The Hobbit
J. R. R. Tolkien
Contributed by Machelle Schuler
Chapter 13

Readers see further development of Bilbo’s character. The narrator tells us, "Already [Bilbo] was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago." Bilbo’s bravery in going into the Mountain alone is called "the real battle"-and, indeed, in the mythic pattern of the hero’s journey, many exterior battles serve to mirror interior ones, the struggles of the soul to realize its identity. As in real life, the worst enemies of heroes in fiction are sometimes not other characters, but the heroes themselves. Note that in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo will at several points, albeit to a much greater degree, experience the "battle" Bilbo does, the conflict between a desire to press on and a desire to abandon the quest. Continuing the quest for identity, Tolkien seems to be saying, let alone seeing it through to a successful conclusion, requires courage-the facing, as it were, of our own "inner dragons."

Readers may also note how carefully Tolkien has plotted to this point, preparing Bilbo for his confrontation with Smaug. For example, his riddling with the dragon hearkens back to his riddle contest with Gollum. His misdirection through conversation in order to gain a desired end-in this case, information about Smagu’s possible weaknesses-echoes Gandalf’s similar use of conversation with Beorn. Both by learning from his own experiences and by observing others, Bilbo is able to rise to this occasion and become a hero. The same processes, of course, hold true in our own lives: we learn from others and from experience.

In regards to conversation, readers may finally wish to pay attention to the role of conversation and language in The Hobbit. Bilbo’s plan of playing at riddles with Smaug almost backfires on him; as the narrator says, "the effect that dragon-talk has on the inexperienced" is to overwhelm and confuse. Further, Bilbo fears he may have revealed too much information about the expedition in his conversation with Smaug. How else is language used-both responsibly and irresponsibly, for good and for ill-in the book? How do readers use language and conversation in their own lives?

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