The Hobbit

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Themes and Colors
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Greed, Trust, Fellowship Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Home and Birthright Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hobbit, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Coming of Age Theme Icon

Although Bilbo Baggins is “fully grown” at the beginning of The Hobbit, his adventures teach him to be brave, to take responsibility for himself and for others, and to develop skills he didn’t know he had: in effect, to grow up. When Gandalf and the dwarves approach Bilbo with an offer to be their burglar, Bilbo is so satisfied with his life and his home that the mere thought of adventure is enough to irritate and even frighten him. Yet Tolkien gives clues that Bilbo, deep down, wants to go on quests after all: he’s a descendant of the famously adventurous Took family, and seems to have inherited some of the Tooks’ love for maps and quests. While Bilbo never explicitly says that he wants to go with the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain (he merely rushes after them, prodded by Gandalf), it’s likely that he secretly, even subconsciously, wants to join them, realizing his inner potential for adventure.

Along the way to the Lonely Mountains, Bilbo is placed in countless situations where he cannot rely on anyone else, and must learn to take care of himself. A particularly illuminating example of this phenomenon occurs when Bilbo falls off of Dori’s shoulders, and must out-riddle Gollum and out-maneuver the goblins to escape from the Misty Mountains. The contrast between the way Bilbo enters the mountains (on someone’s shoulders) and the way he leaves them (on his own, with a ring of invisibility to help him) couldn’t be clearer: his experiences force him to become stronger, more independent, more powerful—to grow up. Later, when giant spiders capture Bilbo in Mirkwood forest, he adds other skills to his resume, using his sword to kill spiders and skillfully springing the dwarves from prison. By the time Bilbo reaches the Lonely Mountain, he’s brave enough to sneak in Smaug’s lair while the other dwarves hang back. Travel and danger have encouraged him to develop his bravery and cunning—skills of which he shows dim signs when Gandalf approaches him at the beginning of the novel.

Yet, while Bilbo matures throughout The Hobbit, he doesn’t entirely reject the life he made for himself before he met Gandalf. Late in the novel, he’s still regretting leaving his hobbit-hole in the first place, and when the dwarves succeed in winning their treasure and defeating Smaug, he wants to return to hobbit-town. Bilbo grows up, but he doesn’t forget where he comes from—a fitting message coming from The Hobbit, a children’s book that people read long after they’ve grown up.

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Coming of Age ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Coming of Age appears in each chapter of The Hobbit. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Coming of Age Quotes in The Hobbit

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hobbit related to the theme of Coming of Age.
Chapter 1 Quotes

This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early quotation from the book, Tolkien establishes the basic plot: the protagonist, whose name is Baggins, will go out into the world and discover that he's capable of doing and saying new, exciting things. The quotation is written in a simple, almost fairy tale-like style ("This is a story"). But although the quotation might seem simplistic, it establishes an important and complex theme of the novel: the relationship between external travel and internal change. Baggins will travel a great distance in order to have his adventure. And yet the real adventure will occur within him: as he encounters new people and places, Baggins will discover new things about himself.


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As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walkingstick.

He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns.

Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up – probably somebody lighting a wood-fire-and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Smaug
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early scene, Bilbo invites a group of dwarves, led by the wizard Gandalf, into his home. The dwarves begin dancing and singing about their ancestral treasures—beautiful objects made from gold and jewels. As Bilbo listens to the songs, he feels a deep stirring of desire to go out into the world and explore the unknown. But suddenly, Bilbo feels a flash of fear, and abruptly stops fantasizing about adventure.

The quotation is important because it establishes that Bilbo has the potential to be a great adventurer, even if he's untrained. As Tolkien puts it, Bilbo has a trace of the "Tooks"—his wilder, more adventurous ancestors—in him. More generally though, he discovers here that he does have a secret desire to go off on adventures, a desire that few in his peaceful, complacent community would support. The passage also suggests how fear and routine act as barriers to happiness and curiosity. Bilbo might desire to explore the world, but right now he's too afraid of danger to translate his desire into reality.

Chapter 4 Quotes

The goblins were very rough, and pinched unmercifully, and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices; and Bilbo was more unhappy even than when the troll had picked him up by his toes. He wished again and again for his nice bright hobbit-hole. Not for the last time.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins
Related Symbols: The Misty Mountains
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Bilbo and the dwarves stumble into a cave where they're attacked and arrested by goblins: the cruel, violent inhabitants of the underground world. At this early point in the novel, Bilbo is still uncertain about his role as an ally and friend to the dwarves. While he's excited to go off on adventures, he's still so used to his life as a hobbit that when danger strikes, his first reaction is to pine for his hobbit-hole—a womb-like place where everything was uneventful and complacent, but also warm and safe.

