The protagonist and title character of The Hobbit, Bilbo is by far the novel’s most important figure. Bilbo’s thoughts, feelings, and actions form the focus of the novel and shape its plot. Bilbo’s central role is underscored by his appeal—he is not only the most important but also the most likable and honorable character. Even as the other participants in his quest become corrupted by greed, Bilbo maintains his common sense, courage, and eagerness to please.
Bilbo’s understated charisma is a quality common to many protagonists in children’s literature. Another quality he shares with many heroes of children’s literature is his small size: as a hobbit, Bilbo is only half the size of a man. At the beginning of the novel, Bilbo is, like most hobbits, comfortable and complacent. He loves food, drink, and security, and he relishes his snug little hole at Bag End, Underhill. But as Gandalf says, there is more to Bilbo than meets the eye. Bilbo is a Baggins, the heir of a thoroughly respectable and conventional family, but his mother was a Took, an eccentric clan of hobbits noted for their love of excitement and adventure.
When Gandalf enlists Bilbo’s help in Thorin’s quest for the treasure under the mountain, Bilbo begins a process of gradual development, transforming from a cautious homebody at the beginning of the novel to a brave and confident hero at the end. As the quest progresses, Bilbo shows a vast reserve of inner cunning and strength and slowly becomes the dominant force holding the group of hapless dwarves together. He saves them from the goblins by shouting for Gandalf, he rescues them from spiders and wood elves in Mirkwood, he finds the way into the mountain, he leads them to the treasure, he discovers Smaug’s weak spot, and he attempts to thwart Thorin’s greed and to bring peace to the feuding dwarves, elves, and humans.
Bilbo’s heroic deeds are all the more remarkable because they fail to change him. He discovers capabilities that had been unknown to him, but he does not become arrogant or relinquish his values. In his final conversation with Bilbo, Thorin acknowledges the value of the simple lives of hobbits, even in a world marked by grim heroism and danger. Though Bilbo learns to thrive in this outer world, he draws strength from the simple source that guided his heroic quest. His decision to return to Hobbiton toward the end of the novel indicates that, despite his newfound heroism, Bilbo has stayed true to himself all along.