Hobbits are exceptionally petite people that live for only for the joy of comfort. They do not go on adventures, take part in anything dangerous, and do not really enjoy activities outside the comfort of their homes, other than the occasional walk. In the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins is no exception from the stereotypical hobbit. Bilbo is a fifty year old hobbit, who has turned out to be an exact replica of his father, Bungo Baggins. People considered the Baggins family to be very reputable, not only because they usually had an abundant amount of money, but because “they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him,” (Tolkien 3). Bilbo’s mother’s side, the Took side, was considered to have “something not entirely hobbitlike about them,” (4), and this was the side that came out during Bilbo’s journey. This is not a story of a boring hobbit who sat in his hobbithole all day, eating and enjoying his comfortable life; this is a story about the heroic journey that Bilbo Baggins went on and how he matured from the fifty year old, comfortable hobbit, into the fifty year old hero who went on the adventure of a lifetime and did things that no hobbit could ever imagine doing.
Every hero must pass through various obstacles to grow and mature from the person that he or she was in the beginning of the journey. Joseph Campbell gives an outline of various hurdles that the hero must overcome throughout their heroic journey. Bilbo Baggins receives his call to adventure during the tea party that was surprisingly held at his house by Gandalf. At this meeting Gandalf informs the thirteen dwarves that he has chosen the fourteenth member of their group, and that Bilbo is the burglar that is needed to complete the journey and recover the treasure that they are in search of. During the discussion of the map, all of the treasure that was awaiting them, the danger that awaited them, and the dwarves singing their song, “something Tookish woke up inside of him [Bilbo], and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and that waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick,” (Tolkien 15). Bilbo has tried so hard for so many years to ignore his Took side, which is his mother’s side, the adventurous side, but the excitement that he is feeling from the thought of going on this journey gives him the courage to finally accept his call to adventure, and embark on the journey.
Bilbo has never been outside of hobbit land, so when he and the others got to the Lone-Lands, he was overwhelmed by the new scenery. This was the point in his journey where he was taken out of his everyday life and comfort, and put into an entirely new situation. When the group finally decided to rest for the night, they saw a light flickering in the distance. They followed the light and encountered three trolls who were burning a fire and eating food, both of which were things the group of fourteen had not had in a very long time and wanted. Bilbo took this opportunity as his chance to prove to the rest of the group that he was a good burglar, and that there was a reason for them to bring him along on their journey. Even though he is trying to assume the identity of someone he is not, a burglar, he is trying something new and doing something brave, “of course Bilbo is reluctant, but Tookish honor compels him, as well as a touch of honest pride,” (Green). As Bilbo quietly sneaks up behind the trolls and tries to steal their purse, he comes to find that the purse can talk and is caught. One by one the other dwarves come in to see what has happened and are caught by the trolls. While the trolls are deciding what to do with their freshly caught meal, Gandalf appears and helps them escape. Instead of using his magical powers and somehow killing the trolls, Bilbo realizes that Gandalf just uses his wits and tricks the trolls into arguing with one another until the sun rises, which eventually turns the trolls into stone, “Then Bilbo understood. It was the wizard’s voice that kept the trolls bickering and quarrelling, until the light came and made an end of them,” (Tolkien 39). This is a lesson that Bilbo is going to use in two more trials through out his journey.
Joseph Campbell describes that the initiation stage of a hero’s journey consists mostly of trials, and that each trial is “a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation,” (Campbell). During the journey, the group of fourteen plus Gandalf run into a kingdom of goblins. During this trial, Gandalf is able to escape before he is caught by the goblins and is once again able to come back and save the group. Bilbo realizes that this time Gandalf did use violence to kill the Great Goblin king because there was no other way that they could have escaped, and he understands that in different situations that there are different ways of escaping. After they escape the goblins and are trying to find a way out of the cave, Bilbo insists that he be carried because he cannot run quick enough. This shows how Bilbo still acts like a child even though he is fifty years-old. Once the goblins catch up to the group, Gandalf and Thorin decide that they are going to fight, and begin using their swords. Other than those two, Bilbo is the only other member of the group who has a weapon, but he is too afraid to use it. During the fight, Bilbo gets knocked in the head and is sent tumbling down a tunnel.
After waking up and regaining his consciousness, Bilbo realizes that he has been separated from the rest of the group and that he must find his way back, on his own. While crawling through the tunnel, he comes across a ring and decides that he should keep it. As he keeps going he stumbles into lake and is frightened when he comes face to face with Gollum. Bilbo realizes that he either needs to escape or be eaten by Gollum. When Gollum challenges Bilbo to a riddles contest, he can do nothing more than accept and think of a plan or be eaten. He uses what he learned from Gandalf in the troll trial, and uses his to confuse Gollum and come up with a very hard riddle. Once Gollum become frustrated he starts talking about something he has lost, and Bilbo realizes that this object of Gollum’s affection in the ring that he had found earlier. Once Bilbo put the ring on he realized that he had turned invisible. He was then able to sneak out past the goblins that are guarding the exit door, and is free. We learn that Bilbo could have killed Gollum, because he was invisible and did have a sword, but realized how desperate Gollum was, and Bilbo was able to relate to him, “It [Bilbo] meant to kill. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword…And he [Gollum] was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart,” (Tolkien 80). Gollum is the psychological dark side of Bilbo, and Bilbo finally began to understand him. Once he was able to escape on his own, Bilbo gained some confidence within him, and this stirred up his “Tookish” side even more.
