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In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
The precursor to The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, is also the story of Bilbo Baggins, a simple, respectable little person who is content with his sleepy life in Hobbiton until a crafty old wizard named Gandalf and thirteen dwarves hijack him for a grand adventure to slay a dragon and win back a lost treasure, forcing him to grow out of his comfortable little world. Along the way he encounters merry elves, ferocious trolls, wicked goblins, giant spiders, and other fantastic characters and creatures before coming face to face with the terrible dragon himself.
JRR Tolkien wrote the story in the late 1920s to amuse his three sons. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim. The book has sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide since first publication and along with its sequel is the Trope Maker for High Fantasy.
A sequel was requested by his publishers, and as work on The Lord of the Rings progressed, Tolkien made accommodations for it in Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. These few but significant changes were integrated into the second edition. Further editions followed, correcting minor errors and reflecting Tolkien's changing concept of the world into which Bilbo stumbled (removing references to policemen, for example).
The work has not been out of print since the paper shortages during the Second World War.
- A 1966 short film directed by Gene Deitch, made as an Ashcan Copy (more info here). According to Deitch it was screened only once in June 1966 to an audience of about six people (to fulfill the part of the contract saying the film had to be shown in public). Despite being the only screen adaptation of Tolkien's work produced when he was still alive, he never saw it (leading Deitch to say "Thank God!")
- A 1968 BBC Radio 4 Dramatisation in 8 half-hour episodes. The master tapes for this were wiped in the '70s (a routine event for the BBC in this period) but a domestic recording was later recovered and used to re-issue the series.
- A 1977 animated TV special by Rankin-Bass; your mileage may vary in regard to how successful it is. At least they used top-flight voice talent, and much of the music was based directly on songs in the book. It was also one of the first major Japanese crossover animations, and many of the artists went on to found Studio Ghibli.
- A 2012/2013 live-action movie in two parts (subtitled An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again), directed by Peter Jackson as a prequel to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- Several video-game versions: there's an Interactive Fiction game of The Hobbit, which is considered to be one of the defining entries in the genre, and a video game made in 2003.
- A highly regarded Graphic Novel version approved by the Tolkien estate, illustrated by David Wenzel in 1991.
- There and Back Again by Pat Murphy, which is The Hobbit IN SPACE!
- A very low budget live-action version made in 1984 in Soviet Russia, as seen here. The same article also links to the Soviet version of the novel, with its uniquely styled illustrations.
The Hobbit provides examples of (or the sources for):
- All There in the Manual: The Quest for Erebor in Unfinished Talesof Numenor and Middleearth is Gandalf telling the story from his perspective (in abbreviated form) and explaining what he was doing when he wasn't with Bilbo's party.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The goblins and the wargs (or evil wolves, as we'd call them).
- Bilbo starts off as a Type I, often left a bystander while events happen around him. However after choosing to spare Gollum, and especially in Mirkwood, he manages to become more of a straight hero.
- Thorin is probably a type III, as he is mostly noble and charismatic, but allows his greed to almost push him into starting a war, though he ultimately repents these deeds.
- Thranduil fits a type II quite well. While greedy and racist toward the Dwarves, he shows kindness to the survivors of Dale and is more reluctant to begin a war for gold than any of his peers.
- Appropriated Appellation: Bilbo's (and later Frodo's) sword, Sting, got its name from the Giant Spiders Bilbo fought with it.
- The Archer: Bard
- Attack Its Weak Point: Smaug has exactly one vulnerable spot on his whole body.
- Dain Ironfoot is regarded in-universe as being especially badass. He survives the Battle of Five Armies and goes on to fight in the Battle of Dale during the War of the Ring, where he dies in combat at age 250, surrounded by slain foes.
- Bilbo's ancester Bullroarer Took probably qualifies as well.
- Beorn! Fucking Beorn! The Battle of the Five Armies is one of the most destructive battles in Middle Earth. Beorn has no reinforcements at all. Does he need it? In a word...NO!
- Badass Boast:
Bilbo: I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. I am the clue finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.
- Battle-Interrupting Shout: Gandalf appears between the Dwarven, Elvish, and Human armies as they move to battle each other.
- Beneath the Earth: A number of examples; almost everyone seems to live underground.
- Bilbo lives in Bag End, the hobbit-hole that is quite literally "under hill" (though with many windows).
- The visit to "Goblin-town" and Gollum.
