Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Perhaps exactly how The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again came to be written will never be settled. J. R. R. Tolkien himself said that inspiration for the beginning of the story came to him one day when, in the midst of grading examinations, he found that a student had turned in a blank sheet of paper. On that sheet, Tolkien wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He said that names always suggested stories to him, and that he immediately wanted to find out what hobbits were. Tolkien’s children also recall hearing parts of the story told to them at bedtime; some version of The Hobbit, perhaps incomplete, was probably in existence before 1932, when it was seen by C. S. Lewis, then a fellow professor with Tolkien at Oxford.
Whatever the immediate spark, the story that resulted was a fresh version of an age-old plot, the quest. At the very start of the story, the reader learns what hobbits are: a smaller, shyer, home-loving race related to humans; a race living in a far-distant mythical past on a world both like and unlike Earth. The central character, the young hobbit Bilbo Baggins, seems typical of his people at the beginning, content to live a quiet and unexciting life in his cozy dwelling. From the beginning, however, the story sounds a note of mystery: Gandalf, a wizard whose powers are only hinted at, has seen in Bilbo a taste for adventure and a capacity for heroism.
Gandalf knows that the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield plans a return to the Lonely Mountain, the former home of his people. Long ago, the dwarves (Tolkien’s famous spelling of the plural form) had been driven from the mountain by a dragon who has converted it into a secure lair. What the dwarves need is a burglar, someone who can penetrate the lair and scout its defenses, and Gandalf (without informing Bilbo) tells Thorin that Bilbo is just the hobbit for the job. Thus, at the beginning of the story, Thorin and his band of followers show up at Bilbo’s hole and sweep him away on the quest.
(The entire section is 833 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Comfortably settled in his family home, Bag End, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins loves eating good food, blowing smoke rings, and living a quiet, peaceful life. The last thing he expects is an adventure, but that is exactly what the wizard Gandalf has in store for him. Gandalf appears on Bilbo’s doorstep one day, and the flustered hobbit finds himself caught up in an increasingly alarming conversation in which the wizard begins to talk of sending Bilbo on an adventure. Thoroughly discomfited, the hobbit ends the conversation and scurries back into his hole but only after inadvertently inviting the wizard to tea the next day.
When Gandalf returns, with him come thirteen dwarves, including the mighty Thorin Oakenshield. The dwarves are starting a quest to recover their ancient stronghold far to the east, where Thorin’s grandfather was King under the Mountain. Great treasure awaits them—and Bilbo, too, whom they expect to hire, on Gandalf’s recommendation, as the group’s burglar. The dwarves need all the help they can get, because sitting on the gold that awaits them at the Lonely Mountain is the dreaded dragon Smaug, who drove their forefathers away years ago.
Bilbo reluctantly joins the group, and—after meeting the hobbit—they reluctantly accept him. As uncertain as he is about the whole adventure, the dwarves are equally dubious about the hobbit’s qualifications for the expedition. Bilbo’s first burglary attempt—picking a troll’s pocket—very nearly gets the whole band of them roasted for dinner, but they are saved by Gandalf, who keeps the three trolls arguing until they are turned to stone by the sunrise.
The group shelters briefly with Elrond the elf lord, who discovers hidden moon-letters on Thorin’s map that reveal the secret way into the Lonely Mountain. Elrond also identifies the elven swords that Thorin and Gandalf took from the trolls’ hoard. The swords glow whenever goblins are nearby. Bilbo later discovers that the elven knife he procured from the troll cave (which is large enough to be a short sword for the small hobbit) has the same power.
After leaving Elrond, the group begins the perilous crossing of the Misty Mountains. Having sought shelter in a cave, they are attacked by goblins. In the ensuing chaos, Bilbo gets separated from the dwarves and wanders lost through subterranean passages where he finds a small ring that he puts in his pocket. He encounters the strange creeping creature Gollum, and they agree to a game of riddles. If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the caves. If Gollum wins, he gets to eat Bilbo.
The game proceeds, each asking a riddle and the other answering, until Bilbo, unnerved by the menacing Gollum, cannot think of a riddle and instead asks the creature what he (Bilbo) has in his pocket. The answer is the ring, but Gollum guesses wrong, so Bilbo insists on being shown the way out. Gollum intends to kill the hobbit anyway, but Bilbo discovers that by putting the ring on, he becomes invisible. He tricks Gollum into leading him to the exit, where Gollum realizes too late that the hobbit has taken his ring and, unable to follow Bilbo into the outside world, curses him forever.
