"All the same, I should like it all plain and clear," said [Bilbo] obstinately, putting on his business manner (usually reserved for people who tried to borrow money off him), and doing his best to appear wise and prudent and professional and live up to Gandalf's recommendation. "Also I should like to know about risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required and remuneration, and so forth" – by which he meant: "What am I going to get out of it? and am I going to come back alive?" (1.121)
Some of the humor in this first chapter comes from the fact that both Bilbo and Thorin regard his signing up to be a burglar on a quest for treasure as a "prudent and professional" business contract. In other words, we think that exploring foreign lands filled with goblins and dragons sounds exciting and romantic. But the dwarves and Bilbo keep using this formal legal language to keep things strictly business. The tone of these negotiations seems so at odds with the excitement of what they're planning!
"We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them," said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his morning letters, and began to read, pretending to take no more notice of [Gandalf]. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. (1.12)
(By the way, it took us a long time to figure out that when Bilbo says "braces," he doesn't mean the ones that go on your teeth. "Braces" is also an Anglo English word for "suspenders," which is what Bilbo actually means here.) So, Bilbo seems completely and totally dead-set against exploration. At what point during the Unexpected Party does Bilbo change his mind?
As I was saying, the mother of this particular hobbit — of Bilbo Baggins, that is — was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran on the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer. (1.4)
First of all, we find this passage hilarious because, in a few short words, Tolkien evokes how very hidebound and conservative the hobbits are. They may be cozy, happy people, but they also insist that no one does anything unexpected. And if someone does go and "have adventures," they'll exclude that "rebel" from hobbit society. This kind of exclusion would probably be really horrible for someone who only knows the world of the hobbits. But once you've seen the larger world, the bad opinion of a few people under The Hill probably seems a lot less serious – as, in fact, Bilbo discovers by the end of the novel.
Thorin and Company to Burglar Bilbo greeting! For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. Terms: cash on delivery, up to and not exceeding one fourteenth of total profits (if any); all traveling expenses guaranteed in any event; funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives, if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for. (2.8)
What do you think of the terms of Thorin's job offer for Bilbo? Why does Thorin insist on an official contract with his burglar? What might Thorin be afraid of if he doesn't have a contract with Bilbo? Would you accept the contract Thorin offers Bilbo?
They had thought of coming to the secret door in the Lonely Mountain, perhaps that very next last moon of Autumn – "and perhaps it will be Durin's Day" they had said. Only Gandalf had shaken his head and said nothing. Dwarves had not passed that way for many years, but Gandalf had, and he knew how evil and danger had grown and thriven in the Wild, since the dragons had driven men from the lands and the goblins had spread in secret after the battle of the Mines of Moria. Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the Edge of the Wild; and Gandalf was a wise enough wizard to know it. (4.3)
The dwarves often get ahead of themselves in their plans. They can see the end point so clearly that they never take into account the dangers in the way. That's not only the case in this passage; we can also compare this to later scenes in Lake-town, when Thorin "looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces" (10.38).
There is [a way around Mirkwood], if you care to go two hundred miles or so out of your way north, and twice that south. But you wouldn't get a safe path even then. There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go. Before you could get round Mirkwood in the North you would be right among the slopes of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description. Before you could get round it in the South, you would get into the land of the Necromancer, and even you, Bilbo, won't need me to tell you tales of that black sorcerer. I don't advise you to go anywhere near the places overlooked by his dark tower! Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best, and with a tremendous slice of luck you may come out one day and see the Long Marshes lying below you and beyond them, high in the East, the Lonely Mountain where dear old Smaug lives, though I hope he is not expecting you. (7.145)
In this description from Gandalf just before Bilbo and the dwarves head into Mirkwood, we finally get a sense of the larger layout of the world of The Hobbit. Up until now, they have mainly been traveling in a straight line on a road heading east. But now, the option does exist to keep going east, north, or south. So, as their adventure is getting more dangerous, the setting itself – the layout of The Hobbit's fantasy world – is also growing more complex.
Those lands had changed much since the days when dwarves dwelt in the Mountain, days which most people now remembered only as a very shadowy tradition. They had changed even in recent years, and since the last news Gandalf had had of them. Great floods and rains had swollen the waters that flowed east, and there had been an earthquake or two (which some were inclined to attribute to the dragon – alluding to him chiefly with a curse and an ominous nod in the direction of the Mountain). The marshes and bogs had spread wider and wider on either side. Paths had vanished, and many a rider and wanderer too, if they had tried to find the lost ways across. The elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed on the advice of Beorn now came to a doubtful and little used end at the eastern edge of the forest; only the river offered any longer a safe way from the skirts of Mirkwood in the North to the mountain-shadowed plains beyond, and the river was guarded by the Wood-elves' king. (10.4)
Bilbo's luck is so very good that he manages to find the only road that would have been possible out of Mirkwood: the river out of the Wood-king's palace. Even Gandalf can't predict that the "great floods and rains" have swallowed "the elf-road through the wood which the dwarves had followed." So, at this stage in their adventure, even good advice is not enough to make travel predictable or safe. In a sense, this is the moment when Bilbo and the dwarves truly begin to explore, when they go off the path into genuinely unknown space.
They all fell silent: the hobbit standing by the grey stone, and the dwarves with wagging beards watching impatiently. The sun sank lower and lower and their hopes fell. it sank into a belt of reddened cloud and disappeared. The dwarves groaned, but still Bilbo stood almost without moving. The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through a rent in the cloud. A gleam of light came straight through the opening into the bay and fell on the smooth rock-face. The old thrush, who had been watching from a high perch with beady eyes and head cocked on one side, gave a sudden trill. There was a loud crack. A flake of rock split from the wall and fell. A hole appeared suddenly about three feet from the ground [...]
