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What if Bilbo had been caught by the goblins?

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There was a tense scene where he had to break his waist coat in order to get out. But what if he was a trifle fatter and couldn't get out? Would the goblins kill him (he's a hobbit, something they probably don't even know what it is, and not a dwarf)? Would they know what the Ring was and take it back to Sauron?
 

Merroe

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Just to clarify further the first sentence from SES (I remember that it has been mentioned before, quite recently): the Ring was just a ring... at the time TH was written. LotR would add a huge importance to that ring, but was written much later.

Sauron does not exist in TH unless as a "necromancer" whose existential reason in the TH tale was merely to offer a good reason for Gandalf to leave and let Bilbo take care of himself for a while.

The LotR starting point were those two handles: the Necromancer and the ring (sorry, Ring); at least, that's how I see it!
 

Thistle Bunce

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There is a hint that the Ring might be something more..."Whether it was an accident, or a last trick of the ring before it took a new master, it was not on his finger." (Ch 5, TH). From our vantage point (post-trilogy), we are far more informed about the Ring and all it entails, and must wonder why the Ring would WANT to play a trick on its "new master." Wasn't it eager to get moving about Middle-earth again? Tired of holing up with only Gollum for company? Without access to a 'missed connection' column in the local paper, how would a round bit of metal hook up with its BFF again? Obviously something had to move the Ring around, it wouldn't just sprout legs and walk into Mordor...

So why this last trick, which would put the Ring's mission (as we now understand it to be) at jeopardy of ending in a goblin cookpot? Just some dramatic misdirection on Tolkien's part? Remember, he had already introduced the Ring as something more than just cold metal, as he detailed the deleterious effects of Ring Possession on Gollum: "Gollum used to wear it at first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock on his island, and was always going back to look at it." (Ch 5, TH)

Gollum had planned to lead Frodo and Sam into Shelob's lair, and recover the Ring after she had thrown it out with their other bits of baggage. He was capable of planning ahead, at least that far. Why wouldn't he, lurking in the shadows, have been ready, willing and able to try and recover the Ring from any goblin who managed to get it from Bilbo? Whether or not he would eat the new Ring-bearer is a matter of conjecture, but his willingness to attack goblins (at least the little ones) is documented. So if the goblins HAD captured Bilbo, the Ring would still be mired underground, whether with Gollum again, a hapless goblin, or just lying in the dark, dreaming of the day when it could see the sun again. OK - that's a bit of a stretch, but even within the pages of The Hobbit, Tolkien allowed us to see that this Ring was unique, powerful, and not to be taken lightly.
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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The answer to your question about the "last trick" will require some thought, of which I have a limited supply, but I will point out that this passage entered in the 1951 revision; in the original 1937 edition Bilbo was not wearing the ring when he encountered the goblins. The reason for this is because, in the original story, Gollum, having lost the Riddle Game, was keeping his part of the bargain, and showing Bilbo the way out. In the original story, the passage runs like this:

Bilbo blinked, and then he suddenly saw the goblins: goblins in full armour with drawn swords sitting just inside the the door, and watching it with wide eyes, and the passage that led to it! They saw him sooner than he saw them, and with yells of delight they rushed upon him.

Whether it was accident or presence of mind, I don't know. Accident, I think, because the hobbit was not used yet to his new treasure. Anyway he slipped the ring on his left hand -- and the goblins stopped short. They could not see a sign of him. Then they yelled twice as loud as before, but not so delightedly.

So the change was made to accommodate the change in the significance of the Ring: the development of the story in LOTR meant that Gollum could never have just given it away . Therefore, rather than showing Bilbo the way out, he must be pursuing him (or so he thought). And to avoid him, Bilbo must be wearing the ring.

But as I say, this doesn't answer the question of why the "trick". At a guess, I'd say that Tolkien already had the exciting spectacle of being seen by the goblins present in the text, and wanted to retain it; after all, the intensity of the scene would have been lessened if Bilbo had simply tip-toed past the goblins and slipped out, even with the button business. He may not have thought out the full implications of the ring "playing a trick".
 

Thistle Bunce

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*Bowing* Many thanks for the clarification of the difference between the editions. Now the comments about it being 'only a ring' make more sense. Something else I was not aware of. (Among about a jillion other things ;)).