Bilbo's love for his home undergoes many changes during this novel. In this quotation, Bilbo's love for home eclipses his love for adventure. He's still an "armchair adventurer"—someone who has vague fantasies of exploring the unknown, but doesn't know how to go about doing so, and who finds himself longing for home when the adventure turns dangerous.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate.

He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it.
It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Gollum
Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 86-87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Bilbo contemplates killing Gollum, whom he knows to be dangerous, but then hesitates. Without warning, Bilbo feels a sudden burst of sympathy for Gollum, a creature who's forced to live a hard, lonely life under the mountain. It's because of his sympathy that Bilbo decides to spare Gollum's life.

Bilbo's behavior indicates that he's becoming a more confident, mature adventurer; moreover, it suggests some important things about heroism in general. Only a few chapters ago, it would have been easy to imagine Bilbo panicking and striking Gollum with his sword out of fear. The fact that Bilbo hesitates suggests that he's become calmer and more clear-thinking; he's growing used to the life of adventure. More generally, though, Bilbo's behavior reminds us that heroism is about being merciful and gentle as much as it is about physical prowess and bravery. At times, heroes are forced to kill their opponents, but only in self-defense. As he journeys through the mountains, Bilbo learns a lot about fighting and survival, but he never allows these "lessons" to interfere with his decency or mercy. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

He crept still nearer, and suddenly he saw peering between two big boulders a head with a red hood on: it was Balin doing look-out. He could have clapped and shouted for joy, but he did not. He had still got the ring on, for fear of meeting something unexpected and unpleasant, and he saw that Balin was looking straight at him without noticing him. "I will give them all a surprise," he thought, as he crawled into the bushes at the edge of the dell.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Balin
Related Symbols: The Ring
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo shows a penchant for theatricality and mischief that he hadn't often displayed before. Having made his way out of the Misty Mountains, Bilbo stumbles upon his fellow travelers, the dwarves. Instead of immediately greeting them, he decides to surprise them. By choosing to surprise the dwarves, Bilbo displays his "machismo" and panache; he makes it clear that he's not dependent on the dwarves in any way, but rather that he can come and go as he pleases.

In a broader context, Bilbo's behavior marks an important turning point for the novel. Bilbo has survived a terrifying adventure in the Misty Mountains, and more importantly, he's survived on his own, without the help of Gandalf or the dwarves (but with the help of the magic Ring). Invigorated by his success, Bilbo begins to genuinely enjoy the thrills of exploring new places. His enjoyment is palpable in this scene—after braving Gollum and the goblins, he's not the least bit frightened, and decides to keep his secret weapon (the Ring) a secret in order to surprise his friends.

Chapter 8 Quotes

He looked at the 'black emperors' for a long time, and enjoyed the feel of the breeze in his hair and on his face; but at length the cries of the dwarves, who were now simply stamping with impatience down below, reminded him of his real business. It was no good. Gaze as much as he might, he could see no end to the trees and the leaves in any direction. His heart, that had been lightened by the sight of the sun and the feel of the wind, sank back into his toes: there was no food to go back to down below.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Bilbo and the dwarves are trying to make their way through the dark, dangerous Mirkwood Forest. Unable to determine which way to go, they send Bilbo to climb a tree. Bilbo climbs up past the thick layers of branches and leaves, and is surprised to find that (beyond the forest) it's bright and sunny. Bilbo is exhilarated by the sun, but feels depressed once again when he's forced to climb down to the ground.

Bilbo's behavior in this scene illustrates that he's halfway through his personal transformation. After many adventures across Middle Earth, Bilbo is becoming more comfortable with the role of adventurer. And yet there are many moments—such as this one—in which he feels a longing to escape back home: to forget about his promise to journey to Smaug's lair with the dwarves. Bilbo's desire to escape back to his hobbit-hole isn't as clear-cut as it was in the earlier chapters, suggesting that he's now caught between total nostalgia for home and total commitment to the quest. By now Bilbo is still partly a complacent armchair adventurer and partly a real hero.

Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins.
He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.
"I will give you a name," he said to it, "and I shall call you Sting."

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sting
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important scene, Bilbo kills a giant spider, using the sword he acquired during the course of his earlier adventures. Standing over his defeated opponent, Bilbo feels like a new hobbit: braver, stronger, and more independent than ever before.