Then Thorin stepped up and drew the key on its chain from round his neck. He put it to the hole. It fitted and it turned! Snap! The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone, and evening sprang into the sky. (11.32-7)
Again, we have to be amazed by Bilbo's luck: he happens to be standing near the side door when the thrush indicates that now is the time: it's Durin's Day, and the secret keyhole is about to be revealed! We do sometimes feel that the lengths the novel goes to make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time – the Eagles that save Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves from the goblins, the thrush that indicates that it is Durin's Day, to name a few more – are a bit much to believe. Should we forgive The Hobbit its farfetched plot twists because it's a fantasy novel? Do we allow more license to fantasy fiction about things like cause and effect because of the nature of the genre? Does The Lord of the Rings ever also seem contrived, or is it just The Hobbit?
[Bilbo] had many hardships and adventures before he got back. The Wild was still the Wild, and there were many other things in it in those days besides goblins; but he was well guided and well-guarded – the wizard was with him, and Beorn for much of the way — and he was never in great danger again. (18.57).
Why do we hear nothing of Bilbo's adventures traveling with Gandalf and Beorn on the way back west? Are you curious about what happens to Bilbo on the road home, or does the pacing seem right to you?
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be "queer" – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.
I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party. (19.27-8)
It almost seems like the whole point of Bilbo's trip is to make "the sound of the kettle on his hearth [...] ever after more musical than it had been [...] in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party." If you had gone an adventure like Bilbo's, would you be satisfied to just stay at home afterwards? Now that Bilbo has seen the wider world, how does he maintain his ties to people outside of Hobbiton?
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'.
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.
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.
So [the elves] laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course. Soon Bilbo caught glimpses of them as the darkness deepened. He loved elves, though he seldom met them; but he was a little frightened of them too. Dwarves don't get on well with them. Even decent enough dwarves like Thorin and his friends think them foolish (which is a very foolish thing to think), or get annoyed with them. For some elves tease and laugh at them, and most of all at their beards. (3.14)
The foolish singing of the elves seems entirely different from the elven songs we see produced in The Lord of the Rings. Why might Tolkien have decided on this more light-hearted elvish characterization for The Hobbit? What effect does it have on the pacing of The Hobbit's chapters that these songs are often presented in full? How do the elves' songs compare to those of the dwarves or the goblins? (How do you like playing Twenty Questions?)
Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty. Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light. It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far. (4.22)
There's a reason why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have been described as anti-mechanical. After all, nature is associated with Good People, such as the elves. And engines and machines (not "beautiful things" but "clever ones") belong to the goblins. Based on what you know from The Hobbit, what do you think Tolkien's ideal living space and environment would be? What kinds of spaces in The Hobbit seem most inviting?
Now certainly Bilbo was in what is called a tight place. But you must remember it was not quite so tight for him as it would have been for me or for you. Hobbits are not quite like ordinary people; and after all if their holes are nice cheery places and properly aired, quite different from the tunnels of the goblins, still they are more used to tunneling than we are, and they do not easily lose their sense of direction underground – not when their heads have recovered from being bumped. Also they can move very quietly, and hide easily, and recover wonderfully from falls and bruises, and they have a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard of or have forgotten long ago. (5.8)
This passage seems to display Tolkien's deep respect for the importance of folklore and oral tradition connecting the present to the past. One thing the narrator admires about hobbits is that "they have a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard of or have forgotten long ago." When does Bilbo use these "wise sayings"?
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.
The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours' respect, but he gained – well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end. (1.3)
So home isn't just a place, it's also a way of behaving: to be at home means "never [... to have] any adventures or [do] anything unexpected." How does Bilbo's return from the wilds of the Lonely Mountain change both his behavior and his home?
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 thing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (1.1)
The subtitle of The Hobbit is "There and Back Again," and this first chapter describes what Bilbo is so eager to get back to while he's on his way "there." The extreme coziness of Bilbo's hobbit-hole makes it an absolute symbol of familiarity and home. The strength of this opening image of home serves to balance richer, but also colder homes we see later, especially Thorin's home under the Lonely Mountain.
"To think it will soon be June," grumbled Bilbo, as he splashed along behind the others in a very muddy track. It was after tea-time; it was pouring with rain, and had been all day; his hood was dripping into his eyes, his cloak was full of water; the pony was tired and stumbled on stones; the others were too grumpy. "And I'm sure the rain has got into the dry clothes and into the food-bags," thought Bilbo. "Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish 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! (2.24)
For much of Bilbo's journey, home seems to exist primarily as an idea to taunt him: he didn't seem truly eager to leave it in the first place, and now all he wants is to be "at home in [his] nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!" Why do you think Bilbo decided to accompany Thorin & Co. on their trip to the Lonely Mountain? Could he have turned them down?
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. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would gladly have stopped there forever and ever – even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble. Yet there is little to tell about their stay. (3.26)
Here, Thorin & Co. are chilling in the lovely valley of Rivendell to gear up for their travel through the Misty Mountains. The narrator tells us that things that are good are "not much to listen to"; this lesson is as true of Bilbo's life as anything else. After all, we hear very little of Bilbo's fifty years before going on his quest with Thorin & Co. But we hear about three hundred pages'-worth of things about the one year Bilbo spends on his adventure. Do you think the things that the narrator chooses to emphasize are the same that Bilbo would dwell on in his (fictional) memoir? Are there episodes of The Hobbit that you wish the narrator had spent more time expanding?
So ended the adventures of the Misty Mountains. Soon Bilbo's stomach was feeling full and comfortable again, and he felt he could sleep contentedly, though really he would have liked a loaf and butter better than bits of meat toasted on sticks. He slept curled up on the hard rock more soundly than ever he had done on his feather-bed in his own little hole at home. But all night he dreamed of his own house and wandered in his sleep into all his different rooms looking for something that he could not find nor remember what it looked like. (6.97)
Sometimes, The Hobbit seems to be teaching us that the point of an adventure is to teach you the value of what you left behind: Bilbo sleeps on rock "more soundly than ever he had done on his feather-bed." Could Tolkien be channeling his wartime experiences in these passages? As a soldier in World War I in the trenches of the Somme, we're sure that Tolkien spent a lot of time dreaming "of his own house." But what might Bilbo's dream of a lost object represent? Why might Tolkien be including this detail about the dream here?
Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago. He had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages. He loosened his dagger in its sheath, tightened his belt, and went on. (12.8)
What does Bilbo's pocket-handkerchief (or lack thereof) tell us about what kind of a hobbit he was back in Bag-End? What kind of a hobbit is he now, as he heads down to see Smaug and his treasure? How do you see Bilbo's character developing over the course of The Hobbit?
"Here," said Balin, "in the old days we used always to keep watchmen, and that door behind leads into a rock-hewn chamber that was made here as a guardroom. There were several places like it round the Mountain. But there seemed small need for watching in the days of our prosperity, and the guards were made over comfortable, perhaps – otherwise we might have had longer warning of the coming of the dragon, and things might have been different." (13.66)
Balin is one of the only characters besides Thorin who shares direct memories of the Lonely Mountain before Smaug came. Balin is also one of the few dwarves who seems to have a separate personality from the other dwarves (can you tell the difference between Bifur, Bofur, Oin, or Gloin? We certainly can't!) How does Balin's sharing of his memories give him a sense of character and individuality that the other dwarves might not have? What kind of a person is Balin?
Upon [Thorin's] tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise. There now Dain son of Nain took up his abode, and he became King under the Mountain, and in time many other dwarves gathered to his throne in the ancient hills. (18.32)
Even though Thorin has died, his body has been buried at the heart of his grandfather's old kingdom and his people have taken control of the Lonely Mountain once more. So, we guess that's a happy ending for him. What does Thorin seem to value about his home? How do Thorin's visions of home differ from Bilbo's? Why do you think Thorin is so stubborn about letting go of even a piece of his treasure to Bard or the Elvenking? What might have happened if the goblins and the Wargs hadn't come to interrupt their negotiations?
"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!" said Bilbo, and he turned his back on his adventure. The Tookish part was getting very tired, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. "I wish now only to be in my own armchair!" he said. (18.54)
Bilbo imagines himself sitting comfortably "in [his] own armchair"; his less adventurous side is finally winning out by the end of the novel. But how has Bilbo's feeling for (or appreciation of) home changed over the course of The Hobbit? Does his hobbit-hole look the same in Chapter 19 as it did in Chapter 1?
Let's have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet. (1.104)
How exactly does Gandalf know that there "is a lot more in [Bilbo] than [the dwarves] guess"? Do we get a sense of what exactly Gandalf's supernatural powers are? Do they have any limit? Is Gandalf ever wrong?
Thorin looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces.
Then, as he said, the dwarves' good feeling towards the little hobbit grew stronger every day. There were no more groans or grumbles. They drank to his health, and they patted him on the back, and they made a great fuss of him; which was just as well, for he was not feeling particularly cheerful. He had not forgotten the look of the Mountain, nor the thought of the dragon, and he had beside a shocking cold. For three days he sneezed and coughed, and he could not go out, and even after that his speeches at banquets were limited to "Thag you very buch." (10.39)
While Thorin and the dwarves hang out in Lake-town, they feel as though their goal of recapturing Thorin's treasure has already been achieved. So they "[drink] to [Bilbo's] health, and they [pat] him on the back, and they [make] a great fuss of him." But when the dwarves are sitting in the cold by the side door of the Lonely Mountain, they start grumbling and blaming Bilbo for lack of progress. The dwarves seem like the definition of fair-weather friends: they respect Bilbo when things are going well, and they criticize him when the going gets tough.
A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. he fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. (12.12)
Bilbo's decision to go into the dragon's lair alone is the bravest thing that he has ever done, he feels. Do you agree? Are there other moments in the novel that stand out to you as equally (or even more) brave? What is it about this particular moment that requires all of Bilbo's courage?
Naturally the dwarves accepted the offer eagerly. Already they had come to respect little Bilbo. Now he had become the real leader in their adventure. He had begun to have ideas and plans of his own. When midday came he got ready for another journey down into the Mountain. (12.40)
Bilbo's "offer" here is to go down and have a second look at the dragon, now that he has stolen this golden cup. The dwarves have now been walled into the Lonely Mountain because the dragon has blocked the side door with trees and rocks and things, so Bilbo agrees to go spy on the dragon once more. What do you think the dwarves are hoping Bilbo will achieve here? Isn't there strength in numbers – is this the most sensible plan you can think of for dealing with Smaug? How might the following events of the novel have changed if Bilbo had actually succeeded in catching Smaug asleep a second time? Do you think Bilbo would have it in him to kill Smaug himself, under any circumstances?
But in the end, when Bilbo actually began to stamp on the floor, and screamed out "light!" at the top of his shrill voice, Thorin gave way, and Oin and Gloin were sent back to their bundles at the top of the tunnel.
After a while a twinkling gleam showed them returning, Oin with a small pine-torch alight in his hand, and Gloin with a bundle of others under his arm. Quickly Bilbo trotted to the door and took the torch; but he could not persuade the dwarves to light the others or to come and join him yet. As Thorin carefully explained, Mr. Baggins was still officially their expert burglar and investigator. If he liked to risk a light, that was his affair. They would wait in the tunnel for his report. (13.17)
Thorin is brave enough to make his last stand against the goblins. So why does he hesitate to simply join Bilbo in the dragon's empty lair in this scene? When do the dwarves show the most courage? When do they show the least? What seems to inspire courage in the dwarves?
Roaring [Smaug] swept back over the town. A hail of dark arrows leaped up and snapped and rattled on his scales and jewels, and their shafts fell back kindled by his breath burning and hissing into the lake. No fireworks you ever imagined equaled the sights that night. At the twanging of the bows and the shrilling of the trumpets the dragon's wrath blazed to its height, till he was blind and mad with it. No one had dared to give battle to him for many an age; nor would they have dared now, if it had not been for the grim-voiced man (Bard was his name), who ran to and fro cheering on the archers and urging the Master to order them to fight to the last arrow. (14.14)
The men of Lake-town have been so cowed by Smaug that "[n]o one had dared to give battle to him for many an age." Only Bard is able to lead the men of Lake-town against Smaug. Do we get any sense of Bard as a character? What are his traits beyond bravery and grimness? How does Bard's courage differ from Bilbo's or Thorin's?
