The Hobbit

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

Title The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
Cover to the 1937 first edition
Author J. R. R. Tolkien
Cover artist J. R. R. Tolkien
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy novel
Publisher George Allen & Unwin (UK) & Houghton Mifflin Co. (USA)
Released 1937
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback) & Audio book
Followed by The Lord of the Rings

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel written by J. R. R. Tolkien in the tradition of the fairy tale. It was first published on September 21, 1937. While it also stands in its own right, it is often seen as a prelude to Tolkien's monumental fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings (published in 1954 through 1955).

Writing the Book

In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien recollects in the late 1920s, when he was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, he began The Hobbit when he was marking School Certificate papers. He found one blank piece of paper. Suddenly inspired he wrote the words "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." He did not go any further than that at the time, although in the following years he drew up Thror's map, outlining the geography of the tale. It was eventually published when a family friend named Elaine Griffiths was shown a typescript of the story in the early 1930s. When she later went to work for George Allen & Unwin, she revealed the existence of the story to a staffmember named Susan Dagnall, who in turn asked Tolkien if she could look at the (still incomplete) manuscript. He complied and Ms. Dagnall, impressed by it, urged him to complete the book. Once this was done in late 1936, she then showed the book to Stanley Unwin, who then asked his 10-year-old son Rayner to review it. Rayner wrote such an enthusiastic review of the book that it was published by Allen & Unwin.

Tolkien introduced or mentioned characters and places that figured prominently in his legendarium, specifically Elrond and Gondolin, along with elements from Germanic legend. But the decision that the events of The Hobbit could belong to the same universe as The Silmarillion was made only after publication, when the publisher asked for a sequel and Tolkien began work on what would become The Lord of the Rings.

The novel draws on Tolkien's knowledge of historical languages and early European texts — many names and words derived from Norse mythology, it makes use of Anglo-Saxon runes, and is filled with information on calendars and moon phases, detailed geographical descriptions that fit well with the accompanying maps — attention to detail that would also be seen in Tolkien's later work.

Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

A hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is smoking on the front step of his comfortable hole one morning when Gandalf the Wizard passes by. They discuss the many meanings that Bilbo puts into the phrase "Good Morning", and the lack of adventurers in the neighbourhood. The thought of going on an adventure flusters Bilbo into offering one last "Good Morning", inviting Gandalf to tea the next day, and escaping back into his hole. An amused Gandalf scratches a secret mark on Bilbo's front door, which translated means 'Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward'. The next day, thirteen dwarves ( Thorin Oakenshield, Óin, Glóin (whose son Gimli would be one of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings), Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fíli and Kíli, Dori, Nori, and Ori) show up at the hole, along with Gandalf, and begin excitedly discussing their planned treasure hunt while the hapless Bilbo provides the obligatory hospitality. After the dwarves clean up their mess, a map is produced which shows the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) and environs; once ruled by Thorin's grandfather, it was seized by the dragon Smaug, who now lurks in its depths. The map shows a secret door into the mountain, which the dwarves hope to use to defeat Smaug and reclaim their home. This, along with the fact that Bilbo's presence will break the unlucky number 13, is why the expedition needs a burglar. At first Bilbo wants nothing to do with the scheme, but then in a moment of anger and courage, commits to joining.

The next morning, after oversleeping and nearly missing the start of the journey, Bilbo goes off with the dwarves and the wizard. They are nearly eaten by three trolls, but Gandalf tricks the trolls into staying up all night arguing, whereupon they are turned into stone by the first light of dawn. In the trolls' cave they find a mound of stolen treasure, including Elvish weapons. Bilbo acquires the dagger Sting, which glows blue in the presence of Goblins.

The party travels to Rivendell where they enjoy the hospitality of the Elves and receive useful information and advice from Rivendell's master Elrond, then proceed eastwards into the Misty Mountains. While seeking shelter from a storm, they are ambushed by Goblins and carried down under the mountains. Gandalf manages to free them, but during the escape Bilbo loses the dwarves. Alone in the dark, Bilbo finds a ring on the floor of a cave passage and puts it into his pocket.

