THE LORD OF THE RINGS
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
A Long-Expected Party
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.
Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the
wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable
disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back
from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly
believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End
was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough
for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore
on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. At ninety he
was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him
well-preserved; but unchanged would have been nearer the mark. There
were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a
good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently)
perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.
"It will have to be paid for," they said. "It isn"t natural,
and trouble will come of it!"
But so far trouble had not come; and as Mr. Baggins was
generous with his money, most people were willing to forgive him his
oddities and his good fortune. He remained on visiting terms with his
relatives (except, of course, the Sackville-Bagginses), and he had
many devoted admirers among the hobbits of poor and unimportant
families. But he had no close friends, until some of his younger
cousins began to grow up.
The eldest of these, and Bilbo"s favourite, was young Frodo
Baggins. When Bilbo was ninety-nine he adopted Frodo as his heir, and
brought him to live at Bag End; and the hopes of the Sackville-
Bagginses were finally dashed. Bilbo and Frodo happened to have the
same birthday, September 22nd. "You had better come and live here,
Frodo my lad," said Bilbo one day; "and then we can celebrate our
birthday-parties comfortably together." At that time Frodo was still
in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties
between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.
Twelve more years passed. Each year the Bagginses had given
very lively combined birthday-parties at Bag End; but now it was
understood that something quite exceptional was being planned for
that autumn. Bilbo was going to be eleventy-one, 111, a rather
curious number, and a very respectable age for a hobbit (the Old Took
himself had only reached 130); and Frodo was going to be thirty-
three, 33, an important number: the date of his "coming of age".
Tongues began to wag in Hobbiton and Bywater; and rumour of
the coming event travelled all over the Shire. The history and
character of Mr. Bilbo Baggins became once again the chief topic of
conversation; and the older folk suddenly found their reminiscences
in welcome demand.
No one had a more attentive audience than old Ham Gamgee,
commonly known as the Gaffer. He held forth at The Ivy Bush, a small
inn on the Bywater road; and he spoke with some authority, for he had
tended the garden at Bag End for forty years, and had helped old
Holman in the same job before that. Now that he was himself growing
old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his
youngest son, Sam Gamgee. Both father and son were on very friendly
terms with Bilbo and Frodo. They lived on the Hill itself, in Number
3 Bagshot Row just below Bag End.
"A very nice well-spoken gentlehobbit is Mr. Bilbo, as I"ve
always said," the Gaffer declared. With perfect truth: for Bilbo was
very polite to him, calling him "Master Hamfast", and consulting him
constantly upon the growing of vegetables — in the matter of "roots",
especially potatoes, the Gaffer was recognized as the leading
authority by all in the neighbourhood (including himself).
"But what about this Frodo that lives with him?" asked Old
Noakes of Bywater. "Baggins is his name, but he"s more than half a
Brandybuck, they say. It beats me why any Baggins of Hobbiton should
go looking for a wife away there in Buckland, where folks are so
"And no wonder they"re queer," put in Daddy Twofoot (the
Gaffer"s next-door neighbour), "if they live on the wrong side of the
Brandywine River, and right agin the Old Forest. That"s a dark bad
place, if half the tales be true."
"You"re right, Dad!" said the Gaffer. "Not that the
Brandybucks of Buckland live in the Old Forest; but they"re a queer
breed, seemingly. They fool about with boats on that big river — and
that isn"t natural. Small wonder that trouble came of it, I say. But
be that as it may, Mr. Frodo is as nice a young hobbit as you could
wish to meet. Very much like Mr. Bilbo, and in more than looks. After
all his father was a Baggins. A decent respectable hobbit was Mr.
Drogo Baggins; there was never much to tell of him, till he was
"Drownded?" said several voices. They had heard this and
other darker rumours before, of course; but hobbits have a passion
for family history, and they were ready to hear it again.
"Well, so they say," said the Gaffer. "You see: Mr. Drogo, he
married poor Miss Primula Brandybuck. She was our Mr. Bilbo"s first
cousin on the mother"s side (her mother being the youngest of the Old
Took"s daughters); and Mr. Drogo was his second cousin. So Mr. Frodo
is his first and second cousin, once removed either way, as the
saying is, if you follow me. And Mr. Drogo was staying at Brandy Hall
with his father-in-law, old Master Gorbadoc, as he often did after
his marriage (him being partial to his vittles, and old Gorbadoc
keeping a mighty generous table); and he went out boating on the
Brandywine River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr.
Frodo only a child and all."
"I"ve heard they went on the water after dinner in the
moonlight," said Old Noakes; "and it was Drogo"s weight as sunk the
"And I heard she pushed him in, and he pulled her in after
him," said Sandyman, the Hobbiton miller.
"You shouldn"t listen to all you hear, Sandyman," said the
Gaffer, who did not much like the miller. "There isn"t no call to go
talking of pushing and pulling. Boats are quite tricky enough for
those that sit still without looking further for the cause of
trouble. Anyway: there was this Mr. Frodo left an orphan and
stranded, as you might say, among those queer Bucklanders, being
brought up anyhow in Brandy Hall. A regular warren, by all accounts.
Old Master Gorbadoc never had fewer than a couple of hundred
relations in the place. Mr. Bilbo never did a kinder deed than when
he brought the lad back to live among decent folk.
"But I reckon it was a nasty shock for those Sackville-
Bagginses. They thought they were going to get Bag End, that time
when he went off and was thought to be dead. And then he comes back
and orders them off; and he goes on living and living, and never
looking a day older, bless him! And suddenly he produces an heir, and
has all the papers made out proper. The Sackville-Bagginses won"t
never see the inside of Bag End now, or it is to be hoped not."
