Bilbo Baggins: Zero To Hero

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What is this character we call a "hero?" A hero is being of abundant power, defiance, and intrepidity that conquer evil despite of impregnable obstacle to rescue the breath of inculpable lives that cannot defend for themselves. However, "hero" gives an exclusively altered significance in J.R.R Tolkien's fictional tale The Hobbit, as our hero is an egoistic, indolent hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Contradictory to our definition of a hero, Mr. Baggins' vigor and stability isn't appraised aside the power of his weapon, or the amount of adversaries he has defeated. Alternatively, his adequacy and heroism is based on his latent cunning brilliance, endurance, and his devotion and loyalty to his companions.

Bilbo's quick thinking and cunning intelligence plays an integral part in his success in becoming a hero. Early on Bilbo encounters a creature by the name of Gollum whose intent as we come to find out, is to eat Bilbo. In an effort to buy more time, Bilbo enters a game of riddles with the creature of the dark. Both agree that if Bilbo should win, Gollum will escort Bilbo to the exit. However, should Gollum win, Bilbo's fate is sealed as Gollum's next meal. After exchanging numerous blows, it is Bilbo's wit that prevails by asking the question "What have I got in my pockets?" (Tolkien, 78) Similar to Bilbo's encounter with Gollum is his confrontation with Smaug. This time however, Bilbo is facing a far more formidable opponent. Smaug attempts to lure Bilbo into his hall by telling Bilbo that there is plenty of treasure to go around. Bilbo however, having knowledge of dragon-lore sees through Smaug's frivolous attempt and proceeds to flatter the dragon and talk in riddles. "This is of course the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise.)" (223) It is through this tactic that Bilbo establishes himself as being capable of conquering his enemy through battles not of sheer force, but of wit and the use of riddles.

Courage is perhaps Bilbo's second greatest strength and his only strength as characterized by the definition of the "classic hero." While Bilbo's courage is not immediately realized, there remains the fact that he has an innate desire for journey and courage; his "tookish" (15) side. Indeed what we see is a progression of heroic acts in which Bilbo's valor is put to the test. Among these heroic acts include (but are not limited to) his run in with the trolls, his encounter with the spiders deep within the Mirkwood Forest, and what is perhaps his greatest act of courage, his confrontation with Smaug. Bilbo's first act of courage comes about with his run in with the trolls. In an effort to prove to his companions that he is a capable burglar, Bilbo tries his luck at picking the pocket of a troll. "Bilbo plucked up courage and put his little hand in William's pocket." (36) While ultimately Bilbo's tactics prove to be futile, his intentions took a great deal of courage. After all, everyone's got to start somewhere. Another pivotal moment in Bilbo's progression in courage is his encounter with the wicked spiders of Mirkwood. Facing the threat of being eaten alive, Bilbo finds enough courage to cut himself free (after being captured by the spiders) and kill the great spider which had been keeping watch over him and the other dwarves. After the killing of the great spider, there comes over Bilbo a great sense of accomplishment.

"Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath." (156)

While there's no doubt these acts are courageous, they pale in comparison to the amount of courage he musters up when he finally meets Smaug. While walking down the tunnel towards the dragon, Bilbo hears the great beast snoring. "Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait." (214) It is because of Bilbo's courage that he is able to conquer the greatest fear of all - the unknown. Bilbo's willingness to persevere given the choice between certain doom and ending his journey and turning around is what separates Bilbo Baggins from the common man and is what defines him as a true hero.

Loyalty is Bilbo's greatest strength and the linchpin of his heroism. His un-yielding commitment to his friends and staunch sense of selflessness is what elevates Bilbo to a level purely reserved for heroes. This act of heroism is manifested throughout the book. From his rescuing of the dwarves from the savage spiders of Mirkwood, to his aid and abetment in rescuing the dwarves from an eternal imprisonment in the cave of the Wood-Elves, Bilbo remains loyal to his friends. However, Bilbo's greatest test of loyalty is his handing over of the Arkenstone to Bard on the eve of "the Battle of Five Armies." Bilbo's intentions are not however immediately clear. Upon receipt of the Arkenstone, Bard asks Bilbo whether or not he is betraying his friends. This as we come to find out is anything but the case as Bilbo responds "My dear Bard! I am merely trying to avoid trouble for all concerned." (272) Furthermore, when the Elvenking advises Bilbo to remain with them in fear of Thorin's wrath, Bilbo states "Thank you very much I am sure, but I don't think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gone through together. And I promised to wake old Bombur at midnight, too!" (273) Just as the Elvenking predicts, Thorin takes wrath upon Bilbo by declaring that he has "been betrayed," by a "descendant of rats" and a "traitor." What Thorin has failed to see is that Bilbo was only looking out for the wellbeing of all parties. This transaction is Bilbo's greatest challenge and the pinnacle of his career not as a burglar, but a hero. A hero must above all else understand and retain the foresight that battle should at all costs be avoided.

Tolkien's ability to transcend the gap between fantasy and the real world by making an everyday-average being such as Bilbo into a hero, contrasts greatly with the "classic" definition of what a hero is. However, it is his cunning intelligence & quick thinking, courage and above all else his loyalty to his friends that establish Bilbo as an indisputable hero. When Gandalf states in chapter one that "Warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighborhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found," (22) he obviously failed in overlooking the might of Bilbo Baggins.