The Hobbit | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Chapter 1 : An Unexpected Party | Summary

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Summary

Bilbo Baggins is a simple hobbit with a simple life. His quiet life is interrupted when a group of dwarves and a famous wizard, Gandalf, show up at his home with a treasure map in hand. Gandalf reminds Bilbo of tales of goblins and giants and of people being lured into adventure. Shortly thereafter he lures Bilbo into one of those adventures. Gandalf and 13 rambunctious dwarves devise a plan to use their map to find and steal a treasure hoard buried in a mountain guarded by a fierce and greedy dragon. They have chosen Bilbo as their burglar. Bilbo's innate Bagginsish nature (on his father's side) desires comfort and normalcy, but he also has a Tookish (Tooks are from his mother's side) desire to be fierce and heroic. Ultimately, his inner adventurer wins out.

Analysis

Tolkien creates a whimsical world of hobbits, fire-breathing dragons, and intense but comical dwarves who sing. Even with the occasional death and its mayhem, it is a story written for children. Tolkien believed in the wisdom of children, and while he didn't want to scare them, he did want them to see that they could work through difficult circumstances and not need to be sheltered from every negative experience. The Hobbit, when examined closely, is brilliantly written not only to fascinate children but also to entertain adults.

Bilbo represents the status quo. His life is quite good, with little reason to risk what has been an entirely comfortable and normal existence. This cozy beginning to the story represents the first step of the hero's journey: the ordinary world. But The Hobbit is a tale of heroism, so the hero must receive the call to adventure. An optional step (refusal of the call) appears in Chapter 1 when Gandalf and the dwarves ask Bilbo to accompany them to claim Smaug's treasure and he declines the request. Also in this chapter, the narrator implies that Bilbo has a bit of adventurer innately swirling around inside him from his mother's side of the family, the Tooks. Bilbo certainly has a conflict of desires and emotions. He mainly wants to stay in his comfort zone, where he has a routine but good life.

However, after hearing Gandalf express that Bilbo is indeed quite fierce, something inside Bilbo desires to live up to Gandalf's view of him. He accepts the call to adventure: to search out and burglarize the gold treasure that was stolen from Thorin's people by the dragon Smaug. Tolkien takes the characters on a journey that is the ride of a lifetime—breaking them out of the everyday ritual and throwing disbelief to the winds.

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