The Fellowship of the Ring

J. R. R. Tolkien


Summary Prologue

The confrontation with Gollum, though it seemed to be only one of many colorful episodes in The Hobbit, now turns out to be central to The Lord of the Rings. On a plot level, Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum explains the way in which the all-powerful Ring of Sauron came into the possession of the undistinguished Hobbit race in the first place. But on a symbolic level, it also represents the standoff between Hobbit simplicity and alien deception, as the insidious Gollum tries to trick Bilbo with his riddle wager. Bilbo is unaccustomed to verbal complexity, and he has certainly never played a game on which his life depended. He believes in simple deeds, and merely wants to get out of the caves. With all Gollum’s cleverness, it seems that Bilbo is fated to lose. But we get a glimpse of the hidden virtues of Hobbit straightforwardness when Bilbo’s riddle—“What have I got in my pocket?”—stumps Gollum precisely because it is so simple. It is not a riddle at all, and it infuriates Gollum with its obviousness. Indeed, in the end, Bilbo proves victorious. We see already that the Hobbits’ lack of sophistication or worldly wisdom may actually be an asset to them.