AN UNEXPECTED PARTY
IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet
hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry,
bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was
a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green,
with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened
on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel
without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted,
provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and
coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on,
going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill—The
Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it—and many
little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on
another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms,
cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms
devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same
floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the
left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have
windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows
beyond, sloping down to the river.
This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was
Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for
time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not
only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had
any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a
Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.
This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself
doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the
neighbours" respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he
gained anything in the end.
The mother of our particular hobbit—what is a hobbit? I
suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have
become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or
were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the
bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic
about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to
disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me
come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can
hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they
dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes,
because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown
hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever
brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs
(especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can
get it). Now you know enough to go on with. As I was saying, the
mother of this hobbit—of Bilbo Baggins, that is—was the famous
Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old
Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river
that ran at the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other
families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a
fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was
still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a
while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They
discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact
remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses,
though they were undoubtedly richer.
Not that Belladonna Took ever had any adventures after she
became Mrs. Bungo Baggins. Bungo, that was Bilbo"s father, built the
most luxurious hobbit-hole for her (and partly with her money) that
was to be found either under The Hill or over The Hill or across The
Water, and there they remained to the end of their days. Still it is
probable that Bilbo, her only son, although he looked and behaved
exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father,
got something a bit queer in his make-up from the Took side,
something that only waited for a chance to come out. The chance never
arrived, until Bilbo Baggins was grown up, being about fifty years
old or so, and living in the beautiful hobbit-hole built by his
father, which I have just described for you, until he had in fact
apparently settled down immovably.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of
the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits
were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at
his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that
reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed)—Gandalf came
by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard
about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear,
you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and
adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the
most extraordinary fashion. He had not been down that way under The
Hill for ages and ages, not since his friend the Old Took died, in
fact, and the hobbits had almost forgotten what he looked like. He
had been away over The Hill and across The Water on businesses of his
own since they were all small hobbit-boys and hobbit-girls.
All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old
man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak,
a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his
waist, and immense black boots.
"Good Morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was
shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from
under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his
"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning,
or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that
you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
"All of them at once," said Bilbo. "And a very fine morning
for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you have a
pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There"s no hurry,
we have all the day before us!" Then Bilbo sat down on a seat by his
door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke
that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over
"Very pretty!" said Gandalf. "But I have no time to blow
smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an
adventure that I am arranging, and it"s very difficult to find
"I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk
and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable
things! Make you late for dinner! I can"t think what anybody sees in
them," said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces,
and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his
morning letters, and began to read, pretending to take no more notice
of the old man. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and
wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. He stood leaning
on his stick and gazing at the hobbit without saying anything, till
Bilbo got quite uncomfortable and even a little cross.
"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don"t want any
adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The
Water." By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.
"What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!" said
Gandalf. "Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it
won"t be good till I move off."
"Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don"t
think I know your name?"
"Yes, yes, my dear sir—and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo
Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don"t remember that I
belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I
should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took"s son, as
if I was selling buttons at the door!"
"Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard
that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened
themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who
used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and
goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected
luck of widows" sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly
excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on
Midsummer"s Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and
snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all
evening!" You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so
prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of
flowers. "Dear me!" he went on. "Not the Gandalf who was responsible
for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad
adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves—or sailing
in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite
inter—I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon
a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in
"Where else should I be?" said the wizard. "All the same I am
pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember
my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope.
Indeed for your old grandfather Took"s sake, and for the sake of poor
Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for."
"I beg your pardon, I haven"t asked for anything!"
"Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it 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."
"Sorry! I don"t want any adventures, thank you. Not today.
Good morning! But please come to tea—any time you like! Why not
tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!" With that the hobbit turned and
scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he
dared, not to seem rude. Wizards after all are wizards.
"What on earth did I ask him to tea for!" he said to himself,
as he went to the pantry. He had only just had breakfast, but he
thought a cake or two and a drink of something would do him good
after his fright.
Gandalf in the meantime was still standing outside the door,
and laughing long but quietly. After a while he stepped up, and with
the spike on his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit"s
beautiful green front-door. Then he strode away, just about the time
when Bilbo was finishing his second cake and beginning to think that
he had escaped adventures very well.
The next day he had almost forgotten about Gandalf. He did
not remember things very well, unless he put them down on his
Engagement Tablet: like this: Gandalf Tea Wednesday. Yesterday he had
been too flustered to do anything of the kind.
Just before tea-time there came a tremendous ring on the
front-door bell, and then he remembered! He rushed and put on the
kettle, and put out another cup and saucer, and an extra cake or two,
and ran to the door.
"I am so sorry to keep you waiting!" he was going to say,
when he saw that it was not Gandalf at all. It was a dwarf with a
blue beard tucked into a golden belt, and very bright eyes under his
dark-green hood. As soon as the door was opened, he pushed inside,
just as if he had been expected.
He hung his hooded cloak on the nearest peg, and "Dwalin at
your service!" he said with a low bow.
"Bilbo Baggins at yours!" said the hobbit, too surprised to
ask any questions for the moment. When the silence that followed had
become uncomfortable, he added: "I am just about to take tea; pray
come and have some with me." A little stiff perhaps, but he meant it
kindly. And what would you do, if an uninvited dwarf came and hung
his things up in your hall without a word of explanation?
They had not been at table long, in fact they had hardly
reached the third cake, when there came another even louder ring at
"Excuse me!" said the hobbit, and off he went to the door.
"So you have got here at last!" That was what he was going to
say to Gandalf this time. But it was not Gandalf. Instead there was a
very old-looking dwarf on the step with a white beard and a scarlet
hood; and he too hopped inside as soon as the door was open, just as
if he had been invited.
"I see they have begun to arrive already," he said when he
caught sight of Dwalin"s green hood hanging up. He hung his red one
next to it, and "Balin at your service!" he said with his hand on his
"Thank you!" said Bilbo with a gasp. It was not the correct
thing to say, but they have begun to arrive had flustered him badly.
He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and
he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the
cakes might run short, and then he—as the host: he knew his duty and
stuck to it however painful—he might have to go without.
"Come along in, and have some tea!" he managed to say after
taking a deep breath.
"A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to
you, my good sir," said Balin with the white beard. "But I don"t mind
some cake—seed-cake, if you have any."
"Lots!" Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise;
and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint
beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-
cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
When he got back Balin and Dwalin were talking at the table
like old friends (as a matter of fact they were brothers). Bilbo
plumped down the beer and the cake in front of them, when loud came a
ring at the bell again, and then another ring.
"Gandalf for certain this time," he thought as he puffed
along the passage. But it was not.
Excerpted from El Hobbit / The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien Copyright © 2001 by J. R. R. Tolkien. Excerpted by permission.
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