Concerning Hobbit Morals
Mark Painter Pariani March 2005 Re-Worked 2012 In Celebration of the Motion Picture Trilogy The Hobbit Directed By: Peter Jackson A Research Paper Written for Miss Flintâ€™s 10th Grade English Class Episcopal High School of Jacksonville, FL
One of the oldest themes in story telling is the classic coming of age tale.
many authors who have dealt with coming of age stories or themes of growing up and doing what is right. One of the most famous authors who dealt with these themes was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. J.R.R. Tolkien is famous for his three piece epic, The Lord of The Rings, which was recently made into an international award winning three part movie series by visionary director Peter Jackson. Tolkien wrote many other books which are critically acclaimed the world over, but his most influential novel is one simply called The Hobbit.
The Hobbit takes place in the same ‘Middle Earth’ world as The Lord of The Rings and
deals with the theme of maturing and knowing which path is the right one to take. In it, Tolkien created a complete fantasy world full of magical creatures such as fire breathing dragons, dwarves, elves, men, and hobbits. Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of The Hobbit, encounters many tests and trials through which he discovers that self knowledge can help develop his moral character and this in turn inspires the reader to pursue a similar journey.
In the beginning chapters of the novel, Bilbo acts much like a small child and lacks
the maturity and motivation to jump out of his comfort zone. Tolkien writes that “people considered them very respectable (hobbits), because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected”(Tolkien 1). Bilbo had never ventured more than a short distance from his house and had no experience of adventures or quests. He had no interest in adventures mainly because he had never been on one. Bilbo was comfortable and complacent with his young life.
Gandalf, an old and very wise wizard, threatens Bilbo’s comfort zone by recruiting him
for a quest. Bilbo quickly rejects Gandalf’s offer when he tells Gandalf, as kindly as he can “We are plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”(6). Here Bilbo is being childish because he shows that he cares more about food than adventuring. Most hobbits in the world of Middle Earth have passion for one thing and one thing only, food, but there is so much more to life than just food. Yet, little does Bilbo know, his fate has already been decided and he is going on this quest regardless of what he thinks. Gandalf already makes the decision for him, so when thirteen dwarves show up at Bilbo’s house uninvited, Bilbo is obviously shocked and quickly loses his manners. Bilbo’s confusion only becomes worse when Thorin, the leader of the thirteen dwarves announces that “We shall soon before break of day start on our long journey, a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all of us may never return”(16).
When Thorin uses the word “we” he is referring to all the dwarves and the hobbit. Bilbo
does not fully realize this at the time and just goes along with all of their talk of reclaiming the treasure stolen from them by Smaug the dragon. He continues to act as the innocent and childish hobbit he is at this point in the story and shows the dwarves endless hospitality as any decent hobbit would. But, as the plot reveals, the dwarves really want Bilbo for his skills as a quiet, clever, and small creature that can easily go undetected by most. All of these skills give Bilbo great potential to be an excellent burglar. This physical trait is essential to the dwarves’ plan to reclaim their lost treasure, guarded by Smaug.
When it starts to get late, Bilbo tells the dwarves “I will give you a good breakfast before
you go,” and Thorin immediately barges in and adds “Before we go, I suppose you mean”(25). Even after talking with the dwarves about their quest and constantly hearing that he has to come, Bilbo still denies that he actually has been recruited for the trip.
According to Dorothy Matthews, “Bilbo, like a typical young adolescent, is uncertain of
his role”(2). He is naive to his important part in this quest. Bilbo goes to bed after cleaning up after the dwarves and decides that if he does not wake up, maybe they will all just go away. This certainly is a very immature way to deal with the situation. He finally gets up very late and while he is settling in for a nice second breakfast, Gandalf rudely interrupts him by shouting “Whenever are you going to come? What about an early start?”(Tolkien 27). Gandalf forces Bilbo out of his own house, and according to Dorothy Matthews, his “masculinity is being repressed so that he is clinging rather immaturely to a childish way of life”(Matthews 1). Bilbo is thrown head first into a new world, one he was not prepared for. He will have to grow up quickly and look out for other people and depend on other people in order to safely return home.
