I have a confession to make. Bilbo Baggins is my spirit animal. I like my peace and quiet, I dislike unexpected dinner guests, and I am legitimately considering living in a hobbit hole, if I can get the necessary funding. Also, I am less than five feet tall. But I digress.
J.R.R. Tolkien is one of those authors I really want to read, but when I sit down to do it, I get bogged down by his writing style. I muddled my way through Lord of the Rings, but with very little recollection of what I read, since most of the action was buried under long and cumbersome epithets like “Aragorn, son of Arathorn, called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadain, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor.” Fortunately, The Hobbit is more of a children’s book, and as such, is not nearly as sludgy.
We begin our story with Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who has a very nice house in a hill which I not-so-subtly covet with all of my heart. A hobbit, if you have been living under a rock, is about three feet tall and resembles a beardless chubby dwarf. Most hobbits are as dull as the dirt they live under, but Bilbo is special, because his mother was a Took, which means he has a genetic disposition towards adventuring and other unhobbitlike nonsense. (Incidentally, Bilbo mother’s sister is Frodo’s grandmother, which makes them first cousins once removed or something. Of course, most of the hobbits in the Shire appear to be related to each other in one way or another, which is probably something you shouldn’t think too hard about.)
One idyllic day, Bilbo encounters Gandalf, an ominously tall wizard who is looking for someone to share an adventure with him. In his attempts to escape from the impending stranger danger, Bilbo reveals himself to be an extremely awkward hobbit. “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!” Have I mentioned that I really empathize with Bilbo on a personal level?
When he opens the door the next day, however, it isn’t Gandalf. It’s a dwarf. Well, okay, actually, it’s 13 dwarves: Dwalin, Balin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Kili, Fili, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and Thorin Oakenshield. Guess which dwarf is an only child. (As a side note, Gloin is the father of Gimli, one of our friends from LotR. As another side note, Gloin’s father’s name is Groin, which is really just unfortunate.) Gandalf, of course, shows up late. Somehow, the same Bilbo who hates visitors has enough food in his pantry and dishes in his cupboard to feed all of them.
The dwarves eat all his food, and sing while doing it, because they are either a traveling circus or auditioning for an episode of Glee. Some of them have flutes, fiddles, and drums. Dwalin and Balin (and I am not making this up) bring in two viols as big as themselves. Even Thorin has a beautiful golden harp. Because, let’s face it, when you are planning a long and arduous journey, you should always make room in your luggage for a full-fledged orchestra. They sing that lovely song about the Misty Mountains, which brings out the Tookish blood in Bilbo.
After the musical is over, the dwarves get down to the business of reclaiming their homeland. Before anything of importance gets said, Bilbo faints. Upon waking he learns that Gandalf has volunteered him for a job as a burglar, and there is no opt-out clause on his contract. The job, it appears, requires stealth and cunning, which is precisely why we need Bilbo, because… um. Moving on. Gandalf the Plot Device also has a key and a map which he ‘obtained’ from Thorin’s dad. He mentions there is a side-door to the Lonely Mountain that needs opening. (This is also the point where I say: Tolkien, you invented at least three different languages from scratch, with multiple dialects. You couldn’t think of a better place name than “Lonely Mountain?” It’s like someone creating an elaborate world and then naming a volcano something ridiculous like “Mount Doom.” Oh, wait.)
Thorin provides us some backstory of his mission, the gist of which is his grandfather was kicked out of the dwarf-built mountain home by an evil dragon named Smaug. At this point, Bilbo is quite ready to toss these people out on their giant noses, but then he hears Thorin singing long into the night, and instead of yelling at him to keep it down because some people are trying to sleep, Bilbo is overcome with the urge to join the orchestra. (One assumes he will play the triangle.)
However, he wakes up to find all his dishes are still dirty and, quite surprising for a bachelor, he sets about cleaning them right away. He is just sitting down to second breakfast (wait, there’s still food left?) when Gandalf storms in and berates him for not dusting his mantelpiece. Apparently Thorin has left him a note there (why not just put it on the pile of dishes if you wanted it to be seen?) saying that the gang is meeting at an inn and leaving in about ten minutes. Bilbo, not wanting to be impolite (and completely forgetting that he was against the whole adventure to begin with), makes it there just in time to join the circus.
Gandalf has a habit of disappearing intermittently throughout the story, whenever his presence would be most convenient, only to reemerge when he is no longer necessary or when the group has gotten itself into the worst possible scrape.