It's important to note that although Bilbo has owned his small sword for some time now, it's only now that he chooses to give it a name. Bilbo's decision to name his sword reflects his emergence as a full-fledged hero: a brave, intelligent warrior who defends his friends (in this scene, the dwarves, who have been captured) from evil. Previously, Bilbo had the potential to become a bold adventurer (just as his sword had the potential to kill), but now his potential has become a reality, as reflected by his new sense of courage. Bilbo seems to be naming his sword, but he might as well be rechristening himself: he's a hero now.

Chapter 12 Quotes

"If you mean you think it is my job to go into the secret passage first, O Thorin Thrain's son Oakenshield, may your beard grow ever longer," he said crossly, "say so at once and have done! I might refuse. I have got you out of two messes already, which were hardly in the original bargain, so that I am, I think, already owed some reward. But 'third time pays for all' as my father used to say, and somehow I don't think I shall refuse. Perhaps I have begun to trust my luck more than I used to in the old days" - he meant last spring before he left his own house, but it seemed centuries ago -"but anyway I think I will go and have a peep at once and get it over. Now who is coming with me?" He did not expect a chorus of volunteers, so he was not disappointed.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Thorin Oakenshield
Page Number: 212-213
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo Baggins is surprised to learn that Thorin and the other dwarves intend for him to sneak into Smaug's cave alone, in order to explore the area. Bilbo knows full-well that this is a dangerous mission, suggesting that the dwarves aren't as brave as they presented themselves to be. In spite of his annoyance, Bilbo decides to explore the cave, anyway.

Bilbo's behavior in this scene reminds readers how much he's changed in only a few months; the mention of the "old days" illustrates that Bilbo thinks of his old life in the hobbit-hole as a distant memory. Moreover, the passage shows readers that Bilbo both is and isn't the hero of the novel. On one hand, Bilbo has become exceptionally brave in a short period of time: he's learned how to fight and talk his way out of almost any situation. (Although he's reluctant to enter the cave by himself, it's not because he's particularly frightened.) And yet Bilbo also isn't a typical hero at all: he can be sarcastic and irritable, reminding the dwarves of their cowardice in a rather petty way, and much of his "bravery" stems from the fact that he secretly possesses a magic ring of invisibility. Perhaps the passage is meant to suggest that the people whom one thinks of as traditionally heroic—like Thorin Oakenshield, with his gravitas and ancestral ties to the land—are rarely as brave as they seem, while those who don't appear particularly heroic, such as Bilbo, are often stronger and braver than they appear.

"I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I as chosen for the lucky number."
"Lovely titles!" sneered the dragon. "But lucky numbers don't always come off."
"I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me."

"These don't sound so creditable," scoffed Smaug.
"I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider," went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Smaug
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Bilbo has snuck into the dragon Smaug's lair. There, he toys with Smaug, identifying himself with a series of clever nicknames that allude to his impressive exploits across Middle Earth. Bilbo's behavior in this passage suggests a number of things about his progress as a hero and an adventurer. By this point in the novel, Bilbo has had some significant experiences as an adventurer--and he knows it. Impressed with his own bravery and resourcefulness, Bilbo sings his own praises, giving himself epithets like those in Classical poems like Homer's Odyssey.

At the same time, Smaug's reaction makes us wonder if Bilbo's self-satisfaction has any point, or if Bilbo is in fact becoming overly confident and arrogant. Unlike Bilbo's clever wordplay with the spiders or with Gollum, his speech in this scene doesn't help him in any discernible way: it doesn't confuse or frighten Smaug, and his phrase "Barrel-rider" even inspires Smaug to attack Lake-town. So although Bilbo's behavior here proves how far he's come in the novel, Tolkien is also setting Bilbo up for a defeat connected to his own hubris (pride as a fatal flaw). Indeed, in the final few chapters of the novel, Bilbo's actions will prove largely futile, and he'll be reminded of his own smallness and weakness.

Chapter 13 Quotes

"Now I am a burglar indeed!" thought he. "But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it sometime. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!" All the same he had an uncomfortable feeling that the picking and choosing had not really been meant to include this marvelous gem, and that trouble would yet come of it.

Related Characters: Thorin Oakenshield
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo finds the Arkenstone—the most beautiful, valuable part of the dwarves' treasure—and makes the difficult decision to keep it for himself, without telling the dwarves about it. Bilbo knows that the dwarves have promised him a fair share of the treasure, which he's free to choose as he sees fit. Nevertheless, he knows that he's not really supposed to choose the Arkenstone—it's crucial to Thorin's idea of his "birthright," for one—so Bilbo instinctively feels guilty and keeps his action a secret.

