Bilbo’s Feelings or Gandalf’s authority? (Tolkien on what qualifies a person for service)

I haven’t read The Hobbit since junior high school, but I remembered that Bilbo Baggins doesn’t initially want to go on his journey. He was a hesitant little hobbit, and I remembered feeling a little bit like him (minus the toe hairs and wooden pipe).

So I picked up the novel and found this passage near the beginning. The dwarves have told Bilbo that there is a sign on his door, indicating that his house was the one they were to meet. Bilbo protests:

“I have no sign on my door–it was painted a week ago–, and I am quite sure you have come to the wrong house.”

(. . .)

A dwarf replies: “I was talking about you. And I assure you there is a mark on this door–the usual one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that’s how it is usually read. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It’s all the same to us. Gandalf told us that there was a man of the sort in these parts looking for a Job at once, and that he had arranged for a meeting here this Wednesday tea-time.”

“Of course there is a mark,” said Gandalf. “I put it there myself. For very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal. (. . .)

Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes.”

-The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein

What I love here is that Bilbo does not feel chosen. He doesn’t even know that there is a sign on his door, declaring that he has been chosen for this special expedition. Gandalf has chosen him. Gandalf has put the mark on his door. Gandalf calls him a burglar, and so he is a burglar, whether or not he feels like one.

Gandalf’s authority trumps Bilbo Baggins’ feelings about himself.

Have you ever felt like Bilbo Baggins?


5 thoughts on “Bilbo’s Feelings or Gandalf’s authority? (Tolkien on what qualifies a person for service)

  1. Why, yes, and I believe there is a biblical correlate in Moses’ response to God. When God calls us, we often do not feel worthy of His call. We balk, we do not understand what is expected of us, nor how we are to fulfill that call. But, call, He does, and follow, we must.


    1. Wonderful correlation, Kitt. I hadn’t thought of that particular one, but there’s lots and lots of Biblical people who didn’t feel qualified when God called them. We can protest, kick, scream and tear our hobbit-y toe hairs out, but we still need to follow. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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