I am Bilbo…surprisingly

My husband and I just started reading The Hobbit to our ten-year old son. We’d been thinking of doing this for a while, and the timing was finally right. I was very surprised to discover how much the first chapter spoke to my current situation so pointedly. In other words, I felt as if I were Bilbo Baggins about to set off on an adventure when all I really want is to stay home in my comfy hole, eating lefse and reading good books. Ah, but Bilbo’s “Tookish side” is awakened by the tales of the dwarves who invade his cozy space, and before he knows what he’s done, he has boldly proclaimed that he will join the brave band in their daring adventure. And here I am getting ready to go off to lord-knows-where in rural Peru, scared witless like poor Bilbo.

Read on and see what I mean:

Bilbo’s home is charaterzed primarily by its “comfort” and the proposed journey is dangerous.

“…people considered [the Bagginses] very respectable, … because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…. This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained — well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”

When Gandalf explains that he has come to Bilbo’s house because of an “adventure,” Bilbo replies, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today! Good morning! But please come to tea — any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!” Then he kicks himself for inviting Gandalf to come back the next day. He suspects that he should have cut things off right away, irrevocably. But his politeness leads him down a path from which he finds it harder and harder to extricate himself!

When the dwarves begin to arrive the next day, Bilbo must play host, bustling around getting them tea and cakes and beer and wine and eggs and cold chicken and pickles, etc. After tea, he weakly asks, “I suppose you will all stay to supper?” His politeness again.

The dwarves help him clean up but are very rough with his dishes. They tease him with a song: “Chip the glasses and crack the plates! / … / That’s what Bilbo baggins hates.” But they do no harm. Bilbo is anxious nonetheless about these superficial things. Then he learns the story of the devastation of the dwarves’ community by the dragon Smaug and the group’s quest to take back what is rightfully theirs. A noble quest, beside which his fears about broken kitchenware are shameful, or at least childish.

When Bilbo hears Thorin’s declaration, “a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all…may never return,” the hobbit “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 group is startled by his outburst and finds him “kneeling on the hearthrug, shaking like a jelly that was melting.” Gandalf explains away the reaction as an anomaly, and Bilbo is declared by Gandalf to be a useful personna. He offers a skill none of the others has.

Bilbo’s pride makes him try to live up to Gandalf’s recommendation. “He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce. … ‘Tell me what you want done, [he says] and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.'”

By chapter two is off on the adventure of his life.

So, yeh, I’m going to Peru. The Project Director had faith in my ability to contribute to the work of the group. What business does an English professor — who loves her comfortable home and is a big scaredy-cat quivering on the floor — what business, I ask, do I have in going galivanting off to what might as well be another world with a bunch of ENGINEERS?! They are like an alien race to us humanities folks. Ah, but that unquestioning confidence placed in me…. I am determined to prove that I can be useful.

I must have read The Hobbit ten times in my youth. As my husband began reading it aloud the other night, the words were so familiar and comforting. This story lives deep inside of me. I had forgotten it was there, though. I’m so happy that I have rediscovered it just when I need to be reminded that no matter how afraid we are, we can face our dragons and win. Even the most unlikely of us, lowly English Professors, can be, dare I say … heroes.

I’ll settle for coming back in one piece.

What will I “gain”…? We will all have to wait until I get back on January 20 to find out.

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4 Responses

  1. Wow, just a great post. I have read the Lord of the Rings, but have not yet read The Hobbit. I have a copy waiting for me at home I have yet to crack. I think it would help me to read it though when I’m done with draft 1 of my novel.

    I can relate to how you feel about your trip. Although I have never been as far away as Peru, I still feel real anxiety before any long trip I take to the unknown.

  2. Oh, my! You’ve got to read it when you finish NaNo. Your story has some elements in common, so I think you’d love it and perhaps find it helpful as you revise your novel.

    I envy you your chance to read that book for the first time!

  3. I read a few pages of The Hobbit last night and I was immediately struck with how different the writing was compared to The Lord of the Rings. I loved The Lord of the Rings, but it was difficult to read at times. The Hobbit seemed much better.

    I feel bad for poor Bilbo, though, with all those Dwarves in his house 🙂

  4. I’m glad you started the book. It really is much more accessible than the trilogy. That’s one reason we figured our boy would enjoy The Hobbit at this point, and he was, indeed, delighted by the writing. Clearly it has struck his fancy.

    Enjoy!

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