The Hobbit - There And Back Again

Literary Structure: For some, it is the key to understanding all things literary (especially in ancient literature). For some others, it is a useful curiosity. For other still, it is a worthless enterprise that is much ado about nothing. For me – I guess I find myself vacillating between all three. Although we cannot know for sure, it may be that authors (including biblical writers) actually do use literary structures to help them communicate their message. In which case, identifying these structures is very useful in understanding their intended meaning. It may also be that since structure is part of God’s creation, and therefore inescapable, writers my just write in such a way that their works have a structure that they are not fully conscious of. Identifying these unintentional structures can gives us a richer understanding of the text we are looking at. And still, it is possible that literary critics and students are so predisposed to find structures that they impose on the text structures that then become a distraction from a free reading of text. For this reason, I think it good to think a little about such things, allowing ourselves to be open to a wide varieties of ways of looking at the text – on its own terms.

I recently came across the following offering of such a structure. Whether Tolkien wrote the Hobbit (a favorite of mine – especially the scene with Smaug) with any self-conscious structure in mind – this is an interesting theological reflection on the book. Notice the center as a sacramental turning point in the book. Certainly the subtitle (“There And Back Again”) invites us to think of the story with two complimentary bookends, with a story that connects the two. Whether this is to you a useful curiosity or worthless waste of time, maybe it’s worth the time to think a little deeper about the story. Enjoy!

A. Bilbo at home/Gandalf and dwarves arrive/Bilbo not interested in an adventure/they leave and meet 3 trolls whom Gandalf is able to turn to stone by keeping them out till dawn and saving the captured dwarves and getting treasure (I, II)

B.  1. Arrive in Rivendell and are friendly with the elves
2. Leave Rivendell and encounter goblins in a cave due to a storm/Bilbo gets knocked out (III, IV)

C.  1. Bilbo finds the ring and has a contest of riddles with Gollum, who “owns” the ring/Bilbo escapes from the cave
2. Bilbo finds his party and as they journey they are trapped by wargs in trees and Gandalf uses fire from above (in a tree) to defend them/saved by eagles from above (V, VI)

D. Journey toward Beorn’s where they stay and then leave and go to the threshold of Mirkwood full of darkness (p. 132) (VII)

E. In Mirkwood caught by spiders and Bilbo saves them/captured by the elves and thrown into dungeons/Gandalf leaves (VIII)

F. Bilbo and the dwarves escape by water and wine/Bilbo gets bread and wine (IX)

E’. Welcomed by the men of Lake-land and Thorin is “enthroned” as king/Gandalf is on his way back (X)

D’. Bilbo and the dwarves journey to the Lonely Mountain and are on the threshold of entering passageway full of darkness (p.211) (XI)

C’. 1. Bilbo takes golden cup (and later the Arkenstone) and has a dialogue of riddles with Smaug, who “owns” the treasure/Bilbo escapes
2. Smaug goes to Esgaroth and destroys the town with fire/the town is saved by Bard from below with an arrow (XII, XIII, XIV)

B’. 1. Dwarves are confrontational, but have to ally with men and elves
2. To fight against the goblins who arrive in a storm/ Bilbo gets knocked out (XV, XVI, XVII)

A’. Bilbo back at home/pass by the trolls/Bilbo comes home with treasure/Gandalf and Balin show-up a few years later (XVIII, XVIV)

Cover of the 1937 first edition, from a drawing by Tolkien

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2011 at 8:08 pm and is filed under Art, Books, Theology - Sacraments. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment


Hi John –

I asked the person I got this from about your question. Here is his response:

…As for citation, you can just give my name and that it was something I came up with for my 5th/6th graders at Franklin Classical School as they have to read The Hobbit.

Grace and peace,
Kelly Kerr

February 2nd, 2013 at 9:40 pm

One Trackback/Ping

  1. Blog Hop Interview: ‘What are You Writing, John Granger?’    Feb 06 2013 / 2am:

    […] have written about story structures. For example, Kelly Kerr has already posted her break down of The Hobbit as a chiasmus structure and Travis Prinzi has been putting together his thoughts on the prequel and Lord of the Rings […]

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