hobbit chapter 9


Riddles in the Dark

When Bilbo opened his eyes, it was dark. He could hear nothing, see nothing, and he could feel nothing except the stone of the floor.

Suddenly his hand felt a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking. Then his hand came on the hilt of his little sword — the little dagger that he got from the trolls, and that he had forgotten.

Somehow he was comforted. He had noticed that such weapons made a great impression on goblins.

At last Bilbo got up and walked with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall. The tunnel seemed endless. On and on he went, and down and down; and still he heard no sound of anything. Suddenly he got into water! It was icy cold. The sword was hardly shining at all. He stopped, and he could hear, when he listened hard, drops dripping from an unseen roof into the water below.

«So it is a pool or a lake, and not an underground river,» he thought. Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. He had two big round pale eyes in his thin face. He had a little boat, and he rowed quietly on the lake; for it was a lake, wide and deep and deadly cold. He looked for blind fish, which he grabbed with his long fingers. He liked meat too.

Actually Gollum lived on a slimy island of rock in the middle of the lake. He was watching Bilbo now from the distance with his pale eyes like telescopes. Gollum got into his boat and moved from the island, while Bilbo was sitting and thinking. Suddenly Gollum came up to the hobbit.

Bilbo jumped nearly out of his skin when he suddenly saw the pale eyes looking at him.

«Who are you?» the hobbit said, holding his dagger in front of him.

«And you?» whispered Gollum.

«I am Mr Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don’t know where I am.»

«What have you got in your hands?» said Gollum, looking at the sword, which he did not quite like.

«A sword which came out of Gondolin!»

«Well,» said Gollum, and became quite polite, «perhaps you like riddles. Let’s play.»

«Very well,» agreed Bilbo. «You ask first,» he said, because he had not had time to think of a riddle. So Gollum hissed:

«What has roots as nobody sees,

Is taller than trees,

Up, up it goes,

And yet never grows?»

«Easy!» said Bilbo. «It’s a mountain, I suppose.»

«Was it so easy? Let’s have a real competition! If I ask, and you don’t answer, I will eat you. If you ask me, and I don’t answer, then I will do what you want, okay? I will show you the way out, yes!»

«All right!» said Bilbo.

«Thirty white horses on a red hill,

First they champ,

Then they stamp,

Then they stand still.»

It was rather an old riddle, and Gollum knew the answer:

«Teeth! Teeth!» Then he asked another riddle:

«This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.»

Poor Bilbo sat in the dark thinking of all the horrible names of all the giants and ogres he had ever heard, but not one of them had done all these things. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he should know it, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking. He wanted to shout out: «Give me more time! Give me time!» But all that came out was:

«Time! Time!»

Bilbo was saved by chance, because that was the correct answer.

Gollum was disappointed once more; and now he was getting angry, and also tired of the game. It had made him very hungry indeed. He sat down in the dark by Bilbo.

«Now ask me a question,» said Gollum. But Bilbo simply could not think of any question because he was really nervous. Bilbo pinched himself and slapped himself; he gripped on his little sword; he even felt in his pocket with his other hand. There he found the ring he had picked up in the passage and forgotten about.

«What have I got in my pocket?» he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was terribly upset.

«Not fair! Not fair!» he hissed.

Bilbo just didn’t know what to ask so he repeated louder, «What have I got in my pocket?»

«Give me three guesses, three guesses» hissed Gollum.

«Very well! Guess!» said Bilbo.

«Hands!» said Gollum.

«Wrong,» said Bilbo, who had luckily just taken his hand out again. «Guess again!»

Gollum thought of all the things he kept in his own pockets: fishbones, goblins’ teeth, wet shells, a bit of bat-wing, and other nasty things. He tried to think what other people kept in their pockets.

«Knife!» he said at last.

«Wrong!» said Bilbo. «Last guess!»

Now Gollum hissed and rocked himself backwards and forwards; but still he did not dare to waste his last guess.

«Come on!» said Bilbo. «I am waiting!» He tried to sound bold and cheerful. «Time’s up!» he said.

«String!» shrieked Gollum.

«Wrong,» cried Bilbo very much relieved; and he jumped at once to his feet, put his back to the nearest wall, and held out his little sword. He knew, of course, that the riddle-game was sacred. But he felt he could not trust this slimy thing to keep any promise.


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