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The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Hobbit | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In The Hobbit how does Tolkien create a change in mood from Chapter 3 to Chapter 4?

Chapter 3, which is titled "A Short Rest," is the epitome of lightness and cheer. In this chapter Bilbo and his crew begin their descent into the valley of Rivendell. The characters are so jovial during this stage of their journey that Bilbo and his crew don't ever want to leave the valley. (This is reminiscent of the lotus-eaters from Greek mythology: once you taste the flower, it is nearly impossible to leave.) For example, as the group travels into the valley, Tolkien explains that the air grows warm and "there [is] a comfortable feeling in the twilight." Bilbo further exclaims, "It smells like elves!" implying that even the smell is delightful. As The Hobbit transitions into Chapter 4, "Over Hill and Under Hill," the landscape changes along with the mood of the story when the troop begins their trek through the Misty Mountains. Tolkien employs vivid descriptions ("the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers") and notes that the temperature drops in this environment, reflecting a chillier mood experienced by the characters and readers. Similarly Bilbo and his crew feel more vulnerable and become fearful of talking too loudly. Later in Chapter 4, while traversing the Misty Mountains, the crew runs into the "thunder-battle," in which it hails and rains mercilessly upon them; it seems like a war is going on around them. They enter the Misty Mountain cave seeking protection from the elements, but they are seized by goblins and taken to a "deep, deep, dark" place. The goblins herd them into a large cavern lit by a hellish "red fire." These memorable images conjured by Tolkien—the bright, warm, scent-filled valley versus the wet, cold mountains where evil hides in every crevice—engage all of the readers' senses. Because of his ability to captivate readers so fully, Tolkien is a master in the creation of mood. His use of descriptive detail to shift from the bright and cheerful valley of Rivendell to the ominous and evil Misty Mountains provides a physical and psychological experience that the characters and readers of the story encounter together.

In Chapter 4 of The Hobbit why is the Great Goblin so enraged at seeing the sword that Thorin carries?

The Great Goblin, Tolkien tells the reader, lets out a "truly awful howl of rage" when he sees Thorin's sword because it was made to kill goblins during the goblin wars. Clearly it is a famous blade and has a reputation among goblins—whether from a great myth, from old stories passed down over generations, or because the Great Goblin himself was previously confronted by the sword. The sword's runes said it was very old and made by the "High Elves of the West" (relatives of the elf Elrond). Elrond predicts that it came from a "dragon's hoard" or "goblin plunder." Thorin, after hearing of the sword's legacy, predicts that he will use it to "cleave goblins once again"—and how right he is! Tolkien also uses personification to enhance the reputation of the sword by giving it a name. Thorin's sword is called "Orcrist, Goblin-cleaver." The sword appears to contain magic when it lights up inside the cavern: "Suddenly a sword flashed in its own light. ... The goblin soldiers fled ... into the darkness." Tolkien's descriptions inspire readers' imaginations, creating reader recognition of the sword that mimics the recognition of the sword experienced in Chapter 4 by the Great Goblin.

What happens in Chapter 5 of The Hobbit that shows Bilbo's transformation from simple conservative hobbit to cunning adventurer is complete?

In the chapters preceding Chapter 5 Gandalf is always there to get the group out of any mess in which they find themselves. Starting in Chapter 5, however, Bilbo is solely responsible for saving himself. No one else can take credit for Bilbo's ability to outsmart Gollum and escape the cave: Bilbo outsmarts Gollum with his riddles, and when he is being chased Bilbo is wise enough to wear the ring, quickly determine its power, and utilize that power effectively. Bilbo decides to follow Gollum, even though Gollum is one of the sources of his angst, because he knows Gollum will lead him to the exit. It is likely that Bilbo has gained confidence in his adventuresome Tookish side, which provides him with many of the tools necessary to complete his mission.

How is the theme of luck and destiny shown in Chapter 5 of The Hobbit?

When Bilbo regains consciousness in Chapter 5, he is in a dark tunnel. As he crawls along, he finds a ring on the floor and puts it into his pocket. This is a very lucky event for the hobbit, although he does not know it at the time. Later—during the riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum, Bilbo is very fortunate. As he struggles to find the answer to one of Gollum's difficult riddles, he happens to put his foot near the water, and a fish jumps out. And the answer to the riddle is fish! Gollum's next riddle is also an extremely difficult one for Bilbo, especially as fatigue and fear are setting in. As Bilbo thinks in his head, "Give me more time!" he yells out, "Time!" Bilbo meant to plead for additional time in order to think of the answer to the riddle, but the answer was actually time. When Bilbo needs a final riddle, he happens to find the ring in his pocket and, almost by accident, poses the question to Gollum, "What do I have in my pocket?" Unable to answer the question, Gollum now must guide Bilbo to the exit—which he does not want to do. Bilbo is equally lucky when he slips the ring on his finger just in time to avoid Gollum. Bilbo later jumps over Gollum, allowing him to just barely evade Gollum's grasp. A final example of luck is when the width of the gate to the cave ends up being just big enough for Bilbo to squeeze through, minus his buttons!

