Today's Date in the Shire
24 Foreyule
T.A. 3018: The Company of the Ring stays in Rivendell preparing for the journey ahead.
Middle-Earth Quotes

The Books
Middle-earth FAQ
The Books
Book List
Tengwar Scriptor
Talking Tolkien

Name Generators

Fun and Games

Personality Test
Gaffer's Proverbs
Grave Matters
Walk to Rivendell
Location Finder
Mad Libs
Malbeth the Seer
Oh! Behave!

Past Contests
Scavenger Hunt
Essay Contest
Missing Story
T-Shirt Contest
Comic Contest
Haiku Contest
Judges Haikus

Forum Index

The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit:
A Comparative Study of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

As we now have been taken through the two quests of Bilbo and Frodo, I have tried to use the theories and ideas of several critics. Propp's systematic and precise structure is specifically developed with the Russian folktale as backbone, and the folktale is very often constructed as a quest. This does however not mean that his thirty-one functions fit all quest tales. There are certainly many elements in his scheme that are useful to my study, but there are likewise many elements missing, and also others that do not fit at all. One main purpose of Propp's study according to Selden-Widdowson-Brooker, was to show that even if not all the functions were included in the tale, "the functions always remain in sequence" (72). As we have seen when applied to Tolkien's works, Propp's functions have not followed this established sequence.

Another difference is that Propp seems to build his structure on one particular hero and therefore applies all the heroic qualities to that one person. Tolkien has divided the heroic efforts of his tales upon several individuals who all contribute to the final victory, i.e. the killing of Smaug, and the overthrowing of Sauron. This is the strength of the two novels, and especially of The Lord of the Rings, as the intricacies makes the reader so dependant on all the characters of the work so that he can never be sure of which direction the plot is heading, or the complex turn events might take, as seen on Mount Doom.

Frye's notions have been more useful. He has not the strict division and order of Propp which makes it more applicable to Tolkien. Again, there are elements missing and others not fitting, but Frye talks of the quest in a more general way, and he also delves deeper into the psychological effects of symbolism, seen in the devices, the characters, and the language of the quest theme. Together with Helms' and Keenan's psychoanalytic notions, Frye have shown us that no matter how much an author tries to distance himself from the primary world, he cannot ignore its moral values and aspects, or even its language. Even though the secondary world has its own mythology, rules, and laws, and is not a part of the primary world, it must be a reflection of it. Frye has in his study sought to find the common universal elements that can be seen in the romance, and not got stuck on details which almost always divides more than they unite.

I have also touched lightly upon the subject of allegory, as it is impossible to ignore in any discussion on Tolkien, whether he disliked it or not. A full development of this concept would not have been possible, considering the size of this essay, but I have been able to show how vague the borders between allegory, symbolism, and personal experiences really are. I have discussed all these three categories, notable in my discussions on the picture of England, the matter of orphanage, the Christ symbol, and Tolkien's own war experiences, and I must say that Tolkien makes use of all three of them in his works, intentionally or not.

There is a dramatic change in the character of the two hobbits, but as we have seen the changes are very different, and in both cases the Ring is to be blamed for it. Bilbo's development in The Hobbit is entirely positive. It is in fact because of the Ring that he becomes the brave and sensible hobbit we meet at the end of the story. He has gone through a considerable metamorphosis as we see an increase of self-confidence, a step towards full independence, and a fully developed sense of compassion and justice. We do not see the effects of the Ring on him until we read the opening chapters of The Lord of the Rings, and even then they are not as damaging to him as they are to his nephew. He has lied while possessing the Ring, which is supposed to be disastrous, and he has got away with it. Even in his last hour of possessing the Ring, he is able to perform a heroic act when he gives the Ring away of his own free will.

Frodo's development goes in the opposite direction. From the moment he is informed that the ring is the Ring, the deterioration of his character starts. He cannot, like Bilbo, function as an individual, but has to rely on his trustworthy companions, or in the case of Gollum, his untrustworthy companion. There are some moments when he rises from this deterioration, e.g. at the Council of Elrond, in Moria, or at Parth Galen, but in the end we see a hobbit-wreck that has lost the happiness and liveliness of his former self. He has suffered too much to be able to go on living in this world. Maybe the difference is in the knowledge of what the Ring really is. Bilbo knows nothing of its maker, and therefore the Ring allows Bilbo the possession without damaging him. Frodo's purpose, on the other hand, is to destroy it, something the Ring is aware of, and therefore it tries to break down the hobbit. In this discussion, it is important to see the Ring, not as an object, but as an extension of Sauron's mind and power.

As touched upon, The Hobbit's intended audience is children and therefore it is easy to give that as the reason for the different developments, but there are two reasons that speak against this. First, we have the Bilbo we meet in the sequel, but also The Hobbit itself. As Kocher points out, on the surface it seems to be a children's story, but there are so many situations in the novel that requires the reasoning of an adult. The plot works on two different levels of maturity, and even if a child understands and enjoys the book, there are situations that a child cannot possible grasp, e.g. the moral dilemma of the treasure after the death of Smaug, or the mercy and pity that Bilbo feels for Gollum (29-31). It is this ambiguity that makes it possible to trace Bilbo's development, as he adopts to the situations and conflicts he is involved in throughout the story.

In the end, I think most of the quest stories have their own little scheme, and it is very difficult to create a scheme that covers all instances of the romance. I am not saying that Tolkien is unique in his way of picturing the quest, even though I am sure he has added a few elements of his own, but he has been inspired from many different sources, so many in fact that there does not exist a scheme that covers the whole of his quests. To find such a scheme you have to create one of your own, one that applies to Tolkien in particular, and where you locate the different elements he uses in myth, religion, literature, criticism, and so forth, "but that quest may be for others" (LR 79).

Continue to: Works Cited

or go to the Table of Contents

What's New??

Site News

All Themes

Readers' Section
Fan Fiction

This Site
Welcome Page
Site News
Contact Us
Our Team

More ...
Tolkien Links

Barrow-Downs asserts no claim to art or works of fiction posted on this site. If the artist, author, owner or rights-holder of any content posted herein objects to the inclusion of such content on this site, please contact us at and such content will be removed. The opinions, statements and text posted in the forum and guestbook are those of the persons posting and not of the Barrow-Downs or its operators.