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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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Chapter 5: Riddles in the Dark


When Bilbo comes back to consciousness, he finds himself in total darkness and has to crawl along the ground. As he crawls, he finds a tiny ring and, unthinkingly, puts it into his pocket. He pulls out his small sword and is surprised and comforted to discover that it is an elfish blade, made to shine at the approach of goblins.

Bilbo continues for some time through the tunnels and passages of the goblins' kingdom and finally finds himself in a large cave by the side of a lake. Gollum, a "small slimy creature," lives on an island in the middle of the lake and survives by scavenging and preying on any person or creature foolish enough to come wandering nearby. He rows over in his little boat to Bilbo, hoping to make a meal of him. They strike up a conversation and end up asking each other riddles. They reach an agreement that if Gollum wins, he will eat Bilbo. If Bilbo wins, Gollum is to show him the way out. Finally Bilbo asks a question which Gollum is unable to answer. Bilbo reminds him of their agreement. Gollum pretends to agree but goes back to his island home to retrieve his most treasured possession, a ring that renders its wearer invisible. Gollum plans to sneak up on Bilbo while wearing it and overpower him.

When Gollum is unable to find the ring, he goes into a frenzy, screeching and screaming. He suspects that Bilbo must have it and comes back. At that moment, Bilbo absentmindedly slips the ring onto his finger while his hands are in his pockets, and Gollum rushes past him without seeing him. Bilbo realizes the magical properties of the ring and follows Gollum. Gollum mutters his intention of going and sitting near the exit so that he can catch Bilbo. The latter manages to jump over him and runs down the passage to the "back-door," where he finds goblins standing guard. By some trick of fate, the ring slips off Bilbo's finger and he is nearly caught, but just in time he gets it back onto his finger and becomes invisible once again. The goblins, puzzled at his sudden appearance and more sudden disappearance, rush to close the door, but he manages to squeeze through, though he loses all the buttons from his coat in doing so. The goblins see his shadow in the sunlight, but he escapes.


This chapter is central, especially to the later The Lord of the Rings, for it tells the story of how Bilbo finds the ring, which is of utmost importance. It also contributes to the theme of greed, for everyone will want to possess this miraculous ring which has enormous power. Gollum's anguish over its loss foreshadows the fact that the ring is a powerful treasure. In this chapter, it allows Bilbo to become invisible, saving him from Gollum and the goblins.

Bilbo is challenged to rely upon himself in this chapter. With wit, courage, and a good chunk of luck, he manages to extricate himself from several dangerous situations. Though he awakens alone and in the dark, he does not panic; though he has no idea of where he is or the way out, he keeps moving ahead. When he meets Gollum, he tries to size up his opponent and does not let himself become flustered. In the riddle game, he tries to play fair and even feels pity and understanding for Gollum. Bilbo's growing character is being shaped and rounded.

The mood of the chapter is once again action-packed, but with overtones of horror. The presentation of Gollum, a slimy creature who lives all alone in the dark, evokes disgust, especially when he screeches and screams over the loss of the ring. There is no brightening of the mood until the very end of the chapter, when Bilbo manages to escape.

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