Monday, November 12, 2012


Chapter One: An Unexpected Party

In Chapter one, Tolkien introduces us to Hobbits, and in particular, our protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. Now Bilbo, who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something a bit queer in his make-up from the Took side, something that only waited for a chance to come out.” Chance – otherwise known as the Wizard Gandalf – did indeed show up at Bilbo’s door one morning, and changed his life forever.  Soon after Gandalf made his appearance, a company of Dwarves came to visit -- under the impression that Bilbo was a burglar and available to assist them on their quest to retrieve their treasure, stolen by the evil and deadly dragon, Smaug.

 Music and song is an important part of The Hobbit, and it is introduced in the very first chapter. When the Dwarf Thorin played his golden harp, Bilbo “forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill”.  Of course, as Bilbo is transported by the music, the reader is transported by the story – far away from our own little corners of the world.

From the beginning, the reader learns that there are two sides to Bilbo: his respectable Hobbit self, and his “Tookish side”.  As the dwarves fell into song, Bilbo suddenly wished to go on an adventure, to see the great mountains and waterfalls, and to exchange his walking-stick for a sword. Soon after, when Thorin described the dangerous adventure and warned that they “may never return”, Bilbo shrieked in fear and had to go lie down to calm himself.  And yet, when he overheard the Dwarves doubting his courage and scoffing at him as a burglar, “the Took side won” and Bilbo volunteered for the job.

 Did this surprise you?  If you were Bilbo, would you have run off with the Dwarves on this dangerous adventure?

What did you think of the company of fourteen?  Would you trust Gandalf and the Dwarves if you were Bilbo?  Do you think they were all being honest with each other?

 Chapter Two: Road Mutton

 Bilbo’s “Tookishness” wore off at the end of Chapter One, so when he woke up and discovered that he was alone, he was quite relieved at first.  And then . . . he felt a bit disappointed.  Of course – he had not been left behind. Gandalf showed him a note – which was more like a contract for his services as a burglar – and Bilbo hurried off without even time to grab his hat or walking-stick!

The journey started “very merrily”, and Bilbo began to feel “that adventures were not so bad after all.” But as they traveled, the weather turned cold and dreary.  One evening, after they crossed a swollen river, they noticed that Gandalf was missing.  It was too damp to light a fire (and they had no wizard to help them!) so when they saw a light shining in the distance they sent the burglar to investigate.  Off Bilbo went, and discovered three trolls sitting around a fire, eating. Instead of going back to warn the Dwarves, Bilbo’s “Tookish” side won again, and he decided to pick the trolls pockets, as any good burglar would.  Bilbo, who “had read of a good many things he had never seen or done”, did not know that Troll’s purses “are the mischief” and this one squeaked out: “’Ere, ‘oo are you?”

As the Trolls fought about what to do with Bilbo, the Dwarves came to see what happened to him, and they were all caught, while Bilbo – who the Trolls had forgotten about -- hid in a bush. As the Trolls argued about how to best kill the Dwarves, Gandalf returned and hid behind a tree, where he imitated a Troll’s voice to keep the Trolls arguing until the sun rose, and they all were turned to stone.  They discovered the Troll’s cave, and found food, gold coins and swords. Gandalf and Thorin each took a sword with jeweled hilts in beautiful scabbards, and Bilbo took a knife. 

Where do you think Gandalf disappeared to when the dwarves were captured by the trolls?  Do you think his explanation about going up ahead to spy out the road was true?

 Chapter Three: A Short Rest

 The Troll food ran out, and the party began “to feel that danger was not far away on either side.”  At last they came to the great Misty Mountains, stretching across the horizon.  Gandalf lead them to the “Last Homely House” before they crossed into the Wild – Elrond’s house in the secret valley of Rivendell – where they met the elves. They stayed fourteen days, and their stomachs and bags were filled and their plans improved.  Elrond told them about the two old swords, which were made by the High Elves of the West.  He also made a startling discovery -- there were moon letters on the map of Smaug’s lair!   Moon letters are rune letters that can only be seen when the moon shines behind them – but “it must be a moon of the same shape and season as the day when they were written.” The moon letters described the location of the key hole.  They left the next day on a beautiful midsummer’s morning, “with their hearts ready for more adventure . . .”

