Introduction to The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
A popular children’s fiction, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, by a British writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, first appeared on the bookshelves in England way back in 1937. However, the acclaim it won for Tolkien soon crossed borders and the novel achieved worldwide recognition to be archived as the most popular juvenile fiction. It fetched the Carnegie Medal for the writer with more honors through newspapers terming it the best children’s novel of those times. The story of the novel revolves around a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who tries to win a share from a treasure lying under the guard of a dragon. His journey makes up the rest of the story.
Summary of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
The story of the novel begins with the good and comfortable life of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Bag End, his residence, is located near the hobbit village when, Gandalf, a wizard appears. He asks Bilbo to join his dwarves to look for a treasure guarded by a dragon, Smaug. The idea of Gandalf is that Bilbo, on account of his small size, can become a burglar but the dwarves are not certain about his role. Bilbo, too, is reluctant to join their ranks. Gandalf, however, assures the comfort-loving Bilbo of his success. Yet, they all find themselves in captivity during the beginning of their journey. Gandalf, however, tricks the trolls, the capturing entities, transforming them into stones with the rising of the sun, the rays of which they could not tolerate. The group, thus, leaves with their weapons with the trolls. They take weapons from lord Thorin and set upon the journey.
After some distance, they reach Rivendell, meeting the elf lord, Elrond, who advises them about how to cross the mountain range falling on their way. When they are on their way to the treasure, they face a severe snowstorm and become captives of a goblin in whose cavern they seek shelter to ward off the storm. When Gandalf tries to make dwarves escape the cavern, they leave Bilbo behind. He enters a tunnel and finds a gold ring. When he is about to leave, he faces Gollum, a new creature with whom Bilbo arranges a competition of knowing riddles in which he stands a winner. Despite this, Gollum tries to make Bilbo his feast, though, he disappears with the help of his magic ring and flees the goblins’ cavern after racing out of it through a tunnel. Knowing nowhere to go, he sees Wargs, the wolves, chasing him, while he runs to safety through some eagles and Beorn, a creature, that can transform into a bear or a man easily.
While Bilbo is running for his life, the others enter the forest of Mirkwood where the webs of spiders catch all the dwarves when Gandalf is away. Luckily, Bilbo reaches on time, and using his magical ring and sword, saves them from the deadly spiders. Not relieved from this escape as yet, they find themselves captured again, now by elves. Bilbo again proves his usefulness when he rescues them, using his ring. Now fed up with these traps, Bilbo asks them to hide in barrels through which they try to cross the river to reach the treasure. After some time, Bilbo talks to Smaug to hoodwink him, asking about his weaker points. Meanwhile, Bilbo also tries to take away the golden cup that the dragon sees and before he takes action, Bilbo flies away, disclosing his secret to Bard, the archer, who fires upon him. His hit kills the dragon but the dragon also fires the lake to kill them. When everything settles, the people from Lake Town and other wild creatures like elves also reach the mountain to ask for their share in the treasure.
During this brouhaha, Thorin refuses to entertain their pleas for their share. All of them, then, lay siege to the mountain, refusing to let them go at which Bilbo tries to make all warring parties reconcile to his idea that brings wrath from Thorin. The timely arrival of Gandalf, though, saves Bilbo who saves himself from this mishap. Meanwhile, Wargs reach with the goblins to fight against the encircling armies which makes Beorn and eagles another party. When the battle is over, Bilbo asks Gandalf to return. Although Bilbo is still living near the same village as a forlorn person, yet he has friends among elves and wizards whose company he enjoys the most.
Major Themes in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
- Heroism: One of the major themes of The Hobbit is heroism. The growth of Bilbo from a timid and insecure creature to a creative and innovative companion of Gandalf and his dwarves shows that he does not faint from terrible happenings and risky situations. Whenever Gandalf and Thorin’s dwarves face any adversity, Bilbo is always there to rescue them through his ingenuity. From different situations in which he prevails, it transpires that he is not only confident but also resourceful. When it comes to the spiders’ webs, he saves the dwarves from the likely elimination and when it comes to the dragon, he speaks to it from the position of strength and ingenuity. Even in the final battle, he prevails by making them reconcile and makes it easy for Gandalf and Thorin’s dwarves to return victorious.
