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Bilbo Baggins

from The Hobbit

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By Julie

A photo of Julie Batty in front of a bookcase full of books

In September 1973, aged ten, I emerged from a blinding rage to find myself facing the corner in Mr Scully’s classroom. It was the fourth school I’d been to in my short life, the eighth time I’d moved house, and my first day.

The evil I’d committed? Snapping loudly at Rosemary Blades for taking my ruler. It was just a ruler but my friend Mandy McSorely had given me it and she was now hundreds of miles away, gone wherever her father had been posted to next. I never found out. RAF life was like that.

No Batty was wealthy, but we’d improved on the last generation, who only went to school when it was their turn to wear the family shoes (or if the shoe-wearer would give them a piggyback).

Don’t get me wrong, we had stuff. We usually had a car, and a telly. I had stuff: identical plastic horses in three different sizes from Woolies, a quarter of Sherbet Pips on a Saturday, a red velvet party dress (outgrown by my sister). But we didn’t have loads.

Look, we had enough and that’s a brilliant thing, but we never had abundance. Phrases like ‘Enough is as good as a feast’ and ‘I’ve had an ample sufficiency’ were commonly heard in our house, though ‘God, I couldn’t manage another morsel of chocolate fudge cake’ not so much.

It wasn’t just the actual money. Having more than you absolutely needed was regarded as a moral failing somehow. Weakness. Or getting above yourself. Auntie Sheila having a wool coat and an anorak was somehow showing off, or making up for a personality deficit.

Encountering The Hobbit that year was a revelation. Here was a creature who lived luxuriously, in a comfortable, cared-for burrow with pantries (plural!) full of food and rooms full of clothes. A being who cheerfully enjoyed second – even third – breakfasts. I was startled into considering the pleasure there might be in plenty, instead of rejecting the whole concept as unreasonable and unattainable.

Bilbo Baggins caused me to dare a toe in the sea of selfish pleasures.

Then Smaug chucked me in and drowned me. The hobbit surveys Smaug’s lair:

 ‘Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves.’

Like Bilbo, I was enchanted. Something in me expanded. I’d never expected much because I hadn’t know there was much to expect. Now I saw: there was treasure in the world.

And it was ruled by Smaug, Lord of Everything, ocean-deep in jewels and gold and power. Utterly fearless, completely in control. I knew then I wanted some of all that. A note chimed deep in my soul: I will be a magical, greedy, fire-breathing monster. Or a military dictator. Or a banker.

Or (on sober reflection) maybe a writer…

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

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