The Adventure Begins – An Unexpected Party
"The Hobbit" begins with one of the most well-known quotes in Tolkien's works:
- "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”
Tolkien has set the stage for us to learn about one specific hobbit – one that is, indeed, very fond of his own comfort.
Bilbo, the hobbit of the title, is about 50 years old at the start of the book. To all who knew him, he was a typical hobbit, fond of food and comfortable things, and not interested in adventures:
- “Nasty disturbing for uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” he tells Gandalf the wizard on the spring morning the story begins.
As the chapter continues, Bilbo finds a number of dwarves come to have tea, as well as the wizard. They are adventurers, seeking to reclaim dwarven treasure from the dragon Smaug.
The dwarves sing, and it wakens an unexpected feeling in Bilbo.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.
Bilbo demurs when called a conspirator, but eventually the Tookish part of him stirs and he says he will go on the adventure. Although both he and the dwarves are skeptical of his fitness, Gandalf says:
- “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
"The Hobbit" is the story of Bilbo finding out what he does have in himself.
As the journey begins, Bilbo wishes that,
“I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that he wished that!”
Bilbo wishes this many times during his adventures, but even when wishing, he does his best in whatever situation he finds himself.
His first foray as a burglar is a complete disaster, and puts the entire company at risk of being eaten by trolls. Gandalf, scouting ahead, comes in the nick of time and distracts the trolls with a discussion of how to cook dwarves and burrahobbits – using a voice that sounds like one of the trolls. He keeps them talking until daylight, and rescues the party with:
- ”Dawn take you all and be stone to you!” as the sunlight transforms the trolls.
After a stay in Rivendell and capture by goblins, when the party takes refuge in a cave from a thunderstorm, Bilbo is dropped during the escape, and finds he's alone in the dark, at a pivotal point in his life.
Riddles in the Dark
This is perhaps the most well-known chapter in the entire book. Bilbo finds the ring, and he rescues himself.
Crawling blindly down a pitch black tunnel, Bilbo puts his hand down on a small metal circle. He puts it into his pocket, and crawls onward.
He meets Gollum, and is challenged to perhaps the most famous riddle contest in literature – to be shown the way out, or to be eaten. Many of the riddles are not particularly unusual and are classic folk riddles, and they solve them fairly rapidly, by turns.
Some, Tolkien makes up himself, and they are unusual and memorable.
Gollum gives Bilbo
It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.
Bilbo successfully answers "Dark"
Bilbo tells one Gollum guesses easily, and Gollum challenges him with,
"A live without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking."
Bilbo is puzzled, and Gollum thinks he has won, when a fish jumps from the little lake and lands on Bilbo, and he realizes the answer – fish.
Finally, however, Gollum challenges Bilbo with something hard and horrible. This is what he said:
"This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”
Bilbo is stymied, and terrified. By chance, requesting more time to answer, he gasps “Time! Time!” – and by luck answered it correctly.
He is a very lucky hobbit.
He cannot think of another riddle to ask Gollum. Finally, he feels the metal circle in his pocket:
“What have I got in my pocket?" he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.
"Not fair! not fair!" he hissed. "It isn't fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it's got in its nassty little pocketses?"
Gollum cannot guess with three tries, and rushes off to find his precious, to sneak up and kill Bilbo. He shrieks when he cannot find it.
“Then suddenly out of the gloom came a sharp hiss. "What has it got in its pocketses?”
Bilbo does escape, and trails behind the furious and frightened Gollum.
"Curse it! curse it! curse it!" hissed Gollum. "Curse the Baggins! It's gone! What has it got in its pocketses? Oh we guess, we guess, my precious. He's found it, yes he must have. My birthday-present."
Gollum will not forget the name Baggins, in this book or "The Trilogy".
Bilbo escapes from the tunnels and finds he is on the far side of the mountains. He finds the dwarves, and they flee as quickly as they can, for they will be pursued when night falls.
The goblins and Wargs catch up, and the party climbs trees to get away. The clever Goblins light fires around the trees and begin to sing a grim ditty.
“Fifteen birds in five firtrees,
their feathers were fanned in a fiery breeze!
But, funny little birds, they had no wings!
O what shall we do with the funny little things?
Roast 'em alive, or stew them in a pot;
fry them, boil them and eat them hot?”
The eagles rescue them in the nick of time, as the trees catch fire.
In Mirkwood Forest
After more adventures, they reach the forest of Mirkwood. When they wander off the path because they have exhausted their supplies, the dwarves go missing, and Bilbo is alone in the dark.
