Considered highly original at its time of publication, having revitalized the modern fantasy genre and drawn from themes from Beowulf and other early fantastic works, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit can be used by teachers to introduce students to varying aspects of that genre. At the same time, it can provoke discussion on the role of the past in current affairs; Tolkien’s characters certainly are informed by their history, and his objections to industrialization can be seen in the text’s elevation of the natural world. In reading the novel, students can relate to Bilbo Baggins, an unassuming and reluctant hero served only by wits, common sense, and a magic ring.

Bilbo Baggins can also be examined alongside other heroic figures, such as Bard and Thorin, to prompt discussion on the heroic archetype and the role of morality in the work. As the characters are first dominated by the greedy dragon Smaug, only to find themselves caught in a property dispute after its death in danger of turning into a full-blown war, teachers can connect the literary material to the historical context of a post-World War I publication. Finally, the casting and shifting alliances of the fantastic beings, from elves to goblins, as well as the associations drawn from scholars between the dwarves and the Semitic Jews, can incite debate on Tolkien’s influence on later fantastic works in matters of representation.

Learn more about teaching The Hobbit below.

Summary of The Hobbit

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1937
  • Length: 306 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1000
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

A hobbit named Bilbo Baggins reluctantly joins a dwarven quest to steal back the dwarven treasure from the dragon Smaug. Initially overwhelmed by the traveling conditions alone, Bilbo gains independence as he “wins” a magic ring that can turn him invisible and is twice forced into the role of rescuer of the dwarves. Finally arriving at Smaug’s lair, Bilbo is inadvertently thrown into a harrowing conversation with the dragon himself that results in an attack on the nearby town. Although Smaug is defeated, the conflict only escalates as elves and humans come looking for compensation, only to be flatly denied by the dwarven leader, Thorin. Struggling with his longing for home, his loyalty to his friends, and his distaste for violence, Bilbo must make a gambit with the Heart of the Mountain and see whether it makes any difference in the end.

What Your Students Will Love About The Hobbit

  • The extraordinary fantasy and adventure mixed with universal themes
  • The relatable characteristics of the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins

Potential Student Struggles With The Hobbit

  • The dense, descriptive passages
  • Understanding Tolkien’s complex mythology

Learning Objectives for The Hobbit

  • Differentiate among Bilbo, Thorin, and Bard as heroic figures, highlighting both their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Elucidate Tolkien’s use of fantasy in response to war, socioeconomic divide, and industrialization.
  • Offer examples of narrative omniscience and how they influence the tone in different ways.
  • Discuss the role of nature and family in influencing character behavior.
  • Recall Bilbo’s home, identifying which of its characteristic traits are praised or criticized by the narration.

Literary Elements in The Hobbit

  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Metaphor
  • Narrative Omniscience
  • Setting
  • Symbol
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Hobbit

Community — Individual leaders are shown to be at least partially motivated by the needs of their larger community. The vices of individuals, like pride and greed, have devastating effects on entire groups, and the lines demarcating one community from another are renegotiated in response to a crisis.

Related Works:

Power — In response to the dangers faced during their travels, the protagonists must rely on wits, stealth, and other means of accomplishing their goals. Furthermore, the main protagonist defies conventional heroic tropes not only in being considerably unintimidating, but also in choosing if and how to exercise what power he possesses.

Related Works:

Nature — Many of the characters’ personalities are determined by species or by familial traits. Furthermore, those species or characters more attuned to the physical environment are generally shown as less likely to engage in rash or wasteful behaviors.

Related Works:

Other Resources for The Hobbit

Order The Hobbit Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Hobbit Paperback Student Edition
The Hobbit Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Hobbit Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Hobbit Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Hobbit Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in January 2015. It has been updated as of July 2019.