Middle-earth: Bag-End, the Lone-lands, Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood, Lake-town, the Lonely Mountain
First things first, we strongly suggest that you check out the handy map Tolkien drew while writing The Hobbit to get a sense of where all of these places are. This map represents Thorin's grandfather's map of the Lonely Mountain. Pretty handy!
Otherwise, we start out in the "kindly West" (18.19), in the land of the hobbits. The hobbits call the place where Bilbo lives The Hill, while the Took family lives across The Water. In other words, the hobbits are so sheltered that they can only imagine one hill and one body of water. They don't even use proper names to distinguish between different hills and waters. (At least, not yet – the Shire gets a whole host of real names, but not until The Lord of the Rings.)
To the Lone-lands
As Bilbo and the dwarves set out on their adventure, they travel east. They leave behind the pleasant greenness of hobbit country and travel into lands "where people spoke strangely, and sung songs Bilbo had never heard before" (2.23). And as they go farther and farther away from Bilbo's home, they find "dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees" (2.23). The farther that Bilbo goes into the unknown, the more the landscape reflects his discomfort: suddenly, Bilbo is seeing "old castles with an evil look" (2.23) and, of course, the trolls, Bert, Tom, and Bill.
Still, even though the "Lone-lands" aren't familiar to Bilbo, he's in no true danger yet. The real border between comfortable lands and dangerous lands is helpfully marked by Rivendell, the location of the "Last Homely House" protected by the great lord Elrond. Rivendell is a sheltered valley filled with elves singing and laughing. Yet, while the valley of Rivendell is pleasant and delightful, it's still overshadowed by the Misty Mountains beyond. And Bilbo has to leave it eventually.
The Misty Mountains
Bilbo's naiveté about the landscape of his own world really comes to the fore when he first sets eyes on the Misty Mountains, before he and the company stop in Rivendell. Bilbo asks, "Is that The Mountain?" (3.2). He can't imagine that there's more than one mountain – after all, he comes from a place with The Hill and The Water. But Balin replies dismissively, "Of course not!" (3.3). The Lonely Mountain is still miles and miles away. So we have gone from The Hill in Hobbiton to a whole chain of enormous, threatening mountains.
Once Bilbo comes out the other side of the Misty Mountains (and the goblin tunnels), he takes shelter with Beorn the wild man in a large wooden house near a rock Beorn calls the Carrock. Beorn's place is comfortable and safe, but it's still strange and not home-like: Beorn relies on ponies to serve him, and he eats only honey and bread. The strangeness of Beorn's house proves that we are still definitely in the Wild.
Next up, Mirkwood. Mirkwood is a dark forest filled with suspicious Wood-elves, eerie enchantments, and giant spiders. Still, when Bilbo asks if they can go around it, we find out that the Grey Mountains to the north are filled with "goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description," while to the South, "you would get into the land of the Necromancer" (7.145). Hm… So while Mirkwood is not safe, there are other places that are even less so – once you are "over the Edge of the Wild" (7.145), there's no safety left.
The Lonely Mountain
The Lonely Mountain is the end of the dwarves' quest. It towers "grim and tall" (11.1) and "danger [broods] in every rock" (11.19). The primary characteristic of this setting (besides gloominess) is that it's incredibly hard to get inside. The dwarves have to wait until precisely the right day before they can unlock the side door and get inside. And once Smaug has been killed, the dwarves barricade all of the doors except the Front Gate so they can defend themselves against Bard and the Elvenking. This space is like the inverse of Hobbiton, where we began our journey: the tunnels of the Lonely Mountain are grim, dark, and reeking of dragon, while Bilbo's home is "a hobbit hole, and that means comfort" (1.1). This opposition between Bilbo's hobbit-hole at the beginning and Thorin's dangerous (but wealthy) dwarf tunnels at the end demonstrate just how far Bilbo has gone over the course of his quest.
There And Back Again
When Bilbo returns to The Hill, having seen all the things that he has seen, suddenly his own home under The Hill seems changed. (The estate sale of all of his belongings that Bilbo finds upon his return probably doesn't help!) But his home now holds a sword over the mantelpiece, and he takes "to writing poetry and visiting the elves" (19.29). The changes to Bilbo's home – the sword over the mantelpiece and the chainmail coat in the hallway – only serve to prove his internal development as a character.
Summary: Chapter 2
Bilbo wakes up rather late the morning after Gandalf’s visit. He is surprised—and a little relieved—to see that the dwarves have left without him. He is just sitting down to a quiet breakfast when Gandalf enters and rushes him off to the Green Dragon Inn, in Bywater, where Thorin and the rest of the dwarves have been waiting to begin their journey. As they head east on the main road, Bilbo sulks at having to leave without finishing his second breakfast or making proper preparations. It begins to rain. By the time dusk approaches, the whole company is tired, hungry, ready to camp, and annoyed at Gandalf’s mysterious disappearance earlier in the day.
Suddenly they see what looks like the light of a fire in the distance. They move closer to investigate it, and Bilbo is sent ahead in his first official task as burglar. As he approaches a clearing in the woods, Bilbo sees three huge trolls sitting around a fire, eating mutton. Bilbo tries to make off with one of the trolls’ money purses, but they hear the noise and grab him. Trolls will eat just about anything, but they are also short-tempered and dull-witted. They proceed to fight about how to interrogate Bilbo.
The commotion attracts the dwarves, who come to the clearing one at a time. The trolls stop fighting just long enough to hide in the trees and throw a sack over each approaching dwarf. Soon, they have everyone tied up except Bilbo, whom they’ve forgotten. The trolls decide to cook the dwarves immediately, but then a voice, which sounds like one of the trolls, starts an argument, and the three trolls start fighting again. This fighting goes on for quite some time until the trolls notice that it is almost dawn. The sun peeks over the horizon and the trolls all freeze—sunlight turns trolls to stone.
Gandalf then steps triumphantly into the clearing. He had been throwing his voice to mislead the dwarves and to keep the trolls arguing until morning. He and Bilbo release the dwarves, who are shaken but otherwise unharmed. Searching nearby, they find the trolls’ cave and a number of well-wrought weapons, which they take as payment for their pains.
Summary: Chapter 3
As the company sets off the next morning, Gandalf explains that he has checked the road ahead up to the last safe stop along their way. This stop is Rivendell, a city of elves located just beyond the Edge of the Wild, near the foothills of the Misty Mountains, which the company will have to pass. As the company approaches Rivendell, a number of elves approach them and invite them back to eat and rest. During their stay, they meet Elrond, the great chief elf, who is “as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.”
Elrond can interpret the ancient runes, or markings, found on the company’s new weapons and on Thorin’s map of the mountain. The swords taken from the trolls, he tells them, are renowned goblin-killers from the great wars between the elves and the goblins. Gandalf’s sword is called Glamdring, and Thorin’s is named Orcrist. On Thorin’s map, Elrond is able to read moon-letters—writing visible only in the light of the moon in the proper phase—that describe how to find the secret entrance on the Lonely Mountain. Though they are puzzled by the message, the group is in high spirits when they depart from Rivendell. Everyone is well rested and prepared for the road ahead.