Bilbo’s Transformation in the Novel The Hobbit
Some people say that people never change, while others believe that if given the chance, they will. In this case, J.R.R. Tolkien gives the character Bilbo Baggins the chance to change dramatically in his book The Hobbit. Bilbo undergoes many significant changes in his personality as a result of engaging in Gandalf’s journey with the dwarves. The most important transformations include Bilbo going from cowardly to brave, from being ridiculed to respected and from being helpless to resourceful.
At the beginning of the story, Bilbo seems very cowardly, but soon proves that he is indeed brave. Bilbo is very tied up in his very boring, monotonous life and he really does not want to go on the adventure that he is being hauled into: “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea – any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye” (p. 6)! Bilbo does not really like the idea of an adventure and tries to rush Gandalf off in hope that he might forget that he even asked him to go. Hobbits are not considered to be very adventurous creatures, and bravery certainly does not come to mind when thinking about Bilbo Baggins sitting in his nice warm little Hobbit hole at the beginning of the story. The first sign of bravery is when the great spider tries to tie him up and Bilbo fights him off with his little sword:
The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or 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 empty sheath. (p. 155)
Bilbo does not have anyone to back him up or tell him what to do when the huge black spider tries to tie him up. The attack of the spider is like a spark hitting him, and all of the sudden he knows without thinking, what to do. At this point in the story, Bilbo realizes that he does have courage within himself, giving him more confidence to carry on in a more brave and courageous manner. Bilbo shows even more bravery by being the one with enough courage to go and check out Smaug in the first place:
Then the hobbit slipped on his ring, warned by the echoes to take more than a hobbit’s care to make no sound, he crept noiselessly down, down into the dark. He was trembling with fear, but his little face was set and grim. Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago. He had not had a pocket-handkerchief for ages. He loosened his dagger in its sheath, tightened his belt, and went on. (p. 212)
This is Bilbo’s greatest test of bravery. Even though he is scared, he continues on into the mystery of Smaug’s mountain that lay ahead. None of the other dwarves are up to the task except little Bilbo, who we would have never expected, went in and stood up to his fears. At the beginning of the novel, Bilbo is very cowardly and all he does is sit in his cozy little home. Once the great adventure is over, Bilbo comes back having fought off the giant spiders, saving the dwarves many a time, and worst of all facing Smaug, the dragon. This clearly shows that Bilbo, once given the chance, changes dramatically into a very brave hobbit.
Bilbo does not only become a much braver hobbit, he also becomes greatly respected among the dwarves as opposed to how he is ridiculed by them at the beginning of the novel. The dwarves are in doubt of his burglary skills when they first meet Bilbo and they are not sure if they should believe the good things Gandalf says about him:
“Will he do, do you think? It is all very well for Gandalf to talk about this
hobbit being fierce, but one shriek like that in a moment of excitement would be enough to wake the dragons and all of his relatives, and kill the lot of us. I think it sounded more like fright than excitement! In fact, if it had not been for the sign on the door, I should have been sure we had come to the wrong house. As soon as I clapped eyes on the little fellow bobbing and puffing on the mat , I had my doubts. He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!” (p. 17)
The dwarves do not respect Bilbo Baggins at this point in the story, in fact they merely ridicule him about his skills and wonder if he will get them killed in the end. Bilbo has not yet had the chance to show them what he can do, but he is determined to prove them wrong and gain their respect. Later on in the story, respect is shown towards Bilbo immensely when he finally escapes the Goblin tunnels and meets up with the dwarves again:
Bless me how they jumped! Then they shouted with surprise and delight. Gandalf was as astonished as any of them, but probably more pleased then all the others He called to Balin and told him what he thought of a look-out man who let people walk right into them like that without warning. It is a fact that Bilbo’s reputation went up a very great deal with the dwarves after this. If they had still doubted that he was really a first-class burglar, in spite of Gandalf’s words, they doubted no longer. Balin was the most puzzled of all; but everyone said it was a very clear bit of work. (p. 92)
Respect is also demonstrated when Balin, still puzzled about how Bilbo gets by him without noticing says, ” and I take of my hood to you” (p. 93). Bilbo uses the invisible ring to get away from Gollum and past the guards of the tunnels. He also keeps his ring on when he sneaks up on the dwarves, which makes his escape even more fantastic. As Bilbo brags and tells his story about his escape, the dwarves look at him with quite a new respect. The dwarves and Gandalf are all bewildered at his amazing escape, and Bilbo feels very good and confident in himself after this. As the journey goes on, Bilbo Baggins is beginning to feel more and more respected; especially after he saves all the dwarves from the giant spiders by using his cleverness and of course his faithful sword ‘Sting’:
These questions they asked over and over again, and it was from little Bilbo that they seemed to expect the answers. From which you can see that they had changed their opinion of Mr. Baggins very much, and had begun to have a great respect for him (as Gandalf had said they would). Indeed they really expected them to think of some wonderful plan to help them, and were not merely grumbling. They knew only to well that they would soon all have been dead, if it had not been for the hobbit; and they thanked him many times. Some of them even got up and bowed right to the ground before him, though they fell over with effort, and could not get on their legs again for some time. (p. 164)
Bilbo fights off the giant spiders by singing a song so they will follow him, this distracts the spiders causing them to forget about the dwarves that are ready to be eaten. Bilbo risks his own life to save the dwarves many times during the adventure, which in turn gains him the respect he deserves. This new respect that Bilbo has acquires gives him plenty of confidence in himself to get the job done, whatever it may be. This clearly shows that Bilbo’s change from being ridiculed and doubted by the dwarves to being very highly respected is a dramatic one and deserves recognition. All Bilbo needed is a chance to prove the dwarves wrong, and that is what he gets when those same dwarves appear on his doorstep that sunny afternoon.
