An enduring fantasy classic, The Hobbit tells the story of retiring, hairy-footed Bilbo Baggins, who becomes the comical hero of an epic quest. Chosen by a wizard, the hobbit leaves the comfort of his armchair to accompany a troop of dwarves across a treacherous land in hopes of reclaiming treasure from a dragon. On his journey, Bilbo travels through forests, valleys, and mountain tunnels, and he meets elves, goblins, men, and other creatures he has never before encountered. Although he chances upon a valuable object that gives him an advantage against foes, the challenges of the quest test the hobbit’s courage and intellect to their limits. By the end of the novel, Bilbo has discovered the danger of greed, the thrill of adventure, and a side of his own nature he has never before known.
Written in 1937 by J. R. R. Tolkien, the novel pits good against evil in a vast, intricate fantasy world created from Tolkien’s imagination and scholarship. Gentle satire, witty dialogue, and evocative description make Tolkien’s creation uniquely compelling. Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis said that The Hobbit’s appeal lies in its depiction of “a world that seems to have been going on before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him.”
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa to English parents but spent his youth in England. Both of Tolkien’s parents had died by the time he was a teenager. He married his teenage sweetheart, Edith, who was also an orphan. Tolkien served briefly on the Western Front in World War I; some scholars speculate that Tolkien’s feelings while he was away at war may have inspired the hobbit’s longing for home. Tolkien came back to England ill with “trench fever,” a disease that afflicted many soldiers during World War I. While recovering, he began to write stories in which he first developed the fantasy world of The Hobbit and its sequel, The Lord of the Rings.
Later, while working as a university professor, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his own four children. He did not intend to publish it; however, a publisher friend had his own son read the book, and the boy’s positive reaction spurred publication. The novel was a quick hit with critics and readers. Its first print run of fifteen hundred copies sold out in England within three months. During the 1940s, when paper was rationed because of World War II, supply could not always meet demand for the book. Today, three-quarters of a century later, The Hobbit is still beloved by children and adults. Since the first printing, one hundred million copies have been sold, and the text has been translated into fifty languages.
It took many more years for Tolkien to produce the sequel to The Hobbit. The enormous manuscript for The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts in 1954 and 1955. English critics received The Lord of the Rings trilogy less favorably than they had The Hobbit. The new story was too long and complex for children, and fantasy literature for adults had not yet become a popular genre in England. In the United States, Tolkien’s books were better received because fantasy stories for adult readers had developed from American science fiction.
Tolkien’s popularity grew in the 1960s and 1970s. He is credited as the “father of fantasy,” responsible for a renewed interest in “sword and sorcery” literature that has driven the success of contemporary fantasy epics such as the Harry Potter series. Tolkien’s work recently entered a new era of fame with the production of high-profile Hollywood films based on The Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Identify the significance of Bilbo’s Took side versus his Baggins side.
2. Explain why Bilbo is an unlikely choice as a participant in an adventure.
3. Discuss how Bilbo is changed by his adventure.
4. Identify the role of wealth in the novel.
5. Describe the book’s various characters and discuss their morality.
6. Discuss the ideas that the book seems to endorse (justice, generosity, and nature) and to criticize (violence, greed, and industrialization).
7. Describe the landscape and the fantastical elements of Tolkien’s world.
8. Identify Tolkien’s use of humor to satirize human nature.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
• The Lesson Guide is organized for study of the book in sections as indicated by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
• Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Lesson Guide vocabulary lists include words from the book that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each section are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the Lesson Guide vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each section that are most appropriate for them.
Essay and Discussion Questions
The essay and discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the book; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the book.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read the novel, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the novel; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading:
- Race and lineage
- Loyalty and friendship
- Good and evil
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in a work of literature. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- Longing for home
- Bilbo as a comic character
- Satire of human nature
- Darkness and light
- Dreams as prophecies
- Cultural comparison between races and peoples
- The dwarves’ fixation on treasure
- The elves’ goodness
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own.
- Bilbo’s pocket-handkerchiefs
- The Arkenstone
- The ring
- Glamdring and Orcrist
- Bard’s black arrow
1. Why does Tolkien include songs in The Hobbit? How do they contribute to his themes and characterization?
2. Discuss the novel’s different characters and races. What values does each represent, and how does Tolkien convey these ideas in the story?
