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From Zero To Hero: Campbell Hero’s Journey Through Tolkien’s The Hobbit

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In this essay, we are going to discuss the relation between The Hero’s Journey Model by Joseph Campbell and how his storytelling structure applies to Tolkien’s The Hobbit movie by Peter Jackson. In order to give some context, we need to ask the right questions. What is the Hero’s journey? How can we apply it to The Hobbit? What is the definition of a hero and what kind of hero does Tolkien use in The Hobbit?

‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. ’(Tolkien,1937) That is how Tolkien began writing The Hobbit, at first John Ronald might have not even known what a Hobbit was, as weird as it may sound, at that moment Tolkien himself might have been possessed by the world he was about to create.

The ideas presented by Campbell in his book are used to analyse and study novels and their structures. There is nothing new on this book that has not been seen before, the ideas on it are ancient. What Campbell did was putting all his thoughts and structures together, that is how he discovered the pattern behind every story ever written. In his study, he discovered that in essence, all stories are the same. They might vary and may be told differently but they all come back to the same steps.

It would be interesting to note that The Hobbit was written and published many years before Campbell began doing his study on The Hero’s Journey. This journey is something that everyone has in themselves as if it was part of us and our DNA when we make up stories in either bigger or smaller ways, we have the tendency to use a certain approximation of the formula that Campbell theorised.

So what makes up the Monomyth? There are three levels of detail; which would consist of The Departure, The Initiation and The Return. So The Departure is leaving or the existing of the non-magic world where the character lives, which comes more apparent later on, the departure is focused on this idea of moving away. It gets broken down into different parts, that being The Call To Adventure, The Refusal Of The Call, The Supernatural Aid, The Crossing Of The First Threshold, and The Belly Of The Whale.

The next stage of the cycle is the Initiation, is not in the sense of getting started on something but the things that the hero does to get initiated into the world of the magical and the fantastic. The purpose of the Hero’s journey is to take a character out of normality then change them in some way, and finally return them in their improved state.

The heroes journey in The Hobbit (2012-2014) begins with the first phase, known as “The Departure”, this departure is not done right away, there are a series of steps we need to have in mind for it to take place as necessary and as natural as possible. In the first instance “Bilbo” the protagonist lives his life on a routine in The Shire, and that is how it is portrayed as a monotonous and unaltered space. Nothing changes and Bilbo likes that. Stevens. T argues that ‘The hobbits and their reality are designed to represent its readers in an idealized and over simplistic way. Readers can often see their own world within Tolkien’s book’ (Stevens. T , 2015). The fact that the hobbits are presented in that way allows for the spectator to sympathise with the protagonist on a deeper level. When Gandalf shows up to carry out the second step of the journey, the call to an adventure, the wizard lets Bilbo know that he requires someone to take on an adventure. But carrying on with the third step “Denial”, Bilbo refuses and locks himself upon his home.

Acceptance after denial.After the visit from this wizard, Bilbo is presented with a multitude of dwarves showing up to his house, his manners stop him from throwing these people out and that is when he hears of the task he was sought for. It is then that Gandalf confesses choosing the hobbit was his idea and how he wants him to be part of the party for the expedition as a smuggler, ‘While Tolkien endows his wizard with a number of stock-comic attributes’(Stevens. D, Stevens. C, 2008, pp 17-25).

The figure of Gandalf plays a huge role in the transformation that Bilbo will suffer, becoming his mentor will allow Bilbo to grow. Christopher Vogler says that, ‘The Call to Adventure may come in the form of a message or a messenger. It may simply be a stirring within the hero’ (Vogler, C ,2007, pp 100.) Here we see how it was crucial for Gandalf to push the hobbit for the adventure, his influence made him start the journey. When the hobbit decided on taking this adventure The Crossing of the first threshold began. That is the first instance of the character development of Bilbo, where he decides he will take on something he had never done before, that is more apparent later on when the company needs camping to rest, and Bilbo is dragged to look for the pony the dwarf brothers lost. They then come across a group of “Trolls” wanting to cook their pony.

