Bilbo jumps out of bed in the morning and goes into his kitchen, where he sees the huge number of plates and glasses the dwarves used last night. This sight depresses him, since he can’t easily forget that the dwarves were in his home. Gandalf greets him, and points to a note the dwarves have left him. The note says that Bilbo will act as a burglar for the dwarves, that in return he will receive one-fourteenth of the treasure, and that he must meet them at the Green Dragon Tavern at eleven o’clock sharp, which Bilbo realizes is in only ten minutes. Bilbo protests, but Gandalf urges him to hurry there, and he leaves his home without a hat, coat, or walking stick.
Bilbo’s dual nature – his love of comfort alongside his yearning for adventure – are again on display here. It is interesting that what he initially wishes is not dislike of the dwarves or adventure but a wish to forget all about it. It is as if his “domestic side” is seeking to repress his “adventurous side. Yet all it takes is a little push from Gandalf and he is off and running. The fact that he forgets his hat and cloak symbolizes the other, less tangible baggage he’s leaving behind—his comfort, his peacefulness, his safety, etc.
At the Green Dragon, the dwarves greet Bilbo, and tell him that they must be going and that he can borrow a hat and coat. The group, which includes Gandalf riding on a white horse, leaves the hobbit-lands in which Bilbo lives, and soon ventures into areas where the people speak strange languages, and the buildings look sinister. Bilbo wishes, for not the last time, that he were at home.
The physical changes in the landscape that accompany the group’s traveling reflect Bilbo’s state of mind: a gloomy landscape signals a gloomy mind. This establishes a pattern that will continue throughout The Hobbit, whereby the external environment matches the characters’ internal thoughts and feelings.
While the group is traveling through the wilderness, it begins to rain, and the group notices that Gandalf is missing. The dwarves are unable to make fire, and a horse runs away, leaving them with little food for the evening. They see a faint light in the distance, and decide to send Bilbo to investigate what it is, giving him a complicated signaling system if he’s in danger. Bilbo finds that the source of the light is a campfire, around which sit three huge trolls, Tom, Bert, and William, complaining about eating the same meal, mutton, night after night. Bilbo, who knows from reading various books that the trolls are probably carrying valuable things in their pockets, picks Williams’s pocket, thinking excitedly that this is the beginning of his career as a burglar. Unfortunately, William’s enchanted purse lets out a yell when Bilbo holds it, and William captures Bilbo.
Gandalf disappears for the first, but not the last time in the novel. It’s never explicitly clear if Gandalf vanishes accidentally, or deliberately. In either event, the encounter with the trolls is important because during it, Bilbo shows his first signs of enjoying burglary, and enjoying his adventures. He depends upon knowledge he’s learned in books—trolls have lots of treasure. This suggests that Bilbo is better prepared for his journey than he lets on, though it also signals that his knowledge is entirely of the book-learning kind and not at all from experience. And, indeed, inexperienced as he is, Bilbo makes a mistake and gets captured.
The trolls ask Bilbo if there are others near their fire; Bilbo says yes at first, then no. William, who’s already eaten supper, wants to let Bilbo go, but the other two trolls want to eat him. The trolls begin to fight, and Bilbo is able to slip away in the confusion. Meanwhile, the dwarves have begun to approach the fire. When the trolls see the dwarves, they capture all of them and put them in sacks, while Bilbo hides nearby, afraid to move.
Bilbo continues to stumble over his words, changing his statement about whether he is alone in a painfully obvious way. For now, the dangers of the quest are relatively small—one of the trolls even wants to let Bilbo go. Even at this early point, though, Bilbo shows signs of being an adept burglar and adventurer: his small size allows him to escape from the trolls in their confusion. Yet Bilbo then does nothing to help the captured dwarves, instead he is so scared that he just hides.
While the three trolls are deciding how to kill and eat the dwarves, a mysterious stranger’s voice is heard. The stranger mimics the voices of the three trolls, causing an argument that goes on for so long that the sun rises, turning the trolls to stone instantly. The stranger, who turns out to be Gandalf, frees the dwarves from their sacks, and Bilbo comes out of his hiding place. Gandalf suggests that they explore the trolls’ underground treasure room, and Bilbo produces a key he’s found on the ground while he was hiding. Gandalf uses the key to open the treasure room, where Gandalf and Thorin find two excellent swords, and Bilbo finds a knife that, while small for a troll, is large enough to serve as his sword.
No small part of Gandalf’s power is verbal —- without using any force, he defeats the trolls, simply by saying the right things at the right time in the right way. Bilbo proves himself to be a decent burglar and a lucky finder-of-things, finding the key to the trolls’ treasure, which proves to be very valuable. Bilbo also takes an important step in establishing his identity when he chooses a weapon for himself: this symbolizes the physical might he’ll have to learn later on, and the increased freedom and maturity he’s enjoying.
Thorin asks Gandalf how he became separated from the rest of the group. Gandalf says that he had ridden ahead to Rivendell to inquire about provisions and lodgings for the dwarves, but when he looked behind him he noticed that the dwarves weren’t there. He tells Thorin that he must be more careful in the future.
Gandalf’s explanation isn’t entirely convincing—though he claims he lost sight of the dwarves, it’s entirely possible that he deliberately left them and Bilbo. If this is the case, it’s likely that Gandalf left Bilbo on his own to encourage him to develop skills as a burglar—it’s as if he threw Bilbo in the deep end of the pool to teach him to swim.