I will not parley, as I have said, with armed men at my gate. Not at all with the people of Elvenking, whom I remember with small kindness. In this debate they have no place. Begone now ere our arrows fly! And if you would speak with me again, first dismiss the elvish host to the woods where it belongs, and then return, laying down your arms before you approach the threshold. (15.46)
After Smaug has been killed, Bard and the Elvenking approach Thorin. Bard demands some part of Thorin's treasure, considering that Smaug fell on Lake-town and killed lots of people, and since Bard himself is Smaug's killer. Now that Thorin has his mountain kingdom to defend, his response is completely rigid: he won't talk while the elves are there, and he won't talk while the human armies are there. Do you think Bard has a right to Thorin's treasure? How about the Elvenking?
It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo's experiences, and the one which at the time he hated most – which is to day it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it. Actually I may say he put on his ring early in the business and vanished from sight, if not from all danger. (17.49)
At the moment when more traditional heroes like Bard and even Thorin are front-and-center at the Battle of Five Armies, Bilbo's standing invisible on the sidelines. Having crept down to face Smaug in his lair, Bilbo seems to have exhausted all of his courage. How are Bilbo's courageous deeds different from Thorin's? Do they seem any more or less valuable? Do you think Bilbo would describe himself as brave? Why or why not?
Suddenly there was a great shout, and from the Gate came a trumpet call. They had forgotten Thorin! Part of the wall, moved by levers, fell outward with a crash into the pool. Out leaped the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armour, and red light leaped from their eyes. In the gloom the great dwarf gleamed like gold in a dying fire. (17.55)
Thorin bursts out of the Lonely Mountain, looking every inch the King under the Mountain in his final battle charge. Morally speaking, does Thorin's last stand balance out the war he almost caused against Bard and the Elvenking? What is your final judgment of Thorin's courage?
The roar of [Beorn's] voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers. He fell upon their rear, and broke like a clap of thunder through the ring. [...] [H]is wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He scattered the [goblin] bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him. (18.23-4)
Beorn basically seems like a one-man army: "nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bit upon him." Beorn is so overwhelming that it's almost as though he has nothing to fear. Given that Bilbo is so vulnerable and unskilled, we think it may have taken Bilbo more courage to face Gollum than it takes Beorn to scatter "the [goblin] bodyguard, and [pull] down Bolg himself."
As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of the dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. (1.83)
Listening to the dwarves' songs, Bilbo feels "the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic." Why might gold be connected to Bilbo's "Tookish" side, to the part of him that wishes "to go and see the great mountains"? How do wealth and adventure go hand-in-hand?
Then they brought up their ponies, and carried away the pots of gold and buried them very secretly not far from the track by the river, putting a great many spells over them, just in case they ever had the chance to come back and recover them. (2.112)
The thing we find funny about this passage is the matter-of-fact way in which the narrator talks about the "great many spells" cast over the trolls' gold. It's as though the dwarves are setting a magic burglar alarm. While we do know that there's magic in the world of The Hobbit, it's generally only mentioned in passing, as in this passage.
In ancient days [the Wood-elves] had had wars with some of the dwarves, whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the elf-king had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay. If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems; and though his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. His people neither mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or with tilling the earth. All this was well known to every dwarf, though Thorin's family had had nothing to do with the old quarrel I have spoken of. Consequently Thorin was angry at their treatment of him, when they took their spell of him and he came to the senses; and also he was determined that no word of gold or jewels should be dragged out of him. (8.129)
But men remembered little [of the old wealth of Dale and Lake-town], though some still sang old songs of the dwarf-kings of the Mountain, Thror and Thrain of the race of Durin, and of the coming of the Dragon and the fall of the lords of Dale. Some sang too that Thorin son of Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much effect their daily business. (10.9)
The Elvenking realizes that Thorin has escaped and guesses that there will be "attempted burglary or something like it" at work. On what grounds could the Elvenking possibly block anyone bringing treasure through Mirkwood? We also like this quote because it shows something interesting about the narrative voice in The Hobbit. Because it often seems to imitate oral storytelling (check out our section on "Narrator Point of View " for more on this), the narrator is always throwing in these little notes of commentary and foreshadowing. In this passage, his promise that "we shall see in the end" how the Elvenking is a not quite right amps up the suspense and keeps us interested in the plot's development.
Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count. (12.15)
While the dwarves clearly love gold for its own sake – it's pretty much their thing – Thorin (and Balin, in this passage) seems to use this particular gold as a symbol for the past. He doesn't just value it because it's valuable. He also wants to remember "the spears that were made for the armies of the great King Bladorthin" and "the great golden cup of Thror." These things are meaningful to Thorin because they represent "warriors long dead." For more on Thorin's association of wealth with the past, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."
"The Arkenstone! The Arkenstone!" murmured Thorin in the dark, half dreaming with his chin upon his knees. "It was like a globe with a thousand facets; it shone like silver in the firelight, like water in the sun, like snow under the stars, like rain upon the Moon!" (12.95)
When Bilbo first gets a glimpse of the "gold beyond price and count," he suddenly feels "the lust, the glory of such treasure." How does Bilbo manage to move past the "enchantment and [...] desire of the dwarves"? Which other characters are less successful at getting past dragon-sickness? And what seems to be the cause of this bewitchment?
From that the talk turned to the great hoard itself and to the things that Thorin and Balin remembered. They wondered if they were still lying there unharmed in the hall below; the spears that were made for the armies of the great King Bladorthin (long since dead), each had a thrice-forged head and their shafts were inlaid with cunning gold, but they were never delivered or paid for; shields made for warriors long dead; the great golden cup of Thror, two-handed, hammered and carven with birds and flowers whose eyes and petals were of jewels. (12.94)
Thorin's description of the Arkenstone is like a love poem. Compared to his incredibly stiff, formal style when dealing with important things like hiring Bilbo as the dwarves' official burglar, this passage seems particularly beautiful. Why does Thorin seem to love things so much? Is it simply because he's a dwarf, or is it particular to his character? What sense do we get of how the other dwarves judge Thorin for his love of the Arkenstone?
