The Hobbit Who Went Up a Mountain
It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
Sir Edmund Hillary
Hobbits do not like heights.
Oh, to be sure, there are the adventurous - some would use the harsher
term lackwit - tweens who climb the tall trees beside the Brandywine
River. And occasionally, an intrepid -crazy as a loon- individual who
strings a rope between two stanchions and walks upon it to impress the
lasses - until of course he falls on his head, which impresses no one.
But, as a rule, hobbits keep their feet, and their homes, on the ground
- or even under it.
How then, you might ask, does one explain Bilbo Baggins, a respectable
gentlehobbit and the Master of Bag End - the finest hobbit hole in
Hobbiton - standing upon the edge of a precipice high in the Misty
Mountains on a sunny April morning?
The whole tale, if there were but time to tell it, would be one filled
with dragons and elves, spiders and gold, for Bilbo, having Tookish
blood from his mother's side, had left his splendid hobbit hole for an
adventure: a quest, mind you, with the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.
And as is generally true of such adventures, it had been a wet, messy,
tiring affair with fewer opportunities than a hobbit thought necessary
for hot meals and soft beds.
But on the particular morning in question, the adventure was all but
done. The dragon was defeated; the battle won; and upon the back of a
sturdy pony were two chests, one filled with silver and the other with
gold - Bilbo's share of the dragon's horde. All that remained was the
long trek home.
And while even the Tookish part of him was beginning to long for his
armchair by the fire, Bilbo was content to allow Gandalf, the Grey
Wizard, to set the pace - a rather slow pace with frequent layovers and
many late mornings. Indeed, it had taken them until mid-December to
arrive at the home of Beorn, the shape-shifter and honey cake baker -
given that they went the long way round, it's to be wondered they
didn't take longer - and there they stayed through Yule and into the
New Year. It was spring, a mild one with bright sunny days, before they
began the climb over the mountains. To Bilbo's delight, for he had
grown fond of the tall man who in the cold of the year liked nothing
more than to curl up beside a roaring fire and sleep, Beorn agreed to
accompany them to the top of the pass.
Up, up, up, they climbed. Until Bilbo's legs ached and his breath came
in panting gasps from the effort. For, as Beorn liked to tease, 'Little
bunny' - that being what Beorn called him, not quite a respectable
term, but as it was said with well meaning humor and given the
superiority of Beorn's larder, Bilbo easily forgave him - had grown fat
again. Occupied with the need to breathe and keep his legs moving one
after the other, Bilbo paid little attention to how the trail was
narrowing until there was only room enough to proceed one behind the
other and the packs on one side of the pony brushed the rocky face of
the mountains while upon the other they hung over wide empty air.
Of course, that still left plenty of room for a hobbit to set his feet
safely. But Bilbo, who did not even like ladders, becoming aware of the
vast emptiness at his side pressed himself face first against the
stones and inched sideways, falling moment by moment further and
further behind his long legged companions. Not until Beorn and Gandalf
came upon a place where a boulder had fallen from the heights and
blocked the trail did they notice he was missing. Leaving Beorn to toss
the boulder over the side - a moment's work for the giant - and
slipping carefully past the pack pony, Gandalf hurried back to find
"My dear Mr. Baggins," - for that is what Gandalf called him, a far
more respectable greeting than 'little bunny' - "whatever is the
In an effort at nonchalance, Bilbo mopped his sweating forehead
with a scrap of cloth he tugged from his pocket - not one of his
handkerchiefs had survived the adventure and Beorn did not use them -
but the wind snatched the scrap from his hand and sent it flying over
the edge of the trail. Down, down, down, it floated. Making Bilbo's
head swim as he watched it twist and twirl in the breeze. Giving a
little moan, the hobbit sank to the ground and pulled his knees up to
his heaving chest declaring, "I can't go on."
"Nonsense, dear fellow. What's a mountain hike to a hobbit who
survived wargs, orcs, a dragon and being held captive by the Elf-king?
Not to mention, flying, not once, but twice, with the Great Eagles."
At the mention of flying, Bilbo squeaked and, looking decidedly green, buried his head in his hands.
From behind Gandalf, came the rumbling voice of Beorn. "What's wrong, little bunny?"
"I'll fall. I just know I'll fall."
Beorn laughed his great rolling laugh and went down upon one knee
and reached around Gandalf with a massive hand to lightly pat the
hobbit's curly head - Bilbo's hat long since lost along with his
"The mountain will not let you fall. He is your friend."
The outrageousness of the statement brought Bilbo's head up. "My friend? How can a mountain be a friend?"
"Don't be a fool, Bilbo," exclaimed Gandalf, his eyebrows drawing
together sternly. "Have you learned nothing in all your travels?"
"Baggins is a name the sighing winds carry from peak to peak," said
Beorn, his brown eyes gazing down upon the hobbit solemnly. "The Eagles
speak of you as an honored guest, and the Wild Wargs howl your name in
their councils. Not with delight, mind you. Their wish being to eat you
as payment for ruining their plans."