Bilbo is tasked with the freeing of the animal but gets caught by the trolls, the dwarves join later on trying to free their hobbit friend, but have to surrender or the hobbit would be tear apart. They all get caught by the creatures, soon to be eaten. It is at this point that there is a change on Bilbo’s character, he proceeds to explain to the trolls the disadvantages of eating dwarves, just trying to buy their friends some time, which then Gandalf uses to transform the trolls into stone with the suns light. Bilbo wouldn’t have done this sort of thing on The Shire, and it is at this point that the transformation that all characters go through in the journey of Campbell begins. The changes in Bilbo’s character are more obvious, he becomes less lazy, more outgoing, less timid.

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Campbell (2008) said that ‘the hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what?’. I would define a hero as someone who gives up their life to something that they find above them, but this definition of a hero could be attached to a villain or a fan since it does not require the reason that makes the hero sacrifice.

The next stage is Belly of the Whale, Bilbo’s transformation has begun, though he might not know it yet, something is about to change. There is a clear division between what is known to Bilbo and what he can become. Bilbo begins this stage when travelling through the mountains, they come across some dangerous rainstorms and two massive Stone Giants fighting each other. This makes the group look for shelter, which they find in a cave. Bilbo tries to leave the rest as he feels he does not belong with them and he is not good enough to help the dwarves on their mission. That does not last long as some floor traps swing open and they fall deep underground.

The Road Of Trials goes next, the movie will focus on this step most of the time, as it contains the main events for the character to develop and experience. Bilbo is left alone and falls deeper underground on a fight with a goblin, this allows him to find the One Ring, this item will grant invisibility and a new strategy for Bilbo. He encounters Gollum, the original owner of the ring. They get on a game of riddles to survive, Bilbo ends up winning due to a trick, the halfling is able to scape the cave without killing the creature, as he feels piety and compassion. George Clark says that ‘the successful outcome of the adventure depends on Bilbo’s physical and moral courage and on his moral choices’. (Clark. G, 2008, pp 43-58) . When choosing not to end Gollums life, on an unconscious way he has saved his own life and has changed the fate of all beings. Later, he reunites with his friends, they are being hunted by the Pale Orc, that is when the protagonist jumps in to help Thorin after he is knocked out. There is a clear change on Bilbo’s charisma when he is the one willing to fight, knowing there is no chance for him surviving. Hogen. J( 2016), mentions how Peter Jackson’s adaptation to Tolkien’s book makes Bilbo more physical, how he would not have grown as much on the book. I would add that it is important for the personality development of the protagonist as it creates a stronger relationship between Thorin and Bilbo, Thorin finally recognises the Hobbit’s value.

The journey to The Lonely Mountain resumes after they are rescued by giant eagles, The Road Of Trials carries on as they will continue to face more and more challenges. The ones I would like to stand out are the fighting against the giant spiders and the liberation of the dwarves from the Black Forest Elves. The first encounter with the spiders play a huge change on Bilbo’s personality after they all get caught due to dizziness and exhaustion, the hobbit manages to wake up and free himself from the spiderwebs then he attempts to free his friends. I would consider this the initiation of Bilbo into becoming a greater warrior. He has learnt to combine his boldness with his sword skills and the magic powers of the ring. There is a small encounter with a baby spider, Bilbo suddenly loses possession of the ring, and tries to kill the spider whilst looking for it. It is at this point that he is aware of the power that the ring is inflicting on him. Before he might have not killed the spider at all, for either cowardness or pity, but not this time as he feels more comfortable with his abilities and the influence of the ring on him.

There would be another example where the hobbit is able to use these newly acquired abilities to free the dwarves once again when they get caught by the Elves. He uses the ring’s invisibility powers to get them out of their prison. The departure of Gandalf was necessary for Bilbo to obtain this growth for himself since he had always been protected and guided by others. But at this time he is the one in charge of his decisions. ‘He does not need to kill a dragon or defeat evil creatures in order to be a hero; he becomes a hero with a big heart, who changes the world in a different way than by fighting battles or trough raw strength. ’ (Saputra. H, 2019) The next step is The Woman as Temptress as in this stage Bilbo will face the temptation of abandoning his friends to keep the Gem.The term “Woman” is referred to the “Arkenstone”, it has the power to make the worst out of Bilbo and to ruin the whole adventure. But in the end, he chooses the better good and tries to use the “Arkenstone” to stop the war between Humans and Elves.

