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”?