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Who is Bilbo Baggins?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bilbo Baggins is the beloved main character of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and a minor, though very important character in Tolkien’s master work The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is a hobbit, blessed with a love of food and drink, especially seed cake, who accidentally finds himself embroiled in an “adventure.” Adventures to many hobbits are considered very disrespectable, so Bilbo’s involvement in a journey with Thorin the Dwarf, and his relatives, and Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, comes as a surprise to the hobbit, and ultimately changes the course of the history of Middle Earth in very large and important ways.

The Hobbit is a much shorter and less complicated book, really geared for children and adults who like humor and adventure. However, part of the book sets up the essential plot in Rings, and the book remains a “must read” as a prequel to Rings. We first meet Bilbo, who is enjoying blowing small smoke rings, when he encounters Gandalf the wizard. The two converse and Gandalf, unbeknownst to Bilbo, marks his door with a sign that states he’s interested in a job as a burglar or “treasure seeker.”

Gandalf makes this decision in part because of a few things Bilbo Baggins says, and because Bilbo is the son of Belladonna Took. Though the Bagginses are very respectable, Tooks have a habit of undertaking the occasional adventure. Despite Bilbo’s protests, Gandalf sees him as right for the job. Convincing Bilbo, and the 13 dwarves of that is another matter, and when the dwarves and Gandalf show up very unexpectedly at Bilbo’s door, for a hilarious tea that has Bilbo completely flabbergasted and very worried, Bilbo finds the dwarves’ questions of his suitability sufficient fire to defend his right to go adventuring, in an attempt to try to regain the lost treasure under the Lonely Mountain, which is protected by the very fierce and crafty dragon Smaug.

Like many hero journeys, particularly Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bilbo Baggins is the staid age of 50 when he begins his journey. His first attempts at burglary are disastrous, but Bilbo soon becomes invaluable to the dwarves, rescuing them from enormous spiders, the wood elves, and eventually brokering a peace treaty between the Dwarves and the many armies that have come to claim a share of the treasure, once Smaug is dead. As Gandalf predicted, Bilbo Baggins is the right man (hobbit) for the job, and carries off his share of the adventure with great skill and spirit.

An extremely important chapter for Rings enthusiasts is Bilbo’s meeting with the creature Gollum. He finds a ring that Gollum has been concealing, and discovers that the ring renders him invisible. This ring, as fans of the later book know well, is in fact the One Ring, a thing of evil crafted by the dark magician Sauron. Bilbo conceals the finding of the ring from the company during most of the journey, but ultimately fesses up to having discovered it. The Dwarves don’t contest his right to use it, though Gandalf is deeply suspicious of it.

The finding of the Ring of Power is extremely important to Rings, and at the beginning of this second work bearing the ring has clearly changed Bilbo in many ways. Further, Bilbo Baggins has given his full name to Gollum when they played a game of riddles, and this name is betrayed to Sauron. Bilbo finds himself preoccupied constantly with the ring, and he has not aged physically. He no longer wants to live in his beloved Shire, but instead takes off in Rings eventually settling in the Elven settlement of Rivendell.

Though Bilbo is loath to give up the ring, he does do so of his own accord, deeding it to his adopted heir and cousin Frodo Baggins. It will be Frodo who ultimately will undertake the task of attempting to destroy the ring, in order to save the world of Middle Earth from being overtaken by evil. Bilbo Baggins is the only possessor of the ring, in its history who is able to give up the ring voluntarily, if still slightly unwillingly.

Both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins as bearers of the ring, eventually earn the right to journey to the Elven Gray Havens, a place of peace and immortality. The last we see of Bilbo in Rings is his exit with Frodo, Gandalf, and many of the elves, to this place of peace and final rest.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon350722 — On Oct 07, 2013

He become brave and honorable.

By anon43892 — On Sep 02, 2009

what *do* we learn from Bilbo's journey?

By WGwriter — On Mar 13, 2008

That's a great question. I think Bilbo learns that there is much more outside the Shire than in it. While the typical hobbit pose is to be very suspicious of "adventures," Bilbo learns that his heart's longing for something beyond the Shire is rewarded by journeying out of it. He certainly becomes braver, but there's more to it than that. He becomes a deeper, richer person who ultimately is able to not only change himself but change the world by negotiating peace between Elves, men and dwarves, a precursor to Frodo's uniting gesture to destroy the Ring in Lord of the Rings.

Also, don't forget that The Hobbit begins in the middle of things like Dante's Inferno. This is a middle-aged person waking up in the middle of his life and suddenly acting way outside his scope or understanding, learning lessons along the way. I believe you can link to many lessons learned as a result of Bilbo's journey. More importantly, what do we learn from Bilbo's journey?

By anon9736 — On Mar 12, 2008

in what ways does Bilbo change in The Hobbit?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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