Pure speculation here. but perhaps while in the throes of 'revision fever', Tolkien was unconsciously characterizing the ring as he had drawn it up for LOTR - as something that would be mischievous at the least opportune time. Gandalf warns Frodo of this:
"Though he had found out that the thing needed looking after; it did not seem always of the same size or weight; it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight.' (Ch2, Fellowship of the Ring) In that spirit, a last trick would be something 'expected' of that particular ring, and so he included it.
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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*Bowing in return* Good catch (again).

And another good guess! :)

If you have the Letters, Number 109 is of interest, concerning the changes.
 
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There is a hint that the Ring might be something more..."Whether it was an accident, or a last trick of the ring before it took a new master, it was not on his finger." (Ch 5, TH). From our vantage point (post-trilogy), we are far more informed about the Ring and all it entails, and must wonder why the Ring would WANT to play a trick on its "new master." Wasn't it eager to get moving about Middle-earth again? Tired of holing up with only Gollum for company? Without access to a 'missed connection' column in the local paper, how would a round bit of metal hook up with its BFF again? Obviously something had to move the Ring around, it wouldn't just sprout legs and walk into Mordor...

So why this last trick, which would put the Ring's mission (as we now understand it to be) at jeopardy of ending in a goblin cookpot? Just some dramatic misdirection on Tolkien's part? Remember, he had already introduced the Ring as something more than just cold metal, as he detailed the deleterious effects of Ring Possession on Gollum: "Gollum used to wear it at first, till it tired him; and then he kept it in a pouch next his skin, till it galled him; and now usually he hid it in a hole in the rock on his island, and was always going back to look at it." (Ch 5, TH)

Gollum had planned to lead Frodo and Sam into Shelob's lair, and recover the Ring after she had thrown it out with their other bits of baggage. He was capable of planning ahead, at least that far. Why wouldn't he, lurking in the shadows, have been ready, willing and able to try and recover the Ring from any goblin who managed to get it from Bilbo? Whether or not he would eat the new Ring-bearer is a matter of conjecture, but his willingness to attack goblins (at least the little ones) is documented. So if the goblins HAD captured Bilbo, the Ring would still be mired underground, whether with Gollum again, a hapless goblin, or just lying in the dark, dreaming of the day when it could see the sun again. OK - that's a bit of a stretch, but even within the pages of The Hobbit, Tolkien allowed us to see that this Ring was unique, powerful, and not to be taken lightly.
More to my point, is that the goblins are supposed to be loyal to Sauron. It's possible that, much like the mere force of Suaron summoning evil, including Gollum to Mordor, after his rise to power sometime after his "defeat" at the Battle of Dol Guldor, that the goblin with the Ring would have been drawn to Mordor and presented it to Sauron.

The question I was more wondering is if Bilbo would have smooth-talked his way out of being captured (after all, the goblins were more angry at the dwarves than hobbits, unless they were the descendants of the goblin that the Bullroarer killed, then they'd REALLY hate Bilbo because of what his ancestor did.) At any rate, he may be able to persuade them by promising them a bunch of the gold (which they probably knew more about the amount of it than Bilbo!) if they let him go.

Heck, they may have given them tools to help whack Smaug (Perhaps they wanted the dwarven treasure for themselves and Smaug was in the way. Plus, I think Smaug would eat orcs and goblins just as well as men, dwarves, and hobbits if he could get his claws on them. Also, while they could attack Dain from the Grey Mountains, Dain would probably expect it. What he would NOT expect was an attack from Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains due to the Desolation of Smaug being in the way. So the goblins might actually agree with the quest, even aiding Bilbo, perhaps filling his head with information, true and maybe not so true, about the dwarves, that may get him to not stick with them once Smaug fell. Of course, the goblins would no doubt betray Bilbo later if he kept with the dwarves after Smaug's death.)

On the other hand, they might kill him on the spot for his pals having Beater and Biter and for him himself having a Gondolin dagger in his possession, and to avenge the death of the Great Goblin which, during the book at least, Bilbo was present during that event.

At any event, if Bilbo left alive with the Ring (though maybe they'd have taken Sting from him, which would have proven ill for him later in the forest with the spiders), the story could have still played out mostly the same.
 

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