I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate. (18.17)
As Thorin lies dying, he starts to let go of his obsession with wealth. It's a shame that he couldn't have learned the lesson that you can't take it with you before he almost started a war with the Elvenking and Bard. Does the fact that Thorin opts for the right thing with Bilbo at the end of the novel make up for the way he treated Bilbo before the Battle of Five Armies? How do you feel about Thorin's deathbed change of heart?
"How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don't know. And I don't know what I should have done with it when I got home. I am sure it is better in your hands."
In the end [Bilbo] would only take two small chests, one filled with silver, and the other with gold, such as one strong pony could carry. "That will be quite as much as I can manage," said he. (18.36-7)
These songs promising that Thorin son of Thrain would come back and "gold would flow in rivers" to Lake-town seems sort of reminiscent of the King Arthur legend. Part of the whole mythology of King Arthur is that he's lying in an enchanted sleep, but will come back to England one day. At any rate, it seems to be a consistent theme throughout The Hobbit that songs keep legends alive. Perhaps this explains why there are so many songs in this novel.
"Very well! We'll see! No treasure will come back through Mirkwood without my having something to say in the matter. But I expect they will all come to a bad end, and serve them right!" [The Elvenking] at any rate did not believe in dwarves fighting and killing dragons like Smaug, and he strongly suspected attempted burglary or something like it – which shows he was a wise elf and wiser than the men of the town, though not quite right, as we shall see in the end. (10.41)
A really first-class and legendary burglar would at this point have picked the trolls' pockets – it is nearly always worth while, if you can manage it –, pinched the very mutton off the spits, purloined the beer, and walked off without their noticing him. Others more practical but with less professional pride would perhaps have stuck a dagger into each of them before they observed it. Then the night could have been spent cheerily.
Bilbo knew it. He had read a good many things he had never seen or done. He was very much alarmed, as well as disgusted; he wished himself a hundred miles away, and yet – and yet somehow he could not go straight back to Thorin and Company emptyhanded. (2.42-3)
The thing is, Bilbo has no practical experience of the outside world by the time he finds his first real adventure with the trolls in the forest. But he has read a lot of tales and legends, so he knows how his story is supposed to go. He decides that, as a burglar, he has to pick Bill the Troll's pocket – he can't go back to Thorin "emptyhanded." And, of course, he winds up getting captured. Are there other examples in The Hobbit where Bilbo makes decisions based on his assumptions or other people's expectations? Or does he learn his lesson with this trollish disaster? What can Bilbo's decision in this passage tell us about his character at this point of the novel?
[Gollum] was anxious to appear friendly, at any rate for the moment, and until he found out more about the sword and the hobbit, whether he was quite alone really, whether he was good to eat, and whether Gollum was really hungry. Riddles were all he could think of. Asking them, and sometimes guessing them, had been the only game he had every played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long, long ago, before he lost all of his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains. (5.22)
Gollum is trying to stall while he has Bilbo right in front of him, so he challenges the hobbit to a riddle game. Why do you think Bilbo agrees? What might have happened if Bilbo had refused to riddle with Gollum? What does this passage in the novel show us about Gollum's character?
[Bilbo] knew, of course, that the riddle-game was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it. But he felt he could not trust this slimy thing [Gollum] to keep any promise at a pinch. (5.68)
It strikes us as a little odd that Tolkien spends so much time describing the riddle game when the end result doesn't matter: if Bilbo loses, Gollum will try to eat him. And now that Bilbo has won, Gollum is still going to try and kill him. What's the tone of the riddle chapter in The Hobbit? What does it achieve in the novel's plot and character development?
For Thorin had taken heart again hearing how the hobbit had rescued his companions from the spiders, and was determined once more not to ransom himself with promises to the king of a share in the treasure, until all hope of escaping in any other way had disappeared; until in fact the remarkable Mr. Invisible Baggins (of whom he began to have a very high opinion indeed) had altogether failed to think of something clever.
The other dwarves quite agreed when they got the message. They all thought their own shares in the treasure (which they quite regarded as theirs, in spite of their plight and the still unconquered dragon) would suffer seriously if the Wood-elves claimed part of it, and they all trusted Bilbo. Just what Gandalf had said would happen, you see. Perhaps that was part of his reason for going off and leaving them. (9.16)
Gandalf's probable reason for leaving the dwarves behind is so they can grow to trust Bilbo. But Gandalf's reason is also Tolkien's reason: he has to develop the relationships between the dwarves and Bilbo before the end of The Hobbit, which can only happen once Gandalf is gone (check out our "Character Analysis" of Gandalf for more on this). We find Gandalf's sudden departure a little contrived, actually – is there a more natural way that Bilbo and the dwarves could have been left on their own to grow to trust one another? There is a similar moment of Gandalf's departure in The Fellowship of the Ring. How does Gandalf's scenes in the Mines of Moria compare with his plan to pursue other business with the Necromancer in The Hobbit? And what evidence do we get before Bilbo and the dwarves enter Mirkwood that Bilbo is going to become an expert at "[thinking] of something clever"?
"I suppose you got a fair price for that cup last night?" [Smaug] went on. "Come now, did you? Nothing at all! Well, that's just like [dwarves]. And I suppose they are skulking outside, and your job is to do all the dangerous work and get what you can when I'm not looking – for them? And you will get a fair share? Don't you believe it! If you get off alive, you will be lucky."
Bilbo was now beginning to feel really uncomfortable. Whenever Smaug's roving eye, seeking for him in the shadows, flashed across him, he trembled, and an unaccountable desire seized hold of him to rush out and reveal himself and tell all the truth to Smaug. In fact he was in grievous danger of coming under the dragon-spell. (12.62-3)
All of this time, we've been thinking Bilbo's the cunning one. Smaug has just seemed like a toothy, fire-breathing abstract threat, and not necessarily a thinking being. But here we get proof that dragons are surprisingly wily and well-spoken. And they can enchant you with their talking; they can put you under "the dragon-spell." Do we get any sense of Smaug as a character? Does he have any character depth or motivation for what he does?
