this difficulty from far away and is now coming to help.

The barrels containing the dwarves finally come to rest on the shore of Lake-town on Long Lake, and a shivering Bilbo is able to free, first, Thorin, and then the rest of the dwarves, from their hiding places. For the most part, they are battered, wet, and unhappy. Some are unable to move at all, and they all have a difficult time feeling grateful to Bilbo for their escape, but Thorin grudgingly admits that they could not have escaped without the hobbit’s help.

Thorin sets off with Bilbo, Fili, and Kili to find the master of the city. They encounter some of the town guard, who are quite taken aback to have visitors in their midst, and Thorin announces that he is Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain, and insists that they take him to their master. The guards do so. They interrupt the master while he is dining with the elvish raftsmen, and Thorin enters the hall with a loud proclamation that he is the heir of the king and has returned. The elves recognize him as the prisoner of their king, and Thorin agrees that he and his fellows were waylaid unjustly by the elven king but that he could not be held against his will. The master wants to remain on good terms with the elven king, but he is also aware of a prophecy known to all of Lake-town that the dwarf king would return and bring prosperity back to the land.

The Master is spared from a difficult decision when the people, who have heard the news, proclaim Thorin the king who has returned, and they celebrate him and his company as heroes. Meanwhile, the elven king of Mirkwood, having heard that the dwarves are in Lake-town, surmises that they intend to claim the treasure of Thror, but he vows that they will not bring it back through Mirkwood without a price.

After two weeks of adulation among the Lake men, Thorin and his fellows agree that the time has come for them to make their way to the mountain. The master of Lake-town, skeptical about Thorin’s claims and doubtful about the dwarves’ success against the powerful dragon Smaug, is glad to see them go. But he does offer them aid, and when they leave, they leave well-provisioned with horses and supplies. The master also provides them boats to travel the length of the lake, but when they setoff in the cold winds of autumn, Bilbo is deeply unhappy about the coming adventure.

Chapters 11–14: The Dragon in the Mountain

In chapter 11 (“On the Doorstep”), the men of Lake-town spend three days rowing Bilbo and his companions across Long Lake and into the River Running, which flows through the wasteland known as the Desolation of Smaug toward the Lonely Mountain. When they drop the dwarves off near the mountain, the men quickly turn and begin to row back, fearful of being so close to the mountain and the lands ruined by the dragon. The company now makes its way toward the mountain, looking into the Valley of Dale at the remains of the town and the scorched land of the dragon. Thorin and Balin (who was with Thorin on the day the dragon attacked the mountain) remember the beauty and greenness of the valley before the coming of Smaug.

They gaze on the front gate of the mountain, from which the river flows, and it seems clear to Bilbo that the dragon is still alive, since smoke issues from the gate. Balin says that the dragon may have simply filled the mountain with his reek, and may not be there at all, but the travelers trek to the other side of the mountain, to try to find the secret door on Thorin’s map. Although they find the correct place, they cannot make the magical door open with picks, shovels, or any kind of mining tools that they have brought from Lake-town, although they try to do so for some days. Bilbo hears the dwarves grumbling that they should send their burglar, Bilbo, in through the front door, now that he has the ring of invisibility. He wishes for his hobbit hole and hopes that Gandalf will return soon.

Now Thorin comments that autumn is coming to an end and winter will soon be upon them. The following day, Bilbo notices that, as the sun is setting, the sliver of the autumn moon is rising. At that point, his attention is drawn to a thrush knocking a snail against the rock near the magic door. Remembering the runes on Thorin’s map, he realizes it is Durin’s day and calls to the dwarves. As the last ray of the suns hits the door, a crack can be seen in the rock. At Bilbo’s urging, Thorin grabs the key from around his neck and turns it in the door, which the dwarves are now able to shove open. Before them gapes a long, dark tunnel into the heart of the mountain.

When chapter 12 (“Inside Information”) opens, Thorin indicates that the time has now come for the burglar—Bilbo—to perform the function for which he has been employed. Bilbo grumbles that he has already earned the dwarves’ gratitude for saving them twice, but he agrees to enter the tunnel, asking which of the dwarves will come with him. Only Balin volunteers, and he agrees only to go in part of the way, so as to relay any news back to the rest of the company outside the door. The two of them walk down until the door is barely visible, and here Balin stops, letting Bilbo go on alone. As Bilbo draws closer and closer to the center of the mountain, he sees a red glow far in front of him and feels the heat of the dragon. There, alone in the tunnel, Bilbo performs the most courageous act of his life: He decides to go on.

In the great central hall of the mountain, Bilbo finds Smaug asleep on a huge hoard of treasure, his soft underbelly encrusted with precious stones embedded in his flesh through years of lying on them. Quietly and carefully, Bilbo steals a large two-handled cup and quickly makes his way back up the tunnel to report back to the dwarves and show them his find.

Shortly thereafter, however, the dragon awakens and discovers his cup is missing. Enraged, he explodes from the mountain’s front gate and begins to search for the thief. Bilbo convinces the others that they must hide in the tunnel, but Bombur and Bofur, who have been with the ponies in the valley below, must be hauled up on ropes before all the dwarves duck into the tunnel just in time. Smaug sees the horses and begins chasing them, devouring six of them before going back to his cave to rest.

Now the dwarves are at a loss, not knowing what to do next. They turn to Bilbo for leadership, and the hobbit, slipping on his ring, decides to make another venture down the tunnel to see whether he can find the dragon’s weak spot. When he comes near the end of the tunnel, Smaug greets him. The dragon cannot see him but can smell him, and he begins a conversation with Bilbo. When the dragon asks his name, the hobbit answers in riddles, giving himself a number of titles (including “barrelrider” and the one “chosen for the lucky number”). Smaug tries to seduce Bilbo with his hypnotic voice, planting doubts in the hobbit’s mind about the sincerity and loyalty of the dwarves—they are cowards, he says, who want Bilbo to do all the dangerous work and have no intention of giving him his share of the treasure. At the same time, Bilbo tells Smaug that the dwarves intend to regain their treasure and to take revenge, but he also flatters the dragon, admiring his jewel-encrusted belly, at which the arrogant dragon rolls over and unwittingly reveals to Bilbo an unprotected area on his left breast. Foolishly, he taunts the dragon as he leaves, and he must run as fast as he can back along the passageway, though he is still scorched by the dragon’s fiery breath that follows him up the narrow tunnel.

When he has emerged from the tunnel among the dwarves again, Bilbo tells them what he has learned, but he is irritated by a thrush that seems to be listening. Thorin cautions him not to be annoyed, for the thrushes on the mountain are beneficent creatures. Thorin adds that in the old days, the men of Dale had known the secret of deciphering the thrushes’ language. Bilbo tells the dwarves that he made a mistake in calling himself “barrel-rider,” since the dragon would make the connection with the men of Lake-town and may seek to take vengeance on them for helping the dwarves. He also insists that the dwarves all enter the tunnel and close the outside door, since Smaug will certainly be looking for it, knowing that Bilbo had entered his lair through the other end. They come into the tunnel but are hesitant to close the door (having no certain way of opening it again). As they sit in the dark, Bilbo confronts Thorin with the dragon’s accusations, but Thorin assures Bilbo that he can choose his own 14th of the treasure. Carried away by thoughts of the riches, Thorin and Balin speak longingly of some of the treasure’s most storied objects, in particular the great jewel known as the Arkenstone of Thrain, the “Heart of the Mountain.” Bilbo finally persuades them to close the door, which they do just in time, as the frustrated Smaug smashes the entire side of the mountain in which the door stands. Then, his rage boiling, he begins to fly south along the River Running, ready to take revenge on Lake-town.

After what seems days of waiting in the tunnel’s darkness, the companions become anxious in chapter 13 (“Not at Home”). They try to get back out of the tunnel door, but find that the dragon’s violence has caused a cave-in, and there is no way to reach the door. The dwarves are inclined to despair, but Bilbo, quoting maxims of his father, such as “Where there’s life there’s hope,” determines that the only way out is down through the dragon’s lair, and he leads the dwarves in that direction. At the end of the tunnel, Smaug’s hall is so dark that Bilbo tumbles out of the tunnel onto the floor. At first, he looks around and notices a white gleam on top of the shadowy mound of treasure. Once he is certain Smaug is not at home, he calls for light, and Oin and Gloin run back up the tunnel to fetch torches and tinder-boxes. At first, the dwarves hang back in the tunnel, giving Bilbo a torch to search the hall.

Bilbo looks around at the treasure and finds that the white glow at the top is in fact the great Arkenstone, the “Heart of the Mountain.” He needs two hands to lift it but places it in an inner pocket. He has been promised his own choice of the treasure and thinks that this should be his choice. On his way back to the tunnel, a bat startles him and he drops the torch, so that he calls for help. Hesitantly, the dwarves come looking for him. Now that they know the dragon is not here, they begin to look longingly at the great hoard. They wander through it, picking up jewels and arming themselves with the gold-plated armor and weapons in the hoard. Thorin gives Bilbo, as the first installment of his payment, a small elvish coat of mail made of an impenetrable silver material called mithril . Through it all, Thorin keeps searching for something he cannot find—the Arkenstone, as Bilbo realizes.

Bilbo reminds the dwarves that, while they do not know where Smaug has gone, he could well return at any moment. Thorin, remembering the way through his ancestral home, leads the group through the cavern’s chambers, including the great chamber of Thror, and follows the Running River out the front gate of the mountain, where they look out over the ruined town of Dale. Hungry and tired, the company is led by Balin to a rock fortress on the southern spur of the mountain, used as a lookout tower by the dwarves in their days of prosperity. Here the company stops to sleep for the night.

In chapter 14 (“Fire and Water”), the narrator flashes back two days earlier to Smaug after he had vented his rage on the side of the mountain. Having fixed his blame on the people of Lake-town (also called Esgaroth) for their part in aiding the dwarves’ expedition, Smaug begins to travel down the River Running to Long Lake to punish the town. When the men of Esgaroth see the flames of the dragon’s rage from a great distance, many believe that the old tales of the lake running yellow with gold are coming true, but one grim-voiced man, Bard (a descendant of Girion, king of Dale), warns that the dragon is coming, and at his urging the town prepares for the attack, cutting bridges to the mainland to halt Smaug’s advance. Smaug flies over the city breathing fire, setting the town ablaze as the people, including the Master, try to escape in boats. A company of archers remains, led by Bard, and they fire arrows at the swooping dragon, but the arrows only glance off his jewel-encrusted underbelly. Finally, only Bard is left defending the city, and he is down to his last, black arrow—one that he has inherited from his father and his father’s fathers, and one that has never failed him. Suddenly, he feels an old thrush land on his shoulder and is astounded to realize that he can understand the thrush’s language. The thrush—apparently the same one that had listened to Bilbo’s conversation with the dwarves—tells Bard to look for the bare spot in the dragon’s left breast. Bard does, and his arrow flies true, piercing the dragon and killing him. The dragon falls from the sky, crushing the town.

Most of the townspeople have survived the onslaught, and although their town is in ruins, they are grateful to Bard for saving them, and many want to proclaim him king, to the master’s chagrin. But the smooth-tongued master turns the townspeople’s attention to the dwarves, whom he blames for bringing the dragon’s wrath upon them, and reminds the people that there are now mounds of unprotected treasure in the mountain. Bard postpones any notion of becoming king, though he harbors a desire to reestablish the city of Dale near the mountain. Meanwhile, birds bring the news of Smaug’s death to the elven king in Mirkwood, who sends a host of his own people into the east. The elves first help the homeless people of Lake-town build shelters and prepare for the coming winter, but then they turn toward the mountain and its treasure. They begin to make their way to the mountain, along with many of the men of Esgaroth, 11 days after Smaug’s death.

Chapters 15–17: War

As the dwarves are waiting with Bilbo at the mountain in the opening of chapter 15 (“The Gathering of the Clouds”), the thrush returns and tries to communicate with them, but none of the dwarves is able to understand, though Balin comments to Bilbo that in the old days, dwarves were able to communicate with the ravens of the mountain. The thrush flies off and returns with a very old raven, Roäc, the son of Carc, the chief raven from the days of Thror. The raven informs them that Smaug is dead, and the dwarves rejoice, but the bird then warns them that the elven king is coming north with Bard and the men of Esgaroth, believing that they are owed a share of the treasure. Roäc advises them to trust Bard (and not the Master of the city), but Thorin is prepared to trust no one. He asks the raven to get word to his cousin Dain in the Iron Hills to come swiftly with an army of dwarves to defend the treasure. Then Thorin brings all the dwarves back into the mountain to secure it from attack.

The dwarves work quickly, sealing up the main gate into the mountain with a stone wall, and when the elvish army arrives, they find the dwarves holed up in an impenetrable fortress. When Bard comes before the gate with banner bearers from the Forest and Esgaroth, Thorin asks who it is that comes armed for war against Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain. Bard is surprised to find the dwarves still alive, but he asks to parley, claiming to be owed a part of the treasure as slayer of the dragon. He also reminds Thorin that some of the treasure belonged to the city of Dale, and that Bard is Gilion’s heir. Further, he asks that the dwarves share some of the treasure with the men of Esgaroth because of the hardship they have suffered on account of the dwarves. These strike Bilbo as quite reasonable points, but Thorin dismisses the last argument out of hand and says he will not parley with anyone as long as an armed host is encamped in front of his gates. The heralds return to the elvish host, but when they return, they tell Thorin that Bard is entitled to one-twelfth of the dragon hoard, from which he is willing to contribute to the aid of the people of Esgaroth, but they advise Thorin that, if he desires friendship with his neighbors, he would do well to consider contributing some of his own wealth to the relief of the lake men. Thorin’s only answer is to fire an arrow at the herald that sticks in his shield. At this, the heralds say that Thorin has chosen enmity, and they declare the mountain under siege. The dwarves, they say, can eat their gold.

Bilbo is appalled by this turn of events and has no desire to be besieged in the dwarves’ fortress, particularly when all there is to eat is the tasteless biscuit called cram .

For many days, the siege goes on. As chapter 16 (“A Thief in the Night”) begins, the dwarves have been spending much of this time cataloguing and arranging the huge hoard, but Thorin looks constantly for the Arkenstone, the great jewel of his fathers and the single item worth more to him than all the rest of the treasure. He vows vengeance on anyone who finds the stone and keeps it from him, but Bilbo, with the Arkenstone wrapped in the bundle he uses as a pillow, says nothing.

The old raven brings Thorin news that his kinsman Dain is now within two days’ march of the mountain, with a host of 500 dwarves ready for combat. Roäc advises Thorin that this path is unwise, for even if the dwarves fight off the elven king’s army, he will incur the ill will of all his neighbors, with winter coming on fast and no food. But the stubborn Thorin insists that winter will wear on the besieging army as well, and he refuses to back down.

Now Bilbo hatches a plan by which he hopes to avert bloodshed. In the evening, while Bombur is on watch, Bilbo conceals the Arkenstone in a rag and tells Bombur that he cannot sleep. He offers to take Bombur’s watch, promising to wake him at midnight, when Bombur’s watch is scheduled to end. Now unseen, Bilbo slips on his ring and makes his way to the elven army. He reveals himself to the first elves he meets, insisting that they take him to Bard.

Brought before Bard and the elven king in their tent, Bilbo takes out the Arkenstone, offering it to Bard (in token of his own share of the treasure) as a bargaining tool to make peace with Thorin in exchange for a fair portion of the treasure that Bard has deserved. Astounded, the elven king offers Bilbo sanctuary in his camp, anticipating Thorin’s rage at what he will no doubt consider Bilbo’s betrayal. But Bilbo insists that he must return to his friends, for he feels he cannot desert them after they had been through so much together. Besides, he says, he promised to wake Bombur up before midnight. As Bilbo begins to leave, an old man in a dark cloak who had been sitting at the tent door rises and proclaims, “Well done!” It is Gandalf, who adds that there is always more to Bilbo than anybody expects. There is no time for long discussions, but Gandalf tells Bilbo that things are drawing to a close now, and that there are other surprises in store. Bilbo hurries back to the mountain, awakens Bombur, and falls asleep himself, dreaming of bacon and eggs.

Chapter 17 (“The Clouds Burst”) opens as trumpets blare the next morning, and heralds from the besieging army ask to parley with Thorin because “matters had changed.” Thorin believes that the elven king and Bard have learned of Dain’s approach and so realize that they no longer have the advantage. Bard, the elven king, and an old man wearing a cloak and hood and carrying a wooden casket approach, but instead of backing down, they ask whether Thorin has changed his mind, and whether anything can convince him to part with a portion of his treasure. Thorin scoffs that nothing they can offer will change his mind, at which they open the casket and reveal the Arkenstone of Thrain, which Bard offers in exchange for his fair share of the treasure. Thorin demands to know where they obtained the Heart of the Moun-tain, and Bilbo admits that he gave it to them, adding that, since Thorin had promised him that he might choose his own fourteenth share of the treasure, he had chosen the Arkenstone and had chosen to give it away. Furious, Thorin threatens to throw Bilbo from the mountain, wishing Gandalf were there and cursing the wizard for choosing Bilbo. The old man reveals himself to be Gandalf, telling Thorin that his wish is granted, and he talks Thorin out of this rash threat. Thorin agrees to yield one-fourteenth of the treasure, the portion belonging to Bilbo, in exchange for the Arkenstone, but demands that Bilbo leave his company immediately, promising to send the gold and silver after him. Privately, Thorin still hopes that, with Dain’s arrival, he will be able to regain the Arkenstone and keep the entire treasure as well, so much has the craving for treasure taken hold of his heart.

When Dain and his army arrive, Bard goes to meet him, not wishing to allow the dwarves into the mountain until Thorin has made good on his promise to send out Bilbo’s share of the treasure. Bard wishes to strike at the dwarves to prevent them from going farther, but the elven king wants to delay, hoping still for reconciliation. But seeing this hesitancy, the dwarves strike first, and as the battle threatens to erupt, there is a sudden shift in the weather. The skies grow dark, thunder erupts, and a swarm of what seem to be black birds bears down upon them from above. Gandalf steps forth and warns that an army of goblins and wargs, accompanied by a cloud of bats, is approaching swiftly from the north.

In the face of this threat from a common enemy, the dwarves, men, and elves put aside their differences and strike a hasty alliance. Now begins what will become known as the Battle of Five Armies. The elves assemble on one spur of the mountain, and the men and dwarves on the other. As the host of goblins approaches, the elven king attacks, beating back the first assault. The dwarves and men join the battle, and initially they seem on the edge of victory, until another onslaught of goblins and wolves comes sweeping over the mountain. But now Thorin, King under the Mountain, leads his armed band out from the mountain and rallies the scattered allies to him. Still, this seems not enough to turn the tide of the battle. Bilbo, invisible with his ring, has taken a stand near the elven king, and with his keen vision he is the first to see, approaching from the west against the sunset, an army of great eagles. He cries out that the eagles are coming, but is struck by a stone from above and is knocked unconscious.

Chapters 18–19: The Road Home

In chapter 18 (“The Return Journey”), Bilbo comes to on the battlefield and looks about him, seeing only dead goblins. He understands that the battle has ended in victory, but does not know how. When he sees a man climbing toward him, he calls out, but when the man asks where the voice has come from, Bilbo realizes that he is still wearing his ring. He quickly removes it and greets the man, who had been sent to find him on the battlefield and had nearly given up hope. He tells Bilbo that he must be brought to Thorin Oakenshield at once. When Bilbo enters Thorin’s tent, he finds the dwarf king dying of wounds suffered in battle. Thorin reconciles with Bilbo, taking back the words he spoke at the gate. Bilbo bids Thorin farewell and weeps for him outside his tent.

As Bilbo recovers with Gandalf, he learns how the battle was won. The eagles had been monitoring the mustering of the goblins for some time and had gathered forces to follow them to the mountain. During the battle, they had driven the goblins from their positions on the mountain and into the valley, where they were engaged by the elves and dwarves. Still, the wargs and goblins outnumbered the allies, and the outcome was in doubt until Beorn himself had appeared, in the form of a bear, and swept all before him. Most of the enemy ultimately fled the battle, and the elves, dwarves, and men pursued them, slaughtering the great majority. In the end, three-quarters of the goblins of the North were slain in that battle, and peace returned to the North for many years.

Finally, Thorin is buried in the mountain, with the Arkenstone on his breast and the sword Orcrist restored to him by the elven king. Kili and Fili, who were killed in the battle while defending Thorin, are buried there as well. The other dwarves stay with Dain, who is now King under the Mountain. One-fourteenth of the treasure is given to Bard, as Thorin had agreed. Dain wishes to give Bilbo a great reward as well, but in the end Bilbo will accept only a small chest of gold and one of silver, just as much as a small pony might carry on his way back to his home in the West. Bilbo bids farewell to his companions, and with Gandalf and Beorn, he sets off for home in the company of the elven king and his host.

