The Hobbits’ Bilbo Baggins gives me courage


In The Lord of the Rings Bilbo warns Frodo that “it’s a dangerous business going out your front door.” In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure it’s also a dangerous business answering your front door. Gandalf sends thirteen dwarves to Bilbo’s home having told them that Bilbo is right for the job of the burglar.

Gandalf offers a couple of reasons for choosing Bilbo to take this adventure. The first is practical: Bilbo is small and light on his feet. Though he has never burgled anything, nor does he have the disposition of a burglar or an adventurer, Gandalf sees beyond who Bilbo appears to be and appreciates who he is and recognizes who he may become. But Gandalf’s choice of burglar was unexpected for the dwarves and, perhaps, a bit disappointing.

Thorn Oakenshield tells Gandalf that he can’t be responsible for Bilbo’s safety or his fate. This is not good news to Bilbo. After all, adventures aren’t predictable. Adventures aren’t safe.  But in spite of Bilbo’s love of home and comfort, order and respectability, Bilbo chooses to go. Something in him needs to go.

In a scene at Bilbo’s home early in the film the dwarves sing a mournful song about their lost home. It reminds me of the Hebrew songs of captitivity recorded in the Psalms, and especially of Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon we lay down our harps and wept…”. After years away the dwarves’ quest is to regain their lost homeland. In spite of the vast differences in lifestyle, values, and disposition between hobbits and dwarves Bilbo is moved by their longing and makes the dwarves’ quest his own. As the adventure progresses the dwarves come to realize that Bilbo belongs in their adventure.

Gandalf offers a second reason when Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose the hobbit, he saying, “I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Because he gives me courage.” The Hobbit communicates the Biblical truth that God chooses the small, weak, and foolish things of this world to confound the powerful. Gandalf doesn’t know exactly how Bilbo fits into the dwarves’ quest or into Gandalf’s own opposition against the stirring evil in Middle Earth. All Gandalf knows is that Bilbo needs to be there.

As unexpected as the adventure may have been, Bilbo’s transformation may be even more unexpected. It is the nature of quests for there to be parallel adventures; as the adventurers achieve their external goals they also overcome internal conflicts and emerge from the quest changed. In the course of his unexpected adventure Bilbo develops uncharacteristic boldness. He acquires new skills, and uses his existing skills in new ways as the needs arise. Bilbo displays creativity, wit, heart, and compassion that may not have emerged in the course of the life he was leading before.

The Hobbit serves as an invitation to open the door to the unexpected and likely unsafe adventure that awaits.  The thought that the life I live and choices I make may at some point factor into keeping the darkness at bay inspires me to continue the quest when I feel incredibly small and powerless. Bilbo Baggins gives me courage when the role I need to assume doesn’t quite fit who I think I am.


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