- Coming of Age: The entire life of Bilbo in his own home shows that his journey to take the treasure from Smaug and the encounters he has had with different creatures and situations on the way to that lonely mountain makes him come of age. Although at first, he becomes terrified with the arrival of Gandalf, inside he wants to have some adventures that he finally agrees to them and accompanies them even though they leave him on some occasions. His action of out-riddling Gollum and outdoing the goblins show that he has learned things to deal with untoward situations and adversities as he escapes from the cavern as well as faces the threat of Smaug head-on. Despite this, he still feels sorry for leaving his hobbit house located near the town.
- Language: The novel shows the use, power, and significance of language at various points through the story of Bilbo and Gandalf when they all, having embarked upon the expedition of fetching treasure from the clutches of Smaug, encounter different situations. First, they face spiders and their webs where Bilbo comes forward to demonstrate his grit and boldness and does the same when dealing with the goblins. He also outwits the elves and wolves and even out-maneuvers the dragon. His out-riddling of Gollum shows that the power of language has reached at the peak. Although his question of what he has in his pocket is not ingenious, yet it shows his witty nature that he employs when facing Smaug.
- Greed: The theme of greed in the novel emerges in the adventure of Gandalf and Bilbo that both are greedy with several other greedy characters. Bilbo does not agree to the adventure but agrees to get the treasure of gold and jewels. Elrond, on the other hand, does not show his greedy attitude while the elves, too, demonstrate the greed including Smaug, the dragon, who becomes almost an epitome of greed in that he does not leave the treasure.
- Home: The novel shows the theme of home due to Bilbo’s love for a home near his town. However, on the other hand, Thorin and Gollum, both are homeless and have no sense of a permanent place to live. That is why Bilbo feels more secure and more stable even than Thorn and Gandalf. It is also the reason that Bilbo after having won the treasure after the final battle, returns to the hole, the only refuge he has as a home.
- Courage: The novel shows the thematic strand of courage through big creatures such as Bard, whose certainty over his victory is indubitable. However, some minnows-like creatures such as Bilbo or Thorin also demonstrate this courage. For example, Bilbo faces Smaug and Gollum and even outwits Gollum without fearing reprisals.
- Loyalty: The novel shows the theme of loyalty based on the racial link such as the goblins go after the dwarves for seeking revenge for killing the Great Goblin, while both the dwarves and elves, too, stay loyal to their tribes. Two dwarves, Fili and Kili, also fight fiercely after Thorin dies in the battle due to their being his nephews.
- Legacy: The theme of legacy in the novel is significant in that the dwarves intend to reclaim the treasure, declaring it as their heritage. Bilbo, too, gets ready, for he knows the advice of his father to win success in life while Bard also claims to have some heritage in the treasure.
- Luck: The theme of luck becomes clear when Bilbo finds a sword when surrounded by goblins. He is lucky in another sense that he possesses a ring to make him invisible.
- Destiny: The thematic strand of destiny is apparent due to the inevitability of the war and the destiny of Bilbo to come back from the battle after escaping several conflicts and taking the treasure.
Major Characters of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
- Bilbo Baggins: Popular with the first name, Bilbo, he is a hobbit. He is the main character and protagonist of the novel, having appeal due to his unmistakable likening to human beings, his feelings, and thoughts about how to outmaneuver the opponents and outclass his competitors. Yet, his innocent execution of all these acts wins for him the admiration of children. Complacent and food-loving hobbit, Bilbo starts his journey with Gandalf after having imbibed his father’s teachings. His achievements from Mirkwood to the cavern of the goblins and his final battle show that humility always wins him friends, foes, and battles. Even Thorin, the dwarf leader, has to accept his significance, though, he returns to Hobbiton to live in that same hole after winning heroism among his companions, the dwarves as well as Gandalf.
- Gandalf: A wizard in The Hobbit, Gandalf does not provide details about himself when he comes to meet Bilbo but does not mince words when detailing the task. Despite his deep attachment with the dwarves, specifically Thorin, he does not disclose the real purpose of going after the treasure. This becomes clearer when he faces the Necromancer in Mirkwood. The most surprising thing for Gandalf is his omniscience of manipulating circumstances as well as people, for he dodges when Bilbo is trapped after which he has to maneuver to save himself.