For example, one dark and rainy night they lose a food-laden pony in a river and start to get hungry (maybe you guys should have left the tuba behind and just packed more food). They send Bilbo to spy on their neighbors, a trio of trolls with Cockney accents and terrifying names like Bert, Tom and Bill Huggins. Predictably, Bilbo gets caught (because he’s a terrible burglar) and the trolls decide to make a pie out of him, never mind that they are camping in the woods where pie crusts are generally difficult to come by. Bilbo Baggins babbles his way out of being eaten and when the trolls start arguing amongst themselves, he starts to crawl away. The dwarves, without much sense of self-preservation, show up one after another until they are all captured in sacks. Thorin, at least, puts up a fight and pokes one in the eye with a flaming stick, but for the most part, this entire gang is useless. Gandalf finally shows up at this point, mimics the trolls’ voices to get them to start squabbling with each other on how to cook dwarves, and waits for the sun to come up and turn the trolls to stone. Because trolls are allergic to sunlight, of course. The group finds their troll-cave and pillages it for food, armor and swords. (Wait, were you guys seriously unarmed before this?! Don’t you know the first rule of RPG adventuring is to stock up on the best stuff you can afford at the nearest town before you go?)
Gandalf leads them all to Rivendell, where elves sing in the trees and Elrond stares at their map of the Lonely Mountain and discovers there is moon writing on it. Moon-letters, of course, are horribly inconvenient because they only appear if you have to hold the paper up to the moon during certain times of the lunar cycle to see them. Good thing the dwarves have great timing.
Bilbo and the 13 dwarves press on, and take shelter in a cave one unpleasant evening. Fili and Kili are sent to make sure it’s safe, but you know how kids are. They only do a half-hearted check, and Bilbo wakes up in the night to see the (very quiet) ponies disappearing through a cave crack as they are stolen by goblins. In trying to rescue the ponies, the dwarves are also captured and taken to the Great Goblin. They are nearly killed but saved at the last minute by Gandalf, who had better things to do until the point where he is most likely to make a dramatic entrance. They almost escape, but Dori is carrying the slower Bilbo and he drops him on the way out. Not for the last time in this novel, Bilbo hits his head and passes out.
When Bilbo wakes up, the first thing he does is find a ring on the floor and compulsively sticks it in his pocket. The next thing he does is to try to light his pipe. I am overly concerned about the signs of addiction in this poor hobbit. He gets lost in the tunnels, finding himself at last in an underground lake, where he runs into Gollum. Gollum is an odd sort of creature with a habit of talking to himself and confusing his plurals and pronouns. He also resembles a pokemon in that he makes noises that sound like his name.
Bilbo asks for directions, but Gollum suggests a game of riddles instead. Bilbo decides he doesn’t have anything more pressing to do today, so he goes along with it. After several turns guessing riddles that make the average reader feel very stupid indeed, Bilbo runs out of ideas and the only thing he can think to ask is “What have I got in my pocket?” This really just makes Gollum angry because he is not psychic. Bilbo demands that Gollum show him the way out (which is a ridiculous thing to expect from a slightly unhinged creature that is trying to decide if you look edible). Gollum decides he’s going to double-cross Bilbo anyway and goes to look for his ring. He realizes it’s missing, and attacks Bilbo.
Bilbo avoids this by putting the ring on (Because this is the perfect time to see if your jewelry fits) and turns invisible. Gollum concludes that Bilbo had the ring in his pocketses and must be headed for the back door (forgetting that Bilbo was playing the game to get directions to the back door in the first place). He unknowingly leads Bilbo directly to the exit and Bilbo decides he is an action hero, leaping three feet into the air over Gollum and landing seven feet away. I am impressed. Bilbo squeezes out of the door, losing his buttons in the process, and escapes into the sunlight beyond the cave.
Bilbo creeps down the other side of the mountain to find Gandalf and the dwarves discussing his demise. He pops out to the surprise of all and they carry on again, this time on foot (because all their ponies are dead).
They hear wolves howling, and Gandalf’s helpful suggestion is to climb the trees. Doesn’t he know that dwarves don’t do trees? Bilbo doesn’t do trees, either, and someone has to go back for him. Again. Gandalf then has the ingenious idea to light pinecones on fire and start throwing them at the wolves. Smokey the Bear would be so disappointed in you, Gandalf. As one imagines, he has not thought his cunning plan through and now the trees are on fire.
Meanwhile, the Lord of the Eagles is hanging out nearby and hears the wolf voices. He goes to investigate and picks up Gandalf in the process. The rest of the eagles come and scoop up the dwarves like the deus ex machina they are. The eagles carry them a good long while, but unfortunately, they drop them off at the edge of the mountain range and refuse to take them over Mirkwood forest and the rest of the way to the Lonely Mountain. That would, of course, have been much too helpful.
