Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Hobbit - I. An Unexpected Party

I was not an English major so I doubt my insights as I read this book will be particularly profound or interesting to anyone but myself but here goes..

The first chapter of The Hobbit finds Bilbo Baggins enjoying a fairly idyllic life in Hobbiton. It doesn't describe Bilbo's profession but given that he comes from a wealthy family perhaps he lives a life of leisure off of his inheritance. He doesn't seem to work during the day since he is able to entertain a party of 13 unexpected dwarfs plus Gandalf in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. I'm curious as to what the GDP of the Shire is if Bilbo is an example of the work ethic of the every day hobbit. Surprisingly he seems to have a fairly sizable home with ample stores of food and plates to entertain such a party. Not to mention the likely cost of maintaining his weight, which I'm sure for a hobbit is typical. Then again being small in stature perhaps the number of calories required to maintain a rotund figure is more or less equal to the calorie intake of an anorexic human teen.

In any event there is no mention of taxes or excessive regulation that would cause the laziness of Bilbo Baggins other than perhaps a culturally pervasive attitude against over achievement as evidenced by general Hobbit disdain for people who venture outside the borders of the Shire or who mingle with outsiders. Surely the living conditions of Hobbits could be improved markedly if they traded more with the outside world or were a bit more productive locally. In any event Hobbits seem to value leisure a great deal more than the average modern American or Canadian and as a result likely are satisfied with much less physical wealth. Perhaps the reason Bilbo is so wealthy despite the amount of leisure he enjoys is because of the limited government maintained in the Shire.

No particular explanation is given as to why Gandalf chose Bilbo as the "burglar" for this party of dwarves given very little evidence of any skills in that vein. I suppose Bilbo is related in some way to the Old Took, an old friend of Gandalf's and perhaps that provides the link. I also don't believe I agree with the term burglar being applied to this adventure in any event as it seems to me that the party of dwarves likely has a very legitimate claim on the wealth of Smaug given that he first stole the wealth from them. There is also very little explanation for why Gandalf is meddling in this business at all. Perhaps he feels indebted to Thror, Thorin's father whom Gandalf received the map and key from and who has since been rendered senseless and likely killed by the Necromancer an apparent enemy of Gandalf's.

We may at first feel sorry for Bilbo's idyllic lifestyle being interrupted by this meddling wizard and motley crew of dwarves but perhaps this adventure will give Bilbo greater drive and create an incentive to achieve more than live off of his inheritance, to become a productive and contributing member of society in his own right. I suppose we shall have to see...

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