- The elves live in caves in Mirkwood.
- And of course Smaug, and later the dwarves, live under Erebor; Erebor's king was known as King Under the Mountain.
- The Berserker: Beorn. He transforms himself into a bear, which Berserkers usually did in Norse sagas, and he goes berserk among a large horde of goblins.
- Big Bad Wolves: Wargs
- Big Damn Heroes: Quite a few times.
- Gandalf saves the dwarves and Bilbo from the goblins.
- The eagles save the whole crew right in the nick of time.
- Bilbo saves the dwarves from the spiders
- Beorn's and the eagles' arrival at the Battle of the Five Armies basically turns the tide.
- Thorin and his original twelve companions charging from their fortress to attack the Goblins' general and his bodyguard that had been tearing the heart out of the allies' line.
- Big Eater: Most of the main cast, in fact, Bilbo and Bombur especially.
- Big Guy: Beorn
- Bilingual Bonus: If you can decode the runes around the original cover (which are simply standard Norse runes), it gives a full title in English: "The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again: Being the record of a year's journey made by Bilbo Baggins; compiled from his memoirs by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by George Allen & Unwin." (Newer editions added "of Hobbiton" after "Baggins", and changed the name of the publisher.)
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word:
Gloin: You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It's all the same to us.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Beorn, at least once you've gotten through his defenses.
- Book Ends
- Boring Return Journey: While Bilbo does have (unspecified) troubles on his return journey, "he was never in great danger" -- mainly because this time, Gandalf is with him all the way and the region's goblins have just had their butts whupped and are in hiding.
- Break the Haughty: Thorin is something of a narcissist, probably due to his royal blood. He's still a likable person, though, until he reclaims his family's vast long lost fortune and Gold Fever gets the better of him. If it costs him his life or if he would have been killed anyway is debatable, but he realizes the error of his ways not long before he dies of mortal wounds inflicted by goblins.
- Butt Monkey: Bombur. He always manages to come last in everything, and if one of the dwarves slips and falls into a river, gets caught by an enchantment or has something unpleasant or humiliating happen to him, it'll be Bombur.
- Call to Adventure: One of the classics.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) -- Gandalf came by.
- Canon Welding: When he began writing the sequel, Tolkien moved it and The Hobbit into his Middle-Earth legendarium setting, which had already been around for over twenty years, although nothing of it had been published so far. The move brought with it some Retcon and Rewrite concerning the events of The Hobbit, which was partly explained as Bilbo being an Unreliable Narrator. (Or rather, a Reliable Narrator whose lying about the recovery of the Ring was extremely portentous and whose knowledge of the Elder Days wasn't quite up to snuff.)
- The Caper: Stealing the treasure.
- Cerebus Retcon: Bilbo's "magic ring" is revealed in The Lord of the Rings to be the One Ring of the Dark Lord and its existence holds the fate of all Middle-Earth. An actual retcon as well, since in the earlier editions of the book he won it fairly from Gollum -- who didn't mind losing it.
- The Chooser of the One: Gandalf
- The Chosen Zero: The dwarves react to Bilbo this way. Ironically he doesn't even know he's been hired as an adventurer.
- City of Canals: Laketown is built on the surface of Long Lake. Which sounds like decent protection from dragons, until you realize how rickety that would make it...
- Conflict Killer: The men of Laketown and the Elves want to grab the treasure (and get revenge on Thorin's group for unleashing Smaug on them, however unwittingly) but Thorin has called in dwarven reinforcements. The two sides are gearing up to fight when the goblin army attacks, forcing an Enemy Mine.
- Contemptible Cover: This one, which Tolkien himself hated with a passion. This edition also didn't include Thorin's map, which is actually referenced in the text as being in the front of the book.
- Cool Old Guy: Gandalf
- Cue the Sun: Bilbo's rescue from the trolls. Gandalf, unseen, keeps re-igniting the argument the trolls have about how to cook the prisoners until sun-up, effectively Talking the Monster to Death.
- Cultured Badass: Pretty much all the protagonist dwarves, shown when they break out musical instruments (Thorin himself plays a harp) and explain their purpose to Bilbo by way of singing "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold".
- Cute but Cacophonic: Bilbo gives out a loud warning shout in the cave.
- Darker and Edgier: Concerned that the original book seemed a bit too light in tone compared to The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, Tolkien wrote a few chapters of a new, darker version that better fitted the geography established in the other books. However, a friend advised him to stop because what he had written was "excellent, but it's not The Hobbit anymore".
