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Old 02-19-2004, 02:40 PM   #1
Child of the 7th Age
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What's so special about '50'?

I have wondered about this for a while.

Why did Tolkien make both Frodo and Bilbo leave on their adventures at the grand age of fifty? In most myths, epics, legends --- what have you -- the chief protagonist is generally younger. JRRT was a very careful writer. In my opinion, he had to have given some thought to this plot device, especially since the exact same age was chosen for both hobbits.

Yes, I know that some hobbits live to the ripe old age of one hundred or more. But if you take the geneologies plus HoMe and calculate the average age at death for hobbits, it comes up as 92. Using this as a standard, Bilbo and Frodo at '50' were no longer young.

Nor do I think that hobbit culture normally regarded '50' as a 'young' age. Take a look at the description of Bilbo that is given by Gandalf in Unfinished Tales. Gandalf had seen Bilbo as a youth and describes him in glowing terms. He mentions that Bilbo loved tales, spoke with dwarves, asked questions about his Took relatives who had run off long before, and had bright eyes. But when Gandalf returned to the Shire after many years, he reports that Bilbo had changed. He'd become "fat and greedy". His old desire for adventure "had dwindled down to a sort of private dream". From all accounts, it sounds as if Bilbo had slunk down into a camplacent middle-age and was just like the rest of his conforming neighbors.

I am aware that when thirty-three year old Frodo took on the Ring, he would have aged more slowly than the normal hobbit. Yet this preservation by the Ring works only in terms of physical appearance, not mental age or maturity. Compared to Samwise, Pippin, and Merry, Frodo definitely acted older than his younger friends and had a wider knowledge of the world, e.g., speaking some Elvish.

I would say that in our society the example of Bilbo or Frodo is still not the norm. Life expectancy is inching up, so it's not unusual to meet a healthy ninety-two year old. Yet it's a rare thing to have a fifty-year old depicted as the central character in a fantasy or fairy tale, whether in a book, TV, or the movies. Elijah Wood who was picked to play Frodo is a good example of this. He looks and acts quite a bit younger than thirty-three (let alone fifty!) If they ever do film The Hobbit, I am also expecting Bilbo to be depicted as younger than Tolkien actually intended, although I could be mistaken here.

Back to the central question.....

Was there something in Tolkien's own life that caused him to pick the age of 50 for his protagonists? Was there a point in the story he was trying to get across? Or was it a commentary on what happens to too many of us once we hit middle age, and our dreams shrink? Or perhaps I am reading too much in here. The choice of age was simply coincidence or '50' means something different for hobbits than it does for us Big Folk.
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Old 02-19-2004, 04:47 PM   #2
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What an interesting question, Child! Though the idea of both Bagginses beginning their adventures at 50 greatly appeals to me, I never thought to wonder about Tolkien’s reason for choosing that age.

His biography does not explain this choice; even if we look to see what happened when he was about 50 himself, we know that he began writing the stories much earlier than that. He was well under 40 when he started The Hobbit.

I’ve searched my memory for other parallels, beginning with Biblical stories, which he certainly knew well, but no 50-year-old person occurs to me: Jesus began his ministry at about age 30, Moses was 80 when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt, Abraham was 75 when he left his home to seek out the promised land. There were prophets, kings, and apostles who were younger, others who were older, but no significant 50-year-old that I can remember!

Are there any prominent characters of that age in mythology and literature who could have been his inspiration?
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Old 02-19-2004, 07:07 PM   #3
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Tolkien

Intriguing question. I always though the reason Tolkien may have chose that is the idea of an 'unlikely hero.' Of all people in Middle-Earth why a widening girth grocer type of a hobbit? Why didn't Gandalf a more younger hobbit? Because of wisdom. I think most younger people would freeze up when it came to situation they were unfamiliar with. Would a younger type of hobbit even try to attempt something so simple as the guessing game with Gollum?
The impertience of youth probably would have killed Gollum, as Frodo suggested in the Fellowship. Now if Bilbo had not pitied Gollum, where would we be in Middle-Earth?
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Old 02-19-2004, 07:11 PM   #4
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Tolkien

Edit: Aack! We cross posted Sleeping Beauty! Anyway:

Maybe Tolkien wanted to break the norm as it were, and have, like Child of the Seventh Age said, a middle aged, normal person instead of some young whippersnapper bound to save the world (seriously, what is the liklihood that a young person in real life could handle such enormous quests much less being sought out by Gandalf to accompany a pack of dwarves as a burglar?). I do know that I have purposely gone out of my way to think of something abnormal when I am writing a story.

