Race Quotes in The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. (1.4)
There are a couple of interesting things about this quote: first, it describes hobbits, Tolkien's particular creation. Second, it represents hobbits as an endangered species: "rare and shy of the Big People." And third, it positions the narrator as a human (one of the "large stupid folk like you and me"). And in a novel that has very few humans, being human here places both the narrator and the reader on the outside, observing the actions of hobbits, elves, and dwarves from a distant perspective.
Long ago in my grandfather Thror's time our family was driven out of the far North, and came back with all their wealth and their tools to this Mountain on the map. It had been discovered by my far ancestor, Thrain the Old, but now they mined and they tunneled and they made huger halls and greater workshops – and in addition I believe they found a good deal of gold and a great many jewels too [...] So my grandfather's hall became full of armour and jewels and carvings and cups, and the toy market of Dale was the wonder of the North.
Undoubtedly that was what brought the dragon. Dragons steal gold and jewels, you know, from men and elves and dwarves, wherever they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically for ever, unless they are killed), and never enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of current market value. (1.122-3)
Here, Thorin is introducing both his own people, the dwarves (who are cunning miners), and his enemies, the dragons (who "steal and jewels [...] and never enjoy a brass ring of it). Morally speaking, it seems like one of the worst problems with dragons is not just that they love gold. After all, the dwarves love having huge piles of wealth, too. But dragons don't know anything about it – "they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad." From the perspective of a craftsman like Thorin, it must seem like the worst waste to steal a bunch of gold without truly appreciating its worth. The "fierce and jealous love" (1.83) of the dwarves for gold seems to be more spiritual than the dragons'.
But at any rate hobbits can move quietly in woods, absolutely quietly. They take pride in it, and Bilbo had sniffed more than once at what he called "all this dwarvish racket" as they went along, though I don't suppose you or I would have noticed anything at all on a windy night, not if the whole cavalcade had passed two feet off. (2.37)
Even though Bilbo mostly feels inferior to the dwarves when he first joins their company, he still has some interesting racial pride as a hobbit. He's constantly trying to prove himself to the dwarves, as when he tries to steal Bill the Troll's wallet. But here, he's sniffing "more than once at what he called 'all this dwarvish racket.'" These odd moments when Bilbo's perspective is suddenly represented as alien to our own (because we wouldn't have "noticed anything at all on a windy night") draw the reader's attention to the fact that Bilbo is not human, and that his judgments may not be entirely predictable. It's a nice, low-key way to remind the reader that Bilbo is, in fact, a hobbit, and not just a short, pudgy man.