Bilbo and his two companions part with the elves at the entrance to Mirkwood, preferring to take the long way around the forest to the north rather than the gloomy path through Mirkwood. But before they bid the elven king farewell, Bilbo gives him the gift of a silver and pearl necklace he had received from Dain. It is, he says, in exchange for the meals and lodging the king had unknowingly given the invisible Bilbo when the dwarves were in his dungeons. The elven king accepts the gift and names Bilbo “elf-friend.” Gandalf and Bilbo stay in Beorn’s house through the yuletide and into the spring, when they leave to continue their journey home. Bilbo, weary of his adventures, can only think of his comfortable armchair.

As chapter 19 (“The Last Stage”) opens, Gandalf and Bilbo leave Beorn’s house and move on until, at the beginning of May, they reach Rivendell, where the elves welcome them again with songs from the trees. They stay in Rivendell for a week, telling the stories of their adventures. Here Bilbo learns that after Gandalf left the dwarves, he joined with his fellow wizards, who were able to drive the Necromancer from his stronghold in the south of Mirkwood. Finally, they leave Elrond, and as they make their way home, they take the time to recover the trolls’ gold that the dwarves had buried. Bilbo says he has plenty of wealth and offers this gold to Gandalf, but Gandalf insists that Bilbo should take some of it for himself, saying that he may have more need of it than he knows.

When Bilbo returns to his house on June 22, he is shocked to arrive in the middle of an auction where all of his possessions are being sold. Having been away for more than a year, Bilbo has been presumed dead, and his cousins, the SackvilleBagginses, are measuring his house to see whether their own furniture will fit. They are not particularly happy to see him turn up alive. It takes years for Bilbo to get all of his possessions back, and he is forced to buy back some of his furniture himself just to speed the process along.

The Sackville-Bagginses never believe it is truly Bilbo who has returned, and while Bilbo lives a long life in his old home and remains an elf friend and a companion of dwarves and wizards, he is never able to shake his reputation among his neighbors for being a bit odd. He is a favorite among his nieces and nephews, however, although even they do not completely believe all of the stories he tells of his adventures. But several years after his return, one autumn evening while he is writing his memoirs (“There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Holiday”), he has a visit from Gandalf and Balin. They chat about old times, and Balin tells him of how Dain’s kingdom is thriving, how Bard has rebuilt Dale, and how the valley is now fertile and there is a great traffic of goods among men, elves, and dwarves. Bilbo marvels that the old legends have indeed come true, and Gandalf asserts that this is not to be wondered at: Ancient prophecies are no less true just because one has had a hand in bringing them about himself.

Tolkien establishes the novel’s tone from the very first sentence. One recognizes that a hobbit is not a creature of the “real” world, and that with these words the reader is entering an imaginary universe, the parameters of which the narrator is about to establish. First, the nature of hobbits themselves must be clarified. While initially the idea of human-like creatures living in well-decorated holes in the ground seems a bit outlandish, it is clear that the other traits of hobbits—their rather smug provincialism, their lack of curiosity, and their fundamental desire for good food and drink and the comforts of home—are those of a large portion of the human population, probably (as Tolkien most likely deemed) of the majority of the citizens of provincial England. Bilbo Baggins, who remains chiefly concerned with his food, his comfort, and the neatness of his house, is in many ways typical of hobbits in general. The name hobbit is relatively close to rabbit, and this may be why Tolkien chose to have hobbits live in holes and give them furry feet. But Tolkien himself vehemently denied the suggestion of any connection between hobbits and rabbits (Shippey, Road 67). In any case, the consciousness of hobbits is essentially that of humans, though their diminutive size may suggest the limitations of their imaginations and aspirations. Tolkien did suggest that the name hobbit might have been partially influenced by Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel Babbit, whose characters, like most hobbits, are complacent, self-satisfied, and lack imagination.

Tolkien makes a point of examining Bilbo’s individual character in this chapter, based chiefly on his heredity. On his father’s side, Bilbo is a Baggins, and therefore a very conventional hobbit. On his mother’s side, however, Bilbo is a Took, and the Tooks are less “respectable” from the conventional point of view, but in fact are more adventurous, more inclined to be unconventional and curious about the outside world, as was Bilbo’s glorious ancestor, Bullroarer Took. This inner conflict will play in Bilbo’s psyche throughout the novel.

Although Bilbo is some 50 years old when the story begins, The Hobbit is essentially a bildungsroman—a novel about a young person’s initiation into maturity. The comforts that Bilbo enjoys—his focus on eating and drinking and staying warm and cozy in his protected environment—are the comforts of an infant. The bachelor Bilbo has never experienced anything that has challenged him or made him grow as an individual, and the comfortable home and income he inherited from his father and his Took forebears have made it unnecessary for Bilbo to have to work to provide himself with anything necessary to his life. In some ways he is, essentially, a middle-class Edwardian English gentleman pulled, quite by surprise, into a medieval Norse adventure (Shippey, J. R. R. Tolkien 11)— all of which explains why contemporary readers identify much more readily with Bilbo than with Gandalf, the dwarves, or the elves in the story. But perhaps more important, in symbolic terms, the hole in which Bilbo lives is a yonic symbol, an image of the womb protecting Bilbo but keeping him an infant (Matthews 30). Like many fairy tales, which involve children whose basic virtues enable them to overcome threatening aspects of the larger world (like Jack’s giant or Hansel and Gretel’s witch), Bilbo’s story will be the symbolic representation of what the psychologist Carl Jung called the process of individuation, or maturing, as Bilbo will pass through a number of incidents that will aid in his psychological development into an adult. On another level, one of the story’s major themes is the capability of a relatively unimportant, ordinary person to exhibit great courage and resourcefulness when put into extreme or dangerous circumstances. Bilbo’s maturing process will put him in these kinds of situations, and he will reach within himself for resources that he may not have known he had.

Many of these resources undoubtedly spring from Bilbo’s unconventional Tookish side, and that aspect of his nature is what makes Gandalf choose him for this adventure. Matthews equates Bilbo’s Tookish side with his masculinity, which she notes is being repressed in his womblike hobbit hole (31). Gandalf recognizes that, while Bilbo may appear to be a typical hobbit, no more daring than any other, there is actually “more to him than meets the eye,” as the narrator will remind us repeatedly. As for Gandalf himself, the wizard will, of course, become a major character in The Lord of the Rings , but his importance in this novel is chiefly as a guide and adviser to the hobbit and his companions. In his biography of Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter traces the conception of Gandalf to a German postcard that Tolkien bought on a trip to Switzerland in 1911. The card was a reproduction of a painting called Der Berggeist (“The Spirit of the Mountain”) by the artist J. Madelener. It depicted a whitebearded man in a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. Years later, Tolkien wrote on the paper cover where he kept the postcard “Origin of Gandalf” (Carpenter 51).

In The Hobbit, Gandalf is the archetypal “wise old man” figure common to romance narratives (as defined by Northrop Frye and others)—“romance” in the sense of a heroic tale in a remote setting dealing with mysterious, adventurous, or supernatural events (rather than in the sense of “a love story”). Typically, such figures are guides and protectors of the protagonist, and they embody wisdom and often benevolent power as well. The fact that Bilbo fondly remembers Gandalf’s fireworks is an indication that his Tookish side is attracted to the kind of supernatural power and wisdom that Gandalf embodies.

With the introduction of the dwarves, Tolkien’s world becomes much more recognizable as having roots in a variety of earlier narratives. In the Old Norse and Germanic folklore with which Tolkien was quite familiar, dwarves were often associated with the accumulation of treasure, and dragons with the hoarding of such treasure. From their actions and their plans, we learn a number of things about these particular dwarves in this chapter: They enjoy feasting and songs, but they are also a clannish and proud folk, whose traditions and heritage mean a great deal to them. They are also motivated by what may be an inordinate lust for riches, and by revenge, for the dragon has killed Thorin’s father and grandfather, the King under the Mountain, and those deaths cry out for vengeance. In this way, the dwarves’ mores are quite similar to those of Old English or Old Norse warriors, for whom the king’s first responsibility was the sharing of treasure with his retainers, and the warrior’s first responsibility was to protect or to avenge his lord in battle. In Germanic legends, though, the greatest heroes—Sigurd or Beowulf— are slayers of dragons, and the irony in this situation is that the dwarves have come seeking Bilbo, the most unlikely such hero imaginable. As it happens, however, the dwarves are not looking for that kind of hero, but rather for a burglar who might be able to steal some of the treasure. This is a role that Bilbo may actually be able to fill.

Other than Balin, all of the names of the dwarves (as well as the name Gandalf ) appear in an Old Norse poem Völuspá, part of the Icelandic collection called the Elder Edda , or Poetic Edda (Shippey, Road 70). As for the plot of The Hobbit , it follows the traditional romance form of the quest, a journey to accomplish a significant task, in this case the recovery of the dwarves’ lost treasure from the dragon who guards it.

It should be noted that one of the things that inspires Bilbo, awakening his “Took side,” and stirring him to accept the dwarves’ proposal, is the song that they sing about the journey and the gold at the end of it. Tolkien is always concerned with the power of language to move and to inspire, and he puts lines like “We must away ere break of day / To seek the pale enchanted gold” (27) into the dwarves’ mouths to motivate Bilbo to agree to the adventure. Admittedly, the other thing that motivates Bilbo is his wounded vanity when he overhears Gloin remark that he “looks more like a grocer than a burglar” (30). If this seems to be a somewhat childish reason to make such an important decision, remember that at this point Bilbo really is not much more than a child, and his maturing process is just starting.

One other element of the opening chapter is worth commenting on, and that is the voice of the narrator. Whereas in Tolkien’s other major works ( The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion ), he uses an omniscient narrator who presents the material objectively and without comment, the narrator of The Hobbit is an intrusive voice that consistently comments on the actions of the story and engages in a kind of conversation with the reader. The narrator’s tone, however, is avuncular, and his relationship to the reader almost condescending, very much like an older adult telling a story to small children. While this, in fact, was certainly Tolkien’s intent as he told the story in its first form to his own children, passages like “And what would you do, if an uninvited dwarf came and hung his things up in your hall without a word of explanation?” (20) or “He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end” (16) begin to sound a little patronizing as the novel goes on, and it is no coincidence that Tolkien abandoned this kind of narrative voice in his later works. In a 1967 interview, Tolkien admitted his mistake in this regard, saying “ The Hobbit was written in what I should now regard as a bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more” (qtd. in Tolkien , Annotated Hobbit 76).

The scene that initiates Bilbo into the world of adventure is a semicomic one involving conventional monsters of Old Norse mythology, a trio of trolls. William Green notes that on two occasions in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Thor has traveled to the East to fight trolls (51). Furthermore, Gandalf’s trick of keeping the trolls arguing until dawn, when they must turn to stone at the first light of day, is also a motif seen in Old Norse poetry—although in at least one poem the trick is actually applied to a dwarf named Alvis, who comes to ask for the hand of Thor’s daughter in marriage, and whom Thor keeps talking until sunrise (Green 55). It has also been suggested that this scene owes something to the story of the Cyclops in The Odyssey . As Odysseus used trickery to prevent the Cyclops from eating all of his companions, Gandalf tricks the trolls into arguing until sunlight and so prevents them from eating the dwarves.

The depiction of the trolls in this scene equates them essentially with rather coarse, vulgar humans. They have the curiously common English names of William, Bert, and Tom, and they speak with cockney accents and phrasing, as in “And time’s been up our way, when yer’d have said ‘thank yer, Bill,’ for a nice bit o’ fat valley mutton like what this is” (46). Deborah and Ivor Rogers suggest that the trolls’ speech is modeled on the language of enlisted men or “Tommies” from his regiment whose speech patterns Lieutenant Tolkien may have witnessed during World War I (66).

Essentially, then, the trolls act like low-class oafs. The dwarves act in a manner that readers will come to expect as the story progresses: They hold back and send Bilbo in to test the waters in any dangerous situation. The dwarves need food, and the firelight and smell of mutton are enticing, but they send Bilbo ahead to scout things out. Bilbo, however, proves himself to be quite nearly useless in the ensuing crisis. He does have one special talent: the ability to move very quietly and stealthily. This, of course, will serve him well later on in dealing with the dragon, but at this point it enables him to sneak up on the trolls without detection. However, Bilbo’s first decision is a foolish one. Seeing himself as the hero of a fairy tale, a kind of “Jack and the Beanstalk” character, Bilbo decides to try to pick the pocket of one of the trolls, unaware of the remarkable vocal talents of trolls’ purses. His bad decision nearly gets him killed, and his inability to warn the dwarves nearly does the same for them.

To a large extent, it is Bilbo’s own insignificance that saves him at this point, since he is able to crawl away while the trolls are bickering, and their capture of the 13 dwarves causes them to forget all about Bilbo. It is pure luck that ultimately saves him and the dwarves, since Gandalf happens to show up at precisely the right time. Bilbo has not acquitted himself well in this first adventure. He does discover the trolls’ key while crawling away and so is able to contribute something useful to the company’s progress after all. But the best that can be said about Bilbo at this point is that he is lucky. If the story of The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo’s maturation and the development of his heroic status, it would seem that little progress has been made at this point. But a close examination suggests otherwise: Bilbo has exited his womblike hobbit hole and begun the journey. He has faced a dangerous enemy and survived. He has shown some courage in approaching the trolls alone, and he has demonstrated that he has more than his share of luck. Accordingly, Bilbo receives the elvish blade that he will use as a sword throughout the novel. As Matthews reminds us, the sword is a phallic symbol, and even in its simplest terms, it suggests maturing manhood (29). The episode also recalls scenes from medieval romances (Green compares it to the story of Perceval) in which the young knight takes the arms or armor from the first knight he defeats in his adventures (Green 56). Although here the “defeat” has been a matter of trickery, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves are following tradition when they arm themselves from the trolls’ cave.

The initial danger overcome, the company is able to rest after the first leg of their journey in Rivendell, where the reader is introduced to elves. One’s first impression of the elves of Rivendell is probably that they are a good-natured but rather flippant people, since they seem to spend a good deal of time laughing and singing in the trees and making fun of their visitors. Tolkien makes the elves’ songs bright and lively, with anapestic rhythms (“O! What are you doing, / And where are you going?” [57]) as opposed to the dwarves’ heavier, longer iambic lines (“Far over the misty mountains cold / To dungeons deep and caverns old” [27]), making the elves seem quite lighthearted, perhaps even frivolous. But one soon comes to realize that this is probably the dwarves’ view of them, and that because of ancient rivalries between the two races, the dwarves’ opinion of elves is not necessarily to be trusted. Bilbo, we are told, loves the elves, and their lord, Elrond, brings a gravity and high seriousness to the society of Rivendell.

It seems apparent that when The Hobbit was first conceived, Tolkien intended it to be an independent children’s story, unconnected to his huge mythological project that was becoming the Quenta Silmarillion . Including Elrond, however, squarely placed the hobbit’s adventures among the greater tales of Middle-earth, for Elrond had been a part of those tales among Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts since at least 1926. Elrond’s ability to interpret the “moon letters” on Thorin’s treasure map and his knowledge of ancient runes are to be expected of one who is himself so ancient: When he speaks of the swords Orcrist and Glamdring being forged by his elvish kinsmen for the elf and goblin wars, he is speaking of the years before the fall of Gondolin—an epic story of the First Age of Middle-earth that Tolkien had begun crafting as early as 1917. Elrond’s father, Eärendil, had escaped from Gondolin when it fell to the forces of Morgoth, the evil one, near the end of the First Age, and thus Elrond feels a kinship with those who forged these ancient swords.

The naming of the swords places these weapons, and Bilbo’s quest, among the great heroic legends of the past: They recall Arthur’s Excalibur, Roland’s Durendal, or Hrunting, the sword of Unferth that ultimately fails Beowulf—swords through which great deeds were done, and which therefore earned their names. Such names anticipate great deeds to be done in the present story as well. The runes on the swords that must be read by Elrond, ancient in wisdom, also recall the scene in Beowulf when Beowulf brings to the wise king Hrothgar the hilt of the ancient sword that he has found in the den of Grendel’s mother, and the old man examines the ancient runes on the sword hilt.

Rivendell is a paradisal garden of a sanctuary in which Bilbo would love to stay, but from which he must be expelled if he is to continue his development. At the end of the chapter, therefore, he and the dwarves continue their journey toward their first great natural barrier, the Misty Mountains, which they must cross to continue their quest for the Lonely Mountain and the dragon’s treasure.

As scholars have noted (William H. Green especially), this third part of the story repeats many of the same motifs as the previous section, but at greater length. Bilbo and his companions are put in great danger by monstrous foes, but they are saved in the end from an unexpected source. At the same time, Bilbo matures through the experience and comes out of it with a symbolic talisman—this time the magic ring—that symbolizes his growth.

As the section begins, Bilbo and his companions seek shelter in a cave in the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo awakens just in time to see the wall open and a horde of goblins rush in. Bilbo’s cry of alarm warns Gandalf, who is able to save the dwarves from capture temporarily. It is another instance of Bilbo’s luck—a feature that Tolkien emphasizes a number of times in this text. Bilbo’s luck is not simply blind chance happening to work in his favor, but rather luck in the sense one sees it in Old Norse sagas, where luck, as Shippey says, is a kind of possession ( J. R. R. Tolkien 27). In the Vinland sagas (the Greenlanders’ Saga and the Saga of Erik the Red ), Leif Ericksson, known as “Leif the Lucky,” is not simply the recipient of occasional good fortune but, rather, has a kind of supernatural knack for finding wealth or new lands. Bilbo seems to have that same kind of supernatural gift, which protects him in times of danger and enables him to discover important things that others may have missed—the trolls’ key in the previous section, the magic ring in this one.

The scene in chapter 5 in which Bilbo finds the ring and overcomes Gollum is the best known in the novel, since so many subsequent events— chiefly in The Lord of the Rings —depend upon it. It begins simply enough: Bilbo, once again like a child, must be carried on Dori’s shoulders as the dwarves flee from pursuing goblins. Bilbo falls, loses consciousness, and wakes later, alone in the dark. He finds the ring while crawling on his hands and knees in the dark and pockets it absentmindedly. It seems an unremarkable event, but as the narrator says, “it was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it” (76).

Scholars and readers have had a great deal to say about this chapter, in particular with regard to its symbolism. It is fairly easy to recognize that Bilbo’s descent into and reemergence from the underworld follows a pattern familiar in a great many myths and heroic narratives common to a number of cultures: Odysseus’s descent to Hades to confer with the shade of Tiresias, Aeneas’s descent to see the soul of his father in book 6 of the Aeneid, and Dante’s journey through the Inferno come immediately to mind. Such universal patterns or symbols are called archetypes. On one level, this particular archetype suggests death and rebirth—the death of Bilbo’s old, childish self and his rebirth as hero. It is certainly the case that once Bilbo has passed this point (and has obtained the ring), he is no longer a burden to the company and begins to prove himself a valuable companion. And as Matthews points out, the description of Bilbo as he squeezes through the narrow crack that the goblins have left in the open cave door reads like nothing if not a birth narrative (33):

He squeezed and squeezed, and he stuck! It was awful. His buttons had got wedged on the edge of the door and the door-post. . . . He gave a terrific squirm. Buttons burst off in all directions. He was through . . . (95)

But there is more to this symbolic pattern than this. The psychologist Carl Jung called this archetype of darkness the shadow. The Jungian shadow is often personified in myth or legend as a dark being—Darth Vader, for instance, or Satan himself perhaps—that represents the dark part of ourselves that we do not recognize or acknowledge. It may show itself, as Green notes, in traits we dislike in other people but fail to recognize in ourselves. For Jung, coming to terms with the shadow is essential for individuation, or becoming a whole and mature human being. That Gollum represents Bilbo’s shadow is apparent first in the symbolic sense, as Bilbo confronts Gollum here in the dark cave, reminiscent of the darkness of the subconscious mind. But as Green asserts, Gollum is also Bilbo’s double, living as he does, alone in a cave underground, and he tends to be somewhat sneaky, achieving his ends by deception rather than direct confrontation (Green 75). Bilbo does ultimately come to terms with Gollum, pitying the creature and sparing his life rather than killing him when he has the chance. When Bilbo recognizes Gollum as a fellow creature deserving of his pity, he has come to terms with his shadow. As Green concludes, the ring, the perfect circle, becomes a symbol of the wholeness and unity of self that Bilbo achieves (Green 81; Matthews 32). The leap that Bilbo makes over the crouching Gollum at the entrance to the tunnel leading out of the cave is also a symbolic leap forward—an act of courage and daring that mark his maturing personality.

