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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Gandalf

Gandalf, the wizard, is another fully developed character. He is important to The Hobbit because he is seen at the beginning of the book and helps to set the plot into motion. He picks Bilbo for the role of the expedition's burglar. In the course of the plot, he rescues the dwarves and Bilbo from various dangerous situations. He also draws the forces of good together and helps plan the final battle when the goblins and wolves attack. At the end, he journeys all the way back to Hobbiton with Bilbo and visits him again many years later with Balin. In many ways, Gandalf serves to unify the novel. He always appears at crucial times, lending his advice and support; he also brings and keeps together Bilbo and the dwarves, who are initially very unlikely partners.

Gandalf is a firm representative of the good forces, from beginning to end. Not greedy like the dwarves, he proves he is wise, rational, and helpful. He is also shown to have a sense of humor and a very deep insight into people. From the very beginning, Gandalf sees Bilbo as a potentially heroic character, even though the dwarves and even Bilbo himself see the hobbit as just a bumbling, fearful, and finicky creature. Gandalf is also remarkable for his knack of turning up at just those moments when he is most needed. Though a wizard of uncommon power, Gandalf prefers to use his wits to defeat his foes, rather than his magical powers.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Gandalf is that he does not appropriate the dwarves and Bilbo's quest for himself. Though he helps them and guides them, he leaves them to accomplish it through their own courage and wisdom. Gandalf alone seems to recognize that the events being played out in The Hobbit are a small part of a much larger struggle between the forces of good and evil and that Bilbo and the dwarves have an important role to play. This sense of the greater picture guides his every action. Gandalf knows that no one person can save the world, heroes, he says, are hard to find. He also understands that no one person's actions, no matter how small, are insignificant.


Despite his power and wisdom, Tolkien does not present Gandalf as a super-hero without flaws. He is sometimes irritable and often tired; at time even his magic does not work. Though he seems to have an omnipotent sense of proper timing, problems do not immediately disappear at Gandalf's appearance; sometimes, in spite of Gandalf's presence, the problems remain insoluble until some other agency provides help. As a result, Tolkien presents Gandalf as a very real and "human: wizard, with both amazing powers and limiting shortcomings.

Thorin Oakenshield

Though he makes his appearance at the start of the novel and is part of the adventure throughout, Thorin is never fully developed. For much of the book, he seems to be just one of the dwarves, even though he is their leader. In moments of danger, however, Thorin always comes to the forefront and does his part. Unfortunately, Thorin, more than any other dwarf, becomes obsessed with the treasure, especially the Arkenstone, and his greed clouds his basic goodness.

Initially, Tolkien portrays Thorin as pompous leader, very conscious of his own dignity and what is due to him as chief of the dwarves. He is also portrayed as courageous and loyal to his companions. He does not hesitate to act when the trolls and goblins attack and tries his best to rescue his companions, despite overwhelming odds. He also behaves with fairness and scrupulous attention to detail when he takes Bilbo on as the official burglar for the expedition, promising him an equal share of the profits. As the hobbit becomes increasingly heroic, Thorin begins conceding some of the leadership of the group to Bilbo, eventually accepting his leadership and his plans without resentment or undue pride.

When the treasure is within grasp, Thorin changes dramatically to the worse. Gripped by greed, he becomes autocratic and uncaring, rejecting the legitimate claims of Bard and the people of Lake- town to part of the treasure and ungratefully throwing Bilbo out after his attempt to secure peace. When he does agree to give up a part of the treasure, the effect of gold-lust on him is so strong that he forgets his own lineage, code of conduct, and pride, breaking his word.

Thorin at last comes back to his senses, bravely fighting in the Battle of Five Armies and making amends with Bilbo. However, at the end of the novel, Thorin remains an almost tragic figure.

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