Study Guide

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again Wealth

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The famous director Alfred Hitchcock coined a term that is still widely used today: the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is the thing that the hero or heroine of a film is looking for. It could be anything: a murder weapon, some stolen jewels, the letters of transit, whatever. The important point about the MacGuffin is that it's what keeps the plot going. And that is what treasure is in The Hobbit – it keeps the dwarves on their quest and generates tension between Thorin and Bilbo (and Bard and the Elvenking, and pretty much everyone else in the world). Wealth is what makes the plot of The Hobbit move. But the odd thing about the dwarves' treasure is that everyone desperately wants a piece of this MacGuffin except Bilbo. He is genuinely not greedy. So we have to ask ourselves, what is Bilbo in this adventure for?

Questions About Wealth

  1. Treasure provides the reason for Bilbo's quest with the dwarves. But Bilbo doesn't seem to have any real interest in money even at the beginning of their adventure. Why does Bilbo choose to go along with Thorin & Co.? What are the particular goals of Bilbo's quest?
  2. What traits do the characters that are vulnerable to dragon-sickness share? What are the symptoms of dragon-sickness? Is there anything you can do to avoid it?
  3. While Thorin's concept of wealth is pretty easy to define (gold, silver, jewels, the Arkenstone), Gandalf's or Bilbo's ideas of treasure seem a little bit more obscure. What do the different characters in this novel treasure? How do these treasures compare with the material things Thorin wants to collect?

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