Gandalf leads the dwarves into the forest to meet a man named Beorn. Beorn, it turns out, can turn into a bear. I don’t really know why he’s significant to the plot, but I nicknamed him Smokey. The group heads to the edge of Mirkwood, where Gandalf decides to ditch them again (because it worked out so well last time), leaving them with only the ominous warning not to leave the path.
What Gandalf does not tell them, however, is that the path is intersected by an inconvenient river that has the strange habit of putting to sleep whoever touches the water. Thanks, Gandalf. They find a boat to get them across, but poor Bombur (known among his friends as “the fat one”) is startled by a deer as he tries to get out of the boat and falls into the water. They fish him out, but he’s already fast asleep. (Cue sitcom audience groan. “Oh, Bombur!” Cue canned sitcom audience laughter.)
The dwarves take turns carrying him through the forest for several days. Bilbo climbs a tree to find out where they are, but he gets distracted by butterflies. They run out of food just as soon as Bombur wakes up. One wonders how they’ve survived this long, as they’re fairly ill-equipped and no one seems to know how to hunt. When they do finally catch a squirrel, the thing tastes awful. (Did no one plan this part of the journey?! Did no one stop and think “Hey, I wonder what we’re going to eat in Mirkwood forest if our food-laden ponies happen to get eaten by goblins?”?!)
The dwarves next get captured by giant spiders, who completely (and probably wisely) ignore Bilbo. Bilbo retaliates by stabbing one with the dagger he got from the troll stash and proudly names it Sting in honor of his first kill. (Oh, Gandalf, you horrible man. First you corrupt a perfectly law-abiding hobbit, leading him off the path of righteousness and down the path of thievery, and next you turn him into a stone-cold killer.)
Bilbo finds the rest of the spiders salivating over Bombur (Cue sitcom audience groan. “Oh, Bombur!”) and distracts them by loudly singing mean songs and untying the dwarves. A battle commences between the two forces, though many of the dwarves are still drugged from the poison and aren’t much help. (Not that they did a lot before…)
They’re clearly still drugged afterwards because it takes them awhile to realize they’ve misplaced Thorin. It turns out he’s been captured by Mirkwood elves. Nobody worries for too long, though, because they are also captured and taken to the Elvenking (known in other books as Thranduil, Legolas’s dad). This is… what, their fourth time being captured so far?
Bilbo, who is again smarter than the dwarves, puts on his ring of invisibility and wanders the elfin halls, stealing food and chatting with the imprisoned dwarves. He also finds a storage cellar built above the river with a hole in the floor that the elves use to toss their empty wine barrels into.
When the elf guards get drunk, Bilbo steals the jail keys and packs all the dwarves into barrels. Of course, he forgets that he needs an extra hand to pack him into his own barrel. So when the drunk elves come along to wheel the barrels into the river, he just sort of clings to the last one as it’s going in. They all wash ashore, more than a little bedraggled and some with a newfound phobia of apples. Apparently traveling by barrel is not as much fun as advertised. Who knew?
They end up in the bay of Lake-town, a human village built on a lake with an unimaginative name and delusions of Venice. One assumes they have a fondness for collecting empty wine barrels, because there is a whole industry built around fishing them out of the water. Thorin tries to convince the locals that he is the grandson of Thror, returned to reclaim the mountain. He repeats this several times until the Master of Lake-town hears him. Unfortunately, the Master is good friends with the elves they have just escaped from, and he’s not a fan of upsetting his good friends. The lake people, however, remember songs about Thror, and start to sing them anyway. Moved by the power of musical theater, the Master reluctantly lets the dwarves stay and eat. For a few weeks.
They do eventually leave for the Lonely Mountain on the backs of ponies (Who let them have more ponies?!) and come at last to the secret door featured on the map. It is so secret, in fact, that none of them can find it, nor do any of them remember what Elrond said about moon-letters.
By chance Bilbo is sitting on the doorstep by the light of the new moon and the outline of a door appears. They all stare at it awhile longer before someone remembers to try the key in the lock. It does, of course, open. (Someone should revoke the permits of the construction crew who decided to build an emergency exit that only exists once a month at a certain time of night.)
Everyone figures it’s time that Bilbo earned his keep and they send him into the dark passageway by himself. Real heroes, these dwarves are. Bilbo follows the passageway down the tunnel until he hits a great dungeon-like hall, which happens to be full of gold. Also, dragons.
