The Hobbit and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth

The young, small hobbit named Bilbo Baggins never could have expected the events that were to come after a wizard named Gandalf appeared at his front door. Gandalf sends Bilbo Baggins on a journey that is fit for only someone that could be described as a hero; Bilbo certainly does not fit this role at first but he develops into a character that fulfills every characteristic of a hero. The first part of The Hobbit  by J.R.R. Tolkien fulfills all of the stages of departure from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth for the hero’s journey.

The hobbit 1Joseph Campbell defines the call to adventure in a hero’s journey as a point in the hero’s journey whenthe hero is still in his homeland and he has not yet left onhis adventure. The hero realizes that the adventure may be in his future but he has not fully accepted it yet. Campbell describes the call to adventure by stating,

This first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. […] The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure […] or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent.

In Tolkien’s novel, The Hobbit, the call to adventure occurs within the first few pages of the novel. Gandalf, a mysterious wizard, greets Bilbo and asks him if he wishes to go on an adventure. Gandalf states, “I will give you what you asked for. […] I give it to you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you- and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.” (Tolkien 14) Gandalf basically forces this adventure onto Bilbo without asking whether or not Bilbo actually wants to go on the adventure. However, Biblo quickly responds.

The refusal of the call is also present within The Hobbit and it occurs almost immediately after the call to adventure is initially given to Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo gives a direct refusal to the call to adventure when he states, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea- anytithe-hobbitme you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!” (Tolkien 14) Bilbo does not heed the call and simply tries to ignore Gandalf and send him on his way. He wishes to have nothing to do with any adventure of any sort because hobbits are not fit for adventures. The refusal of the call follows the same layout in every hero’s journey. When the call to adventure is first given to the hero, the hero typically denies his new task. This refusal occurs for a various number of different reasons in different stories. In The Hobbit, Bilbo refuses the call because he truly believes that no hobbit should ever go on any adventures. His personality and his insecurities tie him to the Shire, his home. Gandalf, however, somehow finds a way to sway his decision.

Campbell describes the supernatural aid by stating, “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” The supernatural aid in The Hobbit is quite obviously the wizard named Gandalf. Gandalf is the person that sends Bilbo off on his journey but he helps him along the way. Though Gandalf does not accompany Bilbo and the dwarves along their entire journey, he helps them through their first few challenges. He uses his magical abilities to help protect Bilbo and the dwarves against trolls and goblins. If Gandalf wasn’t there to help, Bilbo and the dwarves would surely have died. Gandalf, however, gets called away shortly after these first few challenges and Bilbo has to truly fend for himself and become a true “hero.”

In The Hobbit, the crossing of the first threshold occurs in the second chapter of the novel. Bilbo arises in the morning and finds a note that tells him that he must meet the dwarves at the Green Dragon Inn at 11 a.m. At this point in the novel, Bilbo abandons his home, his friends, and everything that he knows simply because Gandalf convinced him to leave. As soon as he gets to the inn, the dwarves and Bilbo all depart on their journey without any hesitation. According to Joseph Campbell, “This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.” Bilbo truly leaves his home and crosses the first threshold simply by being willing to meet the dwarves at the inn. This event is a crucial step in Bilbo’s tale because he could have chosen to stay at his home and live out his life like any other normal hobbit but he chose the more risky path. Crossing the first threshold is an essential part of any hero’s journey.

The Hobbit encapsulates every aspect of Joseph Campbell’s seventeen stages of the monomyth. The first four stages are the most essential because without these stages, no heroic journey would actually occur. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is given the call to adventure when Gandalf first greets him at his home in the Shire. He refuses this call at first but Gandalf, the supernatural aid, convinces him to leave his hometown and go on a journey with a group of dwarves. Bilbo’s crossing of the first threshold is essential to the rest of the story; if he did not make the conscious decision to leave his home, he would not have turned into the hero that he becomes by the end of the story. The seventeen stages of the monomyth fit perfectly into J.R.R Tolkien’s tale, The Hobbit.

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