Gollum’s name has no known source and presumably imitates the gulping sound he makes in his throat. But it is possible that Tolkien may have had in mind the creature of Jewish folklore called the golem, a being made of clay but animated, often, in medieval legend, by a rabbi. It was an incomplete and uncultivated being, and in the classic version of the story, the golem becomes violent and uncontrollable. Tolkien’s Gollum displays a number of these characteristics.

The riddle contest is quite appropriate for Bilbo. Even though he holds his elf-blade in readiness, Bilbo’s real talent is in his wits, and the riddle contest with Gollum is a battle of wits. In part, as Christopher L. Couch notes, it prepares Bilbo for a later, more dangerous battle of wits with the dragon (12). Couch points out that Tolkien was familiar with Old English riddles, in particular the nearly 100 riddles at the end of the 10th-century Exeter Book manuscript. Certainly Gollum’s riddles are similar to these Old English ones, although his subjects (all-concealing darkness, all-devouring time) are particularly appropriate for him.

The riddle contest has other sources as well. Since Bilbo’s life depends on his answers, the contest immediately recalls the riddle of the Sphinx in the Oedipus story. But there are closer analogues in Old Norse literature. In the poem Vafthruthnismol from the Poetic Edda, or Elder Edda, Ódin, in a quest for knowledge, visits the home of the giant Vafthruthnil disguised as a traveler named Gagnrath. The giant insists that they have a contest to determine which of the two is more intelligent, and he asks Ódin five questions, all of which Ódin answers. Ódin follows with 12 questions of his own, which the giant answers. Ódin then asks questions he really wants to learn the answers to, concerning the doom of the gods and, specifically, the identity of his own destroyer. In the end, Ódin (rather unfairly) asks Vafthruthnil what Ódin whispered into his son’s ear before his death. Recognizing Ódin at last, the giant admits that the god is wiser and lets him leave. The later Saga of King Heidrek, surely based largely on Vafthruthnismol, involves a question-game with the lives of the participants on the line, and it ends with Ódin asking the same question of Heidrek that ended the earlier text. In both these Norse texts, Ódin, like Bilbo, wins by asking a personal question, the answer to which his adversary has no way of knowing. In Bilbo’s case, once again, it is purely a matter of luck that he asks, “What have I got in my pocket?” His supernatural luck this time saves his life.

It is important to note that the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter that most readers know and that is summarized here is the revised chapter that appears in the second edition of The Hobbit, published in 1951. In the original 1937 version, Gollum promises Bilbo a present (i.e., the ring) if Bilbo wins the contest, and when he cannot find the ring, he shows Bilbo the way out of the cave instead. In the revised version, Gollum is presented more negatively, since he searches for the ring, intending to use it to disappear so that he can secretly kill Bilbo. But the invisible Bilbo follows Gollum to the exit while Gollum actually converses with himself (the text of the first version is available in The Annotated Hobbit 128–135). Tolkien explained the discrepancy by saying that the original version had been taken from Bilbo’s own story as presented in his manuscript (“There and Back Again”), and that Bilbo had at first tried to whitewash his actions in obtaining the ring (Rogers 70). Because of the way Tolkien’s conception of the ring had developed, he was able to use his revision of this chapter to better prepare readers for Gollum’s dual personality in The Lord of the Rings, and the negative effects that the ring has on its owners—both Gollum and, in the deceptive nature of Bilbo’s “first version” of the story, the hobbit himself.

Bilbo’s first decision once he has escaped from the cave is a clear indication of his maturing ethical judgment: Believing that Gandalf and the dwarves are still trapped under the mountain, he is convinced that he must return to the goblins’ caverns to help them. This is a far cry from the Bilbo of the first chapter, who had been relieved to think that the dwarves had gone off on their adventure without him.

Bilbo, of course, does not have to go back to rescue the dwarves, but the important thing here is that he was willing to do so. Instead, the travelers are soon pursued and surrounded by the combined forces of wargs and the goblins of the mountains. The wargs are essentially werewolves—an Old English term meaning “man wolves.” Werewolves appear in one of Tolkien’s favorite sources, the Völsunga Saga. These wargs look like wolves but are able to speak and have the organization and cunning of men. The goblins are also speaking and thinking creatures, but they are motivated solely by hunger, greed, and hatred. Essentially, as Tolkien readily acknowledges in a 1954 letter to Naomi Mitchison ( Letters 178), his goblins are based on the creations of George McDonald in his classic children’s book The Princess and the Goblin, although, as Green asserts, Tolkien’s goblins are far more seriously evil than McDonald’s (69).

As this third section of the novel draws to a close, the company is saved once again in a somewhat unexpected way—this time by the eagles, who serve the function of the helpful animals that often appear in romance narratives, in opposition to the hostile animals so clearly represented by the wargs. Further, just as the second section ends with a respite for the company in the Last Homely House of Elrond Halfelven, so this third section ends with a restful interlude in the home of Beorn.

Beorn is a shape-changer of the sort that appears in some Norse sagas. In Egil’s Saga, for example, Egil’s grandfather, Kvedulf, is introduced as one who can change into a wolf, while Queen Gunnhilda in the form of a swallow is nearly the cause of Egil’s death. Shippey also notes that the protagonist of the Saga of Hrolf Kraki is known as Böthvarr Bjarki (“Little Bear”) and is apparently a were-bear ( J. R. R. Tolkien 31). Beorn’s ability to change into a bear, then, is not unique in the kind of world Tolkien was recreating from his sources. The name itself is a pun, as Green points out, playing on the similarity between the Old Norse words bjorn (or bear) and beorn (or warrior) (114). Tolkien suggests that Beorn had formerly lived in the Misty Mountains and was forced to leave once the goblins moved in, and he looks forward to the time when the goblins will be destroyed and he can go back. In his enmity with the goblins, Beorn is clearly to be seen as a good and admirable character. Paul W. Lewis suggests that Beorn is, in fact, a kind of early precursor of Tom Bombadil in The Fellowship of the Ring , noting in particular their closeness to nature, which in Tolkien always seems to be an indication of virtue (Lewis 154). Beorn farms, lives in harmony with his animals (demanding that his ponies be brought back from the edge of Mirkwood when he loans them to the dwarves), and is a vegetarian. His help sends the troop on its way well provisioned to begin their trek through the great forest, but Gandalf’s warning that he must leave them on their own for that journey causes the company a good deal of anxiety.

Just as Bilbo’s adventure with Gollum repeated several of the motifs of his encounter with the trolls, so do many details of this fourth section of the novel parallel events in the previous sections. William Green lists the companions’ hunger, the gloomy setting (the dark forest this time rather than a cavern), the crossing of water that leads the travelers into danger, the dwarves’ capture and imprisonment in bags by enemies who mean to devour them, Bilbo’s awakening alone after losing consciousness, the interrogation of the dwarves by a king in an underground hall, the escape via an unusual means of transport (the barrels rather than the eagles this time), and the attainment of a final safe refuge (Green 83). More important, this section presents another stage of Bilbo’s maturation, containing a descent into the darkness, confrontation of an archetypal shadow, and a rebirth.

The scene of action this time is Mirkwood, a frightening and dangerous forest over which a darkness has fallen in recent years because of the presence of “the Necromancer,” who has risen to power and established himself in the southern part of the forest. This, of course, is Sauron, as will become clear later in The Lord of the Rings, though Tolkien seems not to have finalized that aspect of his mythography at the time he was writing The Hobbit. The name and idea of Mirkwood were adopted, as Shippey points out, from the Old Norse Poetic ( Elder ) Edda, where Myrcvið inn ókunna (“Mirkwood the Unknown”) is mentioned several times as an eastern boundary through which the Burgundians must travel to the stronghold of Attila the Hun ( J. R. R. Tolkien 33–34). It also functions here as the dark wood common to fairy tales such as “Hansel and Gretel” or “Little Red Riding Hood.” In this fantasy world, the companions are subject to the conditions of the fairy tale, one of which is the ancient motif of the “fairy tale prohibition” that Tolkien himself discusses in his essay “On FairyStories” (67). Briar Rose must not touch a spindle, Cinderella must leave the ball by midnight, Bluebeard’s wife must not look in one of the rooms of the castle. In this case, the dwarves must not leave the path or there will be dire consequences, as Beorn and Gandalf warn them three times. As in the traditional fairy story, the reader knows that the prohibition will be violated and the protagonists will suffer the consequences.

In the case of the starving dwarves, it is only as a last resort that they leave the paths when they see the elves’ fires. Tolkien has peopled Mirkwood with elves, in this case what he would call in The Silmarillion Avari—Grey-elves—rather than the High-elves from whom Elrond is descended. The picture of elves presented here seems inspired by the kinds of elves or fairies that appear in medieval Breton lays and other romances inspired by them. The disappearing circles of singing elves in the wood, for instance, occurs most famously in Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Most specifically, as Shippey has pointed out, the first evidence of the elves in Mirkwood is inspired by the Middle English romance of Sir Orfeo (a text Tolkien taught often, and that he translated into modern English) ( J. R. R. Tolkien 35). In Sir Orfeo, while wandering in the wood, Orfeo comes upon the King of Faërie hunting. Tolkien translates the passage thus:

There often by him would he see when noon was hot on leaf and tree, the king of Faërie with his rout come hunting in the woods about with blowing far and crying dim, and barking hounds that were with him; (ll. 281–286)

In chapter 8 of The Hobbit, the travelers first become aware of the forest’s inhabitants when they are trying to cross the black stream, they hear the sound of a horn and of hunting dogs, and a deer leaps across the stream among them. The elves, however, are not kindly disposed toward the dwarves—this is clear later on when Thorin is brought before the elves’ king and prefers to be thrown into a dungeon rather than reveal his quest. Their failure to welcome the famished dwarves within the circle of their fires stems from this animosity and is nearly the dwarves’ undoing.

The danger this time is more horrifying than either Gollum or the three trolls of the previous sections. If Mirkwood is an archetypal symbol of the unconscious self, the spiders represent the nightmare terrors lurking in the depths of the psyche. Indeed, Bilbo has been sleeping when he awakens to find himself in the nightmare of the giant spider’s web. As Rogers points out, the horror of the situation may have come from Tolkien’s own deepest subconscious fears: As a very young child in South Africa, he had been bitten by a tarantula (72), and the image of that may have haunted him still in his adult years (Ungoliant in The Silmarillion and Shelob in The Lord of the Rings repeat this same motif). Bilbo’s ability to slay the spider without the aid of anything but his own sword gives him a new confidence and is clearly a step in his maturing process. The fact that he names his sword “Sting” at this point marks a rite of passage for him: Like the sword, he has a new identity, one that is bold and dangerous to his enemies.

J. R. Wytenbroek calls this adventure the second stage of Bilbo’s maturation process. Rather than fleeing from evil, Bilbo has confronted and overcome it, and Wytenbroek attributes this new strength to Bilbo’s earlier confrontation of his shadow in the form of Gollum (7). Unlike Gollum, however, whom Bilbo ultimately accepts and for whom he has compassion, the spiders represent what Wytenbroek calls the embodiment of primordial darkness, an inhuman evil that is “the incarnation of nightmare. . . . [The spiders] are the demons of the soul, and they must be routed and conquered” (8). Bilbo’s conquest of the spiders, alone and unaided, is his symbolic conquest of his most deeply rooted fears and thus a stage of maturation beyond his earlier confrontation of his own shadow.

His manner of defeating the giant spiders— through his invisibility, his craftiness, his verbal insults that madden the creatures and his stonethrowing that hobbles them—is not the approach of the typical hero. Bilbo is more what Green calls a trickster figure in this episode (87). There are no direct confrontations or acts of physical strength, no clashes of warriors in single combat. This is not who Bilbo is; it is not who most people are. Bilbo the hobbit, a small person in the wide world, is an ordinary person who is capable of heroic actions that involve personal courage, a sense of responsibility toward his friends, and willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole group. These are qualities that any person may display, and they form one of Tolkien’s major themes that also runs through The Lord the Rings : the ability of ordinary people to perform extraordinary acts of courage in difficult circumstances.

The growth in Bilbo’s character is acknowledged after he saves the dwarves from the spiders when it is discovered that Thorin has disappeared. At this point, all of the dwarves look instinctively to Bilbo for leadership:

Where were they, and where was their path, and where was there any food, and what were they going to do next? These questions they asked over and over again, and it was from little Bilbo that they seemed to expect to get the answers. (163)

Of course, Bilbo cannot answer any of these questions, and the next day, as the companions are desperately trying to find their way back to the path to get out of the forest, they are captured by the same elves that have already imprisoned Thorin. Bilbo’s invisibility allows him to escape capture and to sneak into the elves’ fortress undetected, but it is clear that the dwarves will need rescuing once again. This time, however, the problem is a more difficult one. The trolls, Gollum, and the spiders all offered real and imminent threats to the lives of Bilbo and his companions, and their defeat—and, in the case of the spiders, wholesale slaughter—was unquestionably the triumph of good over evil.

Moral ambiguity enters Bilbo’s world in the castle of the elves. The elves are not evil and are holding the dwarves because they have passed into the elves’ land and refuse to give an accounting of themselves. Bilbo realizes that the dwarves’ stubbornness and greed is in part responsible for their predicament, along with the mysterious enmity between elves and dwarves that he does not understand. As Green points out, rescuing the dwarves this time is less a matter of courage and more one of “discretion, tact, and cleverness,” as Bilbo recognizes it would be wrong to harm the elves and is even uncomfortable taking their food during the time he must remain invisible within their walls (Green 83). His respect for the elves is clear when, having put his escape plan into motion, he returns the keys to the sleeping jailer, so as not to get the hapless elf into trouble.

As with most of Tolkien’s legendarium, the dwarves’ escape from the elves’ prison has roots in mythic literature. One story that scholars have compared to this one is the tale of Odysseus’s escape from the Cyclops in The Odyssey. Green lists the following parallels in the stories: Both begin with the protagonists trapped underground; both involve getting the watchman falling asleep, and his inability to see the protagonist; both involve the group escaping while hiding in things that the watchman must open the door to let out; and in both cases, the hero’s own escape is the most difficult, as Odysseus must hold onto the lead ram while Bilbo has to grab onto the last barrel that is flung into the river (Green 91). Again, as with all of Tolkien’s “borrowings,” the source has been completely absorbed into the overall logic of the entire fantasy world. It is worth noting that here, once again, Tolkien uses birth imagery as Bilbo escapes from the elves’ cave, shooting forth in a gush of water from his womblike prison (Matthews 36). Bilbo has been reborn again, having gone through a further maturation process in his adventures with the spiders and the elves.

As Bilbo floats down the river, he is struck by the barrenness of the landscape throughout the area surrounding the distant Lonely Mountain, and he learns from the talk of the raftsmen that the land has become desolated since the coming of the dragon. Clearly the medievalist in Tolkien has constructed a wasteland here that recalls the motifs of the Grail legend. In its earliest Celtic form, the wasteland is associated with the infertility and impotence of its ruler, originally the maimed “Fisher King.” The fertility of the land and the healing of the king can be accomplished by the Grail Knight. In the Perceval legend, Perceval must ask the appropriate question (“Who is served by the grail?”) in order to bring about this restoration. In other manifestations, the Grail itself may be the vessel that heals the king, and so the knight’s quest is to find it.

Here, restoration of the land’s fertility must come with the slaying of the dragon. Since the object of Bilbo’s quest is the dragon hoard, perhaps the symbolic Grail is part of that treasure. The inhabitants of Lake-town—living, as they do, on the lake itself—may well be a remnant of the former Fisher King’s people, but they seem themselves to have degenerated. As Green asserts, they are chiefly interested in business and trade, and their leader is “a selfish and cowardly pragmatist” (85). They have neither courage nor virtue, and they are mainly concerned with their own self-interest when they welcome Thorin as the returned King under the Mountain, since they believe he will bring them a new golden era.

The novel’s fourth section ends, like the previous sections, with the company safe in a new refuge after passing through great danger. But the moral ambiguity introduced into the story with the elves’ castle continues here, for Lake-town is not the paradisal refuge of Rivendell, nor even the house of the isolated but clearly righteous Beorn. It is a town of folk who are, like the land they inhabit, decayed and in need of restoration. No wonder Bilbo ends this section worried about the pending adventure on the mountain.

Part 5 of the novel contains, once again, some of the motifs of earlier sections, most notably Bilbo’s descent into the cave, his confrontation of a great danger there, the spectacular deliverance of the companions and their emergence from the cave, and Bilbo’s obtaining a valuable talisman—this time the Arkenstone of Thrain to go along with his sword and ring. Notably missing from the end of this section is the respite received at Rivendell, Beorn’s House, and the lake town of Esgaroth. In fact, the dwarves’ exploration of Smaug’s abandoned cave could have been such a respite, but like the reader, the dwarves are at this point unaware of the deliverance that has occurred with the death of the dragon. As Green points out, that news is conveyed only through the highly uncharacteristic flashback that begins chapter 14. The effect of this is heightened suspense as the book draws to its climax (Green 96).

The fifth section begins, as Deborah and Ivor Rogers point out, with events reminiscent of the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring in which the entire fellowship waits outside the gate to Moria and cannot get in until Gandalf stumbles upon the secret password that opens the gate (73). Here Bilbo finds the way in partly by luck (as he did in discovering the key to the trolls’ cave) but also partly by his noticing what is going on around him—the thrush, the setting sun, the sliver of moon. This is Durin’s Day as he has heard it described from the runes on Thorin’s map.

Once the way in is discovered, it is, of course, up to Bilbo to descend into the passageway down to the dragon’s den. This, after all, was the reason he was brought along on the adventure: He is a burglar, and now he must steal some part of the treasure. He sees the glow of the dragon at the end of the tunnel and knows that he is heading directly into the dragon’s lair, and he is completely alone. He has symbolically faced his inner fears and demons in the previous two episodes, wherein the archetypal darkness of his unconscious and of his shadow were overcome. He has performed acts worthy of a mythic hero and been admired by the dwarves for his courage and resourcefulness. Now, alone in the dark tunnel, Bilbo engages in an internal struggle that no one else witnesses. From the traditional heroic point of view, he has done nothing. But Tolkien’s narrator makes it clear:

Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. (205)

Tolkien, though a medievalist, is still a modern writer, and his view of heroism is a modern one: True courage is internal. Brave acts are the outward manifestation of an internal state of mind, and so it is with Bilbo.

Ultimately what Bilbo finally snatches from the hoard of the sleeping dragon is a great two-handled cup. In this, Tolkien was clearly borrowing from the last part of Beowulf, in which a thief rouses the wrath of a dragon by stealing a cup from its hoard, and the dragon lays waste to Beowulf’s land after the thief brings Beowulf the cup that was stolen. In the same way, Smaug, enraged when he realizes that something is missing from his treasure, rushes out to burn the mountainside, including the door that he realizes must have been the burglar’s way into his den. Once more, it is Bilbo, through a kind of intuition that seems part of his luck, who warns the dwarves that they must come inside the tunnel to escape the dragon’s fire. Although they lose their horses, it is only Bilbo’s foresight and quick response that save the dwarves from certain death.

Bilbo again must take the lead as he and the dwarves are trapped within the tunnel into the mountain. Invisible, he makes his way back to the dragon’s lair and this time actually engages Smaug in conversation. Tolkien’s model for dialogue with dragons was in fact Sigurd’s conversation with the wounded dragon Fafnir in “The Lay of Fafnir,” a poem from the Poetic Edda . In that poem, Sigurd conceals his name from Fafnir, while Fafnir sows distrust in Sigurd’s mind toward his mentor, the dwarf Regin. Here, Bilbo also conceals his identity, instead giving Smaug riddling descriptions of himself as “clue-finder,” “the guest of Eagles,” and “Barrel-rider.” The exchange recalls the earlier riddle contest with Gollum, and Bilbo seems to have learned something from that contest that helps him with his quick thinking here, for the narrator says he is “pleased with his riddling” (213), although he does give the dragon reason to suspect the men of Lake-town of aiding the dwarves. Smaug, at the same time (like Fafnir with Sigurd), succeeds in undercutting Bilbo’s trust of the dwarves, pointing out how they are waiting outside and sending Bilbo in to do the dangerous work. Readers familiar with The Silmarillion or The Children of Húrin (2007) will recognize the parallel to Glaurung’s confrontation with Túrin. As Rogers and Rogers point out, Bilbo the burglar is more successful in resisting the dragon’s wiles than the traditional hero, Túrin, who succumbs easily, and with disastrous effects (74).

