What always surprises me in this chapter is how much time passes between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf figuring out that the ring is, well, The Ring. This is probably because I saw the movie before I read the book, and in the movie, there are maybe a few months between the two, or so it seems to me. But here we learn that it's seventeen years!
Anyway, things start heating up a bit in this chapter. Things are changing in and around The Shire, and we learn all about how the Ring was forged, something of the power it wields, and the twisty path it took from Sauron's hand to Frodo's. We also get to hear about some other characters we'll be running into more soon, like Aragorn and Saruman and Gollum.
And we get into one of the bigger themes of the book: pity/mercy versus punishment/justice. Bilbo pitied Gollum and did not kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum was planning to kill him. Gandalf says: "It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity" (p. 58). He goes on to say, "the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" (p. 58).
Possible Discussion Questions: What do you think about this theme? Is it something you relate to, showing mercy toward someone who does not deserve it? Can anyone deserve mercy?
We also see the beginning of another major theme here: being chosen for something you don't believe you can live up to. Frodo says, "I am not made for perilous quests," and I can agree with that to some extent: he's a hobbit, used to a comfortable and quiet life in the country. Gandalf insists, however, that "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."
Possible Discussion Questions: Do you have any thoughts on that theme? Have you ever felt like Frodo, that you can't possibly do what you must do?
Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tops of the trees' fingers (p. 45).
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (p. 50).
"Well, well, bless my beard!" said Gandalf (p. 62).