The Hobbit: Novel Summary: Chapter 2

The morning after his unexpected party, Bilbo awakens to a house full of dishes that must be cleaned. As he chastises himself for even considering joining the dwarves on their quest, Gandalf arrives and directs his attention to a note under the clock on the mantle. The note contains Bilbos “terms of employment” as the expeditions burglar, and instructs him to meet the dwarves at a nearby inn-in ten minutes. A flustered Bilbo runs to the inn just in time to embark on the journey with the dwarves. Gandalf soon joins them-but, as the rain-drenched party finds a stopping place for the day, they notice that the wizard is no longer present. They do, however, notice a flickering light in the darkness not far from where they are camping, and the dwarves send a reluctant Bilbo to investigate. He discovers that the light is a campfire, around which sit three large and ugly trolls, complaining that all they ever have to eat is mutton. One of the trolls spies Bilbo as the hobbit is attempting to pick the trolls pocket. Flummoxed, Bilbo reveals that he is not alone-and, in an instance of terrible timing, Balin soon arrives. The dwarves had grown impatient waiting for Bilbos report, and their impatience costs them: in very little time, all of them have been captured and placed in sacks. Bilbo has escaped into a tree. Fortunately for the company, Gandalf returns and, through ventriloquism, starts an argument among the three trolls. They bicker with each other until the sun rises, turning them all to stone. Gandalf and Bilbo free the dwarves, and the whole group explores the trolls cave, where the creatures have been hoarding treasure. Bilbo takes a short knife for himself; given his size, it will serve him as a sword.
The encounter with the trolls presents Bilbo with his first “test”-a “test” he fails miserably. He cannot sound the signal (the hoot of an owl) that the dwarves ask him to sound; he inadvertently reveals information to the trolls; and he is passive throughout the episode, hiding in a thorn-bush. Tolkien is establishing Bilbo as an unlikely adventurer (which, of course, Bilbo already believes himself to be). By bearing this chapter in mind, readers will be able to trace Bilbos character development throughout the rest of the novel. David Langford notes that Bilbo-along with Frodo and Sam in Tolkiens related masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings-is an exemplar of what author Robert A. Heinlein dubbed the “brave little tailor” motif: “the unheroic hero (or seeming anti-hero) who adopts or is thrust into a role initially far too large for him, and successfully grows to be worthy of it” (The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, p. 136).
On a deeper level, however, Bilbos ineffectiveness in Chapter 2 highlights the archetypal pattern of the heros quest that serves as The Hobbits narrative backbone. As set forth by world mythology scholar Joseph Campbell-especially in his classic work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (first published 1949)-the heros quest begins when someone (often, as is Bilbo, an “unlikely” someone) receives a “summons to adventure” (in Bilbos case, Gandalfs arrival in Chapter 1). Responding to the summons (sometimes even unwillingly, as Bilbo does), the hero meets a guide or mentor figure (in Bilbos adventure, the mentor himself delivers the summons). The quest is underway when the hero separates him- or herself from the world he or she has previously known (a separation of which Bilbo is painfully aware, as his soon-to-become frequent wishes for tea in the comfort of his own home demonstrate). This separation, however, must occur in order for a transformation and a renewal or rebirth to take place. The heroic quest need not take the form of a sprawling, epic, “sword-and-sorcerery” narrative. It certainly does not appear in that form in The Hobbit, even though such elements and motifs do. Rather, Bilbos heroic quest is an intensely internal journey; his external circumstances in the book serve to alert readers to his progress on that journey. Readers may wish to consider how the heroic quest pattern of separation, transformation, and rebirth can apply to their own experiences.