The Impact of Setting in The Hobbit
While it may be easy to underestimate the importance of scenic descriptions, setting plays an important role in most literature – including character-driven fantasy. Setting can be written to represent conflicting forces or ideals, and to help illustrate the conflict and overarching idea of a story to the reader. One work of literature that utilizes setting to emphasize conflict and enhance the development of the plot is the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Throughout the novel, Tolkien emphasizes the importance of two central locations: Bilbo’s home in The Hill, and the mountain where Smaug the dragon lives. Not only do these places differ in location, as many miles separate The Hill from Smaug’s Mountain, but they also represent contrasting traits from the perspective of Bilbo. Through his contrast between The Hill and Smaug’s Mountain, Tolkien illustrates how Blbo’s character develops throughout the progression of the story.
From the beginning of the novel, when Bilbo first describes his hobbit hole in The Hill, the importance of the hobbit hole to Bilbo is obvious. Not only does the quaint hobbit hole represent safety, comfort, and happiness to Bilbo – it also contains countless memories of his family, who originally built the home, and his childhood. Bilbo acknowledges his love and familiarity for his home when he says “…it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (Tolkien 1). Essentially, the hobbit hole represents everything Bilbo has ever known, and everything he values. As the story progresses, however, and Bilbo gets further away from his home in The Hill, Bilbo’s character changes drastically – he becomes more knowledgeable, and his values change. By the time he reaches Smaug’s Mountain, Bilbo has faced numerous conflicts, from getting lost in Gollum’s cave and managing to escape to fighting the spiders who attacked him and his friends when traversing through a forest to the army. Overall, The Hill helps convey to the reader how Bilbo’s character develops and becomes a hero – as his journey progresses, he learns to goup against his fears and discomfort, the opposite of what The Hill offered to him, and he learns that adventure is not as bad as he first thought it was.
Whereas The Hill is a safe and comforting place for Bilbo, Smaug’s Mountain contains the opposite: an unknown territory of danger and malice. The mountain seems ominous from the second Bilbo and the others reach “…the dark cavernous opening in a great cliff-wall between the arms of the Mountain” (Tolkien 189). To Bilbo, Smaug’s Mountain is the apex of less favorable aspects of adventure, and represents exactly what Bilbo seems to be afraid of: danger, uneasiness, and change. Before Bilbo even knows what the adventure will be, he vehemently refuses Gandalf when he first travels to Bilbo’s home in The Hill to propose the idea of adventure to him. Bilbo justifies his own refusal for adventure by stating “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures… I can’t think what anybody sees in them” (Tolkien 6). However, by the time Bilbo reaches the mountain, his outlook on adventure, along with his character, has changed drastically. Along the way, Bilbo not only experienced danger but learned to face and overcome it. Bilbo’s journey, and the conflicts he faced throughout it, developed and revealed his inner hero. When he finally reaches Smaug’s Mountain, the adventure’s end goal, Bilbo is no longer the same timid person he used to be. While still fearful of facing the dragon, Bilbo has learned that he is capable of undergoing conflict and facing the unknown. Smaug’s Mountain illustrates Bilbo’s development as a hero – while it may be a source of unknown danger, by the time Bilbo enters it, he is both competent and confident in himself.
Overall, The Hill and Smaug’s Mountain play different aspects in the story, but both locations work to develop the plot and characters. Whereas Tolkien introduces The Hill from the very beginning of the novel, Bilbo does not arrive at Smaug’s Mountain until near the end of the novel. Ultimately, The Hill starts the adventure, and Smaug’s Mountain ends it, as reaching it and defeating Smaug appears to be the very goal of Bilbo’s adventure. By writing the locations so far apart from each other, both in location and order of appearance in the novel, Tolkien emphasizes how Bilbo’s character changes throughout the progression of the story. The journey that transpires on the way to the mountain forces Bilbo to adapt to change and learn how to face danger, and therefore acknowledge his inner heroism. When Bilbo leaves The Hill to transpire the journey, he appears timid and weak, and even views himself as such – by the time he reaches Smaug’s Mountain, he has conquered various dangers and conflict, and therefore knows his capability greater than he once thought.
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