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How Tolkien teaches us to fight our inner dragons


T Studio

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 06/03/23

We all have our dragons to fight, so let’s face them with courage and perseverance like Bilbo Baggins and his comrades.

Last week I led my kids and their friends in one of my absolute favorite activities: a children’s book club. 

I’ve written before about my huge love for kids’ book clubs. They are always a blast, especially with themed costumes and snacks to accompany the discussion. We often end the event by watching the movie adaptation of the book, and the whole thing is a huge success every time.

This time around we were discussing The Hobbit, and the conversation was so memorable and interesting that I wanted to share it with you. 

I’m assuming here that you’re familiar with the book, but if it’s been a bit since you read it, I’ll give a quick recap. 

The book opens with Bilbo Baggins, who is a hobbit, and like most hobbits is a staid and respectable person who enjoys food and comfort. His world is turned upside down when the wizard Gandalf brings him on an adventure with 13 dwarves to reclaim their ancestral home, the Lonely Mountain, and its vast treasure hoard from the grip of the terrible dragon Smaug. Over the course of many hair-raising adventures, Bilbo and the dwarves eventually reclaim the mountain and the dragon is killed. 

Bilbo’s change in character

Bilbo Baggins’ character development was a big topic in our discussion last week. He begins the book as a rather fussy and high-strung little creature, but by the end is confident, courageous, and aware of what really matters.

I asked the children whether they felt more like Bilbo at the beginning or end of the novel. They all had different answers, but my favorite answer came from a little girl who said, “It depends on the day.” I can relate to that!

We noticed a major turning point in the story comes when Bilbo kills a giant spider who has entrapped him in the dark forest of Mirkwood. Tolkien wrote:

Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.

He goes on to save all his companions from the murderous spiders, and after this, he trusts himself to make good decisions quickly and is no longer afraid of nearly everything. He seems more comfortable in his own skin, not to mention more comfortable taking a leadership role in the adventure.

Fighting our dragons

Then we compared Bilbo killing the spider to Bard the Bowman killing Smaug later in the book. Both characters triumph over fear to do the hard but right thing, and this defeat of evil emboldens them to do greater good.

Finally, I asked the kids, “How can you fight your dragons, or your spiders, like Bilbo and Bard? What would it look like to kill the dragons in your own life?”

Their answers were so thoughtful! One kid said he would fight against his “dragon” of anger and a bad temper. Another would fight the “dragon” of not wanting to listen to her parents. Each child came up with a “dragon” they wanted to fight, and it was inspiring to hear their resolutions.

So if you’re looking for a little inspiration today, I want to share Tolkien’s wisdom with you. 

Doing hard things, even when they scare us, makes us feel more confident and comfortable in our skin. We all have our dragons to fight, so let’s face them with courage and perseverance like Bilbo Baggins and his comrades.

Here’s to slaying dragons, doing the hard right things … and reading more Tolkien!

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