Paper given 13 February 2021 at Tolkien Society 2021 Winter Seminar
From Bilbo’s first “Good morning” to his exhortation of “don’t wait to knock” to the surviving members of the company of Thorin Oakenshield, the story of Bilbo Baggins models good principles of hospitality. He begins as an unassuming character who seems more like a grocer than a burglar and is considered an elf-friend by the last chapter.
This paper will consider and discuss the hero’s quest as framed by Mr. Baggins’ innate need to create a safe space both at home and abroad, in formal words and in extraordinary deeds. Tolkien frequently highlights the struggle between the Took and Baggins sides of Bilbo’s nature and while the reader sees the Took side develop as he riddles with Gollum, struggles with spiders, and discourses with a dragon, his less adventurous side is never beyond reach.
This paper will also consider the hospitality of sacred reading practices as a common ground for both the new reader and the lifelong reader. While textual criticism has its place, and studying the author’s life is fascinating, thematic readings often give entry to many readers to explore The Hobbit together and see themselves in the text. Hospitality builds community and traditional sacred reading practices from a variety of spiritual traditions translate well to reading a nuanced and complex text like The Hobbit.
In short, this treatise will explore the ways in which the comfortable and hospitable culture that Tolkien introduces at Bag End is a fundamental and invaluable influence on the culmination of the quest for Erebor for readers and hobbits alike. By exploring the ways in which Tolkien invites readers through the door of a hole in the ground, readers will be better equipped to invite themselves and those they meet to share in an adventure.