Bilbo served as a vital link between H and LotR for me in my first reading. I loved Bilbo’s character in H and was curious to see what would happen to him in this new tale. I was surprised, then, when he quickly exited the stage and was replaced by Frodo. Nevertheless, Bilbo served a pivotal role. He was no longer the protagonist of the story; instead he was a patriarch, the figurehead at the beginning of a tradition. He preserved the Ring and passed it to Frodo. Now Frodo, and the reader by extension, must see the quest through to the end, if only for the sake of Bilbo. This was very clear to me in my first reading.
The idea of the quest of the Ring as an inheritance from Bilbo is emphasized in the Council of Elrond. Bilbo volunteers for the quest:
‘Very well, very well, Master Elrond…It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself’ (FR, II, ii, 269).
He is turned down and the quest falls, instead, to his heir, Frodo.
Bilbo functions to keep the reader motivated throughout LotR. I would argue that this is especially true of younger readers who were particularly invested in him in H. I know it was certainly true for me. I wanted to see what happened to this ring that Bilbo collected and that brought doom to the world. It was important to me that Bilbo was not implicated in anything so heinous.
Perhaps this post is a bit unexpected, especially here in the midst of the story’s conclusion. I have good reason for putting it here, though. Bilbo continues to serve as this important motivator for younger readers even through the end of the tale. When the hobbits revisit Rivendell, he is there to catch up on the adventure and to demonstrate how much the world has changed. Not only has the age of Men begun, but the age of children’s tales is fading, much like Bilbo himself.
Finally, this theme is enacted as Bilbo travels to the ships to sail west. Frodo finally comes to an even footing with his mentor after completing the quest which the one bequeaths the other. They part the world at the same moment, and this serves to bookend both LotR and H.
Where Do We Go From Here?
To the Shire, and then to the Grey Havens.
What Do You Think?
Did you see Bilbo as a structural element in your first reading?
Did you expect to see Bilbo as much in LotR? Did you expect to see him more?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!