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So if Bilbo's adventure, in Gandalf's words, is in some way profitable for the hobbit, it is only profitable in terms of acquiring a very different treasure, which is exactly Tolkien's point. Tolkien even hints at this deeper meaning in the mark Gandalf puts on Bilbo's door. While typically interpreted to mean burglar, as Gloin notes, it can also mean "expert treasure-hunter." It could be argued that Bilbo, like his door, is marked for something special. Bilbo's adventure is, as Gandalf says, very good for the hobbit, but not in a financial way. The real treasure he brings home is the kind that will never rust and cannot be stolen by thieves….

Does Bilbo have any sense that the adventure will, as Gandalf says, be good for him? Tolkien does not say much to directly answer this question but does provide one very curious hint. At the end of chapter six, Bilbo has a dream as he and the dwarves sleep high up on the eagles' rock shelf after being rescued from the goblins and wargs. In the dream, Bilbo is back at Bag-End wandering through each of the rooms looking for "something that he could not find nor remember what it looked like." The implication seems to be that by this point part-way through the adventure, Bilbo has the sense, somewhere deep-down inside of him—that he is missing something. He cannot quite put his finger on this something, but readers know what it is. What is more, Bilbo has a growing sense that this thing he is missing cannot be found at home. Again readers can see a bit farther than Bilbo and know that this missing element, Bilbo's realization of his full potential, will be found only in the adventure that lies ahead of him.

Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and professor of English at Asbury University. This article is excerpted with permission from his latest book, The Christian World of the Hobbit (Abingdon Press).Copyright 2012 by Devin Brown, Abingdon Press Publishing.

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The Hidden Purpose of the Hobbit's Adventure