The Hobbit Hero’s Journey
In this essay, I’m going to be talking about the relation between The Hero’s Journey Model by Joseph Campbell and how his storytelling structure applies to Tolkiens The Hobbit novel.
In order to give some context, we need to ask the right questions. What is fantasy and what kind of fantasy does the Hobbit belong to? What is portal quest fantasy and how important it is to set the world? What is the definition of a hero and what kind of hero does Tolkien use in The Hobbit?
“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.”J.R.R. Tolkien
That is how Tolkien began writing The Hobbit, at first John Ronald did not even know what a Hobbit was, as weird as it may sound, at that moment Tolkien himself might have been possessed by the world he was about to create.
The ideas presented by Campbell in his book are used to analyse and study novels and their structures. There is nothing new on this book that has not been seen before, the ideas on it are ancient. What Campbell did was putting all his thoughts and structures together, that is how he discovered the pattern behind every story ever written.
In his study, he discovered that in essence, all stories are the same. They might vary and may be told differently but they all come back to the same steps.
It would be interesting to note that The Hobbit was written and published many years before Campbell began doing his study on The Hero’s Journey. This journey is something that everyone has in themselves as if it was part of us and our DNA when we make up stories in either bigger or smaller ways, we have the tendency to use a certain approximation of the formula that Campbell theorised.
So what makes up the monomyth? There are two levels of detail; the first one would be the cycle itself, which would be made of the departure, the initiation and the return. So the departure is the departure from the normal or the existing of non-magic world where the character lives, which comes more apparent later on, the departure is focused on this idea of moving away. It gets broken down into different parts, that being the call to adventure, the refusal of the call, the supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, and the belly of the whale.
The next stage of the cycle is the initiation, is not in the sense of getting started on something but the things in which the hero does to get initiated into the world of the magical and the fantastic. The purpose of the hero´s journey is to take a character out of normality then change them in some way, and finally return them in their improved state.
This contains 3 different options, the road of trials, the meeting with the goddess,
The heroes journey in the hobbit begins with the first phase, known as “the departure”, this departure is not done right away, there are a series of steps we need to have in mind for it to take place as necessary and as natural as possible. In the first instance “Bilbo” the protagonist lives his life on a routine in the shire, and that’s how is portrayed monotonous and unaltered space. Nothing changed and Bilbo likes that. That’s when Gandalf shows up to carry out the second step of the journey, the call to an adventure. The mage lets him know that he requires someone to take on an adventure with. But carrying with the third step “Denial”, Bilbo refuses and he locks himself upon his home.
Acceptance after denial.
After the visit from this mage, Bilbo is presented with a multitude of dwarves showing up to his house, his manners stop him from throwing these people out and that’s when he hears of the task he was sought for.
Is there when Galdaf confesses choosing the Hobbit was his idea and how he wants him to be part of the party for the expedition, ‘While Tolkien endows his wizard with a number of stock-comic attributes, he also makes it clear that this magical grandfather-figure’(David Stevens and Carol D. Stevens)(2008)
The figure of Gandalf plays a huge role on the transformation that Bilbo will suffer, becoming his mentor will allow Bilbo to grow. Christopher Vogler says that, ‘The Call to Adventure may come in the form of a message or a messenger.
It may simply be a stirring within the hero’ (Vogler, C ,2007, pp 100.) Here we see how it was crucial for Gandalfs to push the hobbit out on the adventure, his influence made him move, when the hobbit decided on taking this adventure the 5th step begins. The Crossing of the first threshold.
That is the first instance of the character development of Bilbo, where he decides he will take on something he had never done before, that is more apparent later on when the company have the need of camping to rest, and Bilbo is dragged to look for the pony the dwarf brothers lost, they then come across a group of “Trolls” wanting to cook their pony.
Bilbo is tasked with the freeing of the animal but gets caught by the trolls, the dwarves join later on trying to free their hobbit friend, but have to surrender or he’d be tear apart. They all get caught by the creatures, soon to be eaten. It is at this point that there is a change on Bilbo’s character, he processes to explain to the trolls the disadvantages of eating dwarves, just trying to buy their friends some time, which then Gandalf uses to transform the trolls into stone with the suns light. Bilbo wouldn’t have done this sort of thing on the shire, and it is this point that the transformation that all characters go through in the journey of Campbell begins. The changes in bilbos character are external, he becomes less lazy, more outgoing, less timid.
Campbell (2008) said that ‘the hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what’
Someone who gives up their life to something that they find above them, but this definition of a hero could be attached to a villain or a fan since it does not require the reason that makes the hero’s sacrifice.
The next stage is Belly of the Whale, all known to the hero is now gone, their transformation has already begun, even if they are not aware of it. There is a permanent division of what’s known to Bilbo and himself. Bilbo begins this stage when travelling through the mountains, they come across some dangerous rainstorms and massive Stone giants fighting each other. This makes the company look for shelter, which they find on a cave, Bilbo tries to leave the company as he feels he doesn’t belong there with them and is not good enough to help the dwarves on their mission. That doesn’t last long as some floor traps swing open and they fall into the insides of the cave.
The road of trials goes next, the movie and the book will stay on this for the majority of the film, as it contains the main events for the character to develop and experience.
Bilbo is left alone when squishing between the enemies but falls on a fight with a creature, this allows him to find the Ring, which gives him invisibility. And his encounter with Gollum the creature,where they get on a game of riddles, which bilbo ends up winning due to a trick, the halfling is able to scape the cave thanks to the choices he made, letting Gollum live thanks to piety and compassion. When choosing not to end Gollums live, on an unconscious way he’s saved his own life and changed the fate of all the world. Later after he reunites with his friends, they are being hunted by the pale Orc, on this fight with these creatures, the protagonist is the only one that faces the beast after Thoring is knock out. There is a visible change on Bilbos charisma when he is the one willing to fight, knowing there is no chance for him on surviving.