Continuing on, he arrives at the shore of an underground lake. The creature Gollum paddles up, and the two enact a game of riddles, under the condition that if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out, but if he loses, Gollum will eat Bilbo. After several turns, Bilbo, fiddling in his pocket unable to think of a riddle, asks himself aloud "What have I got in my pocket?" Gollum thinks this is supposed to be the next riddle; despite being allowed three guesses, he fails to correctly answer. Bilbo demands his reward, but Gollum refuses and paddles off to his small island home where he searches for his most precious possession, a magic ring which turns its wearer invisible. Unable to find it, he belatedly realizes the answer to Bilbo's riddle, and goes storming back to the shore. Bilbo in turn realizes his life is in mortal danger and attempts to flee. When Gollum gives chase, Bilbo trips and finds the ring slipping on his finger. Before Bilbo realizes what has happened, Gollum has run right past him. Quickly deducing the ring's power and following Gollum to the only exit, Bilbo controls his impulse to destroy the wretched creature and instead merely jumps over him and escapes. Bypassing the Goblins, he returns to the surface and rejoins the dwarves and Gandalf.

Descending from the mountains, they are carried away from a deadly encounter with Wargs (wild wolf creatures) and Goblins by Giant Eagles. They then visit the home of Beorn, an enormous and solitary man who can transform into a bear, where they rest and recuperate for several days before pushing on. At the edge of the black forest Mirkwood, Gandalf departs on a private errand. The others enter the forest, travelling for days on end and eventually running out of supplies. Gandalf had warned them not to leave the path, but glimpsing Wood-elves feasting, the group goes to beg food. They promptly get lost and are captured by giant spiders, but Bilbo rescues the dwarves using the ring and Sting. The Elves then capture the dwarves and imprison them (inadvertently saving them from starvation), but an invisible Bilbo manages to sneak into the Elvenking's palace unnoticed; he then helps the dwarves escape in provision-barrels floated down the river which runs under the palace.

After spending more recovery-time at Laketown, the treasure-seekers proceed on to the Lonely Mountain. They locate the place where the secret entrance must be, but are unable to open it. As they sit despondent on the stoop, a thrush knocks at the snails on a nearby stone. Bilbo looks up to see the last rays of the Sun of Durin's Day shining on the cliff wall and magically revealing the lockhole for the secret door (as was foretold by moon letters upon the company's map). Bilbo twice goes down to meet Smaug, who sleeps deep in the mountain on an enormous pile of treasure. The hobbit makes off with a large handled cup and learns that the dragon has a bare patch on his left chest. The enraged dragon, while very puzzled by the existence of Bilbo, does correctly deduce that the Company received help from the people of Laketown and sets out to destroy the community. However, the thrush was no ordinary bird, but one of an ancient race with whom the men of the lake could communicate, and it overhears Bilbo's report to the dwarves about Smaug's weak point. As the dragon ravages Laketown, the thrush conveys this information to one Bard the Bowman, who dispatches the dragon with a heirloom of his family, a dwarf-made arrow. When Smaug does not return, the dwarves take possession of the Mountain and its treasure. While scouting the dragon's lair, Bilbo finds the prized Arkenstone and tucks it away in his possessions.

The citizens of Laketown arrive at the Mountain to make historical claims and demand compensation for the help they had rendered, as well as reparations for the damage Smaug inflicted during his attack. They are joined by the Elves, who also demand a share based on historical claims. Thorin refuses all negotiations and summons his kin from the north to strengthen his position. Bilbo attempts to use the Arkenstone as ransom to head off a war, but the various parties are intransigent. Thorin expels Bilbo from the Mountain and a fight seems inevitable.

But suddenly Gandalf is standing on the battlefield, warning the various leaders that a new more dire threat has appeared: an army of Goblins and Wargs has come from the Misty Mountains. The dwarves, humans and elves immediately put aside their differences, and a bitter battle ensues, named the Battle of Five Armies. Losses are heavy on all sides, but with the timely arrival and assistance of the Giant Eagles and Beorn, the anti-Goblin forces prevail. Thorin is among the casualties, but he lives long enough to part from Bilbo as friends. The treasure is apportioned fairly, but Bilbo refuses most of his contracted share of the riches, having no need for it and no way to get it home if he did; he nevertheless takes enough with him to make himself a wealthy hobbit and live happily thereafter.

Spoilers end here.

Joining The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings

In the first edition, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle game. During the writing of The Lord of the Rings Tolkien saw the need to revise this passage, in order to reflect his new concept of the One Ring and its powerful hold on Gollum. Tolkien tried many different passages in the chapter that would become chapter 2 of the Lord of the Rings, "The Shadow of the Past". Eventually Tolkien decided a rewrite of The Hobbit was in order, and he sent a sample chapter of this rewrite ("Riddles in the Dark") to his publishers. Initially he heard nothing further, but when he was sent galley proofs of a new edition he learned to his surprise the new chapter had been incorporated as the result of a misunderstanding.

