From a hole in the ground came one of the most beloved characters of all time: the very reluctant and unassuming hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins.
Soon to hit the big screen for its second installment, “The Hobbit” was born from the bedtime stories J.R.R. Tolkien conjured up to tell his children at night. As a child, my own father would lull me to sleep by reading all about Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Bilbo’s adventures were my adventures.
Nonetheless, “The Hobbit” ushers more to the mind than just simple entertainment. It wouldn’t be anything more than just a good book if that were the case.
Consider how the story opens with Bilbo and Gandalf’s first meeting: Bilbo is unaware of Gandalf’s intention when the old wizard approaches him with a simple “good morning.” He is naturally skeptical of Gandalf’s visit. After all, what would an old magic user want with a hobbit?
From the start, Bilbo comes off as a simple-minded hobbit concerned with nothing more than keeping tobacco in his pipe and food in his belly. What convinces Bilbo Baggins to accept the accidental duties of “honorary burglar” bestowed upon him by the 13 dwarves seeking to reclaim their mountain of gold? It remains a mystery to us all.
With a nudge out the door, Bilbo begins a quest that sets in motion the events that shape his destiny and, in turn, the destiny of the famous Frodo Baggins, bearer of the one Ring to rule them all.
From there, Bilbo continues to be the accidental hero — and a true one. Time and time again, he conquers his deepest fears and saves the dwarves, despite the fact the dwarves couldn’t care less about the fate of the halfling. At times, I am saddened to realize the dwarves may only care that Bilbo completes the burglary mission for the sake of satisfying their gold lust and reclaiming their homeland.
It’s difficult to call Bilbo the hero when Tolkien’s tale truly has no stereotypical hero.
Yes, Bilbo does heroically save the dwarf troupe from spiders, orcs and utmost doom on several occasions. But then, there’s Gandalf, who kills the goblin king; Beorn, who appears conveniently in the Battle of Five Armies to help Bilbo and the dwarves; and a mortal man, named Bard the Bowman, who defeats Smaug the dragon.
So who is the real hero of “The Hobbit”?
This is what makes “The Hobbit” more than just a good book. Bilbo is just as much of an exaggerated, idealized hero as any other fictional protagonist, but it’s his human attributes we wouldn’t normally fantasize about having ourselves that set him apart from other protagonists. Bilbo is gentle. He is humble and kind. He takes less than his share, and whatever he takes he gives away.
The Hobbit sparked my young imagination as a little girl, causing wonderful daydreams and horrible nightmares. As a teen, I wanted to write fantastical tales — or go shoeless, live in a hole and smoke a pipe. As an adult, Tolkien’s novel holds within me a link to my childhood, safekeeping cherished memories and evoking everlasting emotions.
There is no doubt I will continue to read “The Hobbit” again and again until the day I am tucking my own children into bed, telling them the story about a hobbit who lived in a hole in the ground.
I look forward to the next installment of Bilbo’s unexpected journey in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” which comes to theaters Dec. 13.