Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in The Shire during the final years of the Third Age. His adventure with the dwarves Thorin and company earned him a fortune, and brought the One Ring of Sauron back into knowledge.
Before his adventures, Bilbo was considered a very prim and respectable Hobbit for his polite disposition and aversion to anything out of the ordinary. He had strict culinary and hygienic principles, being often less than thrilled with the rough conditions of travel at first. But, being the son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, Bilbo had blood from two important Hobbit families, the Bagginses and the Tooks. Because of his adventurous 'Tookish side' (which was sometimes conflicting with his stay-at-home 'Baggins side'), Baggins was rather restless and 'strange' for a Hobbit. After his return from Erebor, he was regarded much less fondly than before by his fellow Hobbits, but paid them no mind. Though considering himself happily retired from adventures, he often left his home for many days to meet with old friends and strangers, including Dwarves.
Bilbo was noteworthy as the first ring-bearer in the history of Middle-earth to give up the One Ring voluntarily; he surrendered the ring to Frodo Baggins at Gandalf's request.
Bilbo Baggins was born on September 22 by Shire Reckoning,[note 1] in the year 2890 of the Third Age, the son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took. He was a grandson of the Old Took.
During his youth Bilbo attended several parties during which he loved to listen to Gandalf's stories about Dragons, Goblins and princesses and was impressed by the Wizard's fireworks. After the death of his parents, respectively in T.A. 2926 and T.A. 2934, he inherited Bag End. In the eyes of his neighbors, he originally seemed just like his father, a solid, sensible, unadventurous and respectable hobbit. But when becoming older he started to become 'strange' and often left his home for many days to meet with strangers, including Dwarves.
Eventually, Gandalf came to believe that Bilbo was the ideal person for an important task he had at hand, for Bilbo was both small-sized and adventurous. Gandalf came to the Shire to visit him in T.A. 2941 but he had disappeared again because of Elven new year.
Quest of Erebor
Gandalf managed to address him on a morning, while he sat outside his hobbit-hole. He reluctantly asked Gandalf for tea next day. Indeed Gandalf came back, bringing thirteen Dwarves with him. First came Dwalin, followed by Balin, next were Fíli and Kíli, then Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin and Glóin, and at last Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Thorin and Gandalf. The Dwarves remained in Bag End for supper and afterwards sang a song about the Sack of Erebor and explained the reasons for their unannounced coming: the Dwarves begun a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain (and its sizable hoard) from the Dragon Smaug and Gandalf had volunteered Bilbo to be the company's burglar. Even with the Dwarves' protests and Bilbo's feeble objections, Gandalf convinced Thorin that Bilbo was the right person. Thus the Hobbit became the fourteenth member of the Company which left the Shire in T.A. 2941.
The next day, after assembling at the Green Dragon, the company's journey to the Lonely Mountain began. Thorin and company traveled through the Lone-lands along high hills and beside castles. After approximately one month, Gandalf disappeared. Oín and Gloín failed to make a fire during a rainy night, and Balin spotted a fire in the distance, which was rare in those regions, and sent Bilbo to investigate.
Bilbo saw three Trolls when he approached the camp fire. He tried to steal one of the Trolls' money purses but was discovered and captured by William, one of the trolls. He escaped the trolls but was helpless to prevent all the dwarves from being captured when they came looking for him. Gandalf, however, came in the nick of time and saved them all by imitating the Trolls' voices. This led to an argument between the Trolls, who argued until dawn, when the sun turned the Trolls to stone. Upon discovery of a troll cave, Gandalf and Thorin took two fine elvish swords from the Trolls' treasure. Bilbo discovered a small elvish blade, no longer than a small knife in size. He kept it with him for the rest of his adventure, wearing it inside his breeches.
In June they came to Rivendell. During their visit Bilbo met Elrond, and became enchanted with the Elves. On midsummer eve Elrond inspected the swords of Thorin and Gandalf, and looked at Thrór's Map. Elrond explained that the swords were forged in Gondolin and were named Orcrist and Glamdring. When inspecting the map Elrond found Moon letters that spoke of the back door of Erebor, which read:
Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the keyhole.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, ”A Short Rest“
Over the Misty Mountains
The next day the company left Rivendell and found, with Elrond's advice, the correct way over the Misty Mountains, the High Pass. During a stormy night the company took shelter in a dry cave. When everybody was sleeping, Goblins appeared and took their ponies to Goblin-town. At this moment Bilbo woke up and after seeing that the ponies had disappeared, yelled. Goblins swarmed the cave and captured Bilbo and the dwarves. But thanks to Bilbo's yell, Gandalf awakened in time and avoided capture. Bilbo and the dwarves were brought before the Great Goblin. When he saw Thorin's sword, Orcrist, he was enraged and wanted to kill Thorin and his companions. But Gandalf came in time to save them and killed the Great Goblin. While escaping, Bilbo was carried by Dori. But when a goblin attacked Dori, he dropped Bilbo.
