• Study Guide

Chapters 16–17

Summary Chapters 16–17

Bilbo’s defection also develops the strain of modern heroism in the novel, as opposed to the strain of heroism based on epic literature. Loyalty to one’s lord and solidarity to one’s group are among the paramount virtues in epic literature, but Bilbo abandons those virtues by making an independent moral choice, designed to create the best outcome rather than the outcome willed by his lord, Thorin. Tolkien further critiques the idea of unquestioned loyalty by emphasizing Thorin’s pigheadedness and bad behavior.

The moral hierarchy of race that has been developed throughout The Hobbit is brought into sharp relief with the arrival of the goblins and the Wargs. The appearance of these truly evil races forces the essentially good creatures to band together, as the armies line up according to fundamental divisions between good and evil, rather than according to claims for money. Certainly, the money is still at stake in the Battle of the Five Armies—it is the reason that the goblins and Wargs have come in the first place—but the more urgent conflict is between good and evil. The dwarves, elves, and men are all “Good People,” and, as we see here, this division runs deeper than the family pride of Thorin or even the long-standing feud between dwarves and elves. The alliance of dwarves, men, and elves recalls happier days when the three races were peaceful neighbors and worked together to create great cities.

The goblins’, dragons’, and other evil creatures’ increasing power and their near-victory in the battle signal the fading glory of Middle-Earth. Fortunately for the armies of good, one great race—the eagles—has been preserved almost untouched from the beginning of time. Once again, we see nature taking a side when good and evil clash. The pure eagles would not have intervened in a war over gold, but the involvement of the goblins cries out to their sense of good and brings them down from the mountaintops. Here Tolkien reiterates an essential quality of his fantasy world: evil, characterized by the perversion of nature, may become powerful, but the essential nature of the world is good.