Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Loyalty

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Loyalty

Chapter 6

[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

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?

Chapter 7

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?

Chapter 11

[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.

Chapter 12
Balin

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.

Chapter 16

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?

Chapter 17

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?

Chapter 18

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?