NOV / DEC 2012: BY CARISSA HORTON
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit… and that’s where the story of Middle Earth truly begins. Not with wizards and elves and mighty dwarves and a certain Ring of Power, but with a lowly hobbit. One who’d prefer to stay safely indoors, eating seed cakes, and well out of the way of trouble. This isn’t Frodo Baggins, the unlikely hero of The Lord of the Rings. Rather, this is his uncle, ages before he threw the party for his one-hundredth-and-eleventh birthday and then vanished in a puff of smoke. Yes, Bilbo Baggins is his name.
It takes a lot for someone comfortable in their life to get up and head out the door for adventure. Frodo can attest to that, as well as anyone who has ever done it. In Bilbo’s words, “there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Bilbo is quite comfortable in Bag End. But something happens the day Gandalf the wizard and 13 dwarves come calling. The heart of his Took ancestors beats strong in his chest when he hears his unwelcome visitors speak of dragons and mountains and hoards of gold and a quest.
Don’t imagine for one moment that all hobbits share the same deeply buried adventurous spirit as Mister Baggins. In fact, had Gandalf knocked on the door of anyone else in The Shire, minus perhaps the Tooks or Brandybucks, he’d have been turned away with a flea in his ear. Gandalf doesn’t pick Bilbo’s door by accident. Neither does he pick Bilbo by playing Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe. Bilbo is chosen for a purpose. Partially because the dwarves find themselves in need of a burglar but more likely because Gandalf spots a gleam of something in Bilbo. This something needs only a little encouragement to burst into life. Or, as Gandalf says in Fellowship, “All he needed was a little nudge out the door.”
Bilbo isn’t like his complacent, docile, rather petty neighbors and relations. Complacency is a disease of a sort. It’s not deadly by any means but can rob a person, or in this case a hobbit, of the desire to take the first step on a bigger journey. Hobbits are naturally peaceful creatures and Bilbo is no exception. But when he finds Sting in the lair of the three Trolls Gandalf turns to stone, the something that began changing, changes just a little bit more. The spark is now a burning ember and the adventurous side wins out. After all, running out the door without a handkerchief to attempt a grand adventure affects a person.
The hobbit who has only wielded a knife for cutting his dinner now wields a sword in defense of dwarves against a hoard of spiders. Does this sound like the same hobbit who nearly fainted when he thought the dwarves were going to shatter his best dishes? Perhaps the start of adventure for Bilbo is really just answering Gandalf’s call. He doesn’t answer it willingly, that’s for certain. He does everything possible to stay in his comfortable, complacent, content little world where nothing ever happens. But Bilbo’s destiny, and yes it is fate, is for him to be something more than just Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End.
God calls His children to follow Him just as Gandalf calls Bilbo. Each is called individually just as Bilbo is called and just as there are many who would have turned Gandalf away so too will Christ be turned away. This is what makes Bilbo special. He answered. It wasn’t easy or pleasant and there are times during his journey that Bilbo thinks he’ll never see home again. But he does return to Bag End. He survives and emerges all the better for having left in the first place.
How would Bilbo have felt had he not returned? What if the battle of the five armies had been the end of him? What if the great dragon Smaug had caught him? Would Bilbo have cursed the day he’d chosen to follow Gandalf? No. Because that adventure, from start to finish, wakes something glorious in Bilbo Baggins. He sees the world, makes friends, meets elves, speaks to a dragon, not to mention finds a magic Ring. He wouldn’t exchange that experience for anything in the world; even his life.
The story of Bilbo is one of readiness. Sometimes it’s just answering “yes” even though every comfortable bit of your nature screams no. But if Bilbo could do it, so could anyone. Plus, there’s a good chance that dragons or spiders or a barrel ride down a river will not be the result of taking that step of faith nowadays. Bilbo isn’t called “Mad Baggins” for nothing. He comes home different and his friends and relations never know quite what to make of him. The only one who halfway understands is Frodo who is destined for his own adventure. Upon his return, seeing Bag End in the distance, Bilbo pauses beside Gandalf and utters a poem, a few lines of which are these, “Roads go ever ever on under cloud and under star, yet feet that wandering have gone turn at last to home afar.” And Gandalf says in surprise “My dear Bilbo! You are not the hobbit that you were.”
One of the best parts about great and unexpected adventures is that someday they lead you back home. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Horton sews, knits, and writes. She works for Compassion International, which finds sponsors for third world children, and dreams of being an agent at a publishing house. She blogs about life, faith, relationships, and fandom in her free time.