Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter IV – Over Hill and Under Hill

Welcome to There and Back Again: A Journey Through Middle Earth – an indefinite season of all things Tolkien here at Books by Proxy. Join me as I make my journey through the most defining literature of my childhood, and unravel the details behind one of the most spectacular fantasy worlds ever made.


| Introduction |

Welcome to the (very late) fourth post of Chapter and Verse! This is a brand new feature where I will be re-reading and analysing every chapter of The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien as part of my indefinite There and Back Again season.

If anyone wishes to join in with the re-read, please feel free to do so – the comments are open to anything and all things Tolkien. And for those of you yet to discover The Hobbit, there will be spoilers a-plenty throughout these posts.

The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

| Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill |

Following their departure from Rivendell, the company find their journey taking them up rocky, dangerous passes in a slow and weary climb across the Misty Mountains. Though the going is hard, it remains uneventful until they cross paths with a thunderstorm, which brings tremendous winds and rain to the mountain-path. Fearing for their safety, Thorin sends Fili and Kili out in search of shelter.

Upon their return, they bring tidings of a dry and unoccupied cave in which the company and their ponies could spend the night. After a thorough exploration Gandalf is satisfied, and the company settle down for the night, talking until they drift off to sleep.

Bilbo dreams that a crack in the wall appears and grows bigger and bigger until the floor gives way and he falls down. Waking up in a fright, he realises his dream was in part true. A crack had appeared in the back of the cave and, as he watches the last of the ponies’ tails disappear through it, goblins begin pouring in to attack the startled dwarves.

In a flash of light, Gandalf attacks the goblins, only to find the crack snapping closed with the dwarves and Bilbo on the other side. They are captured by the goblins who march them through the tangle of passages to the heart of the mountain, singing and clattering as they go.

The company find themselves in a large cavern, where a terrible and huge goblin is enthroned. After no small amount of questioning, the goblins’ tempers are ignited by the revelation of Orcrist, Thorin’s elven sword. The great goblin rushes at Thorin, but Gandalf intervenes to rescue them, slaying the great goblin in the process.

With Gandalf as their guide, the company set off through the tunnels of the mountain with the goblins hard on their heels. After fending off a direct attack from their pursuers, the goblins change tactic and sneak up on the company, knocking Bilbo off Dori’s shoulders where he bumps his head and remembers nothing more.

| Commentary |

Chapter IV certainly picks up the pace of the story, throwing the company headfirst into a dangerous adventure in the heart of the Misty Mountains where their first encounter with goblins gives the somewhat unprepared group an indication of dangers to come.

Following directly from their departure from Rivendell, the description of the company’s ascent into the mountains and the revelation that the surrounding country had grown evil, presents a stark contrast to their encounter with Elrond in The Last Homely House. Accompanying a now sombre group, it can be assumed that their is little civilisation in these parts, with very few travellers, except Gandalf, crossing what is considered to be dangerous and wild country.

“The nights were comfortless and chill, and they did not dare to sing or talk too loud, for the echoes were uncanny, and the silence seemed to dislike being broken – except by the noise of water and the wail of wind and the crack of stone.” 

Over Hill and Under Hill reveals the existence of several strange and new creatures, such as the stone-giants who “were hurling rocks at one another for a game” during the thunderstorm in the mountains, and latterly the goblins of the Misty Mountains who “are cruel, wicked and bad-hearted”. These confrontations give an indication of the many unusual, and often dangerous, beings inhabiting Middle Earth.

The goblins, who seem a little more advanced and cultured than their The Lord of the Rings counterparts, are described as being very similar, in certain aspects, to the dwarves. With a preference for living in caves, and for making weapons and building machinery, they are shown as quite an intelligent species, if predisposed to evil.

Bilbo is given a meek and scared appearance throughout this chapter, where he is often referred to as “poor little Bilbo” and has to be dragged around and carried throughout much of it. However, during the company’s initial encounter with the goblins in the mountain cave, Bilbo manages to save the day by warning Gandalf in time of the impending danger, allowing him to escape.

During this scene we are also given an indication of Gandalf’s power beyond the magic tricks previously displayed, whereby he produces a “terrific flash like lightning in the cave” which strikes several of the goblins dead. Similarly, during his rescue of the company from the great goblin he turns the great fire into “a tower of blue glowing smoke, right up to the roof, that scattered piercing white sparks all among the goblins” which “were burning holes” into their flesh, driving them into frenzied madness.

The powers of the elven swords are also revealed when Gandalf draws Glamdring against his foes, which “burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about” and was “bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave”. However the dwarves are yet to earn their warrior credentials having only once drawn a weapon against their foes.

Chapter IV: Over Hill and Underhill is an exciting chapter which introduces one of the chief threats to peace in Middle Earth – the goblins. Fast-paced, with more than a little threat to drive the plot, we are given a chapter which truly sets the scene for the rest of the novel.

What did you think of the company’s adventure through the mountains? Please leave a comment below!

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10 thoughts on “Chapter + Verse – The Hobbit: Chapter IV – Over Hill and Under Hill

  1. I’m glad you mentioned one of the most interesting things about this chapter: the stone giants. I’ve seen it argued that there weren’t really giants and the language here is just figurative, but I don’t see how you get from the text to that interpretation. And Gandalf later comments that he needs to recruit a decent giant to seal up the very cave featured in this chapter.

    The Hobbit is a smaller story, but it is absolutely as packed with worldbuilding as Lord of the Rings, including many things that don’t make it into that narrative–giants, skinchangers, dragons–but that make it richer nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can only imagine it would be from referring to the mountains themselves as ‘stone giants’ but The Hobbit is quite literal so I’m not sure why he’d suddenly mix in a non-explicit metaphor!

      I completely agree – the worldbuilding is every bit as beautiful and expansive and I think the quaint descriptions give it its own special kind of magic 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes – I think we also need to remember that The Hobbit was originally intended as a children’s book and I think some of the wording and descriptions were specifically aimed at that audience – not that he writes down, far from it – but he certainly writes differently to the subsequent series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh definitely – and I think it works brilliantly because of how it’s written. I absolutely love the humour in the narration and how endearingly Bilbo is portrayed. The descriptions are also far more beautiful in The Hobbit than they’re given credit for – because of subsequent works – but it’s always wonderful to go back and rediscover them!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to see how Bilbo, at this point, still thinks much about the comforts of home, especially after leaving behind the last respite represented by Elrond’s house. And yet, when push comes to shove, our comfort-loving Hobbit is able to show his mettle: with hindsight, it’s indeed a foreshadowing of the Hobbits’ inner strength and resiliency.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find the meek and wistful characterisation of Bilbo incredibly endearing. I’ve never found another literary character that I feel so much instant affection for or feel so protective over. I feel a little like a Gandalf in my regard for Hobbits… but perhaps that was the intention all along! And, as you say, it also serves to really show his bravery and his inner strength when confronted with such terrifying situations.

      Liked by 1 person

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