How did The Hobbit start?
It began, so the story goes, with a random piece of paper. J. R. R. Tolkien was grading student papers when, on an extra sheet of paper, he jotted down the words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”
So the story began with what would become one of the great quotes from The Hobbit.
But before that, it was just one sentence that raised questions that needed answers. What was a hobbit? And what kind of a hole did he live in?
From his first sentence, Tolkien spun a tale that his own children would hear first. Begun as a bedtime story for his children, Tolkien faced his first critics.
Christopher was always much concerned with the consistency of the story and on one occasion … interrupted: ‘Last time, you said Bilbo’s front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a golden tassel on this hood, but you’ve just said that Bilbo’s front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin’s hood was silver’; at which point Ronald exclaimed ‘Damn the boy!’ and strode across the room to make a note.The Tolkien Family Album, Priscilla and John Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992, p. 58.
In time, the story became a manuscript, sent out to publishers. Ironically, it was another child who again had a say. Stanley Unwin brought the Hobbit manuscript home for his 10 year-old son Rayner to read. The boy’s handwritten report remains, including this endorsement:
This is an excellent book. This will appeal to all children between the ages of 7 and 9.—Rayner Unwin
As we know now, the book would appeal to many more readers. Some bits of it are often quoted, and some are not quoted enough.
Let’s take a look at some of our favorite quotes from The Hobbit, beginning with Tolkien’s introduction to Bilbo Baggins and then following Bilbo on his adventure, “far over the misty mountains cold, to dungeons deep, and caverns bold.”
9 Great Quotes from The Hobbit
- Since we just quoted part of it, it seems fitting to start with the song sung by the dwarves at Bilbo’s unexpected party.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.
- As Bilbo listens to the music, his practical Baggins side begins to lose its grip. (After all, as I’ve written before: the very first thing about Mr. Baggins that hinted he could be more than a prosy middle-aged hobbit, was his lineage.
Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.
If you’d like to experience what Bilbo heard as a song, I do like what the movie did with it:
- But before Bilbo’s party . . . it all began one morning with a conversation and some word parsing. As Gandalf shrewdly observes, there can be more than one meaning to everyday phrases. (Tolkien was a philologist and studied the history of language which makes this all the more amusing and interesting.)
Good morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out farther than the brim of his shady hat.
“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
“All of them at once,” said Bilbo.
- While the story begins merrily, by the end there has been an epic battle. Not all the characters we have come to know will survive. Yet, with Thorin, we can agree that, faced with difficult times:
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
- The adventure hasn’t all been sober though. You can hear echoes of the bedtime story in the way Tolkien adds conversational asides to his readers. (Something that makes me love this, dare I say, even more than Lord of the Rings?) After all . . .
It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.
- Another thing I love about The Hobbit is how human the characters are —take Gandalf. By the time we meet him in The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf is sober and wise. But in The Hobbit, he is much more personable and even a bit cocky . . . .
Goodbye then, and really good-bye!” said Gandalf, and he turned his horse and rode down into the West. But he could not resist the temptation to have the last word. Before he had passed quite out of hearing he turned and put his hands to his mouth and called to them. They heard his voice come faintly: “Good-bye! Be good, take care of yourselves –and DON’T LEAVE THE PATH!
- Speaking of personable, while we learn much more about Gollum in the LOTR trilogy, we are first introduced to this famous character in The Hobbit. Tolkien would flesh out Gollum later, but the first he ever wrote is still a good introduction:
Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don’t know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was Gollum.
- While Gollum lives deep down by the dark water, Tolkien also introduces us to a much nicer place to live. He followed his sentence with a description that has led to many illustrations and more than one person longing for their own hobbit hole.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
- All good lists must end, and Tolkien captures the bittersweetness of a tale drawing to its inevitable conclusion.
So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.
- The book’s ending, when it comes though, is a return to normalcy. After difficult times and discovering what true courage looks like, Bilbo has returned to his hole in the ground where he sits talking with Gandalf about adventures. So, what is the last line in The Hobbit?
Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.
We hope you have enjoyed these best quotes from The Hobbit. We love exploring quotes and writing here. From modern storyteller Neil Gaiman to the best of G. K. Chesterton, we love looking at great writers and enjoying some of their best sentences.