- Thorin Oakenshield: The third significant character of the novel, Thorin is not only brave and obdurate but also very greedy and argumentative when it comes to declaring a claim as their legitimate right as he does for the treasure. Yet, in comparison to Bilbo, his figure dwarfs when it comes to doing heroics, planning, and executing a plan. Despite his leadership role, he truly does not deserve to be the leader, as his irrationality after finding the treasure evinces his true and mean nature which is incompatible with his role as the leader. Although he has sought an apology from Bilbo in the end, yet it does seem redemptive.
- Gollum: A stranger creature Gollum whom Bilbo outsmarts during the riddles narration, lives in the cave under the Misty Mountains where he loses his ring that later Bilbo finds and saves himself using it. The grotesqueness of his face could be gauged from the fact that he is darker than the darkness as Tolkien states.
- Smaug: Not only the main antagonist and the final obstacle in the way of Bilbo and Gandalf to lay their hands upon the treasure Smaug is also the fiery dragon whose avariciousness lies in his desire to keep the treasure lying buried in the Lonely Mountain. It seems that he has snatched it from the dwarves who have now come back to claim it. This flying creature, however, rejects their claim due to having firepower and flying capability. His sardonic sense of humor only finds an equal in Bilbo who outsmarts this creature too.
- Bard: The captain of Lake Town, this respectable figure is Bilbo’s great assistance during the battle with Smaug, the dragon. He, as the matchless archer, fires his arrow into the weak spot of Smaug and kills him.
- Beorn: The significance of the character of Beorn lies in his assistance to Bilbo to flee when the latter faces a bleak destiny ahead in the cavern of the goblins.
- Elrond: Heading the elves, Elrond is significant on account of the assistance he extends to Bilbo and the group. His expertise lies in his qualities of being a wise warrior
- Thror: As the grandfather of Thorin, his significance lies in his being the original owner of the treasure that he has buried under the Mountain. He was later killed by Smaug when all of his progeny scatters far and wide.
- Dwarves, elves, human beings, trolls, goblins, and wargs are some other creatures mentioned in the storyline.
Writing Style of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
Although it seems that The Hobbit is written for children, most of it symbolizes the human quest for solutions to the riddles the universe presents. However, despite this, the diction is not only short and direct but also very simple that fits a child’s mind. Sentence structure is also simple to suit the diction. Yet, the perspective is a third-person narrative that somewhat gives Tolkien freedom to navigate into the rough world of adventurism. For literary devices, he turns to personifications, similes, and metaphors.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the life and journeys of Bilbo with Gandalf to get the treasure. The falling action occurs when Bilbo and Gandalf start their backward journey, while the rising action occurs when the battle takes place in the seventeenth chapter.
- Anaphora: The novel shows the use of anaphora such as,
i. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort I of remarkable tale. (Chapter-1)
ii. He got into the river before they could catch him; and before they could get him out again, Fili and Kili were nearly drowned. (Chapter-2)
These examples show the repetitions of “I have” and “before they could” in the start of the successive clauses.
- Antagonist: Although at one point, it seems that Gallum is the real antagonist when the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smaug, the dragon, is the antagonist as he obstructs every move of Bilbo and dwarves to lay their hands upon the treasure.
- Asyndeton: In asyndeton, the words in a list are separated by commas, and no conjunctions are used to join the words in a list as shown in this novel such as,
Out jumped the goblins, big goblins, great ugly-looking goblins, lots of goblins, before you could say rocks and blocks. (Chapter-4)
This example shows that Tolkien has not used conjunction to join different things or ideas.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between man and nature and man and other creatures. However, the internal conflict is going on in the mind of Bilbo about his adventures and his actions.
- Characters: The novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The hobbit, Bilbo, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Gandalf, Thorin, Gollum, or Smaug.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Bilbo kills a spider and becomes confident that he has the ability to deal with other such adversities.
- Deus Ex Machina: The novel shows the use of deus ex machina such as,
i. But most of the paths were cheats and deceptions and led nowhere or to bad ends; and most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers. (Chapter-4)
These lines show the use of supernatural elements such as the paths that were cheats and bad ends and then evil things.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows such as,
i. He knew that something unexpected might happen, and he hardly dared to hope that they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled. (Chapter-4)
ii. Bilbo had never seen or imagined anything of the kind. They were high up in a narrow place, with a dreadful fall into a dim valley at one side of them. (Chapter-4)
The mention of the unexpected, fearful and dim valley foreshadows mysterious happenings going to confront the dwarves and the hobbit.
