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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party


Bilbo Baggins, an unremarkable and well-to-do hobbit, is introduced as "solid and comfortable." He is also portrayed as being slightly forgetful and very fond of food. On a fine April morning, as Bilbo is standing by his front door smoking his pipe, Gandalf, the wizard, passes by. The two men strike up a conversation, and Bilbo learns that Gandalf knows the Tooks; they are Bilbo's ancestors, who are remarkable among the normally staid and respectable hobbits for occasionally going off on adventures. Then Gandalf offers Bilbo a chance to go on an adventure. Totally flustered by the offer, Bilbo tries to end the conversation and escape, but he finds himself inviting Gandalf to tea the very next day.

Having forgotten all about Gandalf and the tea, Bilbo is surprised the next day to hear his doorbell ring. Suddenly remembering his invitation, he rushes to the door. Instead of Gandalf, he is surprised to find a dwarf, who enters as if he were expected. Thirteen dwarves in all arrive at Bilbo's home and settle down at his table before Gandalf finally arrives. Bilbo is annoyed and flustered at having to serve such a large group. The dwarves, however, lend a hand, and after tea, Bilbo is charmed by the beautiful music they play. After the music ends, Bilbo is once again thrown into confusion. Thorin Oakenshield, the chief of the dwarves, refers to him as their fellow conspirator in a planned adventure from which they "may never return." Bilbo faints away upon hearing this and has to be carried from the room.

Upon recovering, Bilbo overhears the dwarves uttering disparaging remarks about his courage and abilities and questioning whether he should accompany them on the adventure. His "Tookish" blood rises in him, and he insists on joining the party. In the ensuing conversation, he learns that Gandalf had placed a mark on his door saying, "Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward" and had arranged for the dwarves to meet him. When the dwarves express their skepticism, Gandalf defends Bilbo, saying that there is more to him than anyone thinks, including Bilbo himself.

After it is decided that Bilbo will join the adventure party, he is told the story of their quest. Far to the east is the Lonely Mountain, where Thorin's ancestors once ruled as kings. They were immensely rich and famous, and their kingdom flourished. Nearby was the town of Dale, where men who traded with the dwarves lived. They were also wealthy and prosperous. A dragon called Smaug came to the Lonely Mountain and destroyed both the dwarves' kingdom and Dale. Smaug now lives under the mountain in the halls once occupied by Thorin's ancestors, guarding his plundered wealth.

Gandalf then relates how Thorin's father and grandfather escaped through a secret entrance to the mountain. He also gives Thorin a map and a small key which Thorin's father had entrusted to him when Gandalf met him in the dungeons of the Necromancer. After all these stories have been related, the dwarves order their breakfasts and go off to bed. Bilbo, not altogether happy about the turn of events, also goes to sleep.


The first chapter introduces the reader to most of the principal characters of the novel. Bilbo Baggins is given a fairly detailed introduction, as are hobbits in general. Bilbo is shown to be fussy, unadventurous, concerned about food, and finicky about his crockery and the neatness of his home. There is no indication that he is capable of going as a "burglar" on an adventure with the dwarves. In fact, he faints on first hearing about the adventure. Gandalf, however, states that there is "a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself." The statement accurately foreshadows that significant change and growth will take place in Bilbo before the end of the book.

In addition to Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and the dwarves are introduced. Gandalf is a wizard with a sense of humor, skill at planning, and keen foresight. He will become a major character in the book, although his presence will be felt as often as it is seen. Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, appears as pompous; he has a great concern for his own dignity and the respect that should be accorded to him. He also is quick to take offense and often shows a lack of consideration towards others' feelings. The other dwarves are described as a group and not depicted as individuals in this opening chapter; in fact, even their names sound alike.

In this first chapter, the reader also learns about the dwarves' hope of regaining their kingdom, Bilbo's expected role in the adventure, and the route they hope to take. The details of the adventure are intentionally vague; Tolkien does not reveal any concrete plans as to how they will obtain the treasure from Smaug once they reach the Lonely Mountain. Passing references to goblins and the mysterious forest of Mirkwood and hints by Gandalf that they may not survive foreshadow the dangers they will undergo.

From the first chapter, it is apparent that the book is a tale of romance, full of adventures and excitement. The tone is cheerful and humorous, and the style is almost that of a children's book, with playful asides to the reader such as "If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration."

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