In the introduction of The Lord of the Rings, as well as inside "The Shadow of the Past", the differences of the first edition are explained as a "lie" that Bilbo made up because of the One Ring's influence on him, and which he originally wrote down in his book. Inside The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo finally confesses the true story at the Council of Elrond, although Gandalf had deduced the truth earlier. As Tolkien presented himself as the translator of the supposedly historic Red Book of Westmarch, where Bilbo and Frodo's stories were recorded, he further explained the two differing stories in The Hobbit by stating he had originally used Bilbo's original story, but later retranslated the work with the "true story" recorded by Frodo.

This first edition also uses the word " gnome", which Tolkien in his earlier writing had used to refer to the second kindred of the High Elves – the Noldor (or "Deep Elves"). Tolkien thought that "gnome", being derived from the Greek gnosis (knowledge), was a good name for the Noldor he created to be the wisest of the other Elves. But with its English connotations of a small, secretive, and unattractive creature (see garden gnome) Tolkien removed it from later editions.

He made other minor changes in order to conform the narrative to events in The Lord of the Rings and in the ideas he was continually developing for the Quenta Silmarillion.

Differences and inconsistencies

When finally revised, The Hobbit still has many differences from The Lord of the Rings. Examples include the following:

  • Matches are only featured in The Hobbit.
  • The trolls have English first names (Tom, Bert and Bill), and Bill has the English last name Huggins. Also, they speak fluent (although accented) English, while trolls in Tolkien's other works do not speak English (in fact, they do not seem to speak at all).
  • The elves in Rivendell appear very happy, active and playful, contrasting highly with their noble, sombre portrayal in the rest of the Legendarium.
  • There is lighthearted use of "magic"; Gandalf is said to have given the Old Took a pair of diamond studs that "fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered", and when Bilbo tries to steal a purse from the trolls, the purse shouts. Magic is not used so in The Lord of the Rings, and is more often an enhancement or corruption of natural phenomena.
  • The narrative style features many asides where the narrator addresses the reader directly.
  • The hobbits' " pipe-weed" which is also featured in The Lord of the Rings is explicitly referred to as "tobacco".
  • Orcs are called Goblins in The Hobbit, but more often referred to as Orcs in The Lord of the Rings (particularly when the speaker is not a Hobbit).

Many of these inconsistencies occur because Tolkien originally wrote the book as a children's story separate from (but connected to) his mythological work, and his concept of Middle-earth was to change and evolve throughout his life and writings.

As told in " The Quest of Erebor" in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien later had Gandalf say that Bilbo's account would have been very different, if he had written it instead. Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien also claims that when he had to revise the book, he had to restrain himself from rewriting it entirely.

Publications of early drafts

In May and June 2007, HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin are publishing in two parts The History of The Hobbit. Much like The History of Middle-earth, The History of The Hobbit will examine previously unpublished original drafts of The Hobbit with extensive commentary by John Rateliff.


George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. of London published the first edition of The Hobbit in September 1937. It was illustrated with many black-and-white drawings by Tolkien himself. The original printing numbered a mere 1,500 copies and sold out by December due to enthusiastic reviews. Houghton Mifflin of Boston and New York prepared an American edition to be released early in 1938 in which four of the illustrations would be colour plates. Allen & Unwin decided to incorporate the colour illustrations into their second printing, released at the end of 1937. Despite the book's popularity, wartime conditions forced the London publisher to print small runs of the remaining two printings of the first edition.

As remarked above, Tolkien substantially revised The Hobbit's text describing Bilbo's dealings with Gollum in order to blend the story better into what The Lord of the Rings had become. This revision became the second edition, published in 1951 in both UK and American editions. Slight corrections to the text have appeared in the third (1966) and fourth editions (1978).

New English-language editions of The Hobbit spring up often, despite the book's age, with at least fifty editions having been published to date. Each comes from a different publisher or bears distinctive cover art, internal art, or substantial changes in format. The text of each generally adheres to the Allen & Unwin edition extant at the time it is published.

The remarkable and enduring popularity of The Hobbit expresses itself in the collectors' market. The first printing of the first English language edition rarely sells for under $10,000 US dollars in any whole condition, and clean copies in original dust jackets signed by the author are routinely advertised for over $100,000. Online auction site eBay tends to define the market value for those who collect The Hobbit.


