Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Chapter 5

By J.R.R. Tolkien

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Chapter 5

Riddles in the Dark

  • Bilbo wakes up in the dark.
  • He has no idea what's happening, so he gropes around the tunnel trying to get his bearings.
  • Bilbo puts his hand on a metal ring. (Dun dun dun!)
  • As the narrator points out, "[the ring] was the turning point in his career but he did not know it" (5.2).
  • After all, this is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.
  • Anyhoo, back to the action: Bilbo puts the ring in his pocket and goes on his merry way.
  • He finds that he's still armed with that little knife he got from the trolls' treasure cave.
  • The knife is glowing faintly: like Orcrist and Glamdring, it must be of elvish make.
  • Bilbo feels a bit braver with the knife in hand, so he keeps on down this dark tunnel.
  • Bilbo suddenly puts his foot in cold water: he has reached an underground lake.
  • On an island in this underground lake lives Gollum, a small slimy fellow who's been living under the mountains and dodging goblins for longer than he can remember.
  • Gollum sees Bilbo, gets into his little boat, and comes rowing out to attack him. Here we go!
  • Bilbo holds Gollum off with his knife.
  • Gollum challenges Bilbo to a riddle game to get on Bilbo's good side.
  • If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show the hobbit how to get out of the goblins' caves.
  • If Gollum wins, Gollum gets to eat Bilbo. High stakes!
  • The two exchange riddles for a while, but Bilbo starts to get flustered.
  • In his panic, he asks the first thing that pops into his head: "What have I got in my pocket?" (5.54).
  • Of course, Gollum fails to guess the right answer.
  • Bilbo is on guard: he knows that he's on shaky ground because his question wasn't a real riddle.
  • Gollum says he'll show Bilbo the way out, but he has to get something first.
  • Gollum rows back to his island to find something special of his: "a ring of power, and if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible" (5.78).
  • But the ring is gone!
  • Gollum rows back to Bilbo wailing about having lost his "precious" (5.82) – the ring.
  • Suddenly, Gollum gets suspicious: what does Bilbo have in his pockets? Could it be – the ring?
  • Gollum leaps at Bilbo, but Bilbo happens to slip on the ring.
  • Suddenly, Bilbo is invisible. Gollum is confused.
  • Gollum sits weeping and muttering to himself. He wants to get his "birthday-present" (5.100) back.
  • Gollum assumes Bilbo's heading for the exit, so he starts to creep down the tunnel to try and find him.
  • Bilbo follows Gollum as quietly as he can, allowing Gollum to show him the way out.
  • When they get close to the door, Gollum stops. He can't go on because he might be seen by the goblins.
  • Bilbo almost kills Gollum to get him out of the way.
  • But he feels so much pity for the wretched fellow that he decides to jump over Gollum instead.
  • Gollum shouts after him: "Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!" (5.122).
  • Bilbo races down the passageway.
  • He finds the open door surrounded by goblin guards.
  • He has a bad moment when the ring slips off and they all rush at him together.
  • But Bilbo manages to burst through the exit just before the door shuts. Phew!

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Chapter 5 Study Group

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