The narrator states: “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”  What do you think about that?

The Dwarves think the elves are foolish. What do you think? Do you think these Dwarves still think that elves are foolish?

Chapter Four: Over Hill and Under Hill

Adventure they soon found . . . and not at all the type they were looking for. As a wild thunderstorm – a “thunder-battle”-- erupted over the mountain, the party retreated to a seemingly empty cave, and soon they all drifted off to sleep.  Luckily, Bilbo was plagued with disturbing dreams of a crack in the cave wall – which ended up being true! He awoke with a start just in time to see their ponies and gear disappear, and screamed. Out jumped lots of big, ugly goblins, but fortunately his yell woke Gandalf – and then there was a flash like lightening – and several goblins fell dead and the crack closed.  Unfortunately, Gandalf was on the other side of the crack, and Bilbo and the Dwarves were taken prisoner, chained together and brought before the Great Goblin.  When he saw Thorin’s sword – aptly named Orcrist – the Goblin-cleaver -- he howled in rage, for the sword had killed hundreds of Goblins, and ordered the prisoners to be beaten, bitten, slashed, gnashed and finally taken to a hole full of snakes. 

Just then a tower of blue smoke erupted, and a sword flashed and killed the Great Goblin.  It was Gandalf! His sword, Glamdring (which the Goblins hated even more than Orcrist) cut through the chains that bound Bilbo and the Dwarves, and they hurried along the dark passages.  But the goblins chased after them, and since Bilbo could not go half as fast as a Dwarf – they took turns carrying him.  When Dori – who was in the back carrying Bilbo -- was grabbed, Bilbo rolled off his shoulder into the darkness, hit his head, and was knocked out.

As in other parts of the story, the narrator tells the reader what’s about to happen in this chapter, warning “And that was the last time that they used the ponies, packages, baggages, tools and paraphernalia . . .” before it happens.  Do you think this lessens, or increases the suspense?

In this chapter the Goblins sing a song. Now the reader has heard songs from the Dwarves, Elves and Goblins.  What do we learn about the different races from their music?

The narrator tells the reader that goblins are “cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted”, and further states they may have created “some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once . . . but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.”  Knowing The Hobbit was first published in 1937, what machines do you think he is referring to?  What do you think Tolkien’s view was about war?


  1. I haven't read The Hobbit in many years either, and I was surprised by the elves, too Ellen, and the far lighter tone overall as compared to LOTR. Tolkien did such a wonderful job letting us know Bilbo right from the get go, and his conflicted nature. I guess we all have a sensible side, and a Tookish one, too!

  2. I was also surprised by the elves, compared to the LOTR ones! And I especially like that observation about peaceful days vs days of suffering in terms of which make for better storytelling.

    Overall there's a much more cheerful and reassuring feel to the voice in The Hobbit--an interesting contrast to the later books!

  3. I loved all the elvish tree-giggling, combined with Tolkien's firm warnings not to underestimate them. It's funny because this first story is such a dwarves story, and so it makes sense that the dwarvish attitude toward elves would color their first appearance. But Tolkien takes such pains to warn you against that attitude; and Bilbo himself seems -- well, not awestruck the way Frodo will be in LotR, but very wide-eyed and serious about them. It's so interesting to see Tolkien sorting out elves for himself in that chapter, in some ways.

  4. That's a good point, that we're seeing the elves through the dwarves' perspective. And I agree, it's fun in this book to see Tolkien working things out for the next ones. In a foreword to my edition of The Hobbit, he refers to LOTR as "the sequel," but after the fact it seems like The Hobbit is kind of a prologue to LOTR.

  5. That's a good point about seeing the elves from the dwarves' perspective. And I agree that it's fun watching Tolkien's attitudes and ideas evolve in this book. In a foreword to my edition of Fellowship of the Ring, he calls LOTR "the sequel," but after the fact it seems The Hobbit is a prologue to the later books.


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