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The Hobbit
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The Hobbit

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien originally as a children's story in the tradition of the fairy tale. It was first published on September 21, 1937. It serves as a preface to The Lord of the Rings (published many years later in 1954 and 1955) and sets the stage for that work.

The story, subtitled "There and Back Again," follows the adventures of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he travels across the lands of Middle-earth with a band of Dwarves and a wizard named Gandalf on a quest to recover a dwarven kingdom complete with a great treasure stolen by the dragon, Smaug.

Warning: Plot details follow.. In particular, the plot of The Hobbit is discussed in the "Synopsis" section.

Table of contents
1 The Book
2 Synopsis
3 Preview of Sequel
4 Alternative Version
5 Adaptations and Influences
6 Editions
7 See also

The Book

Tolkien, a professor at Oxford University at the time he began writing the book, said that it began from a single senseless sentence ("In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit") scrawled on an exam paper he was grading (compare Lewis Carroll's composition of The Hunting of the Snark). When he began, he did not intend to connect the story with the much more profound mythology he was working on (see The Silmarillion).

However as Tolkien continued writing it, he decided that the events of The Hobbit could belong to the same universe as The Silmarillion, and he introduced or mentioned characters and places that figured prominently in Tolkien's legendarium, specifically Elrond, Gil-galad and Gondolin. Taken into consideration with the rest of Tolkien's work, The Hobbit serves as both an introduction to Middle-earth as well as a narrative link between earlier and later events as told in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, respectively.

It has been suggested that The Hobbit can be read as a bildungsroman in which Bilbo matures from an initially insular, superficial, and rather useless person to one who is versatile, brave, self-sufficient, and relied-upon by others when they are in need of assistance. Compare this to Joseph Campbell and his writings on myth and in particular, the journey of the epic hero. However Tolkien himself probably did not intend the book to be read in this way. In the foreword to The Lord of the Rings he writes, "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence." He claims that The Lord of the Rings is "neither allegorical nor topical". It seems safe to assume that The Hobbit was written with the same caveats. The judgement of Bilbo as "superficial" and "useless" seems harsh since he was, according to Tolkien, rather typical of hobbits in general.

Although a fairytale, the book was quite complex and sophisticated: it contained many names and words derived from Norse, runic examples, information on calendars and moon phases and detailed geographical descriptions that fit well with the accopmpanied maps. Near the end, the tale evolves into epic proportions.


Warning: Plot details follow.

Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is smoking on his veranda one day when Gandalf the Wizard visits him. Bilbo dismisses Gandalf, who scratches a "Burglar-for-hire" rune mark on Bilbo's front door. Thirteen Dwarves (Thorin, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Kili, Fili, Bofur, Dori, Bombur, Nori, and Ori) show up and begin excitedly discussing their planned treasure hunt while the hapless Bilbo provides the obligatory hospitality. After cleaning up their mess, the map is produced and Gandalf arranges for Bilbo to get the burglary job -- as well as to break the unlucky number 13. The company's quest: kill Smaug, the dragon who seized the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) from the Dwarves' forefathers, and recapture the Mountain, dividing the riches within its halls.

The next morning, after oversleeping and nearly missing the start of the journey, Bilbo goes off with the Dwarves. They are nearly eaten by three trolls, but Gandalf tricks the trolls into staying up all night whereupon they are turned into stone by the first light of dawn. (The stone trolls appear later in The Lord of the Rings.) In the troll's cave they find some swords. Bilbo acquires Sting, which glows blue in the presence of goblins (another name for Orcss).

The party travels to Rivendell where they enjoy the hospitality of the Elves, then proceed eastwards towards the Misty Mountains. There they are ambushed by goblins (Orcs), and carried under the mountain. They run away, and during the escape Bilbo loses the Dwarves. Alone in the dark after running away from the goblins, Bilbo finds a ring on the floor of a cave passage and puts it into his pocket.

Continuing down, he finds himself at the shore of an underground lake. Gollum quietly paddles up in his boat, and the two enact the Riddle Game, under the condition that if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out, but if he loses, Gollum will eat Bilbo! After several riddles, which each manages to answer, Bilbo, unable to think of any more riddles, asks, "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum demands three guesses, but has to give up. Bilbo demands his reward, but Gollum refuses and leaves. Bilbo leaves, and Gollum chases him. Bilbo trips, but Gollum runs right over him. Bilbo realizes the ring makes him invisible. He manages to escape past Gollum, who had gone to guard the only exit, and finds his way to the surface where he rejoins the Dwarves.

Descending from the Misty Mountains, they survive an encounter with Wargs (wild wolf creatures) by climbing trees. Eagles rescue them. Then they meet Beorn, a man who can transform into a bear. They depart, having rested for several days. Gandalf leaves them soon, they cross the great forest where they foolishly try to beg food from Wood-elves and get lost. Gandalf had warned them not to leave the path, but they saw fire and heard singing. They are captured by giant spiders, but Bilbo rescues the Dwarves by killing 50 spiders with Sting. Elves then capture the Dwarves and imprison them, but Bilbo manages to sneak into the Elvenking's palace unnoticed using the ring; he then helps the captured Dwarves to escape in barrels floating down a river.