When Bilbo's consciousness returned he picked up a strange golden ring. After wandering through the dark passages he came to the lake of Gollum. Gollum, desiring to eat the hobbit but not willing to face his blade, engaged in a riddle contest. If Bilbo won, according to the predetermined rules, Gollum would lead him to safety. If Gollum won, Bilbo would allow himself to be eaten. As Bilbo saw no other way to escape, he agreed with Gollum's proposal.
Bilbo won the contest by accident, wondering out loud as he fingered the ring he had picked up, 'What have I got in my pocket?' Gollum mistook this for a question, and Bilbo decided to stick to it. Gollum lost, but went back to his little island to take the ring Bilbo had picked up (as it was a magic ring) to turn himself invisible and kill the hobbit anyway. But of course the ring was not there, and Gollum, enraged, suddenly guessed that Bilbo had it. He chased Bilbo, but Bilbo unwittingly used the ring and escaped his notice. Gollum led Bilbo to the eastern door of the goblin-tunnels, through which Bilbo departed in safety. Soon after leaving the caves Bilbo found his companions and used the Ring to slip past Balin, the look-out. Balin was very impressed that he hadn't noticed Bilbo and his reputation among the dwarves increased. Bilbo told Gandalf and the dwarves about his encounter with Gollum and his escape, but he said nothing of the ring. Thus he rejoined his fellow adventurers.
The company had not journeyed long when they heard the howl of a Warg. On Gandalf's order they climbed in a group of trees. Bilbo, however, was not able to climb in one of the trees:
He could not get into any tree, and was scuttling about from trunk to trunk, like a rabbit that has lost its hole and has a dog after it.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, “Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire”
With the help of Dori, Bilbo managed to climb in one of the trees. Immediately thereafter, hundreds of Wargs arrived. Gandalf kept them at bay with pyrotechnical pinecones, but eventually goblins came and set the trees on fire. Even Gandalf had begun to despair when the Eagles of Gwaihir came to rescue them, taking Bilbo last. The Eagles brought them first to a wide shelf of rock on the mountain-side, where they spent the night, and then to the Carrock. Bilbo did not enjoy his experience being carried by his rescuers, apparently suffering from a fear of heights.
From the Carrock they came to Beorn's Hall. Gandalf took only Bilbo at first, but with a story introduced the dwarves in pairs of two, convincing Beorn to invite them for dinner. Bilbo slept uneasily, fearing to be killed by Beorn, while the company spent the night in Beorn's hall. They remained in Beorn's hall, while Beorn had disappeared, for the next two days. On the third day of their stay Beorn returned and gave them mounts, bows, and stocks. He also provided them with council for their coming journey. They departed Beorn's house and traveled three days before they arrived at the edge of Mirkwood. Bilbo alone (and perhaps Gandalf) noticed that a bear still followed them. At the edge of Mirkwood they returned the ponies, and Gandalf said farewell to Bilbo and the Dwarves. Bilbo was saddened by Gandalf's parting.
After many days' journey the company came to the Enchanted River. Bilbo noted that there was a boat at the other shore. Fíli threw an iron hook to grapple the boat and pulled it across the river toward them. The company crossed the river in pairs. While crossing the river, Bombur fell in. They rescued him, but he was asleep because of the river's magic and had to be carried on a litter. Eventually, the dwarves started to give up hope and sent Bilbo to climb a tree midway through the wood. Bilbo declared he could see only trees, not realizing they were at the bottom of a bowl formation. Giving up hope, the company noticed campfires of the feasting Wood-elves and, despite the warnings of Beorn and Gandalf, they left the road to contact the elves. However, whenever the company tried to contact them, they extinguished the fires, leaving a complete darkness in the forest, and disappeared suddenly. Thrice the dwarves tried to contact the Elves but all of their attempts failed. After their third attempt Bilbo lost his companions.
