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10 reasons why The Hobbit’s chapter 5 is the best ever

The HobbitI’m currently reading The Hobbit to the seven-year-old before bedtime. Last night, we read the chapter where Bilbo Baggins meets Gollum deep inside the goblins’ mountain. I think it’s chapter five.

I’m going to stick my head out here but that chapter is probably one of the best chapters ever written. (I haven’t read The Hobbit since I was at school so I’m revisiting my childhood at the moment.)

1) It’s the chapter where Bilbo starts to come into his own. He goes on alone through the tunnels, he confounds Gollum with riddles, and escapes past the goblin guards.

2) The majority of the chapter takes place in darkness except for the glow of Bilbo’s elvish sword and the light from the open door in the side of the mountain at the end. This forces Tolkien to put everything into the development of Bilbo and the introduction of evil Gollum. The author can only describe blackness for so long so the dialogue suddenly seems so much more interesting.

3) Both the riddle exchange and Bilbo running for his life is very exciting. My daughter jumped up and ran around the room with her hands over her ears as Bilbo legged it down the tunnel with Gollum in pursuit.

4) It’s the chapter that kicks off all the business about the rings, so it’s basically the chapter that defines Tolkien’s writing career.

5) Gollum is a fascinating creation. We learn a lot about him in a short period of time and yet we don’t even discover what he actually is. He’s evil and yet Bilbo feels sorry for him. He used to live by a riverbank and have friends, and now he hunts blind fish and goblins inside a mountain.

6) Gollum’s method of speech – he talks to himself, he talks in the third person, he hisses, he’s obsessive – is intriguing. We all know that people who talk about themselves in the third person are weird and should be avoided at all costs.

7) The chapter changes the direction of the book’s narrative (for the better too). Suddenly, we have Bilbo taking the lead and no longer meekly following Gandalf or the dwarves.

8) You almost can’t lose by introducing an invisibility device into an adventure story. Heck, we’d all love to slip on a magic ring or Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, and be invisible for a day so we can hear what people are really saying about us.

9) It’s not too long and not overly complex – ideal for a young reader.

10) I badly want to read the next chapter to see what happens.

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