During Bilbo’s next trial, we see him grow tremendously. For once he actually wakes up in time to not be captured by the spiders, and the reader can tell that he is doing things more consciously now rather than subconsciously. When Bilbo finally wounds the spider using his sword, we see Bilbo do something that he has not yet done during the story, use his weapon, which he names Sting. This is symbolic because he is beginning to create his own identity, and starting to build his own story, “He [Bilbo] felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder…” (Tolkien 142). Bilbo realizes the change within him, and is showing signs of his maturation. After defending himself, he is able to fight without Gandalf, and saves the rest of the group. He uses both his with and violence in this trial, both of which are characteristics that he witnessed Gandalf using. This is the first time we see Bilbo fight without wishing for the assistance of someone else, Gandalf or Thorin, and we see Bilbo keep fighting, despite how tired he is. This is a big difference from the Bilbo we saw who wanted to be carried like a child in the caves when they were escaping the goblins, and this change is carried on with him through his next trials.
When the whole group is captured by the elves, Bilbo is the only one who escapes because he is uses his invisible ring. Even though everyone in the group is locked away, Bilbo does not go around killing all of the elves because he is invisible, that would not be believable. He instead shows his leadership and maturity in the way that he studies the elves and thinks of a plan of escape for the rest of the group. Even though the dwarves were not thrilled about having to be packed away in barrels and thrown into the river, they understood that this is the only way Bilbo saw fit for escape and trusted his leadership. After their long float down the river, the group finally arrived at Lonely Mountain, where the final trial took place.
Even though Bilbo did not kill Smaug himself, his braveness and wits which helped him endure the riddles game with Smaug is what helped Bark kill Smaug. Bilbo was the only one out of the group who was brave enough to go down the tunnel and spy on Smaug. In the tunnel Bilbo fought one of his greatest battles, “going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did…he fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he saw the vast danger that lay in wait,” (Tolkien 193). Once Smaug caught the scent of him, Bilbo used his wits to have a conversation with Smaug, and take part in another riddles game. During their game, Bilbo notices a weak spot on Smaug’s body when he rolls over, he noticed that there was spot on his left chest that was not covered. Once the race of Dale told this information to Bard, he was able to shoot an arrow for Smaug’s weak spot and killed the dragon. So, even though Bilbo did not directly kill Smaug himself, his observation and information are what aided another in doing the “dirty work” for him. After the dwarves and Bilbo decide that it is safe for them to enter Smaug’s hall, the come across mountains of treasure and are taken aback by the vastness of it. Bilbo takes the Arkenstone without telling anyone, and wonders if this is the right thing for him to do.
Campbell explains that every hero experiences and ultimate boon, which is “the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get,” and Bilbo is no exception this. His ultimate boon comes when he finally discovers that he is no longer the hobbit that left his hobbithole many months before, “already he was a very different hobbit…” (Tolkien 192). Bilbo has found his own identity and achieves his own individuality. He makes decisions on his own, and does not always seek the advice of others. We see an example of this when he trades the Arkenstone to save his friends. He does not ask for anyone else’s advice and does not listen to what his friends have to say, he does what he believes is right. When Bilbo is returning home, he realizes that he has changed, and he beings to integrate the things that he learned along his journey with his old way of life. Although now he is braver, more mature, and has found his own identity, he is happy to be going home. Bilbo used to love everything that was comfortable, and that he was used to. He took great pride in all the things that he owned. When he returned home, he encounters the other hobbits selling all of his things because they believed that he was dead. It is ironic that Bilbo ends up using most of his money that he got from his journey to buy back his old things. This shows that Bilbo is still somewhat of the same hobbit who still likes the comforts of life but that he is has changed and does not make a big deal out of the little things. He has learned to just enjoy life, and we see that change in him when he first sees his house. He is standing there and just blurts out a beautiful poem. The poem symbolizes the creative side of Bilbo that has been found, and that he is able to realize the beauty in all things, small or large.
Bilbo went through a total transformation during his journey, “Bilbo Baggins’ journey is a metaphor for the individuation process” (Matthews). He used to be a hobbit that enjoyed everything that was comfortable and everything that he was used to, but he has transformed into a hobbit that goes on adventures and tries new things. During each trial, Bilbo used his wits and creativeness to help him and his group escape danger. He was able to beat Gollum in a riddles game, which showed him somewhat defeating his darker side, he was able to rescue his friends from the spiders which was the beginning of him finding his own identity and starting his own story, he was able to come up with a plan of escape from the elves which showed his creative side, and he was able to face Smaug and find his weakness which showed how much he had really grown through out the whole book. J. R. R. Tolkien really shows us the path that a hero undergoes in the book The Hobbit, and this story really helps us realize that no matter how old or what a person’s reputation is, that they can change if they really want to.
Campbell, Joseph. "The Hero's Journey : Summary of the Steps." Heros Journey: Summary of Steps. 19 Nov. 1999. 22 Sept. 2008 <http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html>.
Green, William. The Hobbit : A Journey into Maturity. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1994.
Matthews, Dorothy. “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” A Tolkien Compass. Ed. Jared Lobdell. Open Court, 1975. 29-42. Discovering Collection. Gale. Cerritos College Lib. 23 Sept. 2008 http://www.galegroup.com/.
Tolkien, J. R. The Hobbit : Or There and Back Again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company Trade & Reference Division, 1999.