The Hobbit has been translated into many languages. Known languages, with the first date of publishing, are:

  • Breton (2000): An Hobbit, pe eno ha distro. Lakaet e brezhoneg gant Alan Dipode. Argenteuil: Éditions Arda. ISBN 2-911979-03-6. Contains both maps with place-names in Breton; the runes are translated into Breton.
  • Bulgarian (1975): Билбо Бегинс или дотам и обратно. Превод Красимира Тодорова. Издателство „Народна младеж“, София.
  • Catalan (1983): Titled El Hòbbit on the cover and El Hòbbit o viatge d'anada i tornada on the title page. The runes and both maps (the one for the Wildlands and the other one for the Lonely Mountain) are in Catalan. Some names, though, remain in English (such as Baggins or Took, which in the Lord of the Rings are translated as Saquet and Tuc respectively). The book was directly translated from the original English version by Francesc Parcerisas in 1983. Published by La Magrana (Edicions de la Magrana, SA. Pàdua, 83, 08006, Barcelona) in April 1983 (first edition); the last edition was in May 2001 (20th edition). ISBN 84-8264-277-4.
  • Traditional Chinese (2001)
  • Croatian (1994) [Serbo-Croatian - 1975]
  • Czech (1973)
  • Danish (1969): Hobbitten, eller ud og hjem igen. På dansk ved Ida Nyrop Ludvigsen. København: Gyldendal. 2002. ISBN 2-253-04941-7. Contains Thror's map in English; the runes remain in English, though "Hobbiten eller ud og hjem igen" is given in Danish in the author's preface.
  • Dutch (1960)
  • Esperanto (2000): La Hobito aŭ Tien kaj Reen, translated by Christopher Gledhill, poems translated by William Auld, Sezonoj: Kalingrad. Rereleased in 2005.
  • Estonian (1977): "Kääbik, ehk, Sinna ja tagasi".
  • Faroese (1990)
  • Finnish Hobitti, eli sinne ja takaisin (1973; retranslated in 1985)
  • French (1969): Bilbo le Hobbit. Traduit de l'anglais par Francis Ledoux. Paris: Le Livre de Poche. 2002. ISBN 2-253-04941-7. Contains both maps with place-names in French; the runes remain in English.
  • Galician (2000)
  • German (1957): Der kleine Hobbit; (1998): Der Hobbit.
  • Greek (1978): Το Χόμπιτ.
  • Hebrew (1976): ההוביט או לשם ובחזרה. Ganei-Aviv: Zmora-Bitan (זמורה – ביתן). Contains no maps. Four Israeli combat pilots, held as prisoners of war in Egypt between 1970 and 1973, whiled away their time of captivity by translating "The Hobbit" to Hebrew from a book sent to one of them by family members, via the Red Cross. The pilots' translation was published in Tel-Aviv following their return, and many Israeli critics still consider it the best of several Hebrew translations.
  • Hungarian (1975): A babó.
  • Icelandic (1978)
  • Indonesian (1977)
  • Irish (expected 2007)
  • Italian (1973): Lo hobbit, o la Riconquista del Tesoro. Traduzione di Elena Jeronimidis Conte. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni (The Hobbit, or Reconquest of the Treasure. Translation by Elena Jeronimidis Conte. Milan: Adelphi Editions). ISBN 88-459-0688-4. Contains both maps with place-names in Italian; the runes are translated into Italian.
  • Japanese (1965):「ホビットの冒険」
  • Korean (1979)
  • Lithuanian (1985)
  • Luxembourgish (2002)
  • Norwegian (1972): Hobbiten, eller fram og tilbake igjen. Oversatt av Nils Ivar Agøy. Trondheim: Tiden Norsk Forlag. ISBN 82-10-04300-5. Contains both maps with place-names in Norwegian; the runes are translated into Norwegian.
  • Persian (2004): هابيت يا آنجا و بازگشت دوباره. Translator: رضا عليزاده (Reza Alizadeh). Tehran. 2004 (١٣٨٣). ISBN 964-334-200-X. Contains both maps with place-names in Persian; the runes remain in English.
  • Polish:
    • (1960) Hobbit, czyli tam i z powrotem. Tr. Maria Skibniewska.
    • (1997) Hobbit albo tam i z powrotem. Tr. Paulina Braiter.
    • (2002) Hobbit, czyli tam i z powrotem Tr. Andrzej Polkowski
  • Portuguese-Portugal:
    • (1962) O Gnomo. Porto: Livraria Civilização Editora. Tr. Maria Isabel Morna Braga, Mário Braga; il. António Quadros.
    • (1985) O Hobbit. Mem Martins: Publicações Europa-América. Tr. Fernanda Pinto Rodrigues.
  • Romanian (1975)
    • Moldavian (1987; in Cyrillic)
  • Russian (1976): Хоббит, или Туда и обратно. Перевод Н. Рахмановой. Ленинград: Издательство «Детская литература» (The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. Translation N. Rakhmanovoy. Leningrad: Publishing house "Children's literature").
  • Serbo-Croatian (1975) "Хобит или тамо и назад"
  • Slovak (1973)
  • Slovenian (1986): Hobit ali Tja in spet nazaj , Translator: Dušan Ogrizek , Ljubljana : Mladinska knjiga, 1986
  • Spanish: El hobito, 1964, Fabril editora, Argentina. El hobbit. Traducción de Manuel Figueroa. Barcelona: Ediciones Minotauro. 1983. ISBN 84-450-7141-6. Contains only Thror's map with place-names in Spanish; the runes remain in English.
  • Swedish: Bilbo – En hobbits äventyr. (1947; retranslated 1962)
  • Thai (2002)
  • Turkish (1996)
  • Ukrainian (1985): Гобiт, або Мандрiвка за Iмлистi гори. Переклад О. Мокровольського. Київ: «Веселка».
  • Vietnamese (2003) Vietnamese version already completed in 2002 but publishing cancelled. This version leaked onto the internet in 2003.


