Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Chapter 1

By J.R.R. Tolkien

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Chapter 1

An Unexpected Party

  • Bilbo Baggins is a well-to-do, well-respected hobbit living in a cozy hole in The Hill.
  • (Hobbits are about half the size of humans. They enjoy eating, drinking, and generally being happy and comfortable at home. Sounds plenty human to us!)
  • One day, Bilbo is sitting outside his front door smoking when a wizard comes by: Gandalf.
  • Gandalf comes to The Hill every now and again and stirs things up by telling wild stories and bringing young hobbits on adventures.
  • Bilbo is uncomfortable and flustered so he panics, asks Gandalf to come to tea the following Wednesday, and runs inside.
  • Gandalf laughs and makes some kind of strange mark on Bilbo's door.
  • Bilbo totally forgets that Gandalf is coming over for tea on Wednesday, so when the doorbell rings, he's surprised.
  • He is even more surprised when thirteen dwarves show up on his doorstep: Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Dwalin, Balin, and Thorin Oakenshield, their leader.
  • Gandalf also turns up.
  • So now Bilbo has an unexpected party of fourteen strangers on his hands: how will he feed them all?!
  • The evening goes on and, eventually, it comes out that the mark Gandalf put on the door was an ad.
  • Gandalf is the one who told all the dwarves to turn up at Bilbo's home for tea on Wednesday.
  • The mark on the door means, "Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward" (1.98).
  • The dwarves hesitate to believe that Bilbo would be a good addition to a treasure quest.
  • But Gandalf insists that Bilbo is "as fierce as a dragon in a pinch" (1.93).
  • He also promises: "There is a lot more in [Bilbo] than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself" (1.104).
  • Bilbo feels proud (and frightened) at Gandalf's recommendation, so he sticks around to find out what Gandalf and the dwarves want him to do.
  • Thorin's grandfather Thror set up a huge, fine hall underneath the Lonely Mountain.
  • Their family prospered, and they made lots of armor and jewelry and other fine things.
  • All of this wealth attracted a dragon from the North, Smaug.
  • When Smaug attacked the mountain under cover of night, these thirteen dwarves (along with Thorin's grandfather and father) barely escaped with their lives.
  • They all vowed to return to the Lonely Mountain one day to take back the treasure from nasty old Smaug.
  • Gandalf has a map showing a secret side door to the Lonely Mountain. He also has the key.
  • He got both of these items from Thorin's father, Thrain, who was dying in the dungeons of the Necromancer when Gandalf found him.
  • With this map and key in hand, the dwarves want to go to the Lonely Mountain.
  • Then they want Bilbo, their professional burglar, to steal the treasure from the dragon Smaug.
  • It's now late at night and everyone goes to sleep.
  • Bilbo is still on the fence about whether he's going to go on this adventure or not.
  • But he falls asleep listening to Thorin singing, "Far over the misty mountains cold / To dungeons deep and caverns old / We must away, ere break of day, / To find out long-forgotten gold" (1.143).

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