Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again The Home

By J.R.R. Tolkien

The Home

Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 2
Bilbo Baggins

"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?

Chapter 3

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?

Chapter 6

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?

Chapter 12

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?

Chapter 13
Balin

"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?

Chapter 18

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?

Bilbo Baggins

"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?