Later, a spider attacked Bilbo, who had fallen asleep. Bilbo woke up on time to defend himself with his little blade. He named his blade Sting after his first kill. Bilbo discovered that his companions had been captured by the spiders and stowed in their webs. Calling the spiders' names, he lured them away (with his ring) and came back to rescue the Dwarves. When the spiders returned, the dwarves fought them in a long battle. Eventually, the company won with no serious injuries, but found out that Thorin was missing. Unknown to Bilbo and the other Dwarves, he had been captured by the Wood-elves whose feasts they had interrupted. Shortly after the fight with the spiders the remaining members of the company were also captured and brought before Thranduil, king of Mirkwood. Bilbo, with his ring, escaped notice and thus capture. He followed the elves into the Elvenking's Halls, where the dwarves refused to tell their errand to Thranduil and were locked up.
Later, exploring the elven halls with the aid of his magic ring, Bilbo discovered that Thorin was also captured by Thranduil and devised a plan for the dwarves to escape. One day, Galion (Thranduil's butler) and the head of the guard, were drunk, and Bilbo was able to steal the keys. He freed the Dwarves from their cells and packed them in barrels. His plan worked, with the dwarves being packed and launched into the Forest River. Poor Bilbo was forced to cling to the barrels, invisible, and grew cold and wet.
He came up again spluttering and clinging to the wood like a rat, but for all his efforts he could not scramble on top. Every time he tried, the barrel rolled round and ducked him under again. It was really empty, and floated light as a cork. Though his ears were full of water, he could hear the elves still singing in the cellar above.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, “Barrels Out of Bond”
Upon reaching the Long Lake, Bilbo, with the aid of Thorin, Fili and Kili, searched for the barrels with Dwarves and freed them. They then went to Lake-town, where they received a warm welcome. The Master of Lake-town invited Thorin and his companions to the feast he'd organized. Despite the feigned hospitality of the Master of Lake-town and his people Bilbo had an awful cold and could hardly say anything during the banquet. The company stayed two weeks in Lake-town. They were given new ponies and provisions for many days, and they were brought, by boat, to the northern tip of the Long Lake.
Encounter with the Dragon
On their way again, the party came to the Lonely Mountain when autumn waned. Thorin sent Balin, Fíli, Kíli and Bilbo to spy the Front Gate. Bilbo saw smoke coming out of the front gate, which made the party assume that Smaug was still alive. They returned to their camp and at Bilbo's suggestion they started to search for the Back Door at the western slopes of the Lonely Mountain. Eventually, the company discovered the back door. But none of them were able to open it, and Bilbo sat for days on the doorstep, thinking. Soon the dwarves began to grumble about the hobbit, but Bilbo finally solved the riddle of the thrush knocking at the last light of Durin's Day:
At the very moment he heard a sharp crack behind him. There on the grey stone in the grass was an enormous thrush, nearly coal black, its pale yellow breast freckled with dark spots. Crack! It had caught a snail and was knocking it on the stone. Crack! Crack!
Suddenly Bilbo understood. Forgetting al danger he stood on the ledge and hailed the dwarves, shouting and waving.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, “On the Doorstep”
The dwarves found that he was right, and with the key managed to open the passage. Bilbo was, of course, elected to enter the passage first, taking only Balin with him. Soon Balin halted, but Bilbo went on, finding Smaug's lair and stealing a single jewelled cup before returning. While the Dwarves passed the retrieved treasure to each other and praised Bilbo for his deed, they heard the mountain rumbling. Bilbo had done ill in this, Smaug had awoken and was raged when he missed his cup. Smaug ravaged the mountain and the dwarves were forced to hide in the tunnel, though they lost their ponies. Despite their grumbling, the dwarves had begun to rely on Bilbo's advice for their course of action, and agreed to wait. Bilbo soon decided, however, to return and try and find a weakness in Smaug. Slipping on his ring, he approached the dragon's hoard.
Gandalf had indeed done well in choosing Bilbo, for the old worm did not recognize Bilbo's scent, and was puzzled. Nevertheless he sensed the hobbit's presence, and challenged him. Bilbo riddled with him about his own identity and flattered the dragon:
“Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear you breathe. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!”
But Bilbo was not quite so unlearned in dragon-lore as all that, and if Smaug hoped to get him to come nearer so easily he was disappointed. “No thank you, O Smaug the Tremendous!” he replied.
“I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say. I did not believe them.”
“Do you now?” said the dragon somewhat flattered, even though he did not believe a word of it.
“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities,” replied Bilbo.
