What happens in The Hobbit?

In The Hobbit, hobbit Bilbo Baggins joins the wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves on a quest to kill the dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo meets Gollum, a hideous creature who has lost a mysterious ring. Bilbo finds the ring, helps the dwarves steal from the dragon, and becomes a hero. He retires to back to his hobbit-hole in the Shire with many riches and fantastical stories to tell.

  • Though initially reluctant, the adventurous young Bilbo joins Gandalf and the dwarves on their journey to the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon Smaug resides. They hope to defeat Smaug, who has taken over the Dwarves' mountain home.

  • On the way to the mountain, Bilbo and his new friends face many hardships, including an encounter with trolls, a deadly fight with the Great Goblin, and a dangerous encounter with Gollum, a warped and disfigured creature driven mad by the One Ring.

  • Bilbo finds and takes the One Ring from Gollum. The ring gives him invisibility, which he uses to confuse Smaug just long enough to steal some of his gold for the dwarves. When Smaug retaliates, he's killed in battle, and the dwarves retake their former home in Lonely Mountain. Bilbo returns to his home in the Shire. 

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Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.

Although Bilbo shows some initial reluctance, Gandalf had judged him rightly. Bilbo sets out with the dwarves and steps into a larger world. As the band travels to the Lonely Mountain, they encounter situations that increase in danger. They are threatened by trolls and captured by goblins. During the latter episode, Bilbo gains a crucial possession and meets an important character. While lost in the goblin caverns, Bilbo finds a ring and not long afterward encounters its owner. This character is Gollum, a loathsome, solitary figure, dwelling in darkness and ruled by his greed for a magical ring. Not knowing that he has lost the ring, Gollum regards Bilbo as an intruder and is ready to kill him when Bilbo challenges him to a game of riddles. With the ring in his possession, Bilbo is...

(The entire section is 2,936 words.)