Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The hobbit mentioned in the title is also the protagonist of the tale, and as such his character is the one given the most detailed treatment. Bilbo Baggins is introduced at the beginning of the book as an ordinary hobbit. He is fond of a comfortable life with lots of meals and snacks. He is not given to going off on adventures or seeking any excitement whatsoever. His nervous and fearful state is made abundantly clear when he screams in fright at hearing the dwarves discussing their upcoming adventure. Initially, he is preoccupied with neatness and attention to such finicky details as the proper time to eat. By the end of the book, he has become a stouthearted and wise man of action that is able to lead his companions out of danger and plan their activities.
Bilbo, as the central character, is a part of each episode and theme of the novel. The quest of the dwarves becomes his quest as well. In fact, the quest for Bilbo is not only a search for the treasure but also for the hidden aspects of his character. In the theme of good versus evil, Bilbo is an unswerving part of the "good" forces. In his character there is no blurring of lines as occurs in the dwarves. He remains an honest hobbit to the end, untainted by an excessive lust for gold or by the need to prove his worth and power. Unlike the dwarves, who are so intent on the treasure that they are carried away by greed and forget ordinary decencies such as gratitude and helping those in dire need, Bilbo constantly remains a decent fellow. Although Bilbo likes food and comfort, he never permits these concerns to take over his life or to influence his behavior, especially in relation to others.
Bilbo's growth comes in small increments, with each adventure giving him more courage for the next. He swallows his fear of the trolls to attempt a burglary, and though he is caught and nearly eaten, the process of his transformation begins. The encounter with the spiders gives him his first taste of victory and prepares him for his encounter with Gollum. In his adventure with Gollum, he shows cool-headedness, courage, and wit, and, with the aid of the ring, begins to develop into a heroic figure. He single-handedly orchestrates the rescue of the dwarves from the Wood-elves, and, by the time the company reaches the Lonely Mountain, the dwarves have become dependent on him for guidance. His "bravest" act, of course, is his decision in the tunnel to overcome his fear and face Smaug, regardless of the consequences. Bilbo also shows that he is willing to stand by the choices he makes. He deliberately tries to use the Arkenstone to buy peace, even though he knows that Thorin's displeasure will be extreme. Of course, Bilbo's growth is not without its setbacks. Often, after performing a brave act, he will soon begin worrying and start longing for the comforts of home. But it is clear by the end of the novel that, as Gandalf says, he is no longer the hobbit he once was.
Although Tolkien develops Bilbo Baggins into a hero, he also leaves in him such characteristics as to endear him to readers. He remains a simple and affectionate soul until the end, one who stands by his word. Even though he sometimes descends into despair, he also climbs out of it through his own efforts. Tolkien does not make of Bilbo a heroic figure with whom identification and sympathy are impossible. Instead, he makes Bilbo into a very "human" hero, who, in spite of his frailties, rises to heroic stature.