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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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The plot of The Hobbit starts out in a simple and straightforward fashion, suitable to a children's book. The story is basically a quest, a narrative in which the main characters go in search of an object or person. At the beginning of the novel, the dwarves announce their plan to go to Lonely Mountain to regain the treasure which Smaug, the dragon, has stolen long ago from their ancestors. At first, no questions are raised as to the ethical "rightness" of the quest. It is only as the book progresses that the recovery of the treasure becomes an adventure to regain a kingdom and the dwarves' excessive greed begins to be questioned.

As the quest becomes larger, The Hobbit changes from a simple "treasure-hunt" into a tale of greed and possession, with the forces of good and evil blurring. In the beginning, it is clear that the trolls, goblins, and spiders are totally evil, while the dwarves are a picture of goodness. In the confrontation between the elves and the dwarves in Mirkwood, the demarcation between good and evil is not so clear, and it is difficult to decide who is really in the wrong. This ambiguity increases as the dwarves become possessed by greed and refuse to give up even a part of Smaug's treasure.

At the same time, the elves and the Lake-town men are not wholly good either, for they rely on arms and force to take their share of the treasure. Even Bilbo's act of secretly pocketing the Arkenstone when he first sees it gives him a touch of evil, making him seem like the burglar he is supposed to be. He shows his true goodness, however, when he later uses the Arkenstone to try and buy peace between the dwarves and the elves. In the end, all of the ambiguously good characters (the elves, the Lake-town men, the dwarves, and Bilbo) join forces in a mutual cause against the forces of evil (the goblins and the wolves). In battling the enemy together, all of the good characters become better, especially Thorin and Bilbo.

Though the plot of The Hobbit is sometimes confusing, it really follows a basically straightforward and traditional path in its development. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the principal characters, including Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and the dwarves. The quest of the dwarves is also announced, and Bilbo is enlisted to join the adventure. In the second chapter, the rising action begins, as the adventures start. The plot is then developed in a pattern that is followed, with minor variations, for most of the book. An adventure or encounter with danger is followed by a short period of rest for the Bilbo and the dwarves.

The episode with the trolls is followed by a period of relaxation at Rivendell; the adventure with the goblins ends with a stay at the home of Beorn; the battle with the spiders of Mirkwood is followed by a period in the Elvenking's dungeons (not altogether pleasant but considerably better than what had gone before); the escape from the elves is followed by the happy time at Lake-town; the encounters with Smaug are followed by a short time when the dwarves and Bilbo are free from fear and able to enjoy the treasure; and the near disaster of Thorin's greed and the Battle of Five Armies is followed by a happy resolution for almost all.

Since The Hobbit simultaneously develops a main plot and sub-plots, there is more than one climax in the book. Bilbo is clearly the main character and protagonist of the novel. His problem, or antagonist, is the combination of his fear and lack of faith in himself. When he first hears of the adventure, he screams in fear at the thought of the journey and possibility of facing a dragon. During the course of the quest, he has one adventure after another, and each teaches him something about himself and makes him more courageous. By the time he and his companions reach the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo has clearly become the leader of the group, having proven himself by defeating the spiders and by leading the dwarves to their final destination.

Bilbo, however, is still not a character of heroic proportions. When the group finally finds the secret entrance, he is hesitant to enter the tunnel and asks one of the dwarves to accompany him. When his companion refuses to go forward, Bilbo finally faces and masters his fear. It is the moment of climax in the book, for from this point forward, Bilbo acts with determination and bravery. Without hesitation and by himself, Bilbo proceeds through the tunnel and into the dragon's lair. It is obvious that he is a totally changed creature from the start of the book.

The group of dwarves is the protagonist in the first sub-plot of the book. Their antagonist is Smaug, the dragon who has stolen and hoarded the treasure belonging to the ancestors of the dwarves. The goal of the dwarves' quest is to defeat the dragon and regain the treasure. In this sub-plot, which works hand-in-hand with the story of Bilbo's growth, the climax occurs when Smaug is killed. Ironically, it is neither Bilbo nor the dwarves who defeat Smaug; instead, it is Bard, a man from Lake-town, who accomplishes the feat.

Because the tale is an adventure story, the forces of good are pitted against the forces of evil throughout the plot. Time after time, the dwarves (forces of good) must overcome enemies, such as the spiders and the wolves (forces of evil). At the end of the novel, however, greed begins to negatively color the forces of good, for the dwarves, the elves, and the Lake-town men all want the treasure for themselves, and it seems they will fight one another to win what they want. Then the true forces of evil, represented by the goblins and the wolves, approach Lonely Mountain to seize the treasure for themselves. As a result, the forces of good join together to defeat these new, evil enemies. When the good side is victorious in the Battle of Five Armies, the climax of this sub-plot occurs. In the end, the evil forces are driven away from the mountain, allowing the forces of good to become truly good. They peacefully share in the treasure and re-establish peace in the region of Lonely Mountain.

The falling action in all three plots occurs after the climax. With Bilbo's plot, the falling action is the longest, for he must prove that he has truly become a fearless leader. The falling action of the dwarves' sub-plot reveals how they become even more greedy and illogical after they learn Smaug has been killed. In the battle of good vs. evil, there is little falling action, for the climax occurs late in the novel, when the goblins and wolves are defeated and driven away from Lonely Mountain. The conclusion comes for Bilbo when he returns to Hobbiton and lives a long and happy life, writing his memoirs and poetry. For the dwarves, the conclusion comes when they share the treasure and live in peace with the elves. In the battle of good vs. evil, the conclusion comes when peace and prosperity comes to the whole region due to the wise guidance of a new King under the Mountain. In all three cases, the plot ends as a comedy, with the protagonist defeating the antagonist.

The circular structure of The Hobbit is indicated in the secondary title of the book -- "There and Back Again." The tale begins in Bilbo's home where Gandalf persuades him to go with the dwarves on their adventure. The plot then progresses through wild and dangerous lands to the Lonely Mountain, where a battle is fought and won. Eventually the novel comes back full circle, ending at Bilbo's house, where it began. At the end Gandalf and Balin, one of the dwarves, pay a visit to Bilbo many years later. They bring news about the prosperity and peace that has come to the region of the Lonely Mountain.

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