Last night I had a Lord of the Rings watch party with some friends. I wanted to re-read the series once again, and two of my friends joyously agreed to read-along with me. We read The Hobbit in January and concluded our read-through of The Fellowship of the Ring with the viewing of the extended first movie last night.
Whenever I read this series, new details and themes pop out at me (one of the reasons I love these books so much). During my last read a few years ago, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed Sam’s character, and the same thing has happened this time with Bilbo Baggins.
While reading The Hobbit, I realized how much I relate to Bilbo’s character. I laughed and laughed about how much his reactions in certain situations are the same as mine. But I also noticed ways that I am not like Bilbo at all. I feel more like the pre-adventure-Bilbo (before beginning his journey) than I do the post-adventure-Bilbo. I only hope that as I age, my character will progress in the same ways that his does! You’ll understand more by reading below about some of the reasons I love the character of Bilbo Baggins.
His reactions in uncomfortable social situations
Bilbo’s reaction to unexpected visitors–and unexpected adventures–just crack me up. Read on for examples:
“Gandalf sat at the head of the party with the thirteen dwarves all around: and Bilbo sat on a stool at the fireside, nibbling at a biscuit (his appetite was quite taken away), and trying to look as if this was all perfectly ordinary and not in the least an adventure” (Tolkien 1997, 12).
“He had less than half a mind to fetch the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide behind the beer-barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until all the dwarves had gone away” (Tolkien 1997, 16).
This is me. This is me ALL THE WAY. I can imagine myself sitting there amidst all the strangers, nibbling away at a biscuit as if nothing is wrong. And how many times have I invented ways to get out of social situations? I can’t count them.
The old Bilbo changes significantly and becomes much more appreciative of new company and new adventures, but his use of the Ring (when he has it later in life) reveals that there are still people he would just rather not deal with:
“I happened to be walking along the road, when I saw Bilbo ahead. Suddenly in the distance the S. -B. s appeared, coming toward us. Bilbo slowed down, and then hey presto! he vanished” (Tolkien 1994, 102).
I have a feeling that this is what I would use the Ring for if I could get my hands on it. See an old classmate at the store that you’d rather not talk to? With the ring, no need for such uncomfortable social situations. I kid, of course…though not entirely.
His love for his nice, cozy home
The Hobbit is littered with quotes like the ones below. The first one comes from Bilbo himself:
“‘Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!’ It was not the last time that he wished that!” (Tolkien 1997, 30).
And it wasn’t the last time. Here’s another one:
“Just at that moment he felt more tired than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing” (Tolkien 1997, 43).
I have heard a Bilbo-like voice in my head numerous times. Even when I go places or have adventures that I have longed for, this voice–this desire to be at home, curled up on my comfy chair–will chime on. Like Bilbo, I am well-contented simply by staying in my own comfy “hobbit hole,” but–like Bilbo–I hope that won’t stop me from venturing out every so often. Home is even better if I’m away sometimes to realize how much I appreciate it.
His inner dialogue
Bilbo’s inner dialogue is rather amusing–his way of talking to himself, reminding himself how to act and how NOT to act. Just read on:
“Many a time afterwards the Baggins part regretted what he did now, and he said to himself: ‘Bilbo, you were a fool; you walked right in and put your foot in it'” (Tolkien 1997, 18).
“‘Now you are in for it at last, Bilbo Baggins,’ he said to himself. ‘You went and put your foot right in it that night of the party, and now you have got to pull it out and pay for it! Dear me, what a fool I was and am!’ said the least Tookish part of him. ‘I have absolutely no use for dragon-guarded treasures, and the whole lot could stay here for ever, if only I could wake up and find this beastly tunnel was my own front-hall at home!'” (Tolkien 1997, 193).
“I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing. I wish I was well out of it” (Tolkien 1997, 255).
Bilbo wasn’t much of a romantic in the early part of his life. Not one for the idea of glory in battle and living on in memory. But here’s my favorite:
“‘Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!’ he said to himself, and it became a favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb” (Tolkien 1997, 204).
But Bilbo also pushed himself forward with his self-talk:
“‘Go back?’ he thought. ‘No good at all. Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!'” (Tolkien 1997, 65).
That last one is spoken when Bilbo is trapped alone, under the mountains, lost and unable to see anything. Bilbo might call himself a “fool” quite often, but he’s not one to sink into despair.
It’s funny how Bilbo has the least experience of adventure, of action, and of the world in general, but he still always ends up being the one to rescue the dwarves out of sticky situations. The company brought a wizard with them, but he always happens to disappear just at the right moment.
“[Bilbo] often wished, too, that he could get a message for help sent to the wizard, but that of course was quite impossible; and he soon realized that if anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr. Baggins, alone and unaided” (Tolkien 1997, 158).
Go, Bilbo! Taking initiative again. And again, he’s not sinking into despair. He’s frustrated, but he keeps going.
“He did not like being depended on by everyone, and he wished he had the wizard at hand” (Tolkien 1997, 159).
I feel ya, Bilbo. I, too, wish I could have a wizard at hand.
Bilbo is amazingly clever. Not only does he get out of the whole Gollum situation using riddles, but he also riddles his way through talking with a dragon.
“This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don’t want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don’t want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise). No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it” (Tolkien 1997, 201).
I can barely talk coherently when I’m nervous, but Bilbo’s over here talking to a big, scary DRAGON using clever RIDDLES! It doesn’t matter how many public speaking classes I take, I’m never going to be that good.
Later in life, Bilbo also likes to learn and to teach and to write. He tells all the little hobbit children about his adventures and about faraway lands, and he even teaches Sam how to read. He translates several Elvish poems and adds to them and then reads them TO THE ELVES. Those elves really love this dude. Bilbo also writes the poem about Aragorn that begins, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost” (Tolkien 1994, 241). Yep, that quote you see written on all those signs and travel journals–that was Bilbo.
His resistance to evil
I was having a conversation with my friends once about how we would use the Ring if we had it–not knowing that it was all-powerful, just that it could make one invisible. My use would probably be similar to Bilbo’s–pop that ring on to avoid unwanted social situations.
I didn’t realize how amazing Bilbo’s use of the Ring was until I found out what Gollum did with it:
“He [Smeagol/Gollum] was very pleased with his discovery and he concealed it, and he used it to find out secrets, and he put his knowledge to crooked and malicious uses” (Tolkien 1994, 52).
Knowing that the Ring could make him invisible, Gollum steals and spies until he is at last rejected by his peers. True, the Ring might make the bearers act in more evil ways than they might have previously, but Bilbo was not affected for the worse as nearly as much as the Ring’s previous owners.
Listen also to what Gandalf says:
“A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else’s care–and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip. But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has ever gone beyond playing, and really done it” (Tolkien 1994, 54).
What else can I say? Bilbo is pretty awesome.
For those of you who are still with me, thanks for sticking around as I’ve discussed fictional characters as if they’re real!
Who is your favorite Lord of the Rings character? (Personally, my favorite is Faramir, but I’ll have to save him for another post!)
Tolkien, J.R.R. 1994. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 1997. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.