Every person represents a story, unique and exceptional, distinct from all others. These stories are the accounts of people’s inimitable journeys through life. Some stories are read in books called biographies and autobiographies. Other stories can only be told in part, because the storyteller is still making the journey through life. Still others can be told in whole because the story has been written in a book of fiction. J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins. His story, originally written to provide an example for children to follow in a journey from adolescence to adulthood, grasps the attention of readers of all ages, because Bilbo’s journey is the hero’s journey (Purtill). Bilbo Baggins’s story fits the model of the “Hero’s Journey” as he transforms from an ordinary hobbit to an unexpected hero (Vogler).
The “Hero’s Journey” begins with a call to an ordinary individual to leave the ordinary world. This call prompts the individual to leave the common life to venture into the realm of the unknown. Many times, the individual will initially refuse the call to leave, but, after meeting with an old sagacious mentor, the individual accepts the call. The journey continues with the individual leaving the ordinary world to descend into the special world.
The special world brings the individual to a threshold – a point of irreversible decision where he or she must continue in the quest, no longer holding the option of turning back. The descent into the special world brings the individual through different adventures and experiences that reveal weaknesses and allow for strength and development to conquer those weaknesses.
The return to the ordinary world represents the final stage of the “Hero’s Journey.” Although the hero is returning, the individual’s character has not yet fully developed. The individual must face a life-or-death scenario in which he or she must become self-sacrificing and courageous. This final test reveals the transformed, heroic character of the individual on the journey. When the new hero finally returns to the ordinary world, he or she is forever changed because of the journey to heroism.
Bilbo Baggins’ journey represents the “Hero’s Journey” as he leaves the ordinary world as an ordinary hobbit, enters the special world as a developing warrior, and returns as an unexpected hero.
The beginning stage of the “Hero’s Journey” – a call to leave the ordinary world, reveals Bilbo Baggins as a mild-tempered, timid, nervous hobbit. He fit the common, stereotypical description of a hobbit. Hobbits “are (or were) a little people, about half our height . . . there is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary sort which helps them disappear quietly and quickly…” These shy, introverted folk had no interest in the business of others, nor did they care to know of news outside of their land. Gandalf, along with Thorin and the other dwarves, asked Bilbo to join with them on an adventure. At that point, Bilbo was an ordinary hobbit only concerned with himself.
He revealed his hobbit character and thinking most visibly by fainting, for “at the words may never return he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel . . . the poor little hobbit could be seen kneeling on the hearth-rug, shaking like a jelly that was melting. Then he fell flat on the floor…” At this point, the reader, much less the dwarves in the story, has given up all hope of Bilbo being any help for the dangerous journey that awaits the company of dwarves.
Bilbo, recovering from his spell in the next room, heard the dwarf’s low opinion of him along with Gandalf’s expression of supreme confidence in the timid hobbit’s exploratory and burglary talents. At this point, Bilbo began to feel a desire to join in the expedition, just to prove to all present that he had what it would take to be a successful burglar. The next morning, when he awoke to find that all of the dwarves had left, he returned to his previous state of reserved, self-focused hobbit living. However, Gandalf comes into the house and forcibly ushered Baggins on his way to catch up with the dwarves. This meeting with a wise confidant marks the end of the first segment of his character development – his calling to leave the ordinary world.
The next step in the “Hero’s Journey” – entering the special world, reveals Bilbo as a developing warrior. Although, not at first. The crossing of the threshold – making his way to catch up with the dwarves, ignited a character change, but did not complete a change. Bilbo’s beginning conversation with the Dwarves included complaints about riding horses, dissatisfaction with the way that he was being treated, and a request to go back to his hobbit hole to fetch his missing neckerchief. Clearly, Bilbo had not yet fully developed. He was a little anxious to begin proving himself, so he accepted the task of stealing from some trolls, a task that he failed at miserably. However, his failure led to him to do some quick thinking, saving his comrades and earning their respect (Dominick). Bilbo’s character continued to develop, but can be most clearly seen by his interactions with the dragon, Smaug. By this point, he had already “proved himself a good companion on our long road, and a hobbit full of courage and resource far exceeding his size, and if I may say so possessed of good luck far exceeding the usual allowance.” Now, the reader can take notice of this developing character in action.
Bilbo began by sneaking into the dragon’s lair, returning to the dwarves with a stolen goblet. This act took great courage on his part. Tolkien emphasizes Bilbo’s courage by having the dragon pass from “an uneasy dream (in which a warrior, altogether insignificant in size, but provided with a bitter sword and great courage, figured most unpleasantly) to a doze, and from a doze to wide waking.” Bilbo’s courage radiated to the degree that the dragon could feel it in his dream.
The dragon, angered by the theft of his goblet, almost killed the travelers, if it were not for the quit wit of Bilbo. Clearly, the dragon was dealing with a very different hobbit than the one that had been sitting in his hobbit hole at the beginning of the story. “Already they had come to respect little Bilbo. Now he had become the real leader in their adventure.” Now the time for the “real leader” was at hand, so Bilbo ventured in to talk to the dragon. The talk with the dragon tested Bilbo’s character, for dragons are very enticing and convincing creatures, at least in middle earth. However, Bilbo kept his wits about him and learned valuable information that would help in the defeat of the dragon (Clark). This final of many adventures revealed the developing warrior within Bilbo.
The final stage of the “Hero’s Journey” – the return home, revealed the transformed Bilbo as an unexpected Hero. Unfortunately for the small hobbit and his company of dwarves, the word of the dragon’s death had spread across the land, bringing all races to claim the long-hidden treasure in the mountain. This rush of greed developed into the battle of five kings. “It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences…” Bilbo’s character was solidified in the final, resolving battle. He fought valiantly, miraculously survived, and lived to return home to the Shire.
Bilbo Baggins’ character development represents the “Hero’s Journey” with each stage revealing Baggins as a timid hobbit, a developing warrior, and an unexpected hero. The story exemplifies the pattern for the “Hero’s Journey,” marked by the call to leave the ordinary world, entering the special world, and returning back into the ordinary world as a hero.
Vogler, Christopher. The Hero’s Journey. <www.thewritersjourney.com>.
Clark, George. “Tolkien: Heroes and the Critic”
“Bloom’s Modern Critical Views.” Web. 21 March 2013.
Dominick, Grace. “Heroism in the Hobbit.”
Purtill, Richard L. “Hobbits and Heroism”