"But [Dain and his dwarves] cannot reach the Mountain unmarked," said Roäc, "and I fear lest there be battle in the valley. I do not call this counsel good. Though they are a grim folk, they are not likely to overcome the host that besets you; and even if they did so, what will you gain? Winter and snow is hastening behind them. How shall you be fed without the friendship and goodwill of the lands about you? The treasure is likely to be your death, though the dragon is no more!" (16.5)
Roäc the raven isn't just a messenger. He also tells Thorin when he's being an idiot. For example, Thorin is counting on Dain and his reinforcements to hold the Lonely Mountain against Bard and the Elvenking. But Dain can't get into the Lonely Mountain without fighting his way through the valley where the elves and men are camped. And then what? Does Thorin just want to stay at war with everyone around him, just for treasure? Tolkien represents treasure as an actual sickness that can overcome your reason just like any other mental illness. This isn't his idea alone; according to Anderson's Annotated Hobbit, Tolkien gets his ideas about the maddening effects of treasure from the Old English epic Beowulf.
"Why do you tell us [about the arrival of Dain and five hundred dwarves]? Are you betraying your friends, or are you threatening us?" asked Bard grimly.
"My dear Bard!" squeaked Bilbo. "Don't be so hasty! I never met such suspicious folk! I am merely trying to avoid trouble for all concerned." (16.32-3)
When Bilbo sneaks down to Bard's camp with the Arkenstone in hand, he's "merely trying to avoid trouble for all concerned." What do you think of Bilbo's plan? Would it have worked to avoid war in the long run if the goblins and Wargs had never turned up?
There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell! (18.19)
As Thorin is dying, he gives Bilbo credit for "Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure." Of these two virtues – courage and wisdom – which do you think Bilbo values more? How about Thorin himself, or Gandalf? Why?
When Gandalf saw Bilbo, he was delighted. "Baggins!" he exclaimed. "Well I never! Alive after all – I am glad! I began to wonder if even your luck would see you through. A terrible business, and it nearly was disastrous." (18.14)
Up until Gandalf's surprise that Bilbo has survived the Battle of Five Armies, we don't think we've ever seen Gandalf be wrong before. Can you think of other examples? What are the limits on Gandalf's wisdom? How does Gandalf use his knowledge as a tool earlier in The Hobbit?
[Elrond] took [the map] and gazed long at it, and he shook his head; for if he did not altogether approve of dwarves and their love of gold, he hated dragons and their cruel wickedness, and he grieved to remember the ruin of the town of Dale and its merry bells, and the burned banks of the bright River Running. (3.35)
The purpose of this quest is not a black-and-white case of good vs. evil. Sure, the enemy is an evil, murdering dragon. But what the dwarves are seeking more than anything else is treasure – as Bilbo points out much later in the novel, the dwarves have thought of "no way of getting rid of Smaug" (12.33). In a book where there are good races and bad races – the elves and the goblins, respectively, the dwarves are probably the closest things we have to a moral grey area.
[Bilbo] must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. [Gollum] meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. he trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped. (5.119)
Bilbo pities Gollum and so, even though Gollum "meant to kill [Bilbo]," he can't just stab Gollum without warning in the dark. Which creatures does Bilbo think it is OK to kill? Does Bilbo make the right ethical decision here?
Then Bilbo fled [with the cup]. But the dragon did not wake – not yet – but shifted into other dreams of greed and violence, lying there in his stolen hall while the little hobbit toiled back up the long tunnel. His heart was beating and a more fevered shaking was in his legs than when he was going down, but still he clutched the cup, and his chief thought was: "I've done it! This will show them. 'More like a grocer than a burglar' indeed! Well, we'll hear no more of that." (12.17)
Bilbo's still trying to prove himself to the dwarves even now that he has gotten them all the way to the Lonely Mountain thanks to his wits and good luck. Obviously, that line in the first chapter that Bilbo looks "More like a grocer than a burglar" really smarts. Like the dwarves, Bilbo doesn't seem to be thinking of his quest in grand moral terms. Given that this quest doesn't seem to be about good vs. evil exactly, why do you think Gandalf has chosen to get involved?
Dragons may not have much real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule, especially after long possession; and Smaug was no exception. He had passed from an uneasy dream (in which a warrior, altogether insignificant in size but provided with a bitter sword and great courage, figured most unpleasantly) to a doze, and from a doze to wide waking. There was a breath of strange air in his cave. Could there be a draught from that little hole? He had never felt quite happy about it, though it was so small, and now he glared at it in suspicion and wondered why he had never blocked it up. (12.20)
Even though Smaug is evil through and through, we get more narrative from his perspective than we do from any of the goblins. Why might the novel spend so much time on Smaug's perspective (and even his feelings – like Bilbo, he has anxious dreams!)? What sense do we get of Smaug's motivations in The Hobbit?
"I am Bard, and by my hand was the dragon slain and your treasure delivered. Is that not a matter that concerns you? Moreover I am by right descent the heir of Girion of Dale, and in your hoard is mingled much of the wealth of his halls and towns, which old Smaug stole. Is not that a matter of which we may speak? Further in his last battle Smaug destroyed the dwellings of the men of Esgaroth, and I am yet the servant of their Master. I would speak for him and ask whether you have no thought for the sorrow and misery of his people. they aided you in your distress, and in recompense you have thus far brought ruin only, though doubtless undesigned."
Now these were fair words and true, if proudly and grimly spoken; and Bilbo thought that Thorin would at once admit what justice was in them. He did not, of course, expect that any one would remember that it was he who discovered all by himself the dragon's weak spot; and that was just as well, for no one ever did. But also he did not reckon with the power that gold has upon which a dragon has long brooded, nor with dwarvish hearts. (15.41-42)
Bard lays out his case pretty clearly for why his people deserve some of Thorin's treasure. What rational arguments does Thorin use to try and rebut Bard's points? How does Thorin try and make his case for the morality of hoarding his treasure? If Thorin plans to keep his treasure anyway, why does he make a show of listening to Bard at all?
