Hobbits are perhaps JRR Tolkien’s most popular and original creation. As the legend goes, one day in 1928, while grading papers, Tolkien found a student
- “had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it…and I wrote on it: ‘
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit
- .’ Names always generate a story in my mind…I thought I’d better find out what hobbits were like” (
- pg. 215).
Hobbits, as it turns out, are
- “little people, about half our height…inclined to be fat in the stomach…wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leather soles and grow thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads” (
- pg. 12).
They are also very much comfort-loving creatures who eat many meals a day and avoid adventures – “Make one late for dinner!” (Hobbit pg. 13).
Bilbo Baggins is, of course, the seminal hobbit. He is a very respectable hobbit indeed, and one which “never…did anything unexpected” (Hobbit pg. 11).
But as we find out, hobbits (or at least certain ones) can be stirred into action. He does begin to act very unexpectedly, accepting the invitation of the dwarves (after some finagling on Gandalf’s part)…and he discovers throughout his adventures that, as Gandalf notes, there is much more to him than even he realizes.
We realize later that this may be true for all hobbits. Difficult times and situations seem to bring out the very best in the docile hobbits. This is as true of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as it is of Bilbo.
They grow through their adventures, and each situation becomes a chance for more self-discovery. They remain resiliently good…it turns out that their quiet, peaceful nature is surprisingly hardy against evil.
Evil takes many forms in Tolkien’s books, but it consistently relies upon power and domination. Sauron, Saruman, and the Ring…the three primary benchmarks of evil in the books, all strive toward domination. The hobbits, in their simplistic, naturalistic ways desire only a quiet, bourgeois life. Even the potent Ring works on them very slowly, as it seems to have difficulty finding a foothold in their mind.
Hobbits (at least most) are also fundamentally decent, which makes them the most lifelike and modern characters in JRR Tolkien’s books. In the midst of a story set in a distant past and teeming with fantastic beings and creatures, hobbits help to form a link to the present.
The hobbits, in their general decency; their love of food and drink; their desire for peace, quiet, comfort, and “respectability”, represent a modernizing influence on a primarily heroic epic.
As anyone who has read Homer’s Illiad can attest, it can be very difficult for the modern reader to identify with the characters. They live in a different culture, are influenced by different issues and superstitions, and react in ways which those with modern sensibilities may find hard to fathom.
All of Tolkien’s characters have views and morals that can be seen as relatively modern in some way. They live in a heroic culture, but a heroic culture filled with modern values.
Still, hobbits help to bridge that gap between heroic culture and modern, middle-class life. As much as we might like to feel otherwise, we realize that we are very much like Bilbo when Gandalf says:
- “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only a very little fellow in a wide world after all!” (
- pg. 255).