Bilbo Baggin’s eleventy-first birthday and Hobbit Day

22 September - since 1978, Bilbo Baggin’s eleventy-first birthday, the opening of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings“ is celebrated as “Hobbit Day“ all over the world.

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Chinese artist Jian Guo's approach on Bilbo’s eleventy-first in stained-glass style (2004)

Elves wielding magic swords, a race of supermen accomplishing superhuman feats and finally tripping over their own hubris like the fisherman’s wife from the fairy tale, embodied spirits and their world-shaking magics, demons, ghoulies and ghosties and whatnot, Tolkien’s first stories, written over a period of more than ten years and published 50 years later by his son as “Silmarillion” are caught up in the heroics of the old myths and legends of Northern Europe, authored in the shadow of the sorrow, the suffering, the glory and the pain of the Great War’s cataclysm and the following moral and social hangover of the interwar period. Whatever made Tolkien come up with a new kind of hero in the days when the next catastrophe was just around the corner, back then in 1937, he created something very different from the warlords of old, a being living a cosy life in a hole in the ground in a quasi-English countryside, a hobbit, his alter ego Bilbo Baggins.

Mr Bilbo Beutlin at home in Bag End, as imagined and illustrated by Tolkien himself

Goaded by the archaic spiritual leader, the Odin-esque Gandalf, Gandr-alfr, the elf with the magic wand, the smug and rather impossible hero outgrows himself and plays a pivotal role in a heroic quest, even though he is not the one who slays the dragon, leads his men into battle or gets crowned as “King under the Mountain”. But he returns home a wiser, more open-minded Hobbit who had traded respectability for becoming and oddball among his stuffy neighbours. Owning his share of a dragon’s hoard, of course, helped with being a bit on the eccentric side, but Bilbo Baggins and his charming role in a variation of the hero quest had become one of the most loveable characters in recent literature anyway. Reason enough to celebrate his fictional birthday, honouring J.R.R. Tolkien, the creator of myths and his Hobbit heroes who are far more than they seem at first glance. Accordingly, the American Tolkien Society initiated a feast day that is well worth to be observed by all who love Tolkien’s works, those who should and all of us who have not yet lost our sense of wonder.

More of Jian Guo’s art can be admired on:

And more about “Hobbit Day” on: