In The Hobbit, what are Bilbo's abilities and skills?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bilbo has courage, ingenuity, and a good heart—he also has a magic ring that turns him invisible.

When the book begins, Bilbo does not appear to have many special skills.  In fact, when Gandalf chooses him he is described as “more like a grocer than a burglar” by Gloin (Ch. 1).  However, even though Bilbo does not really have any special skills when he starts out, he does have courage and curiosity.  The fact that he even agreed to go on a treasure hunt with thirteen dwarves and a wizard, something frowned upon by hobbit society, demonstrates that!

Bilbo demonstrates that he is brave and a quick study when he takes on the trolls right off the bat.  He tries to pick their pockets even though they are huge and could easily eat him.  Bilbo goes right up to the trolls, even though he is scared, because it is his job.  He tries to trick the trolls when he gets caught.  He does it pretty poorly, and Gandalf has to save them, but he stalls all right.

Bilbo’s finest hour is the riddle game.  He is faced with what has to be the most frightening experience of his life, because he has been separated from his friends and has to survive on his wits.  The riddle game is Bilbo’s biggest test so far.

But Bilbo simply could not think of any question with that nasty wet cold thing sitting next to him, and pawing and poking him. He scratched himself, he pinched himself; still he could not think of anything.

Yet he does so.  He makes a deal with Gollum, and holds his own in the game until he wins it what is essentially dumb luck, when Gollum mistakes his musings about the ring as an actual riddle.  Getting the ring allows him to escape.

The ring gives Bilbo another ability—the ability to disappear.  It is a magic ring, and a very special ring.  He has no idea how special, of course, but that’s for later.  At this point, all that really matters is that it has the power to make him invisible and that can get him out of some tight spots.  He uses it to rescue his friends from the giant spiders, which is immensely useful.  It gives him confidence and power.

Bilbo is cunning, and does not give up.  He gets the dwarves out of the elf prison, sneaks into the dragon's lair and talks to Smaug, attempting to trick him long enough to get the Arkenstone.

"No thank you, O Smaug the. Tremendous!" he replied. "I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say. I did not believe them." (Ch. 12)

Bilbo trades the Arkenstone to stop the dwarves, elves, and men from fighting.  This was both clever and brave, because Thorin was pretty angry when he found out.  Bilbo knew that the Arkenstone mattered to Thorin more than any other piece of treasure, but he took it, and gave it to the Elvenking and Bard to stop the standoff between them and Thorin.  It works, and Thorin eventually forgives him.

Bilbo is never afraid to take risks.  He does nothing for personal gain.  It was never about treasure for him.  Everything he does is for the sense of adventure, or friendship, and out of loyalty.  Throughout his journey, Bilbo learns what it is to become a hero, but he never sees himself as more than a simple hobbit.  He is helping his friends.  He set out to prove to them that he could do it, and ended up proving it to them, and himself.

One of the themes of this book is that anyone can be a hero.  Hobbits are not supposed to take adventures.  Bilbo loves food and comfort.  He loves his home and peaceful life.  We all do.  Yet like Bilbo, we all have it in us, when the chips are down, to do what it takes when we need to.  We have some skill that is useful.  We just need to play to our strengths.  You do not have to be big and strong to be a hero.  You can be small, smart, and quick.

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