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Themes in The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2605 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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The Heroic Journey 

A hero is someone who has a strong sense of justice and acts upon that sense. In The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien uses different elements of the novel to define his idea of a hero. Although the protagonist has a short stature with more heart than muscles, he still modifies the lives of many characters. The book is beyond a children’s fantasy; it’s a narrative about resurrection, growth, and individual development. It is easy to encourage Bilbo, who is a short hobbit since everyone can feel little in this big world. In the novel, Bilbo develops into a hero despite the stereotype of hobbits being introverted and unadventurous. His mother family’s background influences his experience during the journey. The author describes how Bilbo joins Thorin and the Company with Gandalf on a quest to the Lonely Mountains to recover the treasure that was taken by the dragon. The weapons that the author mentions have extraordinary titles. In the end, Bilbo will come back with more than just treasure, but as a new hero. In The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien uses the theme of heroism to illustrate the idea of rebirth, femininity, weapons, and family lineage.

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The unexpected journey symbolizes the death of Bilbo’s childish ways and his rebirth to a hero. Bilbo is supposed to be a 50-year-old hobbit; nonetheless, he lives a homegrown lifestyle similar to an adolescent with no great achievements. He must experience progressions before he achieves independence. He must undergo extreme circumstances to “reach within himself for resources that he might not have known he had” (Ruud 2).  He looks young in size, and not fully developed. Bilbo’s adolescent manners made him innocent and the reason for his responsiveness. It’s his goal to be grown and His ambition is to be mature and keep his purity as well. He deals with psychological maturity rather than actual aging. Bilbo’s home represents a mother’s womb. The womb is comfortable and it’s confined from the outside world. When he leaves for the journey, he runs through the long passageway and out through the rounded door to face the reality outside his hobbit home. This scene is a metaphor for childbirth. Bag-End, the neighborhood, is a safe haven for him because the hobbits “never did any adventures or did anything unexpected” (Tolkien 2). He had no reason to experience all his emotions like fear or excitement because he doesn’t do anything.

While on his journey with the dwarves, he is regrets leaving behind his personal possessions: “No hat, no stick, no pipe, not even a pocket handkerchief. How can one survive” (Tolkien 40). He is like a child leaving behind a special blanket. Bilbo feels uncomfortable and wants to go back home at the beginning of the journey because he doesn’t have his “blankie” to protect him from the terrifying world. This is a stepping stone to his development as a hero. Additionally, a negative outcome of the rebirth is shown when Bilbo gets caught by the Stone Trolls. As he crawls away is a symbol of an infant’s first gesture of independence.

Gandalf, an Istari, decides to have Bilbo join Thorin and Company on an adventure to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo would not experience the rebirthing process without Gandalf.  It is his responsibility to teach Bilbo the ways of life. He delivers Bilbo where Bilbo separates from the womb of the Shire. Gandalf is as a “father figure who helps the group out of predicaments with trolls and goblins” (Ruud). However, he constantly leaves Bilbo and the dwarves on their journey. In the beginning, Gandalf is briefly absent from the Bilbo and the dwarves, he sometimes comes back to assist them out of risky events. Gandalf’s absence is necessary for Bilbo to rebirth into a hero. His absence forces Bilbo “to face the dangers on his own” (Ruud). His main goal is to let Bilbo build the confidence and skills he needs to navigate the world on his own while knowing his protector has his back. To conclude, Bilbo needs Gandalf to be away in order to make independent decisions develop on his own.

It is common in adventure stories for the heroes to mature through dreaming.  Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, explains dreams as the human soul’s effort to communicate significant points to the individual. In like manner,  dreams are a critical part of the individuation process. A stable self-image can connect to the powers of unconsciousness. William H. Green states, ”there is a powerful link between the ability to dream prophetically and the ability to stay awake” (Bloom 35). Dreams are not trying to hide the real emotions from the conscious mind, instead, they are a link to the unconscious mind. They serve to assist the self and consciousness to execute unity and provide a resolution to a complication a person is dealing with in actuality. Bilbo is unconsciousness and wakes up to alert the group. He falls asleep and has a nightmare about the goblins finding their hideout spot. He finds that goblins have opened a passage in the back of the cave, stolen their ponies, and are close to attacking them. Bilbo’s cry for help gives Gandalf enough warning to avoid capture. Leadership is dreaming outside the boundaries of sleep and Bilbo is capable of doing that.