After staying for a short period of time at Laketown, the party of treasure-seekers proceeds to the Lonely Mountain, and with the help of starlight are able to find the door. Bilbo is sent down to encounter Smaug. The dragon, realizing the Company received help from the people of Laketown sets to destroy it; he is shot down by an arrow while attacking and the party take possession of the treasure.

Thereupon follows a war over the disposition of the treasure, as people of Laketown demand a share of the treasures in exchange for the help they had given and the damage that was caused to them by the dragon; they're joined by the Elves, who also demand a share. The Dwarves on their behalf summon their kin, and war seems almost inevitable. However then, Bilbo uses the invisibility ring to steal the prized Arkenstone from the Dwarves and help broker a truce.

At the same moment, the three armies near the Lonely Mountain (Elves, Men and Dwarves) are attacked by Goblins and Wargs from the Misty Mountains. A bitter battle ensues (named the Battle of Five Armies). After a bitter fight and suffering heavy losses, Elves, Men and Dwarves prevail. Bilbo refuses most of the riches, realising he has no way to bring them back home; he nevertheless takes enough with him to make himself a wealthy hobbit and live happily thereafter, unaware of the dangerous nature of his ring.

Preview of Sequel

Bilbo's retirement lasts another half dozen decades, until his eleventy-first birthday, when he leaves Hobbiton for good. After being urged on by Gandalf the Grey, he bequeaths the magic ring to his heir Frodo -- who turns thirty-three the same day. The complete tale is contained in The Lord of the Rings.

Alternative Version

In the first edition, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle game. Tolkien later revised this passage to reflect the concept of the One Ring and its powerful hold on Gollum, developed while writing The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien weaves this version into the story line of The Lord of the Rings as a "lie" that Bilbo made up (probably because of the One Ring's influence on him), which he confesses to Glóin the dwarf at the Council of Elrond. The revised chapter was sent to his publishers as a sample of such a rewrite, but due to a misunderstanding, ended up second edition unrevised. The first Tolkien knew of this is when he was sent galley proofs of the new edition.

This first edition also mentions "gnomes", an earlier word Tolkien used to refer to the second kindred of the High Elves — the Noldor (or "Deep Elves"). Tolkien thought that "gnome", being derived from the Greek gnosis (knowledge), was a good name for the Noldor he created to be the wisest of the other Elves. But with its English connontations of a small, secretive and unattractive creature (see garden gnome) Tolkien removed it from later editions. He made other minor changes in order to conform the narrative to events in The Lord of the Rings and in the ideas he was developing for the Quenta Silmarillion.

However this still doesn't fit perfectly: Even revised, Hobbit is so much different in tone that sometimes seems to belong in another universe from other Middle-earth works. Some examples:

When Bilbo tries to steal a purse from the Trolls, the purse shouts!

Elves appear either as silly mischiefs (Rivendell), or hostile (Mirkwood).

The narrator denies knowledge on the Ring's nature and history which is quite well known from the other texts.

Gandalf mentions Radagast as his cousin.

The extensive mentioning (and brief appearance) of Giants. Giants were never developed in Tolkien's other works, but since they should exist and possibly take a grand part in the past and upcoming Wars, they are never mentioned again.

Adaptations and Influences


George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. of London published the first edition of The Hobbit in September 1937. It was illustrated with many black-and-white drawings by Tolkien himself. The original printing numbered a mere 1,500 copies and sold out by December due to enthusiastic reviews. Houghton Mifflin of Boston and New York prepared an American edition to be released early in 1938 in which four of the illustrations would be color plates. Allen & Unwin decided to incorporate the color illustrations into their second printing, released at the end of 1937. Despite the book's popularity, wartime conditions forced the London publisher to print small runs of the remaining two printings of the first edition.

As remarked above, Tolkien substantially revised The Hobbit's text describing Bilbo's dealings with Gollum in order to blend the story better into what The Lord of the Rings had become. This revision became the second edition, published in 1951 in both UK and American editions. Slight corrections to the text have appeared in the third (1966) and fourth editions (1978).

New English-language editions of The Hobbit spring up periodically, despite the book's age, with at least fifty editions having been published to date. Each comes from a different publisher or bears distinctive cover art, internal art, or substantial changes in format. The text of each generally adheres to the Allen & Unwin edition extant at the time it is published.

The remarkable and enduring popularity of The Hobbit expresses itself in the collectors' market. The first printing of the first English language edition rarely sells for under $10,000 US dollars in any whole condition, and clean copies in original dust jackets signed by the author are routinely advertised for over $100,000. Online auction site eBay tends to define the market value for those who collect The Hobbit.

The Hobbit has been translated into many languages. Some known languages, with the first date of publishing, are:

See also

J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium Finished works
The Hobbit | The Lord of the Rings | The Adventures of Tom Bombadil | The Road Goes Ever On | Bilbo's Last Song Posthumous works (edited by Christopher Tolkien)
The Silmarillion | Unfinished Tales | The History of Middle-earth
The Book of Lost Tales | The Lays of Beleriand; | The Shaping of Middle-earth; | The Lost Road and Other Writings; | The History of The Lord of the Rings; | Morgoth's Ring; | The War of the Jewels; | The  Peoples of Middle-earth; List of Middle-earth articles by category | articles by name | writings | characters | peoples | rivers | realms | ages