Over the years, The Hobbit has been adapted for other media multiple times.


An animated version of the story produced by Rankin/Bass debuted as a television movie in the United States in 1977.

The BBC children's television series Jackanory presented an adaptation of The Hobbit in 1979. Unusually for the programme, the adaptation had multiple storytellers.


A live action film version of The Hobbit is scheduled to be released in 2009. New Line Cinema has producing rights, while MGM retains worldwide distribution rights. Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, was slated to direct the film, but has bowed out due to pending litigation with New Line.

Spoken word

BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Hobbit radio drama, adapted by Michael Kilgarriff, in eight parts (4 hours) from September to November 1968, which starred Anthony Jackson as narrator, Paul Daneman as Bilbo and Heron Carvic as Gandalf.

Nicol Williamson's abridged reading of the book was released on four LP records in 1974 by Argo Records.

Robert Inglis adapted and performed a one-man theatre play of The Hobbit. This performance led to him being asked to read/perform the unabridged audiobook for The Lord of the Rings for Recorded Books in 1990. In 1991 he read the unabridged version of The Hobbit.


A three part comic book adaptation with script by Chuck Dixon and Sean Deming and illustrated by David Wenzel was published by Eclipse Comics in 1989. A reprint collected in one volume was released by Del Rey Books in 2001.


The Hobbit has been the subject of several board games, including "The Lonely Mountain" (1984), "The Battle of Five Armies" (1984), and "The Hobbit Adventure Boardgame" (1997) all published by Iron Crown Enterprises.

Games Workshop released a "Battle of Five Armies" (2005) tabletop wargame using 10mm figures, based on their Warmaster rules.

Several computer and video games, both official and unofficial, have been based on the story. One of the first was The Hobbit, an award winning (Golden Joystick Award for Strategy Game of the Year 1983) computer game developed in 1982 by Beam Software and published by Melbourne House for most computers available at the time, from the more popular computers such as the ZX Spectrum, and the Commodore 64, through to the Dragon 32 and Oric computers. By arrangement with publishers, a copy of the novel was included with each game sold.

Sierra Entertainment published a platform game titled The Hobbit in 2003 for Windows PCs, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube. It was a similar version of which was also published for the Game Boy Advance.

Influences on other works

Led Zeppelin's song " Misty Mountain Hop" contains references to The Hobbit, whilst other songs are thought to be influenced by The Lord of the Rings. " The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins", performed by Leonard Nimoy as part of his 1968 Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy album, is the most pertinent because it recounts the book's storyline in its two minutes. The ballad's music video became a minor Internet phenomenon in the early 2000s when The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was released. Another well-known reference is Blind Guardian's The Bard's Song: The Hobbit. A trance track was released in 1995 by Dynamix Maniax, featuring the title "Calling Middle-earth", containing a muffled sample from the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit. The Canadian rock trio Rush references the elven refuge of Rivendell on their 1975 album Fly by Night in a song of the same name.

In the episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog " Journey to the Centre of Nowhere", Courage's master Muriel is held captive by three large eggplant monsters that roughly resemble trolls. The eggplants argue amongst themselves over how to cook Muriel, whether they should fry her, grill her, bake her, or sit on her until she becomes jelly, a scene taken directly from The Hobbit.

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