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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Back in the times when people first told the legends of King
Arthur and Siegfried the dragon-killer, they didn't have as
much in the way of entertainment as we do today. Instead, they
had to entertain themselves. One way they did this was by
playing riddle games. The first person who failed to answer a
riddle lost the game. Riddle games were so popular that they
became a common feature in folklore and legend. In these
legendary games the stakes were often high: the loser would
forfeit a valuable magical treasure or even his life. Tolkien
drew directly on these stories when he devised the riddle game
between Gollum and Bilbo. In this case, if Bilbo loses, Gollum
will eat him. Fortunately, Bilbo manages to stump Gollum with
an unorthodox riddle: "What have I got in my pocket?" (This
leads some people to question whether Bilbo won the game
fairly.) The other riddles that appear in this scene are old
standards, not only in Middle-earth but also in our own world.
In fact, many of these riddles were favorites of the ancient
Norse and Anglo-Saxons, and can be found in their writings
that have been preserved through the centuries.

The ring that Bilbo discovered belongs to Gollum, who lost it
hunting goblins in the tunnel. Gollum is obsessed with his ring,
calling it by the name he uses for himself: "my precious." He
lets out a horrible screech when he realizes it's gone and Bilbo
has it. He rushes toward Bilbo in a murderous rage. Bilbo flees,
and the ring somehow slips onto his finger.

As he runs down the dark tunnel, Bilbo trips and falls, but
Gollum continues past him. Realizing the ring has made him
invisible, Bilbo uses it to escape Gollum and slip out the
goblins' back door. Gollum shrieks after Bilbo: "Thief, thief,
thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!" Is
Bilbo a thief? Do you feel any sympathy for Gollum? Why or
why not?

The ring represents great power. Gollum used it to sneak up on
goblins and kill them, and had planned to use it in the same
way to kill Bilbo. Bilbo could also have used the ring against
Gollum, but instead he jumps over Gollum's head and runs
away. He does this both out of sympathy for Gollum and
because of his sense of fair play. Do you think he's foolish to
take such a chance?

Bilbo emerges from the goblin tunnels and realizes that he's
come through all the way to the other side of the mountain.
Alone, with no idea what has happened to his friends, he
decides to go back into the tunnels to find them. just then he
hears the voices of his companions. Since he's wearing the
ring, the others can't see him. As he approaches, the dwarves
are saying that they don't want to go back to find Bilbo, while
Gandalf is insisting that they must. Bilbo takes off his ring and
suddenly appears, surprising them all.

Here Tolkien shows you Bilbo as morally superior to the
dwarves. He was willing to go back into the tunnels alone to
try to find them, but they prefer to leave him to the goblins
rather than to risk getting caught themselves. You may say that
the dwarves are just being realistic and that Bilbo is naively
idealistic. How does this relate to Tolkien's theme that you
must do what is right, no matter what the consequences?

Bilbo tells about his encounter with Gollum but doesn't
mention the ring. The dwarves are greatly impressed. Gandalf
gives Bilbo a queer look, as if he suspects Bilbo hasn't told the
whole truth.

Knowing the goblins will pursue once night falls, the
adventurers travel well into the night. They stop at last, but
soon hear the howling of wolves. As they scramble into trees, a
pack of wolves run into the clearing.

These are no ordinary wolves. They are Wargs, allies of the
goblins, and Bilbo and his friends are trapped.

Far away, the Lord of the Eagles hears the commotion and with
his followers decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, the goblins arrive in the clearing. Gandalf prepares
to jump down among them and kill as many as he can before
he dies. Just then, the eagles arrive and carry Bilbo and the
others off to their home on the mountain peak. There the eagles
bring them food: animals, which the dwarves prepare and cook.
Tolkien again emphasizes how out of place Bilbo is with the
dwarves. He doesn't know how to skin and cut up meat; he's
used to having it delivered by the butcher!

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

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