Well, I have been saying for a while that it was the Lord of the Rings that kicked off the modern fantasy genre, but then I stumbled across an animated version of this story and I realised that I had been a little wrong. Granted both Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are both by the same author, set in the same world, and have similar characters. However the Hobbit was the earlier release and it also was released to a much better reception than the following books. It was also originally crafted as a children's book (the Lord of the Rings is probably a bit too detailed for it to successfully work as a children's book).
Okay, the quest narrative has been around for a very long time and many point back to the Odyssey as the beginnings of this style of narrative, however one can actually go back even earlier to the Mesopotamian story the Epic of Gilgamesh. In Gilgamesh the quest is for eternal life, in particularly the ability to bring somebody back from the dead, however Gilgamesh fails in his quest, though does learn about the origins of the world in which we live.
I should return back to the Hobbit though, which I suspect is a very popular story (I even studied it in highschool). The quest narrative is very clear here in that Bilbo is conscripted into a quest for some dwarves, led by Thorin Oakensheild, to travel to the Lonely Mountain, kill the dragon Smaug, and restore the dwarves to their homeland. Tolkein has everything in this journey: trolls, goblins, dragons, giant spiders, dungeon crawls, and a hobbit that seems to always save the day. However, Tolkien does not simply end the book with 'dragon killed, treasure found, everybody lives happily ever after'. First of all it is clear that this is the prelude to Lord of the Rings and the book paints a little background on the ring that is to play an important role in the next books.
As mentioned, the book does end with a twist, which involves Thorin. It is funny to note that for dwarves these guys are a pretty pathetic lot. They get trapped underground and captured by goblins, after escaping (with the help of Gandalf) then then get caught by giant spiders and then by elves (and not forgetting the trolls). I always had an impression (maybe it is from years of playing Dungeons and Dragons) that dwarves were a warrior people, but these guys seem to spend more time running away than not and the person who steps in to save the day multiple times (other than Gandalf) is a single hobbit. They don't even kill the dragon: Bard from Laketown does.
However, once the dragon dies, and Lonely Mountain is claimed on behalf of the dwarves, suddenly everybody else wants a piece of the action and Thorin is too stubborn and greedy to seek allies. As such, when the elves and the men approach Lonely Mountain, Thorin pretty much tells them to get lost. However, they don't take this lying down and they suddenly find themselves at war with the men and the elves. They do get reinforcements from other dwarves, but then the goblin hordes swarm down out of the mountains to take the stronghold themselves.
It is this last part of the book that made it stand out for me and for some reason every time I think of the story of The Hobbit I forget about this last section. I believe this part holds and important to understanding the nature of the book and the nature of greed. Thorin does not survive this final battle, though he could have if he had not been so demanding. One questions whether the treasure was really his anyway. He did not kill the dragon, Bard did, and he did not do much to recover his mountain home, Bilbo did. It is almost as if he is one of those people who hides while the fighting is going on, and when it is over steps out and takes the glory for the victory. In then end Thorin is actually not much of a noble character, and his stubbornness results in the deaths of many friends.
One question I should ask though is whether Bilbo actually gains anything from his quest. Okay, he gains the ring, and we see the effects of it in the next story. He also comes away with a story that he writes and publishes, but it is suggested in the Lord of the Rings that he has become quite insular and alone. He does have his nephew Frodo, however he ends up fleeing to the elves. Then there is Gollum, a creature that one has no choice but to pity. Everytime I see or read of him I pity the state into which he has fallen. He killed his best friend over the ring, and the ring has come to so dominate his life that when he loses it his entire world collapses. He has been long corrupted by the ring, however once it is lost he goes to extraordinary lengths to attempt to recover it, even going into the heart of Mordor to do so. While Gollum plays a minor role in this story, his role becomes a major part of the next.