How did Bilbo get the ring from Gollum?

In The Hobbit we are told that Bilbo found the ring in the caves of the Misty Mountains. Gollum had lost it and Bilbo found it. Without knowing that it was Gollum’s ring on the one hand, and without Gollum even knowing he’d lost it on the other, they have their game of riddles, and the rather unfair question Gollum could not answer was, “What is it in my pocket?” To late Gollum found out that it was his ring, Bilbo put it on and ran away with it.

Or not? In The Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf and Frodo are discussing this story in the first chapter, A Long-expected Party:

In the second chapter, The Shadow of the Past, Gandalf returns to this issue:

I find that I’m not sure which one is Bilbo’s “official” story, the one we read about in The Hobbit or another one (which we are not told)? I seem to recall that Tolkien meant that The Hobbit is what Bilbo wrote – his official story – which conveniently explain the differences between the works, between The Hobbit on the one hand and The Lord of the Rings on the other.

That’ll make sense when taken into account the first quotation above, which frowns upon the version he “put in his book”, which to me seems like a hint to the reader of The Lord of the Rings,who already read The Hobbit: What you read is not what really happened. – But if that’s the author’s intent, surely he would let the reader in on the true story?

On the other hand, if the story in The Hobbit is the true story which Bilbo never told to anyone expect Gandalf (when more or less forced, as I read it), and because of that, Frodo too – what’s so reprehensible with that version? Of course, Bilbo wasn’t as chivalresque as can be, but I wouldn’t say he stole the ring like a simple thief, either?

What happened in the Misty Mountains back in the day, really, “when magic filled the air”?

Some characters may have been uncertain, but readers should not be, given that the author narrates the event itself.

No. The volume you hold is Tolkien’s narration, not Bilbo’s.

In the original version of the Hobbit, Gollum gave the ring to Bilbo as a reward for winning the riddle game. When Tolkein came to write LOTR, he realised he had a problem here. Gollum would have never given away the one ring, which had such a hold on his mind. Tolkein actually did a pretty elegant job of ret-conning this. A new edition of the Hobbit was written and issued, where Bilbo finds the ring in the dark, and Gollum plans treachery after losing the game. However, Bilbo told the original version to Gandalf, and this is what he wrote in the Red Book of Westmarch. This was his attempt to “put his claim for the ring beyond doubt”. Only later did Gandalf get the later “true” story out of him.

I can’t imagine that fat Hobbit physically snatching the ring from the grasp of Smeagol/Gollum.

I understood that the Ring ‘wanted’ to leave that dank hole to return to the affairs of Elves, Dwarfs, Hobbits and (oh yeah, Men) and it contrived to be found by Bilbo.


I stand corrected and enlightened!

This place rocks.


Do you have a cite for this? I’ve never seen it before. I always just thought that Bilbo’s memoir was an internal, and unquoted book, distinct from Tolkeien’s narratives, and that Gandalf was implying that Bilbo had glossed the story of how he got the ring in his own account.

Never mind. Looks like wiki backs you up. I’ll be damned. I never knew that.

It’s laid out, with citations, in The Hobbitwiki. Neat.

Huh, I also didn’t know that. So that means Bilbo didn’t originally win the riddle game with his unfair question.

IIRC, the annotated Hobbit covers this as well as a bunch of other things about the evolution of the text.

In any case, the last edition is the canonical, and consistent with your understanding Dio.

I have a copy of an early edition of The Hobbit which includes the main revision concerning the finding of the Ring, but still contains some old wording that was eventually changed (e.g., calling hobbits “much larger than lilliputians”). I’ve always wanted a copy of that first edition – but looking at Wiki I see that there’s now something called The History of The Hobbit… that will definitely be on my birthday list!

It will be your “birthday present,” yessss…

I keep thinking of the great line: He would have killed the wretched creature, but pity stayed his hand. “It’s a pity,” he thought, “that I’ve run out of bullets.”

The prologue to my copy of LOTR has a brief section about the finding of the ring (the later version), and mentions that he originally told a different tale to Gandalf and the dwarves (the original version). I didn’t know the significance of all this until I read a Tolkein biography.

To expand slightly on my first post, in the ignoble history of retconning it’s a good one because it’s not just consistant with the story but it actually adds to it. The idea of Bilbo claiming to have won the ring in a game is due to it’s corrupting influence. If he said he had mearly found it, he could not fairly claim it was his property.

That made me smile. Long time since I read that book.

Using one of his potions, possibly sodium pentathol…

Wow, I thought it was common knowledge that Tolkien re-wrote that section.

Here is a side-by-side comparison for those who were unaware.

Scroll down to the blue text and you can find it.

Great link, thanks. :slight_smile:

Thanks for that, I always wondered what the original was like.

Not quite as I thought it happened. I didn’t realise Bilbo found the ring (which he would have won anyway) before the game.

Uh…he wasn’t actually going to win the ring…

Gollum went back to his hut to put the ring on, so he could strangle & eat Bilbo.