When it comes to fantasy children’s books, Tolkien created a true masterpiece about a small human (like a child) who in a fantasy world gets to meet a real dragon, find a treasure, sneak around an old under-the-mountain castle and find where his heart lies. The best part – outsmarting Gollum and taking his ring and saving his own skin.
I loved it but to this day I can’t see how they managed to create three movies from such a short book.
Gandalf tricks Bilbo Baggins into hosting a party for Thorin Oakenshield and his band of twelve dwarves (Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur), who sing of reclaiming their ancient home, Lonely Mountain, and its vast treasure from the dragon Smaug. When the music ends, Gandalf unveils Thrór’s map showing a secret door into the Mountain and proposes that the dumbfounded Bilbo serve as the expedition’s “burglar”. The dwarves ridicule the idea, but Bilbo, indignant, joins despite himself.
The group travels into the wild. Gandalf saves the company from trolls and leads them to Rivendell, where Elrond reveals more secrets from the map. When they attempt to cross the Misty Mountains, they are caught by goblins and driven deep underground. Although Gandalf rescues them, Bilbo gets separated from the others as they flee the goblins. Lost in the goblin tunnels, he stumbles across a mysterious ring and then encounters Gollum, who engages him in a game, each posing a riddle until one of them cannot solve it. If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the tunnels, but if he fails, his life will be forfeit. With the help of the ring, which confers invisibility, Bilbo escapes and rejoins the dwarves, improving his reputation with them. The goblins and Wargs give chase, but the company are saved by eagles. They rest in the house of Beorn.
Sketch map of Northeast Mirkwood, showing the Elvenking’s Halls, the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, and Esgaroth upon the Long Lake
The company enters the black forest of Mirkwood without Gandalf, who has other responsibilities. In Mirkwood, Bilbo first saves the dwarves from giant spiders and then from the dungeons of the Wood-elves. Nearing the Lonely Mountain, the travellers are welcomed by the human inhabitants of Lake-town, who hope the dwarves will fulfil prophecies of Smaug’s demise. The expedition reaches the mountain and finds the secret door. The dwarves send a reluctant Bilbo inside to scout the dragon’s lair. He steals a great cup and, while conversing with Smaug, spots a gap in the ancient dragon’s armour. The enraged dragon, deducing that Lake-town has aided the intruders, flies off to destroy the town. A thrush overhears Bilbo’s report of Smaug’s vulnerability and tells Lake-town resident Bard. Smaug wreaks havoc on the town, until Bard fires an arrow into Smaug’s hollow spot, killing the dragon.
When the dwarves take possession of the mountain, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone, the most-treasured heirloom of Thorin’s family, and hides it away. The Wood-elves and Lake-men request compensation for Lake-town’s destruction and settlement of old claims on the treasure. When Thorin refuses to give them anything, they besiege the mountain. However, Thorin manages to send a message to his kinfolk in the Iron Hills and reinforces his position. Bilbo slips out and gives the Arkenstone to the besiegers, hoping to head off a war. When they offer the jewel to Thorin in exchange for treasure, Bilbo reveals how they obtained it. Thorin, furious at what he sees as betrayal, banishes Bilbo, and battle seems inevitable when Dáin Ironfoot, Thorin’s second cousin, arrives with an army of dwarf warriors.
Gandalf reappears to warn all of an approaching army of goblins and Wargs. The dwarves, men and elves band together, but only with the timely arrival of the eagles and Beorn do they win the climactic Battle of Five Armies. Thorin is fatally wounded and reconciles with Bilbo before he dies.
Bilbo accepts only a small portion of his share of the treasure, having no want or need for more, but still returns home a very wealthy hobbit roughly a year and a month after he first left. Years later, he writes the story of his adventures.
My take on it: Perfect for kids who need a new hero. Although a fairy tale, the book is both complex and sophisticated: it contains many names and words derived from Norse mythology, and central plot elements from the Beowulf epic, it makes use of Anglo-Saxon runes, information on calendars and moon phases, and detailed geographical descriptions that fit well with the accompanying maps.
The plots of the two stories are very similar. In both of them a party of 13 sets out to seek satisfaction for a crime committed by a dragon. Both parties contain a thief, which in The Hobbit is Bilbo, who steals a cup from the sleeping dragon’s hoard by using a secret passage. Both dragons then awake from their deep slumber and cause terror and destruction. Both dragons are well protected by their armour, a natural one in Beowulf and one made of gold and diamonds in The Hobbit, but finally they are killed. Both stories end or almost end with a fight with a dragon.
But not only the plots share similarities: both main characters, Bilbo and Beowulf, share characteristics. Both heroes defy their enemies with their supernatural power, which in Bilbo’s case is the ring and in Beowulf’s case is his supernatural strength. While Beowulf has the help of God, Bilbo often prevails because of his sheer luck. Both are of noble ancestry and both get separated from their group, Bilbo in the mountains, Beowulf when he travels down to the lair of Grendel’s mother in order to kill her.