Jan 13, 4:05pm
I wrote all this up a couple months ago and planned to post it as a sort of daily serial, but of course nobody else has done that and maybe it's dumb. I've been too busy in the last days to rewrite it but I'm thinking I'll just throw it all up here now, before much else gets posted.
Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End, Hobbiton
Later, of course, we will come to know Elderly Bilbo as the dean of the hobbits, a sort of nanoscale Asimov, a hobbit Ben Franklin, who’s dabbled in every available vein of learning save sorcery (as far as we know). Poet, chronicler, translator—but no, no, no. That’s a different book. We’re reading a chapter of the Hobbit, and none of that stuff has crossed the author’s mind in the slightest, not yet. This is Bilbo, protagonist of the Hobbit, a lovely book I like to consider in its own right. Bit foppish, very proper, happily unremarkable, just settling down for a long descent into a fustian old age as a country gentleman. Although we are told, eventually, that he hasn’t merely “read of a good many things he had never seen or done,” he also can “do lots of things, besides blowing smoke-rings, asking riddles and cooking, that I haven’t had time to tell you about,” and we never will hear much about what those things might be.
One of the principal turns the book takes within the pages of this chapter, though to mature readers it is manifest already, is to announce formally that Bilbo’s status within Thorin’s company has changed. No longer is he a default burglar, brought along out of necessity and representing a bit of a deadweight the dwarves must grumblingly look after as they travel. He’s become the idea man, the de facto leader, “with ideas and plans of his own.” Indeed by now he seems to be the only one making any plans at all. God of war he may be, but Thorin doesn’t seem to intend to barge into Smaug’s bedroom, now it comes to the point; they’re all waiting for Bilbo to do something clever.
And he does his best, poor chap. He’s become a bold creature; by degrees, from the Misties through Mirkwood, he’s faced down a monster alone, tried his hand as a battlefield captain, hatched an escape plot when nobody else was available to do it, and now in the previous chapter he’s done his best to fill in as substitute loremaster. Now, at last, as he ventures not once but twice down a dark tunnel to the den of a dragon, he firmly dons the hat he was born to wear: he is a Trickster.
What does it mean for him to be “the real leader” now? What do we think of him as a character now, so far from home?