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Bilbo Baggins' Entire Story Explained

In 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien published a children's novel called The Hobbit, about an improbably amazing adventure undertaken by a small creature who lived in a hole. That creature was Bilbo Baggins, and his story of goblins and elves, kings and dragons would launch one of the most influential fiction careers of the 20th century.

Bilbo's story still stands on its own as one of the great fantasy works of its age, and was adapted for the screen several times even before Peter Jackson's epic film trilogy emerged, but The Hobbit was ultimately eclipsed in scope and attention by The Lord of the Rings. That novel, released as a trilogy of books that remain among the most important fantasy works of all time, ushered in a larger narrative centered around a struggle for the fate of the world, but it was still a sequel to The Hobbit, which means it could still all be traced back to the story of Bilbo Baggins. So, in celebration of the unlikely adventurer who started it all, this is the Bilbo Baggins story, explained.

Early life

Bilbo Baggins was born in the Shire in the year 2890 of the Third Age, nearly 130 years before the end of the War of the Ring that ended the long struggle between the races of Middle-earth and the Dark Lord Sauron. The only son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, Bilbo spent his early life in the recently constructed Hobbit hole known as Bag End, which would remain his family home after the death of his parents.

As a boy, Bilbo was displayed certain traits that set him apart from his fellow Hobbits, namely a sense of curiosity about the world outside of the Shire. He always wanted to know more about things that were happening elsewhere, and this trait was enough to draw the attention of Gandalf, one of the five wizards sent to Middle-earth by the Valar.

As he got older, and inherited Bag End after the death of his parents, Bilbo seemed to lose this quality. He lived alone and seemed quite pleased to enjoy the same comforts that his fellow Hobbits did, and he spent his days enjoying food, drink, and leisure, never causing trouble for his neighbors. Though Bilbo didn't know it, that was set to change after he turned 50.

Thorin and Company

Bilbo's early adulthood passed quietly as he spent his time in quiet comfort at Bag End, but that sense of quiet was disrupted by the arrival of Gandalf back in the Shire. Because he remembered Bilbo as a curious and energetic boy, Gandalf thought of Bilbo to be a participant in an upcoming quest. Bilbo declined to hear anything more about Gandalf's proposal, but the wizard didn't let up.

Soon after Gandalf's visit, Bilbo found strange dwarves arriving on his doorstep in pairs, and by the time they'd all arrived there were 13 of them. The dwarves, who seemed prepared to eat Bilbo out of house and home, were led by Thorin Oakenshield, who explained to the Hobbit that they were on their way to Erebor to recapture their ancestral home in the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug, who'd forced the dwarves out years earlier and now rested there, hoarding the treasure inside. Bilbo was suggested by Gandalf to be the group's "burglar," and while he was reluctant to go, Bilbo did ultimately agree to set out from the Shire with the dwarves.

Out of the Shire

It didn't take long after Bilbo left the Shire for danger to find him. After venturing out with Thorin and company, he encountered a trio of trolls who very nearly put an end to the quest before Gandalf came to the rescue. With the trolls turned to stone, Bilbo and the dwarves were able to raid their nearby cave. It was here that Bilbo discovered what would have been a dagger to a full-grown man, but to him was a full-sized sword. He dubbed it Sting, and it would become a faithful companion to the Baggins family for many years to come.

The company then reached Rivendell, one of the most important elven strongholds in Middle-earth, where Bilbo met Elrond for the first time. Elrond, upon studying the map Thorin had to guide them to the Lonely Mountain, uncovered moon letters that gave specific instructions as to way into the mountain. For his part, Bilbo grew fascinated with the elves. It was a love that he would carry with him for the rest of his life, and would play an important part in his final years.

A Ring

The company left Rivendell to pass through the Misty Mountains, where they tried to shelter in what they thought was a cave. They soon found that goblins were infesting the mountain, and while Bilbo managed to accidentally escape capture, Thorin and company were not so lucky. While the dwarves and Gandalf dealt with the goblins, Bilbo stumbled through the dark and happened to find a golden ring. Soon after, he encountered a strange creature known as Gollum, who threatened to eat him unless he could win a riddle contest. Bilbo flummoxed Gollum with his final riddle, "What have I got in my pocket," and as the creature grew more frustrated Bilbo put the ring on and vanished. Gollum, confused by Bilbo's absence, thought the Hobbit had found the way out and gave chase toward the cave exit. Bilbo used his newfound invisibility to stealthily follow Gollum, making his way out of the cave.

Outside, Bilbo reunited with the dwarves, who'd managed to fight their way out of the Misty Mountains. The group was then attacked by wargs, only to be rescued by Gandalf's friends the Great Eagles. After resting with the eagles, the journey continued.

Bilbo had no way of knowing it at the time, but the little trinket he found in a cave was actually the most powerful and consequential object of the age.