It is a very miserable moment for him in the adventure so far. Gandalf is off doing important wizardly things, and there is no one who can rescue them. He waits for morning, hoping to find the dwarves in the daylight.
In the morning he is nearly ensnared by a giant spider, and fights it and kills it with his little elf made sword, which he names Sting. It is an important moment for Bilbo, for he has rescued himself with no help from anyone.
Putting on the ring, he sets off to find the dwarves. They have been trapped by spiders, and the dwarves are cocooned and hanging like clothes from a thick cord of spider silk.
Using the ring, Bilbo calls to the spiders to lure them away from the dwarves. He jeers at them, singing a ditty:
Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can't see me!
Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
are weaving webs to wind me.
I am far more sweet than other meat,
but still they cannot find me!
Here am I, naughty little fly;
you are fat and lazy.
You cannot trap me, though you try,
in your cobwebs crazy.
He rescues them from the spiders, but cannot keep them from capture by the wood elves when they see what seems to be a feast.
Bilbo again rescues the dwarves, this time from the hall of the king of the wood elves, and packs them off in barrels to go down river to Lake-town lake, close by the Lonely Mountain. They get to the lake and, freed from the barrels, go to the Master of Lake-town. The townspeople treat them well, because they believe prophecies of gold flowing from the mountain will come true. Bilbo has caught a terrible cold while floating down stream with the barrels, and says "Thag you very buch."
They are given ponies and provisions, and continue on the Lonely Mountain. With luck and some cleverness, the find the door into the mountain. Bilbo makes a couple of trips down a passage to the dragon's lair, stealing a cup and then talking with the dragon. Bilbo talks to the dragon in riddles, and leaves back up the passage, calling out mockingly to the dragon. Smaug is enraged, and sends blasts of fire up the passage after Bilbo. "Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!" he said to himself.
The Battle of Five Armies
Bard of Lake-town slays the dragon with an arrow, while the dwarves settle into the mountain with some fear and trepidation. The news of the death of the dragons spreads far and wide. Many people from the different races of Middle Earth have heard and begin to travel to the mountain in hopes of loot. The elf king starts to march with a host toward the mountain, and then hears of the plight of Lake-town.
Thorin does not behave well. The lust for gold is in him, and despite the help people in Lake-town and others who gave help to adventurers in the past, he does not want to reward anyone with gold. He barricades the mountain and readies for war.
Bilbo gives the Arkenstone, a gem that was the heart of the mountain, to Bard and the elf king; he wants them to use it to bargain for his portion of the treasure, which he wants to give to them as recompense. He hopes trading the Arkenstone will settle the sharing out of the treasure peacefully. Still, Thorin plots how to get the gem without giving them Bilbo's share of the treasure.
Bard considers attacking the dwarves who came to aid Thorin, for they are unprotected. The elven king says, "Long will I tarry, ere I begin this war for gold."
As it seems nothing can stop a battle between the dwarves and elves and men, the sky darkens. Gandalf announces,
"Dread has come upon you all! … The Goblins are upon you! … They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!"
Dain, lord of the dwarven army, takes counsel with Bard, Gandalf and the elf king. The march of the goblin army is a threat to all.
The battle was not going well against the Goblin army, although Thorin and the other dwarves joined the battle as well. Bilbo was with the elf king's stand, and felt terribly depressed. The clouds above were parted by wind, and he saw shapes in the distance. "The Eagles! The Eagles!" he shouted. "The Eagles are coming!" A stone knocked him out, although he was invisible.
After the battle Bilbo wakes on the side of the mountain. He is taken to see the dying Thorin, who is asking for him. Thorin apologizes for his behavior, and bids Bilbo farewell, saying "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."
He is ready to go home. Gandalf travels with him, and they accompany the elf king to Mirkwood. Bilbo gives the king a gift when they bid him goodbye, and the elf king wishes him well. "May your shadow never grow less (or stealing would be too easy)! Farewell!" There are adventures on the trip home, but all turn out well.
After Bilbo puts a stop to the estate sale of the late Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, and reclaims many of his belongings, he settles down again in Bag End happily, enjoying his comforts, although he has lost his reputation. He remains friends with both dwarves, elves and Gandalf, and writes his memoirs. And "though few believed any of his tales, he remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long."
Long after, Gandalf and one of the dwarves pay him a visit, and he learns of the changes in Lake-town and the Lonely Mountain. There, the story ends.
"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?
"You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing….
Check out "Chapter Summaries of The Hobbit" for another great read on this classic.
- Tolkein, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.
- The author’s opinion as to the best quotes. Any mistakes in quotations are due to the author’s mistyping. Please leave a comment if you find a mistake.