The traditional hero in The Hobbit is the man Bard. At first, he is simply a “grim-voiced man” who warns the men of Esgaroth that they must prepare for the coming of the dragon. Bard is a descendant of Girion, lord of Dale, before that city’s destruction. This, along with his residence in the Lake-town, associates him with the archetypal figure of the Fisher King in the Grail myth, whose restoration will reinvigorate the Waste Land. In fact, he is able to begin the process of healing by slaying the dragon that has laid waste the land. But he is only able to do this because, first, he has inherited his ancestors’ ability to understand the language of the thrushes; and, second, because Bilbo, in the unlikely role of Grail Knight, has been able to discover the necessary information (as the Grail Knight was required to ask the right question)—in this case regarding the weak spot in the soft underbelly of the dragon. That is the spot to which Bard directs his final arrow, the symbol of his heritage handed down from his fathers.

Even Bard, however, is not a completely traditional hero. Shippey points out that, in fact, it is not the battle rage of the berserker nor the one-onone heroism of Beowulf’s episodes of single combat that wins the day against Smaug. Rather, it is the modern and very British concept of discipline— the coolness of the well-trained soldier who does his duty under fire and is ready and prepared to carry out orders under any circumstances ( Road to Middle-earth 81–82). In the midst of the panic and of all others fleeing the city under Smaug’s attack, Bard keeps his own troops together and under control, steady in their defense of the city, and it is this discipline that enables him to fight to his last arrow. This is the sort of military discipline that had secured the British Empire through the 19th century, and it was the sort of training Lieutenant Tolkien would have had, and instilled in his own troops, at the Battle of the Somme. “It is discipline that does for Smaug,” Shippey says, so that “The death of Smaug, like Bilbo in the dark, lets us see courage in a modern way” ( Road 83).

In the meantime, of course, Bilbo and the dwarves have been exploring the halls of Thorin’s forefathers, filled with the dragon’s hoard. While Bilbo receives the wondrous gift of the elven mithril coat, and there is a good deal of joy in the treasure, this joy is purely a joy in earthly treasures, and Bilbo comes to see his companions’ limitations, perhaps in particular since he has been prepared to see them in this light by the dragon’s persuasive speech. Much of their motivation has been simply greed, and now Thorin is nearly mad with desire for the Arkenstone. That great jewel, the Heart of the Mountain, is for the dwarves a treasure of special, even mythic, proportions—it is essentially their Holy Grail. As Douglas Anderson points out, the word comes from the Old English word eorclansta¯n , meaning “precious stone”—a word appearing in line 1208 of Beowulf (in Tolkien, Annotated Hobbit 293).

By this time, Bilbo himself has matured to the extent that he has outgrown the dwarves, whose desire for the treasure seems excessive to him. As the narrator says, “Mr. Baggins kept his head more clear of the bewitchment of the hoard than the dwarves did” (228). As for the Arkenstone, Bilbo has already taken it and hidden it in his cloak. One might look at this as an act of greed on his part, and it is clear that he is momentarily overcome by the beauty of the great jewel. This may seem like the kind of “bewitchment” the narrator had denied in Bilbo. Nor is it clear why he does not yield the stone to Thorin when he knows that the dwarf lusts after it. It appears that Bilbo is not sure himself why he has kept the Arkenstone, which suggests that the act is another instance of Bilbo’s intuition, a part of his “luck.” He suspects that the stone will be important in the future and wants to be able to control what happens to it.

It is worth noting that in these chapters, specifically in chapters 12 and 13, Bilbo begins to quote his father as he thinks over how to respond to the challenges of the dragon. “‘[T]hird time pays for all’ as my father used to say,” he says when he understands that Thorin expects him to visit the dragon’s lair and thereby earn his reward, though he has already saved the dwarves twice (203). “‘Every worm has his weak spot,’ as my father used to say,” he says when he is about to go down into the dragon’s lair for the second time (using worm in the sense of the Old English wyrm, meaning “serpent” or “dragon”) (211). Finally, when he and the dwarves are trapped in the tunnel without food and their only way out is through the dragon’s lair, Bilbo quotes his father for the third time: “‘While there’s life there’s hope!’ as my father used to say” (223). It is surprising to see Bilbo quoting his father, the Baggins side of his personality, at the moments when he is about to confront the dragon, the most dangerous aspect of the adventure that he has come on at the urging of his Tookish side. But in fact, Bilbo’s adventures with trolls, goblins, wargs, and spiders, not to mention his dangerous meeting with Gollum, have clearly satisfied his Tookish side, and the maturation symbolized by the rebirths he has experienced in the past several chapters has meant, as well, the integration of all parts of his personality into a unified self. While the Bagginses may have been unexciting and incurious people, “solid and comfortable” as the narrator says early on (17), there is also something very practical and reliable about such people. And while they might not be anxious or do anything “queer” like travel on adventures, they could be counted on to do what was expected of them. In this sense, Bilbo’s Baggins side makes him solid and dependable, makes him willing to do the job he was hired to do, even though it means meeting a live dragon. It is this Baggins side that will not let Bilbo neglect his duty, and in this sense it might be remarked that Bilbo’s kind of courage is not much different from Bard’s—both rely on the more modern sense of duty and discipline to get their jobs done.

Without a doubt, the most remarkable aspect of these chapters is Bilbo’s selfless “betrayal” of the dwarves. In an action that completely redefines the concept of heroism that has been one of the novel’s major themes, Bilbo chooses to turn over the Arkenstone, for Thorin the embodiment of treasure and the power of his kingship, to the dwarves’ enemies. Green has defined Bilbo’s behavior in these chapters by reference to Carl Jung’s notion of mystical participation (Green 88). This is what Jung called the behavior associated with group identity, the unconscious identification of the individual will with the collective will, the extreme manifestation of which is mob behavior. Such identification causes individuals to accept or even participate in behavior that they would never agree to on their own, so that morality becomes a matter of popular opinion. As Green says, “the trouble with mystical participation is that the morality and taste of a single person is often superior to that of any group” (88). Through their various adventures to this point, Bilbo has grown to identify himself with the dwarves and their goals, but in order to become a completely individuated character (to use Jung’s terminology), Bilbo must separate himself from the group, particularly when the group is making unethical decisions.

This is indeed Bilbo’s finest hour, all the more remarkable for his ability to distance himself from his companions when he recognizes the error of their ways. At this point, Bilbo has reached his highest level of maturity and individuation. But these events mark Thorin’s lowest point. He has proclaimed himself King under the Mountain and assumed his hereditary role, including possession of the treasure. In this role, he is essentially acknowledged by the ravens that served his grandfather, but when the ravens advise him against his rash preparations for war, he ignores them. Bilbo recog-nizes that Thorin will not hear dissenting opinions, and his plan is the only thing that will prevent a disastrous battle. For Thorin is beyond reason: As Rogers and Rogers point out, he has taken what in traditional literature might be seen as a heroic stand, adamantly guarding his home and treasure against impossible odds (75). But, in fact, Thorin is denying the rights of all other claimants to the treasure despite the legitimate demands of Bard, whose slaying of the dragon made Thorin’s position possible. Green suggests that the dragon has simply been replaced by Thorin, whose madness he calls “dragon sickness,” a condition that involves both his mad determination to defend the mountain against impossible odds and his unquenchable lust for the Arkenstone, the symbol of his own power and ego. According to Green, Thorin is “Inflamed to suicidal stubbornness by belief that the Arkenstone is near,” and “would only become worse if he possessed it” (100). His confrontation with Bard’s herald, when he fires an arrow that strikes the herald’s shield, underscores his contrast with the true hero. Bard’s arrow had struck true, penetrating the dragon’s breast. Thorin’s has stuck quivering in the shield of his enemy. In Freudian terms, Thorin’s arrow, a phallic symbol, has shown itself impotent, and the kingdom he seeks to establish can only be sterile and infertile.

If Bilbo is the Grail Knight, he has here found a way to restore fertility to the wasteland created by the dragon—and perpetuated by the dragonlike greed in the heart of Thorin. In the original Grail legend, as related in Chrétien de Troyes’ Conte le Graal , Perceval fails to ask the right question (“Who is served by the Grail?”) and so fails in the quest. Bilbo, who has shown himself a champion questioner and solver of riddles in the Gollum episode as well as with the dragon, seems here not only to have asked the right question about the Arkenstone, but worked out the answer as well. No one will truly be served by returning the stone to Thorin. But the Arkenstone can serve all parties with an interest in the treasure by serving as a means by which war between dwarves, elves, and men can be avoided.

What may be even more surprising at the end of this episode is Bilbo’s declining the elf king’s offer of sanctuary. His sympathy toward Bombur, whom he fears will be blamed if he fails to return, and his overall loyalty to his friends, even though their cause is wrong, are admirable qualities, but more impressive than these is his forthright admission to Thorin that he has given the Arkenstone to the dwarves’ enemies. This full acceptance of the responsibility and willingness to take the full consequences of his decision mark the apex of Bilbo’s development. If heroism is a main theme of the novel, as Rogers and Rogers say, “the question of what a hero does is answered, no matter how unheroic the manner of his actions” (76).

Not surprisingly, Gandalf reappears at precisely the moment of Bilbo’s decision to return to the dwarves. Up until the moment when he left the company upon their entrance into Mirkwood, Gandalf had been the group’s leader and protector. But in Mirkwood and the elven king’s castle through their adventures with Smaug on the mountain, Bilbo has been serving in that capacity, tentatively at first but with more and more conviction until this moment, when the matured Bilbo has been forced to act the role of the adult in the face of Thorin’s petulant obsessions. As Green remarks, “Gandalf returns precisely when Bilbo has successfully enacted the Gandalf-role in his absence, when the hobbit no longer needs him” (101).

Chapter 16 contains two important biblical allusions. The title of the chapter, “A Thief in the Night,” alludes to the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, where Paul tells the church that the day of the lord—i.e., judgment day—will come “like a thief in the night”—that is, unexpectedly. I would suggest that Tolkien was echoing, as well, Christ’s sermon near the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, wherein he advises his listeners to be watchful, for no one will know when the kingdom of heaven will come. In Matthew 24:23, he declares that if a householder had known when the thief would come, he would not have allowed the thief to break in. Bilbo is, of course, literally a thief in the night, but the allusion suggests something about his task: perhaps that it is a judgment on Thorin, for one thing; and perhaps that Bilbo, who brings peace by his sacrifice, is in this context a Christ figure—the one who will come, according to Paul, like a thief in the night. But the second allusion also recalls that same sermon in Matthew: In the parable of the talents, the Master says to his faithful servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, JB), as Gandalf says to Bilbo at the end of this chapter. Thus, Bilbo is pronounced a faithful servant to the master (who represents the Lord in the parable). If Tolkien was indeed suggesting parallels between Bilbo’s actions and Christ’s sermon on the coming of the kingdom and the Day of Judgment, he was also alluding to a swift and unanticipated judgment. In the context of The Hobbit, that may in fact suggest the surprising attack by the goblins and wargs—in some ways a judgment on the others, who are so caught up in their quarrel among themselves that they have had no inkling of the coming danger.

While Bilbo’s heroics have prevented war, they have earned him Thorin’s sworn enmity. But, of course, there can be no lasting peace, as the armies of goblins and wargs descend upon the assembled armies unlooked for. What this says about peacemakers is uncertain. They may be blessed as the children of God according to the beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, but it seems that as long as there is pure irrational evil in the world—of the sort represented by the goblins and wolves—then their efforts may be doomed to failure. There are times, it seems, when one must fight to defend life and freedom. And in those cases, one must choose the right side. In this way, Thorin redeems himself. It is clear to him that he must stand with elves and men in this battle, and his unexpected last charge from the mountain turns the tide of battle, at least momentarily. Although his attack will mean his death, it is also his salvation.

This sixth section ends like the previous sections: with a divine deliverance that comes without warning. This time, it is once again the eagles who come to the rescue and reinforce the armies of Bilbo’s side. Bilbo himself, invisible through the power of his ring, is knocked unconscious just as he proclaims the coming of the heavenly birds, and so he does not see Beorn himself arrive to sweep all before him. For the third time, Bilbo passes out, to awaken (as he did in Gollum’s cave and in Mirkwood) to a new stage of his maturity. But this third time (the critical number in all folk traditions) will usher Bilbo into a new world.

This final section of the novel brings a sense of closure to Bilbo’s adventures by, first, restoring relationships among the different races of people (men, elves, and dwarves) and between individuals among them (Bard, Thorin, and Bilbo); second, by taking us through Bilbo’s return journey, thereby closing the circle of his going forth and his coming back to the place he had left; and third, by demonstrating that Bilbo has come back a changed hobbit, a more mature and complete individual.

The conclusion begins with Thorin’s restoration to sanity and his reconciliation with Bilbo. Thorin’s realization during the battle of who his true allies were sparked him to heroic action, and although it cost him his own life and those of his close kinsmen Fili and Kili (who, in the fashion of medieval Germanic warriors, had lost their lives on the battlefield protecting their liege lord), he has been restored to sanity and healed of the dragonmadness that had obsessed him. For his part, Bilbo kneels before Thorin as King under the Mountain and receives his blessing—a mixture, as Shippey points out, of “ancient epic dignity and a modern wider awareness: on the one hand, ‘I go now to the halls of waiting, to sit beside my fathers,’ on the other, recognition of ‘the kindly West’ and ‘a merrier world’” ( J. R. R. Tolkien 44). It is a mixture that Bilbo himself now encompasses in his own now balanced personality. For his part, he leaves the tent and weeps, his tender, “kindly” side manifesting itself at this point. There is a kind of irony in the fact that Thorin is buried with the Arkenstone on his breast. It is not unlike the funeral pyre of Beowulf, which contains all the treasure of the dragon that he died to achieve. The treasure, the Arkenstone, was never anything more than a symbol, and its power as a symbol was generated largely by Thorin himself. Now that he is dead, the symbol will be buried with him, and he himself will become the Heart of the Mountain.

When the treasure is finally divided, Bilbo very sensibly realizes that he could never carry his fourteenth share back home with him, and he takes only two small chests. The journey home with Gandalf allows Bilbo, and the reader, to spend a little more time with Beorn (with whom they spend the winter months) and Elrond (whom they visit again in the spring), and it also allows Gandalf and Bilbo to recover the trolls’ treasure that they had buried on the first stage of their journey. Each of these help to bring a sense of closure to the narrative, as Bilbo comes full circle in returning home.

When Bilbo does arrive back in the Shire, however, it is clear that he is not simply returning to his old life. Bilbo himself is a different person, so his home is not the same, either. The first hint of this comes when he breaks into spontaneous song (“Roads go ever on and on”) at the sight of his own hill in the distance. Gandalf’s reaction to the song is, simply, “You are not the hobbit that you were” (284). This fact is underscored symbolically as Bilbo arrives at his own house and finds that his neighbors and relatives all believe he is dead and are auctioning off his furniture. His cousins, the SackvilleBagginses (who are in the process of “sacking” his home, or “villa”), refuse to believe that he is the real Bilbo Baggins. It has been suggested that here again, Bilbo’s story parallels that of Odysseus (as it has before, in the “Barrels out of Bond” chapter), as the returning warrior must rid his home of those who are ransacking it in the belief that he has died. In fact, the old Bilbo has died and been given new life as a completely individuated individual, one who is unafraid of his adventurous side but also, as he revealed in the last few chapters, one who sees the virtue of his practical and humble side as well.

But Tolkien does not end the story here. In one final coda, Gandalf and Balin visit Bilbo years later, and he learns how things have turned out under the mountain, where a new master has taken charge of Lake-town and all are living in peace and prosperity. The old songs, Bilbo notes, “have turned out to be true, after a fashion” (286), and Gandalf chides him for his skepticism. Prophecies, the wizard says, are no less true just because one is himself involved with bringing them to pass. The question raised has to do with destiny and free will, and Tolkien hints here at a characteristically medieval view of the matter. God’s foreknowledge, which would be the origin of any true prophecy, does not preclude free will, since God, from his eternal vantage point, sees what humans will do without causing those actions and shapes his providential plan accordingly. It was an argument made famous by Boethius in the sixth century, and it was Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy that popularized the views throughout medieval Europe. In the end, just as he had throughout the novel, Tolkien bases The Hobbit on a well-mixed variety of medieval sources.

Although he does not appear until very late in the novel, Bard is a character of major significance, as the one who actually slays the dragon Smaug. Bard is first introduced as a “grim-voiced fellow” (235) who warns the people of Esgaroth, the Lake-town, to prepare for the attack of the dragon, and who later commands a troop of bowmen who, displaying a very British kind of discipline, defend the city to the last man as the dragon sweeps over them breathing fire.

Bard is descended from Girion, the last lord of Dale, the city destroyed by the dragon when he also destroyed the dwarves’ kingdom of Erebor and captured the Lonely Mountain and its hidden treasure. As a true descendant of the royal line, he understands the speech of the thrushes, and at the vital moment of the dragon attack, the thrush informs him of the weak spot in the dragon’s belly. Bard sends his last black arrow, one inherited from his princely forebears, straight and true into Smaug’s heart.

Afterward, Bard leads an army of men, allied with the elven king of Mirkwood, to the Lonely Mountain to claim a share of the treasure, and he narrowly avoids a disastrous war with the dwarves when he and they are forced to fight the Battle of the Five Armies against goblins and wargs. Bard ultimately rebuilds Dale and reestablishes his kingship there. In some ways, Bard recalls the Fisher King of the Grail legend, whose restoration to the throne heals the dragon’s wasteland and brings fertility back to the kingdom. As the tale’s traditional hero, Bard also acts as a foil to Bilbo, whose heroism is of a very different variety but is real nonetheless.

Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo is a hobbit—a small person half the height of a human, with large hairy feet— who lives in a well-furnished hole in The Hill. Hobbits are generally a highly provincial group, devoted to the comforts of home (particularly their meals) and to small, everyday occurrences. Bilbo himself is the son of Bungo Baggins, a very respectable hobbit, and Belladonna Took, the beautiful daughter of the Old Took, whose family was reputed to have fairy ancestors. From them Bilbo has inherited the luxurious hobbit hole called Bag End. He has also inherited the two sides of his nature: the stolid, respectable Baggins side and the adventurous Took side. At the beginning of the novel, the middle-aged Bilbo has managed to suppress his adventurous Took side for all his adult life, but it is awakened by the wizard Gandalf, who chooses him to be the 14th member of an expedition for treasure to the Lonely Mountain with Thorin Oakenshield and 12 other dwarves, for whom he is to act as burglar. The journey becomes not only the story of adventure and a quest for treasure, but the story of Bilbo’s development as a character, from the protected infantilism of his womblike hole to the heroism of one who confronts a dragon.

Bilbo makes a rather poor showing early in the quest, though he survives near capture by trolls through his own luck and Gandalf’s protection, and he receives the talisman of the elven blade Sting after this initiation into the heroic role. Later, in the goblins’ cave fortress, Bilbo must be carried by the dwarves as they flee from the goblins, until he is lost and knocked unconscious. After he awakes, he finds a ring (again, through his uncanny luck) and is confronted by the creature Gollum, whom he defeats in a riddle contest by asking what he has in his pocket (it is the ring, which was Gollum’s treasure). He escapes from Gollum and the goblins through the power of the ring, which makes him invisible, and through this adventure, he gains confidence. After Gandalf leaves the company before they plunge into the darkness of Mirkwood, Bilbo rescues the dwarves from giant spiders through his invisibility and his short sword Sting. When Thorin Oakenshield is captured by Wood-elves, the other dwarves begin to look to Bilbo for leadership. After the other dwarves are captured, Bilbo finds a way to rescue them from the elven king’s dungeons, and he sends them down the river packed in empty barrels.

By now Bilbo has become the group’s de facto leader, and it is he who is sent into the lair of the dragon, from whom he steals a cup. The dragon, Smaug, engages Bilbo in a conversation and learns something about the dwarves from this, but Bilbo learns more: He sees a weak spot in the underbelly of the dragon that the birds eventually tell the archer Bard about, and Bard is able to destroy the dragon based on the intelligence Bilbo has found. By this time, Bilbo has embraced his adventurous Took side but has also begun to quote from his father, accepting some of the wisdom of his more staid and provincial Baggins side. He has reached a state of maturity that Carl Jung called individuation. He has also fulfilled most of the expectations of the archetypal hero of myth and legend.

