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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The Hobbit is set in "Middle-earth," a fantasyland created by Tolkien. Within Middle-earth, The Hobbit is restricted to settings in the Western lands. It starts and ends in Hobbiton, a town in the Shire, a peaceful region usually untouched by troubles elsewhere in the world. During the course of the book, the setting changes, moving east across the Misty Mountains and through the great forest of Mirkwood to the area around the Lonely Mountain, which includes the Desolation of Smaug, Lake-town, and the ruins of the town of Dale.
The culture and climate of Middle-earth is akin to that of Europe in the Middle Ages, but presupposes a time much older, when magic was still a powerful force, and elves, dwarves, and other races shared the world with humans. The geography of Middle-earth, however, is not that of earth as it is now known, and regions and landmarks in The Hobbit have no familiar parallels. (Tolkien said elsewhere that it may be that the shape of the land has since changed.) Middle-earth is, therefore, a world both vaguely familiar and altogether strange.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
An ordinary hobbit. Hobbits are small, human-like creatures, fond of food and comfort, and not normally inclined to adventures; therefore, Bilbo is an unlikely and unusual protagonist. His quiet existence changes one day when he sets out on an adventure, hired by a party of dwarves to act as a burglar and help them recover a treasure. Through a series of unexpected and sometimes unpleasant encounters, Bilbo learns much about himself; he discovers, for example, that he is capable of being brave and resourceful in a crisis. Much of The Hobbit focuses on Bilbo's development into a hero.
A good wizard. He is not as central a character in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings, to which The Hobbit serves as a prequel. Still, Gandalf plays a major role in the book. He organizes the expedition of the dwarves and Bilbo and accompanies them in the initial stages of the book. Later, he helps in bringing the adventure to an end. Though wise and powerful, Gandalf uses his powers only when necessary, preferring to let Bilbo and the dwarves accomplish and learn as much as possible on their own.
The chief of the dwarves in Bilbo's party. His grandfather was the last King under the Mountain, before the kingdom was devastated by Smaug the dragon. Thorin's hope to regain some of the vast treasure stolen by Smaug is the impetus for the adventure. Upon gaining possession of the mountain, Thorin becomes obsessed with the vast wealth in his possession, and his greed and lust for power nearly leads to disaster.
The Good Characters
The Group of Dwarves
The twelve dwarves who accompany Thorin and Bilbo. Their names are Fili, Kili, Dwalin, Balin, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. Fili and Kili are the youngest and Bombur the fattest, but for the most part the individual characteristics of the various dwarves are not drawn out. In general, however, dwarves are short and stocky, expert miners and craftsmen, and very fond of gold. Though good and inclined to be fair, they can succumb to greed; Thorin's dwarves are no exception.
Elrond of Rivendel
An elf-lord. He lives in the Last Homely House, west of the Misty Mountains, and hosts the dwarves and Bilbo near the start of their adventure.
Beorn, the skin-changer
A huge man who can change himself into a bear. He lives with cattle and horses that are his friends. He hosts the party near the start of their adventure and helps win the Battle of Five Armies.
Though not as wise as other elves and quite mischievous, as all elves are, the wood-elves are essentially good. They are led by the Elvenking, who is greedy and mistrustful of strangers, but helpful to his friends. The Wood-elves imprison the dwarves, but later fight by their side in the Battle of Five Armies.
Captain of the archers in Lake-town and a descendant of the last ruler of Dale. Bard kills Smaug and becomes the leader of those who resettle the old town of Dale after Smaug's death.
Enemies of the goblins and the wild wolves. They rescue Bilbo and his companions and also participate in the final battle.
Thorin's kinsman and leader of the dwarves of the Iron Hills. Dain comes to the aid of Thorin with a vast army of dwarves. After Thorin's death, he is crowned King under the Mountain and rules wisely.
The Evil Characters
Large, ugly, violent, not-too-bright creatures. In their first adventure, Bilbo and the dwarves run into three of them. The trolls try to eat the company but are outwitted by Gandalf, who sets them to arguing until dawn, when they are turned to stone.
The Spiders of Mirkwood
Enormous, carnivorous spiders with the power of speech. These spiders catch Bilbo and the dwarves, hoping to make a meal of them, but are defeated through Bilbo's cleverness and bravery.
Nasty creatures who live underground and though skilled in the mechanical arts, have no appreciation for beauty. The dwarves and Bilbo are caught by the goblins under the Misty Mountains and manage a narrow escape, in which the Great Goblin is killed. Another faction of the goblins comes to wage war against them towards the end of the book.
Wild wolves called Wargs. They are in league with the goblins. They help in capturing Bilbo and his companions. They, too, take part in the final battle.
A half-blind, slimy creature of unknown origin. Gollum lives by a lake in a cave in the Misty Mountains, near the goblins' stronghold. Bilbo finds a magic ring that he owns, plays a riddle game with him, and cleverly escapes from him with the aid of the ring.
A dragon. Smaug destroyed both the kingdom of Thorin's ancestors under the Lonely Mountain and the nearby, human town of Dale. Having taken over the Lonely Mountain, Smaug jealously guards his stolen treasure. Smaug casts his shadow over the tale right from the very beginning, when the quest is arranged, until the end, when the treasure is distributed amongst the various claimants after his death. Though powerful and intelligent, Smaug is corrupted by greed.
The Master of Lake-town
While not wholly evil, he is a corrupt and duplicitous leader, concerned more with power than with justice. Under public pressure, he assists Bilbo and the dwarves. He eventually runs off with money meant for the rebuilding of the town and dies in the wilderness.