With the release of Peter Jackson’s new film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, many fans both old and new have gravitated towards the curious characters in which the title is named after. The reason for this is the pint-sized protagonist of the film,—and novel—Bilbo Baggins is the unlikeliest of heroes. Standing at below four feet, Bilbo’s life is catapulted from the quiet rural Shire, into caves, woods, and ultimately into battle. Achieving feats beyond his competence, he is able to succeed. So what can we learn from, Bilbo, and all Hobbits from that matter? Before we learn such things, we must first look to understand a Hobbit.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” According to J.R.R. Tolkien, it wasn’t a nasty, dirty hole, but rather a pleasant cozy dwelling with a porthole shaped door. For Hobbits lived comfortable simple lives, not unlike the English country folk of Tolkien’s time. Hobbits were fond of food and ale, often eating, drinking, and socializing. The means of their wealth and prosperity came from farming and trading, as they knew little of the works of industry and machinery.
Hobbits themselves stood below four feet, with the average height being 3 foot 6. They were stout with round bellies and large hairy feet with leathery soles, which allowed them to walk barefoot regardless of terrain. Their ears were slightly pointed and their faces round and jovial. They were quiet peaceful folk who cared little of adventure and growth. Their smaller size not only allowed them to move unnoticed, but also allowed them to become keen observers with excellent eye-sight and hearing.
So why Tolkien would make these small and seemingly insignificant characters the heroes of his tales? The answers lie within the text of his work.
Small In Size, But Large In Heart
Hobbits represent the average person, the unsung heroes of the everyday. Those that do good in the world for the sake of doing good, without any further goals or desires. This is most evident in the fact that Hobbits are depicted as unadventurous and predictable. Bilbo Baggins lives a comfortable and respectable life, and is completely content with his life. He does what he is supposed to do, not because he has to, because he wants to. Hobbits lack the ambition of the other races of Middle Earth, and thus find simplicity amidst the chaos that often plagues the other races.
In The Lord of the Rings, during the council of Elrond, the races of Men, Elves, and Dwarves argue over the fate of the One Ring, and their desire to possess such a powerful tool. Each race while determined to end the evil Lord Sauron, all have ulterior motives, (such as wielding its power, or defending people) and thus limit themselves from becoming a true hero. The Hobbits however lack any desire for power or personal achievement, and thus are able to achieve feats by simplifying the complexities that come along with desire, ambition, and power.
Hobbits represent the rural and local heroes that Tolkien witnessed as he grew up. Hobbits prefer the simplicity of food, social gatherings and nature, to the hustle and bustle of city life. They require no advancement in lifestyle nor any personal wealth or achievement and thus act as a mediator between the different races and people of Middle Earth. Their simplistic and peaceful lifestyle allows them to not only point out the absurdities of the everyday, but allows Hobbits to act as true heroes. It was the King of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield who recognized this as he exclaimed to Bilbo;
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”