3. How does Tolkien portray the goblins as purely evil in chapter 5? In contrast, how does he evoke pity for Gollum in chapter 6?
4. Analyze Gollum’s style of speaking. What is unique about it? What does it reveal about his character?
5. What does Thorin’s style of speaking suggest about his character?
6. Why might Tolkien have Thorin die, rather than allow him to live and enjoy his home and treasure? Is Thorin a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
7. Why are there no female characters in The Hobbit? Do you think the book appeals equally to readers of both genders? Why or why not?
8. Do you think all people have a conservative side and an adventurous side, as Bilbo discovers he does? Why or why not? What conflicting sides of your nature can you identify?
9. In chapter 1, the narrator says, “[Bilbo] may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained— well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.” What does Bilbo gain in the end, if anything? How can he be happy when he is an outcast among his own people?
10. What does the idea of “home” mean to the characters in the novel? Consider its meaning to Bilbo, the dwarves, the elves, the men, Bard, and Beorn.
11. Which of Bilbo’s traits complement the traits of the dwarves? At what moments in their journey is it helpful that Bilbo is not a dwarf?
12. What challenges does Bilbo face during the quest, and how do they change him?
13. Compare Bilbo and Bard. Why does Tolkien write his story about Bilbo when Bard is the hero who kills the dragon? Would you want to read a similar story from Bard’s perspective? Why or why not?
14. Why doesn’t Gandalf accompany Bilbo and the dwarves all the way to the Lonely Mountain? Why does the wizard’s support for Thorin’s goals change over the course of the story?
15. Why is The Hobbit still popular today, seventy-five years after its first publication?
audacious: recklessly bold
blundering: moving in a stumbling or confused way
confusticate: archaic to confuse; to perplex
conspirator: an accomplice; one who participates in a plot or plan
cross: irritable; mildly angry
cunning: skill; craftiness
daresay: presume; be so bold as to say
depredations: remains of destruction
discreetly: in a manner that is intentionally unnoticeable or secretive
estimable: deserving of high regard
haughty: assuming an attitude of pride and superiority
morsel: a small piece of food
plundering: characterized by stealing through force or violence...
(The entire section is 1231 words.)
blighter: British a disliked person
cavalcade: a procession of riders
commotion: a noisy disturbance
inquisitive: inclined to ask questions
outlandish: outrageous; strikingly out of the ordinary
primly: stiffly and formally
replenishing: filling up or building up again; resupplying
repose: state of rest
trifle: a small amount or degree
waylaid: waited for with evil intent
1. As Bilbo arrives at the Green Dragon Inn, what details does Tolkien use to suggest that the idea of Bilbo as an adventurer is improbable or comic?...
(The entire section is 513 words.)
cleave: to split by cutting
foe: an enemy
forded: crossed by wading
glade: an open space surrounded by woods
gruffly: roughly or sternly in manner
gullies: small valleys, usually formed by running water
heather: a low evergreen shrub
lair: a refuge or hiding place
palpitating: causing the heart to beat quickly (in context)
ravines: small canyons
remnants: remaining parts; leftovers
thrush: a small- to medium-sized songbird
1. At the beginning of chapter 3, Tolkien describes the landscape at length. What do his descriptions convey about the nature of his world and about...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
alliances: agreements or bonds based on mutual interests
flint: stone used in starting fires
guffawing: laughing loudly
nosebags: bags of feed hung from horses’ heads
quaff: to drink deeply
realm: territory; kingdom
shirk: to avoid work or obligation
thriven: thrived, flourished, spread
tinder: dry, flammable material used in starting fires
uncanny: strange; suggestive of the supernatural
1. Describe two ways in which Tolkien creates a mood of increasing gloom and suspense leading up to the goblin attack.
Tolkien creates his mood by referring to evil lurking in the...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
brooded: thought anxiously
oddments: odds and ends; leftovers
scrabbling: groping about frantically
smote: attacked suddenly, struck
splayed: spread apart
venture: to proceed in the face of danger or uncertainty
waistcoat: a vest
1. Before he encounters the underground lake, Bilbo picks up a ring and remembers his pipe and his dagger. What significance does each of these three objects have for Bilbo in the moment that he discovers them?
The ring has no significance to Bilbo in the moment, but the narrator reveals that...