Along with Bilbo Baggins becoming a braver and more respected hobbit, he also develops the most important change in the story; he changes from being incompetent to very resourceful. Bilbo’s helplessness is demonstrated when the dwarves see the light in the distance where the trolls are and instead of Bilbo going back to tell the dwarves what he sees, he decides to try and pick-pocket the trolls:
After hearing all this Bilbo ought to have done something at once. Either he should have gone back quietly and warned his friends that there were three fair-sized trolls at hand in a nasty mood, quite likely to try toasted dwarf, or even pony, for a change; or else he should have done a bit of quick burglary. A really first-class and legendary burglar would at this point picked the trolls’ pockets – it is nearly always worthwhile, if you can manage it. (p. 35)
Bilbo is very incompetent at this time and makes a bad decision to try and pick the trolls’ pockets. Bilbo of course gets caught, considering he had never tried such a thing before and soon after all the dwarves were neatly ties up in sacs with three angry troll sitting around them trying to decide how they should cook them. As the story progresses, Bilbo starts to get the idea of how to use his brain in a inventive manner. When Bilbo finds the ring of cold metal lying on the floor, he puts it in his pocket without realizing it which soon turns for the good and comes in handy later when playing the riddle game with Gollum:
“What have I got in my pocket?” he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset. (p. 78)
Bilbo reveals his resourcefulness by using his knowledge of riddles and a bit of luck to play the game with Gollum. When Bilbo finally wins, Gollum promises to show him the way out, although Gollum had no intent to at all. Bilbo uses the ring he found to get by Gollum and the guards to escape the wretched goblin tunnels. Again Bilbo shows his craftiness when the dwarves were taken away by the Wood-elves, and he uses his invisible ring to set them free and send them down the river ion barrels to safety:
They soon found thirteen with room enough for a dwarf in each. In fact some were too roomy, and as they climbed in the dwarves thought anxiously of the shaking and the bumping they would get inside, though Bilbo did his best to find straw and other stuff to pack them in as cozily as would be managed in a short time. (p.179)
Even though the dwarves are not too thrilled about it, Bilbo’s plan does work out. Bilbo had uses his invisible ring to find out enough information about the elves that with his clever thinking and inventiveness, he gets the keys to the dwarves cells and leads them down to the cellars below. Every barrel is packed by Bilbo, with one dwarf in each and is sent down the river to Lake-town, and he himself gets stuck with holding on to the outside of one of the barrels while floating down the icy cold river. Once Bilbo and the dwarves are inside Smaug’s layer, Bilbo uses his resourceful skills to speak to Smaug. He speaks smoothly and wisely to the dragon, being careful not to reveal his name: “I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air, I am he that walks unseen” (p. 221). This is in fact an example of Bilbo being very resourceful. He uses his head to get the job done, and he does it right. When he speaks to Smaug he has to be very careful, for he is a wise dragon who can figure out why Bilbo is there if he slips up and says something wrong during their conversation. The transition from being helpless to ingenious is by far the most relevant and important. Bilbo changes dramatically and comes back from the journey as a clever hobbit who knows how to use his skills in a tight situation. All Bilbo needed is the chance to bring out and use these important skills he has hidden inside him.
Bilbo Baggins undergoes three very significant and dramatic changes in his life and personality as a result of the great adventure he partakes in with the dwarves. He goes from a cowardly hobbit to a very brave and courageous one, from being ridiculed and questioned by the dwarves to being greatly respected by them, and lastly he goes from incompetent to resourceful. In the story The Hobbit, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the reader soon comes to realize that everyone can change, all they need is the determination and the chance to prove the rest of the world wrong.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1989). The hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books.