The Hobbit

The Hobbit Themes

Solitude and Nostalgia

Gollum is an interesting piece of the puzzle. Sitting on a rock within a subterranean lake, besieged by memories of life with his grandmother above ground, Gollum is an allusion to Caliban, a pitiable, doomed-to-be-evil malcontent who appears in Shakespeare's The Tempest and reappears in "Caliban upon Setebos," a famous Victorian poem. Like Caliban, Gollum has a history that includes a brief education, a maternal unit, life above ground and more happiness than the present. Caliban is named for cannibalism and marked by his inability to speak properly; Gollum is named for the talking sound he makes while eating and as far as eating goes, Gollum is more than willing to voice his grammatically improper desire to eat Bilbo or anything else. Gollum's dismal state stimulates a brief flash of sympathy, for his loss of his magical ring (another parallel to the alluded Caliban) is a well-timed juxtaposition to Bilbo's growing nostalgia and magical power (much like Caliban's victorious adversary).

Sleep and Unconsciousness

In the first few chapters, we find that sleep is one of the few cherished joys of the hobbits. Things change as the quest requires Bilbo's maturation into a full hero. Chapter 8 offers an interesting fusion of sleep, lethargy and unconsciousness. We find Bilbo's victory is achieved because he is a light sleeper, while Bombur's dip into the water has made him blissfully forgetful. This is an allusion to the dark waters of the underworld (Greek mythology). The river Lethe, from which we get the word lethargy, inspired an erasure of memory. The opiate and narcotic effects of the underworld are repeated in this same chapter as the "dinner dreams" (fires set by numerous elves) seem to be forged in some hellish furnace, a deliberate effort to lure the travelers off of their path. Continuing with the idea of sleep, we can also see the archetypal forest and residential elves paving a way to Shakespeare's hilarious "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This is not an allusion; rather, both works take the old images and ideas surrounding sleep, forests and elves and employ them in new efforts that encourage us to reconsider who we think our noble hero is, where we think our homes are, and what we think is happening while we sleep. Tolkien retains Protestantism's intense suspicion of sleep and only when we are deep within the elven lands can we glimpse the beauty and revelry of unsuspecting, bewitched sleep‹a pagan vestige that Shakespeare secured by placing his story within an explicitly pre-Christian setting (Athens of ancient Greece).

Captivity, Surveillance and Invisibility

This is of primary importance when we remember that Bilbo has stolen a ring that makes him invisible. Throughout the novel, the need ot hide oneself is present and one thing that certainly distinguishes this group of travelers from an ordinary set of heroes, is the fact that they are always hiding in fear of a lurking monster. Creatures like Gollum thrive on the advantage they have‹to see others while remaining invisible. We also see this power used for good in the examples of Bilbo and Gandalf. The issue of surveillance is very connected to the theme of captivity as the group is captured in every other chapter. Bilbo is able to play a hero's role by using his invisibility to avoid initial captivity. Then, he can invisibly rescue his friends. He can help his friends to share his freedom, but in the end, he cannot share his magic with them.

Wisdom and Knowledge

This story is full of maps, keys and clever games of riddles. All of this helps to balance the magic of the story. Besides fate and magic, there is a good deal of wisdom that is necessary in order for Bilbo to become a successful hero. We find characters like Elrond, who is able to decipher the moon-runes, and Bard, who is able to understand the language of the bird, Roac. At the end of the novel, Bilbo's own foray into political intrigue demonstrates that he has gained a certain sensibility. And this is no small feat, as the Ring tends to make its bearer foolhardy and unwise, rather than cautious, generous and patient.