- Imagery: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again shows the use of imagery such as,
i. It seemed quite a fair size, but not too large and mysterious. It had a dry floor and some comfortable nooks. At one end there was room for the ponies; and there they stood (mighty glad of the change) steaming, and champing in their nosebags. Oin and Gloin wanted to light a fire at the door to dry their clothes, but Gandalf would not hear of it. (Chapter-I)
ii. Very slowly he got up and groped about on all fours, till he touched the wall of the tunnel; but neither up nor down it could he find anything: nothing at all, no sign of goblins, no sign of dwarves. His head was swimming, and he was far from certain even of the direction they had been going in when he had his fall. (Chapter-5)
These two examples show images of size, movement, and feeling.
- Metaphor: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again shows good use of various metaphors such as,
i. You remember Bilbo falling like a log into sleep, as he stepped into a circle of light? The next time it had been Thorin who stepped forward, and as the lights went out he fell like a stone enchanted. (Chapter-8)
ii. Such day as there ever was in the forest was fading once more into the blackness of night, when suddenly out sprang the light of many torches all round them, like hundreds of red stars. (Chapter-9)
iii. Suddenly the cliff fell away. The shores sank. The trees ended. Then Bilbo saw a sight: The lands opened wide about him, filled with the waters of the river which broke up and wandered in a hundred winding courses, or halted in marshes and pools dotted with isles on every side: but still a strong water flowed on steadily through the midst. (Chapter-10)
These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows Bilbo compared to a heavy thing, the second shows a day compared to a night, the third shows several natural objects compared to living things.
- Mood: The novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, shows a very pleasant mood in the beginning but turns out magical, mysterious, tragic, and wonderful at times.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, language, heroism, and birth.
- Narrator: The novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, has been narrated by the third-person narrator, who happens to be J. R. R. Tolkien.
- Parallelism: The novel shows the use of parallelism such as,
i. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (Chapter-1)
ii. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. (Chapter-1)
iii. For your hospitality our sincerest thanks, and for your offer of professional assistance our grateful acceptance. (Chapter-2)
These three examples show the parallel structure of the sentences.
- Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
i. The winds broke up the grey clouds, and a waning moon appeared above the hills between the flying rags. (Chapter-2)
ii. They moved to a clump of trees, and though it was drier under them, the wind shook the rain off the leaves, and the drip, drip, was most annoying. (Chapter-2)
iii. It was deep, deep, dark, such as only goblins that have taken to living in the heart of the mountains can see through. (Chapter-4)
These examples show as if winds, trees, and mountains have life and emotions of their own.
- Polysyndeton: The novel shows the use of polysyndeton such as these examples have conjunctions instead of commas,
i. The walls echoed to the clap, snap! and the crush, smash! and to the ugly laughter of their ho, ho! my lad! (Chapter-4)
ii. It was lit by a great red fire in the middle, and by torches along the walls, and it was full of goblins. (Chapter-4)
- Protagonist: Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of the novel as the novel starts with his entry into the storyline and ends when he returns to his land.
- Repetition: The novel shows the use of repetition such as,
i. It was deep, deep, dark, such as only goblins that have taken to living in the heart of the mountains can see through. (Chapter-4)
ii. All he knew was that the river seemed to go on and on and on for ever, and he was hungry, and had a nasty cold in the nose, and did not like the way the Mountain seemed to frown at him and threaten him as it drew ever nearer. (Chapter-10)
These examples show the repetitions such as deep and on and on whose purpose is to stress upon the idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, is somewhere in Middle-earth.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as,
i. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. (Chapter-1)
ii. About midday, creeping behind a great stone that stood alone like a pillar, Bilbo came on what looked like rough steps going upwards. (Chapter-11)
iii. Then suddenly when their hope was lowest a red ray of the sun escaped like a finger through a rent in the cloud. (Chapter-11)
iv. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. (Chapter-12)
These sentences show use of the words “like” and “as” to demonstrate comparison such as the first shows this comparison between people, the second between a stone and Bilbo, the third shows this between the sun and a finger, and the last one shows this between the sound and noise.