The Hobbit Symbols

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit', symbols are used to connect some treasured objects to bigger ideas, such as heroism, impunity, and greed. In this lesson, we will learn about some symbols that are used in this story about a gallant journey.

Creating Meaning from Things

Why are symbols used in literature? Symbols are characters or objects in a story that authors can use to convey a deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. Some of the symbols from J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Hobbit include Bilbo's sword, the ring, and the Arkenstone. Let's take a closer look.


Why would anyone name their sword? Throughout history and literature, some very special swords have been given names that represent their legendary status. Just as Charlemagne treasured his Joyeuse and King Arthur his Excalibur, some swords in The Hobbit stand apart.

Thorin and Gandalf obtain famous named swords from the trolls' lair that once belonged to the High Elves of the West. Thorin's sword, Orcrist, means Goblin-cleaver. Gandalf's sword, Glamdring, means Foe-hammer. Each of the named swords exemplify heroism and power of a mythical proportion. And when Bilbo kills the spider, the naming of his sword symbolizes his heroic transformation, as we learn in this passage:

'He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath. 'I will give you a name,' he said to it, 'and I shall call you Sting.''

The Ring

Another symbol from the novel is the ring, which is eventually featured in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for which The Hobbit is a prequel. When Bilbo finds the ring, he thinks nothing of it. Slipping it in his pocket, he nearly forgets it is there. It is not until Gollum begins to ask for it, calling it his 'birthday present,' that Bilbo realizes its worth. Tolkein writes, 'He wanted it because it was a ring of power, and if you slipped that ring on your finger, you were invisible; only in the full sunlight could you be seen, and then only by your shadow, and that would be shaky and faint.' The ring symbolizes impunity because it allows the bearer to take from the treasure room without being caught.

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