Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Wealth

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Wealth

Chapter 1

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?

Chapter 2

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.

Chapter 8

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)

Chapter 12

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)

Chapter 18

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)