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 hoard. 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 Bilbo.
"My dear Mr. Baggins," - for that is what Gandalf called him, a far more respectable greeting than 'little bunny' - "whatever is the matter?"
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 handkerchiefs.
"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 them."
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, "Hello."
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 greeting. "Hello."
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 him.
"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.