Bilbo’s greatest heroic act, one that demonstrates his ultimate personal development, occurs after the dragon’s death, when he and Thorin’s company are besieged in the mountain by the forces of men and elves who want their just share of the treasure. Bilbo’s gift to the elven king of the Arkenstone of Thrain, the one great jewel of the treasure for which Thorin will do anything, ensures that the standoff will end peacefully—or would if the army of goblins and wargs did not arrive just when peace was about to conclude. In this act, Bilbo finds a higher morality than that of his peers and stands apart from them as a true hero. When he returns to his home at Bag End, he finds that he has been presumed dead and that his cousins are about to take possession of his home. In fact, he has changed and is not the same hobbit he was when he left. Although he is able to get his home back and settle back into his comfortable life again, he never loses the reputation of one who is a friend of elves and wizards.

the hobbit essay thesis

Gandalf/Pinterest

Gandalf the wizard had his origins in a picture postcard that Tolkien brought back with him from a holiday in Switzerland in 1911. The picture, from a painting by J. Madelener called Der Berggeist (or “spirit of the mountain”), shows an old man with a white beard, wearing a cloak and a wide-brimmed hat (Carpenter, Tolkien 51).

Gandalf has encouraged the expedition of Thorin and Company, and he apparently recognizes something in Bilbo that others cannot see when he recommends the hobbit as the 14th member of the expedition. It is Gandalf who gives Thorin the map of Thror, which holds the key to entering the dragon’s den.

Aside from being the moving force behind events in the book, Gandalf takes the part of the archetypal “Wise Old Man” figure of the story, like Merlin in the Arthurian legend. He is a protective father figure who helps the group out of predicaments with the trolls and the goblins, but he leaves them at a crucial time—their entry into Mirkwood. In terms of Bilbo’s growth as a character, Gandalf must leave the company, since Bilbo can never mature into the hero he becomes unless he leaves the protection of the father figure and is forced to face dangers on his own. It is only when Bilbo has reached the pinnacle of his heroic stature that Gandalf reappears to pronounce the judgment “Well done” upon Bilbo’s actions (258).

Gandalf seems less powerful here than he will be in The Lord of the Rings. Along with Bilbo, he hides from the trolls and bests them only through trickery. He cannot defend the company against the army of goblins and wargs and is caught in the trees with them. He is, however, a respected counselor and adviser to those in power. Still, there is in The Hobbit a small indication of his role in The Lord of the Rings. He speaks with Thorin in the first chapter about finding the dwarf’s father in the dungeons of “the Necromancer” (37), and he later tells the dwarves that he cannot accompany them to Mirkwood because of “some pressing business away south” (137), which turns out to be helping to expel this Necromancer (who is, in fact, Sauron) from his fortress of Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood. In these episodes, Gandalf can be seen to presage his broader and more powerful role in the trilogy.

The creature Gollum appears in only one chapter of The Hobbit —“Riddles in the Dark”—but he is one of the most memorable of the novel’s characters and one who becomes vitally important in The Lord of the Rings . Here, Gollum is a creature who lives by stealth in an underground cave, subsisting on the slimy fish he finds in the underground lake or on the flesh of goblins that have become separated from their fellows and whom Gollum kills and eats through the power of invisibility that he has from his ring. The ring, he says, was his birthday present, and he refers to it as his “precious”—a term he also seems to use when talking to himself (a habit he seems to have developed from long years of living alone in the darkness). Thus, he either personifies the ring in his own mind or sees it as an extension of himself. This explains why he is so devastated when he finds he has lost the ring, and why he hates Bilbo so ferociously when he realizes that Bilbo has, in fact, found it and used it to become invisible to escape his vengeance.

In The Hobbit, the origins of the creature Gollum are never explored, nor is the origin of the ring itself. The name Gollum presumably is an imitation of the sound the creature makes in its throat when it swallows, although the name also sounds like the legendary golem of Jewish folklore—a mindless inhuman automaton. But there is some humanity in Gollum, who seems to enjoy the riddle contest with Bilbo (at least as long as he thinks he will be able to eat Bilbo in the end) as an actual social event that allows him to interact with another sentient creature for the first time in untold years. Gollum’s mind is still keen, if twisted, and he is able to solve Bilbo’s riddles and pose difficult ones of his own, although his riddles tend to be about things he knows best: a mountain, fish, and time. In some ways, Gollum is also a foil to Bilbo, reflecting perhaps in an extreme way on what Bilbo would have become if he had never left his own comfortable underground home: completely self-centered and thinking only about his next meal and the personal treasures he has hoarded.

Smaug is the great dragon that, in the days of Thorin’s grandfather, destroyed the dwarves’ kingdom of Erebor as well as the city of Dale at the foot of the Lonely Mountain, drove out the dwarves and men, and claimed the great treasure trove of the dwarves as his own. In The Hobbit, revenge on the dragon and reclaiming the treasure are the ultimate goals of the expedition of Thorin and company, although no one seems to have had any idea what, precisely, to do about the dragon that sits brooding on the treasure hoard. He is depicted as a great serpent with huge wings and fiery breath that he uses to burn and flatten the city of Lake-town in the novel. His hide is thick and resistant to blades or arrows, and although his underbelly is soft, his years of lying upon the treasure have encrusted it with precious stones that serve as an impenetrable armor.

Smaug knows every item in his hoard intimately, and he is infuriated when he finds that Bilbo has snatched a drinking cup from it. His keen sense of smell detects the invisible Bilbo when the hobbit comes down the tunnel to his hoard the second time, and his conversation with Bilbo at that point reveals the dragon to be intelligent and subtle. He sees through Bilbo’s riddles and plants seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind concerning the dwarves’ appreciation of his services. Smaug is also vengeful, attempting to destroy the dwarves and all their ponies after the theft of his cup and traveling south to destroy Esgaroth, the Lake-town, for the village’s part in aiding the dwarves and Bilbo on their journey. Of course, this results in his death, for Bilbo has seen the weak spot on his left breast during their conversation, and that information is carried to the archer Bard by an old thrush. Bard’s arrow strikes Smaug’s heart and kills him.

Tolkien based the character of the dragon chiefly on two sources. One was the third section of Beowulf, which depicts a great fire-breathing dragon who sits brooding on a treasure hoard, destroys a kingdom because of the theft of a cup from his hoard, and ultimately is killed by King Beowulf. The other source was the dragon Fafnir in Old Norse literature, particularly his depiction in “The Lay of Fafnir,” from the Elder Edda, where the dragon (wounded in his soft underbelly) is depicted as devious and tries to plant doubts in Sigurd’s mind about his mentor, the dwarf Regin. Tolkien uses the same idea of an insinuating beast whose hypnotic voice attempts to confuse and mislead his victim in his story of Túrin, both in The Silmarillion and in The Children of Húrin.

Oakenshield Thorin is the grandson of Thrain, the last dwarvish King under the Mountain in Erebor and heir to that kingdom. When he was a young man, the dragon Smaug drove him, along with his father and grandfather, from the Lonely Mountain, usurping their fortress and the great treasure they had accumulated there. At the beginning of The Hobbit , Thorin plans to lead 12 of his followers on an expedition to his ancestral home in an attempt to take revenge on the dragon and to recover some portion of his family’s lost treasure. In this he has the help and guidance of the wizard Gandalf the Grey, who recommends the hobbit Bilbo Baggins as a 14th member of the expedition.

Thorin acts as leader of the expedition, although he is not particularly effective. He speaks authoritatively, but in the beginning it is Gandalf who sees the company through its difficulties, and eventually it is Bilbo who rescues the dwarves from their difficulties and who actually confronts the dragon. In large part, Thorin is a foil to Bilbo: Whereas Bilbo is a humbler, self-effacing figure whose growing confidence never manifests itself as bluster or egoism, Thorin is highly conscious of his birth and his position, stubbornly resisting any perceived diminution of his authority. His obstinate silence in the face of the elven king’s questions about his presence in Mirkwood may seem like bold defiance, but it is part of a tendency that ultimately nearly destroys him and his companions.

Like most dwarves, Thorin has a deep fondness for treasure, and when he has gained back the dragon’s hoard and reclaimed his hereditary position as King under the Mountain, that fondness is transformed into pure greed, and his natural haughtiness is twisted into arrogance, ingratitude, and rashness. He refuses to share the treasure with the lake men who helped him on his journey, or with Bard, the dragon slayer, defying their besieging army and provoking them to attack. When he learns that Bilbo has given the besieging army the Arkenstone of Thrain, chief object of Thorin’s desire, he breaks with the hobbit who has saved his life, disavowing him.

Thorin redeems himself in the end, however, and recognizes the madness into which his greed has led him. He becomes a true leader, charging from his mountain fortress with his followers and rallying men, elves, and dwarves to him as he leads a final charge in the Battle of the Five Armies. Dying from his wounds, in his final meeting with Bilbo he renounces his harsh words and recognizes the hobbit’s simple wisdom and courage as preferable to his own behavior. He is buried under the Lonely Mountain, with the Arkenstone on his breast.

Analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Novels
Analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Analysis of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Fantasy Novels and Novelists

Further Reading Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2008. Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Couch, Christopher L. “From Under Mountains to Beyond Stars: The Process of Riddling in Leofric’s The Exeter Book and The Hobbit.” Mythlore 51 (Autumn 1987): 9–13, 55. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957. Green, William H. The Hobbit: A Journey into Maturity. New York: Twayne, 1995. Jung, Carl G. Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969. Lewis, Paul W. “Beorn and Tom Bombadil: A Tale of Two Heroes.” Mythlore 97/98 (Spring/Summer 2007): 145–159. Matthews, Dorothy. “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” In A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell, 27–40. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1975. Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. 2nd ed. Translated by Laurence Scott. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968. Rogers, Deborah Webster, and Ivor A. Rogers. J. R. R. Tolkien. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-Earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. ———. J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Tolkien, J. R. R. The Annotated Hobbit: Revised and Expanded Edition. Edited by Douglas A. Anderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. ———. The Hobbit. Rev. ed. New York: Ballantine, 1966. ———. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Wytenbroek, J. R. “Rites of Passage in The Hobbit.” Mythlore 13, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 5–8, 40.

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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Critical Essays Major Themes

The major theme of The Hobbit is the quest, one of the oldest themes in literature. As a scholar of ancient languages and literatures, Tolkien would have known the theme well through Greek and Norse myth and Old- and Middle-English poetry. The quest theme is central to the story of Beowulf, the Old-English epic about which Tolkien published an essay of lasting scholarly significance in 1937. The quest story best known to modern readers is probably the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail, in which a knight ventures forth in search of a sacred cup (the Grail) that he brings back to restore power to his king and, thus, improve the welfare of the kingdom. The Grail story is an important sub-plot in the middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which Tolkien edited with his friend E. V. Gordon and published in 1925. Given that a cup and the Grail are similar objects, it is interesting that it is a cup that Bilbo Baggins steals from the dragon's treasure when he first descends to Smaug's lair in Chapter 12.

The quest theme is related to two important features of The Hobbit and other works in which it occurs. The first of these is the journey plot structure. The protagonist or main character who embarks on a quest must physically go somewhere; his search involves travel, usually in a circular route such that he returns home with the object of his quest. The journey allows the main character to encounter various characters and circumstances that are unfamiliar and even threatening to him. Thus, novelty and suspense are built into the journey plot. Bilbo, for example, encounters Goblins, Wargs, elves, Gollum, and Smaug the dragon on his journey to help the dwarves retrieve their treasure, and he travels well beyond the hobbit-lands through Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains to the Lonely Mountain. Along the way, he escapes death several times, undergoes the privations of hunger and bad weather, and ultimately sees combat in the Battle of Five Armies. None of this would have been possible if he had stayed at home in the safety of his hobbit-hole. The structure of a journey plot is often described as episodic, meaning that the protagonist moves from scene to scene (or episode to episode) in a rather simple linear fashion; there is no complex interweaving of the various characters he meets throughout the story. This is generally true of The Hobbit: It is not until Chapter 15 that the various groups of creatures Bilbo encounters on his journey converge on the Lonely Mountain in what becomes the Battle of Five Armies.

The second important feature related to the quest theme is in the character development of the protagonist. In most quest stories, the physical journey serves as a metaphor for the personal growth of the questing character, for whom the quest is often the fulfillment of a personal destiny. As the protagonist travels physically farther from home, he develops psychologically and/or spiritually beyond the self he was when he started out. The episodes of the plot serve as trials and lessons to him, and when he finds the object of his quest, he also finds his authentic self. Bilbo, for example, begins his journey with the dwarves reluctantly, not at all sure that he is suited for it. Throughout much of the journey, he regrets his decision to join them and daydreams about the comforts of his own home that seem so attractive in comparison with the dramatic adventures he undergoes. In early episodes, when he is threatened with death, he must be rescued by Gandalf. As time goes on, however, Bilbo develops both ingenuity and courage, partly under the tutelage of Gandalf and partly through a combination of good luck and the exercise of his own will. It is apparently through luck that he finds the ring of invisibility in Gollum's cave, but its powers allow him, in the absence of Gandalf, to use his intelligence and courage to rescue the dwarves from the dungeon of the Elvenking and later take the Arkenstone to Bard in an attempt to prevent a war over the dragon's treasure. Bilbo is depicted as making sound ethical judgments and choosing to do good, as he does when he does not use the advantage of his sword and invisibility to kill Gollum. Like other quest heroes, Bilbo returns home at the end of his journey. In keeping with the tone of The Hobbit, however, his life is changed only subtly: He writes poetry and he lives somewhat eccentrically, more like his mother's family, the adventurous Tooks, than the Bagginses he so thoroughly resembled before.

Property and Community

Related to the quest theme is the theme of community, and in The Hobbit, you see the value of community especially in relation to property. The object of the quest hero's search is usually something that will improve the welfare of his community. In Arthurian legends like that of Gawain, for example, the kingdom has fallen to ruin and the king has become powerless. The Grail or sacred cup that Gawain brings back is meant to restore the power of the king and the welfare of the kingdom. In The Hobbit, there is a parallel in the disinherited situation of Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, who is no longer King under the Mountain like his grandfather and who has lost his birthright, the treasure trove, to Smaug the dragon. The town of Dale, once a thriving dwarf town, is in ruins; other stretches of landscape on the way to the Lonely Mountain are also described as desolate places where nothing can grow. Despite his dwarvish love for beautiful material things, Thorin does not want to reclaim the treasure only for himself; he wants it for the entire dwarf community so that their world can be restored to what it was under his ancestors, before the invasion of Smaug.

Smaug and Gollum represent the perverted use of property. They are monsters because isolation and selfishness such as theirs is evil. They do not recognize community; there are no other creatures like them. Smaug makes his home in the Lonely Mountain, and Gollum is so self-centered he does not even know the word for "you." They are vehemently opposed to sharing; indeed, they would rather kill than share what they possess, whether it be Gollum's ring of invisibility or Smaug's treasure trove. Smaug makes no use at all of the treasure trove; he only sits on top of it and sleeps. Ironically, Smaug is killed himself as he wages war in defense of his treasure. (Gollum, too, dies in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as he finally reclaims his prized possession, the ring of invisibility.)

But other characters possess lesser versions of Smaug's and Gollum's flaws. The Master of Lake-town, who is given a share of the treasure trove after the Battle of Five Armies, becomes corrupted by the wealth. He does not share it to rebuild the town devastated by Smaug and he is described as falling prey to the dragon sickness. He loses power; Bard replaces him. At various times, the dwarves are described as being overly fond of material wealth, and there is a sense in which the pursuit of his personal ancestral treasure kills Thorin, although it also brings about the necessary death of Smaug.

Even Bilbo Baggins, that mildest of creatures, must learn to leave the safety of his home, where he lives alone, and act as part of a group. He is rather social in his own way, on his own terms, but his journey requires him to push himself beyond the limits of his own comfort. Whereas he formerly could think of nothing better than the solitary pleasure of a breakfast of eggs and bacon or a pipe full of tobacco, he eventually wins the respect of others for acting in their behalf. In agreeing to accompany the dwarves on their journey, he agrees to cooperate in a communal venture in which he has no personal investment.

The Uses of Power

One of the major themes of The Hobbit concerns the use of power on several different levels. Gandalf has magical powers that you see him use almost immediately. As the story begins, he places a secret mark on Bilbo Baggins' door that causes the dwarves to congregate at the hobbit-hole. He seems to know much more about Bilbo than can be explained, and he has a certain gift for prophecy. He uses a magic wand at times, and he appears and disappears at will. The full extent of his sorcery is demonstrated in The Lord of the Rings, but even in The Hobbit, Gandalf clearly has powers that exceed those of the other travelers. His magical power is reflected in his age and his wisdom.

Although much younger than Gandalf, Bilbo's wisdom increases throughout the story and as a quest hero, he very much develops a kind of personal power. He grows from a reluctant, rather cowardly creature who complains when he is hungry or rained upon into a clever and courageous one who rescues the dwarves from the dungeon of the Elvenking, defies both Gollum and Smaug, and survives the Battle of Five Armies. He gains the respect of his companions and develops a personal authority that defines him as a leader. When Gandalf temporarily leaves the group, Bilbo becomes the leader in essential ways: He devises plans and he volunteers to go first in risky situations. Although he is the beneficiary of a great deal of good luck, Bilbo also exercises his will to take on difficult tasks, like confronting Smaug, and he makes ethical choices, like when he spares Gollum's life. He declines heroism and chooses instead to live a relatively quiet life when he returns home, but it is a life enriched by the self-knowledge he achieves on his journey.

There are suggestions in The Hobbit that Tolkien is interested in the problem of a more worldly power than either Gandalf or Bilbo represents. At the beginning of the story, Gandalf tells Thorin that their journey requires a hero or a warrior, but he cannot find one because all the warriors are far away fighting each other. Later, in Chapter 4, the narrator explains that Goblins are so wicked they are probably responsible for inventing the machines that have since been used in war to kill many people at once. Such machines were a distinguishing feature of World War I, in which Tolkien served in France; formerly, wars had been fought much more as a series of hand-to-hand combats. As his writing of The Hobbit drew to a close, the events that would result in World War II were taking shape in Germany. Even his friend C. S. Lewis remarked that as Tolkien began writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, political events in Europe were imitating his "history" to an uncanny degree. There is no evidence that The Hobbit was intended as an anti-war fable, however; Tolkien was adamant that he was not interested in writing allegory. Nevertheless, Chapters 14 through XVII certainly depict the flaws inherent in political power. You see the leaders of various groups committed to war for personal gain — namely Smaug's treasure — and you see failures of diplomacy, as when Thorin refuses to parley with Bard because Bard has allied himself with the Elvenking. The personal failures of characters like Thorin, whose pride prevents him from negotiating peace, the Master of Lake-town, whose political power ultimately corrupts him, and Bilbo's failure to buy peace, in effect, with the Arkenstone represent an attitude toward war that is both critical and resigned. The Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, signed the Munich Agreement with Adolph Hitler as Tolkien was beginning the Rings trilogy; it was not be long before "monster" became the common description for Hitler.

The Storyteller's Voice

Readers frequently comment on the voice of the narrator of The Hobbit, often attributing to it the book's success. Some have called it professorial, because it gives a great deal of information on rather esoteric topics like runes, the lifestyle of hobbits, and the ancient history of dwarves and elves. It is certainly congenial, however, and one of the reasons The Hobbit is so enjoyable to read is the pleasure the narrator takes in telling the story.

The story of The Hobbit is related from a third-person omniscient point of view; that is, by a narrator who is not a character in the story himself (there is no "I" in The Hobbit ) but who nonetheless knows everything there is to tell. He knows what some of the characters are thinking, especially more complex characters like Bilbo, Gollum, and Smaug. He describes Bilbo's daydreams about food and tobacco, for example, and the alternatives he faces when making choices; he describes Gollum's unique psychology.

This narrator also knows what will happen in the future of the story. The first time Bilbo thinks longingly of his hobbit-hole and wishes he were back home, the narrator explicitly tells you that this will not be the last time Bilbo has such regrets. On different occasions, he reveals that a certain character or place won't be seen again; he hints at the future death or disappearance of some characters. When Bilbo is rescued by the Lord of the Eagles, you are told (Chapter 7) that Bilbo won't see the eagles again until the Battle of Five Armies (Chapter 17). In his prophetic vision, the narrator shares some of Gandalf's magical power; this is consistent with the power that has traditionally been attributed to storytellers. He is in control of the plot of the story.

On the most superficial level, the journey of Bilbo and the dwarves conforms to the maps, drawn by Tolkien himself, that serve as the endpapers for most editions of the book. More subtly, the narrator draws your attention to the significance of events, as when Bilbo finds the ring of invisibility, that you might otherwise pass over. When a character is mistaken, the narrator sometimes shares with you the more accurate judgment, the better decision that could have been made. Despite the fact that he is narrating a story of his own invention, he assumes you are in sympathy with him and even share in his knowledge, as when he identifies the Wood-elves and comments that "of course" that is what they are.

