Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Courage

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Courage

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?

Chapter 10

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.

Chapter 12

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?

Chapter 13

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?

Chapter 14

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?

Chapter 15

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?

Chapter 17

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?

Chapter 18

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."