Learning to depend on almost complete strangers can be a very difficult task, especially
if one has been forced from their own home into a world they hardly know. This is the situation that Bilbo finds himself in and if he is to survive he must embrace this new traveling company. On their travels the dwarves and Bilbo constantly look out for each other, thus showing that a sense of community is present in the story line, and this provides Bilbo with the motivation to grow and mature. If the dwarves want to get their treasure back, and if Bilbo wants to get back home, they will all have to depend on each other.
This aspect of their adventure is shown when Thorin and company are surrounded by a
pack of hungry wolves, and the dwarves start to climb trees, “ ’You’ve left the burglar behind again!’ ‘He’ll be eaten if we don’t do something.’ Dori actually climbed out of the tree and let Bilbo scramble up and stand on his back”(92). This sense of looking out for each other is shown again when Tolkien writes “They would all have done their best to get him out of trouble, if he got into it, as they did in the case of the trolls at the beginning of their adventures before they had any particular reasons for being grateful to him”(204). The company of companions help each other throughout their adventure. Their reliance on one another and mutual support is the defining characteristic of their community of fourteen travelers.
A sense of community is also displayed through Bilbo’s alliance with the dwarves and
their gradual acceptance of each other. This acceptance is illustrated when Bilbo returns safely from the goblin cave, “It is a fact that Bilbo’s reputation went up a very great deal with the dwarves after this. If they had still doubted that he was really a first-class burglar, in spite of Gandalf’s words, they doubted no longer”(86). The acceptance of Bilbo is even more clearly expressed after Bilbo rescues the dwarves from giant spiders and elves, “The dwarves’ good feeling towards the little hobbit grew stronger every day. There were no more groans or grumbles. They drank his health, and they patted him on the back, and they made a great fuss of him”(179). Bilbo shows his companions that he is very valuable when he rescues them time and time again. Through his actions of support and caring, they finally accept him for who he is. Since Bilbo chooses to save his new friends, he wins their trust thus reinforcing the theme of community.
In the same manner that Bilbo chooses to help his friends, he is also constantly faced with
important choices throughout his quest. How he handles these choices greatly determines the outcome of the entire adventure. His morals are constantly tested and he has to ask himself if he should quit, or if he should just keep pressing on. This conflict is shown in one passage after Bilbo is knocked out in the goblin cave and separated from his friends. “He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking”(64).
This moment, although small in nature, is the key deciding moment that sets up the events
that take place in Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings saga. This interaction is best summed up in the prologue of the movie version of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of The Ring. In the script by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, it says that the one ring, which has been in the care of the creature Gollum for hundreds of years, “was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable ... A hobbit ... Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. For the time will soon come when hobbits will shape the fortunes of all”(7). Bilbo’s discovery and successful endurance in the goblin cave shows that he is gaining maturity. He is becoming more comfortable with his constantly changing environment. Also, after he has fully recovered from his fall, he is met with another conflict, “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”(65). Bilbo faces this decision with newfound courage and faces life head-on instead of cowering back from it.
According to Don Akers, “The outcome of each adventure is determined by the
choices the players make”(2). The decision Bilbo makes leads him to face Gollum, a sneaky evil creature which Bilbo must defeat if he is to rejoin his friends. Gollum traps Bilbo and Tolkien illustrates Bilbo’s turmoil when he writes “He must get away. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it” (80). But Bilbo, recognizing his new found invisibility from the magic ring, does not kill Gollum. He tells himself “No, not a fair fight ... Gollum had no sword ... A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart”(80). Bilbo knows that Gollum means to kill him and that he must escape in order for him to rejoin his friends, yet he takes pity on Gollum and escapes without killing him. This is very moralistic of him and this decision eventually determines the outcome of The Lord of The Rings. Dorothy Matthews says that Gollum is a type of “predatory monster which must be faced and slain by every individual in the depths of his unconscious if he is to develop as a self-reliant individual”(Matthews 2). After Bilbo confronts Gollum, he finally has the self-esteem needed to take on his responsibilities as a mature, trustworthy leader, and as Gandalf says in the script of The Fellowship of The Ring, “The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many” (Walsh 123).
