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The Hobbit

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The Hobbit is a children's fantasy story written by J. R. R. Tolkien in the tradition of the fairy tale. It was first published on 1937 September 21. While it also stands in its own right, it is often seen as a prelude to Tolkien's monumental fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings (published in 1954 through 1955).

Writing the Book[edit]

In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien recollects in the late 1920s, when he was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, he began The Hobbit when he was marking School Certificate papers. He found one blank piece of paper. Suddenly inspired he wrote the words "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." He did not go any further than that at the time, although in the following years he drew up Thror's map, outlining the geography of the tale. It was eventually published when a family friend named Elaine Griffiths was shown a typescript of the story in the early 1930s. When she later went to work for George Allen & Unwin, she revealed the existence of the story to a staffmember named Susan Dagnall, who in turn asked Tolkien if she could look at the (still incomplete) manuscript. He complied and Ms. Dagnall, impressed by it, urged him to complete the book. Once this was done in late 1936, she then showed the book to Stanley Unwin, who then asked his 10-year-old son Rayner to review it. Rayner wrote such an enthusiastic review of the book that it was published by Allen & Unwin.

Tolkien introduced or mentioned characters and places that figured prominently in his legendarium, specifically Elrond and Gondolin, along with elements from Germanic legend. But the decision that the events of The Hobbit could belong to the same universe as The Silmarillion was made only after publication, when the publisher asked for a sequel and Tolkien began work on what would become The Lord of the Rings.

The novel draws on Tolkien's knowledge of historical languages and early European texts — many names and words derived from Norse mythology, it makes use of Anglo-Saxon runes, and is filled with information on calendars and moon phases, detailed geographical descriptions that fit well with the accompanying maps — attention to detail that would also be seen in Tolkien's later work.

Plot summary[edit]

!—WARNING—!

Article below this line is likely to contain spoilers.


A hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is smoking on the front step of his comfortable hole one morning when Gandalf the Wizard passes by. They discuss the many meanings that Bilbo puts into the phrase "Good Morning", and the lack of adventurers in the neighbourhood. The thought of going on an adventure flusters Bilbo into offering one last "Good Morning", inviting Gandalf to tea the next day, and escaping back into his hole. An amused Gandalf scratches a secret mark on Bilbo's front door, which translated means 'Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward'. The next day, thirteen dwarves (Thorin Oakenshield, Óin, Glóin (whose son Gimli would be one of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings), Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fíli and Kíli, Dori, Nori, and Ori) show up at the hole, along with Gandalf, and begin excitedly discussing their planned treasure hunt while the hapless Bilbo provides the obligatory hospitality. After the dwarves clean up their mess, a map is produced which shows the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) and environs; once ruled by Thorin's grandfather, it was seized by the dragon Smaug, who now lurks in its depths. The map shows a secret door into the mountain, which the dwarves hope to use to defeat Smaug and reclaim their home. This, along with the fact that Bilbo's presence will break the unlucky number 13, is why the expedition needs a burglar. At first Bilbo wants nothing to do with the scheme, but then in a moment of anger and courage, commits to joining.

The next morning, after oversleeping and nearly missing the start of the journey, Bilbo goes off with the dwarves and the wizard. They are nearly eaten by three trolls, but Gandalf tricks the trolls into staying up all night arguing, whereupon they are turned into stone by the first light of dawn. In the trolls' cave they find a mound of stolen treasure, including Elvish weapons. Bilbo acquires the dagger Sting, which glows blue in the presence of Goblins.

The party travels to Rivendell where they enjoy the hospitality of the Elves and receive useful information and advice from Rivendell's master Elrond, then proceed eastwards into the Misty Mountains. While seeking shelter from a storm, they are ambushed by Goblins and carried down under the mountains. Gandalf manages to free them, but during the escape Bilbo loses the dwarves. Alone in the dark, Bilbo finds a ring on the floor of a cave passage and puts it into his pocket.

Continuing on, he arrives at the shore of an underground lake. The creature Gollum paddles up, and the two enact a game of riddles, under the condition that if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out, but if he loses, Gollum will eat Bilbo. After several turns, Bilbo, fiddling in his pocket unable to think of a riddle, asks himself aloud "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum thinks this is supposed to be the next riddle; despite being allowed three guesses, he fails to correctly answer. Bilbo demands his reward, but Gollum refuses and paddles off to his small island home where he searches for his most precious possession, a magic ring which turns its wearer invisible. Unable to find it, he belatedly realizes the answer to Bilbo's riddle, and goes storming back to the shore. Bilbo in turn realizes his life is in mortal danger and attempts to flee. When Gollum gives chase, Bilbo trips and finds the ring slipping on his finger. Before Bilbo realizes what has happened, Gollum has run right past him. Quickly deducing the ring's power and following Gollum to the only exit, Bilbo controls his impulse to destroy the wretched creature and instead merely jumps over him and escapes. Bypassing the Goblins, he returns to the surface and rejoins the dwarves and Gandalf.