Well, one dragon named Smaug, who is taking a nap. Bilbo decides he is the next Beowulf and quietly grabs a giant cup as heavy as he can carry to show the rest of the group. (Why a giant cup, one wonders? Why not something useful, like a sword, or portable, like a coin? One never does find out.)
Smaug, however, is apparently very fond of that cup and very upset at losing it. He flies into a rage and out the front gate, where he toasts the ponies for no particular reason. (NOT THE PONIES!!) The dwarves remain in the tunnel to keep from being toasted themselves. They muster up all their courage and…send Bilbo back down to chat with the dragon. Yeesh, you guys don’t even deserve the gold.
Fortunately, Smaug is surprisingly civil and fond of chatting. He is also easily flattered. Bilbo puts on his invisibility ring and strikes up the conversation, making sure he gives himself plenty of epithets such as “clue-finder” and “web-cutter” and “the stinging fly,” which, to be honest, is not all that frightening of a moniker, but seems appropriate anyway.
Smaug messes with Bilbo’s head by asking how much share of the gold is actually his, versus how much will go to taxes and tolls and things. One wonders if Smaug is really that fiscally conscious or if he harbors some bitter feelings towards the IRS from before he went MIA.
Bilbo snipes at him and at the last moment, flees into the tunnel with Smaug’s flames licking his heels and some sound advice to himself: “Never laugh at live dragons.” Wise words. All this chat, unfortunately, inspires Smaug to get up and set fire to other things as well. Namely, Lake-town.
The dwarves, meanwhile, are talking to birds. This annoys Bilbo more than a little and they direct their conversation to potential methods of dragon-slaying (and really, guys, shouldn’t you have done your research before you set out on this exact mission?!) They make it inside as far as the tunnel before the magical door closes on them, trapping them inside the mountain permanently. With no recourse but to carry onward and slay the dragon, the dwarves… decide to send Bilbo down first to see if he’s still there. Seriously, guys?
Bilbo discovers the dragon is, in fact, gone. He climbs one mound of treasure and finds the Arkenstone, which happens to be a gem that Thorin really wants. So of course Bilbo snags it for himself and considers it his part of the treasure. (You’ve really turned him into a hardened criminal now, Gandalf).
The dwarves do meanwhile creep around the hall, paranoid, before lighting some conveniently placed torches. Thorin tosses some mithril armor at Bilbo (Siiiigh. Did these guys really not equip better armor when they decided to go dragon-hunting?). While the dwarves marvel at their newfound wealth, Bilbo really just wants some soup. They eventually make their way to the Front Gate from which Smaug exited. They then decide to go rock climbing, have a snack, and wait for the dragon’s return.
What they don’t know is that Smaug has already been killed by a completely random citizen. As the dragon flew around Lake-town, set bits of it on fire, and villagers running and screaming, a man named Bard was preparing to shoot his last arrow. Before he could fire, a bird darted out and told him to aim at that little hole in the dragon’s chest where he was missing a scale. Bard took the bird’s advice, rather than consider why a bird was talking to him in the first place. Bard shot and Bard scored. It turns out Bard is also a descendant of some king or another, but the real point is, he didn’t time his victory shot well enough and Smaug landed on half the town.
People assumed Smaug had also landed on Bard and started prematurely mourning the citizen of the hour. (They also complained about the Master, who fled the town in his gold boat as soon as he had the chance and was just now coming back.) However, Bard climbed out of the water (presumably in an attractive Colin Firth way) and everyone clamored for him to be king. Master wasn’t fond of that idea, and wanted to send King Bard to go be king in his own kingdom of Dale. So Master did the natural thing and redirected the anger of the townspeople by blaming the dwarves for bringing out the dragon in the first place. Which… okay, that’s a fair point. It’s pretty much Bilbo’s fault for stealing that cup and waking up the dragon to begin with.
The humans of Lake-town start to rebuild, and meanwhile the Elvenking hears the news of Smaug’s death and assumes he needs to help the humans get their gold back from the mountain.
Meanwhile, the dwarves are still listening to birds, who tell them that Smaug is dead and the men are coming for the gold. Thorin, of course, translates this to mean that they should defend the mountain. Whilst there, they watch the camps move about below and hear the elves singing and playing harps. Apparently this is how everyone in Middle Earth prioritizes. Not to be outdone, the dwarves dig up some harps from the treasure room and have a good old-fashioned glee-off with the elves. If nothing else, it makes Thorin smile, so there’s that.
The next day, Bard approaches the gate and tries to parley for some of the gold looted from his own people, pointing out that the town was pretty hospitable to the dwarves not long ago. Alas, greedy dwarves are mean dwarves and Thorin fires a warning arrow and tells them to go home.
