The next day Bilbo found himself hosting a tea party for Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, uninvited as he thought, who were seeking recompense from a particularly dangerous and greedy dragon called Smaug who lived far away beyond the edge of the wild. Before Bilbo could bring this unexpected party to a polite conclusion, he was drawn into a planning meeting with Gandalf and Thorin, leader of the dwarves, to discuss ways, means, policy and devices to recover the stolen gold from Smaug. And far from being the mere provider of hospitality for the gathering, it was part of the plan that Bilbo be the one to go with them and steal back the treasure.
Bilbo rather belatedly made a serious attempt to extricate himself from the plot but as Gandalf may well have foreseen, a challenge to Bilbo’s honour woke his courage and adventurous spirit and before he knew it he had talked himself into joining them. The tea party turned into a sleep-over and in the morning Bilbo was having doubts about the adventure. We will have to wait for the next chapter to see whether Bilbo joins Thorin’s company or not.
Tolkien endears Bilbo to us with his love of comfort and cheerful nature so we sympathise with him when his easy going life style is disturbed by a stranger from foreign parts asking him to take part in an adventure which is of little interest to him. Challenges to our priorities which are likely to take us out of our comfort zone are seldom met with enthusiasm and this was certainly the case with Bilbo Baggins that morning in the quiet of the world. However, sometimes there are reasons why we might consider such disturbances worthwhile. In this case, Gandalf was holding out the prospect of financial reward and excitement, albeit at a high risk, but there was more at stake than was revealed in the meeting.
If anyone is thinking of joining in a risky expedition or business venture, it would be wise to find out as much as possible about the background of those involved and the political situation in any countries to be visited. Mr Baggins asked some of the right questions but he seems to take for granted that Gandalf had told him enough to make an informed decision. This may have been so but if Bilbo had known what we can find out from the back-story to The Hobbit in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, he might have had second thoughts.
From his sheltered existence in the gentle Shire countryside, Bilbo had little idea of the immense dark forces which were gathering in the wider world and that one day the evil might creep within the boundaries of The Shire. Gandalf perceives that such knowledge would be overwhelming for Bilbo and reveals to him only so much and presents a suitable challenge to motivate him to play his part in the venture. In this regard, Tolkien’s fairy story, The Hobbit, presents much truth about important questions facing humans in all ages: whether to engage in the struggle with evil in the world at large even though it seems remote and whether to trust a famous figure from the past who appears to be from outside time.
The name of Bilbo’s dwelling was Bag End. This was the name of a farm once owned by Tolkien’s favourite aunt, Jane Neave (nee Suffield), in the Worcestershire village of Dormston, which Tolkien knew well. The farm appears on present day maps as Dormston Manor but the local name was Bag End implying a cul de sac because the road to it goes no further. I recently had the opportunity to pass though Dormston and took the photographs included in this article. The shot of the turning off the lane from the village to the farm nicely depicts Bilbo’s choice. Anyone who lived at Bag End, arriving at this junction could turn left to return home and go no further or take the other fork and head off into the wider world. Thankfully Bilbo took the right turn.
I’ve also included a view of Bag End farm over the side gate and a picture of Dormston village church to give you an idea of the charm and antiquity of this area which Tolkien enjoyed in his youth. Having seen such places, it is easy to understand why Tolkien wrote about a beautiful shire where his gentle hero, Bilbo, made his home and why his imagined world of Middle-earth has so many layers of history.
For more photographs of Dormston and to see this beautiful area in the summer sunshine, click on this link.