Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of the Hobbit
© 2012 Joseph Pearce
The Hobbit begins with the sudden arrival of a pack of dwarves at Bilbo Baggin’s house. Though he is very much the quiet homebody, they have arrived expecting him to both play host an then join them on a dangerous quest – which he does, grudgingly, because he has little choice against a band of strangers and the stern wishes of the wizard Gandalf. His resulting adventure is a coming-of-age story in which the hobbit learns to look outside his hobbit-hole and appreciate the world at large. Bilbo’s Journey expounds on the moral aspects of this travel into maturity, and sees in its conclusion a Bilbo who has learned to look outside himself. Pearce relies on Tolkien’s myth-saturated scholarship to stress that the Dragon is not merely a large reptile whose lair was disturbed, but a creature of evil who is utterly craven. The Dragon feasts on innocents and hoards gold not because it is hungry and wishes to put something by for its retirement, but because it is wicked, and its presence makes real our own craven consumerism and selfishness. Tellingly, when near the end the Dragon is loosed on the town and swoops down, shining in the moonlight, its lone piece of unarmored flesh is its black heart, open to one well-shot arrow. As with Return of the King, the defeat of the monster is not the end of evil; the wealth-obsessed dragon sickness leads to a war between various factions, and when Bilbo returns home he finds his distant relations greedily pawing at his own possessions. Having grown throughout the adventure, however, Bilbo is not nearly as wrecked by having lost his ‘precious’ possessions as he once was. As with Frodo’s Journey, Pearce comments on other aspects of the story – the development of the ring, Thorin’s kingship vs Aragon’s — but the virtue against evil, charity vs selfishness theme is predominant. There’s a fair bit of redundancy between this and Frodo’s Journey, but this one has broader appeal.