Dustcover of the first edition of The Hobbit, taken from a design by the author.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
The precursor to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, orThere and Back Again, is also the story of Bilbo Baggins, a simple, respectable little person who is content with his sleepy life in Hobbiton until a crafty old wizard named Gandalf and thirteen dwarves hijack him for a grand adventure to slay a dragon and win back a lost treasure, forcing him to grow out of his comfortable little world. Along the way he encounters merry elves, ferocious trolls, wicked goblins, giant spiders, and other fantastic characters and creatures before coming face to face with the terrible dragon himself.J. R. R. Tolkien wrote the story in the early 1930s to amuse his three sons. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim. The book has sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide since first publication and along with its sequel is theTrope Codifier for High Fantasy.A sequel was requested by his publishers, and as work on The Lord of the Rings progressed, Tolkien made accommodations for it in Chapter 5 of The Hobbit. These few but significant changes were integrated into the second edition. Further editions followed, correcting minor errors and reflecting Tolkien's changing concept of the world into which Bilbo stumbled (removing references to policemen and China, for example).The work has not been out of print since the paper shortages during the Second World War.Adaptations include:
A 1966 short film directed by Gene Deitch, made as an Ashcan Copy (more info here). According to Deitch it was screened only once in June 1966 to an audience of about six people (to fulfill the part of the contract saying the film had to be shown in public). Despite being the only screen adaptation of Tolkien's work produced when he was still alive, he never saw it (leading Deitch to say "Thank God!"). The story included a Princess for Bilbo to romance, and discarded many basic elements of the story, such as the dwarves. Gandalf ceased to play a part after they depart for the Lonely Mountain. Characters were renamed (Trolls became Groans, Goblins = Grablins, Gollum = Guloom) and the dragon Slag (not Smaug) is despatched by Bilbo, the Princess and her retainers.
A 1968 BBC Radio 4 Dramatisation in 8 half-hour episodes. The master tapes for this were wiped in the '70s (a routine event for the BBC in this period) but a domestic recording was later recovered and used to re-issue the series.
A 1977 animated TV special by Rankin-Bass; your mileage may vary in regard to how successful it is. At least they used top-flight voice talent, and much of the music was based directly on songs in the book. It was also one of the first major Japanese crossover animations, and many of the artists went on to found Studio Ghibli.
A very low budget live-action version made in 1984 in Soviet Russia, as seen here. The same article also links to the Soviet version of the novel, with its uniquely styled illustrations.
The Hobbit provides examples of (or the sources for) the following tropes:
All There in the Manual: "The Quest of Erebor" in Unfinished Tales is Gandalf telling the story from his perspective (in abbreviated form) and explaining what he was doing when he wasn't with Bilbo's party.
It was highly rumored the "second" Peter JacksonHobbit movie would actually be an interquel covering these events. That has since been Jossed by the Word of God. Gandalf's experiences are mixed in with the original story, they don't consist an entire movie by themselves.
Bilbo starts off as a Classical Antihero, often left a bystander while events happen around him. However after choosing to spare Gollum, and especially in Mirkwood, he manages to become more of a straight hero.
Thorin is probably a Pragmatic Hero, as he is mostly noble and charismatic, but allows his greed to almost push him into starting a war, though he ultimately repents of that.
The Elvenking fits a Knight in Sour Armor quite well. While greedy and racist toward the Dwarves, he shows kindness to the survivors of Dale and is more reluctant to begin a war for gold than any of his peers.
Bilbo: I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. I am the clue finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.
Smaug: I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong... ... My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!
Gandalf saves the dwarves and Bilbo from the goblins.
The eagles save the whole crew right in the nick of time.
Bilbo saves the dwarves from the spiders
Beorn's and the eagles' arrival at the Battle of the Five Armies basically turns the tide.
Thorin and his original twelve companions charging from their fortress to attack the goblins' general and his bodyguard that had been tearing the heart out of the allies' line.
