Exploring ‘The Hobbit’ Chapter 16: A Thief In The Night

What’s a good Hobbit to do when the returned king becomes a new dragon?
on Dec 4, 2014 · 1 comment


This chapter title alone makes The Hobbit a Christian book, because clearly Tolkien was thinking of Paul’s words about how Jesus would come as a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2).

Just kidding. Thanks to the good ol’ KJV, phrases like this also float about popular culture. But it’s fun to realize that the Bible has influenced culture so much that things like this occur by accident. That’s very true for The Hobbit, despite the misperception that J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle-earth tale is a simple children’s story.

But you will not find in The Hobbit any obvious Christ-figure, or hero’s journey, or even battles between good and evil. Only the dragon Smaug and the hordes of orcs are clearly evil. Once he’s gone, the story delves deep into the complex political relationships between Men, Elves, and Dwarves, to an extent not even seen in The Lord of the Rings.

And in the middle is one Hobbit whose share in the golden victory has been tarnished.

What’s a good Hobbit to do when the newly returned king becomes a replacement dragon? What would you do when you’re bound by contract to a trusted friend who goes mad?

thehobbitthebattleofthefivearmies_athiefinthenight2Chapter 16: A Thief in the Night

  1. This is the book’s shortest chapter. Do you think Tolkien meant something in making this chapter longer — perhaps to emphasize Bilbo’s decision to help the besiegers?
  2. In this short chapter, Bilbo makes many surprising and even controversial choices. What of his first choice to hide the Arkenstone from Thorin: right, wrong, or mixed?
  3. What do you make of Bilbo’s choice to sneak away from his Dwarf companions, to whom he has shown loyalty and who have now proven loyalty to him? What about Bilbo’s deception of Bombur, a good-natured Dwarf who hadn’t done him any harm?
  4. Things get worse: Bilbo has signed a contract with Thorin. So could we say that Bilbo is now breaking that contract? What of Thorin’s right by widely acknowledged law to be King Under the Mountain? Isn’t Bilbo choosing to violate the will of that king who has now reclaimed his kingdom? Is Tolkien, the author, supporting a notion that it’s okay to disobey authorities over you? Is he endorsing relativistic morality in this whole ordeal?
  5. The vital question is this: How do we think Biblically about rebel people and characters?
  6. (Similar issues.) In fiction: Luke Skywalker and others rebels from Star Wars fight the evil Empire. Heroes from the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series rebel against Fire Nation leaders (who are more like dictators). Even Christians in the Left Behind series fight the Antichrist. In nonfiction: Peter and John disobey the chief priests (Acts 4: 19-20); U.S. colonists fought King George and British rulers; and former members of a church sue that church in court because they say the church ignored ongoing abuse.
  7. Challenge: what makes “rebellion” right or wrong? (Hint: if it’s rebellion-for-its-own-sake, anything right about it is despite the rebellion, not because of it. If it’s “rebellion” based on obedience to higher authority, such as God’s Law or civil law, it is Biblical.)
  8. Based on this, how should we — including younger readers — view earthly authorities and God’s authority in reality? How should we view them in stories such as The Hobbit?
  9. Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Thorin’s enemies as a bargaining tool. Would you have done this, or would you have stood with Thorin to try persuading him, or tried to find another way out of this apparent conundrum? Could Bilbo have made a “pure” decision?
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. dmdutcher says:

    I think Bilbo fulfilled his contract once he got into Smaug’s lair. He was just sticking around for Thorin to pay up his end. As for  loyalty, well, in the book it was Bilbo going into Smaug’s cave alone. Time for him to “earn his keep” aka face the dragon. TBH Bilbo got used by people an awful lot in this book.

    The rebellion thing is a bit odd. What’s sort of annoying about The Hobbit is that Bilbo shouldn’t have had to steal the Arkenstone. I get the feeling that Gandalf is supposed to be sort of a king-making authority or like the old conception of a Christian Emperor. An authority over kings yet under God. I think normally rebellion is the last step when all other options have been exhausted in the pursuit of a morally right cause, and it would have been nice for Gandalf to finally pop in and do something about things like he did with Theoden in LOTR.

    I know Bilbo was only there because he was Gandalf’s unwitting agent, but he really wound up doing things above his pay grade. The little people suffer a lot in LOTR.


What do you think?