"But how is it yours to give?" [Bard] asked at last with an effort.
"O well!" said the hobbit uncomfortably. "It isn't exactly; but, well, I am willing to let it stand against all my claim, don't you know. I may be a burglar – or so they say: personally I never really felt like one – but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less. Anyway I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me. I hope you will find it useful." (16.38-9).
In a sense, Bilbo is the worst burglar ever because he's too moral to keep anything he steals. He is willing to let the Arkenstone go to Bard so that Bard can negotiate for "all of [Bilbo's] claim" on Thorin's treasure. (Dain does, in fact, honor this deal, so that one-fourteenth of Thorin's treasure goes to Bard after his death.) How do the dwarves and Gandalf decide that burglary is what Bilbo would be good at? What seems to be the job description for a burglar, according to the dwarves?
So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of the Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves. (17.44)
The goblins and wild wolves (a.k.a. Wargs) are so evil that the good and basically decent peoples – men, elves, and dwarves – agree without hesitation to band together. It must be nice having such an easily defined, obviously wicked enemy to fight against. When you start grouping these characters into good and bad races, their loyalties are much easier to identify. Thus, the morality of Tolkien's novels seems difficult to apply in the real world.
But the [Elvenking] reckoned without the dwarves. The knowledge that the Arkenstone was in the hands of the besiegers burned in their thoughts; also they guessed the hesitation of Bard and his friends, and resolved to strike while they debated.
Suddenly without a signal [the dwarves] sprang silently forward to attack. Bows twanged and arrows whistled; battle was about to be joined. (17.39)
Dain, Thorin's cousin, is actually willing to ambush the elf and human armies just so he can get to his cousin in the Lonely Mountain. We have discussed that the dwarves seem to operate in a moral grey area that the elves do not seem to share – would Tolkien's elves be capable of this kind of treachery? What do you think would have happened at this stage if Gandalf hadn't suddenly called a halt because the goblins are coming?
"It will not be long now," thought Bilbo, "before the goblins win the Gate, and we are all slaughtered or driven down and captured. Really it is enough to make one weep, after all one has gone through. I would rather old Smaug had been left with all the wretched treasure, than that these vile creatures should get it, and poor old Bombur, and Balin and Fili and Kili and all the rest come to a bad end; and Bard too, and the Lake-men and the merry elves. Misery me! I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing. I wish I was well out of it." (17.62)
Perhaps one reason why our hero Bilbo stays on the sidelines of the Battle of Five Armies is to show how un-glorious battle really is: unlike the people in the midst of the fighting, Bilbo has the space and time to realize that war is "very uncomfortable, not to say distressing." Even if his friends are fighting on the right side, that's not much comfort when he begins to think of the cost in lives.
"I beg of you," said Bilbo stammering and standing on one foot, "to accept this gift!" and he brought out a necklace of silver and pearls that Dain had given him at their parting.
"In what way have I earned such a gift, O hobbit?" said the king.
"Well, er, I thought, don't you know," said Bilbo rather confused, "that, er, some little return should be made for your, er, hospitality. I mean even a burglar has his feelings. I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your bread."
"I will take your gift, O Bilbo the Magnificent," said the king gravely. (18.46-9)
Bilbo's moral code is incredibly rigid when it comes to payment: if he has received a service or profited off somebody, he has to pay for it. It's not just the Elvenking; he also leaves the stolen keys with the drunken guard in the Elvenking's dungeons so the poor guy doesn't come in for too much criticism. Perhaps this strong moral understanding of the importance of payment is why Bilbo is so reluctant to accept much treasure?
[Bilbo] still wandered on, out of the little high valley, over its bulge, and down the slopes beyond; but all the while a very uncomfortable thought was growing inside him. He wondered whether he ought not, now he had a magic ring, to go back into the horrible, horrible tunnels and look for his friends. He had just made up his mind that it was his duty, and that he must turn back – and very miserable he felt about it – when he heard voices. (6.3)
After Bilbo emerges from the Misty Mountains, he has "a very uncomfortable thought" that he should go back and check on Thorin & Co. to make sure they get away from the goblins OK. Is this the first time we see Bilbo feel a real sense of duty to the dwarves? When do they start to act like a real group with Bilbo included?
Gandalf answered angrily: "I brought him, and I don't bring things that are of no use. Either you help me to look for him, or I go and leave you here to get out of the mess as best you can yourselves. If we can only find him again, you will thank me before all is over." (6.9)
Here, Gandalf's insisting that the dwarves go back into the goblin tunnels to help him find Bilbo. Gandalf is incredibly loyal to Bilbo from the start; in fact, his loyalty to Bilbo is what makes Bilbo decide to join the dwarves in the first place. Do we get any indication about what Gandalf sees in Bilbo that convinces him that the dwarves "will thank [him] before all is over"? What is Gandalf's history with the hobbits and with Bilbo's family in particular?
It is no use arguing. I have, as I told you, some pressing business away south; and I am already late through bothering with you people. We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not. That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense; and I am sending Mr. Baggins with you. I have told you before that he has more about him than you guess, and you will find that out before long. So cheer up Bilbo and don't look so glum. Cheer up Thorin and Company! This is your expedition after all. (7.36)
Gandalf appears to be a guide for Thorin & Co. strictly for his own interest; he certainly hasn't been hired by Thorin, as Bilbo has. So Gandalf can come and go as he pleases. What sense do you get of Gandalf's relationship to Thorin & Co.? What reasons might he have had for joining this quest in the first place? Why might Tolkien be leaving it up to us to imagine how this whole quest got started with Thorin and Gandalf?
[Dwalin] "What is our burglar doing for us? Since he has got an invisible ring, and ought to be a specially excellent performer now, I am beginning to think he might go through the front gate and spy things out a bit!"