Big Eater: Most of the main cast, and especially Bilbo and Bombur. Hobbits in general prefer to have rather more than three meals a day, and Bombur is obese (on non-processed foods) for a reason.
Bilingual Bonus: If you can decode the runes around the original cover (which are slightly adapted Anglo-Saxon runes rather than in-universe cirth), it gives a full title in English: "The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again: Being the record of a year's journey made by Bilbo Baggins; compiled from his memoirs by J.R.R. Tolkien and published by George Allen & Unwin." (Newer editions added "of Hobbiton" after "Baggins", and changed the name of the publisher.)
Book Ends: The story begins and ends with Gandalf visiting Bilbo in his home at Bag End.
Boring Return Journey: While Bilbo does have (unspecified) troubles on his return journey, "he was never in great danger" — mainly because this time, Gandalf is with him all the way and the region's goblins have just had their butts whupped and are in hiding.
Butt Monkey: Bombur. He always manages to come last in everything, and if one of the dwarves slips and falls into a river, gets caught by an enchantment or has something unpleasant or humiliating happen to him, it'll be Bombur.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) — Gandalf came by◊.
Canon Welding: When he began writing the sequel, Tolkien moved it and The Hobbit into his Middle-Earth legendarium setting, which had already been around for over thirty years, although nothing of it had been published so far. The move brought with it some Retcon and Re Write concerning the events of The Hobbit, which was partly explained as Bilbo being an Unreliable Narrator. (Or rather, a Reliable Narrator whose lying about the recovery of the Ring was extremely portentous and whose knowledge of the Elder Days wasn't quite up to snuff.) It also led to profound changes in the wider (unpublished) Middle-Earth stories.
The Caper: Morally grey protagonists "stealing" the treasure from Smaug, one of an Always Chaotic Evil race of Satanic monsters who stole it from its original owners.
The Cavalry: The Eagles. Bilbo unwittingly rallies the Dwarven, Human, and Elven forces when he sees the Eagles on the horizon and announces their arrival. And then he gets hit in the head with a rock and passes out for the duration.
Casting a Shadow: The webs that the Mirkwood spiders produce are extremely dark.
The Chosen Zero: The dwarves react to Bilbo as one. Ironically, he doesn't even know he's been hired as an adventurer.
Chromosome Casting: While largely justified by the genre conventions, no female characters appear in the text of The Hobbit.
City of Canals: Laketown is built on the surface of Long Lake. Which sounds like decent protection from dragons, until you realize how rickety that would make it... oh, and flammable. Did we mention Smaug flies and breathes fire?
Conflict Killer: The Men of Laketown and the Elves want to grab the treasure (and get revenge on Thorin's group for unleashing Smaug on them, however unwittingly) but Thorin has called in dwarven reinforcements. The two sides are gearing up to fight when the goblin army attacks, forcing an Enemy Mine.
Cool Old Guy: Gandalf—The Hobbit doesn't specify how old he is nor the full range of his powers, but he's more-or-less the brains behind the operation, clearly capable of "magic," and not at all feeble or weak. And he looks like this dried old geezer with a long beard and unreasonably large eyebrows.
Covert Distress Code: When Bilbo is preparing to sneak up on some trolls, he's told that should he get into serious trouble, "hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can" — however, it turns out Bilbo doesn't actually know how to make the correct owl sounds, so it doesn't do him any good.
Cultured Badass: Pretty much all the protagonist dwarves, shown when they break out musical instruments (Thorin himself plays a harp) and explain their purpose to Bilbo by way of singing "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold".
The Cynic: Bard is well renowned for his grim attitude throughout Lake Town - but it comes in very handy when he's the first to twig that Smaug is coming, and races to get the town ready to fight back.
Didn't Think This Through: After Bilbo manages to get the dwarves into barrels, he realizes that he didn't put one aside for himself and there is no one to seal him in even if there was. This is lampshaded by the narrator, who then challenges the readers if they could have done any better.