Due to Bilbo’s choices and tests, his “manhood,” or perhaps “hobbithood,” emerges
because he starts to show maturity. Helms states this exact fact in “Tolkien’s World” when he says that the story of “The Hobbit” is one of “emerging manhood”(Sullivan III 3). Bilbo faces many obstacles and has to overcome them in order to continue his quest. O’Neill states in “The Individuated Hobbit,” that the journey of Bilbo is one “into his own subconscious”(Sullivan III 3). Through Bilbo’s adventure, he constantly struggles with decisions that make him think what he should do. This “struggle” leads him to seek a knowledge of himself.
One such major decision happens when Thorin and company finally reach the Lonely
Mountain and seek to find the entrance. They find it and want Bilbo to enter first. ‘If you mean you think it is my job to go into the secret passage first, O Thorin Thrain’s son Oakenshield, may your beard grow ever longer,’ he said crossly, ‘say so at once and have done! I might refuse. I have got you out of two messes already, which were hardly in the original bargain, so that I am, I think, already owed some reward. But ‘third time pays for all’ as my father used to say, and somehow I don’t think I shall refuse’(Tolkien 191).
Eventually Bilbo enters the cave, and once there, he shows that he has matured from his childish behavior. Dorothy Matthews believes that “Bilbo finds the greatest prize of all: a knowledge of his own identity”(3). Bilbo’s new found maturity has led him to self knowledge and this knowledge, helps him to do what he considers to be right.
For example, Bilbo’s morality is shown when he tries to bargain with Bard and the
Elvenking when the dwarves have been cornered after reclaiming their treasure. Bilbo, seeing the stubbornness of dwarves, realizes he must make an important play in order to break the standstill. In bargaining with Bard and the Elvenking, Bilbo seemingly double-crosses the dwarves when he says, “ ‘This is the Arkenstone of Thrain,’ said Bilbo, ‘the Heart of the Mountain; and it is also the heart of Thorin. He values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will aid you in your bargaining’ ”(Tolkien 244).
In adding to this quote, Dorothy Matthews writes, “In maturing psychologically, he has
learned to think for himself and to have the courage to follow a course he knows to be right in spite of possible repercussions”(Matthews 3). The dwarves will of course be very angry with him for giving away the Arkenstone, yet he knows what he has done is a good way to insure safety for all of them. Yet even with all of the correct decisions Bilbo makes, he somehow retains a negative outlook through the majority of the story.
According to Zachary Terner “Bilbo is always a pessimist” throughout The Hobbit(1). Bilbo
shows this negativity when he keeps complaining and thinking of going home. “He wished again for his nice bright hobbit-hole. Not for the last time”(Tolkien 56). “Why, O why did I ever leave my hobbit-hole!”(62). “He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home”(64). Bilbo does not like the idea of an adventure, but despite this he “shows himself to be even braver and more resourceful than his thirteen companions”(James 2), and, it is this journey of Bilbo’s that “is a metaphor for the individuation process, his quest ... a search for maturity and wholeness, and his adventures ... symbolically detailed rites of maturation” (Matthews 1).
At one point in the quest, upon entering Mirkwood, Bilbo exclaims, “Do we really have
to go through?” “You must either go through or give up your quest.” (Says Gandalf) “No!, no!” said Bilbo. “I didn’t mean that. I meant, is there no way round?”(Tolkien 126). At first the reader might have thought that Bilbo was just complaining again, but the surprise comes when Bilbo states that he wanted to know if there was another way instead of getting out of the quest altogether. This quote shows Bilbo’s maturity and his new character is shown again in this quote, “He was trembling with fear, but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from BagEnd long ago”(192). C. W. Sullivan, III states that “every critic recognizes that Bilbo Baggins ‘grows up’ as a result of his adventures”(3). Bilbo does not back down due to his newfound maturity. Bilbo develops a good moralistic character which was created and nurtured by his adventures and tests.
