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.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Hobbit Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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 is both proud and brave. He proposed the daring quest, but he is also stubborn and prone to greed: He refuses to share the dragon treasure and becomes estranged from Bilbo. In the Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin makes a valiant last stand with his kinfolk, but the great dwarf falls, badly wounded. Lifted from the fray by Beorn, Thorin dies after praising Bilbo and is buried with honor.
Smaug, a greedy, strong dragon. Long ago, Smaug...
(The entire section is 792 words.)