The stories surrounding Bilbo Baggins’ adventures are numerous and it would take us a while to list and analyse all of them, not even including all the questions and dilemmas that are present in them. Still, we at Fiction Horizon have decided to approach these stories one at a time and give you an insight into Bilbo’s most interesting adventures and answer the questions you might have about them. Today’s topic is going to be a detail from the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum in the depths of the Misty Mountains. That encounter was certainly one of the more interesting events of The Hobbit and we have decided to explain to you how exactly Gollum guessed that Bilbo had the Ring on his person while they were playing their game of riddles. If you want to know, keep reading!
Before we give you the answer, we are going to explain how exactly Bilbo ended up in the inner caves of the Misty Mountains and how he actually encountered Gollum. You’re going to find out what game they played and how that game ended, i.e., why Gollum was so enraged at Bilbo, despite Bilbo not having any malicious intentions towards the wretched creature. Today’s article promises to be an interesting one, so keep reading until the end!
How did Bilbo meet Gollum?
When Thorin, Bilbo, Gandalf and the rest of the company leave Rivendell, they decided to cross the Misty Mountains. There, they witnessed the distant fight of giants before taking shelter in what seemed to be an ordinary cave. Yet, while in that cave, they were captured by the goblins; Dori, who was carrying Bilbo, was grabbed by a Goblin and in the ensuing struggle, Bilbo lost consciousness and was left in the darkness of the cave, abandoned by his companions. In The Hobbit, these events were chronicled in Chapter V, “Riddles in the Dark”, and that’s where Tolkien wrote about the circumstances surrounding Bilbo’s dark awakening.
As he was walking in the darkness of the goblins’ caves, he stumbled upon Gollum’s lair, where the wretched creature confronted him. In the original version of The Hobbit, Gollum was a relatively benevolent character who challenged Bilbo to a game of riddles, offering the Hobbit both the Ring and a way out if he won; when Bilbo won, Gollum fulfilled his side of the deal and showed the Hobbit the way out of the caves. Later, though, Tolkien had to edit the original version to fit his description of the Ring’s manipulative powers from The Lord of the Rings, so the Gollum was portrayed as a wretched creature completely dependent on the Ring, a creature that would not relinquish control over it for anything in the world. In this version, Gollum only pretended that he would show Bilbo the way out if he lost the riddle-game, but he actually planned to use the Ring to kill and eat the Hobbit. So what happened next?
What were Bilbo’s riddles for Gollum?
The whole encounter, including the game, was – as we said – described in Chapter V of The Hobbit, and this is how Tolkien portrayed the riddle-game between Bilbo and Gollum in the later, revised edition of the novel:
“A sword, a blade which came out of Gondolin!” “Sssss” said Gollum, and became quite polite. “Praps ye sits here and chats with it a bitsy, my preciousss. It likes riddles, praps it does, does it?” (…) “Very well,” said Bilbo, who was anxious to agree, until he found out more about the creature, whether he was quite alone, whether he was fierce or hungry, and whether he was a friend of the goblins.
“You ask first,” he said, because he had not had time to think of a riddle.
So Gollum hissed:
What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?
“Easy!” said Bilbo. “Mountain, I suppose.” “Does it guess easy? It must have a competition with us, my preciouss! If precious asks, and it doesn’t answer, we eats it, my preciousss. If it asks us, and we doesn’t answer, then we does what it wants, eh? We shows it the way out, yes!” “All right!” said Bilbo, not daring to disagree, and nearly bursting his brain to think of riddles that could save him from being eaten.
Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.
That was all he could think of to ask-the idea of eating was rather on his mind. It was rather an old one, too, and Gollum knew the answer as well as you do. “Chestnuts, chestnuts,” he hissed. “Teeth! teeth! my preciousss; but we has only six!” Then he asked his second:
Voiceless it cries,
“Half a moment!” cried Bilbo, who was still thinking uncomfortably about eating. Fortunately he had once heard something rather like this before, and getting his wits back he thought of the answer. “Wind, wind of course,” he said, and he was so pleased that he made up one on the spot. “This’ll puzzle the nasty little underground creature,” he thought:
An eye in a blue face
Saw an eye in a green face.
“That eye is like to this eye”
Said the first eye,
“But in low place
Not in high place.”
(…) “Sss, sss, my preciouss,” he said. “Sun on the daisies it means, it does.” But these ordinary above ground everyday sort of riddles were tiring for him. Also they reminded him of days when he had been less lonely and sneaky and nasty, and that put him out of temper. What is more they made him hungry; so this time he tried something a bit more difficult and more unpleasant:
It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.
