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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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THORIN OAKENSHIELD

Thorin is the self-important leader of the dwarves and the
grandson of Thrain, the last king under Lonely Mountain. The
most completely developed character of the thirteen dwarves,
he shows both the weaknesses and the strengths of his race.
Accordingly, readers may find him ambiguous. He can be
petty, selfish, and pompous, but he can also be heroic and awe-
inspiring. He's motivated at first by greed and the desire for
revenge, but when he reaches Lonely Mountain he begins to
feel a higher purpose, claiming his rightful title as king under
the mountain. He succumbs to a weakness of his race-
possessiveness-but later redeems himself through courage in
battle.



GOLLUM

Gollum was once a hobbitlike creature, but when Bilbo meets
him he has degenerated both morally and physically. Gollum
has become a "small, slimy creature" with long webby feet,
who lives in the heart of the mountain, paddling his boat on a
subterranean lake. His most prized possession is his ring,
which can make him invisible. He's obsessed with this ring,
calling it by the name he uses for himself: "my precious."

Gollum's moral degeneration can be seen in his deceitful
actions toward Bilbo. Yet Tolkien also depicts Gollum as a
lonely, pitiable creature, who weeps at the loss of his one
precious possession.

BARD

When Bard first appears in the story, he is just an anonymous
inhabitant of Lake-town. He proves his worth when he arouses
the town to face the dragon Smaug's attack, and succeeds in
killing Smaug when everyone else has given up the fight.

Bard is a heroic figure, a grim leader of strength and discipline,
who serves as a contrast to Bilbo, the timid hobbit. Yet they
both become heroes because of their determination to do what
must be done, regardless of the consequences. Ironically,
Bard's name is an old word for a certain type of poet who in
England and Ireland's past often composed tales of heroism.
When you read the book, try to decide whether this is a joke on
Tolkien's part or whether in some ways Bard is more like a
poet than a warrior.

SMAUG

Dragons are often depicted in legends as jealously guarding a
great treasure. Tolkien stays true to this tradition in his
portrayal of Smaug, who long ago drove the dwarves from
their home in the Lonely Mountain and now jealously broods
over treasure stolen from them and others. Dragons also have a
reputation as wily talkers, and Smaug ranks with the best of
them. He never says what he means, and even his polite words
carry veiled menace. He skillfully plays on Bilbo's doubts and
seeks to trick him into giving himself away.

Folklore describes dragons as misers who have been
transformed by their greed. Dragons have also long been a
symbol for the lure of gold and the evil that wealth brings.
Tolkien uses this association between dragons and greed. He
even refers to the corrupting effect of the treasure as "dragon-
sickness."

THE MASTER

The Master, the greedy and scheming leader of Lake-town,
seems in some ways a human counterpart to the dragon Smaug.
He, too, is a wily talker, carefully choosing his words to
manipulate others. He succumbs to the dragon-sickness-greed-
and steals the share of the treasure that was to go to Lake-town.

The Master contrasts with Bard, who always says exactly what
he thinks, even if others don't want to hear it. Also unlike Bard,
the Master turns his back on his town, thinking only to save his
own skin. In his selfishness he proves himself to be a poor
leader.

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