Image by James Fisher for Warner Brothers
Alias: Elf-friend, ringbearer, thief (by Smeagol and Smaug)
Date of Birth: 22 September, T.A. 2890
Height: Never specified, but careful estimate at 3'5" (104cm)
Date of Death: Unknown (date of departure over the sea: 29 September, T.A. 3021)
Parents: Father - Bungo Baggins; Mother - Belladonna Took
Children: None (adopted heir - Frodo Baggins)
Description: Professor Tolkien's overall description of the Hobbit race, found in the opening pages of The Hobbit, gives the reader the implicit understanding that Bilbo himself shares most, if not all, of these traits: "They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards ... They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs ..." In a letter (#27) to an American publisher in 1938, Tolkien described hobbits further: "I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur."
Bilbo Baggins was a very well-to-do hobbit living a contented life in the peaceful lands of the Shire when his accidental wish for adventure (that he didn’t even know he possessed) came true with the unexpected arrival of a Wizard and a clutch of Dwarves. Bilbo was descended from the Took line of Hobbits on his mother’s side — indeed the fabulous Belladonna Took was friends with Gandalf the Grey before Bilbo was born — which contributed to his latent wanderlust, a trait considered deeply counter to Hobbit sensibilities.
He lived in a luxurious (by hobbit standards) dwelling known across the countryside as Bag End, which was built by his father, Bungo. In 2941, Bilbo was recruited by Gandalf to operate as a Burglar in the Quest for Erebor (the Lonely Mountain) — and his many adventures truly marked the beginning of the Hobbits’ involvement in the affairs of the world outside their insular Shire.
Moments before his fateful encounter with Gollum, Bilbo discovered the One Ring; which was itself seeking to find a way out of the dark caves beneath the Misty Mountains where it had been kept secret by Gollum for centuries. Bilbo was the fourth Ring-bearer (after Isildur, Déagol, and Sméagol-Gollum) to possess the One Ring of Power after it was cut from Sauron’s hand during his defeat by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
Returning to the Shire after his Dragon-quest, Bilbo settled into a quiet life, never marrying; instead pursuing more scholarly interests. He stepped up to adopt his favorite young cousin, Frodo Baggins, whose parents had died. Many years later Bilbo decided to pack up and leave Bag End to enjoy a final journey of Dale and Erebor — then to settle into retirement in Rivendell — thus leaving the Bag End estate and possessions (including the Ring) to Frodo.
As a historian, writer, and poet, Bilbo left a remarkable body of work that detailed his adventures (his memoirs would in time be handed down to Frodo and then Samwise Gamgee, and eventually were incorporated into the Red Book of Westmarch). He studied Elven-lore and poetry during his twilight years in Rivendell.
Bilbo was the second-longest lived of all hobbits on record (after Gollum; in both cases this was due partially to the influence of the Ring) being 131 years old when he finally departed from the Grey Havens and sailed over Sea in 3021.
Analysis: Onscreen roles of Bilbo were memorably played by Ian Holm in Peter Jackson’s LOTR Trilogy (having previously played the role of Frodo in the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of LOTR) and Orson Bean in the Rankin/Bass animated adaptations of both The Hobbit and ROTK.
Bilbo has a unique story arc that had its origins in the mind of Tolkien as a private amusement. The Professor thought it was quite funny to send Bilbo, a homebody “rural Englishman,” on a wildly unpleasant adventure for Dragon treasure. The better qualities of sturdy and brave Hobbit-nature are revealed through the course of Bilbo’s journey as the tone of Tolkien’s writing gradually moves from comedic to “high romantic.”
Against all odds, Bilbo earned the trust and friendship of his Dwarvish traveling party during the many difficult scrapes of their quest; and he further succeeded in forming lasting friendships with other races (the Elves of Mirkwood and Rivendell, the Men of Lake-town) who had never encountered Hobbits before. Bilbo may never have realized it (in fact, Tolkien didn’t realize it when he wrote The Hobbit), but he was a player in Gandalf’s long-range efforts to rid the North of the Fire-drake, Smaug; seen as a potential weapon that Sauron might later set loose upon the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.
- “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves! Why don’t they come and lend a hand?” (to himself)
- “I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don’t know where I am; and I don’t want to know, if only I can get away.” (to Gollum)
- “I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.” (to Smaug)
- “I wonder how many breakfasts, and other meals, we have missed inside that nasty clockless, timeless hole?” (to the dwarves)
- “I may be a burglar — or so they say: personally I never felt like one — but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less.” (to the elves guarding camp)