Bilbo's decision in this passage represents one of the first times in the novel when he truly violates an agreement with his allies, the dwarves. In the past, Bilbo has toyed with the dwarves out of exasperation or frustration, but it's not until this moment that he goes behind their backs altogether. Bilbo has finally been seduced by the spectacle of wealth (he's like Gollum, jealously obsessed with the ring). In other words, Bilbo is falling into the same trap as the dwarves themselves—valuing objects more highly than his relationships with his friends.

Chapter 17 Quotes

“Misery me! I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing. I wish I was well out of it."

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker)
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

Near the end of his adventures with the dwarves, Bilbo has a sudden change of heart. After hundreds of pages, during which he's come to truly enjoy the daredevil thrills of adventure, Bilbo decides that he's had enough of danger and violence. Bilbo has heard from books and songs that war is a noble thing, but up-close, he finds that it's anything but. (In real life, Tolkien fought in some of the bloodiest battles of World War I, and critics have often interpreted this passage as Tolkien's gloss on his own experiences as a soldier.)

In a broader sense, the passage suggests that Bilbo is sick of being a hero and an adventurer. While he's enjoyed himself at many points in his quest, he's also come to see that many of the things he associated with glorious heroism, such as battle and treasure, actually cause more suffering than they're worth. Largely for this reason, Bilbo decides to turn his back on the world of quests and treasure. While he gains some material wealth as a result of his travels, his most valuable "takeaway" is the newfound courage he acquires over the course of the novel—courage that outstrips that of the dwarves who roped him into adventuring in the first place.

Chapter 18 Quotes

From that treasure Bard sent much gold to the Master of Lake-town; and he rewarded his followers and friends freely. To the Elvenking he gave the emeralds of Girion, such jewels as he most loved, which Dain had restored to him. To Bilbo he said:
"This treasure is as much yours as it is mine; though old agreements cannot stand, since so many have a claim in its winning and defense. Yet even though you were willing to lay aside all your claim, I should wish that the words of Thorin, of which he repented, should not prove true: that we should give you little. I would reward you most richly of all."
"Very kind of you," said Bilbo. "But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don't know. And I don't know what I should have done with it when I got home. I am sure it is better in your hands."

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Bard (speaker), Dain, The Elvenking
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bilbo and Bard—the brave leader who slays Smaug—discuss the future of the treasure that the dwarves have claimed for themselves. Bard is now a leader of the men, and has been charged with distributing the share of gold that Thorin, on his deathbed, bequeathed to him. As Bard discusses his decisions with Bilbo, it becomes clear that he and Bilbo are rather similar, and are two of the most "heroic" characters in the novel. They're both modest, intelligent, and fairly uninterested in material wealth. (Unlike Thorin, Bard leads his followers without selfishly claiming a "right" to treasure—on the contrary, he gives away large quantities of treasure, and says that he would like to give even more to Bilbo.) Both Bard and Bilbo also feel a strong connection to a particular place: Bard to his hometown, and Bilbo to his hobbit-hole.

But where Bard's connection to a place leads him to become a leader, Bilbo's nostalgia for home draws him away from adventure and back to a life of peaceful complacency. As Bilbo explains here, he wants to return to his hobbit-hole, and has no real interest in treasure anymore. Bilbo has received something more valuable than treasure: an unforgettable experience.

Chapter 19 Quotes

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

Related Characters: Bilbo Baggins (speaker), Gandalf (speaker)
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

Years after Bilbo's adventures in Middle Earth, he's back in his hobbit-hole, and gets a surprise visit from Gandalf the wizard. Gandalf suggests to Bilbo that he was being "helped" through his adventures by powerful, invisible forces. (At various points in the novel, it's suggested that these "forces" are simply fate, the gods of Middle Earth, or even Gandalf himself.) Surprisingly, Bilbo doesn't dispute Gandalf's suggestion at all—he acknowledges that he's simply not that strong and independent, and is "only quite a little fellow in a wide world."

It's especially surprising that Bilbo agrees with Gandalf's statement since he's admitting that he's not really much of a "hero" in the end. Bilbo has proven himself to be a capable, intelligent adventurer. And yet Bilbo ultimately comes to reject the world of traditionaly heroism—the world of treasure, battle, and centuries-long feuding. In spite of his talents, he washes his hands of adventure, and retires. And yet Bilbo's adventures with Gandalf and Thorin haven't been for nothing. On the contrary, his adventures have made him a more confident, capable hobbit, with a wealth of wisdom and experience.