The Hero’s Journey in J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Hobbit

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The Hobbit Hero’s Journey Essay

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Bilbo Baggins Hero's Journey Stages
  • Conclusion


J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is an excellent example of Joseph Campbell’s archetype, a Hero’s Journey. This archetype identifies ten stages in which an unlikely hero might go through to become a likely hero. In this novel, a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is the unlikely hero. Bilbo hates any kind of adventure or anything unexpected, so you would not render him as a “hero” at first. Bilbo goes through many stages of Campbell’s a Hero’s Journey including: The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor, Crossing the First Threshold, Belly of the Whale, The Road of Trials, The Woman as a Temptress, Atonement with the Father/Abyss, Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon, Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold, and Freedom to Live.

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Bilbo Baggins Hero's Journey Stages

The first stage of this archetype is The Call to Adventure. The Call to Adventure is where the “hero” of the story is at first shown in a normal situation and is then called to do something that differs from his/her normal life. Bilbo Baggins is a respectable hobbit that never does anything unexpected or goes on any adventures. One day his life was interrupted by a wizard by the name of Gandalf. This wizard had decided that Bilbo was the perfect candidate to be a burglar on an adventure that he was planning, since Bilbo was very capable of sneaking around quietly. Bilbo replied to Gandalf’s request by saying, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea - anytime you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Goodbye!” So, the second stage of this archetype, Refusal of the Call, has also been fulfilled, since the unlikely hero has refused to go on the adventure that he was called to. After Bilbo’s refusal, Gandalf marked his door with his staff, which would indicate that he would like to go an adventure. The next day, many dwarves showed up on his doorstep, and Bilbo soon accepted the adventure.

The next stage is Meeting the Mentor. In this stage, the hero has committed to the adventure and has met his mentor or guide. Bilbo has already met his “mentor”, Gandalf. Gandalf is a wizard that can perform magic spells, which will help Bilbo and the dwarves in the future while on their adventure. On many occasions, Gandalf has helped Bilbo and the dwarves stay alive. He saves them from trolls in chapter two, he leads them through dangerous lands to the Last Homely House in Rivendell, he leads them through the dangerous mountain pass and saves them from goblins when they are captured in chapter four, he fights the vicious wargs and deals with the great eagles in chapter six and seven, and he finally leads them to the borders of Mirkwood at the end of chapter seven where he has to leave them.

The next stage is Crossing the First Threshold, which is the point where the hero crosses into the actual adventure, leaving behind the normality that they are used to. Bilbo and the dwarves cross the first threshold when they begin their adventure. They lost large portions of their resources when the pony carrying the resources was dragged into a river and they could only save the pony. Gandalf has disappeared, and they need more resources, so they send Bilbo to inspect a campfire in the distance. Bilbo sees that the campfire is being used by trolls that are roasting mutton and tries to sneak around them to get some of their food, but he is captured soon after. The dwarves wait for his return and become impatient, so they go to where the trolls are and soon after, they are captured as well. At the last minute, they are saved by Gandalf, who tricks the trolls into waiting by the fire until morning so that they turn into stone.

The next stage is Belly of the Whale. This stage represents the permanent split of the hero’s known world and self. Entering this stage, the hero is willing to undergo a change. Bilbo goes through this stage when he and the dwarves are navigating the Misty Mountains. They are disrupted by dangerous storms and stone-giants, which forces them to take cover within a cave. While they sleep in this cave, Bilbo is the only one that notices a crack in the back of the cave, since he had dreamed about goblins pouring out of it. He screams, waking up Gandalf, to which he vanishes in a flash. Bilbo and the dwarves are then taken by the goblins that poured out of the crack in the wall to Goblin-Town. Gandalf re-appears and saves the group by killing the Great Goblin, who was planning on eating them, with a sword. They all flee from the remaining goblins, but Bilbo falls and is knocked unconscious when one of the goblins sneakily grabs at them from behind. The group unknowingly leaves him behind, and continue to flee. Bilbo awakens and is afraid of being alone, but continues through the dark tunnels for a long time. Since he was willing to continue on the adventure, even after being alone, he has allowed himself to change which fulfilled the fifth stage.