Dragon Hoard: Smaug destroyed the Kingdoms of Lonely Mountain and Dale to rob the kings' treasures. He heaped them up in a vault where he spends most of his time just sleeping on it. This habit also has the advantage that the coins and gems grow into his sticky, glowing hot skin, thus providing him with additional armor.
Everything's Worse with Wolves: Following the Company's escape from Goblin Town, they run into a pack of Wargs on the slopes of the Misty Mountains and are forced to climb trees to escape them. The Wargs later show up again as one of the five armies in the battle at the book's climax.
Elves Versus Dwarves: Tolkien probably started the literally-elves-vs.-dwarves version of this trope, though their long grudge had been simmering in his unpublished writings for years beforehand, and had clearly defined historical causes.
Establishing Character Moment: Thorin is the only dwarf not to greet Bilbo with "at your service." He is also the only one not to help clean the dishes.
Eureka Moment: Bilbo is struggling with one of Gollum's riddles, when a fish brushes by his foot. This makes him realize that the answer is in fact fish.
Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion.
Faux Affably Evil: Smaug is extremely articulate when Bilbo was sneaking around, and has some enjoyment in conversing and riddling, but he would have killed Bilbo immediately if he could see him, and at the same time makes no attempt to hide that he's a merciless killer.
Smaug asks Bilbo, How in the world is he going to carry all that treasure home? Answer: he only took what two ponies could carry.
The people of Lake Town see that the river from the Lonely Mountain is turning golden, and think the dwarves have succeeded in their quest. Bard, however, is immediately suspicious, and orders that the bridges to the town be cut and everyone arm themselves - "The dragon is coming, or I am a fool!" He's absolutely right, although thankfully the people are quick to do as he says, meaning Smaug didn't take them totally unawares.
Gentleman Adventurer: Bilbo is a gentleman, not stinking rich, but "well-to-do" by hobbit standards and of a fairly high-status family in his homeland.
Giant Spiders: Talking, man-eating, venomous spiders the size of people infest Mirkwood. It's enough to make one wonder why the elves still live there.
Gold Fever: The curse of a dragon's hoard. It nearly leads Thorin to war with Laketown and the Wood Elves, and leads to the old master of Laketown stealing most of the treasure and dying in the wilds once it's all over. Bilbo, on the other hand, is (mostly) immune. (It's probably a hobbit thing.)
Grey and Grey Morality: We have conflicts between Dwarves and Elves, and the story almost ends in a war between Dwarves on one side and Elves and Men on the other — until Bilbo's peace-brokering and the goblins and Wargs showing up as a common enemy forces an Enemy Mine scenario. While the goblins and wolves are clearly bad guys, nobody else (even the Eagles) is really perfectly good, except perhaps Gandalf.
Grim Up North: The Withered Heath, north of the Lonely Mountain, is notorious as a breeding ground for dragons.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Gandalf describes Beorn has having this, especially regarding the topic of hunting and skinning animals.
Have a Gay Old Time: "He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be 'queer'..."
Herald: Gandalf deliberately sets up the whole adventure by dragging Bilbo into it, and selling him to the dwarves as some sort of professional burglar... or something.
Hero of Another Story: Gandalf. He has a lot of involvement with this one, but it's just one task of many that requires his attention, which is why he eventually leaves the group. While he's away, he goes on to defeat the Necromancer who had been terrorizing the south.
Horse of a Different Color: Goblins ride large, sapient, evil wolves into battle. This is explicitly an alliance as well, the Wargs have a completely separate social structure and don't even live with the Goblins normally.
I Am X, Son of Y: Most Dwarves, Elves and Men introduce themselves in this manner. Hobbits, on the other hand, use family names.
I'm a Humanitarian: Supplementary to his diet of raw fish, Gollum also eats the occasional goblin whenever he can kill one.
Incoming Ham: Thorin — "I am Thorin son of Thráin son of Thrór King Under the Mountain! I return!"
