The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although J. R. R. Tolkien drew extensively from northern European myths in developing various inhabitants of his imaginary world, Middle-earth, The Hobbit (subtitled Or, There and Back Again) focuses on a new race of beings he created. His hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins likes the snug comforts of home with no adventures to interrupt his ordinary life. The wizard Gandalf draws Bilbo out of this sheltered and complacent life by sending him on an adventure—a quest with the dwarf Thorin and his twelve companions to recover the treasure that the dragon Smaug stole. Gandalf employs Bilbo as the dwarves “burglar,” engaging him against his will to steal back Smaug’s hoard.

As the dwarves journey toward Smaug’s lair in the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo learns to live up to Gandalf’s expectations. He fails at first when he unsuccessfully tries to pick a troll’s pocket, and Gandalf has to rescue the group. When they are captured again, this time by goblins, Bilbo is separated from his companions and must rescue himself. He finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible and uses it to escape first from Gollum, a threatening creature he encounters, and then from the goblins. He rejoins the dwarves and Gandalf, who have also escaped. Wolves (called wargs) and goblins attack again, but the group is finally rescued by eagles and aided by Beorn, a man who can transform himself into a bear.

After Gandalf leaves the dwarves at the entrance to the forest of Mirkwood to pursue his own errand, Bilbo begins to lead the group, using his ring to save them from giant spiders and then from the dungeons of the Elvenking. When the dwarves arrive at the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo finds the secret door to Smaug’s lair, then arouses the dragons anger by stealing a cup. Seeking revenge, Smaug destroys nearby Lake-town, but he is killed by Bard the bowman, leader of the townsmen. Thorin refuses to share the treasure with the Lake-men and elves, despite their legitimate claim on part of it. Bilbo tries to prevent a war by offering Bard the Arkenstone, the fabulous gem Thorin values above all the rest of the hoard. Despite Bilbo’s efforts, the competing races are about to fight when they are attacked by goblins and wargs. Working together, the dwarves, elves, and men defeat the enemy, although Thorin is killed in the battle. Bilbo refuses a large reward, desiring instead simply to go home. The book ends on a comic note as Bilbo returns to find that he has lost his reputation as an unadventurous and thus respectable hobbit.

The Hobbit Historical Context

A page from an early Beowulf manuscript. This work was among Tolkien's inspirations for The Hobbit. Published by Gale Cengage

Pre-World War II England
When The Hobbit was published in 1937, Europe was in turmoil. The German dictator

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The Hobbit Setting

The story begins and ends in The Shire, in the Village of Hobbiton, a completely imaginary place which resembles a medieval English country...

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The Hobbit Literary Style

Fantasy and Mythology
The Hobbit is considered a masterpiece of fantasy. There is often a tendency among scholars...

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The Hobbit Literary Qualities

Tolkien's prose style tries to approximate the spoken word. He uses a variety of devices to achieve this storyteller's style: parenthetical...

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The Hobbit Social Sensitivity

Although there is violence in several sections of The Hobbit, it does not become central to the plot. Both the trolls and the giant...

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The Hobbit Compare and Contrast

Late 1930s: Hitler occupies Austria and the Czech Sudetenland in 1938. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain adopts his...

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The Hobbit Topics for Discussion

1. Early in the first chapter the narrator comments on Bilbo's parents. What is the significance of the references to his "Tookishness" in...

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The Hobbit Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Consult a good dictionary for definitions of hero and heroism According to these definitions, to what extent is Bilbo a...

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The Hobbit Topics for Further Study

Tolkien composed songs and verses for the creatures of Middle-earth to sing. Choose an event from the novel, such as the Battle of Five...

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The Hobbit Related Titles / Adaptations

Tolkien followed The Hobbit with a three-volume sequel, The Lord of the Rings. This trilogy is far more serious in tone and...

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The Hobbit Media Adaptations

The Hobbit was adapted into an animated film for television by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin in 1978. The film features the voices of...

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The Hobbit What Do I Read Next?

Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings is essential reading for those interested in Middle-earth. The novel contains three volumes:

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The Hobbit For Further Reference

Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. In this definitive biography Carpenter succeeds in tracing...

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The Hobbit Bibliography and Further Reading

Peter Beagle, in an introduction to The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien...

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The Hobbit Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Green, William H. “The Four-Part Structure of Bilbo’s Education,” in Children’s Literature. VIII (1979), pp. 133-140.

Lee, Stuart D, and Elizabeth Solopova. The Keys of Middle-Earth. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A handy portal into Tolkien’s medieval sources, featuring modern translations of the original texts.

Nitzsche, J. C. “The King Under the Mountain: Tolkien’s Hobbit,” in North Dakota Quarterly. XLVII (Winter, 1979), pp. 5-18.

Shippey, T. A. The Road to Middle-Earth, 1983.

West, Richard C. Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist, 1981.