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The Hobbit | Themes

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The Hero's Journey

Throughout the novel Bilbo Baggins is on a voyage of self-discovery, uncovering unknown talents to conquer the dangers throughout his quest. The Hobbit is an adventure story that embodies the classic hero's journey, first defined by author Joseph Campbell in 1949. The hero's journey is a 12-step literary template through which a character is transformed from an everyman to a hero. In the traditional template the hero starts with an ordinary life in an ordinary place—like the Shire—a place that will be left behind in the journey. The character is given a call to action, or a reason to leave the aforementioned home (like helping retrieve the treasure from Smaug). Along the way the hero meets a mentor (Gandalf) and is tested by enemies.

For Bilbo the journey starts with complete trust in Gandalf and a desire to stay with the team (the dwarves) for safety and support. Through each battle, however, he learns independence and courage, eventually transforming enough to save the dwarves for a change. In the climax of the hero's journey, the hero must encounter the mission—that is to say, the hero must face the reason for the call to action. In The Hobbit Bilbo must face the dragon hoarding the gold and ultimately emerge victorious. The hero then collects the reward (treasure), journeys home, and in the final step realizes that life will never be the same.

Greed

Greed is a central theme in The Hobbit. Nearly every character demonstrates greed—including Bilbo when he keeps the Arkenstone and ring. Thorin Oakenshield demonstrates greed the worst. He has a great treasure in front of him, a treasure so massive he couldn't spend it in 100 lifetimes, yet he still wants to keep it for himself. He is even willing to go to war or starve to death to keep the gold all for himself. The Elvenking greedily wants to build his reputation and add more treasure to his already respectable hoard. The Master of Lake-town is exceptionally greedy, even to the extent of trying to steal the treasure from his people, who need it to rebuild their homes and lives. Even the simple hobbits are greedy. They sell Bilbo's furnishings and want his home.

Loyalty

Bilbo Baggins is the epitome of loyalty. He sticks by the dwarves although they continue to disrespect and criticize him. He is loyal to them to the end, even when it almost gets him killed.

The dwarves also exhibit loyalty, although the motivation at times might be more about greed, but they save Bilbo on a number of occasions early in the story. Beorn demonstrates great loyalty when he comes to help the dwarves, men, and elves in the Battle of Five Armies. Likewise, the eagles demonstrate their loyalty to Gandalf and save the group not once, but twice. Loyalty was a huge influence in the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and Tolkien is certainly influenced by his love of Old English tales.

Family Heritage

The influence of prior generations on their current descendants emerges in several ways in this novel. Thorin Oakenshield initiates the dwarves' quest because he is a descendant of the King Under the Mountain and wants to reestablish that kingdom. Bilbo is influenced in two ways: first, he is often torn between his adventurous Took side and the more careful Baggins instinct. Also, at several key junctures in the novel, he remembers the wise advice of his father, which leads him to success. Bard, too, uses his heritage in claiming a portion of the hoard and uses his connection to rebuild Lake-town.

Luck and Destiny

Luck and destiny are ever present throughout The Hobbit. It is unclear whether luck or divine intervention is at work in every chapter. Bilbo is lucky enough to find a sword that lights up when goblins are around; he is lucky enough to find the invisibility ring; he is lucky to be near enough the gray stone to hear the thrush, to remember the key for the secret passage to the dragon's lair; he is lucky enough to find the Arkenstone—but is it luck, or is it destiny? Regardless, Tolkien includes the idea in almost every chapter, and whether it is that everyone needs a little luck or that everyone needs to follow their destiny, all will work out in the end.

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