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How The Hobbit Ends: Friends, Humility and Laughter

The end of The Hobbit, painted by Miriam Ellis
"Tobacco-jar" - Miriam Ellis

"'...You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'

'Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar." - The Hobbit, Chapter XIX: The Last Stage

The beloved final lines of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit not only come as a rich reward to any reader who has accompanied Bilbo Baggins over hill and under hill on his adventure, but present us with three noteworthy clues to hobbit happiness.

Painting of the beginning of Bilbo's friendship with the dwarves
At the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater - Miriam Ellis

I am extremely fond of the lifelong friendship Bilbo develops with some of the dwarves. Despite the fact that their relationship gets off to a bumpy start, with Thorin and Company taking Bilbo by surprise and thinking him a somewhat unimpressive little fellow, we see that Balin comes to regard the hobbit so highly that he travels all the way from the Lonely Mountain to visit him some years after their quest. I have always wondered who the dwarves are that appear decades later at Bag End for Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday party, and then accompany him on his clandestine departure. Regardless of time and distance, Bilbo's friendship, once given, remains steadfast and he is delighted to welcome the magnificently bejeweled and bearded Balin to his fireside in "The Last Stage".

Painting of Bilbo and Gandalf at Bag End
Not the Wandering Wizard - Miriam Ellis

And then, of course, there is Bilbo's exceptional friendship with Gandalf. A being of a different kindred, or simply a different hobbit, might have seen as an enemy anyone who tried to convince them to give up the One Ring. But, there is a unique degree of trust involved in this relationship between halfling and maia. Bilbo not only answers Gandalf's call to get out on The Road, but he seems to harbor no resentment against the wizard for leading him into so many perils and tight fixes. In the end, Bilbo's love of the Grey Pilgrim is greater than his love of the golden Ring.

A secret to hobbit happiness thus seems to lie in the warmth of feeling they bring to their friendships.

2. Proper Humility

Tolkien's hobbit heroes are the opposite of greedy (except for when it comes to mushrooms). Just as the Ring cannot trick Samwise with grandiose visions, Bilbo is never tempted to demand more of Smaug's hoard than he can carry home in a couple of bundles. Having a few friends about him and a pipe to smoke in a snug hobbit hole is as much as he needs for contentment, and he readily and gratefully assents to Gandalf's description of him as being "quite a little fellow."

It is doubtless the most desperate scene in the entire account we have of hobbit doings when Frodo, unlike himself and unlike lovable hobbits, is overmastered by greed for possession and power at the Cracks of Doom. He is bereft of humility - the very quality that makes life in the Shire so green and simple and good. If we could only apply this hobbit virtue to the current life of Men, what a different world ours would be!

3. Lots of laughter

Sometimes, there can be a modern tendency to overdramatize Tolkien's writings, with such a hyper-focus on moments of dread and danger that the laughter gets overlooked. The last three words of The Hobbit ("the tobacco-jar") are undoubtedly the most famous with their connotations of comfort and ease, but I also like to look at the seventh-to-last word, which is "laughing". Tolkien's humor is an underrated treasury of wry wisdom and wonderful wordplay. It adorns The Hobbit from beginning to end, so much so that when Gandalf and Balin appear at the close of the story, Bilbo is in the act of considering whether to call his memoirs "There and Back Again, a Hobbit's Holiday". Despite goblins and spiders and Smaug, Bilbo's adventure is one that both he and readers can look upon as a lively good time.

And while we certainly would never consider entitling Frodo's quest a "holiday" by any stretch of the imagination, Professor Tolkien's humor cannot be suppressed from popping up throughout The Lord of the Rings in the most unlikely places, and with a high degree of welcome comic relief. From singing wildly inappropriate songs and carrying axes into sentient forests, to feasting amid the wreckage of Isengard, to Sam crying out "save us!" in Henneth Annun after utterly blowing away all the secrecy that has been so carefully built up around the Ring, to Aragorn amusing himself in the midst of war by playing tricks on hobbits regarding their baggage, Tolkien continuously reminds us that Middle-earth is worth saving from the Enemy in part because it is a place filled with both good humored cheer and courageous cheer in the face of adversity.

Every reader reads The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings differently, but I hope many fellow fans relish, as I do, this utterly satisfying closing scene of Bilbo restored to comfort, laughing heartily and humbly with dear friends and using his well-earned leisure time to pen the tale that will become, for us, The Hobbit.

I hope you will enjoy spending a few minutes at Bag End with Bilbo and Gandalf and Balin, and that this video short will help you spot some of the clues celebrating different aspects of Bilbo's adventure that the painting contains. How many do you see?



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