What are some of the complex dynamics among species evident in Chapter 6 of The Hobbit?

While the eagles are not very fond of the dwarves, they dislike the goblins and the wargs even more. The eagles save Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves, demonstrating they have a moral compass that aligns with that of the main characters. However, the narrator makes it clear they cannot be fully trusted. The goblins dislike most living things, but they appear to have a symbiotic relationship with the wargs. For example, in Chapter 6 the wargs trap Bilbo and friends up in trees as a present for the goblins. The wargs also plan to meet up with the goblins in an effort to raid and kill the woodmen. So it is clear that neither the eagles nor the goblins like dwarves. These are not the only creatures that dislike this particular species. Readers may question what it is about the dwarves that causes other species of Middle-earth to dislike them.

In Chapter 6 of The Hobbit why doesn't Bilbo tell the dwarves about the ring that he found?

In Chapter 6 Bilbo does not immediately announce to the group that he has obtained a ring. At this point in the journey Bilbo is still seeking his niche within the group and trying to prove his worth to the dwarves. He wants the dwarves to believe he escaped from Gollum using his own cunning, without the help of the ring's magic. Bilbo wants the dwarves to believe in him, and he also wants to believe in himself. Although he has transformed throughout the journey, Bilbo still lacks confidence in his abilities. The Baggins in his blood, despite his successes so far, causes him to doubt whether he should be on this journey in the first place.

In Chapter 7 of The Hobbit what might the narrator mean when saying that Beorn may have been born from the earth itself?

Beorn is at home with nature. This is a metaphor that describes just how in tune with nature Beorn is: he is nature. Half bear and half man, Beorn is both animal and human, and—because he lives completely off the land—he does not take anything from nature that he does not give back. For example, Beorn plants his own flowers. These flowers attract and provide sustenance for bees, which in turn make honey for him. He considers the bees his servants and treats them so well that they gladly stay and serve him. Beorn is also described as grumpy. However, this attitude is easily understood when readers consider he is surrounded by creatures like the goblins, who pillage and destroy the precious earth for their own selfish desires. In this way Beorn is like Mother Nature herself.

In Chapter 7 of The Hobbit why does Gandalf introduce the dwarves to Beorn two at a time?

Gandalf is insistent that Beorn, who is part bear and part man, doesn't like company. The wizard introduces the dwarves in pairs of two so that the entire group does not barge in on Beorn at once, overwhelming him as they did Bilbo at his home in Chapter 1. While Beorn possesses a grumpy disposition, as Gandalf mentions, Beorn remains humorous and quite generous throughout this scene. Beorn does give Gandalf a hard time while the story of their adventures is being told, but this appears to be in jest. His lighthearted comments after each additional pair of dwarves is introduced prove him to be more like a teddy bear than a grizzly bear.

How has Bilbo's character evolved by Chapter 8 of The Hobbit?

From the beginning of the book, Bilbo has grown considerably. His inner conflict has dissipated, and he is growing gradually—and sometimes by leaps and bounds—into the person that Gandalf claimed him to be in Chapter 1. Bilbo has developed confidence that he can get out of any situation. When the group tries to make contact with the elves, he is left alone for the third time so far in the story. Rather than panicking, Bilbo finds himself thinking of solutions. He also acts more assuredly. He quickly determines which direction the cries for help came from and heads in that direction. When he is caught in the web of a spider, he quickly pulls out his sword, cuts away the web, and kills the spider, arousing even more confidence in himself. When he sees his friends held prisoner by the spiders, he quickly picks up rocks and kills a number of them. Then he decisively leads the spiders away from his companions, saving them.

In The Hobbit how does the dwarves' opinion of Bilbo change between Chapter 1 and the events in Mirkwood in Chapter 8?

When the dwarves first meet Bilbo, they are less than impressed. They first judge him negatively because of his stature. He appears easily frightened and weak when he collapses after hearing of the great peril he will face should he go on this adventure. It takes the dwarves until Mirkwood to admit they have begun to respect Bilbo after he finds a way to escape the goblin mountain all by himself. Just as he learns how to outsmart Gollum, he continually comes up with solutions to their many problems. Bilbo is also becoming more confident as he finds his way out of sticky situations. Even though he tells the dwarves about the ring and how he used it to get away from the goblins and Gollum, they are no less impressed. The dwarves begin to realize that not only is Bilbo crafty in a pinch, he is also quite brave and very loyal.

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