The dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf flee from the Cavern of the Great Goblin. Bilbo wakes from being knocked unconcious and finds himself completely on his own. As he crawls along the tunnel, he feels something cold under his hands - the One Ring. Having no idea of its importance, he places it in his pocket and continues (after succumbing to a bout of misery), to move forwards and downwards noticing numerous passages heading off to either side until he finally arrives at a large underground lake.
Introducing Gollum. Gollum was a carnivore and lived on a small island in the middle of the lake. He fed largely on fish and occasionally goblin. Gollum always spoke to himself, possibly as a consequence of living for so long alone.
"And when he said Gollum, he made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself 'my precious'." (J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit).
Sidenote: Douglas Anderson in "The Annotated Hobbit" states that "gull" in old Norse meant gold and was often spelled "goll". Gollum may have meant "gold, treasure, something precious". It can also mean "ring". This may in part explain why Gollum calls himself "precious".
On discovering Bilbo in his cave, Gollum decides to find out more about him, and whether he is good to eat. He decides to challenge Bilbo to a contest of riddles and offers to show him the way out if he wins (if he loses, Gollum will eat him). In the first edition of 1937, Gollum offers him a present.
Riddles occurred in old English Poetry and had a significant literary tradition. They were derived partly from Anglo-Saxon literatary works (Aldhelm 639-709). Aldhelm was inspired by the works of a latin poet, Symphosius. Examples of riddles can be found in Old Norse and ancient Greek works.
The technique of the riddle is to refer obliquely to the subject by using figurative language. The Riddle Game is a contest of wit and skill. The person who cannot answer loses. Riddle games occur frequently in mythology.
In chapter 5 therefore, Bilbo and Gollum have a riddle contest which reflects Tolkien's interest in old literary forms.
"What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than the trees,
Up,up it goes
And yet never grows"
"Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still"
"Voiceless it cries,
"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 a low place
Not in a high place"
"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 and kills laughter."
"A box without hinges, key or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid"
Alive without breath,
As cold as deatht;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking."
"No-legs lay on one leg, two legs sat near on three legs, four legs got some"
"This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts tress and flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down"
Once Bilbo has reached this point, he has run out of riddles, and while desperately trying to think of another one, discovers the Ring in his pocket. Thinking aloud, he says: "What have I got in my pocket?" and tricks Gollum into thinking this is another riddle. Gollum is unable to think of an answer and while promising to take Bilbo to the Back Door, he uses the excuse of getting something "useful" from his island (ie the Ring). In the first edition, Bilbo is given the Ring for winning the contest, but to fit in with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien revised the story in a later edition, so that Bilbo accidentally finds the Ring, and Gollum is consumed by its loss.
Bilbo , realising Gollum is tricking him and is also angry because of the loss of his Ring, begins to flee back up the passage. As he puts his hand in his pocket, the Ring slips on his finger. In later discussions, the point is made that the Ring wanted to be found and it could be assumed that it is helping Bilbo to escape. After many tense moments whereby Bilbo loses Gollum, but is almost caught by goblins, he manages to escape into the open air through the Back Door.
In this chapter, we begin to see a stronger, more resourceful and intelligent Bilbo.
A riddle to conclude
"I talk but I do not speak my mind
I hear words, but I do not listen to thoughts
When I wake, all see me
When I sleep. all hear me
Many heads are on my shoulders
many hands are at my feet
The strongest steel cannot break my visage
But the softest whisper can destroy me"