Though filled with grand and bold adventure, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is not about adventure. Though the breath-taking panoramas through which the journey of the small adventurers move are an experience unto themselves, the Hobbit is not about exquisitely lush, or brooding landscapes. There is one light thread that runs true throughout the film, like a candle flame beckoning in the darkness. Home.
And unless our eyes accustom themselves to that thread of light, are open to that slight beacon drawing us inward, onward and upward, we miss the heart of Jackson’s epic prequel to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
It’s not for nothing that the homes of the Hobbits are holes in the ground. We ordinary folk dig in just as deep. And, like we aspire to, Hobbit holes tend to be clean and dry and warm. We all want such comfort and security, so we should be able to identify with the Hobbits, and with our reluctant hero, Bilbo Baggins. No Hobbit wants adventure because, as Bilbo says, “Adventures make one late for dinner”. Here’s how the story begins:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
This is the story of one little “ordinary” person leaving comfort and security behind to set his face and his feet toward a grand adventure. And everybody, even the dwarves, are bigger, and more experienced in life and its perils than he is. Bilbo makes great discoveries as he travels the road “that goes ever ever on”, but none as great as the discovery of the qualities inside himself he never suspected.
But making such a journey is not entered into lightly. Leaving one’s comfort zone on a quest of self-discovery is a step taken only with fear and trepidation. And our Bilbo is no exception. At the beginning of the story, he is blindsided by Gandalf the Grey, the wandering wizard, and is coerced into playing host to thirteen dwarves whose indoor manners are sadly lacking. As Bilbo desperately tries to keep his old familiar, comforting “stuff” from being damaged or broken, Gandalf asks him a loaded question.
When did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you?
Remember that Bilbo is hosting men who not only have no possessions, they have no home. Long ago, they were driven out, and lost their land and their wealth to a dragon. (There have been a few dragons among us in the headlines in the past few years. They just don’t show their dripping fangs till the fire consumes our own homes).
When he first arrives, Gandalf challenges Bilbo’s narrow boundaries, offering him a glimpse of a wide world with real friends while he lets life steadily pass him by.
Gandalf: I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.
Later, an overwhelmed Bilbo says to Gandalf,
I just want to sit quietly for a moment.
To which Gandalf replies,
You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long . . . The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.
Bilbo: I can’t just go running off into the blue! I am a Baggins of Bag End!
You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do… you will not be the same.
The next morning, Bilbo awakens to a quiet house. As he tiptoes around, calling out softly, he realizes his raucous guests have gone and he does a victory dance. He is alone. Everything is back to normal and he can resume his quiet, uneventful routine. Then . . . slowly . . . he realizes . . . he is alone . . . and he can resume his quiet, uneventful life. He pauses. He has been left behind. Suddenly, he’s grabbing up things. He’s running out the door with his backpack on, running with all his might, leaping obstacles. In short, acting very un-Hobbit-like. As he passes a neighbor working in his yard, the startled neighbor calls out:
Hobbit: You! Mr. Bilbo! Where’re you off to?
Bilbo: I’m already late.
Hobbit: Late for what?
Bilbo: I’m going on an adventure.
His high spirits are dampened, however, when he catches up with the group and realizes he’s the odd man out. From the beginning, the Dwarf King, Thorin Oakenshield, sees the little Hobbit as a liability. He’s small. He has no experience in taking care of himself in a wild and primitive environment. Gandalf’s excuse is that it is some of these very qualities that will make Bilbo an excellent “burglar”. He’s small. And he can move quietly. Thorin reluctantly agrees, but:
Thorin: I cannot guarantee his safety.
Thorin: Nor will I be responsible for his fate.
As the 13 companions, with Bilbo the fourteenth, set out upon their journey, Gandalf marks the occasion for the little Hobbit with these words:
Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.
But before they can get to the exciting stuff, the adventuring spirit is dampened by lack of creature comforts and inconveniences. The sunny sky clouds over. The bright, promising day grows dark. The rain pours down. The forest is no longer friendly. Everything they own is soaked. I remember the voice of Orson Bean in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit when he plaintively voices his disgust with the whole operation:
No hat. No stick. No pipe. Not even a pocket-handkerchief. How can one survive! . . . We Hobbits are plain quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner.
Martin Freeman makes an excellent Bilbo Baggins. Loved him. But sometimes his words were not clear enough and I missed some of his lines. (Or maybe my hearing isn’t as good as it once was). Also, Orson Bean’s inflections in getting across his disgust were so well done you could feel it. Martin Freeman’s were not quite as spitting or vehement, or . . . disgusted.
Even the dwarves get tired of the insufferable rain and someone asks Gandalf if he can stop it. Gandalf, not known for his patience, gets a little testy. But Bilbo can bandy words with the best of them.
Gandalf: If you want the rain to stop I suggest you find another wizard. Rain is rain.
Bilbo: There are other wizards?
Gandalf explains that there are five, one of them is Radagast the Brown.
Bilbo: Is he a very great wizard? Or is he more like you?
But more and more, though Bilbo suffers through their badgering about his lack of skills, he tells Thorin several times that he wants to help them regain their lost kingdom of Erebor inside Lonely Mountain. It is because Bilbo has become more and more aware that he has a nice, cozy home to return to, and the dwarves do not.
Thorin: Why did you come?
Bilbo: I know you doubt me. I know you always have. I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.
As the journey progresses and the dangers mount, Bilbo must prove his worth, to his short, and short-tempered companions, and to himself. But above all, he must help them get back their home, and he must get back to his own.