The Hobbit By J.R.R. Tolkien Summary and Analysis Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Party

Summary

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a small, beardless creature with hairy feet who is quite sociable and loves the comforts of home. His mother was a member of the Took family, who are considered a little irregular because they were rumored to have intermarried with a fairy and because they love adventure. Bilbo himself is very well off and fond of food and clothes. His house is a beautifully furnished hole in the ground.

Bilbo Baggins greets a passer-by, not recognizing him as Gandalf the wizard. Gandalf tells Bilbo that he is looking for someone to share an adventure with, but Bilbo firmly declines the invitation even after Gandalf reveals his identity to Bilbo and reminds him of Gandalf's longtime friendship with the Took family. Bilbo invites him to tea the next day; Gandalf makes a strange mark on the outside of Bilbo's front door and leaves.

The next day, Gandalf and thirteen dwarves — Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and Thorin — visit Bilbo and make themselves at home. They demand refreshments, and while they eat, they talk, smoke, sing, and play musical instruments.

The dwarves sing of seeking a treasure that lies buried under a mountain guarded by a dragon. Thorin, their leader, addresses the group, including Bilbo, whom he calls a fellow conspirator, reminding them that they are embarking the next day on a journey from which they may not return. Bilbo, who had not planned to join the group, becomes frightened and falls into a fit. When he comes to, he learns that Gandalf had advertised his services as a burglar — the meaning of the secret mark on the door — hoping that the dwarves would recruit him. Bilbo agrees to go on the journey, partly out of pride, because the dwarves are skeptical of his ability.

Gandalf takes out a map made by Thror, Thorin's grandfather, that shows where the treasure is hidden. He points to a secret entrance marked on the map and gives Thorin the key to it. Thorin tells the story of his ancestors, who lived in great wealth under the Mountain near Dale until Smaug the dragon invaded Dale and took control of the treasure of the Mountain. Bilbo asks about the business details of the adventure. They go to bed with plans for an early start the next morning.

Analysis

The novel begins by introducing the story's main character, Bilbo Baggins, establishing the fantasy world of the story, and providing the premise for the journey that structures the plot.

Despite being a creature the reader has never seen — a hobbit — Bilbo Baggins is described in physical, psychological, and social terms that are quite understandable. He looks like an adult human, except that he is about half the height, is beardless, and has thick curly hair growing on his feet; a hobbit does not wear shoes. He is quite domestic and enjoys the comfort of his well-furnished hobbit-hole, good food, and a pipe. From his mother's side of the family, he has a model for adventurousness and also the financial resources to enjoy a life of leisure. The psychological conflict between his love of comfort and a certain inclination to adventure follows him throughout the story, and attempting to resolve it contributes to his character development. He is the protagonist of the story, but he does not appear in any way heroic, which is one of the themes of the story: how someone as ordinary as Bilbo, who does not at all seek adventure, can nevertheless find himself in an extraordinary situation in which he proves to be courageous and resourceful. Here you see him being drawn almost against his will into an adventure that he seems destined to experience.

Hobbits are not the only unusual creatures in this novel. The first chapter introduces a wizard, Gandalf, and thirteen dwarves. While these creatures are not real to the reader's experience, the narrator describes them in a matter-of-fact way as possessing a history and understandable character traits in addition to their unique physical appearance. The dwarves love beautiful material things; they like to make merry with food, drink, and song; and they can be fierce and vengeful. Their impulse to journey to the Mountain to seek revenge for Smaug's theft of their treasure contrasts with Bilbo's hobbit-like reluctance to leave his comfortable home. You are given this history to provide motivation for the journey. The details of the hobbits and dwarves' social life — pipe-smoking, breakfasts of bacon and eggs, tea-time — contribute an old-fashioned British tone to the setting, which enforces a sense of reality in this fantasy world.

Finally, the plan for a journey to the Lonely Mountain and Smaug in this chapter sets in motion the framework for the plot. The journey plot is one of the oldest in narrative literature and is the basis for many myths and fairy-tales, as well as more modern novels. A plot based on a journey allows characters to encounter many different situations and people, which gives readers an opportunity to see different sides of their personalities and provides some suspense as they appear to succeed and fail at different times in reaching their goals. Frequently, the journey plot has an underlying psychological structure, as it does in this novel, whereby the protagonist or main character actually develops more fully by successfully handling the dilemmas he encounters. Additionally, in this novel, the journey begins quite specifically in April and lasts one year. The full seasonal cycle of the year provides a symbolic sense of completion to Bilbo's journey.

Glossary

braces suspenders; straps hung over the shoulders to hold up pants.

throng a crowd; a large number of people.

larder pantry; a place where food is stored.

flummoxed confused.

runes characters from the alphabets used by the Germanic peoples from the third to the thirteenth centuries.

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