Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bagginses!

Aur Onnad Meren, elendili o periannath! (Happy Birthday, Elf-friends among Hobbits!). Bilbo and his cousin Frodo (or, as Hobbits are fond of pointing out, "his first and second cousin, once removed either way, as the saying is, if you follow me") share a birthday on September 22. Bilbo was born in 2890 of the Third Age of Middle-earth (Shire-reckoning, 1290). His better-known cousin, Frodo, was born in 2968 TA (1368 SR).

The epic Lord of the Rings begins with the preparations for Bilbo and Frodo's birthday: "When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." Frodo was also turning thirty-three, the coming of age for Hobbits. Fans of LOTR will remember that Frodo's involvement in the Tale of the Ring begin with Bilbo's astonishing disappearance at the end of his birthday speech, one of my favorite scenes in LOTR. "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like half of you half as well as you deserve" - just one of many memorable lines from the slightly tipsy Bilbo.

If you have only watched the movies, you don't know that after the great birthday party, Frodo settled down as the master of Bag End for the next seventeen years before the events of the War of the Rings began to unfold. Frodo continued to hold dual birthday parties, although Bilbo was long gone, and there were several rowdy parties where it "rained drink and snowed food", as Hobbits say.

Frodo left Hobbiton on his fiftieth birthday (TA 3018), and handed Bag End over to his grasping relations, the Sackville-Bagginses. Although he knew that Sauron was now looking for the Ring, he did not know that the Nazgul were already inside the Shire, and that Gandalf was busy escaping from Saruman and trying to get a horse to come to the Hobbits' aid.

By Frodo's next birthday, Sauron was defeated. Frodo and the other hobbits were on their return trip. They arrived in Rivendell in time to celebrate Frodo's 51st and Bilbo's 129th birthday. They did not know that this was the day that Saruman had entered the Shire, intending to wreak his vengeance on the homeland of the Hobbits.

The last birthday recorded is in 3021, the last year of the Third Age. Frodo and Bilbo, 54 and 132, are granted permission to sail with the Elves over the Sea as a reward for their great sacrifice and to give them a place to heal.

One of the great bitter ironies of the Lord of the Rings shows up in this account of the birthdays. The first birthday shows us what is worth saving from Sauron - the beautiful, pastoral, and defenseless Shire, and the absurd but innocent Hobbits and their customs. On his thirty-third birthday, Frodo has great hopes of becoming the heir of Bilbo and living out life as one of the Shire's landed gentry. But on each noted birthday, he must give up something of great value - perhaps related to the Hobbit custom of giving gifts to others on one's birthday? His beloved uncle Bilbo leaves on his 33rdbirthday. Frodo gives up his lovely hobbit-hole on his 50th. Saruman despoils the Shire on his 51st. And Frodo must leave his beloved Shire forever on his 54th. Frodo's great sacrifice, the burden of the Ring and his wounds are ultimately unhealable on this side of the Great Sea.

By the way, yesterday was another important Tolkien day. The Hobbit was published on Sept 21, 1937, with the subtitle There and Back Again. The picture: Alan Lee's portrait of Gandalf and Frodo in Bag End, as Gandalf reveals the history of the Ring.


  1. This week I was able to watch the entire LOTR trilogy for the first time. I watched the extended version too so it was some feat. I'm stoked now though that I can finally get a grasp of your LOTR references. The movies were excellent I thought. I really wish I had read all the books when my [I thought at the time] nerdy friends were reading them in elementary school.

    The only negative effect the movies had on me I think is that I can't stop saying, "...the precious..." randomly throughout the day. It's getting a bit spooky.

  2. Never too late to start reading them! I just started reading LOTR again a few weeks ago. I love the historical feel (Tolkien called his books "feigned history"), the depth of insight into human nature (or Hobbitish nature, or Elvish nature... even Orkish nature), and the wonderful story. I always wish there was more when I finish.


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