Unfortunately for Gollum Bilbo had heard that sort of thing before; and the answer was all round him any way. “Dark!” he said without even scratching his head or putting on his thinking cap.
A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid,
he asked to gain time, until he could think of a really hard one. This he thought a dreadfully easy chestnut, though he had not asked it in the usual words. But it proved a nasty poser for Gollum. He hissed to himself, and still he did not answer; he whispered and spluttered. After some while Bilbo became impatient. (…) But suddenly Gollum remembered thieving from nests long ago, and sitting under the river bank teaching his grandmother, teaching his grandmother to suck-“Eggses!” he hissed. “Eggses it is!” Then he asked:
Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.
“Ugh!” he said, “it is cold and clammy!”-and so he guessed. “Fish! fish!” he cried. “It is fish!” Gollum was dreadfully disappointed; but Bilbo asked another riddle as quick as ever he could, so that Gollum had to get back into his boat and think. No-legs lay on one-leg, two-legs sat near on three-legs, four-legs got some. It was not really the right time for this riddle, but Bilbo was in a hurry. Gollum might have had some trouble guessing it, if he had asked it at another time. As it was, talking of fish, “no-legs” was not so very difficult, and after that the rest was easy. “Fish on a little table, man at table sitting on a stool, the cat has the bones” that of course is the answer, and Gollum soon gave it. Then he thought the time had come to ask something hard and horrible. This is what he said:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
Poor Bilbo sat in the dark thinking of all the horrible names of all the giants and ogres he had ever heard told of in tales, but not one of them had done all these things. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought to know it, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking. Gollum began to get out of his boat. He flapped into the water and paddled to the bank; Bilbo could see his eyes coming towards him. His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth; he wanted to shout out: “Give me more time! Give me time!” But all that came out with a sudden squeal was: “Time! Time!”
Bilbo was saved by pure luck. For that of course was the answer. Gollum was disappointed once more; and now he was getting angry, and also tired of the game. It had made him very hungry indeed. This time he did not go back to the boat. He sat down in the dark by Bilbo. That made the hobbit most dreadfully uncomfortable and scattered his wits. “It’s got to ask uss a quesstion, my preciouss, yes, yess, yesss. Jusst one more question to guess, yes, yess,” said Gollum. (…) Bilbo pinched himself and slapped himself; he gripped on his little sword; he even felt in his pocket with his other hand. There he found the ring he had picked up in the passage and forgotten about. “What have I got in my pocket?” he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.– The Hobbit, Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark
How did Gollum realise Bilbo had the Ring?
When Bilbo asked his final riddle, Gollum was enraged, as he thought that the riddle was unfair; from his perspective, there was no way he could’ve known what was in Bilbo’s pocket. The Gollum took his time, but after a while, Bilbo forced him to give an answer, but Gollum demanded three guesses, which Bilbo ultimately accepted. Gollum tried with Bilbo’s hands, a knife and the last answer which was “String, or nothing!”, but all of them were wrong. And so, Gollum lost the game and Bilbo insisted on him keeping his promise.
Although Gollum seemingly agreed, he had no intention of letting Bilbo go, until – at one point – he realised his Ring was missing. He became completely mad, confusing Bilbo, as the latter had not known neither that the Ring he had was Gollum’s, nor that it was that valuable. While crying in a paranoid fit, Gollum realised that Bilbo’s riddle might have referred to the Ring and he demanded to know the answer to Bilbo’s last riddle, growing very suspicious of the Hobbit and his behaviour. Bilbo wanted to know that Gollum had lost, but the creature insisted and Bilbo decided to act.
How did Bilbo trick Gollum?
Not knowing what would happen, Bilbo put the Ring on his finger and disappeared, as per the Ring’s magical ability. As Gollum wandered around the cave, looking for Bilbo, the Hobbit was confused as he was not aware that he had disappeared thanks to the Ring. Gollum thought that Bilbo was on his way out of the caves – he even though that Bilbo knew the exit all along and that he was just there to steal the Ring – and decided to meet him there, a fact Bilbo used to his own advantage. He followed Gollum to the exit and then slipped away unnoticed, tricking Gollum. As he was leaving, he heard the Gollum crying out: “Thief, Thief, Thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!” For a better presentation of the scene, here’s how it all went down in Jackson’s movie:
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!