As for Bilbo and Frodo being the same age: maybe Tolkien was trying to create a bit of parallels for us to ponder, such as:

1. Bilbo and Frodo both went on a quest.
2. They both went with companions to aide them on that quest.
3. There was a high chance that neither of them would make it out alive.

So since everything was so similiar why not have their age be similiar?

A thought has come to me. They were both drastically changed when they were 50: Bilbo for the better and Frodo for the worst. A young person probably would not have been able to handle the fatigues (both emotional and physical) of both their quests (I doubt that a young person would have had the patience to wait around in Thranduil's halls). Yet, an old person would not have been able to make the strenuous physical journey. Hence, he chose a middle aged personage.

Also, when Tolkien first started to LotR, didn't he start with a young hobbit named Bingo and it didn't work? That also probably influenced his descision.

I'm sorry my thoughts are so scattered...just typed whatever came to me.
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Old 02-19-2004, 09:55 PM   #5
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The choice of age was simply coincidence or '50' means something different for hobbits than it does for us Big Folk.
At the risk of "pushing it," I might also add that Frodo would have been 49 when he set out if he had gone when Gandalf was hoping he would! Frodo himself saw the significance of the big 5-0 and waited until the very day to set out. This would suggest that the significance is seen by Frodo himself, and he is emulating Bilbo consciously in this aspect. As for Tolkien's intent in holding the hobbits at bay until 50, it might be interesting to speculate on how an actual Tolkien-written younger Frodo would have fared on his quest. To that end, we could perhaps hand Pippin the Ring and say, "go to it, kid!" I'll have to think on it more, and determine if this posited "younger Frodo" would have acted like Elijah Wood's "younger Frodo" did or not. One does wonder how Frodo came to be thought of by Gandalf as "the best hobbit in the Shire," and whether it was by virtue of his lessons learned through his extra time to gain maturity or whether he already had this quality in him and would have fared as well at 33 or so. For that matter, would Bilbo have done so well at 33, and would he have had the insight to show Gollum the all-important mercy that he did? An interesting speculation indeed!

Cheers!
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Old 02-20-2004, 04:04 AM   #6
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Quite interesting questions and speculations. I quite agree that Tolkien had in mind the idea of 'unlikely hero' who is older, less handsome, less what you'd overall expect in a hero, but who ultimately fares as a hero. As far as I know, this 'life begins at 50' theme was unique to him.

In the context of middle earth , Bilbo's late adventure was prompted by a series of events: Gandalf's meeting with Thorin being the one that started all. From Bilbo's pov, one can say he was rescued from a life of laziness and mediocrity that overpowered the Took sense of adventure that still lay hidden in him. Frodo's adventure though was delayed by Saruman's misleading of Gandalf concerning the Ring's whereabouts. If Saruman was not a traitor, Gandalf would have acted on the spot and Frodo would have began his journey much sooner than 50.