Dragons and battles

When the company finally arrived at the Lonely Mountain it was Bilbo, the designated burglar of the group, who snuck in through the secret door as described by the moon letters. The Hobbit's entrance woke up the dragon Smaug, so Bilbo put on the ring to stay hidden, and kept Smaug busy with riddles until he discovered the dragon had a single bare patch in his armor that could be exploited in battle. Bilbo eventually told the dwarves, and a nearby thrush heard and told Bard the Bowman of nearby Lake-town. When Smaug flew into a rage and departed the mountain to burn the countryside around it in retribution for Bilbo's thievery, Bard shot the dragon in his bare spot, killing him.

But the struggle with the dragon was only part of the battle, as groups of men and elves soon arrived to lay claim to the mountain's treasure. The dwarves sent word to their own kind for help, and just as a battle was about to ensue Bilbo revealed that he'd stolen the Arkenstone, Thorin's most prized artifact, from the mountain. Bilbo used it to try and sue for peace, but soon all three factions were interrupted by a goblin army. In the ensuing battle, known as the Battle of Five Armies because the Eagles also participated, Thorin was killed, putting an end to his quest to reclaim his kingdom.

There and Back Again

Bilbo was supposed to receive one-fourteenth of the Lonely Mountain's treasure, but instead settled for two chests of gold and silver. He returned home to the Shire, stopping in Rivendell along the way, and when he arrived at Bag End he discovered there was another battle to fight. His jealous and meddling cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses, had assumed Bilbo had died while off on his long adventure, and therefore began to auction off all of his belongings so they could move into Bag End themselves. Only after buying back every piece of his own furniture himself could Bilbo settle back into something resembling a normal life. He also eventually began a book recounting his adventures, which he titled There and Back Again.

But Bilbo would never be the same again. His long journey and sudden return had led to rumors and whispers about what he'd done and what he was up to all alone in Bag End. More importantly, though he didn't know it at the time, the ring he'd discovered in the Misty Mountains had begun to take hold of him. As a result, Bilbo seemed to hardly age at all for the next 60 years.

Leaving the Ring

While Bilbo continued to try and live a quiet life in Bag End again, things were changing out in Middle-earth. Dark forces massed in the East, and Gandalf the wizard began to grow suspicious of Bilbo's little trinket. Meanwhile, Bilbo himself was preparing to head off on one final adventure before his death, and planned to end his time in the Shire with his eleventy-first (111) birthday party. The celebration was massive, and Bilbo ended it by putting on the Ring and disappearing.

After the party, Bilbo prepared to set out for Rivendell, and Gandalf confronted him about the Ring. Aware of the effect it was having on his old friend, the wizard urged the Hobbit to leave the Ring, along with Bag End, to his nephew Frodo. Bilbo was hostile, and even accused Gandalf of scheming to take the ring for himself, but after he calmed down he realized his protectiveness over the Ring had grown even deeper than he'd realized. He gave the Ring up and left the Shire.

Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Gandalf's research would soon confirm that his little invisibility trinket was in fact the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron in a bid to control all of Middle-earth. By letting it go and leaving it to Frodo, Bilbo became the first being in the Ring's history to relinquish it voluntarily.

Return to Rivendell

Having left the Ring behind, Bilbo resolved to do at least a little more traveling in Middle-earth before he died, and set out for Rivendell. He stayed in the realm of Elrond for some time, then left again to visit the city of Dale and gaze upon the Lonely Mountain one more time before returning again to Rivendell. Here, he continued to work on his book. While he was comfortable among the Elves, Bilbo also began to notice that age was catching up to him. Without the Ring, he grew weaker and more feeble.

Meanwhile, a war began taking shape around him, which Bilbo became aware of when Frodo arrived in Rivendell with the Ring. Now aware of what he'd really been carrying all those years, Bilbo still harbored a desire for the One Ring, but knew it was best for everyone if Frodo saw through his quest to destroy it. He then gifted his nephew with two remaining artifacts from his adventures: His sword Sting and a mithril shirt.

Into the West

While Bilbo remained in Rivendell, a war for the One Ring raged around him. While the armies of men and elves fought the Dark Lord in the East, his nephew Frodo kept pushing toward Mordor with the ultimate goal of finally casting the ring into Mt. Doom and destroying it once and for all. The war raged for months, until Frodo — after struggling with Gollum — succeeded in his quest and destroyed the Ring. With the Ring's destruction, Bilbo had managed to live into the Fourth Age.

The Fourth Age came to be known as the "Age of Men," because the elves felt their time in Middle-earth had passed. The great elven leaders left the continent and planned to sail west to the Undying Lands. Because they had been ring-bearers, Frodo and Bilbo were invited to accompany Elrond and the lady Galadriel of Lothlorien across the sea. Before departing Middle-earth, Bilbo turned 131, making him the oldest Hobbit in the continent's history. He sailed west, and presumably passed away in the Undying Lands, at peace.