It is essential to come to terms with your shadow before becoming a mature individual. Bilbo undergoes this activity to continue with his rebirthing process. According to Carl Jung the shadow is the unknown dark side of someone’s personality:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it, therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. (“Concept of Collective”).

The character meets the shadow when it starts its individual analysis. It is important that “accepting the shadow is a prerequisite for achieving wholeness, the dynamic harmony of mind called individuation” (Bloom 36). Bilbo’s shadow is evident when he confronts Gollum near the underground lake. The cave symbolizes the darkness of the repressed mind.  His Tookish side is the anima that “is being repressed so that he is clinging rather immaturely to a childish way of life” (Mathews 1). An anima has the power to help an ego accept its shadow. His anima comes out when Bilbo spares Gollum’s life when he has the opportunity to kill him. His symbolic leap at the end of the chapter is a key factor to his rebirth.

The climax of the story happens during the meeting with the red-golden dragon, Smaug. Bilbo enters the dark passage of Smaug’s lair. Regardless of the possibility of dying, Bilbo continues in the tunnel, knowing that he has made an outstanding achievement. Smaug is a mythical dragon that lays on countless precious jewelry. The treasure illustrates “the archetype of self, of psychic wholeness” (Mathews 2). After the quest, Bilbo arrives home and finds out that he is presumably dead: “the old Bilbo has died and been given new life as a completely individuated individual, one who is unafraid of his adventurous side” (Ruud 19). His neighbors refuse to believe that he is the actual Bilbo Baggins. Tolkien shows the last stages and final results of the individuation process. The unexpected journey strengthens his Tookish side and the rebirths develop the individuation process which causes the combines of all parts of his personality into one.

The concept of femininity can be seen through the heroic characters created by Tolkien. Feminine character traits include empathy, sensitivity, caring, compassion, and tolerance. At first glance, Beorn is a mighty hero with masculine features. He is a “great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard” (Tolkien 194). His body shape is similar to a bear. Beorn poses feminine qualities that make him a feminine hero in Middle Earth. He enhances his anima, the senseless feminine side of a male. A male’s anima is associated with his awareness; he can be sympathetic and tender. Bilbo believed in the beginning that Beorn was a hostile person. He wants Gandalf to find someone more easy tempered. Nevertheless, Beorn is genuinely caring and sensitive. Beorn’s persona matches his personality as a nurturing caregiver to his animals which is similar to a mother who loves their child. He also supplies Bilbo and the dwarves with housing and aid on their long adventure. The only difference between Beorn and Bilbo is that Bilbo is not also considered a mighty warrior. Notwithstanding the difference between them, Beorn and Bilbo have share feminine qualities that connect with their animas.

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Although male dominance and success in combat are essential for a stereotypical hero, Bilbo is described as a feminine hero. Bilbo is described as a character who is “timid rather than brave; he is concerned with comforts and pleasures of life, not combat and hardship” (Grace 1). His tolerance is evident when he decides to spare Gollum’s life. Hobbits are introverts and enjoy having a peaceful lifestyle. Although Bilbo had Sting in his hand and tried to intimidate Gollum with it, he did not have an idea of killing Gollum. Bilbo tolerated him so he could escape the mountain. Despite not having the physical characteristics of a stereotypical hero, “heroism is not just associated with military prowess or the ability to fight” (Gace 1). Bibo made a big decision to give up the Arkenstone in attempt to prevent the Battle of Five Armies. Although the battle still happened afterward, Bilbo cared more about the community than Thorin’s greed. Throughout the novel, Tolkien portrays Bilbo as a feminine hero. He doesn’t fight with horrible intentions but fights with a good purpose.