Bilbo heard this – the dwarves were on the rocks just above the enclosure where he was sitting – and "Good Gracious!" he thought, "so that is what they are beginning to think, is it? It is always poor me that has to get them out of their difficulties, at least since the wizard left. Whatever am I going to do?" (11.27)
As Bilbo and the dwarves are sitting at the side door waiting for something to happen (before they find the keyhole), the dwarves get impatient and start to turn on Bilbo. As Bilbo says, "It is always poor [Bilbo] that has to get them out of their difficulties." So the flip side of the dwarves' newfound loyalty for Bilbo is that they expect a lot more of him – and it's perhaps these high expectations that make Thorin feel all the more betrayed when he finds out that Bilbo has given Thorin's Arkenstone to Bard.
So Bilbo told them all he could remember, and he confessed that he had a nasty feeling that the dragon guessed too much from his riddles added to the camps and the ponies. [...]
"Well, well! It cannot be helped and it is difficult not to slip in talking to a dragon, or so I have always heard," said Balin anxious to comfort him. "I think you did very well, if you ask me – you found out one very useful thing at any rate, and got home alive, and that is more than most can say who have had words with the likes of Smaug." (12.86-7)
In getting cocky and taunting Smaug, Bilbo told the dragon more than he meant to about where he comes from (e.g., "Barrel-Rider" = from Lake-town). But now that Bilbo has actually made a mistake, Balin is "anxious to comfort him." So Balin, at least, seems to be pulling real friend duty with Bilbo. His loyalty to Bilbo doesn't seem to be dutiful.
Now a nasty suspicion began to grow in his mind – had the dwarves forgotten this important point [about transportation of Bilbo's gold back to Bag-End] too, or were they laughing in their sleeves at him all the time? That is the effect that dragon-talk has on the inexperienced. Bilbo of course ought to have been on his guard; but Smaug had rather an overwhelming personality. (12.68)
One of the reasons that Bilbo tries not to give his name to Smaug is for fear that the dragon will then use Bilbo's true name to enchant him. But Smaug's words still seem to have a dangerous magical quality to make Bilbo doubt himself and his companions. How trustworthy are Thorin & Co.? Do we see any indications (besides the twisted words of Smaug) that Bilbo might be right to be concerned? What does it say about the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin that Bilbo is capable of entertaining "a nasty suspicion" against the dwarves this late in the novel?
The most that can be said for the dwarves is this: they intended to pay Bilbo really handsomely for his services; they had brought him to do a nasty job for them, and they did not mind the poor little fellow doing it if he would; but they would have done their best to get him out of trouble, if he got into it, as they did in the case of the trolls at the beginning of their adventures before they had any particular reasons for being grateful to him. There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much. (12.6)
It's damning with faint praise to say that the dwarves "are decent enough people [...] if you don't expect too much." But we're also interested in the line between duty and friendship here: the dwarves "would have done their best to get [Bilbo] out of trouble, if he got into it." They would do this for Bilbo out of a sense of duty, because he's their burglar and they "had brought him to do a nasty job for them." Do we get a sense that any of the dwarves feel personal loyalty towards Bilbo, above and beyond a feeling of duty? Do any of them like him? Is there a lot of emotional content in the friendships of this novel? How might the friendships between Bilbo and the dwarves contrast with those portrayed in The Lord of the Rings, say, between Legolas and Gimli, or Frodo and Sam, or even Pippin and Merry?
They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug – which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out. Then as is the nature of folk that are thoroughly perplexed, they began to grumble at the hobbit, blaming him for what had at first so pleased them: for bring away a cup and stirring up Smaug's wrath so soon. (12.33)
One of the things that strike us as funny about the dwarves is that they seem so much more human – flawed and imperfect – than the few named human characters in the novel, Bard among them. Even though they don't really seem to mean their grumbling against Bilbo, they're so confused about what to do next with Smaug that they turn on him anyway.
The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder. "Bilbo Baggins!" he said. "You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it. But I wonder if Thorin Oakenshield will see it so. I have more knowledge of dwarves in general than you have perhaps. I advise you to remain with us, and here you shall be honoured and thrice welcome."
"Thank you very much I am sure," said Bilbo with a bow. "But I don't think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gone through together. And I promised to wake old Bombur at midnight, too! Really, I must be going, and quickly." (16.41)
Bilbo decides to take the one thing that Thorin seems to love most in this world, the Arkenstone, to Thorin's enemies. How is Bilbo showing his loyalty to his dwarf friends with this move? How might he have tried to explain this to Thorin? What might have happened to Bilbo or to the dwarves if Bilbo had decided to accept the Elvenking's offer in this passage?
I am betrayed [...] It was rightly guessed that I could not forbear to redeem the Arkenstone, the treasure of my house. For it I will give one fourteenth share of the hoard in silver and gold, setting aside the gems; but that shall be accounted the promised share of this traitor, and with that reward he shall depart, and you can divide it as you will. He will get little enough, I doubt not. Take him, if you wish him to live; and no friendship of mine goes with him. (17.19)
Thorin, of course, only sees that Bilbo has taken the Arkenstone from him – he doesn't see Bilbo's larger effort to keep the peace. Without the drastic intervention of the Battle of Five Armies, do you think Thorin could ever have forgiven Bilbo for what he tried? Why do none of the dwarves, some of whom feel pity and shame watching Bilbo go, stand up for him?
Then Bilbo turned away, and he went by himself, and sat alone wrapped in a blanket, and, whether you believe it or not, he wept until his eyes were red and his voice was hoarse. He was a kindly little soul. Indeed it was long before he had the heart to make a joke again. "A mercy it is," he said at last to himself, "that I woke up when I did. I wish Thorin were living, but I am glad that we parted in kindness. You are a fool, Bilbo Baggins, and you made a great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet, but I suppose you can hardly be blamed for that." (18.20)
After Thorin dies, Bilbo weeps "until his eyes were red and his voice was hoarse." But why does the narrator doubt "whether you [will] believe it or not?" Does Bilbo's crying over Thorin's death seem surprising or out of character to you? As a reader, did you feel anything during Thorin's death scene? Whom do we feel loyalty to in this book – just the titular hobbit? Do any of the other characters come across as really well-rounded or relatable?