The next stage is the Road of Trials, which is a series of tests that the hero must go through to begin his transformation. This stage could be represented by the time after Bilbo and the dwarves escape from the mountains. After Bilbo escapes from the mountains and finds the group, they continue on their adventure, but are trapped by large wolf-like creatures called wargs. The goblins appear, too, but Bilbo and the others were carried away by the great eagles before anything bad could happen. The group goes to Beorn’s upon Gandalf’s request and obtain more resources and ponies to travel with. They travel to Mirkwood, where Gandalf parts with them at the border to attend to other business. Bilbo and the dwarves are by themselves now and face many “trials” such as being captured by spiders, from which Bilbo rescues them, and then being captured by the Wood-elves’ King, but then being rescued by Bilbo once again.

The next stage is The Woman As Temptress. In this stage, the hero faces either physical or pleasurable temptations that might lead him to abandon his quest. “Woman” is a metaphor for the material temptations of life. After Bilbo defeated Smaug, he searches through the great hall where all the dwarves’ treasures were gathered when he comes across a beautiful gem: the Arkenstone. He’s content with the power of the gem, so he pockets it and figures that he would just take that and nothing else as his fourteenth share. Thorin searched for the stone for days, but Bilbo has kept it hidden from him. The Arkenstone is Bilbo’s woman as temptress because it has the power to make the worst out of the hero and ruin the whole adventure.

The next stage is Atonement with the Father/Abyss. In this stage, the hero will confront whatever has the ultimate power in his life. The “father” in this stage is usually represented by a father figure to the hero. Bilbo’s father figure, in this case, is Thorin. He has challenged Thorin by giving the Arkenstone to his enemies. Bilbo hasn’t achieved this stage, though, because Thorin only pretends to agree with the deals for the negotiation while he waits for his cousin, Dain, to lead an army to battle the men and elves. Only after the battle, when Thorin was dying, did he and Bilbo finally understand each other.

The next stage, Apotheosis, represents the realization of greater understanding. The hero, in this stage, has new knowledge and understanding and is ready for more of the adventure. In this case, Bilbo recuperates after the loss of many of his friends and regains the strength for the return journey.

The next stage is The Ultimate Boon. This is the achievement of the goal of the quest. Bilbo achieves the goal of his quest when there is finally peace between the races (men, elves, and dwarves) and the evil races (goblins and wargs) have been defeated. He has also achieved this when the Lonely Mountain is not a resistance against the armed forces of men and elves, but is the ground where they fought a battle against their true enemy.

The next stage is Rescue from Without. This stage is where the hero must be brought back to everyday life with the help of a powerful guide. Bilbo, tired and hurt, was returned back home accompanied by Gandalf at first, then Beorn and the elves, then Beorn and Gandalf, and finally just Gandalf.

The next stage is The Crossing of the Return Threshold, which is described as being the knowledge and wisdom gained on the quest integrated into the hero’s ordinary life and possibly sharing it with the world. As Bilbo is being returned home, Gandalf comments that he is “not the hobbit that you were”. Through this adventure, Bilbo has gained more knowledge and wisdom, which has transformed him.

The last stage is the Freedom to Live, which is when the hero is free from fearing death. Years later, Bilbo receives unexpected guests once again: Gandalf and Balin. They reminisce their past adventure and the current affairs of Lake-town. Bilbo showed no regrets about his past in the end, which truly shows that he now has the freedom to live.


In conclusion, Joseph Campbell’s archetype, the Hero’s Journey, fits J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit very well. Bilbo Baggins follows through with just about every stage of the Hero’s Journey, which took him through many trials and tribulations. From his experiences, he gained wisdom and knowledge and was also transformed into a likely hero.

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