Bilbo Baggins: The protagonist, a small, furry-footed member from a respectable family of hobbits who, despite his best intentions of leading a quiet and peaceful life, gets swept up into an adventure. Thanks to another branch of his family heritage, however, as well as some luck (or is it providence?), quick thinking, and innate bravery, Bilbo rises to the occasion and returns from his quest quite a different hobbit than he was before: he has become a hero (albeit losing the respect of his neighbors!).
Thorin Oakenshield: A proud-in fact, too proud for his own good-dwarf, fond of long-winded speeches, descended from the ancient King Under the Mountain, who has resolved to reclaim his line's lost treasure from the dragon Smaug. Thorin leads a company of twelve dwarves, and hires Bilbo-much to the hobbit's surprise-as both a burglar for the expedition and as "the lucky fourteenth" member of the expedition.
Gandalf: A wizard best known to hobbits for his fireworks displays, but who, as it turns out, is an important figure in the larger affairs of Middle-earth. Before leaving them to deal with the troubling matter of the Necromancer, Gandalf serves as guide and mentor to Bilbo and the dwarves.
Elrond Halfelven: The most important of the elves in Rivendell, the happy valley where evil and sorrow still do not threaten. Elrond is a wise figure, and his wisdom is best demonstrated when he deciphers the moon runes on Thorin's map, thus giving the questing dwarves a crucial clue for reclaiming their treasure.
Smaug: The terrible dragon who, long ago, invaded the land of Esgaroth and attacked the Lonely Mountain and its surrounding region; so devastating was Smaug's fury the region is now known as the "Desolation of Smaug." Smaug, greedy as all dragons (and, it turns out, some dwarves and men) are, has taken the ancestral treasure of the dwarves for his own, and now lies atop a pile of stolen wealth, little suspecting that his one small weakness-a vulnerable spot in his scale- and jewel-encrusted underbelly-will be his undoing.
Beorn: The mysterious shapeshifter, who often appears as a large black bear, and who keeps to himself but also enables the armies of elves, men, and dwarves to defeat the goblins and wargs at the Battle of Five Armies. Beorn thus demonstrates a balance between engaging the world and withdrawing from it, a theme that surfaces throughout The Hobbit and a balance the knowledge of which forms part of the true object of Bilbo's inner quest.
Bard: The archer who fells Smaug. He is described as a "grim" man, but he also proves reasonable and wise, as evidenced by his many attempts to negotiate with Thorin. He is not possessed of infinite patience, however, as his ultimatum to the dwarves demonstrates.
The Master: The governor of the lake-town in Esgaroth, who is more concerned with maintaining his own hold on power than in actually serving his citizens.
Gollum: The decrepit and lonely creature who once lived above ground but who now lives far beneath the Misty Mountains, with only "his precious"-a magic ring-to keep him company. He is bitter from his long years of exile, and, as Bilbo very nearly discovers, is committed to his own survival, no matter what or who he must eat to live. As his riddling contest with Bilbo shows, Gollum is clever, but he can only now use his wits for self-preservation.
The Ring: An inanimate object, but a charater all the same, the Ring is Gollum's magic ring of power, which Bilbo finds-or does he steal it-or does the Ring find him? The Ring turns its wearer invisible. Readers will later learn, in The Lord of the Rings, that the Ring is in fact the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron in order to seize control of all Middle-earth. Even in The Hobbit, however, we see hints of its dark nature, and intimations of the fact that the Ring has a sinister will of its own.