- Deadpan Snarker: The Lemony Narrator.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: With the help of the Ring, Bilbo manages to exchange a few taunting words with Smaug, and leaves to tell the tale. Wasn't exactly the best idea since Smaug tried to roast him and goes off and burns down Dale.
- Elves Versus Dwarves
- Evil Sorcerer: The Necromancer, mentioned in passing by Gandalf. In The Lord of the Rings, we find out this is none other than Sauron himself.
- Exploring the Evil Lair
- The Fair Folk: The narrator says that Wood Elves can be a lot closer to this than High Elves.
- Famed in Story / Shrouded in Myth: As Tolkien's narration puts it:
Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion.
- Faux Affably Evil: Smaug is extremely articulate when Bilbo was sneaking around, and has some enjoyment in conversing and riddling, but he would have killed him immediately if he could see and at the same time makes no attempt to hide that he's a merciless killer.
- Fiction 500: Smaug sleeps atop a pile of coins and jewelry (app. value: $8 billion) and his hideout has many more riches -- in fact, the interest to loot it leads to...
- Final Battle: The Battle of Five Armies.
- Food Porn: Oh yes. One thing Hobbits love is a good meal -- "especially dinner, which they take twice a day if they can get it."
- Gentleman Adventurer: Bilbo
- Giant Spiders
- Gold Fever: The curse of a dragon's hoard. It nearly leads Thorin to war with Lake Town and the Wood Elves, and leads to the old master of Lake Town stealing most of the treasure and dying in the wilds once it's all over. Bilbo, on the other hand, is (mostly) immune.
- Grey and Grey Morality: Arguably, similar to The Silmarillion in this point: we have conflicts between Dwarves and Elves, and the story almost ends in a war between Dwarves on one side and Elves and Men on the other -- until Bilbo's peace-brokering and the Goblins and Wargs showing up as a common enemy forces an Enemy Mine scenario.
- Grim Up North: The Withered Heath.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Gandalf describes Beorn has having this.
- Herald: Gandalf
- Hidden Elf Village: Rivendell
- Hobbits: Trope Maker, Trope Codifier, and most likely Ur Example as well.
- Home, Sweet Home
- Honour Before Reason: Bilbo refusing to kill Gollum out of pity.
- Horse of a Different Color
- I Am X, Son of Y: As in the rest of the Tolkienverse, all Dwarves, Elves and Men introduce themselves in this manner. Hobbits, on the other hand, use family names.
- I Call It Vera: Sting
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: When Bilbo returns to the Shire a year after disappearing, he has been presumed dead and they're holding an auction on all of his possessions. He then resorts to buying lots of it back with his own money to save time and bother; even so he still has enough left over to stretch it out for eighty years (Bilbo gives away a pouch containing the last of the gold he got from the Lonely Mountain shortly before the Scouring of the Shire in The Return of the King).
- I Just Want to Be Normal
- I'm a Humanitarian: Gollum, who has lived for three hundred years under the mountain eating raw fish and the occasional goblin, whenever he can kill one.
- Incoming Ham: Thorin -- "I am Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror king under the mountain! I return!"
- Inflationary Dialogue: In Gandalf's account to Beorn, the number of dwarves continually inflates, starting at "one or two" and ending accurately.
- Interspecies Romance: Alluded to. It is speculated that someone on the Tooks' family tree married into a fairy family, which accounts for the adventurous nature in those of Took blood. However, the narrator says "This, of course, is absurd", and the whole thing is presented as a slur on the Took family rather than a practical possibility.
- In the Blood: The Took side of Bilbo's family is well-known as the adventuring sort, and more than once, when Bilbo does something crazy or brave, the narrator notes that perhaps the Took side took hold of him.
- I Should Write a Book About This: And Bilbo did, resulting in the Memoirs There And Back Again: A Hobbit's Holiday, which cheekily is implied by Tolkien to be the novel's "base."
- Jerkass: Thorin
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Several characters, including Bard and Beorn.
- Last of His Kind: Smaug is said to be the last of the great dragons, though there are presumably still lesser dragons.
- Lemony Narrator: Tolkien, as narrator, interjects several asides to the audience in each chapter; he later grew tired of this trope (it hardly appears at all in The Lord of the Rings), but chose not to change it with The Hobbit since it fits the Literary Agent Hypothesis (q.v.).