“You have nice manners for a thief and a liar,” said the dragon.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, “Inside Information”
This confrontation did not last especially long, for Bilbo tricked Smaug into showing his underside. Bilbo then saw the gap in the dragon's hard scales, an unprotected place. Bilbo, upon seeing this, cracked a joke and hastily departed, and for this was nearly burned to death. All the same, he escaped and recovered, and told the dwarves what he had learned. This indirectly aided the company, for a thrush overheard, and this would prove beneficial in the end.
Death of Smaug
As darkness fell, Bilbo urged the dwarves to close the door for fear of Smaug's vengeance. Reluctantly, but at last, they gave in. Just as the door closed, Smaug ravaged the side of the mountain, blocking up the door and destroying the doorstep. However, by mentioning the word 'Barrel-rider', Bilbo had led Smaug to believe that the company had been aided by the people of Laketown. Thus, Smaug wreaked his vengeance on Laketown. Smaug destroyed the town, but one company of archers, led by Bard, resisted the dragon. When only one arrow, the Black Arrow, remained, a Thrush, who had overheard Bilbo talking about the unprotected patch of Smaug's skin, fluttered around Bard's shoulder. The Thrush passed his knowledge on to Bard who, armed with the knowledge, shot Smaug dead. Smaug fell onto the town, which was devastated by the dragon's attack, but Bard survived and swam to the shores of the lake. There, Bard, a heir of Girion of Dale, was proclaimed by the people to be king of restored Dale. Bard summoned Thranduil to help rebuild Laketown and Dale in return for part of the treasure. The armies of Mirkwood and Lake-town joined together and marched to the Lonely Mountain to take their share of the treasure.
Meanwhile, in the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarves decided to inspect the hoard while Smaug was away. During this time Bilbo stumbled across a gigantic and beautiful gem. Recalling an earlier conversation, Bilbo realized that it was the famous Arkenstone, but felt strangely reluctant to give it up. Instead, he put it in his pocket and continued on. After a song and gathering of treasure, Thorin gave Bilbo a beautiful coat of mithril as the first reward for his services. Thorin led the party to the front gate, and then Balin led them to the guardroom, where they sheltered.
After Bilbo and his companions awoke the next morning they found that many birds, including the aforementioned Trush, assembled at the Lonely Mountain. Although the Thrush tried to say something to the company, none of them could understand him. Therefore the Thrush summoned the raven Roäc, who was able to speak Westron. Roäc told Bilbo and the dwarves about the events in Lake-town and told Thorin about the approaching armies. He counseled them to make peace with Bard and Thranduil, though it cost them dearly in gold. Thorin rejected this advice and announced that he would not share the treasure with anyone. Then, Thorin sent Roäc as a messenger to his nephew Dáin, lord of the Iron Hills, to request aid. The next days they made preperations and blocked the gate with a wall, while they received news from the ravens.
Battle of the Five Armies and Return Journey
When Bard and Thranduil came to the Front gate, Thorin harshly responded in polite words to Bard. Bard's reasoning did little for the stubborn King under the Mountain and Thorin rejected Bard's proposal to share the treasure. Bilbo feared war, and to prevent this gave the Arkenstone into the hands of Bard for negotiation. With the praise of Bard, Thranduil, and Gandalf he returned, only to be rejected and cast away for his deed by Thorin. But Bilbo was successful in that Thorin was willing to negotiate, and war was prevented temporarily.
And yet war did come. Dáin II Ironfoot, at the summons of Thorin, came from the Iron Hills with an army of Dwarves. Bard refused to let the dwarves enter the mountain, which would mean a long and almost certainly unsuccessful siege. But just as battle was about to be joined, Gandalf called them all to be wary of the new coming danger - the alliance of Wargs and Goblins against them. Dáin, Bard, and Thranduil took council together, and decided upon a strategy of defending the slopes of the Lonely Mountain. Then the enemy came. Thus was the Battle of Five Armies fought.
During the battle Bilbo stood with Thranduil and Gandalf on Ravenhill. As the battle went against the Men, Dwarves, and Elves, Bilbo reflected gloomily on the ingloriousness of war and the bitterness of the end. But then the Eagles of Gwaihir came, and Beorn too, and the battle was won. But Bilbo did not see this result, for a falling stone knocked him out. Invisible as he was, his bruised body was not discovered until the next day. Bilbo then bade farewell to the mortally wounded Thorin and his other friends.
