70 pages 2 hours read

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1937

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Summary and Study Guide


J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a fantasy adventure novel first published in 1937. Tolkien (1892-1973) was an English writer, philologist, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and a close friend of C.S. Lewis. The Hobbit is the first published work recounting tales from Middle Earth, Tolkien’s fantasy world with fictional races of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and more. After fighting in World War I, Tolkien returned home, worked at the Oxford English Dictionary, and, while at Pembroke College, penned The Hobbit and the first volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Told from the perspective of an omniscient, third-person narrator who sometimes addresses the reader directly, The Hobbit recounts the tale of Bilbo Baggins, an ordinary hobbit gentleman who is beguiled by a wizard into joining a party of dwarves on their quest to kill a dragon and take back their ancestral home (along with all the silver, gold, and jewels that come with it). Encountering numerous dangers and obstacles along the way, Bilbo discovers that he is capable of quite a wide array of virtues, proving his resourcefulness countless times before eventually returning to his home under the hill after the span of a year. Changed by the experience, and having participated in the victory over Smaug the dragon and the goblin hordes, Bilbo pens his memoirs upon his return home, providing the in-world explanation for the existence of the novel known as The Hobbit, or “There and Back Again.”

This study guide references the 2011 HarperCollins 75th Anniversary Kindle Edition.

Plot Summary

The Hobbit is a tale of high fantasy that recounts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, who is one day pressed and cajoled into joining up with a party of dwarves—13 of them to be exact—who are venturing out into the wilderness to the far North in order to take back their ancestral home and kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. Their kinsmen were slain many years ago by the fearsome dragon Smaug, who proceeded to kill all who opposed him, lay waste to the surrounding areas, and sequester the vast store of treasure under the mountain. The leader of the dwarves is Thorin (son of Thrain, son of Thror) whose throne has been empty for many years and who intends on returning to the mountain as the rightful king and heir to the throne; he will use a map, composed by his grandfather, that Gandalf had finally returned to him.

Setting out from Bilbo’s house under the hill within the shire, the party of travelers—including the wizard Gandalf, who has been the instigator of the whole affair up to this point—are almost immediately beset by obstacles and enemies. First encountering a trio of trolls who wish to make supper of Bilbo and the dwarves, they narrowly escape and proceed to make their way to Rivendell, the home of Elrond and the elves, who happily give aid and rest to the travelers before they embark on the greater part of their journey. Leaving Rivendell, the company attempt to scale the Misty Mountains when they are kidnapped by goblins and brought underground to the tunnels, where Bilbo discovers a powerful magic ring that grants him the power of invisibility. Escaping the grasp of the creature Gollum, to whom the ring belonged, Bilbo finds his way out of the goblin tunnels and reunites with the dwarves, who have themselves only just escaped the tunnels.

Soon after their narrow escape from the tunnels, they are beset by a pack of Wargs, wild wolves of terrific size, who drive them into the forest and up into the tree canopy where the party are fortunately rescued by the giant, wild Eagles who carry them away to safety. From there, Gandalf leads the company to the house of Beorn, who can take the shape of either a man or a mythically large bear. Beorn stocks them with provisions for their journey through Mirkwood forest, and Gandalf leaves them to traverse the wood alone as he ventures off on a different errand. Once in Mirkwood, the company defeats a clan of giant spiders, escapes from the dungeons of the wood elves, and rides a collection of barrels down the river to Lake-town (also known as Esgaroth).

Here, they are greeted as champions and sent off on their way to the Lonely Mountain, where they use Thorin’s map to find a secret door into the side of the mountain. Bilbo uses the magic ring to sneak into Smaug’s lair, stealing a golden cup and taking note of the fact that there is a weak spot in Smaug’s armor on his chest, which he reports to the band of dwarves outside. Once Smaug realizes that he was burgled, he leaves the mountain in a rage and attacks Lake-town, where a man, Bard, slays him with a special black arrow. Once the townspeople realize that Smaug no longer guards the mountain treasure, they venture out to the mountain gates (along with the elves) to demand a portion of the treasure.

Thorin refuses, and the various groups prepare to go to war. Bilbo attempts to defuse the situation by offering a precious gem (known as the Arkenstone) to Bard and the Elvenking, hoping the latter two can use the stone as a bargaining chip with Thorin. However, the goblin hordes descend upon the mountain before anything can be done, and the armies of the men, elves, and dwarves do battle with the goblins and the wild wolves. Ultimately, the goblin hordes are killed and subdued, but many die in battle, including Thorin. After the battle, Thorin’s cousin Dain is enthroned in the Lonely Mountain, Bard rebuilds the town by the lake, and Gandalf and Bilbo return home via the valley of Rivendell, arriving home more than a year after initially setting out on their journey. Bilbo is a changed person, rich in gold and in friendship; the other hobbits consider Bilbo to be a strange chap, but Bilbo spends the next few years recording his memoirs, which he entitles “There and Back Again,” providing the in-world source for the tale of The Hobbit.