Is Thorin in any sense a heroic leader? Do his actions in the novel make him deserving of his death at the end?

By the time the Battle of the Five Armies commences, Thorin has incurred the contempt and disrespect of many of the book’s characters (and probably most readers). But to Thorin’s credit, he shows tremendous courage in attempting to reclaim his ancestors’ treasure from Smaug. We come to learn that his failings—which become apparent once he is inside the Lonely Mountain—are common to all dwarves, who possess a great desire for gold and a fierce, even arrogant pride.

Thorin’s great crime is his ingratitude toward his benefactors, the many lake men who died so that Smaug could be killed. Thorin’s stubbornness over the legitimate ownership of the gold is dishonorable and costs lives, but he strives to redeem himself in the end by admitting his mistakes to Bilbo. Still, it is not really possible to consider Thorin a hero. He lacks the capacity to formulate and execute plans, and he relies on Bilbo to get him through nearly every difficulty he encounters.

Given his development throughout the book, does Bilbo belong in Hobbiton at the end of the novel? He is not completely accepted by the hobbit community, but he seems to be perfectly happy there. How do you think Tolkien views the relationship between heroism and the simple life?

At the beginning of the novel, the simple life seems antithetical to heroism, but by the end of the novel, after Bilbo has proven his common sense and courage, his resumption of the simple life seems like a small act of heroism in itself. Thorin comments that if more of the contentious warriors of the world lived the way hobbits do, it would be a happier world, and Bilbo’s return to Hobbiton seems an acknowledgment of the same idea. Heroism is important in a world beset with evil, but Tolkien suggests that if everyone lived the simple life of hobbits, evil would be obsolete. So, in a sense, Bilbo does belong in Hobbiton, even if he does not in the eyes of the hobbit community.

Read about the related theme of homecoming in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Where do humans fit in among the other races of Middle-Earth? Are humans a “good” race?

As we have seen, the various races portrayed in Middle-Earth each demonstrate very specific invariable characteristics. Human goodness does vary, however. Tolkien shows that in the human race, each individual determines his or her goodness. Bard, for instance, is a hero and a kind man, though grim. But the old Master of Lake Town is greedy and manipulative in an almost pitiful way—he dies out in the desert, clutching gold stolen from the town. Humans seem to be more often good than bad but mostly somewhere in the middle. The elves are the truly good race, and the goblins the truly evil one. Humans can match either race in kind but rarely in degree.