"There"s a tidy bit of money tucked away up there, I hear
tell," said a stranger, a visitor on business from Michel Delving in
the Westfarthing. "All the top of your hill is full of tunnels packed
with chests of gold and silver, and jools, by what I"ve heard."
"Then you"ve heard more than I can speak to," answered the
Gaffer. I know nothing about jools. Mr. Bilbo is free with his money,
and there seems no lack of it; but I know of no tunnel-making. I saw
Mr. Bilbo when he came back, a matter of sixty years ago, when I was
a lad. I"d not long come prentice to old Holman (him being my dad"s
cousin), but he had me up at Bag End helping him to keep folks from
trampling and trapessing all over the garden while the sale was on.
And in the middle of it all Mr. Bilbo comes up the Hill with a pony
and some mighty big bags and a couple of chests. I don"t doubt they
were mostly full of treasure he had picked up in foreign parts, where
there be mountains of gold, they say; but there wasn"t enough to fill
tunnels. But my lad Sam will know more about that. He"s in and out of
Bag End. Crazy about stories of the old days he is, and he listens to
all Mr. Bilbo"s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters —
meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.
"Elves and Dragons! I says to him. "Cabbages and potatoes are
better for me and you. Don"t go getting mixed up in the business of
your betters, or you"ll land in trouble too big for you," I says to
him. And I might say it to others," he added with a look at the
stranger and the miller.
But the Gaffer did not convince his audience. The legend of
Bilbo"s wealth was now too firmly fixed in the minds of the younger
generation of hobbits.
"Ah, but he has likely enough been adding to what he brought
at first," argued the miller, voicing common opinion. "He"s often
away from home. And look at the outlandish folk that visit him:
dwarves coming at night, and that old wandering conjuror, Gandalf,
and all. You can say what you like, Gaffer, but Bag End"s a queer
place, and its folk are queerer."
"And you can say what you like, about what you know no more
of than you do of boating, Mr. Sandyman," retorted the Gaffer,
disliking the miller even more than usual. "If that"s being queer,
then we could do with a bit more queerness in these parts. There"s
some not far away that wouldn"t offer a pint of beer to a friend, if
they lived in a hole with golden walls. But they do things proper at
Bag End. Our Sam says that everyone"s going to be invited to the
party, and there"s going to be presents, mark you, presents for all —
this very month as is."
That very month was September, and as fine as you could ask.
A day or two later a rumour (probably started by the knowledgeable
Sam) was spread about that there were going to be fireworks —
fireworks, what is more, such as had not been seen in the Shire for
nigh on a century, not indeed since the Old Took died.
Days passed and The Day drew nearer. An odd-looking waggon
laden with odd-looking packages rolled into Hobbiton one evening and
toiled up the Hill to Bag End. The startled hobbits peered out of
lamplit doors to gape at it. It was driven by outlandish folk,
singing strange songs: dwarves with long beards and deep hoods. A few
of them remained at Bag End. At the end of the second week in
September a cart came in through Bywater from the direction of the
Brandywine Bridge in broad daylight. An old man was driving it all
alone. He wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a
silver scarf. He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck
out beyond the brim of his hat. Small hobbit-children ran after the
cart all through Hobbiton and right up the hill. It had a cargo of
fireworks, as they rightly guessed. At Bilbo"s front door the old man
began to unload: there were great bundles of fireworks of all sorts
and shapes, each labelled with a large red G and the elf-rune, .
That was Gandalf"s mark, of course, and the old man was
Gandalf the Wizard, whose fame in the Shire was due mainly to his
skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more
difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it. To
them he was just one of the "attractions" at the Party. Hence the
excitement of the hobbit-children. "G for Grand!" they shouted, and
the old man smiled. They knew him by sight, though he only appeared
in Hobbiton occasionally and never stopped long; but neither they nor
any but the oldest of their elders had seen one of his firework
displays — they now belonged to the legendary past.
When the old man, helped by Bilbo and some dwarves, had
finished unloading. Bilbo gave a few pennies away; but not a single
squib or cracker was forthcoming, to the disappointment of the
"Run away now!" said Gandalf. "You will get plenty when the
time comes." Then he disappeared inside with Bilbo, and the door was
shut. The young hobbits stared at the door in vain for a while, and
then made off, feeling that the day of the party would never come.
Inside Bag End, Bilbo and Gandalf were sitting at the open
window of a small room looking out west on to the garden. The late
afternoon was bright and peaceful. The flowers glowed red and golden:
snap-dragons and sun-flowers, and nasturtiums trailing all over the
turf walls and peeping in at the round windows.
"How bright your garden looks!" said Gandalf.
"Yes," said Bilbo. "I am very fond indeed of it, and of all
the dear old Shire; but I think I need a holiday."
"You mean to go on with your plan then?"
"I do. I made up my mind months ago, and I haven"t changed
"Very well. It is no good saying any more. Stick to your
plan — your whole plan, mind — and I hope it will turn out for the
best, for you, and for all of us."
"I hope so. Anyway I mean to enjoy myself on Thursday, and
have my little joke."
"Who will laugh, I wonder?" said Gandalf, shaking his head.
"We shall see," said Bilbo.
The next day more carts rolled up the Hill, and still more
carts. There might have been some grumbling about "dealing locally",
but that very week orders began to pour out of Bag End for every kind
of provision, commodity, or luxury that could be obtained in Hobbiton
or Bywater or anywhere in the neighbourhood. People became
enthusiastic; and they began to tick off the days on the calendar;
and they watched eagerly for the postman, hoping for invitations.<
Excerpted from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien Copyright © 2003 by J. R. R. Tolkien. Excerpted by permission.
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