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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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Not at all happy with the prospect of war, Bilbo comes up with
a plan to try to prevent it. Putting on his ring and carrying the
Arkenstone, he slips away from the dwarves. He brings the
stone to Bard, hoping it can be used to bargain with Thorin.
Bard, the Elvenking, and Gandalf, who reappears in the elves'
camp, praise the hobbit for his action. Then Bilbo returns to the
dwarves' camp.

It may seem strange to you that Bilbo should return to the
dwarves, who will certainly be angry with what he's done. But
Bilbo will not desert his friends. To understand this is to
understand much of Tolkien's idea of the greatness of the
common people. Bilbo has very simple values and stands by
them. One thing he values highly is friends. Another thing he
values highly is the comfortable life he led in Bag End.
Throughout the adventure Bilbo keeps thinking of his home,
enabling him to keep things in perspective, something the
dwarves have failed to do. He realizes that the dwarves' gold
isn't much good without food or without the friendship of their
neighbors. He just wants to see the whole thing come to an end,
and this is what prompts him to give up the Arkenstone.

Bard reveals to Thorin that he has the Arkenstone. In his anger
Thorin almost throws Bilbo over the wall. Thorin reluctantly
agrees to give up one-fourteenth of the treasure-Bilbo's share-
in return for the Arkenstone. While Bilbo goes down to join
Gandalf, Thorin is already thinking of a way to go back on his
word. Dain, his cousin, is now approaching with an army of
dwarves. Thorin wonders if he can recapture the Arkenstone
with Dain's help and avoid paying Bilbo's share of the treasure.
In chapter 14, Tolkien had said that the dwarves were affected
by the bewitchment of the treasure. Now he says something
similar when he attributes Thorin's actions to the bewilderment
of the treasure. What do you think Tolkien is implying?

When Dain arrives, he finds his way barred by the other army,
and he attacks. But a new army suddenly appears, made up of
goblins and Wargs. Their quarrels forgotten, Dain's army joins
with the men and elves to meet this new foe. Despite valiant
resistance on the part of the combined forces, the goblins seem
assured of victory. Bilbo contemplates the idea of defeat. In old
songs and legends it is said that defeat is glorious, but Bilbo
finds it very distressing. Tolkien at this point speaks from his
own experience in the Battle of the Somme.

The attack of the goblins is in some ways beneficial, for it
prevents a tragic war between races who should be allies.
Squabbles over gold are shown to be petty. The forces of good
unite against a common evil, in a desperate fight for survival.
In this fight, even Thorin and his companions are able to
redeem themselves.

As a sign of the change in the dwarves, from petty greed to
noble courage, Tolkien uses heroic language to describe them.
"Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armour, and
red light leapt from their eyes. In the gloom the great dwarf
gleamed like gold in a dying fire." The second sentence even
has the rhythms of the Old English poetry that Tolkien
admired. Notice too, the many words beginning with "g" in that
sentence. This is an example of alliteration. Old English poetry,
which doesn't use rhymes at the end of lines, relies on such
techniques as alliteration and meter (or rhythm) to give the
poem its characteristic sound. Sentences such as this reveal
Tolkien's painstaking craftsmanship, which may go unnoticed
on first reading.

In the beginning of The Hobbit, Tolkien's dwarves seem to have
come right out of the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs. But like elves, the dwarves of fairy tales have
degenerated greatly from their origins in myth and legends. In
The Hobbit, Tolkien reverses that course, elevating his dwarves
from comic characters to heroic figures.

The names of Tolkien's dwarves, as well as the wizard's name
(Gandalf), come from a list of dwarves in an ancient book of
Norse mythology, The Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturlson. This
book was an attempt to preserve the pagan beliefs and lore that
were rapidly disappearing in the face of Christianity's growing
power in Europe. The dwarves of The Prose Edda, typical of
traditional dwarves, were miners and expert craftsmen who
lived in caves and mountains. There are many stories of
dwarves who created marvelous and magical things, and in
these stories the dwarves are often cheated of their pay. This
may have been the inspiration for the dispute over treasure and
pay between dwarves and elves in The Hobbit. Dwarves have
also been traditionally associated with the fierce love of
treasure that characterizes Tolkien's dwarves.

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

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