The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
How we cite our quotes:
The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course. These are not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise. For most of them (together with their scattered relations in the hills and mountains) were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to Faerie in the West. There the Light-elves and the Deep-elves and the Sea-elves went and lived for ages, and grew fairer and wiser and more learned, and invented their magic and their cunning craft in the making of beautiful and marvelous things, before some came back into the Wide World. In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars; and they wandered in the great forests that grew tall in lands that are now lost. They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk. Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People. (8.128)
There's a sense of decline in this passage. While "elves they were and remain, and that is Good People," the fact still remains that the ancient tribes of elves were perhaps more marvelous than these current Mirkwood residents. And what has made the difference in their strength is "the coming of Men" – a.k.a., us. The rise of man has changed the face of Middle-earth. What sense do you get of Tolkien's feelings about the past versus the present? Which characters in The Hobbit seem most oriented towards tradition, and how do these characters keep their traditions alive? What are the traditions of the different races we see in The Hobbit?
Ever since the fall of the Great Goblin of the Misty Mountains, the hatred of their race for the dwarves had been rekindled to fury. Messengers had passed to and fro between all their cities, colonies, and strongholds; for they resolved now to win the dominion of the North. Todings they had gathered in secret ways; and in all the mountains there was a forging and an arming. then they marched and gathered by hill and valley, going ever by tunnel or under dark, until around and beneath the great mountain Gundabad of the North, where was their capital, a vast host was assembled ready to sweep down in time of storm unawares upon the South. (17.44)
The elves were the first to charge. Their hatred for the goblins is cold and bitter. Their spears and shields shone in the gloom with a gleam of chill flame, so deadly was the wrath of the hands that held them. (17.50)
The goblins hate the dwarves as a race. And the elves hate the goblins as a race. So, race determines not only your moral character, but also your loyalties and your enemies, in Tolkien's world. What do you think of the ethics of this depiction of race? In what respects do Tolkien's races (elves, goblins, hobbits, etc.) differ from real world racial divisions?
Beorn indeed became a great chief afterwards in those regions and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear's shape, and some were grim men and bad, but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength. In their day the last goblins were hunted from the Misty Mountains and a new peace came over the edge of the Wild. (18.51)
The incredible importance of genetics and lineage in Tolkien's world can't be overestimated: Beorn starts his own line of men with "the power of taking bear's shape." And Bard manages to kill Smaug thanks to an inherited ability to talk to birds. Even Bilbo's adventurousness comes from his Took family background. So, in Tolkien's world, it really does matter who your father is. It'll have a huge effect on your own abilities and character.