"Oh my," shivered Bilbo, remembering the Wargs circling the pine
tree in which he had perched- the first time in his life, though not
the only time on this adventure he had been forced to climb a tree.
"You are known in the hollows and glens, and the mighty crags echo your name as one of the Great," continued Beorn.
"Don't puff up his importance too much, or he'll never find a hat
to fit," declared Gandalf, giving his staff a sharp rap upon a stone
and moving to look out over the edge of the trail into the ravine.
"But why?" asked Bilbo, that bit of Tookish curiosity within him rearing its head.
"The mountain has been cleared of the Great Goblin. Good creatures are once again coming here."
"But I didn't do that. You did, and Gandalf and the dwarves and Bard
the Bowman and the elves," protested Bilbo- honesty forcing him to
speak though he did like to believe the dwarves would still be locked
in the dungeon of the Elf-king if it weren't for him.
Beorn leaned his enormous head close to the hobbit to whisper, "The
mountain thinks you helped, and mountains don't like to be
contradicted. They tend to drop stones upon people who disagree with
Bilbo looked up with alarm and stood quickly to step away from the
mountainside. Which of course put him nearly at the edge of the cliff.
Caught between the possibility of crashing stones and open air, Bilbo
stood wringing his hands.
"Come here, Master Baggins," commanded the wizard. "Now that you are
aware of the mountain, and after that pitiful display he is most
certainly aware of you, you must make your greetings. Manners, you
know, are most important. Think where you'd be if I had not known the
polite things to say to an eagle."
"M-m-manners," Bilbo stammered and cringed as he peered
suspiciously upward. He was still rather worried about an eagle
mistaking him for a rabbit, with the mistake only coming to light after
it was too late to matter.
"Yes, indeed." Gandalf motioned impatiently. "Gather your courage
and come make your 'how do you do'. He's waiting, and it doesn't do to
keep a mountain waiting."
For a moment, Bilbo wanted to ask 'why not?'. Mountains, after all,
can not possibly have plans to be some place else. But noting the
irritated tapping of Gandalf's staff, he sensibly decided not to speak.
Swallowing loudly, he took three steps forward. A pebble clattered over
the edge, nearly sending him scurrying back to hug the mountain's side,
when Gandalf grasped his shoulder and scolded, "Belladonna raised you
to have better manners. Stop fidgeting, and speak up loudly. "
Pinned in place by the wizard's arm and the thought of his mother's
many lessons in deportment – one of which had left him unable to sit
down to dinner, Bilbo cleared his throat noisily, then called out,
Feeling foolish- for he was beginning to suspect Beorn and Gandalf
of having a bit of a joke at his expense- Bilbo took a step backward.
Only to stop with his foot in mid-air, when a hollow voice answered his
Open mouthed, Bilbo looked up at the wizard. Gandalf motioned with his hands for the hobbit to say something more.
"How are you today?" Bilbo cried. "The weather's been very nice."
"The weather," muttered Gandalf, releasing Bilbo's shoulder. "Introduce you to a mountain and you discuss the weather."
Ignoring the wizard, the hobbit took another step forward. Almost
forgetting that he teetered on the edge of great cliff – easy enough to
do when one is speaking to a mountain for the first time – Bilbo waited
for the reply.
"Today. Nice," said the same hollow voice.
"My goodness," whispered the hobbit. First, talking spiders, then a
talking dragon, and now, a talking mountain. No one would ever believe
"That will do, Mister Baggins, that will do," Gandalf said gruffly.
"Say good-bye, you don't want to take up any more of his time."
Bilbo wondered what a mountain did to occupy his time, but not
wanting to appear rude he did not ask. In a loud, clear voice, he
called out, "Good-bye. Thank you for letting us climb up."
"Good-bye. Climb up," the voice replied.
"Look there, little bunny," boomed the great voice of Beorn.
Bilbo followed Beorn's pointing finger to a waterfall splashing
merrily down the rugged hillside opposite them. Next, the giant called
his attention to the silhouette of a tree, dark and solitary against
the sky. Sitting cross-legged upon the ground, Beorn waited for the
hobbit to settle beside him – at which point, Gandalf, knowing how
ill-mannered it was to interrupt a man's storytelling, retreated to a
nearby boulder to light his pipe.
Eyes aglow, Bilbo listened as Beorn told first the story of the
mountain, the tree and the waterfall, then named the mountains marching
off into the distance. Finally, as the sun began to slide down the
western sky, the giant man recounted the battle the mountains fought
against evil before the beginning of the First Age.
Long after he was safely back home, Bilbo set those stories to verse.
He seldom recited them in public, it was often his habit – a most
unfortunate one to be sure—to drag out bits of what he called poetry
after he'd had a glass or two at The Green Dragon. Hobbits, by and
large, are far too sensible to believe such folderol as tales of
talking mountains and such, and all but his Took cousins shook their
heads at the absurd stories he told of his adventures. Indeed, he quite
lost his reputation for respectability and if the Sackville-Bagginses
had their way, he would have lost Bag End as well. But that's a tale
for another day.