The victors divided the treasure and Bard took Bilbo's fourteenth share of the gold and silver in return for the Arkenstone. Bilbo, despite having forfeited his share, was offered a rich reward but refused to take more than two small chests of gold and silver. When Bilbo and Gandalf bid farewell to Thranduil Bilbo gave him a necklace of silver and pearls. Thranduil gave the hobbit the title 'Elf-friend' and then he returned with Gandalf to the Shire. There he discovered that he was believed dead, and an auction was going on of his house and possessions. He bought back his own things, and settled once more peacefully into Bag End.
The Years Between
Bilbo lived on in health and comfort, high in the regard of those who knew him best, but considered somewhat of an oddity. He adopted his young cousin Frodo Baggins as his heir, and raised him in Bag End. Occasionally he received visitors; dwarves, Gandalf, or even elves from time to time. Most of his time was spent reading, writing his memoirs, writing poetry, and avoiding his nasty relatives the Sackville-Bagginses. His life was extended by the ring (actually the One Ring of ancient history), and yet as he lived on with no apparent sign of aging, he began to feel stretched and thin.
Bilbo's Farewell Party
At last, in September of 3001, Bilbo threw a grand party for his 111th birthday (which happened to be shared with Frodo). During this party he did a vanishing act with his ring and left with three dwarves for Rivendell, to live with Elrond and the elves there. He only took with him a book that he was composing, his sword Sting, his mithril coat, and a dark green hood and cloak which had been given to him by Dwalin years before. He wanted to take the ring with him as well, but upon the urging of Gandalf, left it behind for Frodo, along with Bag End and the rest of his possessions. Bilbo was the first ringbearer to give up the One Ring in this way.
End of the Third Age
He lived a very pleasant life of retirement in Rivendell: eating, sleeping, writing poetry, and working on his memoir, There and Back Again and wrote a book called Translations from the Elvish.
When Frodo came to Rivendell seventeen years later, they reunited in the Hall of Fire, and Bilbo had composed (with Aragorn) the Song of Eärendil.
Bilbo attended the Council of Elrond, offering to take the Ring to Mount Doom. Nevertheless this task fell to the younger Frodo, and in farewell Bilbo gave him Sting and his old mithril coat, both of which served Frodo well in the struggles to come.
The War of the Ring was fought far from where Bilbo dwelt, but successfully, and in the end Frodo returned home.
Two years later, however, Bilbo as a former ringbearer accompanied Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and certain Elves to the Grey Havens, there to take ship for the West, on 29 September, T.A. 3021. He had already celebrated his 131st birthday, becoming the oldest Hobbit in the history of Middle-earth. As a mortal, he died in the West.
While sailing west, Bilbo composed a last poem looking back on Middle-earth in farewell.
Within the legendarium, 'Bilbo' represents a translation of the original Hobbitish Bilba.
John D. Rateliff has suggested that the name Bilbo is very likely a name invented by Tolkien, a 'short, simple, made-up name appropriate for a hero of a children's book or light-hearted fantasy story'.
It has also been noted by Jim Allan that bilbo is a kind of Spanish sword deriving its name from Bilbao. The element bil 'sword' is found in some Germanic names (such as Bilihar).
According to the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, a dictionary of Old English, the element bil refers to either a farming or military blade, significant in that it must have two edges. The element bó, equivalent to bá, means both.
- Burglar, from a note on Bilbo's door left by Gandalf
- Thief, from Gollum after Bilbo stole the One Ring. Smaug also gave the name to Bilbo after he stole a cup.
- Clue-finder, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug
- Web-cutter, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug
- Stinging Fly, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug
- Ringwinner, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug
- Luckwearer, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug
- Barrel-rider, a name given to Bilbo by himself during his conversation with Smaug, Smaug also later addressed Bilbo by this name.
- Mr. Lucky Number, a name given to Bilbo by Smaug.
- Child of the Kindly West, a name given to Bilbo by Thorin II Oakenshield.
- Bilbo the Magnificent, a name given to Bilbo by Thranduil
- Elf-friend, a name given to Bilbo by Thranduil
- Mad Baggins, a name first given to Bilbo by Rorimac Brandybuck after Bilbo disappeared suddenly from his Birthday Party. It later became the name of a favourite character of legend who would vanish with a bang and a flash, only to reappear with bags of jewels and gold.
- Ring-bearer, for his bearing of the One Ring.
- Bilba Labingi, the original hobbit name for Bilbo