During The Hobbit, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves confront countless dangers: spiders, goblins, wood-elves, wolves, a dragon, etc. To defend themselves, they use an equally vast number of weapons: knives, daggers, spells, fire, rocks, sticks. Yet one of the most important weapons that they use—and one of the most important skills Bilbo develops on his travels—is language. In the early chapters of the book, Bilbo exhibits almost no sophisticated command of language, staying largely silent while the dwarves and Gandalf discuss their plans to journey to the Lonely Mountain and reclaim their treasure. When he gets lost under the Misty Mountains, he’s forced to use words to compete with Gollum, telling increasingly complicated riddles. While this episode is important in Bilbo’s growth as a manipulator of language, it’s important to recognize that he’s still a novice—he only defeats Gollum by asking a “cheap” question, “What have I got in my pocket?”, not by exhibiting any real creativity or skill with words.
When giant spiders capture Bilbo and the dwarves in Mirkwood forest, Bilbo finally begins to use language with more skill, improvising elaborate songs to confuse the spiders and lure them away from the dwarves so that Bilbo can free them. After his exploits, Bilbo uses language to dub his sword Sting, a name that strikes fear into the hearts of the spiders. Bilbo uses language in a similar fashion when he confronts Smaug—instead of introducing himself as Bilbo Baggins, he calls himself a barrel-rider, a clue-finder, etc. Where before Bilbo renames his sword, here he renames himself.
In The Hobbit, language is a weapon, capable of intimidating, confusing, and otherwise disarming one’s enemies. But perhaps even more importantly, language is a tool for changing and understanding oneself. It’s no coincidence that Bilbo renames himself as he becomes braver and more confident: with the power of naming, he makes his experiences a part of his personality—he doesn’t just describe himself, he changes himself.
The Power of Language ThemeTracker
The Power of Language Quotes in The Hobbit
"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.
Mr. Baggins saw then how clever Gandalf had been. The interruptions had really made Beorn more interested in the story, and the story had kept him from sending the dwarves off at once like suspicious beggars. He never invited people into his house, if he could help it. He had very few friends and they lived a good way away; and he never invited more than a couple of these to his house at a time. Now he had got fifteen strangers sitting in his porch!
Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins.
He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.
"I will give you a name," he said to it, "and I shall call you Sting."
He had never thought that the dwarves would actually dare to approach Smaug, but believed they were frauds who would sooner or later be discovered and be turned out.
He was wrong. Thorin, of course, was really the grandson of the King under the Mountain, and there is no knowing what a dwarf will not dare and do for revenge or the recovery of his own. But the Master was not sorry at all to let them go. They were expensive to keep, and their arrival had turned things into a long holiday in which business was at a standstill.
"Let them go and bother Smaug, and see how he welcomes them!" he thought.
"Certainly, O Thorin Thrain's son Thror's son!" was what he said. "You must claim your own. The hour is at hand, spoken of old. What help we can offer shall be yours, and we trust to your gratitude when your kingdom is regained."
"I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I as chosen for the lucky number."
"Lovely titles!" sneered the dragon. "But lucky numbers don't always come off."
"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."
"These don't sound so creditable," scoffed Smaug.
"I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider," went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.
As you see, the Master had not got his position for nothing. The result of his words was that for the moment the people quite forgot their idea of a new king, and turned their angry thoughts towards Thorin and his company. Wild and bitter words were shouted from many sides; and some of those who had before sung the old songs loudest, were now heard as loudly crying that the dwarves had stirred the dragon up against them deliberately!
From that treasure Bard sent much gold to the Master of Lake-town; and he rewarded his followers and friends freely. To the Elvenking he gave the emeralds of Girion, such jewels as he most loved, which Dain had restored to him. To Bilbo he said:
"This treasure is as much yours as it is mine; though old agreements cannot stand, since so many have a claim in its winning and defense. Yet even though you were willing to lay aside all your claim, I should wish that the words of Thorin, of which he repented, should not prove true: that we should give you little. I would reward you most richly of all."
"Very kind of you," said Bilbo. "But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don't know. And I don't know what I should have done with it when I got home. I am sure it is better in your hands."
"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.