Bilbo finds the dwarves and Gandalf, who killed the...
(The entire section is 1333 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a story that has appealed to adults as well as children, provides the background to his larger work, The Lord of the Rings. All of these works find their place in the even larger series of stories on which Tolkien had been working from the 1920’s, and which were published posthumously by his son Christopher. Tolkien peopled his stories of Middle-earth with a number of traditional fictional races, including elves, dwarfs, and trolls, as well as “orcs,” goblins created by sorcery. The hobbit of the title is Bilbo Baggins, representative of a quiet, unadventurous race living in the Shire, in the west of Middle-earth. Gandalf the magician lures Bilbo, who is more adventurous than he himself thinks, into joining a group of dwarfs. They are determined to return to their home, the Lonely Mountain, kill the dragon Smaug, and recover their lost treasure and homeland.
After a number of initial adventures in which Bilbo shows his resourcefulness, they are trapped in a cave by a storm in the Misty Mountains. Caught by orcs and goblins, only Gandalf’s magic saves them. During their escape, Bilbo is separated from the group, knocked unconscious, and meets Gollum, a strange cave dweller. This juncture is the turning point of the story; without the help of others, Bilbo must defeat an opponent who will literally eat him if he loses. Providentially, Bilbo has found a ring that Gollum has lost, and after a riddle contest, which Bilbo wins, the hobbit can use the ring’s powers of invisibility to make his escape. Eventually, Bilbo makes his way out and rejoins his companions; they continue to travel eastward. The ring proves its usefulness repeatedly on the way, as the supposedly experienced and mature dwarfs blunder into every danger they meet.
Although Tolkien plays with the elements of many serious traditional tales—magic rings, invisibility, and threatening...
(The entire section is 786 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Bilbo Baggins lives in a dry, comfortable hole in the ground. Bilbo is a hobbit, a little person about half the height of an ordinary man. Hobbits have fat bellies and shoeless, hairy feet. They like food, comfort, and simple lives. Among the hobbits, Bilbo’s family is highly respected for being predictable and never having adventures—but that is about to change.
One day Bilbo is out in the sunshine smoking a pipe when Gandalf the wizard stops to talk with him. Gandalf explains that he wants to find a companion for an adventure, and Bilbo scoffs, saying that nobody in his neighborhood would agree to go along. Gandalf tells Bilbo that an adventure would be good for him. This scares Bilbo so much that he puts out his...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
In the morning, Bilbo awakens to find his house empty and his kitchen a mess. The twelve dwarves and the wizard have helped themselves to food and then left without washing up. Bilbo is mostly relieved—but also slightly disappointed—to realize that the group has set off without him. He eats breakfast, cleans up, and is sitting down to a second breakfast when Gandalf arrives and demands to know why Bilbo is not on his way to meet the dwarves. Thorin had left Bilbo a note inviting him on their adventure and offering a fourteenth share of the treasure for his services as a burglar, but Bilbo had not found it. Gandalf shoves the poor hobbit out the door so quickly that he does not even have a chance to grab a hat or a pocket...
(The entire section is 800 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves travel onward for many more days. Bilbo is not enjoying the trip, as he did at the beginning. He often finds himself missing his hobbit hole. When he sees a mountain in the distance, he asks whether it is their destination. Balin scoffs and says it is only the first of the Misty Mountains. The little group has to cross the Wilds, climb over or under the Misty Mountains, and then journey through more Wilds beyond that before coming to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug the dragon lives. When Bilbo understands how far they still have to go, he feels worn out and sad.
One day Gandalf says they will soon stop and rest for a while. He has sent a message to Elrond of Rivendell, an elf-friend who...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Bilbo and the dwarves think they might reach the Lonely Mountain before the very next Durin’s Day, but Gandalf is not so optimistic. He knows that the journey will be dangerous and slow. As the little group climbs into the Misty Mountains, Bilbo once again finds himself pining after his hobbit hole. He thinks about the hobbits of his neighborhood and the happy time they must be spending, blackberry picking and harvesting, while he is traveling farther and farther from home in the cheerless mountains. The dwarves are equally gloomy.
When a thunderstorm begins, everyone’s mood grows gloomier still. Stone giants come out and hurl rocks at one another in the hills. Everyone is terrified that they will get caught in this...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Bilbo wakes up in such darkness that he cannot tell by looking whether his eyes are open or shut. He knows he is in a goblin cave, but he does not remember how he came to be knocked out or why he has been left behind. He crawls through the dark and puts his hand on something small and round—a ring. He puts it in his pocket. Then he sits down and smokes his pipe and looks at his blade, which he sees is glowing faintly blue. This, he knows by now, means that it is an elvish blade, and it gives him a little hope. He determines that there is nothing to do but go on.