Imladris - what do you mean when you say:
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They were both drastically changed when they were 50: Bilbo for the better and Frodo for the worst.
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Old 02-20-2004, 06:26 PM   #7
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Bilbo went on his own Quest at the age of 50 and became famously wealthy as a result of it. I'd definitely consider that a turn for the good. Frodo, on the other hand, inherited the biggest burden in Middle-earth when he turned 50, and had to set out on one of the most suicidal Quests that anyone could ever think of, getting stabbed, bruised, stung, and bitten. Now I'd consider that turn of events definitely bad.
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Old 02-20-2004, 06:46 PM   #8
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For Bilbo, I think that it is because it made it more interesting because if he had been a young hobbit he would have been over-eager, perhaps, rather like Pippin, who just saw it as an adventure, fun even, who didn't really understand the danger. Bilbo, as an older hobbit, made for a more interesting character. He was settled and content with life, whereas a younger Bilbo wanted to go on adventures. An adventure shook Bilbo's life up much more because he was older. And much older than 50 and he would probably be too old to go on adventures. As for Frodo, I think part of it is the way the chronology worked out. Bilbo had to have had the Ring long enough to have it growing on him, and Sauron had to have enough time to go back to Mordor and take shape and gain power, etc. All the events leading up to the Quest had to happen first, and I think that Tolkien probably liked the idea that Frodo and Bilbo were the same age.
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He had indeed privately made up his mind to leave on his fiftieth birthday: Bilbo's one hundred and twenty-eighth. It seemed somehow the proper day on which to set out and follow him.
I believe this could possibly used as an example of what JRRT was thinking. It probably seemed fitting to him to have Bilbo and Frodo being the same age. It also might give the reader who read the Hobbit first a sense of connection between the two.
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Old 02-20-2004, 08:07 PM   #9
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Of course I don't know what Tolkien was thinking.... But 50 is a great age for adventure. You've tried just about everything you wanted to try, at least once....you're beginning to get a little bored doing what you're "supposed to do".... you've learned enough to appreciate most things for what they are worth....and your love life isn't controlling you anymore! Both Bilbo and Frodo were bachelors, so why not.
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Old 02-21-2004, 01:16 AM   #10
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I think that, though fifty is definitely an older Hobbit, we must remember that thirty-three was the Hobbit coming-of-age. Thirty-three to them was like eighteen to us. Their twenties (or "tweens"), was like our teens. So a fifty-year-old Hobbit is definitely going to look younger than a fifty-year-old human. Not to say that they were really young; they were probably equvalent to a human in their thirties.

As for the reason Tolkien chose this particular age, I really have no idea what he was trying to do, if in fact he was trying to do anything.
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Old 02-21-2004, 03:35 AM   #11
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What a fascinating discussion! I have thought of it myself - just this morning, in fact! :-)

At fifty, Bilbo was a fat little middle-class man(okay, Hobbit) who needed something to bring out the qualities that were always there, so he's dragged off on the adventure kicking and screaming and - has it occurred to anyone that in some ways, despite his age, he really hadn't grown up? He'd never had to. As a Victorian-style gentleman he had a house and an income that meant he didn't have to work and would have been shocked at the notion. After the adventure he went back to his old life, more or less, but with a new perspective on life, and with contacts in the outside world. Notice all the times in THE HOBBIT that he's referred to as "only a little hobbit", not in reference to his height, but his maturity.

Frodo, I think, who had been brought up, more or less, by the changed Bilbo, was more mature when he left home and did it as a form of sacrifice, to protect the Shire from the danger coming after him. Yet he found that he could never go back. He had changed. Poor Frodo.

But Merry and Pippin "grow up" in many ways too, especially after they are separated. When they return, it's also with a new viewpoint on the world. They know, after all, what is beyond their borders and who has been protecting them. Sam, too, has grown from servant to a man who can manage quite nicely without Mr Frodo to look after, who has a wife and children and, eventually, the ability to run the Shire. It's a coming-of-age story for everyone and I agree here that the choice of fifty as Frodo's age as well as Bilbo's was deliberate, even to the parallel chapter titles "An Unexpected/Long Expected Party."
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Old 02-21-2004, 07:09 AM   #12
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I think 33 is actually coming of age for us, in these real, modern times....or should be! Hobbits knew best here. At 18, we know alot about getting in trouble, that's about it! (such a cute smilie...Squatter!? )
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Old 02-21-2004, 08:37 AM   #13
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Hmm, coming of age, you say? Interesting indeed!

Hobbits had very little desire to seek out adventure, so I don't agree with the notion that fifty years of age equal to the prime time for adventuring. However, Bilbo did mentioned that at the age of 33, Frodo was old enough to come to his 'inheritance'. Now, Frodo was an orphan, and Bilbo, being a bachelor, had likely as not adopted him as a foster son. But coming into 'inheritance' means many things other than just getting a few heirlooms. Bringing it in today's context, it meant taking care of an entire family business while daddy retire. 18? More like 25!

At the age of eleventy-one, Bilbo would probably appear like an old fossil in the eyes of the youngsters. This did not happen, because the Ring pickled him in olive oil... er, I mean, made him look like he had never aged one day. But Bilbo could not have deceived himself into thinking that he was still 'young'? Hey, his adventuring spirit is still burning in him as he rushed off under starlight to visit Rivendell again!

