Throughout The Hobbit, Bilbo struggles to subdue his love of comfort, which is the product of his Baggins heritage, and to tune in to his love of adventure, which comes from his Took heritage. However, he never really loses touch with the Baggins in him. As he rests in Beorn’s house, we see a return to the Bilbo who wishes nothing more than to sit in his old armchair. If The Hobbit has an overarching message, it is that even a small, unassuming person such as Bilbo possesses the inner resources necessary to perform adventurous, heroic deeds and that the transformation that makes him a hero does not erase his essential nature.
Bilbo’s heroic deeds are all the more remarkable because they fail to change him. He possesses a new confidence and a drastically widened perspective on the world, to the point that he now prefers the company of elves and wizards to that of other hobbits. Much of The Hobbit explores the contrast between the world in ancient epics that Tolkien studied as a scholar and the modern, English world in which he lived. The novel closes with a compromise between the two worlds: Bilbo goes on living amid the comforts of Bag End, but he passes his time reading and writing about adventure and conversing with characters from his heroic quest. In a way, this image is a concise symbol of Tolkien himself, living his comfortable life at Oxford while immersed in the grim violent imaginative realm of heroic literature, which he both studied and wrote.
The company’s quest, which seemed tainted by the greed that motivated it, is redeemed by its wide-ranging and beneficial effects. Lake Town is rebuilt stronger than before. Humans can once again live in Dale, no longer fearing the dragon’s fire. The goblins have been conquered, and, thus, much of the wilderness of the east has been made safer for travelers. Moreover, Bilbo hears in Rivendell that the errand that Gandalf performed while he was away from the quest was to join a great council of wizards, who have succeeded in driving the Necromancer out of southern Mirkwood. This is another incident that will have important ramifications in The Lord of the Rings, as the dark lord merely leaves Mirkwood to return to his ancient stronghold in the land of Mordor, where he attempts to conquer the world.
Despite our sense that other, perhaps grander, adventures are happening at the same time as the events recounted in The Hobbit, Bilbo nevertheless ends up playing a significant role in the larger affairs of Middle-Earth. Certainly, without Bilbo’s intervention at several tough points, Smaug would never have been killed, the treasure would never have been recovered, and the goblins would still roam the Misty Mountains. He is without question a hero, although such a title would hardly suit his tastes. In the book’s last passage, Gandalf jokingly chides the hobbit about his insignificance, telling him that he is “only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” In part, the wizard is laughing at himself, because even he could hardly have foreseen just how important a role Bilbo would play.