adventure Books Classics fantasy fiction

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” warns us of the dangers in greed and wealth

I’ll be honest, I was never into The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t know much about it, but it never appealed to me. Never thought it was my ‘thing’. But my dad read the books when he was eleven years old, and after watching one of The Hobbit films with him during lockdown, I was hooked on Bilbo Baggins’ story. How was such a little Hobbit so much braver than most of the other characters? Why did he have a special ring that made him invisible? Why were on they on such an adventure? What was with all that gold?

So, naturally, I had to read the book by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was too invested by this point to be satisfied with only knowing half the story. And I found that I very quickly came to adore the brave little Bilbo Baggins who saved his friends from monsters, bad guys, and greed alike. Not to mention the wise and witty wizard Gandalf, who helped steer everyone in the right direction, and the stories of the adventures that Thorin and Company had would be enough to make any hobbit curious.

However, there is a lot more to take from this story than just the adventures of a hobbit, thirteen dwarfs and a wizard.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

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The most prominent, and arguably the most important, theme in The Hobbit is bravery, which can be seen through the character arc of Bilbo Baggins. As Gandalf says in the book, Bilbo does not return to the Shire as the same hobbit he left. He was a shy, timid, homebody at the start of the novel who can’t quite work out how to entertain thirteen strange dwarfs in his house, and by the end he is a hero who is – literally – in the middle of a dangerous quest. In fact, even leaving his home in the Shire was an incredible act of bravery for Bilbo Baggins, never mind slaying giant spiders and breaking out his friends from an elf dungeon and helping them escape.

But that is not the thing that makes this book so incredible. The Hobbit is a very powerful story with a very real and alarming message. This book acts a warning of greed and wealth and what can happen when money and gold become the most important thing. In The Hobbit, Tolkien refers to this as dragon sickness, or gold sickness. When a person has an apparent mental change caused by large amounts of gold and treasure, resulting in greedy, illogical and even violent behaviour.

The only person that seems to see past this greed is Bilbo Baggins himself, who would give all the gold in Middle Earth to be back snug in his hobbit home, and even saves Thorin himself from being overcome with greed for gold.

Near the end of the novel, Thorin tells Bilbo – who values home, music, life and people over money and gold – that the world would be a better place if more people shared his ideals. He said:

“I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate.”
Bilbo knelt on one knee filled with sorrow. “Farewell, King under the Mountain!” he said. “This is a bitter adventure, if it must end so; and not a mountain of gold can amend it. Yet I am glad that I have shared in your perils – that has been more than any Baggins deserves.”
“No!” said Thorin. “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

It’s often said that the more money we have, the more we lose sight of what’s important. In The Hobbit, Thorin is much more respectable and made a much better King when he was trying to keep his friends safe on their journey than when he wasn’t obsessed with keeping all of the hoarded gold. Money and gold cloud people’s judgement, because the more they have, the more they want. And, as I said, it makes people lose sight of what’s important. And life becomes cheap in comparison because they would throw themselves in front of a bullet to protect it.

What Bilbo shows us is that gold is nothing without the right people to share it with. And in the end, when we die, it won’t matter how much money we made or what we did to earn it. What will matter is the people we love, the lives we lived, the dreams we had and the adventures we had. The things that will matter in the end will be the things that can’t be bought with gold or money.

Life, all and any life, is not cheap. It is worth more than all the gold and money in the world. And home, wherever that is, is worth fighting for and holding on to. So plant your plants, your life, and your dreams. Nurture them. Watch them grow. And never say no to an adventure – you’ll never know where you might end up.

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