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Chapter One: An Unexpected Party

In writing these chapter summaries, I am using The Annotated Hobbit, by Douglas A. Anderson, so all references are to that and not to the HarperCollins paperback of The Hobbit as is the rest of the website.

We all know that first sentence of the first chapter of The Hobbit: "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit." According to The Annotated Hobbit, it has been added to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

At any rate, this is the chapter which introduces us to the main characters of the novel: Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit, Gandalf, the Wizard, and the thirteen Dwarves. We also learn quite a bit about hobbits, mostly through details about Bilbo's home, most of which makes us wonder about how it is possible that someone with these attitudes could become the hero of an adventure story. We also learn about his parents, including some rather interesting legends. It should be noted that at this point, The Hobbit is not yet a part of the writings set in Middle-Earth so there are things that do not fit that world as it is now. This includes the element of a fairy ancestor in the Took family.

We also get a taste of Tolkien's writing style, very different from that of The Lord of the Rings, filled with comments to the reader that could be seen as jarring to the pace of the story.

Gandalf is certainly a lot less straightforward in his first appearance in the chapter the Unexpected Party, than he is both later in the book and in The Lord of the Rings.

Bilbo's conversation with Gandalf gives a good picture of hobbit attitudes, particularly towards 'adventures', and begins the set-up for the later storyline. It also shows the double view of Gandalf that remains apparent through the Lord of the Rings: That of someone to be disapproved of, and yet his fireworks are appreciated and long remembered. But he is seen as someone they are uncomfortable being around due to his reputation regarding encouraging Hobbits to go on adventures.

At the end of the conversation, after Bilbo invited him for tea the next day, Gandalf sets the events of the story in motion, though we don't realize that just yet. Instead of Gandalf arriving for tea as Bilbo expected, thirteen strange dwarves turned up, univited both before and along with the Wizard. Clearly, they were expecting something from their host. From here to the end of the chapter, actually probably through his conversation with Gandalf the previous day, Bilbo is clearly out of his depth. And yet, there is something more to the hobbit, as we see during the Dwarves music.

After the music, we discover what the Dwarves believed that Bilbo was, and what they were expecting. Gandalf had them believing that he was a burglar. What they wanted him to do was join their quest for the riches of their former home, called the Lonely Mountain. It is very clear now, that Gandalf set things up in such a way as to involve poor Bilbo.

It is at this point also, that the nature of the adventure/quest is made clear both to Bilbo and to the reader.

Here is the first reference to anything written of Middle-Earth to this point: the Mines of Moria.

Even at the end of the chapter, Bilbo doesn't quite see that what is going on actually involves him as yet. He goes to bed, not intending to join the Dwarves at all.

To discuss this chapter on the messageboard, go to this thread.

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