- A Light in the Distance: The elf-lights in Mirkwood.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: The story is "compiled" from Bilbo's memoirs.
- The Lost Woods: Mirkwood
- Luke Nounverber: But done as actual earned epithets, such as Thorin Oakenshield and Dáin Ironfoot, who earned their names in the Goblin Wars -- Thorin, for example, had his shield broken in battle and replaced it with a oak branch, which he ripped off the tree in the middle of the fight.
- MacGuffin Guardian: Arguably Smaug, though in this case he isn't serving anyone but himself.
- Minion Maracas: Thorin picks up Bilbo and "shakes him like a rabbit" when he learns that the latter has stolen the Arkenstone and given it to the Men and Elves besieging the mountain. (At least, Gandalf manages to convince Thorin to not throw Bilbo down the wall.)
- Mythical Motifs
- Named Weapons: Glamdring, the Foe Hammer; Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver; and Sting. Orcrist and Glamdring are famous enough that the goblins recognize them, calling them "Biter" and "Beater".
- Nature Hero
- Near Villain Victory: Tolkien basically coined the word "eucatastrophe" (literally "the good catastrophe") to describe this trope; it was one of his favorites, in fact, and it happens plenty of times throughout the novel.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Throughout the journey, the Dwarves just keep stumbling into trouble and making a royal mess of things.
- First, they stumble right into a Goblin lair. The incident results in the Great Goblin's death. Hence, the Goblins and Wargs band together and set out for revenge, gathering an army in the process, which catches up to them near the end.
- The Dwarves are then caught by the Wood Elves, and due to the mutual Fantastic Racism, refuse to tell them their motives. They're imprisoned, and upon escaping, the Elves become even more suspicious and angry with them.
- They then end up waking Smaug up, who proceeds to go on a rampage on Laketown, assuming Bilbo came from there, and the survivors aren't happy with them for it.
- Nintendo Hard: The Interactive Fiction game is infamously difficult to complete.
- Nobody Here But Us Birds: "Hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl." Parodied in that Bilbo can't even do a generic owl sound, much less specific ones.
- The Obi-Wan: Gandalf
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Bilbo spends the majority of the Battle of Five Armies knocked unconscious after a rock hits him in the head. When he wakes up, he's told that Beorn even entered the fray in bear form!
- One Bullet Left: Bard shoots the dragon with the only arrow he has left. Although more justified in this case, as the one left is also a special one inherited through generations, and just before the shot Bard is told the dragon's weak spot.
- One Sided Battle
- Only Smart People May Pass: The Riddle Game with Gollum, whose offer is to show Bilbo the way out of the caves (or to make a meal out of Bilbo if Bilbo loses the game). Played straight in the first few riddles (some of which are real stumpers), but subverted by the winning riddle: which is just a stupid question by Bilbo which Gollum mistook for a riddle. Of course, Gollum intended to cheat all along, since he had the Ring (or thought he did).
According to The Lord of the Rings, this led to substantial in-universe debate over whether Bilbo technically cheated. However, the scholars do agree that once Gollum accepted the question, he was bound by the rules of the game, especially since Bilbo actually gave him multiple chances to get it right -- and he cheated on the last chance (guessing two separate things: "String, or nothing!").
- Our Dragons Are Different
- Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The Trope Codifier, though since there are thirteen of them in the main party, some of them do get one or two individual personality traits. (Thorin is pompous and long-winded, Dori is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Bombur is a Butt Monkey, Balin is the nice guy, Fili and Kili are cheerful.)
Partially averted, however, in that none of them seem to carry any weapons until they find some in the Troll's lair, at which point they end up not with axes, but swords. Nor are they particularly stolid: they seem like seasoned adventurers to Bilbo at first, but once on the journey they whine and grumble about things at least as much as Bilbo does (and eventually more than Bilbo does). Thorin's gang might be excused, however, from the fact that they have been technically homeless for decades; Dain's dwarves from the Iron Mountain fit the trope a lot better.
- Our Goblins Are Different: The story is "teeming with goblins, hobgoblins and orcs of the worst description!". Orc is said to be the untranslated Westron word for goblin; see for example the sword Orcrist, and it's translated name, the Goblin-Cleaver.
