The Hobbit

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The Misty Mountains Symbol Analysis

The Misty Mountains Symbol Icon
There is an old rule in adventure stories, from The Odyssey to Star Wars, that the hero’s personal growth must be accompanied by a journey underground. After Bilbo falls off Dori’s shoulders while fleeing from the goblins, he’s forced to fend for himself as he tries to find his way out of the Misty Mountains. In doing so, he has to confront Gollum and goblins, and discovers talents he didn’t know he had — deception, path-finding, riddle-telling, etc. Thus, the Misty Mountains represent Bilbo’s maturation as a character and an adventurer: when he enters them, he’s still immature (literally being carried on someone else’s back!), but when he leaves, he’s confident enough to navigate his own way around.

The Misty Mountains Quotes in The Hobbit

The The Hobbit quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Misty Mountains. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Coming of Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ballantine Books edition of The Hobbit published in 2012.
Chapter 4 Quotes

The goblins were very rough, and pinched unmercifully, and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices; and Bilbo was more unhappy even than when the troll had picked him up by his toes. He wished again and again for his nice bright hobbit-hole. Not for the last time.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins
Related Symbols: The Misty Mountains
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Bilbo and the dwarves stumble into a cave where they're attacked and arrested by goblins: the cruel, violent inhabitants of the underground world. At this early point in the novel, Bilbo is still uncertain about his role as an ally and friend to the dwarves. While he's excited to go off on adventures, he's still so used to his life as a hobbit that when danger strikes, his first reaction is to pine for his hobbit-hole—a womb-like place where everything was uneventful and complacent, but also warm and safe.

Bilbo's love for his home undergoes many changes during this novel. In this quotation, Bilbo's love for home eclipses his love for adventure. He's still an "armchair adventurer"—someone who has vague fantasies of exploring the unknown, but doesn't know how to go about doing so, and who finds himself longing for home when the adventure turns dangerous.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

"Both wrong," cried Bilbo very much relieved; and he jumped at once to his feet, put his back to the nearest wall, and held out his little sword. He knew, of course, that the riddlegame was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it. But he felt he could not trust this slimy thing to keep any promise at a pinch. Any excuse would do for him to slide out of it. And after all that last question had not been a genuine riddle according to the ancient laws.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Gollum
Related Symbols: The Misty Mountains
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Bilbo, who is trapped beneath the Misty Mountains, exchanges riddles with Gollum, a frightening, mysterious cave-dweller. Although Bilbo and Gollum have almost nothing in common (or so they think), they do abide by a common set of rules: they believe in the importance of words and language. As a result, the game of riddles they play with one another has a "sacred" side to it. Gollum promises to show Bilbo the way out of the mountains if Bilbo can stump him; now that Bilbo has won the game, Gollum is "bound" to honor his agreement.

And yet as the passage makes clear, language can be twisted and manipulated to suit people's needs. Here, Bilbo is afraid that his victory in the game of riddles isn't binding, at least not in the sacred, "ancient" sense. Based on the passage, it's clear that Gollum is dangerous to Bilbo, and moreover, his dangerousness is closely related to his refusal to keep his word. In the world of Middle Earth, honor and honesty are of the utmost importance; no creature who breaks his word can be "good."

In the absence of rules—the rules of riddle-telling, in this case—Bilbo must learn to depend on a new set of skills; namely, his abilities with a sword. Thrown into danger, Bilbo is forced to master the art of language, and then, when language fails him, he's forced to resort to physical fighting. Because it proves that he's a versatile, multi-talented person, Bilbo's interaction with Gollum represents a milestone in his journey to becoming a hero.

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The Misty Mountains Symbol Timeline in The Hobbit

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Misty Mountains appears in The Hobbit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: A Short Rest
Coming of Age Theme Icon
...Bilbo sees a great mountain in the distance, which belongs to the chain called the Misty Mountains . The group will have to cross the Misty Mountains before they arrive at their... (full context)
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
In midsummer, the group leaves Rivendell and heads toward the Misty Mountains . The elves sing them songs as they depart. (full context)
Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
The group walks through the Misty Mountains , and their path is difficult and dangerous. As they climb high up, they can... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Gandalf knows that the Misty Mountains have become full of danger in recent times, and that underneath them, in the Mines... (full context)
Chapter 6: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Bilbo finds himself on the other side of the Misty Mountains without a pony, buttons, or his companions. He walks along the mountains for some time,... (full context)
Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...they’re welcome to stay with him. Gandalf goes on describing his travels through Rivendell, the Misty Mountains , and the woods, each time mentioning a few more of the dwarves; each time,... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Return Journey
Heroism Theme Icon
...goblin army – so many of them that for years afterward the area around the Misty Mountains was safe and secure. (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...also responsible for protecting them during their travels home. As Bilbo and Gandalf climb the Misty Mountains , Bilbo looks behind him, and sees snow on the Lonely Mountain. Amused that where... (full context)