(The entire section is 775 words.)
benighted: overtaken by the darkness of night
boughs: tree branches
bracken: a kind of fern
clamour (clamor): noisy shouting
eyrie (aerie): a large nest belonging to a bird of prey
glint: a tiny flash of light
helter-skelter: in a disorderly manner
onslaught: a fierce attack
pinnacle: a formation in the shape of a sharp peak
porter: a person who carries luggage
precipice: a steep or overhanging cliff
sorrel: a plant with edible, sour-tasting leaves
tinder-boxes: small metal boxes containing materials for starting a fire
touch and go: marked by danger, risk, or a narrow escape...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
appalling: inspiring horror, dismay, or disgust
disused: no longer being used
earthenware: glazed ceramic dishes
furrier: a fur dealer
glowered: stared in annoyance or anger
harts: adult male deer
perish: to suffer death or destruction
plight: an unfortunate situation
unimpeachable: reliable beyond a doubt
veranda: a roofed porch or balcony
1. At the beginning of the chapter, how does Tolkien use the eagle’s question and the hobbit’s unspoken reply to make fun of the differences between the...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
baying: barking; howling
hind: a female deer
infuriate: to make very angry
lamenting: strongly regretting; mourning
lichen: plantlike organisms that grow on rocks and trees
stealthily: in a manner intended to escape detection
venison: deer meat
1. Describe the setting of the Mirkwood. What does its atmosphere suggest about events that may soon occur?
The Mirkwood is dim and stuffy with dense foliage and heavy cobwebs strung between the trees. The group walks single file into the increasing...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)
flagons: wine jugs; pitchers
hewn: carved with an ax, chisel, or other tool
jostling: bumping into; colliding
jutted: extended out, upward, or forward
portcullis: iron grating raised and lowered to allow or block access to a passage
surly: excessively grouchy
turnkey: a jail guard
vintage: the year or place in which wine was produced
1. When the rest of the dwarves are captured by Wood-elves, how does the hobbit remain free? What qualities of Bilbo’s character are revealed when he decides to follow the captive dwarves into the elves’...
(The entire section is 902 words.)
alluding: making indirect reference to something
buffeted: battered; attacked by repeated blows
circuitous: having a winding course
enmity: mutual hatred
gammer: archaic an old woman
ominous: suggesting or predicting evil
quays: landings or docks built along a body of water
vagabond: wandering; nomadic
1. Listening to the conversation of the raft men, why does Bilbo conclude that he and the dwarves have been very lucky on the most recent part of their journey?
The river on which Bilbo and the dwarves find themselves is the only way out of Mirkwood toward the Lonely...
(The entire section is 521 words.)
desolation: a state of complete emptiness or destruction; barrenness
lintel: the horizontal structure above a door
marauding: roaming and raiding; rampaging
waning: decreasing in size, extent, or degree
1. The narrator describes the landscape on the way to the Lonely Mountain:
There was little grass, and before long there was neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished. They were come to the Desolation of the Dragon, and they were come at the waning of the year.
What does this description of the landscape convey about the dragon’s use of his...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
calamities: disastrous events causing great suffering
cartage: transportation of something by cart or other vehicle
dire: desperately urgent
gilded: covered with a thin layer of gold
grievous: very serious
lure: to attract; to tempt
skulking: hiding or moving stealthily out of cowardice or ill-intent
smithereens: small fragments
smouldering (smoldering): slowly burning with much smoke and little flame
venture: an undertaking involving chance, risk, or danger
wily: clever; sly
wrath: vengeful anger...
(The entire section is 1727 words.)
dominion: supreme authority
furtive: expressive of secrecy or stealth
pallid: colorless; pale
steeple: a tall, pointed tower, as on a church
1. Explain Bilbo’s attitude at the beginning of the chapter, and compare it to the dwarves’ attitudes. How do their respective outlooks at this stage of the quest represent a change from their attitudes at the beginning of the book?
Bilbo feels new optimism and courage at the beginning of the chapter. “Where there’s life there’s hope!” he quotes his father as saying. He reasons that if he has already approached the dragon’s lair twice...
