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Riddles in the Dark

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The Hobbit chapters
  1. An Unexpected Party
  2. Roast Mutton
  3. A Short Rest
  4. Over Hill and Under Hill
  5. Riddles in the Dark
  6. Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire
  7. Queer Lodgings
  8. Flies and Spiders
  9. Barrels Out of Bond
  10. A Warm Welcome
  11. On the Doorstep
  12. Inside Information
  13. Not at Home
  14. Fire and Water
  15. The Gathering of the Clouds
  16. A Thief in the Night
  17. The Clouds Burst
  18. The Return Journey
  19. The Last Stage

Riddles in the Dark is the 5th chapter in The Hobbit.


Second Edition

After waking up in the dark goblin tunnels, Bilbo discovers that he was all alone. He fumbles about on all fours, and he soon finds a little metal ring, which he puts into his pocket almost without thinking. Through searching his pockets, he finds the dagger he had found in the troll hoard, and discovers by its pale glow that it too was an Elvish blade, and that goblins are around, but not close enough to worry about. He decides that his only choice is to go forward, so he travels down the goblin tunnel.

Bilbo's way is soon obstructed by an icy pool in the path, but before he could collect his wits, he is met by Gollum, a dark creature, living down in the pool, who used his luminous eyes to catch fish, and always talked to himself, calling himself "my precious". He thought Bilbo might make a tasty treat, but he didn't want to attack while Bilbo was carrying a weapon. To gain time, he challenges Bilbo to a game of riddles, with very dangerous terms: if Gollum asked a riddle Bilbo could not answer, he would have to allow himself to be eaten. However, if Bilbo asked a riddle Gollum could not answer, he promised to show the hobbit the way out. Seeing that he had no choice, Bilbo agrees, and the two exchange several riddles, each getting harder and harder. At last, Bilbo is unable to think of a riddle, though Gollum presses him to ask just one more. Feeling about his pockets, he finds the ring he had found earlier and had forgotten about, and asks out loud to himself, "What have I got in my pocket?". Gollum is outraged, thinking it is a riddle, so Bilbo chooses it as his last riddle. Gollum guesses wrong three times, and is now forced to show Bilbo the way out.

However, years in the darkness had blackened Gollum's heart and made him sneaky. He asks Bilbo to be patient; he has to get necessary supplies, a "birthday present", as he said. As he paddles off, Bilbo thinks Gollum was not going to come back, but he is wrong. Away on the island in the middle of the lake on which he lived, Gollum kept something very precious: a magic, gold ring. Wearing it made the user invisible, and he often used it when he wanted to eat goblin instead of fish. With it, Gollum would be able to strike Bilbo without him knowing what had hit him. However, when Gollum returns to his cave, he finds that the ring has disappeared. His blood-curdling shriek sends shudders down Bilbo's spine, though he is not sure what was happening. Getting annoyed at the delay, and though Gollum pleads that he had to keep searching, Bilbo reminds him that he had never answered his last riddle. Suddenly, Gollum's mind jumps to a suspicious guess, and he demands the answer to Bilbo's ridde. He speeds back toward the shore, ready to murder the hobbit and reclaim his "precious".

Realizing that he is in danger, Bilbo runs back up the tunnel and puts his hand in his pocket, the ring slipping onto his finger. He trips on a snag and falls, but Gollum passed him, much to his surprise. Quietly, he listens to Gollum cursing Bilbo and now guessing that he had found his "birthday present". Through his talk, Bilbo deduces that Gollum's "precious" was a magic ring that made the wearer invisible, but Gollum did not think Bilbo knew what it did, and was "tricksy", saying that he did not know the way out, but knew a way in, so he must be off to the "back door". Gollum quickly runs off to head him off, Bilbo following quietly behind. Gollum stops at a low opening, but the loathsome creature stops right there, because he could sense goblins. To make matters worse, he is now aware that Bilbo might have been behind him, and ready for an attempt at escape. Bilbo, frantic to escape, thinks of stabbing Gollum and killing him, but when he considered how miserable the creature really was, he was moved to pity. Instead of killing him, he leaps over his head before Gollum could snatch at him. As he speeds off, Gollum's rage-filled cries echoes: "Thief! Thief! Baggins! We hates it! We hates it forever!"

At the end of the tunnel, Bilbo is relieved to see real sunlight, but forgets his joy when he sees armored goblins watching the giant door it came through, and somehow, the ring has slipped off his finger and made him visible. Before they could catch him, he puts it back on and vanishes. As the angry goblins frantically search for him, he slips past them and reaches the door, but it was only open a crack. He tries to squeeze through, but he got his buttons caught in the space between the door and door-post. The goblins spot his shadow, but before they cann catch him, Bilbo tears loose, ripping his buttons off, and allowing him to hurry out of the tunnels and back into the open. Bilbo had escaped out of the Misty Mountains!

First Edition

"...there is much else that may be told." — Glóin
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