This is a work on “The Hobbit”, the prequel to the very popular Lord of the Rings series.
The “There and Back Again” of Bilbo
In the story The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, the main character, Bilbo Baggins, travels “there and back again” on his hero’s journey. During his travels he changes from being a cowardly and weak person with no knowledge of the outside world, to being a very brave, resourceful, and sensible hobbit.
Bilbo is first called to adventure when the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarfs come to his house talking of adventure. Bilbo Baggins comes from a family that had never gone outside the Shire (the small communities were hobbits lived) and who had always lived in the same house, living in comfort and doing nothing unexpected or adventurous and Bilbo is no different. Everything changes when Gandalf the wizard and a band of dwarves come to Bilbo’s house and begin talking of gold, dragons, and adventure. The dwarves come to Bilbo seeking a burglar and a fourteenth person to round out the group. They choose Bilbo on the advice of Gandalf. The call to adventure is made during the dwarves’ song: “far over the misty mountains grim, to dungeons deep and caverns dim, we must away ere break of day, to win our harps and gold from him!” (Him being the dragon, Smaug) pg.14. This is the call because it is where Bilbo hears of gold, dragons, and adventure and a part of him is drawn to that and makes him curious.
The threshold comes when he is angered by their dismissal of him. First, he is very opposed to the adventure and doesn’t want to have any part of it. He is at first frightened by the whole thing and very opposed to the idea that he may never return. When he shows fear of adventure to the dwarves the dwarves think of him as no good and insult him for it. This is the part when he accepts the call by becoming angry and deciding to go so he may prove to the dwarves that he is fierce. In the book the threshold is shown in the quote “The Took side [his mothers side and the more adventurous one] had won. He [Bilbo] suddenly felt he would sooner go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce”.pg 17. This is the threshold because it is where the decision is made to follow through and commit to the adventure.
Now that Bilbo is committed and is out on adventure he begins running into problems and challenges in the initiation stage of his journey that begin to shape and prepare him for greater ones ahead. During his first challenge against three trolls he is able to evade them and get away himself, but it is Gandalf who has to come to the rescue and saves the rest of the group. His next clash with danger is in Gollum’s cave. Here he is on his own and has to change to survive. He does this by tricking Gollum into leading him out of the cave and once he is out he then outwits the goblins and escapes from the tunnels. His growth is shown in the book when it says “He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.” Pg.82. Now that he is on adventure he is more willing to take risks, he is able to keep his head in bad situations, and he becomes more confident. He also chose not to kill Gollum which tested his sense of morality.
His next problems are bigger and involve not only saving himself but everyone, without the help of the wizard. The first of these new problems is against the giant spiders of Mirkwood. Here the dwarves are lured off the trail and become hopelessly lost in the forest and are then attacked by the spiders in their sleep. Bilbo manages to kill the spider sent after him and then, by luring the spiders away and with the help of a few freed dwarves gets everyone out of the spiders’ lair to safety. After escaping from the spiders they are then captured by the elves and imprisoned, except for Bilbo who escapes with the help of his magic ring. He then finds all the dwarves, figures out a plan to free them, and gets them out. He does it all on his own without any help from anyone: “and soon he realized that if anything was to be done it would have to be done by Mr. Bilbo Baggins, alone and unaided.” Pg.159. In this quote it is shown that he realizes that he is alone, he must do something, and that he is ready to do something.
His next encounter is in the abyss stage of the hero’s journey where he has to go down into the mountain to face the dragon Smaug. He goes even though he doesn’t have to, knowing that it is the greatest physical risk in the journey because he is trying to find a weakness in Smaug that would help others because he himself can not kill the dragon. “Perhaps something will turn up. ‘Every worm has his weak spot’ as my father used to say.” Pg.204. This quote shows that he went looking for a weak spot and that it was his idea and choice alone, to go is the greatest physical risk in his journey.
His encounter with Smaug was the greatest physical risk in the book but there is another side to the abyss, when Bilbo has to go against his leader, Thorin, to do what he thinks is right so that he can live with himself. Thorin won’t give elves and men a share of the treasure, even though they suffered from Smaug, because he believes it is all rightfully his. Bilbo disagrees and thinks that they deserve a portion of the treasure because they suffered from the dragon and then killed him. Because of his moral stance on this issue he takes the Arkenstone from the dragon horde and gives it to the elves and men, to barter for peace: “he [Thorin] values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will aid you much in your bargaining…Any way I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me…I don’t think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gone through together.” Pg.255. Bilbo is willing to do what is right even though he may suffer for it. He has become the leader and the conscience of the group.
Events during the return journey confirm and emphasize that he is the leader and conscience of the group. The first event that happens is of Thorin’s death. In this scene Thorin admits that Bilbo was right about the sharing of the treasure. Thorin says “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly west. Some courage and wisdom blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Pg.271-272. Thorin admits to Bilbo that his values were lesser and that Bilbo had been right.
Other events in the return also emphasize Bilbo’s values. First he refuses the offer of his share of the treasure because he believes it to be too much and he doesn’t need it. And in his return home he is held in high esteem by elves, dwarves, and men, and is content with that even though he is known as “mad Baggins” by most hobbits. As he tops the last hill and looks out on the Shire he says
“Roads go ever on
Under cloud and under star
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to go home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”
Then Gandalf says
“Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”
This quote shows that he has been through the hero’s journey of the call, the threshold, the challenges, the abyss, and finally the return. He has developed confidence in his ability to face danger, keep his head, and his morality. He is aware of the world and is interested in it, but still is glad to see home again and return to his life, though not in the same way as before. And in the end Gandalf even says that Bilbo is not the same and has changed over the course of the hero’s journey.