At one point in the story, Tolkien offers a peek behind the scenes, as it were, to see the crafted structure of his plot. After Smaug has flown out of the Lonely Mountain in a rage and destroyed Esgaroth, the narrator begins Chapter 14 by asking you to go back two days to imagine the terror the people of Esgaroth felt as they saw Smaug descend upon them.

These narrative intrusions — places where the narrator breaks in upon his own story, destroying any illusion that it is reality unfolding before you — contribute to your sense that the plot is being capably managed and that the story is told by someone who really does know, down to the smallest detail, what happened. You are, in other words, in the hands of a master storyteller. While there is no "I" in The Hobbit, you find a great many references to "you," the reader. Tolkien's great attention to you as you read The Hobbit, his care that you understand every detail along the way, and his welcoming you into the world in which his story takes place accounts for much that makes the narrative voice so attractive.

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The Hobbit Essays

J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Hobbit as a prelude to his much larger and famous work, The Lord of the Rings. It is a story about a hobbit that was recruited by a wizard to help dwarfs recover their ancient home from a fierce dragon. He was chosen by the wizard, Gandalf, because he always believed that...

The Hobbit: A Review Introduction The book I read and analyzed was "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien . I shall discuss the plot and character development, setting, author's style and my opinions about it. Plot Development There are too many characters in the story and so it is hard to follow and...

1 119 words

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Sarah

by J.R.R. Tolkien

The hobbit themes, solitude and nostalgia.

Gollum is an interesting piece of the puzzle. Sitting on a rock within a subterranean lake, besieged by memories of life with his grandmother above ground, Gollum is an allusion to Caliban, a pitiable, doomed-to-be-evil malcontent who appears in Shakespeare's The Tempest and reappears in "Caliban upon Setebos," a famous Victorian poem. Like Caliban, Gollum has a history that includes a brief education, a maternal unit, life above ground and more happiness than the present. Caliban is named for cannibalism and marked by his inability to speak properly; Gollum is named for the talking sound he makes while eating and as far as eating goes, Gollum is more than willing to voice his grammatically improper desire to eat Bilbo or anything else. Gollum's dismal state stimulates a brief flash of sympathy, for his loss of his magical ring (another parallel to the alluded Caliban) is a well-timed juxtaposition to Bilbo's growing nostalgia and magical power (much like Caliban's victorious adversary).

Sleep and Unconsciousness

In the first few chapters, we find that sleep is one of the few cherished joys of the hobbits. Things change as the quest requires Bilbo's maturation into a full hero. Chapter 8 offers an interesting fusion of sleep, lethargy and unconsciousness. We find Bilbo's victory is achieved because he is a light sleeper, while Bombur's dip into the water has made him blissfully forgetful. This is an allusion to the dark waters of the underworld (Greek mythology). The river Lethe, from which we get the word lethargy, inspired an erasure of memory. The opiate and narcotic effects of the underworld are repeated in this same chapter as the "dinner dreams" (fires set by numerous elves) seem to be forged in some hellish furnace, a deliberate effort to lure the travelers off of their path. Continuing with the idea of sleep, we can also see the archetypal forest and residential elves paving a way to Shakespeare's hilarious "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This is not an allusion; rather, both works take the old images and ideas surrounding sleep, forests and elves and employ them in new efforts that encourage us to reconsider who we think our noble hero is, where we think our homes are, and what we think is happening while we sleep. Tolkien retains Protestantism's intense suspicion of sleep and only when we are deep within the elven lands can we glimpse the beauty and revelry of unsuspecting, bewitched sleep‹a pagan vestige that Shakespeare secured by placing his story within an explicitly pre-Christian setting (Athens of ancient Greece).

Captivity, Surveillance and Invisibility

This is of primary importance when we remember that Bilbo has stolen a ring that makes him invisible. Throughout the novel, the need ot hide oneself is present and one thing that certainly distinguishes this group of travelers from an ordinary set of heroes, is the fact that they are always hiding in fear of a lurking monster. Creatures like Gollum thrive on the advantage they have‹to see others while remaining invisible. We also see this power used for good in the examples of Bilbo and Gandalf . The issue of surveillance is very connected to the theme of captivity as the group is captured in every other chapter. Bilbo is able to play a hero's role by using his invisibility to avoid initial captivity. Then, he can invisibly rescue his friends. He can help his friends to share his freedom, but in the end, he cannot share his magic with them.

Wisdom and Knowledge

This story is full of maps, keys and clever games of riddles. All of this helps to balance the magic of the story. Besides fate and magic, there is a good deal of wisdom that is necessary in order for Bilbo to become a successful hero. We find characters like Elrond , who is able to decipher the moon-runes, and Bard , who is able to understand the language of the bird, Roac . At the end of the novel, Bilbo's own foray into political intrigue demonstrates that he has gained a certain sensibility. And this is no small feat, as the Ring tends to make its bearer foolhardy and unwise, rather than cautious, generous and patient.

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The Hobbit Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for The Hobbit is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

Which of these inferences is best supported by the text on page 108?

A. Being carried in flight by the eagle terrifies Bilbo

The Hobbit ch. 19

The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance, both under the Hill and over the Hill, and across the Water; it was a great deal more than a nine days’ wonder. The legal bother , indeed, lasted for years . It was quite a long time...

Who are the two most important voices in Lake-town following Smaugs death? What are their differing perspectives.

Bard and Thorin's voices are the most important after the death of Smaug. Thorin wants all of the treasure based upon the fact that so much was stolen from the dwarves. Bard, however, petitions Thorin, reminding him that not all of Smaug's...

Study Guide for The Hobbit

The Hobbit study guide contains a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About The Hobbit
  • The Hobbit Summary
  • Character List
  • Chapters 1-4 Summary and Analysis

Essays for The Hobbit

The Hobbit essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

  • Tolkien's Hobbit: From Children's Story to Mythic Creation
  • Heroes and the Hobbit
  • Sting and Bilbo: Significance of the Small in The Hobbit
  • Archetypes of Englishness in The Hobbit and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Impact of Setting in The Hobbit

Lesson Plan for The Hobbit

  • About the Author
  • Study Objectives
  • Common Core Standards
  • Introduction to The Hobbit
  • Relationship to Other Books
  • Bringing in Technology
  • Notes to the Teacher
  • Related Links
  • The Hobbit Bibliography

Wikipedia Entries for The Hobbit

  • Introduction
  • Concept and creation
  • Critical analysis

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Tolkien was an academic, being a professor at Pembroke College at Oxford. In the early 1930s, his works mostly consisted of children’s literature, which included poetry, nursery rhymes, and other types of writing for young adults. At this time, he was even making his own elven language and mythology, which he had been developing since 1917 (Rateliff, John D.).

According to a letter Tolkien sent to W.H. Auden in 1955, Tolkien began writing The Hobbit in the early 1930s while marking up papers by his students. He saw a blank page, and started to write, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He was greatly inspired to write the story, and the first manuscript of The Hobbit was finished in 1932 (Carpenter, Humphrey). He handed the manuscript to his friends, including C.S. Lewis and Elaine Griffiths, a student of his. Griffiths later was the catalyst for the publishing of The Hobbit . When a staff member of the publishing company George Allen & Unwin, Susan Dagnall, came to Oxford, Griffiths either lent the book to Dagnall or was suggested to borrow it from Tolkien. Dagnall enjoyed the novel, and handed over the manuscript to a 10-year-old boy to receive a child’s point of view. With a favorable review from the child, George Allen & Unwin agreed to publish The Hobbit (Carpenter, Humphrey).

Before getting into how the book became a success, let us look into Tolkien’s influences for the story. William Morris, who was a 19th-century English poet, translator, and creative genius, was a significant figure to Tolkien. In fact, Tolkien desired to write more in Morris’ romantic style. In particular, a chapter named The Desolation of Smaug was directly influenced by Morris’ style and ideas (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). Another writer that left an impression on Tolkien was Samuel Rutherford Crockett. His historical novel The Black Douglas and its villain Gilles de Retz inspired The Hobbit ‘s evil character Sauron. It is said the narrative style and even the events in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were influenced by The Black Douglas (Lobdell, Jared C.). The goblins within The Hobbit are closely associated with the goblins in the novel The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. In addition, MacDonald impressed upon Tolkien the role of fantasy in the context of Christianity ( J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment ). Another key influence on The Hobbit is Tolkien’s adoration of Norse mythology and Germanic philology. Not only are many myths from Norse mythology adapted into The Hobbit , the names of the characters have a distinct Old Norse feel to them (Rateliff, John D.). And speaking of characters, the dwarves were modeled after ancient Jewish people and their history (Rateliff, John D.). Last but not least, the epic Beowulf was the main inspiration behind the world Tolkien wanted to create. As Tolkien was a respected scholar of Beowulf , The Hobbit was in part a tribute to the epic and a reworking of it (Purtill, Richard L.).

After The Hobbit was published in 1937 on the 21st of September, it quickly sold copies amidst highly favorable reviews (Hammond, Wayne G.). Already by December of 1937, the publisher was asking for a sequel. Tolkien had to rework some of The Hobbit to match the tone of the sequel that eventually became The Lord of the Rings . In fact, he was still making edits to The Hobbit until 1966, through many editions ( The Annotated Hobbit ).

The Hobbit , which jumpstarted Tolkien’s career as an author, became not only a success, but also a worldwide phenomenon of fantasy and mythology. The Hobbit and the ensuing trilogy of The Lord of the Rings is so ingrained in world culture, that it is now unimaginable to think of our planet without this treasured novel. Through Tolkien’s love of literature, he incorporated many tales into The Hobbit , and improved their plots, mythology, and sense of kinship with readers.

Rateliff, John D. (2007). The History of the Hobbit . London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-723555-1.

Carpenter, Humphrey (1977), Tolkien: A Biography , New York: Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-04-928037-6.

Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien , Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-31555-7.

Lobdell, Jared C. (2004). The World of the Rings: Language, Religion, and Adventure in Tolkien . Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9569-0.

Drout, Michael D. C., ed. (2007). J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment . Routledge. ISBN 0-4159-6942-5.

Purtill, Richard L. (2006). Lord of the Elves and Eldils . Ignatius Press. pp. 53–55. ISBN 1-58617-084-8.

Hammond, Wayne G.; Anderson, Douglas A. (1993), J. R. R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography , New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, ISBN 0-938768-42-5.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2003) [1937]. Anderson, Douglas A., ed. The Annotated Hobbit . London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-713727-3.

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Essay Topics and Study Questions on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (08.01.14 by Robert Morris) - var disqus_shortname = 'tolkienlibrary'; (function () { var s = document.createElement('script'); s.async = true; s.type = 'text/javascript'; s.src = 'https://' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/count.js'; var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = 'https://tolkienlibrary.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('HEAD')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('BODY')[0]).appendChild(s); }()); Comments

Essay Topics and Study Questions on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Suggested topics for essay

1. Describe how Tolkien relies on humor to portray the adventures in The Hobbit . Which authorial techniques does he use to bring a light element to the most serious parts of the plot? Does this style of writing make The Hobbit a comedy? 2. How does Tolkien portray the importance of wealth? What is the attitude towards material goods and property of the characters in The Hobbit ? Whose approach is praised and approved in the book and why? 3. What factors does the author use to define the characters’ identity in The Hobbit ? Are the persons in the plot determined by race, family and other static factors, or they have power over their personal development?

Study questions

1. Does Thorin fall under the definition of a ‘hero’? Is the death of this character expected and justified after his actions throughout the novel?

Thorin is a complex individual that shows both lovable and repulsive characteristics. By the start of the Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield deserves disrespect and antipathy by most readers and many of the characters in the book. However, his personality also has aspects worthy of respect, especially when he shows exceptional bravery and determination while reclaiming the treasure of his ancestors from Smaug. He rises and falls throughout the book, and his failings are mostly associated to the common characteristics of all dwarves – imperious ego and greed for gold. Thorin’s greatest sin is the ingratitude he shows to the characters that support him, such as the lake men who gave their lives for the victory over Smaug. Thorin is so adamant about the legitimate right to that gold, that he is dishonorable to his benefactors. However, to his credit, he does regret his mistakes in the end and admits his wrongs to Bilbo. However, it is nearly impossible to list this character under the ‘heroic’ category. The main thing he lacks is the ability to think of plans and execute them. Bilbo is the one who gets him through the difficulties that come at his way. 

2. Bilbo seems to be completely happy in the hobbit community, but he is not entirely accepted there. At the end of the novel, does he belong in Hobbiton? How can the relation between simple life and heroism be balanced? How does Tolkien approach this issue?

Heroism seems contradictory to the simple life at the beginning of the novel, but these two concepts become complementary at the end of the novel. Bilbo’s resumption of the simple life after proving his courage and wisdom is part of his heroic characteristics. As Thorin says, if all proud warriors learned from the way hobbits live, the world would be a much happier place. When Bilbo returns to Hobbiton and embraces simple life at the end, he proves that evil is obsolete. Even though Bilbo doesn’t belong in the community as far as the hobbits are concerned, there is no other place he belongs to more to than Hobbiton.

3. Are humans portrayed as a good race? Where do they fit in between the races of Middle-Earth?

All races of Middle-Earth possess very distinguishing, constant characteristics. Humans have goodness in them, but this aspect of their personality varies. Tolkien presents humans as creatures capable of determining their own graciousness. Bard, as a great example, is grim, but a kind man that can easily be dubbed as a hero. The old Master of Lake Town, on the other hand, is devious, calculating, and selfish in a way that is almost pitiful when he dies seizing the stolen gold out in the desert. Although the good in humans often prevails, they are somewhere in the middle between the goblins, who are the really evil ones, and elves, who are the true good race.

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“The Hobbit” by Tolkien, Essay Example

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The Hobbit book by J.R.R. Tolkien is set in Middle Earth and was first published in early 1937 (Tolkien 11).  The book mainly illustrates and a comfort hobbit-hole that belongs to Bilbo Baggins, who is the main character in the story.  The books also mainly deal with children literature and mostly involve a number of similarities as the Beowulf story (Tolkien 13).  This is because hobbit Bilbo Baggins struggles to win a share of a treasure guarded by the dragon just like in the Beowulf story. Bilbo journey takes him to various sinister settings in the story and allows him reach high levels of maturity as depicted at the end of the story (Tolkien 15).   Therefore, the main purpose and aim of this paper is to focus on the development of Bilbo as the chief character in the book and the changes that take place along his journey at particular moments in the story. The paper will also evaluate whether these are bad or good changes as depicted in the story.

Bilbo Character Development in “The Hobbit” Story by J.R.R Tolkien

Bilbo is the main character and the chief protagonist in the story (Tolkien 21).  He is depicted by the author as one of the courageous and heroic character in the story (Harris 72). Although various characters are corrupted by greed at the beginning of the story, Bilbo maintains high integrity in the story (Tolkien 31).  At beginning and start of the story, he is depicted as the most comfortable hobbits, and he loves foods, drinks as well as security. This is indicated when he snug some little hole at the Bad end especially under the hill (Tolkien 14).

Later in the story, the author introduced Bilbo family life including his involvement with Gandalf under the mountain (Corliss 11). This later gives him gradual development and transformation from a small size homebody to a brave, courageous and confident hero. He is able to hold the dwarves group together due to his cunning tricks, and this allows him to save and rescue them from spiders and wood elves in the Mirkwood (Tolkien 131). After finding his way to the mountain, he leads the group to the treasure; he discovers the Smaug’s weak spot and also attempts to thwart Thorin’s greed (Parman 36).  Through this, he brings peace to the elves, humans, and the feuding dwarves (Tolkien 111).

In that sense, Tolkien portrays Bilbo development and changes in the story by depicting him as a small man at the start of the story but later develops into a heroic, confident and brave character in the story (Parman 34). Despite remarkable deeds, Bilbo as the character does not change him (Epps 122). Furthermore, he realizes he has unique and good characters but he does not act arrogantly (Tolkien 167). Thorin also manages to learn how to survive in the outer world from heroic deeds and characters (Tolkien 173). Therefore, due to his ability to save the humans and the elves, it is clear that Bilbo developed into a hero in the story.

Works Cited

Corliss, Richard. “Review: Do Enlist In The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies.” Time.Com (2014): 11.

Epps, Peter G. “Joseph Pearce. Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of the Hobbit.” Christianity & Literature 64.1 (2014): 122-126.

Harris, Jennifer. “A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.” Library Journal 137.18 (2012): 72.

Parman, Sue. “A Song for J. R. R. Tolkien.” Antioch Review 73.1 (2015): 34-44.

Tolkien, J. R. “The Hobbit”.  (1937): 11-410

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the hobbit essay thesis

J.R.R. Tolkien

Everything you need for every book you read..

Coming of Age Theme Icon

Coming of Age

Although Bilbo Baggins is “fully grown” at the beginning of The Hobbit , his adventures teach him to be brave, to take responsibility for himself and for others, and to develop skills he didn’t know he had: in effect, to grow up. When Gandalf and the dwarves approach Bilbo with an offer to be their burglar, Bilbo is so satisfied with his life and his home that the mere thought of adventure is enough to…

Coming of Age Theme Icon

The Power of Language

During The Hobbit , Bilbo , Gandalf , and the dwarves confront countless dangers: spiders, goblins, wood-elves, wolves, a dragon, etc. To defend themselves, they use an equally vast number of weapons: knives, daggers, spells, fire, rocks, sticks. Yet one of the most important weapons that they use—and one of the most important skills Bilbo develops on his travels—is language. In the early chapters of the book, Bilbo exhibits almost no sophisticated command of language…

The Power of Language Theme Icon

Greed, Trust, Fellowship

Virtually every one of The Hobbit ’s primary characters—including both the heroes and the villains—is at least partially motivated by a desire for unnecessary material things. Smaug , the primary antagonist of the novel, is so greedy that he notices when Bilbo steals a single cup from his vast collection of treasure. (Tolkien notes that his anger is that of a rich man who’s lost something he never uses.) The dwarves are struggling to reclaim…

Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel, and it contains many of the genre’s traditional tropes: a quest, treasure, a dark forest, and even a dragon. With this in mind, it’s worth asking who the hero—arguably the most important fantasy trope — of The Hobbit is, and how Tolkien defines heroism. Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of The Hobbit , meaning that he’s the default hero. In the early chapters of the book, Bilbo is cowardly…

Heroism Theme Icon

Home and Birthright

The desire and love for a home motivates most of the main characters in The Hobbit . Sometimes, the characters’ desires for home contradict each other. For instance, Bilbo Baggins says at many points throughout his journey that he regrets ever leaving his home in hobbit-town, while the dwarves with whom he’s embarking on his adventure seek to return to (and reclaim from Smaug) their home under the Lonely Mountain. In many cases, having home…

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Books — The Hobbit

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Essays on The Hobbit

Prompt examples for "the hobbit" essays, the hero's journey in "the hobbit".

Examine the hero's journey as experienced by Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit." How does Bilbo evolve as a character throughout his adventure, and what challenges and transformations does he undergo?

Character Analysis: Bilbo Baggins

Analyze the character of Bilbo Baggins. Explore his personality, motivations, and the role he plays in the story. How does Bilbo's character development drive the narrative?

Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

Discuss the themes of friendship and loyalty in "The Hobbit." How do the relationships between characters like Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves illustrate these themes?

Tolkien's World-Building

Explore J.R.R. Tolkien's world-building in "The Hobbit." Discuss the creation of Middle-earth, its races, creatures, and geography. How does this world enhance the storytelling?

The Role of the Ring

Analyze the significance of the One Ring in "The Hobbit." How does it connect to the larger narrative of Tolkien's Middle-earth, and what effects does it have on the characters who possess it?

Conflict and Resolution

Discuss the major conflicts in "The Hobbit" and how they are resolved. How does Bilbo contribute to resolving these conflicts, and what does this reveal about his character?

Moral and Ethical Choices

Examine the moral and ethical choices made by characters in "The Hobbit." What dilemmas do they face, and how do their decisions shape the course of the story?

Symbolism in "The Hobbit"

Identify and analyze symbols used throughout "The Hobbit." How do these symbols enrich the narrative and convey deeper meanings within the story?

Comparative Analysis: "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"

Compare and contrast "The Hobbit" with J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" series. How do the two works differ in tone, themes, and storytelling style?

Impact and Legacy of "The Hobbit"

Discuss the lasting impact of "The Hobbit" on literature and popular culture. How has Tolkien's work influenced the fantasy genre and subsequent generations of authors?