Even with all the dangers of Bilbo’s quest, Bilbo arrives home in one piece. His adventures
make him humble to the real world, which is an emotion he had not experienced beforehand. Bilbo “matures and accepts responsibilities toward the end of the novel which he could never have even imagined in the first chapter”(Sullivan III 3). This aspect of the novel is illustrated after Bilbo talks with Smaug, the dragon guarding the dwarves’ treasure, “The dwarves revived him, and doctored his scorches as well as they could; but it was a long time before the hair on the back of his head and heels grew properly again: it had been singed and frizzled right down to the skin” (Tolkien 204). Bilbo would never have confronted a dragon had he not gone through his adventure and matured first. In fact “by the last chapter it is a much more competent hobbit who returns to the Shire and puts things back into order there”(Sullivan III 3).
As a result of Bilbo’s adventure, he has gained experience and a much greater
knowledge of himself and the world beyond his doorstep.
When Tolkien decides to bring Bilbo’s adventures to a close, “Bilbo emerges as a symbol
of a very average individual, not as a figure of epic proportion” (Matthews 2). This is expressed in the book when Gandalf tells Bilbo, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” “Thank goodness!” said Bilbo”(Tolkien 272). Bilbo has become very humble and recognizes that he is a very small person in a very big world.
Bilbo’s humility is very moralistic of him. He could very well be arrogant about the great
deeds he has just accomplished, but he is not. Bilbo is a very average character, yet what makes him different from most individuals is that through all of his adventures he has developed good morals. He has searched within himself and found what he believes to be right. Due to his maturity from the childish behavior that characterized him in the beginning of the novel, he is able to take the right course instead of cowering back from it. Bilbo has come a long way from the beginning of the book. Initially he seems a small, naive child, but now he has experience in the real world, earned credibility, and gained confidence, all the while not seeking recognition for his new accomplishments. He retains good morals and receives a treasure greater than the entire horde of the dwarves.
What he receives is an understanding that he is just one being in a very big world, and is
very happy about it. The reader sees this and wants to share this happiness with him. After all, just as Galadriel says in the movie adaptation of The Fellowship of The Ring, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (Walsh 147.)
Works Cited: Akers, Don. “Overview of “The Hobbit.” Novels for Students 8 (2000). Literature Resource Center.
Gale Group. St. Johns County Public Lib., Ponte Vedra Beach FL. 1 Nov. 2004.
James, Edward. “J.R.R. Tolkien: Overview.” St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers (1996). Literature
Resource Center. Gale Group. St. Johns County Public Lib., Ponte Vedra Beach FL. 1
Matthews, Dorothy. “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” A Tolkien Compass 29-42 (1975). Literature Resource Center. Gale Group. St. Johns County Public Lib., Ponte Vedra
Beach FL. 1 Nov. 2004.
Sullivan III, C.W.. “J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”:The Magic of Words.” Touchstones: Reflections
on the Best in Children’s Literature 253-260 (1985). Literature Resource Center. Gale
Group. St. Johns County Public Lib., Ponte Vedra Beach FL. 1 Nov. 2004.
Terner, Zachary. “Voices From the Middle.” Urbana 12. 71 (2004). ProQuest. ProQuest Company.
Bryan Lib., Jacksonville, FL. 26 Oct. 2004.
“The Lord of The Rings, The Fellowship of The Ring,” Based on the Novels by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema, 2001.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. All Images Illustrated by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
Published on Oct 8, 2012
A Research Paper Written for Miss Flint's 10th Grade English Class, Episcopal High School of Jacksonville, FL - 2005. Re-Worked 2012 in Cele...