The Hobbit

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The Ring Symbol Icon
Without a doubt, the most famous symbol in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books is the ring itself, which first appears in The Hobbit when Bilbo finds it under the Misty Mountains, just before he meets Gollum. There are rings in earlier epic stories that Tolkien would have been aware of, the most famous being the ring in Richard Wagner’s four-part opera, the Ring Cycle — itself based on the Medieval epic poem the Nibelungenlied, in which two of the characters find a ring and fight to the death for it. In The Hobbit, as in these earlier works, the ring symbolizes the corruption of wealth and power. Gollum lives a miserable existence under the mountains; though he once lived above ground in the sun, it seems as if he has journeyed underground to be alone with his “precious” ring. (There’s lots of other evidence for the corrupting influence of wealth and power in The Hobbit, such as Thorin’s jealous obsession with the Arkenstone.) Bilbo, by contrast, seems relatively uninterested in treasure or power of any kind; perhaps because he is “innocent” in this sense, he can wear the ring without being consumed by jealousy or vanity.

The Ring Quotes in The Hobbit

The The Hobbit quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Ring. 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 5 Quotes

Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate.

He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it.
It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Gollum
Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 86-87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Bilbo contemplates killing Gollum, whom he knows to be dangerous, but then hesitates. Without warning, Bilbo feels a sudden burst of sympathy for Gollum, a creature who's forced to live a hard, lonely life under the mountain. It's because of his sympathy that Bilbo decides to spare Gollum's life.

Bilbo's behavior indicates that he's becoming a more confident, mature adventurer; moreover, it suggests some important things about heroism in general. Only a few chapters ago, it would have been easy to imagine Bilbo panicking and striking Gollum with his sword out of fear. The fact that Bilbo hesitates suggests that he's become calmer and more clear-thinking; he's growing used to the life of adventure. More generally, though, Bilbo's behavior reminds us that heroism is about being merciful and gentle as much as it is about physical prowess and bravery. At times, heroes are forced to kill their opponents, but only in self-defense. As he journeys through the mountains, Bilbo learns a lot about fighting and survival, but he never allows these "lessons" to interfere with his decency or mercy. 

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Chapter 6 Quotes

He crept still nearer, and suddenly he saw peering between two big boulders a head with a red hood on: it was Balin doing look-out. He could have clapped and shouted for joy, but he did not. He had still got the ring on, for fear of meeting something unexpected and unpleasant, and he saw that Balin was looking straight at him without noticing him. "I will give them all a surprise," he thought, as he crawled into the bushes at the edge of the dell.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Balin
Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo shows a penchant for theatricality and mischief that he hadn't often displayed before. Having made his way out of the Misty Mountains, Bilbo stumbles upon his fellow travelers, the dwarves. Instead of immediately greeting them, he decides to surprise them. By choosing to surprise the dwarves, Bilbo displays his "machismo" and panache; he makes it clear that he's not dependent on the dwarves in any way, but rather that he can come and go as he pleases.

In a broader context, Bilbo's behavior marks an important turning point for the novel. Bilbo has survived a terrifying adventure in the Misty Mountains, and more importantly, he's survived on his own, without the help of Gandalf or the dwarves (but with the help of the magic Ring). Invigorated by his success, Bilbo begins to genuinely enjoy the thrills of exploring new places. His enjoyment is palpable in this scene—after braving Gollum and the goblins, he's not the least bit frightened, and decides to keep his secret weapon (the Ring) a secret in order to surprise his friends.

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The Ring Symbol Timeline in The Hobbit

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Ring appears in The Hobbit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Riddles in the Dark
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...wakes up and finds himself alone in a cold, dark cave. He finds a small ring on the ground, and puts it in his pocket almost without thinking. Though he doesn’t... (full context)
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...paddle back to his lair and retrieve some things. Gollum actually intends to retrieve his ring, which makes him invisible, and use it to turn invisible and then kill Bilbo. The... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...and Bilbo is afraid that he will attack and eat him. He slips on the ring without thinking, and then runs as he hears Gollum coming. He trips and falls while... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
In the goblins’ lair, the goblins see Bilbo—he has taken off his ring. Bilbo slips it back on just in time, and hides behind a barrel while the... (full context)
Chapter 6: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
Coming of Age Theme Icon
...than greet them right away, he decides to have some fun, and puts on his ring and walks among them, invisible. (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...lost, while Gandalf insists that they find Bilbo instead of going on. Bilbo removes his ring and seems to appear out of thin air, startling everyone, including Gandalf. The dwarves are... (full context)
Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Bilbo puts on his ring and follows the sounds of yelling, and, with a little luck, he comes to a... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Bilbo realizes that he’ll have to explain his ring to the dwarves; he tells them that he can use it to disappear, and that... (full context)
Chapter 9: Barrels Out of Bond
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...the trees, and captures them all, except for Bilbo, who manages to put on his ring and then follow behind unnoticed as the elves march the dwarves into their city. The... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
...aground at a nearby town, where they’re stored overnight. Bilbo swims ashore and uses his ring to steal some food and wine; the next day, the barrels are sent back along... (full context)
Chapter 12: Inside Information
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...to spare. Bilbo is too clever to fall for this ploy, and puts on his ring, telling Smaug that he has only come to see if Smaug is as impressive as... (full context)
Chapter 16: A Thief in the Night
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...night watchman. While the other dwarves sleep, he puts on his armor and uses his ring to sneak out of the Lonely Mountain through the Gate. While he’s crawling through a... (full context)
Chapter 17: The Clouds Burst
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Bilbo is unimportant during the Battle of the Five Armies; he wears his invisibility ring the whole time. Nevertheless,... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Last Stage
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...even more than he did before he met Gandalf. He rarely uses his sword or ring, and donates his mail coat to a museum. (full context)
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
...the Lonely Mountain, called “There and Back Again, a Hobbit’s Holiday,” when he hears a ring and finds that Balin and Gandalf are visiting. Bilbo learns that Bard has rebuilt the... (full context)