Summary: Chapter 4

Bilbo and company advance upon the Misty Mountains. Thanks to Elrond’s and Gandalf’s advice, they are able to find a good pass over the mountain range among the many dead-end trails and drop-offs. Still, the climb is long and treacherous. A violent thunderstorm breaks suddenly, forcing them to find shelter. Luckily, two of the dwarves (Fili and Kili) find a cave in a side of the mountain. They bring in the ponies and make camp for the night.

In the middle of the night, Bilbo wakes with a start, just in time to see the ponies get dragged into an enormous crack that has opened in the cave wall. He yells, and out of the crack jump dozens of goblins, who tie up and carry off each member of the company except Gandalf, who was forewarned by Bilbo’s yell.

The goblins carry the dwarves and the hobbit down into the mountain to a huge chamber where the Great Goblin sits. He demands to know what the travelers are doing in his mountain. Thorin tries to explain about the storm, but one of the goblins brings forth the sword that Thorin took from the trolls, which he was carrying when captured. This sword, Orcrist, the goblin-cleaver, is well-known among the goblins.

The goblins go into a rage and the Great Goblin lunges at Thorin to eat him. Suddenly, the torches lighting the cavern go out and the great fire in the middle of the chamber throws its sparks onto the goblins. In the darkness and confusion, a great sword flashes and strikes down the Great Goblin. Then a voice guides the captives out of the cavern. It is Gandalf, who leads the dwarves through the passages and deeper into the mountain. The goblins follow quickly after them, and one of the goblins catches up to the dwarf Dori, who has been carrying Bilbo on his back. Bilbo falls off, strikes his head on the ground, and loses consciousness.

Summary: Chapter 5

It’s got to ask uss a question, my preciouss, yes, yess, yess. Jusst one more question to guess, yes, yess.

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When Bilbo regains consciousness, he can see nothing in the darkness. Feeling around on the floor, he happens to come across a ring, which he puts in his pocket. He has no idea where the rest of the company is, or in which direction the exit lies. Picking the path he feels he had been traveling with the dwarves, he soon comes across an underground lake. There, he discovers a strange creature named Gollum. When Gollum sees Bilbo prowling around, obviously lost, he is interested and a bit hungry, so he approaches the hobbit. Bilbo brandishes his sword when he hears Gollum’s hissing voice.

Gollum does not wish to contend with the sword, so he proposes a riddle game. If Gollum’s riddle stumps Bilbo, he will eat Bilbo, but if Bilbo’s stumps Gollum, Gollum will show Bilbo the way out of the mountain. Bilbo has no choice but to agree, and they begin asking each other riddles. In the end, Bilbo wins through a bit of trickery. Referring to the ring he had found, he asks, “What have I got in my pocket?” and Gollum cannot guess the right answer. Gollum, however, does not intend to let his meal get away so easily. He goes to his island in the middle of the lake to get his “precious,” a golden ring that makes its wearer invisible—the very ring that Bilbo had found.

Unable to find the ring, Gollum suspects the hobbit of stealing it and runs at him in a rage. Through sheer luck, Bilbo happens to slip on the ring, and Gollum runs right past him. Realizing the ring’s power, Bilbo follows Gollum, who heads toward the exit thinking that Bilbo is ahead of him. When Gollum gets near the exit, he stops because there are goblins crowded around it. Bilbo leaps over him, runs past the goblins unnoticed thanks to the ring, and just barely manages to squeeze through the door into freedom and fresh air.

Analysis: Chapters 4 & 5

The uniform wickedness demonstrated by the goblins in Chapter 4 affirms the connection between race and moral tendencies in Tolkien’s fantasy world. The different races of Middle-Earth possess specific moral characteristics, so that goblins, who are infamous for their ability to make cruel weapons and instruments of torture, are evil, and elves are good. There are no exceptions. The races of Middle-Earth also possess qualities that have little direct bearing on their overall moral standing. Hobbits love food, for instance, and dwarves love gold. Again, there are no exceptions.

Read more about morality in the context of the novel.

The characteristics of the races result primarily from the mythic theology of Middle-Earth. Under this theology, the gods create certain creatures for very specific purposes. Each race also has a particular relationship with nature. Of the various characters Tolkien depicts, Bilbo seems to be the only one capable of making complex moral choices that test the boundaries of his race.

Bilbo’s heroism is somewhat dubious, for though he behaves heroically, his acts seem to be the result of luck, or else destiny, rather than effort on his part. He seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. In his first encounter with the goblins, for example, Bilbo proves useful by shouting enough to awaken Gandalf, who, in turn, ends up saving the whole company. Bilbo is credited for helping the whole party when his companions were unable to do so, even though it was only his chance awakening that enabled him to warn everyone.

Read more about the theme of heroism and Bilbo's acts.

Bilbo’s unintentional heroism is most evident in his discovery of the magic ring. In the history of Middle-Earth, this discovery is the most important event in the novel. Though neither Bilbo nor Gollum (the ring’s previous holder) are aware of it, the ring is in fact an object of awesome power. Created by the Dark Lord Sauron, who appears in The Hobbit as the Necromancer of Mirkwood, the ring is central to Sauron’s attempt to conquer and corrupt the world. The ring is pivotal to the plot of The Lord of the Rings. In The Hobbit, its greater importance is only hinted at when Tolkien cryptically comments that Bilbo’s discovery of the ring is a turning point in his career.

Gollum’s whiny, hissing style of speech marks him as one of the novel’s most unique and memorable characters. Gollum’s riddle game is itself another example of Tolkien’s interaction with epic literature in The Hobbit. Riddles and riddle games are familiar features of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, in which heroes are defined almost as much by their prowess with words as they are by their prowess with swords. In fact, many of the riddles exchanged by Bilbo and Gollum come directly from ancient Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon poems. Bilbo’s victory in the riddle game is an important step in his development, but the eccentric manner in which he wins is closer to that of modern comedy than to that of ancient epic. Bilbo baffles Gollum with the question, “What have I got in my pocket?,” which is, of course, not a true riddle at all. A true riddle must contain clues necessary to solve it. Gollum, with his purely ancient sensibilities, cannot even challenge Bilbo’s question, let alone answer it.