Bilbo the Cheat

It is an interesting thing to note that the original MS had Bilbo become an even greater cheat at the Riddling Game than we might care to see. Not only did he ask the “What have I got in my pocket?” question, which was arguably not a fair question or a proper riddle (like many, and as suggested in the prologue, I contend that Gollum forfeited his right to complain when he responded to Bilbo’s “cheat question” by having three guesses instead of just one); Bilbo also REMOVED the ring from his pocket! To what end? He would presumably now have nothing at all in his pockets, making virtually any guess wrong.

But Gollum gets in one last cheat by way of his double-barrelled final guess and, of course, he guesses the one thing which up until moments before would’ve secured him the victory. Even in the MS, his final guess is “String or nothing!” There is no note here of any emendation whatsoever, apart from ‘said’ becomes ‘shrieked’.

Tolkien, it seems, immediately redacts Bilbo’s having removed the ring from his pocket. Indeed, Rateliff’s Text Note (24) tells us the sentence was recast as it was being written. I suspect (but cannot of course know) that he disliked the additional cheat on Bilbo’s part, and much preferred to put the onus to cheat back in Gollum’s hands.

‘Very well’ said Bilbo ‘guess away’.
‘Hands’ said Gollum.
‘Wrong’ said Bilbo ‘guess again’. He had taken his hand out and held the ring [>with the ring int it] (which was lucky).[TN24]
‘S-s-s’ said Gollum, more upset than ever. He thought of all the things [people keep in pockets >] he kept in his pockets (fish bones),[TN25] goblins teeth, bits of stone to sharpen his teeth on and other nasty things) he tried to think and rememer what other people kept in their pockets.
‘Knife’ he said.
‘Wrong again’ said Bilbo who had lost his some time ago (very luckily again). ‘Last guess!’
Now Gollum was in a much worse state that [sic] when Bilbo asked him the egg-question. He hissed and spluttered, and rocked backwards and forwards, and slapped his feet on the floor and wiggled and squirmed — 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 but he didn’t feel at all sure how the game was going to end, whether Gollum guessed or no [> right or not].
‘Time’s up’ he said.
‘String, or Nothing’ said [> shrieked] Gollum — which wasn’t quite fair, [trying >] working in two answers at once: still it was a very nasty thing to answer.
[TN24] This sentence was recast while being written, then changed again to read ‘He had just taken his hand out of his pocket again (which was lucky).’
[J.R.R. Tolkien/John D. Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit, Second Phase, Chapter 5, ‘Gollum’]

riddles_in_the_dark_by_jring383-d3cdd85
Riddles in the Dark by JRing383, via https://jring383.deviantart.com/

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