The Hobbit

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Title The Hobbit Author J. R. R. Tolkien Setting Tolkien presents us with a fantasy world of his own creation: Hobbiton, Middle Earth, possessing its own races, languages, and geography. This world is connected to our own, though hobbits "have become rare and shy of the Big People," and thus limit their magical presence. Middle Earth is paralleled to our own Earth as it existed millions of years ago, when the continents had very different forms. Thus, Tolkein's world is more mythological than fantastic; though imaginary, it is connected with reality.

Characters Hobbits are like people, but shy and half the size of a man. Most have thick hair on their feet, round bellies, and a taste for a comfortable, peaceful life. The Hobbit chronicles the journey of five such creatures: Bilbo Baggins, the hero of the story, is in constant struggle between his heritage. Throughout the story, he seeks adventure from his Took side, but favors being a Baggins that revels in the simple pleasures of comfort.

Gandalf is a wise old wizard who always seems to know more than admits, but has a fair command of magic that manifest just at the moment when it is most needed.

Thorin Oakenshield is the leader and the grandson of Thror, the great King under the Mountain who last held the treasure. He is a proud, purposeful, and sturdy warrior, if a bit stubborn at times.

Gollum, a strange, small, hunched-over creature, lives deep in the caves of Moria beneath the Misty Mountains. There, he broods over his "precious," a magic ring.

Smaug, the great dragon that lives in the Lonely Mountain, heard of the treasure that the dwarves had amassed in the mountain under Thror's reign and drove them away to claim the gold for himself. His flaming breath can scorch a city, his huge wings can carry him great distances, and his armor-like hide is almost impenetrable.

Summary The Hobbit begins simply: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." The hobbit in particular is named Bilbo Baggins, and his "hole" is actually a very comfortable residence known as Bag End. Bilbo, calm and satisfied, gets caught up in affairs much greater than his own hobbit-life when, at the recommendation of a mysterious old wizard named Gandalf, he is hired as a "burglar" by a group of dwarves. These dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, are going to the Lonely Mountain in the East to reclaim their family's treasure from the great dragon Smaug. Along the way, the company gets into trouble with goblins, spiders, and other malevolent creatures, and they often escape only because of the assistance of Gandalf and other good creatures they meet. Bilbo proves himself essential to the quest, saving the dwarves on many occasions. His success is partly due to a magic ring that he takes from a strange, dark creature named Gollum, who lives in the caves below the Misty Mountains. Bilbo even manages to discover Smaug's weak spot, which allows the dragon to be killed and the treasure freed.

However, the dwarves cannot enjoy the gold alone, since it lures humans and elves, some of whom have a rightful claim to a portion of it. Thorin's unwillingness to share the treasure almost leads to war between the dwarves, the elves, and humans, but, instead, war is forced upon all of them by the goblins and wargs (wild wolves). All the good races (elves, dwarves, and humans) are, thus, forced to unite against their common enemies. They succeed in defeating the evil creatures but at the cost of the life of Thorin and many others. After the battle, the good races enjoy the treasure in peace rather than fighting over it. Bilbo, weary but happy to have played a part in great affairs, returns to his quiet home at Bag End. However, because of his unhobbit-like adventures, he is never really accepted back into the community of Hobbiton.

Theme Though Tolkien's world is one of fantasy, he designed it to reflect certain truths about the real world. More directly, The Hobbit addresses the "right" way for Bilbo (or any ordinary person) to approach life: do we involve ourselves in the affairs of the common good, while risking the loss of our humble perspective? The truth and theme, therefore, presents itself slowly but eventually emerges as this: if one is called on to play a part in great affairs, as we all are, then we should not shirk to our duty. However, to perform that duty well, one must never lose sight of their own insignificance in the larger scheme of things nor lose respect for the value of the simple life.

Quote Despite our sense that other, perhaps grander, adventures are happening at the same time as the events recounted in The Hobbit, Bilbo ends up playing a significant role in the larger affairs of Middle Earth. Certainly, without his action at several tough points, Smaug would never have been killed, the treasure would never have been recovered, and the goblins would still roam about the Misty Mountains. He is, in some ways, a great hero, although such a title would hardly suit his tastes. In the book's last passage, Gandalf jokingly chides the hobbit about his insignificance, telling him that he is "only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!" Of course, the wizard is, in part, laughing at himself; even he, a very important fellow in the wide world, could hardly have foreseen just how important a role Bilbo would play.

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