Inflationary Dialogue: In Gandalf's account to Beorn, the number of dwarves continually inflates, starting at "one or two" and ending accurately. Beorn does not fail to notice, but it succeeds at preventing a meltdown in negotiations.
Interspecies Romance: It's speculated that someone on the Tooks' family tree married into a fairy family, which accounts for the adventurous nature in those of Took blood. However, the narrator says "This, of course, is absurd", and the whole thing is presented as a slur on the Took family rather than a practical possibility.
In the Blood: The Took side of Bilbo's family is well-known as the adventuring sort, and more than once, when Bilbo does something crazy or brave, the narrator notes that perhaps the Took side took hold of him. Naturally, decent hobbits consider them nuts.
Invisibility Cloak: It's a ring, not a cloak, but it grants invisibility when one wears it.
Last of His Kind: Smaug is said to be the last of the "great dragons", though this implies there are still less impressive dragons.
Legally Dead: When Bilbo returns to Bag End after one year of absence, he finds he has been presumed dead and his heirs are just holding an auction on his possessions. Since it's not so easy to convince the authorities that he is still alive, he resorts to buying much of his own stuff back to save time and bother.
Legendary Weapon: Early in the book, the party recovers a small treasure hoard from some trolls. Among the hoard are a pair of legendary elvish blades, Orcrist the Goblin-Cleaver and Glamdring the Foe-Hammer, two legendary swords forged millennia earlier by the elves of Gondolin. Thorin Oakenshield takes Orcrist and it's eventually buried with him, while Gandalf takes Glamdring.
Lemony Narrator: Tolkien, as narrator, interjects several asides to the audience in each chapter. Since the book is presented as being compiled from Bilbo's memoirs, it is up for debate about how much of this style is derived from the original text.
When the starving travellers see the elven-lights in Mirkwood, they eagerly leave the trail hoping to beg for food. This, unfortunately, only gets them more hopelessly lost.
The encounter with the trolls began this way.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: The story is "compiled" from Bilbo's memoirs. This was exploited by Tolkien when he wanted to change the backstory of Bilbo finding the Ring to fit with The Lord of the Rings while he was writing it - the first edition represents Bilbo being economical with the truth.
The Load: How the company initially view Bilbo, this changes after he saves them from the spiders.
The Lost Woods: Mirkwood is a sea of huge, ancient trees, under which there is perpetual darkness, and the sky cannot be seen at all. There are very few paths through it, and crossing it takes several weeks. The few sources of water there are may be enchanted. If you get lost (which is awfully easy, as the wood is apparently under a spell), your best hope is to be captured by inhospitable elves before you starve, the giant spiders get you, or (still worse) you stumble into the realm of the Necromancer. All things considered, best don't go there at all.
Luke Nounverber: But done as actual earned epithets, such as Thorin Oakenshield and Dáin Ironfoot, who earned their names in the Goblin Wars — Thorin, for example, had his shield broken in battle and replaced it with a oak branch, which he ripped off the tree in the middle of the fight.
Macabre Moth Motif: When the party is traveling through Mirkwood they go without campfires at night rather than attract the swarms of huge black moths that come out at night. Though not actually harmful, they're very unpleasant.
Magic Map: The map of the Lonely Mountain is just a regular map most of the time, but in the light of a certain phase of the moon it reveals information crucial to getting into the mountain alive.
Minion Maracas: Thorin picks up Bilbo and "shakes him like a rabbit" when he learns that the latter has stolen the Arkenstone and given it to the Men and Elves besieging the mountain. (At least, Gandalf manages to convince Thorin to not throw Bilbo down the wall.)
Mundane Utility: It's mentioned that after his adventure, Bilbo used the Ring when he wanted to avoid unwelcome visitors.
Mythical Motifs: The dragon breathes fire and is definitely a symbol of the gold-greed that takes dwarves, humans, and elves alike.