Thorin isn’t too worried about repercussions at this point because he has news that five hundred dwarves are coming to help him. Bilbo, of course, feels really very awkward in the middle of this race war. He pretends to take over watch so Bombur can get some sleep (“Oh, Bombur!”) and then sneaks down over the wall. The dwarves really need a better security system. He goes straight to the enemy camp, introduces himself, and asks them to take him to their leader. Never let it be said that this hobbit is a coward.
In a prime example of bargaining, Bilbo then gives the Arkenstone to Bard and leaves. The humans just let him go, presumably stunned by…whatever it was he just did. As Bilbo heads back to the wall, Gandalf shows up again to cheer him on. (He doesn’t try to resolve the conflict or anything. He just wants to tell Bilbo he’s doing a good job.)
The next day, Bard comes again to try and reason with Thorin, but to no avail. He even brings out the Arkenstone, which just makes Thorin mad. Thorin demands to know how it fell into human hands and Bilbo, idiot that he is, declares that it was his doing.
Thorin nearly strangles Bilbo and wishes Gandalf were here so he could yell at him too. Gandalf, it just so happens, is here, and encourages Thorin to listen to common sense. Thorin doesn’t. He kicks Bilbo out of the honorary dwarf club and sends him back down to the enemy. (One would think this was a bad idea, since Bilbo knows enough about the mountain defenses to be a decent spy.) The other dwarves seem a little embarrassed by the tantrum, but not enough to depose Thorin.
Meanwhile, Thorin’s dwarven backup, Dain and Co., have arrived. Bard and his men decide they shall not pass. The Elvenking (Oh yeah, he’s here too) recommends reconciliation, but then all the dwarves attack. Then, of course, the sky darkens and the goblins and wolves attack everybody. Why are they here? We… don’t really know. But they can’t miss a good fight, apparently. The men, the elves, and the dwarves stop fighting each other and join forces to defeat the goblins and the wolves in the Battle of Five Armies. Because they may not all be friends, but at least they’re all prettier than those guys.
It’s a pretty nasty battle, but Bilbo manages to miss most of it by putting on his ring and hiding on the hill by the backup elves. He watches his side losing pretty spectacularly and does nothing until the eagles show up (Oh sure, NOW the eagles want to fly to the Lonely Mountain). Then Bilbo gets hit by a rock and passes out.
When Bilbo wakes up, he realizes one of the downsides to being invisible is that it’s very difficult for your friends to find your body while you’re unconscious. It turns out he has missed all of the action (including the reappearance of Smokey the Bear) and, on top of that, missed the part where Fili and Kili were killed in battle. But they’re a side note next to Thorin, who is dying slowly enough to read out his will, say his goodbyes, and seek forgiveness and friendship from Bilbo.
After Thorin dies, he’s buried in the mountain, and Dain (son of Nain) becomes king instead. Dain is a reasonable sort of dwarf, and he gives Bard Thorin’s 1/14 share of the wealth, who passes it on to rebuilding Lake-town.
Bilbo doesn’t want much, in the end. He just goes home with two little chests of gold, a pony (who apparently survived ponyocalypse), his mithril armor, his sword, and a magic ring with massive power that will spark such devastation that it takes a long and unreadable trilogy to destroy it. He’s still a humble little hobbit, after all.
He and Gandalf don’t return home by eagle (WHY NOT?!) but instead opt to take a long pony ride. As they part from the Elvenking at the edge of Mirkwood, Bilbo tries to give him a necklace in exchange for stealing all that food while in the dungeon. The king is very polite, if a little puzzled, and accepts the necklace (Bilbo’s confusion is understandable – after all, there has not been one single female in this entire book so far and I’m sure the king is a very pretty elf).
They stop by Elrond’s house for a night where the elves will still not shut up with their singing, and Bilbo reaches his house almost exactly a year from the day he left it.
As it turns out, the Shire must have some law where you are presumed dead if they don’t find your body within a year, because all of his relatives are now auctioning off his belongings. He buys most of his stuff back (except the spoons) and spends the rest of his days being known as that weirdo who went on an adventure and now tells stories about elves and dragons, corrupting his youthful cousins and encouraging them to go on mountaineering expeditions of their own.
(P.S. I try to keep adaptations out of my blog (and usually fail at doing so), but I must say that if one hasn’t seen the cartoon movie of The Hobbit from the 70s, one is missing out. It is unintentionally hilarious. Also, if one hasn’t seen that video from the 60s of Leonard Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” one should find that on YouTube ASAP. You’ll thank me later.)