(The entire section is 734 words.)
carcase (carcass): dead body, corpse
eminent: prominent; elevated in rank
recompense: a payment or return for something done, suffered, or given
thatched: made of straw (of roofs)
valour (valor): courage
1. What descriptive details does the author use to illustrate Smaug’s fantastic power as he attacks Lake-town?
Smaug is frighteningly fast: “So great was his speed, they could see him as a spark of fire rushing towards them.” If he were to plunge into the Lake, the resulting steam would “cover all the land with a mist for days.” He fiery breath is fierce: “No fireworks you...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
amends: compensation for loss or injury
besieged: surrounded with armed forces
caper: to leap playfully
carrion: rotting flesh
carrion birds: birds that feed on rotting flesh
parley: a discussion of terms between enemies
1. How does Tolkien continue his motif of cultural comparison between races when Balin and Bilbo talk about ravens and crows? How is Roäc the raven’s lineage significant to Balin?
Balin helps Bilbo understand the important distinction between crows and ravens. Crows are “nasty suspicious-looking creatures” who engage in “rude”...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
comely: having a pleasant appearance
sentinels: soldiers standing guard
siege: the placing of an army around a fortified place in order to force enemy surrender
1. What news and advice does Roäc bring to Thorin? How does Thorin reply?
Roäc brings news that Dain and his army are two days away. The raven advises that even with Dain’s help, the dwarves are unlikely to defeat their foes. He also points out that even if the dwarves were victorious, they would have a difficult winter with enemies for neighbors. Thorin rejects the wisdom of the raven’s words; he hopes the approaching winter and the arrival of Dain’s army...
(The entire section is 611 words.)
feint: a pretense; a false movement made to deceive or distract
flank: the side of an army formation
forbear: to tolerate
hauberk: a tunic of armor
heirloom: something of special value passed from one generation to the next
mattocks: digging tools similar to large axes
ravening: prowling for prey
redoubled: twice as great in size or amount
scimitars: swords with curved blades
tarry: to delay
vanguard: the troops moving at the front of an army
1. Describe in some detail Thorin’s treatment of Bilbo on learning of the hobbit’s peace negotiation....
(The entire section is 754 words.)
gravely: seriously; somberly
mustering: gathering; assembling of people, especially in a military context
1. When Bilbo and Thorin meet again, how have Thorin’s values changed? What apology and compliments does he pay Bilbo?
On his deathbed, Thorin repents his greed by acknowledging that his gold is worth little to him in the afterlife. He admits that the elves’ way of valuing food, cheer, and song over wealth makes a “merrier world.” Thorin takes back his earlier harsh words and behavior toward Bilbo. He also credits Bilbo for the hobbit’s courage and wisdom and tells him, “There is more in...
(The entire section is 891 words.)
1. According to their songs, what do the elves of Rivendell value above wealth and power? Compare the elves’ main values with those of dwarves, hobbits, and goblins. Which values does Tolkien endorse in The Hobbit, and which does he challenge?
The elves value merriment and the eternal beauty of nature over wealth and power. Dwarves value wealth, hobbits value comfort and certainty, and goblins value machinery and power. Tolkien endorses the values held by the elves by making them his happiest and most enchanting characters; they are his “Good People.” Bilbo’s and Thorin’s values are challenged in the story: Bilbo learns to balance his love of predictability...
(The entire section is 697 words.)
1. All of the following are typical hobbit traits EXCEPT:
A. physical strength
B. hairy feet
C. a love of food
E. a round stomach
2. Hobbits in the Took family tend to be _______than hobbits in the Baggins family.
B. more respectable
D. more honest
E. more generous
3. Which of the following is an example of a character’s lineage?
A. The Lord of the Eagles is a noble bird.
B. Bilbo is a hobbit.
(The entire section is 1125 words.)
1. How does Tolkien present the hobbit as an unlikely hero? Contrast the novel’s portrayal of Bilbo with the portrayals of the conventionally heroic Gandalf, Beorn, and Bard. Support your discussion with examples from the text.
Bilbo’s retiring personality, his small size, and his mild temper make him an unlikely hero in the story of a dangerous quest. Tolkien also treats the blundering Bilbo with humor that is absent from his portrayal of the novel’s traditional heroic figures: powerful Gandalf, fierce Beorn, and purposeful Bard.
Neither a natural leader nor a born adventurer, Bilbo likes to stay home, while the powerful, commanding Gandalf is perpetually traveling. Gandalf covers great distances in the...
(The entire section is 3364 words.)