  The author displays weapons as an essential part of heroism. Bilbo and the dwarves find the Sting during a Troll-hoard. This sword is important because it gives him greater strength and heroic power during the journey. He “engages in conventional martial heroism” and manages to slay the giant spider (Grace 1). As a result, Bilbo establishes a new identity. Muscular strength and fighting skills are minor components of heroism towards Bilbo. He was able to capture the ring with luck: “his intelligence and wit are more important than his sword in combat” (Grace 1). In addition, he is able to rescue the dwarves and help slay Smaug with his intelligence. Furthermore, the Sting becomes steadily more convenient in every instance Bilbo commits heroic actions. In the time of his experience with Gollum, the Sting functions as a flashlight, radiating the direction to the hero’s pathway to success.  When Bilbo names his sword, it exemplifies his heroic evolution: “He felt like 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 sheath. ‘I will give you a name,’ he said to it, ‘and I shall call you Sting” (Tolkien 156). In most heroic stories, legendary weapons are given titles that reflect their notable ranking. Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf possess the following ancient swords from the Stone Trolls’ sanctuary that the High Elves previously owned: the Orcrist and Glamdring. Each of the weapons epitomizes bravery and courage.

Family ancestry is an additional influential component that structures the theme of heroism. The author associates family ancestry with the character’s social ranking. Bilbo’s incompatible emotions of cowardliness and bravery are comparable to his father and mother’s side of the family. The Baggins are conventional on his father’s side, but the Tooks are less “virtuous” than the Baggins. Thorin’s heroism derives from his grandfather, Thor. He gathers the dwarves and Bilbo together to obtain treasure that his grandfather’s kingdom used to own.  In addition, Bard’s heroism originates from his ancestor who was the Lord of Dale. Family lineage is important because it determines one’s personality and morality. Bilbo is a respectable hobbit because he is a Baggins, but he also a dauntless hero.

A hero often is a warrior who is ready for combat. On the contrary, Bilbo contributes to nobility in different ways which make him the hero in The Hobbit. J R. R. Tolkien shows the traditional hero quest for glory, gold, and greatness. Bilbo and Thorin and Company plan to kill Smaug to take back historic treasure. Conversely, Bilbo refuses the idea of combat and treasure. This makes him, in fact, a feminine hero. Bilbo becomes a hero because of his sensitive personality traits. This is when he leaves his hobbit home in the beginning, spares Gollum’s life, and declines his share of the treasure for the community. Beorn is another example of a feminine hero. Beorn and Bilbo have differences, yet they are both soft and graceful. Bilbo’s virtuous actions make him a hero because it does not just take strength to be one. In addition, he owns a weapon that connects to heroism: the sword Sting, which is a symbolizes strength. In the novel, weapons carry noble titles. The titles connect with the theme of heroism. Rebirth is also an important element of the novel. Bilbo becomes a hero because of his Tookish side. He struggles with trying to balance both his Baggins and Tookish side. Though hobbits are known to be private and live a quiet life, his Tookish side comes out he embraces his hidden traits. His moral decisions make him the hero he is without being a forceful warrior. Family ancestry is important in Middle Earth because it determines the personality of the character. Bilbo, Bard, and Thorin all have a legendary background which strengths the theme of heroism. Bilbo is a small person with a big heart, who changes the world in a different way than by fighting battles or through raw strength. He shows compassion, innocence and ethics in his development into the sensitive hero that I have described. Bilbo represents a character who will contribute to shaping an ideal world where merry meals, honesty, and peace make the world better.

Works Cited

  • “Concept of Collective Unconscious at Jung.” Carl-Jung, Carl Jung Resources, 2018. Web. Feb. 2019.
  • Bloom, Harold, editor. J. R. R. Tolkien, New Edition. Chelsea House, 2008, Infobase ebook. Web. Feb. 2019.
  • Grace, Dominick. “Heroism in The Hobbit.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature, 3-Volume Set, Facts on Files, 2010. Bloom’s Literature. Web. Feb. 2019.
  • Mathews, Dorothy. “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Dedria Bryfonski, vol. 12, Gale, 1980. Literature Resource Center. Web. Feb. 2019.
  • Ruud, Jay. “Hobbit, or There and Back Again, The (1937).” Critical Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Facts on File, 2011, pp. 95-129. Facts On File Library of World Literature. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. Feb.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit There and Back Again. HarperCollins, 1998. Print. Feb. 2019.



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