The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, better known by its abbreviated title The Hobbit, is a fantasy novel and children’s book by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children’s literature.
Set in a time “Between the Dawn of Færie and the Dominion of Men”, The Hobbit follows the quest of home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo’s journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory. The story is told in the form of an episodic quest, and most chapters introduce a specific creature, or type of creature, of Tolkien’s Wilderland. By accepting the disreputable, romantic, fey and adventurous side of his nature and applying his wits and common sense, Bilbo gains a new level of maturity, competence and wisdom. The story reaches its climax in the Battle of Five Armies, where many of the characters and creatures from earlier chapters re-emerge to engage in conflict.
Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of the story. Along with motifs of warfare, these themes have led critics to cite Tolkien’s own experiences during World War I as instrumental in shaping the story. The author’s scholarly knowledge of Anglo-Saxon literature and interest in fairy tales are also often noted as influences.
Encouraged by the book’s critical and financial success, the publisher requested a sequel. As Tolkien’s work on the successor The Lord of the Rings progressed, he made retrospective accommodations for it in The Hobbit. These few but significant changes were integrated into the second edition. Further editions followed with minor emendations, including those reflecting Tolkien’s changing concept of the world into which Bilbo stumbled. The work has never been out of print. Its ongoing legacy encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, board games and video games. Several of these adaptations have received critical recognition on their own merits.
Gandalf tricks Bilbo into hosting a party for Thorin and his band of dwarves, who sing of reclaiming the Lonely Mountain and its vast treasure from the dragon Smaug. When the music ends, Gandalf unveils a 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 travel into the wild, where Gandalf saves the company from trolls and leads them to Rivendell, where Elrond reveals more secrets from the map. Passing over 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 of riddles. As a reward for solving all riddles Gollum will show him the path out of the tunnels, but if Bilbo 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 before resting in the house of Beorn.
The company enter the black forest of Mirkwood without Gandalf. 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 travel to the Lonely Mountain and find the secret door; Bilbo scouts the dragon’s lair, stealing a great cup and learning of a weakness in Smaug’s armour. The enraged dragon, deducing that Lake-town has aided the intruder, sets out to destroy the town. A noble thrush who overheard Bilbo’s report of Smaug’s vulnerability reports it to Bard, who slays the dragon.
When the dwarves take possession of the mountain, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone, an heirloom of Thorin’s dynasty, and steals it. The Wood-elves and Lake-men besiege the mountain and request compensation for their aid, reparations for Lake-town’s destruction, and settlement of old claims on the treasure. Thorin refuses and, having summoned his kin from the mountains of the North, reinforces his position. Bilbo tries to ransom the Arkenstone to head off a war, but Thorin is intransigent. He banishes Bilbo, and battle seems inevitable.
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.