The Hobbit | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Chapter 2 : Roast Mutton | Summary

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Summary

Bilbo Baggins's fierceness and desire for adventure are tested as the cold, wet, and hungry party searches for a meal and a place to sleep. Bilbo is sent to explore a warm light shining through the woods and comes upon three man-eating trolls cooking their mutton. Bilbo knows he has three choices: warn his friends, kill the trolls, or steal from them. He chooses to steal from the trolls, but he is instantly caught. His dwarf friends become worried about him and end up getting caught by the trolls. The trolls get in a long argument about what to do with the dwarves: roast them, boil them, or smash them. They argue for so long that they are eventually turned to stone by the light of dawn.

Analysis

Tolkien seems to take us back to the beginning as Bilbo wakes to find his house a mess, but the dwarves are gone. Could Bilbo be so fortunate as to have his life go back to normal? But alas, no. Gandalf shows up and rushes Bilbo out the door to his new adventure before he can pack a thing. This step in the hero's journey (crossing the first threshold) begins easily enough as the group crosses out of the Shire. However, as Bilbo starts to get comfortable and gain his equilibrium, he and the group face their first challenge, and the step of the road of trials begins. Their group's pack pony runs off while crossing the stream, taking all of their food with it.

Faced with his first task as the group's burglar, Bilbo is frightened and reluctant to approach the trolls. Eventually the prospective shame of failure overcomes his fear, and the courage of his Tookish side begins to surface. He soon decides that picking one of the trolls' pockets should be the easiest challenge, and, darting forward, he plunges his hand into the pocket of one of the trolls. Unfortunately, while he manages to steal the troll's purse, the purse yells an alarm and gives Bilbo away. Bilbo is unable to warn the others, and they all end up in bags as troll food.

The dwarves' sense of loyalty is on display as they come to Bilbo's aid even though they didn't get a warning from him. When they are finally safe and sound, Bilbo has clearly made some progress from a frightened and boring hobbit, but he hasn't earned any respect from his fellow adventurers.

Tolkien uses situational irony in this chapter, as the dwarves show no respect for Bilbo although they themselves display neither bravery nor wit when faced with the danger of the trolls. In another instance of situational irony, the dwarves, who are known as great blacksmiths, do not bring any weapons on a dangerous journey.

It becomes apparent that both dwarves and hobbits are quite unprepared for adventure. Tolkien doesn't rose-tint the trolls' dark side, but he does paint a very normal, comfortable scene with the comical trolls mingling around a warm fire.

Only after the trolls are turned to stone does Tolkien masterfully show what trolls are truly capable of. For Tolkien it was important that evil destroys evil. In this chapter we see evidence of this. It isn't Gandalf who turns the trolls into stone, nor is he the reason for them staying out in the daylight too long. They lose track of time because they are fighting with one another over how to cook the dwarves. It is their own greed that causes them to forget one essential fact: they can't survive in sunlight. Equally important to this chapter are the swords that the dwarves find in the trolls' abode. Historically and fictionally, swords have played a big part in the hero's quest, and they will help propel this story.

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