Named Weapons: Glamdring, the Foe Hammer; Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver; and Sting. Glamdring and Orcrist are famous enough that the goblins recognize them on sight, calling them "Beater" and "Biter" respectively.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Throughout the journey, the dwarves just keep stumbling into trouble and making a royal mess of things.
First, they stumble right into a goblin lair. The incident results in the Great Goblin's death. Hence, the goblins and wargs band together and set out for revenge, gathering an army in the process, which catches up to them near the end.
The dwarves are then caught by the Wood Elves, and due to the mutualFantastic Racism, refuse to tell them their motives. They're imprisoned, and upon escaping, the Elves become even more suspicious and angry with them.
They then end up waking Smaug up, who proceeds to go on a rampage on Laketown, assuming Bilbo came from there, and the survivors aren't happy with them for it.
Bilbo himself, in stealing the Arkenstone and handing it over to the Elvenking and Bard, raises tensions between them and Thorin from merely a Mexican standoff/cold war to imminent bloodshed, despite his good intentions.
Nobody Here But Us Birds: "Hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl." Parodied in that Bilbo can't even do a generic owl sound, much less specific ones.
Nothing Is Scarier: The lightless tunnel to Smaug's lair is so terrifying to Bilbo that actually seeing the giant dragon in all his gold-encrusted glory comes as a relief!
The Obi-Wan: Gandalf guides the party and helps Bilbo develop into a competent "adventurer," but he does not use his considerable powers to just do the job for them. And then he goes off to deal with the Necromancer, leaving the party to fend for themselves.
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Bilbo spends the majority of the Battle of Five Armies knocked unconscious after a rock hits him in the head. When he wakes up, he's told that Beorn even entered the fray in bear form!
Oh Crap: "What has it got in its pocketses?!?" Cue Gollum wigging out.
One Bullet Left: Bard shoots the dragon with the only arrow he has left. Although more justified in this case, as the one left is also a special one inherited through generations, and just before the shot Bard is told the dragon's weak spot.
Only Smart People May Pass: The Riddle Game with Gollum, whose offer is to show Bilbo the way out of the caves (or to make a meal out of Bilbo if Bilbo loses the game). Played straight in the first few riddles (some of which are real stumpers), but subverted by the winning riddle: it's just a stupid question which Gollum mistook for a riddle. Of course, Gollum intended to cheat and eat Bilbo all along, since he had the Ring (or thought he did).
Our Dragons Are Different: Smaug is a huge winged, scaly, firebreathing, gold-hoarding, sentient and intelligent reptilian monster that can talk. Through its influence on the fantasy genre, The Hobbit re-introduced intelligent, talking dragons to literature.
However, none of them seem to carry any weapons until they find some in the Troll's lair, at which point they end up not with axes, but swords. Nor are they particularly stolid: they seem like seasoned adventurers to Bilbo at first, but once on the journey they whine and grumble about things at least as much as Bilbo does (and eventually more than Bilbo). Thorin's gang might be excused, however, from the fact that they have been technically homeless for decades; Dáin's dwarves from the Iron Mountain fit the trope a lot better.
Our Goblins Are Different: The story is "teeming with goblins, hobgoblins and orcs of the worst description!". Orc is said to be the untranslated Westron word for goblin; see for example the sword Orcrist, and it's translated name, the Goblin-Cleaver.
Our Werebeasts Are Different: Beorn the "skin-changer" is able to shapeshift in battle and take the form of a huge bear. Tolkien took inspiration from the legendary berserkir of Norse Mythology (warriors covered of animal pelts and consecrated to Odinn, who allegedly changed into wolf-men or bear-men in the frenzy of battle).
"What shall we do, what shall we do!" [Bilbo] cried. "Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!" he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say "out of the frying-pan into the fire" in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.
Pragmatic Villainy: The three trolls don't want to eat Bilbo, simply because he isn't big enough to go through the trouble of skinning and boning him. They don't feel sorry for him, they're just... lazy.
Primal Fear: The Giant Spiders especially, but through the whole story Bilbo travels in a world where everything wants to eat him.