‘He shows a great courage and non-selfish decision when he stands against his companions and chooses peace and harmony instead of wealth. ’ (Bouabdallah, Graine 2019, pp 52) Helen Parshal on the other hands says that ‘Hobbits, however, show the full trajectory of what courage means: starting from a place of innocent fear, acknowledging the fear and its limitations, and then harnessing those fears to do what must be done for the greater good. ’Helen Parshal (2014).They all mention courage, in the case of The Hobbit (2012-2014) that is something that has been developing thought the movies, due to the adapting of Bilbo to his environment and circumstances. He is more developed and as a consequence a better hero. As well as his sense of self-sacrifice for the greater good, it would be arguable that he has been doing this for his benefit, although the end goal is to help others.

The last phase of the journey would be The Return, it is at this stage that the hero is fully developed and changed completely. When Bilbo returns to The Shire, he is a new person, he is not bothered by things that would have made him lose his nerve in the past, he is more grounded and less worried now. The last step of the journey, Freedom To Live, refers to not fearing death, as we get to see on The Lord Of The Rings at the end(2001-2003). Bilbo goes to The Undying Lands with Gandalf and the Elves, to spend his remaining days in peace. He is happy with his choices which shows that in the end, he had the freedom to live. ‘They are content with their life and does what pleases them’ (Levin. C, 2016). I would like to point out that the choices Bilbo made on The Hobbit (2012-2014) had the biggest impact on the future of the world, since Bilbo keeping the ring and returning home with it is what sets the next call for the adventure in Tolkiens next book, The Lord Of The Rings(2001-2003), where Frodo will carry on his uncle’s journey on becoming a hero, thus resetting the cycle of the Hero´s Journey.

As a conclusion of this essay, The Journey presented here is a tool widely used and is commonly a success for either books or movies scripts. But we need to have in mind that The Hero’s journey is not a recipe or formula that needs to be followed every time, it only contains the steps, and that does not mean is applicable to every story. Likewise, The Hobbit (2012-2014) does follow those steps set by Campbell in his books, though Tolkien did not use this scheme when writing his book nor did Jackson when doing his movie, I believe that the creation of The Hobbit (Tolkien,1937) itself might have contributed greatly to the books and the theory presented by Campbell.

Bilbo is the best instance of an ordinary hero as a protagonist, like every other hobbit he values home, becoming the example of the ordinary man involved in an adventure. Bilbo is presented insecure and sometimes funny, nevertheless, the hobbit gets more experience with each adventure. Bilbo starts becoming more of a leader inside the group and his self-confidence increases too. The purpose of the journey of Bilbo character consisted of allowing him to grow enough to realise how small he was in regards to the world around him. The most valuable attribute that he gets is humbleness.

Bilbo is a hero because of the virtues of his sensible character, and that is noticeable when he shows mercy on Gollum or when he resigns on his part of the treasure. Bilbo’s decisions are what make him a hero, however, the rejection of heroes stereotypes is what makes him the ideal ordinary hero, honest and generous.

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From Zero To Hero: Campbell Hero’s Journey Through Tolkien’s The Hobbit. (2021, September 23). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/from-zero-to-hero-campbell-heros-journey-through-tolkiens-the-hobbit/
“From Zero To Hero: Campbell Hero’s Journey Through Tolkien’s The Hobbit.” Edubirdie, 23 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/from-zero-to-hero-campbell-heros-journey-through-tolkiens-the-hobbit/
From Zero To Hero: Campbell Hero’s Journey Through Tolkien’s The Hobbit. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/from-zero-to-hero-campbell-heros-journey-through-tolkiens-the-hobbit/> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2022].
From Zero To Hero: Campbell Hero’s Journey Through Tolkien’s The Hobbit [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 23 [cited 2022 Dec 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/from-zero-to-hero-campbell-heros-journey-through-tolkiens-the-hobbit/
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