#ThereAndBackAgain Readalong

Tolkien’s Goblins, the Evil We Know

The Hobbit — Ch. 4. Over the Hill and Under the Hill — The goblins and the ‘common’ evil entering our life

JazzFeathers
Dec 11, 2019 · 4 min read

This is the chapter where things really get moving. So far, Tolkien has relied mostly on wit, dialogue and funny episodes to move the story along. In this chapter, we get some real adventure.

Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves are ambushed by goblins in the Mountains. They are captured (everyone but Gandalf), brought to the presence of the Great Goblin and almost killed. But — SPOILER! — they succeed in running away and leave the Mountain safely… all but Bilbo, that is.
It is an exciting chapter, one that keeps us going because of its pace. It’s the first time it happens in the story — though certainly, it won’t be the last.

But there is something at the beginning of the story that I love even more than the adventure: it’s the Stone-giants.
All that Tolkien says is that in the terrible storm over the Mountains, Stone-giants came out to play, hurling stones at one other.
They are so mysterious. There is so little that Tolkien tells us about them… which may well be the reason why I’m so intrigued. Stone-giants don’t appear in any other of Tolkien’s stories, but they remind me a lot of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings. Ents, after all, were meant to be giants at the beginning of the drafting of The Lord of the Rings, and always remained gigantic beings. Like the Stone-giants, Ents are semi-human manifestations of the power of Nature. And they are not necessarily good or evil. They just exist, normally detached and uninterested in the lives of humans and their friends.

The Voice of the Goblings

We don’t get a lot about the Stone-giants, but we do get a fair bit of goblins in this chapter. I suppose that Tolkien’s kids did love their goblins and so we get lots of them. LOL.

This chapter is particularly interesting because we don’t only get lots of goblins, but they get a voice as well, and this is the only place in the story where this happens.

We could say that Tolkien doesn’t often give voice to the evil.

We could say that. But I don’t think it is true.

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien gave voice to many villains as well as many grey-shaded characters. Morgoth gets his voice at the beginning of time, and particularly in The Children of Húrin, where we can read his dialogue with Húrin word by word. In the same story, we can read the words of who I find one of the most fascinating villains in the legendarium, Glaurung Father of Dragons.
We get to read and follow the deeds of Fëanor, of Celegorm and Curufin, of Maeglin, of the shady Dwarf Mîm. And could we forget the Second Age and Sauron’s story?

The goblins in The Hobbit are common people. Not princes, not great warriors, certainly not powerful wizards or magical beings, they are simple creatures that live their life

But there’s something special about the goblins in The Hobbit, a characteristic that will return in the goblins and orcs of The Lord of the Rings: they are common people. Not princes, not great warriors, certainly not powerful wizards or magical beings, they are simple creatures that live their life.

They appear as naughty boys mostly. A threat, sure, but a threat that can be overcome — and it is overcome, most of the time. And yet there’s malice to them that comes from afar. From a much more powerful being that can use their pettiness to do great evil.

In The Hobbit, although never mentioned, it is Sauron.

The goblins in this story never say anything about a higher will, but in their words always lingers that maleficent shadow that comes from afar. Even when they sound funny. And this is what I find more fascinating. The fact that Tolkien manages to make menacing something that is common, manageable, something that may be overcome, but sometimes it is not.

Tolkien manages to make menacing something that is common, manageable, something that may be overcome, but sometimes it is not

He brings the sense of wrong and evil down into everyday life. Not something that is far away and inscrutable. That’s where the origin may be, but what we see and face is its translation into everyday life and experience.

This is how I understand the voice of the goblins that we hear in this chapter. It’s the voice that speaks to us every day. The voice that confronts us. And that we have a chance at countering and even defeating with the strength that we have.

Sarah Zama is a Tolkien nerd and proud of it. She read The Hobbit the first time as a teenager and was a Tolkien fan years before Peter Jackson’s trilogy ever hit the theatres. She’s always been involved with Tolkien groups, both online and in person. In 2004, she founded a Tolkien group in her city, Verona (Italy), which is still meeting and divulging the Professor’s work. In 2017, she started reading Tolkien’s work with a group of other nerdy readers, one chapter a day. They are still on the road together.

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JazzFeathers

Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

Middle-earth Literary Gazette

Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The places and characters. The stories. Searching for their deeper meaning.

JazzFeathers

Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

Middle-earth Literary Gazette

Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The places and characters. The stories. Searching for their deeper meaning.

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