The Presence of Norse Mythology in 'The Hobbit'

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Bilbo's Character Transformation in 'The Hobbit'

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Analyzing The Hobbit Through The Lenses of Rabinowitz Rules of Reading

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Personal Recommendation: The Hobbit

The hobbit: a mythical story with realistic characters, the hobbit: an adventure between the lines , the idea of good and evil throughout the book 'the hobbit', the image of a classic hero: bilbo baggins, the role of food scenes in 'the hobbit', the significance of setting in hobbit, the hobbit: how children's story becomes a myth, beowulf and batman: exploring the degrees of heroism, relevant topics.

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the hobbit essay thesis

Character Development of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit Essay Sample

Personalities and people change throughout  a span of time. In literature, characters might become more of an introvert or become more of an extroverted person. Some people start to become more understanding and confident while some people start to become mean and self-aware. The Novel, The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien is the story of an old man who goes on a quest to find a share of the treasure guarded by a dragon. The protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, was, at first, a very shy and cowardly normal hobbit. He Was shown as a character who was comfortable in his small hobbit hole, and wanted nothing to do with the outside world. Throughout the tale, Bilbo grows and changes in a favourable way and he evolves into an Intelligent, brave, dependable, loyal, and strong Hobbit . In the novel, the main character, Bilbo Baggins, has serious doubts about The quest. However he is overcoming his troubles and fears through this trip and becomes a hero to all, who stays humble and true to himself.

As we began the story, Bilbo's qualities did not appear to be as promising. Bilbo, like other hobbits, was comfortable and carefree. He enjoys his safety, cuisine, tea, and shelter, and he enjoys his isolated hideaway hole. Bilbo starts out as a weak and ignorant character, however over time he matures into a figure eager to exchange challenges with a dragon. Relationships play an important role in Bilbo's heroism. Even though he comes to enjoy adventure and travel as the novel develops, he made it pretty clear on his first journey with Gandalf that he preferred to be at home in his hobbit hole. This quote demonstrates that he did not want to go on this quest “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.” {page 36} He is always constantly exhausted, although this changes throughout the novel. When Bilbo, the dwarfs, and Gandalf were taken captive by the goblins in the cave in the mountains, he was afraid, but when he saw Gollum, he was still scared, but he had the strength to engage him with his riddles. He didn't yell and flee when he spotted all the goblins guarding the gate; instead, he snuck past them, and became lost in the woods. His bravery didn't stop there. He was okay to change and matured as a result of his friends' support.

As we progress through the book, Bilbo's character begins to change for the better. When Gandalf agrees to help Bilbo in Thorin's search for the treasure under the mountain, Bilbo has a gradual change, developing from a shy homebody at the start of the novel to a fearless and brave hero by the end. Bilbo gradually becomes the dominant force holding the bunch of helpless dwarves together as the journey unfolds, displaying a huge amount of hidden intelligence and strength. He saves them from goblins by calling out to Gandalf, he saves them from wood elves, as well as spiders in Mirkwood. This quote shows when bilbo saves the dwarves from the giant spiders and starts to feel more fearless and confident, “Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great diffrench to Mr baggins. He felt a different person , and much fierce and bolder in spite of an empty stomach.” He discovers the way into the mountain, he leads them to the treasure, he uncovers Smaug's major weakness.

As we progress through the novel and near the end, Bilbo rises as a hero. “‘Go on! Go on!’ he shouted. ‘I will do the stinging!’ And he did. He darted backwards and forwards, slashing at spider-threads, hacking their legs and stabbing at their fat bodies as they came near.” (Tolkien 164). This quote emphasises Bilbo's role as a hero since he demonstrates both courage and confidence when he risked his life to save the dwarves. Bilbo is a hero because he is prepared to put his life on the line to save the dwarves. Bilbo's brave and noble actions are even more impressive since they have no effect on him. He finds abilities he didn't even realize he had. however he doesn't become cocky or abandon his ideals. Thorin realises the worth of hobbits' comfortable lifestyle in his final chat with Bilbo, even in a world of harsh bravery and danger. Even as Bilbo learns to survive in the outside world, he continues to take power from the simple resource that directed him on his heroic journey. Despite his newfound heroics, Bilbo has stayed faithful to himself throughout the novel, as evidenced by his decision to return to his little hobbit hole near the end.

In Conclusion, Bilbo Baggins evolves from his pretty shy self, to a generally brave and kind of humble character, or so they really thought. As he kind of finishes his quest, he actually finds his love in adventuring in a definitely major way. He literally was able to overcome many fears and challenges throughout this quest, particularly further showing how in Conclusion, Bilbo Baggins evolves from his for all intents and purposes shy self, to a definitely brave and definitely humble character in a major way. Bilbo Baggins, was, at first, a very shy and cowardly normal hobbit. He Was shown as a character who was comfortable in his small hobbit hole, and wanted nothing to do with the outside world. Throughout the tale, Bilbo grows and changes in a favourable way and he evolves into an Intelligent, brave, dependable, loyal, and strong Hobbit . In the novel, the main character, Bilbo Baggins, has serious doubts about The quest. However he is overcoming his troubles and fears through this trip and becomes a hero to all, who stays humble and true to himself.

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“The Hobbit”: Book vs. Movie Essay

Introduction, events deleted or changed in the movie, changes that enhance the film, political imagery in the hobbit book and film.

In the book, The Hobbit, the author, JR Tolkien tells a story of short, contented humanlike creatures called hobbits. In this fantasy story, Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, a Gandalf, a wizard, and a group of midgets set out on an adventure to repossess stolen treasure hidden in the Lonely Mountain. A fiery dragon, Smaug, claims ownership of the treasure after acquiring it during an earlier invasion. The band of fourteen endures hostile weather conditions, constant attacks and abductions, and starvation on their way to the Lonely Mountain. After fighting many battles, they recover the dwarves’ treasure and begin their journey back to the hobbit lands. The dwarves share some of their treasure with Bilbo for his role in its recovery. Bilbo returns to his hobbit-hole a changed hobbit. It is evident that the ‘adventure’ to the Lonely Mountain transformed Bilbo into a wise and knowledgeable hobbit.

The book was adapted into a film named The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey . However, several modifications and additions to the screenplay make the film different from the Hobbit book. The names of places, characters, and events are the same in both the book and the movie. The plot has also been conserved in the movie. Striking differences between the Hobbit book and its movie version relate to the use of imagery, dialogue, and alliteration. This essay compares and contrasts the Hobbit book and the movie based on the differences and similarities between the two.

In chapter one, the events preceding the quest (the unexpected party) have been modified in the movie. The book’s description of the Hobbits’ stature and landscape has been changed in the screenplay. The book describes them as being half the size of humans, but some scenes of the movie depict Bilbo’s as having the same height as that of dwarf. As the story begins, Gandalf enters through Bilbo’s door and requests him to join the dwarves on an adventure to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo flatly rejects this offer. In contrast, the movie begins with “an unexpected party”, which follows the scene where Bilbo refuses Gandalf’s offer. Although Bilbo declines the offer, out of his kind-heartedness, he invites him for tea (supper) the following day, but soon rues his decision. This does not happen in the movie. Gandalf just shows up at the party without Bilbo’s invitation.

Moreover, in the book, the story is narrated from the author’s perspective. In contrast, in the movie, the story revolves around Bilbo and the dwarves. A prologue in the movie introduces the audience to the story. Tolkien reveals to the reader the history of the Middle Earth, the origin of the Hobbits, and the Dwarves’ current situation in his book. This sets out the context for the story. After declining the offer, Bilbo enters his hobbit-hole and shuts his “round green door”, which Gandalf marks to enable the dwarves to locate the hobbit.

The same events are replicated in the movie. The dwarves come to Bolbi’s home in five different groups: Dwalin Balin, Kili and Fili, Ori, Gloin, Oin, Dori, and Nori, Bifur, Bombur, Bofur, and Thorin. Each group dons brightly coloured attires and carry musical instruments. In the novel, Thorin is the last one to join the “unexpected party”. In contrast, in the film adaptation, Thorin enters the party in the company of three dwarves, Bombur, Bofur, and Bifur. In addition, the visitors carry no tools.

The events of the unexpected party have also been changed in the film adaptation. The book describes Bag-End, Bilbo’s abode, as having a cellar (room) that serves as a liquor store. During the party, Bilbo prepares and serves food to his guests. In comparison, in the movie, the dwarves serve themselves and help clean up the place after the party. A soothing music that involves different instruments, including flutes, a drum, clarinets, viols, and a harp, is played after the party. The music they played sounds good as the attendees, including Gandalf, dance to its rhythm. However, in the movie, dwarves’ music sounds like a dirge. The attendees do not dance to it. Moreover, unlike in the text, the dwarves use no musical instruments in the music.

In the book, Gandalf remarks that a goblin, named Azog, killed Thorin’s father and grandfather during the great Dwarf-Goblin War. However, in the movie, Azog, though missing an arm, appears well and alive. Moreover, in the book, the illustration of the dragon, Smaug, is red in colour. Although Bilbo later describes the dragon as golden-red, the map hanging on the wall of the Bag-End depicts him as red. In contrast, the movie depicts the dragon as simply a sketch with no colour. Moreover, a map hanging on the Bag-End walls (the Hobbiton area) is also missing in the film adaptation. After the party, Bilbo ushers his guests to different rooms to sleep before retiring to his bed for the night. Thorin is heard singing as Bilbo goes to sleep. The same events are replicated in the film adaptation.

The characters in the book also differ from those in the movie. In the movie, the elderly Bilbo tells his nephew, Frodo (played by Elijah Wood), about his epic journey to distant lands. However, Frodo is not in the Tolkien’s novel and thus, the conversation with his uncle is missing. Moreover, Tolkien’s description of the Hobbits’ appearance is not reflected in the film adaptation. Tolkien describes them as short, rotund creatures (middle-aged) with long brown fingers and deep chuckles. In Jackson’s adaptation of the book, the characters are neither short nor fat.

Another incident that is missing in the film adaptation relates to Bilbo’s attempt to escape from his hobbit hole to boycott the impending adventure. In the book, the author writes that Bilbo schemed to avoid accompanying the dwarves in their quest to recover their lost treasures. This description is missing in the film adaptation. Bilbo’s ancestry is also missing in the movie. Tolkien explains that Bilbo, in many ways, bore remarkable resemblance to his mother, Belladonna Took. Took is said to be half-fairy, which gave her magic powers. Bilbo’s maternal ancestry, though unconfirmed, gave him a knack for mystic adventures. This explains why the dwarves want him to accompany them in the current quest.

Furthermore, some events have been introduced in the movie. Radagast the Brown, a wizard, plays a major role in the movie. The film depicts him as a gentle and queer person who loves animals. On one occasion, he distracts a group of goblins in pursuit of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs allowing them to escape. In contrast, Radagast does not feature much in the book. Another scene that is portrayed differently in both the film and the book involves Bilbo’s interaction with a group of Trolls. In the book, Bilbo follows the Trolls into the woods and steals items from them while in the film the object of his pursuit is to free the dwarves’ horses, which the goblins had taken.

The pursuit takes Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gendalf into the Troll’s cave, where they discover three magic swords: the Orcrist, the Glamdring, and the Sting. In the film, Gandalf gives Bilbo the Sting (a Hobbit Sword). However, in the book, Bilbo selects the Sting by himself and thus, decides his own fate.

Another striking difference between the Hobbit book and film relates to the disappearance of the ponies. The novel states that the Trolls took away and ate the ponies that belonged to Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gandalf. However, in the film it is revealed that the ponies vanished or “bolted” away. Moreover, during their quest, the group arrives at the elves’ Rivendell abode where they are given food and shelter. In contrast, in the film, the dwarves refuse to put up with the elves and request Gandalf to seek alternative shelter. Thus, the film, unlike the novel, depicts them as an ungrateful and disgruntled lot. In addition, throughout the film, Thorin and Bilbo seem to harbour ill feelings against each other.

Thorin criticizes Bilbo’s comfortable lifestyle at his home and believes he cannot withstand the challenges associated with the quest. Their hostility is revealed through their confrontations in various scenes of the film. In contrast, the two do not seem to harbour any ill feelings against each other in the book version.

Some alterations, additions, and deletions enhance the screenplay. Since the plot remains the same in both the book and the film, these changes serve as enhancements that make the film more appealing and clearer to the audience. One such alteration relates to the appearance of the Hobbits, the wizards, and the dwarves. In the novel, the Hobbits are depicted as short, rotund creatures while the dwarves appear short, hairy, and unattractive. Moreover, the wizards appear old and frail while the Gollum is depicted as an ugly beast with large eyes.

In contrast, in the adapted film, Peter Jackson makes many changes to the appearance of the characters. Thorin, although short, has no curly beards or additional arm-like structures on the nostrils like the rest of the dwarves. Additionally, Jackson gives this character a deep voice, which is characteristic of heroes. By comparison, the novel depicts Thorin as an unattractive, greedy, selfish, and vengeful individual whose intention for taking part in the quest is to kill Smaug and obtain the gold. The alterations made in the film are consistent with the characterizations present in Hollywood blockbuster movies. In addition, any adventure should have a hero who is appealing and strong to lead the quest. Thus, Thorin’s depiction in the film makes sense.

Another scene that greatly enhances the film relates to Bilbo’s retrieval of a gold ring. The film describes Gollum attempting to kill and eat a goblin. A struggle ensues as the goblin tries to free itself. During this struggle, a gold ring falls from Gollum’s pocket onto the ground. Bilbo retrieves and keeps it. The ring would later become useful in the quest. In contrast, in the novel, the details of how the ring disappears are left out. The novel only says that Bilbo retrieves it from the cave floor. The readers cannot know how the ring got lost in the first place. Thus, the alterations in the film improve the clarity of the plot and make the story more appealing to the audience.

In the final scenes of the film, angry giant wolves, named “wargs”, corner the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo. They climb tall trees to escape from the “wargs”, which continue to snap at them. To send them away, Gandalf lights some pine branches and throws them at the wags. He manages to send the “wargs” away, but, inadvertently, sets the trees on fire. Gandalf beckons the Eagles to come and save them from the raging inferno.

However, before the Eagles could arrive, the Pale Orc, the goblin leader, joins the “wargs” in trying to capture the wizard, the dwarves, and Bilbo who remains perched in one tree. Their weight makes the tree to bend dangerously low as the Pale Orc and the “wargs” wait for them to fall. In this scene, Bilbo draws his sword (the Sting) and attempts to fight off the “wargs”. Before the “wargs” could snatch him, the Eagles arrive and rescue the company from them. These additional events help bring a final climax to a scene, which in the novel version, is largely uneventful.

Moreover, in the novel, as Bilbo is carried away to safety, he appears terrified and shaken. The eagles tell him that he is out of danger. In contrast, in the film adaptation, the eagles have no ability to speak; they only lead him into safety. In this regard, Jackson depicts Bilbo as a confident hero whose fearless actions saves the dwarves and the wizards. In contrast, Tolkien portrays Bilbo as a lazy individual who cannot be useful during fights or wars. Given his fight with the “wargs” portrays him as hero.

In both the Hobbit novel and film, the portrayal of the events and characters has strong political connotations. They make political statements that represent or satirize the society. The sole purpose of the quest in The Hobbit was to retrieve certain ancestral treasures that would improve the livelihoods of the dwarves, as a community. The treasures would restore the fallen kingdom and enhance the livelihoods of the subjects. Thorin, the dwarves’ de facto leader and heir to the throne, had lost the Crown to a fiery dragon living on the Lonely Mountain.

Moreover, the dwarves’ ancestral town, Dale, was destroyed during the invasion of Smaug. Thus, Thorin knows that by regaining the treasure, he will reclaim the dwarves’ lost lands and wealth. The object of the treasure hunt is much clearer in the book than in the film, as the events in the book revolve around the quest to retrieve the treasure trove with Thorin as the leader.

The Hobbit also depicts greed and corruption among the ruling political class. Smaug and Gollum are portrayed as selfish and evil beings, which lack a sense of community. Smaug leads a lonely life at the Lonely Mountain, where he hides the treasure trove. He does not make any good use of the hidden treasure, but fiercely defends it. On the other hand, Gollum does not share his magical gold ring with the Bilbo. Additionally, the Master of Lake-town, after Thorin gives him a proportion of the treasure, becomes corrupt and greedy. He does not use the treasure to reconstruct the town after the war. As a result, he is removed from power and Bard takes over. These events are well detailed in the text compared to the film.

Political imagery is also evident in the way the characters use their powers. Gandalf uses his powers throughout the book and the film. After Bilbo declines to accompany the dwarves and the wizard on a quest to the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf labels his door. This allows the dwarves to track Bilbo to his hobbit hole. Gandalf also uses magic power to disappear and reappear miraculously. Bilbo’s power, on the other hand, grows throughout the book. Initially, he is depicted as a lazy and unadventurous individual, but as the story progresses, he grows in confidence and becomes a hero in the eyes of many. He saves the dwarves from the Elvenking cave and confronts Smaug and Gollum.

He becomes an influential leader during the quest when rescues the group during confrontation with the “wargs”. He seems to be the “lucky”, diplomatic, and wise individual. Despite possessing immense powers, Bilbo leads a simple quiet life. On the other hand, the goblins and Smaug are depicted as wicked creatures that prefer war to diplomacy. They represent political leaders who go into war for personal gain. The Hobbit book details the political actions of the characters more clearly than the film because the adaptation removed key events present in the book.

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1. IvyPanda . ""The Hobbit": Book vs. Movie." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-hobbit-book-vs-movie/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . ""The Hobbit": Book vs. Movie." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-hobbit-book-vs-movie/.

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The Chronicle

Duke no longer giving numerical rating to standardized testing, essays in undergraduate admissions

the hobbit essay thesis

Duke is no longer giving essays and standardized testing scores numerical ratings in the undergraduate admissions process.

The change went into place this year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag wrote in an email to The Chronicle. He explained that essays are no longer receiving a score because of a rise in the use of generative artificial intelligence and college admissions consultants.

When asked about how the admissions office determines if an essay is AI-generated or written by consultants and if applicants are hurt if the office determines so, Guttentag answered that "there aren't simple answers to these questions." 

Despite the changes, Guttentag wrote that essays and standardized testing scores are still considered in the admissions process. 

“Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant, we’re just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability,” he wrote. “Standardized tests (SAT or ACT) are considered when they’re submitted as part of the application.”

According to Guttentag, essays will now be used to “help understand the applicant as an individual rather, not just as a set of attributes and accomplishments.” He also wrote that the admissions office now values essays that give “insight into who the unique person is whose application we’re reading” and that “content and insight matter more than style.”

“Because of that they are not given a numerical rating, but considered as we think holistically about a candidate as a potential member of the Duke community,” he wrote. 

Previously, the Duke admissions office would assign numerical ratings of one to five on six different categories: curriculum strength, academics, recommendations, essays, extracurriculars and test scores. Applicants would then receive a total score out of 30 by adding up each category’s numerical rating.

According to Guttentag, the only categories given numerical ratings now are the four categories that remain: “the strength of a student’s curriculum, their grades in academic courses, their extracurricular activities and the letters of recommendation.”

“There are naturally many, many more factors that are taken into account when making admissions decisions — these are just a partial but useful way of thinking [of] applicants in the context of the pool as a whole,” he wrote. “I suppose it may be something similar to looking at a player’s various statistics, which only give you a partial picture of the player’s contribution to the team.”

Guttentag noted that historically, numerical ratings have been “valuable in helping to identify competitive applicants.”

Admissions processes for colleges across the country have seen changes and experimentation recently due to a variety of factors, most notably the Supreme Court’s overturning of race-based affirmative action in June 2023 and changes to standardized testing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Supreme Court decision was absolutely not a factor in how we decided to approach essays,” Guttentag wrote. Duke remained test-optional for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. 

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A New Biography Tackles the Remarkable Career of Stanley Kubrick

On the 25th anniversary of the director’s death, two film scholars have published “Kubrick: An Odyssey.”

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KUBRICK: An Odyssey, by Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams

The passions, obsessions, habits, talents and fears that shaped the extraordinary movies of Stanley Kubrick were well chewed over in his lifetime. Some of the reporting came from those who knew him; other impressions came from journalists who didn’t know him, but enjoyed the digging. It was easy quarrying, because there was so much rich topsoil. A son of the Bronx who became the self-styled squire of Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire, England, Kubrick was a visionary filmmaker whose greatest works — including “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange” — are as vital and prescient about culture and society today as they were when they blazed through the second half of the 20th century.