Slowly, Bilbo makes his way down a path through the darkness. After a long walk, he comes to a dark underground lake, where he meets a small, slimy creature...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Bilbo walks away from the mountain and into the wild. He soon realizes that his journey has taken him to the other side of the mountain, but he has no idea where his friends are. He wanders for a while, trying to decide whether to go back and try to find them. Just when he has decided it is his duty to try to rescue the others from the goblins, he hears voices. He puts on the ring to make himself invisible while he investigates.
To Bilbo’s delight, the voices belong to his fellow travelers. He creeps among them and listens to Gandalf arguing with the dwarves. Gandalf says that they must go back to rescue Bilbo. The dwarves disagree; they complain that the little hobbit is useless and that it was silly of him to get...
(The entire section is 557 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The next morning, the eagles fly the travelers far to the east and deposit them on a large, standing rock that Gandalf calls the Carrock. Gandalf says he will take them to see somebody who lives in the area. Bilbo and the dwarves ask for information about this mysterious person, and Gandalf reluctantly explains. Beorn, he tells them, is a shape-shifter who sometimes appears as a man and sometimes as a bear. He is a cranky fellow who likes to be left alone. Gandalf takes Bilbo to Beorn’s house, and he leaves the others with instructions to follow, two at a time, at five-minute intervals.
Beorn does not normally allow strangers into his home. However, he knows Gandalf’s cousin, and Bilbo is such an nonthreatening...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Bilbo and the dwarves walk through Mirkwood, which is such a thick forest that after a day or so they do not see any sunlight hitting the ground. The nights are so dark that it is impossible to make out any shapes at all. Bilbo thinks the forest is worse than the goblin tunnels. Even the dwarves, who are used to tunneling, dislike the oppressive feel of this forest.
The travelers know they should not leave the path or drink the water from Mirkwood’s one stream, so they have to eat and drink only what they can carry. They try to shoot some of the animals they see, but they only manage to bring down a single black squirrel, which tastes terrible.
Eventually the travelers come to a wide stream with black...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Bilbo and dwarves are hopelessly lost, so they simply pick a direction and walk. Shortly after they set out, the wood-elves capture them. The dwarves are so hungry and sick after the spider attack that they are actually relieved. They lay down their weapons and allow themselves to be marched to the Elvenking’s castle. Only Bilbo is not captured. He puts on his ring and follows at a distance.
The Elvenking questions the dwarves closely, but they refuse to tell him why they have come to his forest or where they are going. Frustrated, the king has them all locked up in separate cells. For many long days they stay there, with plenty to eat but no way out. Bilbo, meanwhile, wanders invisibly through the castle in despair....
(The entire section is 508 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
On the way to the Long Lake, Bilbo eavesdrops on the raft elves’ talk and learns that floods and earthquakes have made the land around the Lonely Mountain extremely treacherous. The paths that lead out of Mirkwood are overrun by swamp, leaving the river—the very path Bilbo and the dwarves are traveling—as the only safe route. This information does little to cheer Bilbo, who is wet, cold, and uncomfortable. Besides that, the sight of the Lonely Mountain fills him with dread.
In the wasteland around the Lonely Mountain, one human community has survived: Lake-town. It is built on platforms on the Long Lake. Leaving the barrels at the entrance to the village, the raft elves go up to meet the town’s Master for a...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Accompanied by a few men from Lake-town, Bilbo and his friends ride in boats to the lake’s far shore. There, in the wastelands surrounding the Lonely Mountain, the lake men help them unload before returning home; they will not stay this close to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo and the dwarves will face Smaug alone. Seeing the wreckage of the land that used to be their home, the dwarves grow gloomy. Only Bilbo remains somewhat hopeful.