I don't suppose age had much to do with hobbits 'getting queer' and rushing off into adventure... Gandalf said "You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch." Well, Prof T himself is pretty much like a hobbit; his 'wimsies' can shock us into a hundred debates after the original work!
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Old 02-21-2004, 09:18 AM   #14
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I always was of the belief that, since hobbits are so reminiscent of young people and they seem to reach greater ages, they probably seemed a lot like teenagers while they were in their twenties. Somewhere I read (I believe it may have simply been somewhere in FotR) that hobbit coming-of-age is 33 or 35. Now this is fine, but you have to believe that a normal human in terms of age would become almost fully mature at around 25-28, possibly sooner. Yes, Frodo and Bilbo were fifty, but this may not mean that they looked, felt, or acted like they were fifty.

Now, Tolkein could've made the age of the two hobbits' adventures 35 or 40, to make them seem and physically be younger, but I think they both needed a certain amount of experience to even handle going on quests like the ones they pursued. I don't believe a tweenage or teenage hobbit would've volunteered himself to take the One Ring to Mount Doom.
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Old 02-21-2004, 06:43 PM   #15
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Thanks for all these interesting posts! I think we can safely say that this is a question to which we'll never have a definite answer unless someone discovers a "lost" letter in the Marquette archives or a family member's attic. But there is room for speculation.

First, the equivalencies in birthdays and ages between Frodo and Bilbo were obviously something Tolkien chose to do.

Secondly, some people see 50 as still very young in hobbit terms. I did searches on the internet and discovered several websites (including a reference in the Encyclopedia of Arda) that basically said hobbits age more slowly and therefore '50' can still be a youthful hobbit. In my opinion, hobbit '50' is not as old as human '50', but it's still not the typical youthful hero.

(Incidentally, a number of these discussions on age took place in relation to the movie: whether it was realistic to have the youthful Elijah playing a 50 year-old hobbit.)

Thirty-three is hobbit coming of age. What would the equivalent be in our own society? I would say it is younger than 33, but I'm not sure that I would say it was as young as eighteen. Coming of age can vary from person to person. Some folk have responsibilities thrust on them very young. Others go to college or graduate school full-time and prolong entry into "real" life with all its headaches and financial responsibilities. And taking on responsibility is a gradual process. In my opinion "real" coming of age in our society averages out at about 23-25. It often takes that long (or longer) to settle yourself into a job you like, finish getting an education, and/or decide whether or not to marry.

Fifty is seventeen years after Hobbit coming of age. Let's translate that into human terms. If we use "24" as the benchmark for becoming a 'true' adult, hobbit 50 would be equivalent to age 41 in our society. And 40 is often regarded as the beginning of "middle age". Or we could figure things in terms of the death date. If the average hobbit dies at 92, then 50 is more than half-way there, making it again equivalent to about 40 years in human terms. My gut feeling is that while a hobbit isn't old at 50 by any standard, he's definitely no longer the typical young hero.

This quote from The Hobbit suggests that Tolkien saw '50' as equivalent to the start of hobbit middle age--the point in life where you settle down and don't change a lot:

Quote:
Still it is probable that Bilbo, her only son [i.e. Belladonna's], although he looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something queer in his make-up from the Took side, something that only waited for a chance to come out. The chance never arrived until Bilbo Baggins was grown up, being about fifty yers old or so, and living in the beautiful hobbithole built by his father, which I have just described for you, until he had in fact apparently settled down immovably.
That reference to Bilbo having 'apparently settled down immovably' sounds a lot like typical middle age in human terms. You've chosen your path in life and there are unlikely to be other major changes..... Maybe the clue to this isn't the particular age of "50" but the whole idea of middle-age as a time to settle down.

I totally agree with those who mention that choosing an older hobbit was part of a wider plot device: pointing out that neither Frodo or Bilbo was your typical hero. But I also wonder if Tolkien didn't see a similar pattern in his own life as he was writing The Hobbit: settling down into a predictable middle-age and perhaps questioning that on some level. Just take a look at the dates.....

Tolkien was born in 1892 and The Hobbit appeared in 1937, when he was 45 years old. The first text of The Hobbit was in existence by 1932 although it still lacked the final chapters. That would be when he was forty-years old. He likely wrote the bulk of the book 1928-1932. That would make him age 36-40. He had finally settled down, gotten a position at Oxford, his last child had been born (Priscilla in 1929). He could see a comfortable middle-age looming up just ahead of him.

