The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
There clearly is Good and Evil in Tolkien's world. He even bothers to capitalize that the elves are Good People. "Good" races like the elves and "bad" races like the Wargs seem to suggest that morality is black and white in The Hobbit. Yet, there's a surprising amount of grey too: the dwarves are on a quest for gold, not to destroy the evil that is Smaug. Yes, revenge is one motive, but the dwarves seem to care more about treasure than about abstract ideas of right and wrong. And even though the Battle of Five Armies is between good and evil sides, Bilbo's main take-away from the experience is that battle "seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing" (17.62). The human cost matters to him more than the cause his friends are fighting for. So The Hobbit's take on good and evil is a little more subtle and nuanced than we first thought.
Questions About Good vs. Evil
- How does Bilbo's moral code emerge over the course of The Hobbit? Which key episodes in the novel give us insight into Bilbo's particular definition of right and wrong?
- What are some of the moral problems that Tolkien identifies with the dwarves, their quest, and their treatment of Bilbo? Do the dwarves overcome these moral challenges? At the end of the novel, what moral assessment can we make of Thorin in particular?
- Does The Hobbit give us any insight into Gandalf's sense of good and evil? If so, which episodes in the novel illustrate Gandalf's moral judgment? If not, why might Tolkien withhold Gandalf's perspective on the events of The Hobbit? What role does Gandalf play in the novel?