The Character of Bilbo Baggins

free essayThe Hobbit or There and Back Again is one of the most prominent works of John Tolkien and probably one of the most famous tales in the world literature. Written for Tolkien’s own children, the story is a winning combination of myths, epos, and the author’s vivid imagination.

The fact that Tolkien wrote Hobbit for his children obviously played a crucial role in the invention of the protagonist and his character traits choice. In the beginning of the tale, the narrator describes hobbits as very shy, good-natured, and peace-loving. At first, these small creatures “who have become rare and shy of the Big People” are hard to notice because they do not like hustle and bustle pertinent to the human world. Bilbo Baggins himself is similar to a child by both his appearance and behavior. For example, he is small, approximately half-size of a human being. He is peace-loving, he loves food and security, and he loves his home, “…the most luxurious hobbit hole […] that was to be found either under The Hill or over The Hill or across The Water” (14-15). Thus, initially Bilbo Baggins reminds an ordinary child sheltered, unprepared for dangerous adventures, and definitely not aware of the potential he has.

However, reading further one can see a hobbit is a major allegory of the author because the little things hide the inception of great deeds, as the ordinary things may change the course of history. Being down-to-earth, Bilbo is nevertheless capable of unbelievable transformations – his shyness becomes self-sacrifice, rationality turns into creativity, and optimism and love for life entail bravery and assertiveness. This contrast demonstrates that ordinary people may reveal great heroism in stressful situations. As Gandalf describes Bilbo, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself” (29). In other words, the hobbit’s weaknesses are in reality his greatest strengths.

In fact, Bilbo Baggins possesses contradictory character traits which, as the reader learns from his pedigree, are inborn. Throughout the whole story Bilbo’s decisions are shaped by the confrontation of two sides of his nature – love for peace and comfort, which he inherited from the Baggins, and desire to have an adventurous life pertinent to the Took, his mother’s family. On the one hand, he takes a lot after his father – a respectable and conservative man, but on the other hand, he inherited his mother’s love for adventure. As one can see from the story, the Baggins’s character traits prevailed in the protagonist for almost 50 years, but after Gandalf’s visit, these was Took’s bravery which in many cases predetermines his decisions.

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However, no matter how challenging and dangerous the adventure is, Bilbo is not a warrior, he is a burglar. That is why he tries to rob the trolls, and, probably, that is the cunning of a burglar which helps Bilbo win the intellectual duel with Smaug. In fact, in this scene Baggins presents a very accurate description of himself, “I am he that walks unseen. I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me. I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider” (212). The major theft of the tale is another piece of evidence supporting Bilbo’s “burglar” nature – he steals the Arkenstone from the dragon. However, his motive was not quenching money, but ultimate desire to end the conflict with minimal losses. Due to his unselfishness, combined with prudence and kindness, Bilbo manages to win in a situation where physical power is useless. During the final combat, when everyone was fighting for the treasure of the dead dragon, Bilbo’s “burglar nature” plays a crucial role in the conflict resolution. He steals the Arkenstone from the gnomes and gives it to people, which serves as a basis for negotiations and finally helps save the gnomes’ lives. It is worth mentioning, however, that Bilbo does not consider himself to be a burglar, and when he is mulling over this idea, he says, “I may be a burglar, but I would like to think I’m an honest one” (254).

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Generally, the reader can clearly identify the process of Bilbo’s personality development, which happens in five stages. First, in the beginning of the adventure Gandalf has to save Baggins and his team from the trolls. He is immature and somewhat coward. Second stage is his encounter with goblins and vargrs, when Bilbo still needs to be rescued, and his confrontation with Gollum when he already manages to become a winner all by himself. Third, he rescues gnomes from huge spiders and elves. Next, Bilbo challenges the dragon, and one can see that he now acts as a leader. This is a metaphoric fight which symbolizes inner conflict – as soon as one manages to identify his or her strengths, one can find the dragon’s weak spot. By the way, this is the most extreme demonstration of his “Took” side. Finally, in the fifth stage (stealing of Arkenstone), wishing to arrive at consensus and prevent the war, Bilbo shows his true Baggins’ nature. Throughout the story, Bilbo confronts a series of challenges which shape his character and in the end he is no longer “split” into Took and Baggins, for he has manages to realize his own identity.

To sum up, in The Hobbit or There and Back Again the reader sees Bilbo Baggins’s character evolution. Initially, he shares many similarities with a child: he is small, easily scared, he has not seen the world much and does not realize what he is capable of. However, the big journey turns him into a brave, self-righteous, and mature person. Therefore, Tolkien wrote a wonderful story for children, which is both entertaining and educational, and shows how an ordinary, small person may reveal his talents and become a real friend, a successful and courageous leader.