In classical children’s novel, the main characters are usually unimposing individuals who are easily overlooked, but manage to have great and successful journeys. Such is the case in Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Mr. Baggins is a simple hobbit that is swept away into a dangerous but exciting journey. In the trip, he becomes a heroic symbol of the common man or child making a name for himself. In the children’s classic, The Hobbit, Tolkien uses an unusual point of view, fantasy world setting, archetypal characters and symbols, and vivid characterization to show to children and adults that a seemingly petty individual can fulfill his potential to become a leader.
In the novel, Tolkien clearly speaks to two separate audiences. His first and most obvious is of course the younger crowd. To help the kids through the book he demonstrates an obtrusive narrator. It is a friendly and sociable point of view that is uncommon in the traditional classic novel. Also, the fairy tale land setting and archetypal characters keep the children interested. The other group the novel associates with is older men. Its characterization helps them relate to the fifty year old hobbit. The moral is also at two different levels. For adults, it would be the destruction of greed as well as the complications of rights. Tolkien gives this message through Thorin who is on his death bed,” If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell” (273)! At a child’s level, it would simply be you shouldn’t fight over who owns what (Kocher 48). The Hobbit definitely contains messages to two very different audiences.
To both perspectives, however, Bilbo is not a traditional hero. He is viewed as a “low- mimetic hero” (Crabbe 55). This means that he is no better than the common man in stature or in height. This helps the reader identify with him. On the contrary, Gandalf is a “high-mimetic hero.” He is grand in stature, raising seven feet tall, and in power. He is larger-than-life and mysterious, but he never abandons you (Crabbe 56). Bilbo has none of these qualities. This is why Tolkien didn’t have Bilbo kill the dragon or have a big part in the Battle of Five Armies. It would go against his persona (Matthews 69-70). The rest of the company is not classified as heroes but as loyal and durable folk (Crabbe 58).
His most heroic attribute is his reliability. When the company was imprisoned in the Wood-elves’ halls and “he was not as hopeful as they were,” he always kept his head (Tolkien 170). At Smaug’s lair, Bilbo said, “Personally, I have no hope at all…” (Tolkien 225). He still kept his head up and the company survived. At the end though, Tolkien reminds the reader one last time of Bilbo’s true status through Gandalf,” You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” Bilbo responded,” Thank goodness” (286-87)!
In the beginning of the novel, Bilbo’s potential goes unnoticed. He is not balanced between his Tookish and Baggins side (Matthews 64). He received the makings of an adventurer, or his Tookish side, from his grandfather on his mother’s side. Tolkien hints at this side in chapter two,” Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls… and wear a sword instead of a walking stick” (28). His grandfather was a rare explorer not revered where Bilbo lived. The dominant Baggins side he gained from his father depicted the typical hobbit. This side would rather “keep a tidy house, cook a tempting meal, and keep himself in pocket handkerchiefs” than hear of the explorations of others (Matthews 64). By the end of the book, though, the balance has shifted. Gandalf expresses this when he said, “My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were” (Tolkien 284). As for his post adventure status in the Shire, he was viewed as queer and strange. The Shire represents his former outlook and it disapproves (Tolkien 285).
As for how the theme relates to children, the obtrusive narrator is used. It is the “instrument of emotional sensitivity, moral perception, and playfulness” (Kuznets 34-35). An obtrusive narrator creates is a way of making a story easy to read for children. It is when the narrator breaks in at various intervals and speaks directly to the reader (Kuznets 32). It creates a “daddy at bedtime” feel where it is easy to read the story aloud to a kid (Helms 578). An obtrusive narrator helps steer the listener through complicated plot lines (Kuznets 34). An obtrusive narrator helps steer the listener through complicated plot lines (Kuznets 34). It is very useful.
The setting is a fantasy world setting. It is a “rhetoric of childhood” which designates the means the writer uses to dwell in his or her fictionary world (Kuznets 31-32). He sets the mood well with imagery: “All was well until one day they met a thunderstorm- more than a thunderstorm, a thunder -battle…when storms come up from the East and West and make war” (Tolkien 65). The setting constantly depicts the mood. When the dwarves finally tell their plan in the hobbit hole, it is dark creating a secretive feeling (Tolkien 28). Tolkien also uses seasonal changes to show the mood and stages of their journey. They started out in spring, the season of growth, intensified in summer, despaired in autumn when they were in the dragon’s layer, and winter brought destruction and death with the Battle of Five Armies (Kuznets 32). The setting is used very effectively.
There are many archetypal characters and symbols in The Hobbit. The most obvious is the quest archetype. It is a journey to regain a lost land (Matthews 61). Gandalf is most likely the most important, the guiding light. He parallels to numerous characters such as Merlin from the King Arthur stories and Odin of Norse legends (Matthews 64). There are also three magical weapons archetypes: Bard’s black arrow and the two swords, Orchist and Glamdring the Foe- Hammer (Matthews 63). Smaug the dragon is also the creature of nightmare archetype (Matthews 64). Archetypes give the reader a sense of acquaintance and familiarity.
Bilbo relates to children in many ways. The most obvious is his stature. He is about four feet tall, about the size of a seven year old, and beardless (Tolkien 15-16). He takes pleasure in simple joys such as eating and sitting by the fire in his womblike hobbit hole (Matthews 63-64). Like Bilbo, the youngest dwarves also have childish characteristics (Tolkien 44). Children are able to relate easily to the hobbit.
The novel relates to seniors in the morals of the story and Bilbo’s age. At various instances, Tolkien lashes out against contemporary life that adults will notice but children won’t (Kocher 46). He expresses his hatred of wars and machines by depicting the vile goblins as the creatures who love machines and weapons. He implies that they “invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world” (Kocher 49-50). The Hobbit also speaks of the trivialities of greed and the legal complications of reclaiming a lost prize (Kuznets 37). A child would not fully understand either. As for Bilbo’s age, he is in his fifties (Tolkien 15). That closely relates to a seniors age that may be thought of as over the hill (O’Neill 71). The novel relates to adults in these major ways.
By the end of the novel, Tolkien has given distinct messages to both children and seniors. It is that anyone, no matter how unimportant they may seem, can rise to a position of respect and leadership. Older people appreciate Tolkien’s purpose because they may feel that others view them as over the hill and thus, not a capable person. The children like the story because of the impact of a simple hobbit with many of the same attributes as themselves. It is a pleasing thought for them to think that Bilbo Baggins, a kid in behavior and stature, can rise to be noticed in a world where he is not suppose to. The clear goal of Tolkien is to point out that everyone is capable of exceeding his or her expectations.
Courtney from Study Moose
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