- Our Werebeasts Are Different : Beorn the "skin-changer" is able to undergo Voluntary Shapeshifting in battle and take the form of a bear. Tolkien took inspiration from the legendary berserkir of Norse Mythology (warriors covered of animal pelts and consecrated to Odinn, who allegedly changed into wolf-men or bear-men in the frenzy of battle).
- Pragmatic Villainy: The three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he wasn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him.
- The Quest
- Ravens and Crows: The ravens that live near the Lonely Mountain are friendly to the Dwarves.
- Recursive Canon
- Redemption Equals Death: Thorin
- Retcon: Cleverly invoked via Literary Agent Hypothesis. Bilbo intentionally wrote down a less controversial way of how he got the ring (i.e. the original edition of The Hobbit) in his memoirs. Gandalf found this very weird given Bilbo's honest character, which is why in The Lord of the Rings he suspects the ring of influencing him. Early versions of the altered text (i.e. the 1951 second edition) mention this in an introduction.
- Rewrite: Chapter 5 was rewritten to better fit with the sequel and its Retcon of the story into the Legendarium.
- Riddle Me This: The riddle contest between Gollum and Bilbo.
- Rightful King Returns: Bard, Thorin, and Dáin Ironfoot.
- Robe and Wizard Hat: "I am Gandalf, and 'Gandalf' means me!"
- Rule of Three
- Sacred Hospitality
- Sequel Hook: But only in later editions to fit with the actual sequel. Tolkien didn't expect to write a sequel, and it was reader/publisher demand that made him do so.
- Shut Up, Kirk: As Bilbo grows in standing with the dwarves he finds himself growing increasingly exasperated at their frequent pettiness and complaining and basically tells them to grow up several times. And each one is awesome.
- Sibling Team: In order: Balin and Dwalin; Fili and Kili; Oin and Gloin; and Bofur and Bombur (Bifur is their cousin). And the first nine listed, along with their leader Thorin II Oakenshield, are descended from Durin I, one of the seven Fathers of the Dwarves. (Bifur, Bofur and Bombur are descended from another of the Seven.)
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Bard; Beorn
- Standing Between the Enemies: Gandalf stood between the Three Armies (Human, Elf, and Dwarf) to point out that their common enemies the Goblins were approaching on Warg-back.
- Stay on the Path
- Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: Bilbo gets to do this a few times.
- Story-Breaker Power: Gandalf leaves the group before they enter Mirkwood, and reappears just in time at the end to warn the good guys of the coming attack.
- Stronger with Age: Smaug, who outright mentions the trope.
- Sue Donym: "a bur-- a hobbit." "a burrahobbit?"
- Sundial Waypoint
- Supporting Leader: Bard the bowman and Dain Ironfoot.
- Taken for Granite
- Took a Level In Badass: Bilbo starts out doing as well as you'd expect a homebody away from home would do. He gets better, with the description of his first spider kill almost coming across as gaining a Character Level.
- Unfazed Everyman: Bilbo. A variation in that he's grown up aware that magical people and things exist, but like most Hobbits in the Shire, he has not had a lot of first-hand experience with it until that one fateful day.
- Unholy Holy Sword: The Ring, although The Reveal doesn't actually come around until the next book.
- Unreliable Narrator: Retroactively explained Bilbo to be this to account for the differences from the sequel.
- Unstoppable Rage: Beorn. He enters the Battle of Five Armies in the shape of a bear and rescues a seriously wounded Thorin...and then he returns to the combat and wreaks a hundred kinds of hell on the goblin ranks, crushing Bolg himself!
- Verbal Tic Name: Gollum owns his name to the noise he makes in his throat.
- Villain Song: The goblins' song.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Beorn
- Wallet of Holding: Averted. Out of all the treasure in the Lonely Mountain, all Bilbo takes home with him is his mithril shirt, a chest of gold coins, and a chest of silver coins. That was all he could conveniently transport.
- Was Actually Friendly: Wood Elves. They distrust the dwarves mutually (so the dwarves refuse to say why they're there, making the elves suspicious since they assumed the starving dwarves approaching their banquet to beg for food were attacking). They turn out to be a lot nicer later on, with Bilbo giving them some treasure in payment for the food he stole while orchestrating the dwarves' breakout on his way back home. Arguably the men of the lake as well since they join the elves in laying siege to the old keep.
- Ye Goode Olde Days
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Smaug dies three chapters before the actual climax of the story.
- You Were Trying Too Hard: The "time" riddle.
- technically dagger, but big enough for hobbits to be a short sword