The Quest: Go forth across the land, over the Misty Mountains cold, to the distant Lonely Mountain to somehow get a massive pile of treasure out from under a very dangerous dragon. Try not to get dead.
Ravens and Crows: The talking ravens that live near the Lonely Mountain are friendly to the Dwarves, unlike the crows which ravens despise.
Rewrite: In the original edition of The Hobbit, Gollum gave Bilbo the ring willingly after losing the riddle game to him. After Tolkien had started working on The Lord of the Rings and decided that the ring was an Artifact of Attraction that had corrupted Gollum, this did no longer fit the character of Gollum nor the nature of the ring, so Tolkien rewrote chapter 5 of The Hobbit in later editions so that Bilbo accidentally found the ring after Gollum had coincidentally lost it. The introduction of the 1951 second edition even mentions that Bilbo initially told a different story, and suggests his earlier "lie" may already have been due to the bad influence of the ring's magic.
Riddle Me This: The riddle contest between Gollum and Bilbo. It's a hobbit thing, apparently.
Rightful King Returns: Bard brings the line of Girion back to rulership of Dale, and Thorin intended to take the Lonely Mountain back for the line of Durin.
Senseless Sacrifice: In the Battle of Five Armies, it is said that Fíli and Kíli defended Thorin with "shield and body." All for naught, as Thorin died of wounds anyway.
Sequel Hook: Only in later editions, to fit with the actual sequel. Tolkien didn't intend to write a sequel, and it was reader/publisher demand that made him do so.
Serious Business: In-universe, the riddle game is regarded as "sacred" and the prose says that even a lowly creature like Gollum is hesitant to cheat at it.
Sorting Algorithm Of Threatening Geography: The adventure starts out in Hobbiton and proceeds through hobbit lands, then into the semi-wilderness Lone-lands where they meet the trolls. The party enters the Misty Mountains, passes through the darkness of Mirkwood and eventually reaches the Desolation of the Dragon — the "bleak and barren" land around the Lonely Mountain.
Space Jews: Tolkien compared the Dwarves to the Jews (Dwarvish being of Semitic influence), though he was in Real Life a committed anti-racist.
To the extent where he wrote a vicious letter to a publisher in Nazi Germany tearing the man down several pegs and pointing out the flaws in Nazi doctrine as only a Professor of Linguistics and expert on Norse/Germanic mythology can. A politer, but still harsh letter was sent instead, counting as a Real LifeCrowning Moment of Awesome.
Speaks Fluent Animal: Bard, Balin (though he can only understand raven), the Wood Elves, Beorn... there's a lot of this going around. Bilbo, though, can't understand a word and remained blissfully ignorant of exactly which ugly names the crows were calling them.
Story Breaker Power: Gandalf leaves the group before they enter Mirkwood, and reappears just in time at the end to warn the good guys of the coming attack. In the original edition, his dealing with a random Necromancer was just the author's excuse to get him out of the way.
Sundial Waypoint: The moon-runes needed to find the secret door into the mountain can only be read under the same phase of the moon in which they were written.
Supporting Leader: Bard the Bowman and Dáin Ironfoot. Both are royalty and straight-up Badasses who lead the defenders of Laketown and the army of the Iron Hills respectively; compare them with the central protagonist Bilbo, who is just a well-to-do hobbit and a Guile Hero, caught up in an adventure he didn't expect.
Taken for Granite: The trolls turn to stone if caught outside in sunlight. Too bad for them, they aren't bright enough to remember this.
Talking Animal: The Eagles and other birds, and the Spiders. Smaug may also count, if you consider him an animal. Also while Beorn's animals aren't heard speaking, they're certainly sapient and understand human speech.
Tempting Fate: Smaug. "Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep. And where are his son's sons that dare approach me?' Bard, who kills him, is Girion's heir.
Unfazed Everyman: Bilbo. While he has grown up aware that magical people and things exist, like most hobbits he has little knowledge about and zero first-hand experience with it until that one fateful day.