The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Surely one reason for the success of The Hobbit is the skill with which Tolkien blends a mixture of elements long familiar from fairy tale, legend, and folklore with absolutely original elements. The characters are a good example of this technique: Thorin Oakenshield and his companions, as dwarves, are almost familiar figures; the characteristics that they exhibit—suspicion, a love of gems, skill at mining and delving—are the characteristics long associated with dwarves. Consider the dragon who guards the Lonely Mountain: Although Smaug is an especially acquisitive and cunning dragon, such are traits characteristic of the dragons of legend. The dwarves and the dragon—even a wizard such as Gandalf—place the reader in a familiar context and arouse in the reader’s mind the expectations consistent with stories of heroic fantasy. To this context, Tolkien adds original characters, ones who will not only fulfill but also exceed the reader’s expectations. Chief among these are the hobbits, Tolkien’s chief contribution to mythology and probably his most enduring one.
When Stanley Unwin was considering The Hobbit for publication, he took the normal step of sending the manuscript to a reader for evaluation; the reader, however, was unusual: It was his ten-year-old son, Rayner. That the hobbits—Bilbo in particular— caught Rayner’s imagination is no surprise: Bilbo’s small stature and relative youth make him a hero likable to...
(The entire section is 528 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, the protagonist. Fifty years old when the story begins, Bilbo is respectable, unadventurous, and predictable. Forced into an unwanted role as burglar with Thorin’s expedition, Bilbo encounters a series of monsters and learns with growing self-reliance to use his luck and his wits, becoming the leader of the expedition. By discovering Smaug’s weak spot, Bilbo helps slay the dragon, though no one remembers his contribution. One year after setting out, Bilbo returns from his adventure a changed hobbit: No longer respectably predictable, he is a hero, with a true sense of his small but vital place in a wide world.
Gandalf, a wizard, almost a comic character, whose powers remain largely unrevealed. Gandalf chooses Bilbo to accompany the dwarves and travels with them in the early stages of their journey, rescuing them from the trolls, helping the dwarves escape the goblin tunnels, and introducing them to Elrond and Beorn. Gandalf leaves the company in Bilbo’s care before they enter Mirkwood, thus letting the hobbit grow into his role as self-reliant hero. The wizard reappears at the end of the quest, helping in the Battle of the Five Armies, and later accompanies Bilbo back to Hobbiton.
Thorin Oakenshield, a dwarf, rightful heir to his grandfather Thror, last King under the Mountain, whose kingdom Smaug destroyed. Thorin...
(The entire section is 792 words.)
Themes and Characters
The hero of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who, at the age of fifty, has never had an adventure and who asserts that no respectable hobbit wants adventures. An adventure, however, comes to him at the instigation of Gandalf, the wizard known to Bilbo only by his reputation for fireworks, great stories, and the ability to tempt young hobbits to try unusual things. The companions of Bilbo and Gandalf are thirteen dwarves, treasure-seekers who, following Gandalf s advice, take Bilbo with them as their official burglar. Bilbo's major assignment is to help them retrieve their ancestral treasures, long guarded by the dragon Smaug. The subtitle of the book, "There and Back Again," suggests the cyclic nature of the quest as the underlying theme: Bilbo accomplishes his quest and returns home, but he is, as Gandalf tells him, a different hobbit than before.
As the quest takes Bilbo "There and Back Again," two related themes develop: the nature of maturity and the nature of heroism. In the early stages of the book Bilbo seldom has an opportunity to make decisions for himself. He is forced by the requirements of hospitality to welcome Gandalf and the dwarves to his "unexpected party." During their planning session he first lets himself be drawn into the discussion because he resents the dwarves' condescending remarks about his size and his ability. When he finds himself running to catch up to the dwarves, his major concern is that he has forgotten to...
(The entire section is 1137 words.)
A short, peaceful hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of the novel. He considers himself a typical hobbit; that is, until Gandalf and the dwarves appear at his door. Although he initially hesitates, Bilbo joins the adventure to find the stolen treasure.
As the story progresses, Bilbo proves himself to be a clever burglar and resourceful companion. He proves his courage when he cuts the dwarves from the webs in Mirkwood and battles the spiders. He later frees the dwarves from the prison of the wood elves. His keen observation of Smaug ultimately reveals the dragon's weak point. One of his most valiant acts is giving the Arkenstone, Thorin's beloved jewel, to the men and elves in a bold attempt to avoid bloodshed. Out of loyalty he returns to the dwarves even though he knows he risks Thorin's wrath.
Balin is one of the band of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin. Years later he visits Bilbo.
A courageous human, Bard slays the dragon. Afterward, he goes to the mountain to claim the treasure. He attempts to bargain fairly with Thorin, but the dwarf is blinded by greed. A war over the treasure is avoided only when the goblins attack. After the forces of good defeat the goblins, Bard rebuilds Dale and the city becomes prosperous under his leadership.
Beorn is a shape-shifter. A peaceful creature, he...
(The entire section is 1261 words.)