But for Kubrick to be Kubrick took so much fussing on his part, and scurrying on the part of others! He had his routines, his rituals, his ways of working. He immersed himself in slow-simmering, yearslong research to decide on whatever his next project was going to be; he insisted on many many many many takes for each camera shot, with a commitment to “perfection” — the usual term used — that regularly drained those around him, including actors and crew, family and friends, artistic collaborators and insurance claims adjusters. (He filed work-related insurance claims as regularly as other people floss. Surprisingly, there is no record of how diligently Kubrick flossed.)

A short list of the man’s insatiable interests included sex, the Holocaust, chess, Freud, Napoleon, the treacheries of marriage and the works of the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler. Schnitzler’s 1926 novella “Traumnovelle” — “Dream Story” — simmered within Kubrick for decades until it became “Eyes Wide Shut,” his last film. The simmering shows, in a movie as impermeable and deracinated as it is weirdly mesmerizing, not least because the galactic movie star Tom Cruise and his then-wife, Nicole Kidman, went all in for Kubrick’s fevered ride.

With a slender 13 features in his filmography, Kubrick operated at a painstaking crawl. After an absence of a dozen years, he was completing “Eyes Wide Shut” when he died of a heart attack in 1999, at the age of 70. (The son of a doctor, he distrusted doctors.) And then the real chewing over of Stanley Kubrick’s work and life began.

Frederic Raphael, who collaborated with Kubrick on the screenplay for “Eyes Wide Shut,” jumped in quickly with a memoir. Michael Herr, who worked with Kubrick on the screenplay for “Full Metal Jacket,” wrote a memoir. Kubrick’s personal driver wrote a memoir. “The Stanley Kubrick Archives,” published in 2008, dazzled with its handsome presentation of so much of the man’s project-related stuff . The film scholar Robert P. Kolker analyzed the work of Kubrick in an expanded edition of “A Cinema of Loneliness” in 2011. Nathan Abrams, a professor of film studies with a special interest in the intersection of Jewishness and cinema, published “Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual” in 2018. Kolker and Abrams together produced “Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film” in 2019.

Kolker and Abrams are not done. In the manner of the master himself, peering at a subject with an absorption that confounds less pointed minds, the two now mark the 25th anniversary of the filmmaker’s death with “Kubrick: An Odyssey.” The book is billed as “definitive,” and sure, let’s say it is. It is also touted for the addition of new interviews with family members, and that part is evident. In her extended commentary, Kubrick’s widow, Christiane Kubrick, wants readers to know that her husband was not the tyrannical, cold, reclusive, obsessive, secretive, difficult genius others have said he was, but a wonderful, warm, easygoing guy. The authors, meanwhile, would like to remind everyone at regular intervals that Kubrick was Jewish, even when he ignored it.

Noted. And agreed, too, that those who are devoted to the study of Kubrick’s life as a key to the Scriptures of his movies form a self-selecting book club for whom every detail of the creator’s existence is worth savoring. (This one is: The Scottish actor Alan Cumming, who played a hotel clerk in one scene of “Eyes Wide Shut,” described the director as “a Hobbit version of Salman Rushdie.”)

What is there, then, in one more biography of Kubrick for the rest of us? The rest of us who, while loving the streaks of wholly original brilliance in his work, are less impressed with the number of takes required to meet the director’s satisfaction and more impatient with the patience with which so many put up with so much for so long in the name of one man’s art? “What we learn from the myriad stories about Kubrick,” the biographers write, with the bland wording of a state-controlled news service, “is that he was uncompromising and so singularly focused on the task at hand that he could well be oblivious to others’ feelings and needs. He needed to get what he wanted. Or, if he didn’t exactly know what he wanted, he would push everyone to help him find it.”

Maybe it’s the current rancid air quality, maybe it’s the dawning of the age of #MeToo, maybe it’s reading too many think pieces about “art monsters,” but my tolerance for the behavior of geniuses oblivious to the feelings and needs of others is at an all-time low. I don’t expect the authors of a family-friendly biography to go rogue and declare their dismay at the human toll paid by so many in Kubrick’s orbit. (The authors counter the much-reported abusive behavior directed toward Shelley Duvall during the making of “The Shining” with “the cold fact that Kubrick elicited from her a performance of anxious, hysterical strength.”) But that doesn’t mean I need to spend any more time with the late Stanley Kubrick than I — a person who loves much of his work, and has no plans to lose his number or cancel him from my consciousness of great filmmakers of the 20th century — already have. If I never read another sentence about the man behind the movies, that works for me.

KUBRICK : An Odyssey | By Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams | Pegasus | 649 pp. | $35

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Lauren Oyler: ‘slightly defensive, periodically anxious’

No Judgement by Lauren Oyler review – modish observations from a rarefied world

Despite occasional displays of wit and insight, the buzzy US critic’s ironic essays can feel airless and small

L auren Oyler is an American writer, very tall and very smart (or so I read). In 2021, she published her first novel, Fake Accounts , a plotless story about a young woman not unlike herself who is, as they used to say, very online. But she’s best known, at least in the US, as a critic whose work has appeared in the New Yorker , and whose 5,000-word takedown for the London Review of Books of Trick Mirror , a collection of essays by another thirtysomething American writer, Jia Tolentino, reputedly went viral (I am unable to verify this, being not very online).

I always put these kinds of details in a review somewhere: if I didn’t, an editor would soon be in touch. But in this case, I’m getting them out the way early in order to give you, from the off, a sense of the rarefied niche into which we’re about briefly to wiggle. It is an airless place. If Jane Austen worked on two inches of ivory, Oyler’s territory is at once vast (the internet) and minute (her part of the internet). The very online – I would say the very, very online – may know all about her slightly defensive, periodically anxious and (at moments) hugely self-congratulatory style: an ironic, somewhat callow tone born of her addiction to what used to be known as Twitter. But for the rest of us, she brings in her wake (should we read her) the exhausting feeling of only half-knowing what – in truth, I mean who – she is on about.

Already I sound like I hated her new book, an essay collection called No Judgement . In fact, I didn’t, or not all of it. If I were the kind of person who kept a journal, I might have been moved to scribble down the odd, dubious aphorism from it (“the fictional ‘I’ is always truer than it purports to be, and the non-fictional less”); it brought me to order a novel Oyler says she likes ( Mating by Norman Rush), and I laughed out loud at the line: “In the US, we have only three stages of grief.” (This was provoked by the case of a woman who responded to betrayal by a friend first by feeling betrayed, then with embarrassment, and finally by becoming litigious.) But nor can I say that I liked it, exactly. While I understand its modishness perfectly well – its preoccupations could not be more Small Circulation Lit Mag, spring 2024, if they tried – it’s also rather cold and blank and small. There’s something emptied out about it, which is also how it makes you feel, in a bad way (I’m talking about hollowness, not catharsis). Where are the trees, you think. Where is the real world? It’s almost a surprise to look up from it and see not a screen, but a window.

There are six full essays. One is about vulnerability, that quality we’re suddenly all expected to encourage in ourselves (I refuse this particular form of self-optimisation and so, I think , does the author). Others are about Oyler’s not-quite-crippling-but-almost-so anxiety; the value (or not) of gossip; the rise of the star rating system, particularly as it pertains to books and those who write them; and life in Berlin, where she now lives. But the longest of them, and the one into which she seems to have put most effort, is called I Am the One Who Is Sitting Here, for Hours and Hours and Hours, and it is about so-called autofiction, something that she has, of course, written herself, and which seems to fascinate her to the point where she feels the need to be as definitive about it as it’s possible to be (which is to say, not hugely). This essay comes with bossy subheadings such as What It Is, What It Isn’t, What Does Lolita Have to Do With This? and Scene Inspired by a Popular Misreading of Another Essay by Roland Barthes.

Three years ago, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates lobbed one of her periodic stink bombs in the direction of X (then Twitter) by posting her light disappointment at the rise and rise of what she called these “wan little husks of autofiction with space between paragraphs to make the book seem longer” (cue lots of younger writers holding their noses). While Oyler quotes this in her essay, she doesn’t precisely rip it apart – and in her novel she sent up the “white spaces” beloved of Jenny Offill and co. But she also devotes 50 long pages to the subject of autofiction, a piece of writing that by necessity means she must chew – and chew – on other people’s wan little husks.

This doesn’t strike me as very nourishing: for her, the poor little squirrel, or for the reader. Or not this reader, at any rate. Again, that feeling: an emptying out. Middlemarch , metaphorically speaking, is now as distant as the brightly shining moon. Literature – novels, criticism, all of it – seems to be draining away before our very eyes, and it makes me feel very sad and depressed.

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College admissions trends: ai, college essays and going international.

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Arush Chandna is the co-founder of Quad Education .

Last year was a landmark year for college admissions. The Supreme Court’s end on affirmative action took center stage and conjured up the most confusion and uncertainty among colleges and students alike. But the year was also marked by other key developments—the first-ever rise in undergraduate enrollment since the pandemic, a dramatic bump in early admissions, finally ending the year with a thud—a series of events leading to the ousting of Harvard University President Claudine Gay on January 2, 2024.

With these developments at the altar, 2024 is looking no less than a beast of a year for college admissions. After all, it will be the first year where applications go through the admissions process without affirmative action. And other trends too will either make an entry or continue to have a significant impact this year. Let’s find out what’s in store in 2024.

Colleges And Universities Warming Up To AI

With the onset of AI, one of the biggest concerns was students using it to whip up their college application essays. But at the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing an increasing number of colleges and universities using AI in their admissions review process. In 2023, 50% of admissions offices in higher education reported using AI for reviewing applications, according to a survey from Intelligent . For 2024, 80% of officials in higher education said they would integrate AI into their review process this year. What’s AI being used for? Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Pennsylvania developed a “ series of artificial intelligence tools that can scan through essays in college applications, picking out evidence of key personal traits.” These may include leadership and perseverance. According to the co-author of the study, these tools are not currently deployed at any institution but when done under the right conditions, have the potential to recognize applications that might have all the required traits but can still go unnoticed when evaluated by humans.

Those currently using AI, according to the Intelligent survey, report using it for reviewing transcripts and recommendation letters. Other popular reasons for using AI are reviewing personal statements, weeding out student essays written by AI, and conducting preliminary interviews with applicants. This confidence in using AI in admissions grew even in the short time between early and late 2023. So, it might be safe to say that admissions officials will continue to get comfortable with using AI while still having some reasonable ethical concerns.

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Universities can include an ethical component in the AI courses/curriculum, using an interdisciplinary method to ensure some semblance of rigor and an organized approach to this relatively new technology. Universities can partner with the government and industry to incorporate federal/industrial guidelines that should be implemented across all AI developments in the education space.

Students Striving To Write More Authentic Essays

The Supreme Court’s ruling to end affirmative action has caused a great deal of consternation among people of color in the nation. While there is no box to tick on applications anymore, students are left wondering if they should talk about race at all in their essays. As for university leaders, it means that they have to work harder to ensure a diverse campus—one that is reflective of real-time America. One way to do this for universities is to focus on varied aspects of the application to get a holistic picture—leadership, extracurricular activities, academics, community service and so on. At my company, even before the Supreme Court’s decision, we have encouraged students to represent their most authentic selves in their essays. What that means is if a student’s race, religion or culture has influenced who they are today, they should write about it but never lean on it as a sole indicator of any trait or quality. For example, if a student did not learn English in school and took the onus of teaching themselves to the level where they are an award-winning debater today, they must talk about it without worrying whether it provides an insight into their race because it highlights magnificent qualities valued by admissions officials.

Colleges and universities should consider including supplemental questions that spur this thinking among students and allow them to evaluate students holistically.

American Students Looking Outward

Many of our admissions consultants have recently observed an increased interest among students to explore destinations like Europe for their higher education—the reasons being a parallel academic experience at a fraction of the cost, reach and the added element of adventure. For example, while an undergraduate degree at Harvard costs a whopping $54,269 annually, Cambridge University’s tuition ranges from £25,734 to £39,162 annually . Students also save one year’s worth of tuition, as programs are typically three years long compared to four years in the U.S. Cambridge’s acceptance rate is also higher than Harvard’s 3% at 10%.

U.S. higher education must address the numbers of students who are defecting to colleges and graduate programs outside of the U.S. by determining if it is due to the higher costs of education or due to the perceived quality of higher education in the U.S. This research should/must include an assessment of relative cost to value: What is a degree worth when compared with the cost of paying off loans, etc. And how are global institutions keeping their costs competitive. Second, if the deflection is due to high costs, our U.S. campuses must work with the government to subsidize the cost of public colleges and universities while also ensuring that the degrees granted at each institution will provide a career path that will make students self-sufficient upon graduation.

Final Thoughts

In my experience as the founder of an ed tech business, I can say that college admissions never fails to excite. Tasked with the job of shaping students’ futures, this industry is constantly developing and presenting exhilarating challenges. Since the pandemic, many developments in this space have been monumental and will most likely continue to be so in the coming years. This year is promising to be another mega year with trends like a deeper integration of AI, thought-provoking college essays, the many implications of the end of affirmative action, students’ ever-intriguing aspirations around what they seek from the college experience and many more. It’s a year to watch out for.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

Arush Chandna

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COMMENTS

  1. The Hobbit: Sample A+ Essay: How The Hobbit Fits and Doesn't Fit Epic

    Chapter 1 Sample A+ Essay: How The Hobbit Fits and Doesn't Fit Epic Traditions Next At first glance, The Hobbit, with its sweetly cantankerous hero and playful narrative style, does not seem to resemble grim, grand epics such as Beowulf or The Iliad.

  2. What would be a good thesis for J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

    Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. | Certified Educator A good thesis is going to make an argument. That's the point of a thesis. It can't be a statement of fact, because then there is nothing for the...

  3. A Summary and Analysis of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

    Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit (a species of small creature which Tolkien invented) who lives in Bag End, in the rural loveliness of The Shire. The wizard Gandalf turns up one day, accompanied by thirteen dwarves, who are on a mission to reclaim their gold, as well as their kingdom, from beneath the Lonely Mountain.

  4. The Hobbit Critical Essays

    Analysis PDF Cite Share Although many people read The Hobbit only as a precursor to Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (1968 as omnibus; original volumes The Fellowship of the Ring,...

  5. The Hobbit Essays

    Going on an Adventure for the Word "Adventure" in The Hobbit Anonymous 12th Grade. The Hobbit. A word that features prominently in Tolkien's first published work about Middle-Earth is "adventure.". The initial spark of the plot is Gandalf's proposition that Bilbo accompany him on an adventure, and throughout The Hobbit, this is how ...

  6. The Hobbit Study Guide

    Essays for The Hobbit. The Hobbit essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's Hobbit: From Children's Story to Mythic Creation; Heroes and the Hobbit; Sting and Bilbo: Significance of the Small in The Hobbit

  7. Analysis of Tolkien's The Hobbit

    By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on February 18, 2021 • ( 0 ) The origin of The Hobbit (1937) is well known. One day in the late 1920s, Tolkien was grading essays when he came across a blank page and absently wrote the sentence "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

  8. PDF Essay Ideas

    www.tolkiensociety.org Essay Ideas For Pre-university Students Clothing and its significance in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings The importance of food in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring 'Home is behind': the significance of homes, dwellings, and homelessness in Tolkien's works

  9. Major Themes

    The major theme of The Hobbit is the quest, one of the oldest themes in literature. As a scholar of ancient languages and literatures, Tolkien would have known the theme well through Greek and Norse myth and Old- and Middle-English poetry.

  10. The Hobbit Essays for College Students

    971 words. Hobbit Expository Essay. The Hobbit Essay The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is a book about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who was never adventurous. He went on a dangerous journey with the dwarves and he developed a lot as a hobbit as a result. He goes on a great journey and faces many challenges.

  11. The Hobbit Essays and Criticism

    J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has received very little serious critical attention other than as the precursor of The Lord of the Rings.It has usually been praised as a good introduction to the ...

  12. The Hobbit Themes

    Essays for The Hobbit. The Hobbit essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's Hobbit: From Children's Story to Mythic Creation; Heroes and the Hobbit; Sting and Bilbo: Significance of the Small in The Hobbit

  13. The Hobbit : Expository Essay Samples

    The Hobbit Essay Sample, Example. 🔥 published March 29, 2018. , written by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a children's fantasy novel (though the series The Lord of the Rings that followed its story was more tuned to adults) that was first published in 1937. When it was first released, it received critical acclaim from millions of readers, and it was ...

  14. The Hobbit Critical Evaluation

    Often viewed as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, The Hobbit represents something more complex: an intertwining of Bilbo's personal growth through experience and hardship with the ancient...

  15. J.R.R. Tolkien the Hobbit Essay

    Treatment of Race in the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit is a novel about a complacent hobbit named Bilbo Baggins accompanying a group of thirteen dwarves - as their burglar - on a journey to regain the dwarves' treasure from the vast, beastly dragon, Smaug. Along the adventure, Bilbo starts becoming the brave adventurer he was meant to ...

  16. Essay Topics and Study Questions on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

    1. Describe how Tolkien relies on humor to portray the adventures in The Hobbit. Which authorial techniques does he use to bring a light element to the most serious parts of the plot? Does this style of writing make The Hobbit a comedy? 2. How does Tolkien portray the importance of wealth?

  17. The Hobbit: Suggested Essay Topics

    1. What factors define a person's identity in The Hobbit? Do individuals have any power over who they become, or are their characters entirely determined by static factors such as family and race? 2. What is the role of wealth in The Hobbit? Discuss various characters' attitude toward property and material goods.

  18. "The Hobbit" by Tolkien, Essay Example

    The Hobbit book by J.R.R. Tolkien is set in Middle Earth and was first published in early 1937 (Tolkien 11). The book mainly illustrates and a comfort hobbit-hole that belongs to Bilbo Baggins, who is the main character in the story.

  19. The Hobbit Themes

    The Hobbit is a fantasy novel, and it contains many of the genre's traditional tropes: a quest, treasure, a dark forest, and even a dragon. With this in mind, it's worth asking who the hero—arguably the most important fantasy trope — of The Hobbit is, and how Tolkien defines heroism. Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of The Hobbit ...

  20. The Hobbit: Mini Essays

    Chapters 12 & 13 Chapters 14 & 15 Chapters 16 & 17 Chapters 18 & 19 By Character Bilbo Baggins Gandalf Thorin Gollum Smaug Quick Quizzes Book Full Book Mini Essays Previous Next Is Thorin in any sense a heroic leader? Do his actions in the novel make him deserving of his death at the end?

  21. Essays on The Hobbit

    The Image of a Classic Hero: Bilbo Baggins. 4 pages / 1899 words. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a fantasy novel written by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on twenty first of September 1937, to wide critical acclaim and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit of the Shire,...

  22. Character Development of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit Essay Sample

    The Novel, The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien is the story of an old man who goes on a quest to find a share of the treasure guarded by a dragon. The protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, was, at first, a very shy and cowardly normal hobbit. He Was shown as a character who was comfortable in his small hobbit hole, and wanted nothing to do with the outside world.

  23. "The Hobbit": Book vs. Movie

    In the book, The Hobbit, the author, JR Tolkien tells a story of short, contented humanlike creatures called hobbits. In this fantasy story, Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, a Gandalf, a wizard, and a group of midgets set out on an adventure to repossess stolen treasure hidden in the Lonely Mountain. A fiery dragon, Smaug, claims ownership of the ...

  24. Duke no longer giving numerical rating to standardized testing, essays

    "Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant, we're just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student's actual writing ability," he wrote.

  25. How to get away with AI-generated essays

    To test ChatGPT's abilities and weaknesses, I asked it to write a short essay on a particular topic that I specialised in. Before looking at what it produced, I wrote my own 100% original short ...

  26. 'Kubrick,' by Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams

    Stanley Kubrick on the set of the 1975 film "Barry Lyndon," his adaptation of a 19th-century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Credit... United Archives, via Getty Images

  27. No Judgement by Lauren Oyler review

    Despite occasional displays of wit and insight, the buzzy US critic's ironic essays can feel airless and small Lauren Oyler is an American writer, very tall and very smart (or so I read). In ...

  28. Duke Stops Assigning Point Values to Essays, Test Scores

    He added that the essay decision had no relation to last summer's Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action, though applicant essays have become a focal point in discussions about how selective colleges can continue to admit racially diverse classes.. Duke is currently operating under a temporary test-optional policy put in place during the pandemic, but the decision not to ...

  29. College Admissions Trends: AI, College Essays And Going ...

    Last year was a landmark year for college admissions. The Supreme Court's end on affirmative action took center stage and conjured up the most confusion and uncertainty among colleges and ...