The Hobbit

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The Hobbit Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien
  As a child, Tolkien was an excellent student, and enjoyed reading imaginative fiction like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. He also developed a passion for languages, even inventing a language called Nevbosh with his cousins. Tolkien studied English literature at Oxford University, and married a woman named Edith Bratt shortly after his graduation. He fought in World War One, including in the infamous Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of his closest friends. After the war, Tolkien began a brilliant career as a scholar of Old and Middle English. His translation of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is still widely taught, and his celebrated lecture on the poem Beowulf is often credited with sparking a renewed interest in early English poetry. With the publication of The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in the mid-1950s, Tolkien became world-famous. Though he had more than enough money retire from academic life, he continued to teach at Oxford University until his death in 1977.
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Historical Context of The Hobbit
Tolkien fought in World War One, and though The Hobbit is a work of fantasy, his experiences as a soldier in France clearly informed his writing. When Yugoslavian nationalists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and the two nations’ military alliances with other countries eventually drew all of Europe into a military conflict. Italy formed an uneasy alliance with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while England formed an alliance with France and Russia. The complicated five-way battle at the end of The Hobbit, which leads to a series of hastily-established alliances and treaties, might be Tolkien’s version of World War One.
Other Books Related to The Hobbit
The success of The Hobbit inspired Tolkien to write the three longer novels about Middle Earth collectively known as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). At the time of his death, Tolkien left behind a huge collection of stories, poems, and fragments of stories and mythology set in Middle Earth and its surrounding universe that his son, Christopher Tolkien, later published. The best known of these posthumous works is The Silmarillion (1977), a prequel of sorts to the events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s success may have inspired his friend, C.S. Lewis, to publish his own series of richly detailed fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia. The Hobbit also has a lot in common with early epic poems. Like Beowulf, it features a dragon; like The Odyssey, its hero grows into something of a trickster who enjoys reinventing himself.
Key Facts about The Hobbit
  • Full Title: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
  • Where Written: Pembroke College, Oxford
  • When Published: September 21, 1937
  • Genre: Fantasy; Epic
  • Setting: Middle Earth
  • Climax: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Antagonist: Smaug the dragon
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient
Extra Credit for The Hobbit

The greatest teacher you never had: Tolkien’s academic research at Oxford put him in touch with some of the greatest British writers of the time, including C.S. Lewis, with whom Tolkien was close friends for many years. At the end of Tolkien’s life, he received a letter from the poet W.H. Auden, who had attended a lecture Tolkien delivered on the poem Beowulf. Tolkien’s knowledge and passion inspired Auden to continue writing poetry! 

Development Hell: As soon as Tolkien published his Middle Earth novels, people tried to adapt them as films. One of the funniest ideas for a Tolkien movie came from the Beatles in the 1960s — George Harrison wanted to play Gandalf, Ringo wanted to play Sam, and John Lennon wanted to play Gollum! Wisely, Tolkien refused to let the Fab Four play hobbits and wizards, and at the time of his death, there were no live-action Middle Earth films. A quarter century later, New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Tolkien’s work, and Peter Jackson directed three Lord of the Rings films and another three based on the Hobbit.