The three Trolls had moved down from the Misty Mountains to a cave not far from the road west of Rivendell. There they waylaid and ate travellers, but settled for livestock or game at other times. Bilbo and the Dwarves were captured when they approached the Trolls’ cookfire late on a rainy spring evening, and were only saved from death by the intervention of Gandalf, who tricked the Trolls into delaying until dawn: Stone-trolls must be inside by sunrise, because the light turns them to stone. The company found gold in the Trolls’ cave, as well as three Elvish swords, apparently plundered from older hoards: these were kept by Gandalf, Thorin, and Bilbo. Many years later, Aragorn and the Hobbits came across the statuary Trolls as they fled from Weathertop to Rivendell.
William appears to be the leader of the three Trolls in The Hobbit, since it was he who led them to the area Tolkien would later call the Trollshaws. It was William’s pocket from which Bilbo picked a talking purse, resulting in his capture by the Trolls, and it was William who captured Thorin, who had injured Bert and Tom.
Analysis: The origin and nature of Trolls in Tolkien’s legendarium is unsettled. In LOTR, Treebeard suggested that Trolls were made in the First Age by the original Dark Lord, Melkor, to resemble Ents. However, Tolkien felt strongly that evil could corrupt but not create, and especially that Melkor could not endow a creature with a soul; this is a subject he considered at length regarding Orcs (see Morgoth’s Ring, which is vol. 10 of “The History of Middle-earth” series). Therefore Trolls must either be twisted from some other ensouled creature such as Ents (as Orcs are generally considered to be corrupted Elves or Men), or they must be automatons only presenting the illusion of having free wills. In a letter (#153), Tolkien wrote that the Trolls in The Hobbit probably did not have souls. But this comment was made long after the story was written and published.
Trolls are mentioned in Tolkien’s First Age mythology, but treated more fully in LOTR where several varieties appear: Cave-trolls in Moria, Mountain-trolls at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and Hill-trolls in the final battle at the Black Gate. The latter two may be synonymous with the Olog-hai described in LOTR appendices, which are said to be a newer type bred by Sauron to withstand the sun, unlike the older kinds, including those encountered in The Hobbit. The appendices also report that Aragorn’s grandfather, Arador, was killed by Hill-trolls north of Rivendell, eleven years before the events of The Hobbit. Some fans speculate that they may have been the same trolls that Bilbo encountered.
Tolkien’s second son Michael noted once that the Tolkien children liked the Troll chapter best of all, and thought it was a pity that the Trolls had to be turned to stone.
- “You’ve et a village and a half between yer, since we come down from the mountains.” (to the other trolls)
- “Blimey, Bert, look what I’ve copped!” (to Bert)
- “Poor little blighter! Let him go!” (about Bilbo, to the other trolls)