The journey to the lonely mountain begins after they are rescued by giant eagles, the road of trials follows on as they will continue to face more and more challenges. The ones id like to stand out would be the fighting against the giant spiders and the liberation on the dwarves after getting caught by the black forest Elves.
The first encounter with the spiders play a huge change on Bilbo’s personality after they all get caught due to dizziness and exhaustion, the hobbit is able to wake up and free himself from the spiderwebs and tries to free his friends, I would consider this the initiation of Bilbo into becoming a greater warrior. He has learnt to combine his ingenuity with his sword and the magic powers of the ring. There is a small encounter with a baby spider, Bilbo suddenly loses possession of the ring, and tried to kill the spider trying to find it. It is at this point that he is aware of the power that the ring is inflicting on him. Before he might have not killed the spider at all, for either cowardness or pity, but not this time as he feels more comfortable with abilities and the influence of the ring on him.
There would be another instance where the hobbit is able to use these newly acquired abilities to free the dwarves once again when they get caught by the Elves. He uses the rings invisibility powers to get them out of their prison. The marching of Gandalf was necessary for Bilbo to obtain this growth for himself since he had always been protected and guided by some others. But at this time he is the one that needs to make his desitions.
The next step Is the odyssey
The next stage is the woman as temptress as in this stage bilbo will face the temptation of helping his friends or keeping a gem. “woman” is referred to the “Arkenstone”, it has the power to make the worst out of bilbo and ruin the whole adventure. But in the end, he chooses the better good and tries to use the “Arkenstone” to stop the war between the humans and elves for entering the mountain.
“he shows a great courage and non-selfish decision when he stands against his companions and chooses peace and harmony instead of wealth. ’ The Unlikeliest of Heroes : The Remarkable Evolution of Bilbo Baggins Through J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit
Miss. Zineb BOUABDALLAH
Miss. Nesrine GRAINE
Helen parshal on the other hands says that
“Hobbits, however, show the full trajectory of what courage actually means: starting from a place of innocent fear, acknowledging the fear and its limitations, and then harnessing those fears to do what must be done for the greater good.” (Helen Parshall) Hobbits: Tolkien’s Unlikely Heroes.
They all mention courage, in the case of the hobbit that is something that has been developing thought the movies, due to the adapting of Bilbo to his environment and circunstances. Hes more developmed and for consecuence a better hero. As well as self sacrifice for greater good, it would be arguable that hes been doing that for his own benefit, but the end gol is to help others.
George clarck says that ‘the successful outcome of the adventure depends on Bilbo’s physical and moral courage and on his moral choices’. Clark. G (2008) . PONER ESTO DONDE GOLLUM
To sum up as a conclusion of this essay. The journey presented here is a tool widely used and is usually a success for either book writers or movie scripts. But we need to have in mind that the hero’s journey is not a recipe or formula that needs to be followed every time, it only contains the steps, and that does not mean is applicable to every story.
Likewise, “The Hobbit” does follow those steps set by Campbell in his books, though Tolkien did not use this scheme when writing his book nor did Jackson when doing his movie, I believe that the creation of “The hobbit” itself might have contributed to the books and the theory presented by Campbell.
Bilbo is the best example of an ordinary hero as a protagonist, like every other hobbit he values home, becoming the example of the ordinary man involved in an adventure. Bilbo is presented insecure and sometimes funny, nevertheless, the hobbit gets more experience with each adventure. Bilbo starts becoming more of a leader inside the group and his self-confidence increases too. The purpose of the journey of Bilbo consisted of allowing him to grow enough to realise how small he was in regards to the world around him. The most valuable attribute that he gets is humbleness.
Bilbo is a hero because of the virtues of his sensible character, and that is visible when he shows mercy on Gollum or when he resigns on his part of the treasure. Bilbos decisions are what makes him a hero, however, the rejection of heroes stereotypes is what makes him the ideal ordinary hero, honest and generous.
There is a division in the fantasy genre, there is the high fantasy and domestic fantasy, Farah Mendelsohn proposes this division on the relation between reality and fantasy. From high fantasy, she presents immersive fantasy, which is the one that takes place on a secondary world, and for that reason its part of high fantasy. Then she presents intrusive fantasy and “portal” fantasy, which come from domestic fantasy. Due to the contact produced between the reality of the main world and a fantastic element, either for travelling to another world o fantastic place or for the interference of beings or fantastic objects in our world.
Bilbo the protagonist is the one crossing the portal, but that portal is the limit between the shire and the world. This barrier must be crossed with a narrative resource, like either a tornado (on the wizard of oz) or a wardrobe (Narnia). But in the hobbit is the mentor from the hero’s journey, the one that helps Bilbo go to the other side of this portal and begin his adventure.
Portal fantasy emphasizes from the beginning of any novel from this genre the fact that there has to be an entry to a fantastic world through a portal. This journey is often unique of those humans because they can always come back from that portal into their world once the adventure is over and the fantastic elements always remain on the other side of it, and never cross that line.
On the case of the Hobbit, we are talking about the race hobbits which do resemble humans but in a different form. ‘I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of fairy rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fat in the stomach, shortish in the leg” JRR Tolkien.
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- The Heroism in Tolkien’s The Hobbit Swetha Metla, Doctoral Research Scholar, English Language & literature, SSSIHL, undergraduate essay
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- The Unlikeliest of Heroes : The Remarkable Evolution of Bilbo Baggins Through J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit , pp 52
- Miss. Zineb BOUABDALLAH
- Miss. Nesrine GRAINE
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