Descending from the mountains, they are carried away from a deadly encounter with Wargs (wild wolf creatures) and Goblins by Giant Eagles. They then visit the home of Beorn, an enormous and solitary man who can transform into a bear, where they rest and recuperate for several days before pushing on. At the edge of the black forest Mirkwood, Gandalf departs on a private errand. The others enter the forest, travelling for days on end and eventually running out of supplies. Gandalf had warned them not to leave the path, but glimpsing Wood-elves feasting, the group goes to beg food. They promptly get lost and are captured by giant spiders, but Bilbo rescues the dwarves using the ring and Sting. The Elves then capture the dwarves and imprison them (inadvertently saving them from starvation), but an invisible Bilbo manages to sneak into the Elvenking's palace unnoticed; he then helps the dwarves escape in provision-barrels floated down the river which runs under the palace.

After spending more recovery-time at Laketown, the treasure-seekers proceed on to the Lonely Mountain. They locate the place where the secret entrance must be, but are unable to open it. As they sit despondent on the stoop, a thrush knocks at the snails on a nearby stone. Bilbo looks up to see the last rays of the Sun of Durin's Day shining on the cliff wall and magically revealing the lockhole for the secret door (as was foretold by moon letters upon the company's map). Bilbo twice goes down to meet Smaug, who sleeps deep in the mountain on an enormous pile of treasure. The hobbit makes off with a large handled cup and learns that the dragon has a bare patch on his left chest. The enraged dragon, while very puzzled by the existence of Bilbo, does correctly deduce that the Company received help from the people of Laketown and sets out to destroy the community. However, the thrush was no ordinary bird, but one of an ancient race with whom the men of the lake could communicate, and it overhears Bilbo's report to the dwarves about Smaug's weak point. As the dragon ravages Laketown, the thrush conveys this information to one Bard the Bowman, who dispatches the dragon with a heirloom of his family, a dwarf-made arrow. When Smaug does not return, the dwarves take possession of the Mountain and its treasure. While scouting the dragon's lair, Bilbo finds the prized Arkenstone and tucks it away in his possessions.

The citizens of Laketown arrive at the Mountain to make historical claims and demand compensation for the help they had rendered, as well as reparations for the damage Smaug inflicted during his attack. They are joined by the Elves, who also demand a share based on historical claims. Thorin refuses all negotiations and summons his kin from the north to strengthen his position. Bilbo attempts to use the Arkenstone as ransom to head off a war, but the various parties are intransigent. Thorin expels Bilbo from the Mountain and a fight seems inevitable.

But suddenly Gandalf is standing on the battlefield, warning the various leaders that a new more dire threat has appeared: an army of Goblins and Wargs has come from the Misty Mountains. The dwarves, humans and elves immediately put aside their differences, and a bitter battle ensues, named the Battle of Five Armies. Losses are heavy on all sides, but with the timely arrival and assistance of the Giant Eagles and Beorn, the anti-Goblin forces prevail. Thorin is among the casualties, but he lives long enough to part from Bilbo as friends. The treasure is apportioned fairly, but Bilbo refuses most of his contracted share of the riches, having no need for it and no way to get it home if he did; he nevertheless takes enough with him to make himself a wealthy hobbit and live happily thereafter.

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Joining The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings[edit]

In the first edition, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle game. During the writing of The Lord of the Rings Tolkien saw the need to revise this passage, in order to reflect his new concept of the One Ring and its powerful hold on Gollum. Tolkien tried many different passages in the chapter that would become chapter 2 of the Lord of the Rings, "The Shadow of the Past". Eventually Tolkien decided a rewrite of The Hobbit was in order, and he sent a sample chapter of this rewrite ("Riddles in the Dark") to his publishers. Initially he heard nothing further, but when he was sent galley proofs of a new edition he learned to his surprise the new chapter had been incorporated as the result of a misunderstanding.

In the introduction of The Lord of the Rings, as well as inside "The Shadow of the Past", the differences of the first edition are explained as a "l