Bilbo and a small group of dwarves take a peek at the mountain’s front entrance. It looks burned and wasted, and a foul smoke drifts out. It is far too dangerous to enter the main gate. The little group rejoins the others and helps to look for the secret side gate. It takes a great deal of...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
When the door is open, Thorin launches into a speech about Bilbo’s bravery and value to the group. He says that now is the time for Bilbo to earn his share of the treasure. Crossly, Bilbo interrupts and says that he is well aware that Thorin wants him to go inside and try to steal from the dragon, although he feels he is already entitled to his share because of the many times he has saved the dwarves. He says he will go down and investigate and asks who wants to join him. The dwarves go quiet, except for Balin, who offers to take a few steps inside the door. This is just the way dwarves are. They always expect others to take risks for their benefit—but they also do their best to help their friends out of trouble. Dwarves are...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Bilbo and his friends wait fearfully inside the mountain for a long, dark while; it feels like they have been there for days. Finally Thorin suggests trying to open the gate even if the dragon is on the other side. The dwarves try, but that entire part of the mountain has been crushed; no one will ever enter or exit by that way again. Everyone falls into despair except Bilbo, who points out that he has been down the tunnel to the dragon’s lair twice without getting caught. He suggests going again—this time all together.
The dwarves agree, and they all walk as quietly as possible down the passageway. When they reach the treasure, Smaug is not there. The dwarves send Bilbo out to investigate, but he finds no dragon...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
On the same night Smaug blocks the side entrance to the Lonely Mountain, he flies out to Lake-town. Some of the men in the town are out walking, and they notice strange lights coming from the Lonely Mountain in the distance. One of them says that it must be Thorin, back at work mining gold. Another, a grimmer fellow, says that it is probably Smaug out marauding. The others tell him to think about something more cheerful for a change. They then see a golden glow near the head of the lake, far away, and some say that the rivers are running golden now that the King beneath the Mountain has returned—but the grim man runs to the Master, crying out that the dragon is coming. Alarms sound and the bridges are flung down. Because of the...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Back at the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves watch the gathering of birds with growing wonder. The thrush returns, and Balin comments that he wishes it were a raven. He does not know the thrush’s language, but the ravens can communicate with dwarves. The thrush flies away, and Balin watches it go, murmuring that it seems to understand everything it hears. Not long later, the thrush reappears with a very old raven, Roäc, who explains that Smaug is dead and that Lake-town is destroyed. Roäc says the men and elves are coming to seek a share in the treasure, and he points out that the small group of dwarves cannot defend the Lonely Mountain alone. He advises Thorin to avoid negotiating with the Master of Lake-town but to...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The men and elves make a camp outside the Lonely Mountain, keeping Bilbo and the dwarves under siege. The dwarves spend much of their time in the dragon’s lair, examining and organizing the treasure. Thorin tells everyone about the Arkenstone and says that it belongs to him because it belonged to his father:
That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it.
This worries Bilbo, but he keeps the stone a secret anyway. In the back of his mind, he is beginning to form a plan.
After a period of stalemate, Roäc arrives with news that Thorin’s cousin Dain is marching toward their location with a force...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
The next morning, Bard and the Elvenking come to the mountain’s entrance with a cloaked old man. They ask Thorin if he would be willing to trade for some of his gold, and they show him the Arkenstone. Thorin is appalled that his enemies have the stone, and he says he should not have to buy back what is his own. He accuses them of stealing, but Bilbo admits that he gave Bard the stone. Thorin shakes Bilbo, cursing him and Gandalf for choosing him, and he threatens to throw the little hobbit onto the rocks below.
The old man beside Bard and the Elvenking throws off his cloak and reveals himself to be Gandalf. He tells Thorin to make a deal and to refrain from hurting Bilbo. Furious, Thorin calls Bilbo “descendant of...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Bilbo wakes up where he fell and is surprised to find himself alone among the rocks. He lost consciousness while wearing his ring, and nobody has been able to find him. When a man comes looking for him, Bilbo takes off his ring and learns that his side has won the battle. The man carries the aching Bilbo to camp. There he speaks to Thorin, who is lying on his deathbed from battle wounds. Thorin says he wants to “part in friendship,” and he and Bilbo forgive each other. Just before he dies, the dwarf says:
If more of use valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
After Thorin dies, Bilbo cries alone for some time. Later, people tell him...
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
By May, Gandalf and Bilbo have made it over the Misty Mountains. They return to Rivendell, where they are greeted by happy elves once again. They rest and share stories, and Bilbo learns what else was happening in the world while he and the dwarves traveled through Mirkwood. Gandalf and a group of white wizards have fought an evil ruler, the Necromancer, and driven him from his lands in Mirkwood. From now on, Gandalf says, the lands of the North will be safer than they have been for some time. However, the Necromancer is not dead, and Gandalf knows that he is still dangerous even if he is farther away.
Gandalf and Bilbo rest and gather their strength in Rivendell, but this time Bilbo is not tempted to stay forever. He...
(The entire section is 482 words.)