The Hobbit | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Chapter 5 : Riddles in the Dark | Summary

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Summary

Bilbo Baggins awakens to find himself alone in the dark. In the turning point of the adventure, he finds a tiny ring as he feels around on the ground, trying to find his way. He pulls out the little sword he had taken from the trolls' storeroom. This sword had also been made in Gondolin for the goblin wars; its elvish blade lights the way.

Bilbo finds himself going deeper and deeper into the mountain and ends up by a cold, dark lake. Gollum sneaks up on Bilbo and in his hissing voice expresses his desire to make Bilbo into a feast. He is a slimy, large-eyed, pale-skinned creature who exudes darkness.

While Gollum decides whether he is hungry enough to eat Bilbo, he invites Bilbo to participate in some riddles. He turns it into a competition. If he wins he gets to eat Bilbo; if Bilbo wins Gollum will let him leave. They go through a number of riddles. Bilbo runs out of riddles, so he asks Gollum to guess what is in his pocket. It is of course not a riddle, but Gollum seems perplexed for a rather smart little creature.

Gollum can't guess the answer to Bilbo's question, so he agrees to lead Bilbo to the exit. But when Gollum goes to his little island to retrieve his birthday present, which is the ring Bilbo found, he becomes very agitated. He goes back to Bilbo and becomes suspicious of him. Bilbo sees his green murderous eyes and takes off running. Just as he is about to be caught by Gollum, he slips his finger into the ring, and Gollum runs right past him as if he didn't see him. Bilbo at once realizes its powers and follows Gollum, knowing he will be looking for Bilbo at the exit. Gollum sits in front of the gate waiting for Bilbo, but Bilbo jumps over him and escapes.

Analysis

Tolkien's fascination with Anglo-Saxon culture is present in this chapter. Riddles were a popular pastime for Anglo-Saxons. Many of the riddles told in the book are actually from old literature. This chapter also signifies Bilbo's almost complete transformation from a simple Baggins to an adventurous Took.

Continuing on the road of trials, Bilbo learns a great deal about himself and his capabilities. He outsmarts Gollum, the predatory creature that lives in the depths of the Misty Mountains. Gollum is a complex character described as "dark as darkness," yet Tolkien reveals enough of Gollum's backstory to make the character pitiable and sad. Gollum used to have friends to play the riddle game with, which invites empathy for this dark creature. Tolkien's love of words again is present with the insertion of the riddles, which help define the characters themselves. Gollum's riddles have relevance to him: mountains, wind, dark, fish, and so much time. Likewise Bilbo's riddles center around him: sun on the daisies and eggs and chestnuts, which he wishes he had at that moment. Bilbo's riddles represent light; Gollum's riddles represent dark.

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