A middle-aged Hobbit is startled one day by a band of Dwarves who come to tea. They bring to his warm and comfortable home a breath of air from the Lonely Mountain, a whiff of adventure, and to his alarm, he finds that he is expected to join them on a quest that promises to be dangerous and uncomfortable.
He is suspicious of them, and they are rather sceptical of his ability. However, something makes him join them.
As they journey toward the mountain, they have several adventures, and the Hobbit discovers qualities he didn’t know he had. He is a brave little creature, loyal and clever, and possessed of a great deal of quiet ingenuity, with a matter-of-fact dauntlessness that keeps the spirits of the company up and gets them out of several messes. He eventually becomes the true leader of the quest, and his grumpy companions come to regard him with increasing respect and genuine fondness.
His companions are grumpy and rather calculating, but fundamentally kindly and honourable, with a great deal of stubborn courage. Their leader, Thorin Oakenshield, is a kingly figure, stately and imposing.
They reach the mountain, and accomplish their quest. But their greatest triumph proves their greatest undoing, as alliances break and friends fall apart, with everyone succumbing to the fatal lure of the gold. The Hobbit is the only person untouched by its spell, and he looks on in wonder and sorrow as his friends shed their nobility and honour. In the end, he gives up his reward to avert a war for the gold.
Finally, a greater threat reminds the armies that they must stand together. Bilbo’s companions prove as dauntless and resourceful in the final battle as they did in pursuit of the treasure, and fight heroically and honourably. Thorin Oakenshield is mortally wounded; before the end, he parts from Bilbo in friendship.
Bilbo refuses the promised fourteenth share of the treasure – he will take only two little chests of silver and gold, for treasure is merely a lot of bother to him. He will treasure the memory of the quest, but he doesn’t think the gold was worth the struggle for it.
The Hobbit has survived the battle of five armies. He has treated with the King of the Woodland Elves, and witnessed the heroic end of the King under the Mountain. He has been ‘over grass and over stone,/And under mountains in the moon.’ Now he journeys back, a Hobbit richer in gold and experience than he was, but very much the same Hobbit in his kindly domestic predilections. He values food and cheer and song above hoarded gold. He will miss the world of song and legend, but he looks forward to getting back to his own arm-chair.
And he gets back, and finds home most uncomfortable. He has been away so long that people think he’s dead, and his relations have plotted to appropriate his belongings. After the passion and heroism of the Battle of the Five Armies, he has to deal with the petty scheming and rivalries of a small town. And yet perhaps it isn’t so different. It’s still the lure of gold, though at a very different level.
Bilbo is only quite a little fellow in a wide world – but a fine fellow at that.