Maybe he liked the idea of sending middle-aged Bilbo off on an adventure, of shaking up his predictable life. It was a way of affirming that just because you reach a certain age, it doesn't mean you're ossified in stone. This is wild conjecture with no proof. But it's kind of interesting if he wrote about a hero approaching hobbit middle-age at the same time as he himself approached middle-age. Once he came up with Bilbo, he tried to establish similarities with Frodo:


Quote:
' So it went on, until his forties were running out, and his fiftieth birthday was drawing near: fifty was a number that he felt was somehow significant (or ominous); it was at any rate at that age that adventure had suddenly befallen Bilbo. Frodo began to feel restless, and the old paths seemed too well-trodden. He looked at maps, and wondered what lay beyond their edges: maps made in the Shire showed mostly white spaces beyond its borders. He took to wandering further afield and more often by himself; and Merry and his other friends watched him anxiously. Often he was seen walking and talking with the strange wayfarers that began at this time to appear in the Shire.
Frodo had the benefit of Bilbo's upbringing so he was actively looking for adventure, or was at least aware that it could hit. According to Tolkien, then, the approach of middle-age was potentially a most "dangerous" time! I think there is indeed some deeper truth in that. When you hit the point in life when you know you are mortal, you begin searching your brain and asking whether there's anything more out there. In Frodo and Bilbo's case, for good or bad, there was indeed a great deal more!

One last point....regarding the question of "bad" in terms of Frodo. there's no doubt that, in the short term, the effects on Frodo were "bad". But that's only part of the picture. What happened to Frodo in Tol Eressea? We have no idea. You can't really assess 'good' or 'bad' without that piece of the puzzle. Perhaps he never healed, or perhaps he was able to grow far beyond what he had been at first. We simply don't know...
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Old 02-21-2004, 07:35 PM   #16
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I was asked to explain what I meant by saying that Bilbo was changed for the better and Frodo for the worst.

Bilbo became extremely wealthy, an elf friend, and escaped the complacency of middle age. Seems like a good change to me.

Frodo, on the other hand, had to live with two permanent wounds that never healed and he couldn't enjoy the Shire. That's what I meant. In both instances they escaped a complacent middle age.
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Old 02-21-2004, 08:02 PM   #17
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I have always imagined that Hobbits "coming of age" at 33 is the equivalent, in our terms, of reaching the age of 21. This is the age at which people are traditionally said to have come of age in many of our societies. The symbolism of the key being handed over still survives in many Western cultures.

And, given the longer average life expectancy of a Hobbit (certainly compared to average life expectancy in the time that Tolkien was writing), I have always considered the age 50 to be nearer to 30 in human terms.

Not your typical youthful hero, admittedly, but still realtively young. And this accords with the picture painted of Bilbo, since it is in our 30s that we tend to settle down and become set in our ways (and I speak as a 30-something who has settled down and become set in his ways, and whose "Tookish side" is fading fast ).
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Old 02-21-2004, 11:22 PM   #18
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Liriodendron:
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Fifty is a great age for an adventure,
I think this comes closest to an answer that scratches this itch for me.

Having turned 50 for the first time last year , it so happened I decided to re-read LotR again to prepare for the last movie installment, RotK. I was quite surprised to see that Frodo was 50 when he set out on the quest to Mt. Doom. I'd read this before, but that was ere I turned the same age myself.

I found strange things starting to happen. I felt drawn to claim myself, to know and to do the things that I'd dreamed of and talked about--to see what was both behind and ahead on the other side of the next eternal hill.

As has been mentioned, by 50 one's dust has settled down. It's possible to see what's still standing and what's fallen by the wayside. It is around this age that the hackneyed and embarrassing phrase "mid-life crisis" is applied. There is a keen awareness that "the" crossroads has been reached. To put it succinctly, this is when you either poop or get off the pot--you're going to start walking or just keep talking. Time for the hair dye or time for the open road? Have you grown fearful of life or have you learned it is an adventure--"Oh, my God!" or "What the hey, why not?"

One is called to the road in the most genuine sense--the path of your life, your meaning--your fate, if you will. I think this is what both Bilbo and Frodo were answering. Bilbo's awareness of his crossroads was piqued by the dwarves' scoffing attitude toward his talents and abilities. Frodo's awareness began innocently enough as he tried to emulate Bilbo, but it was also his chance to try out that adventure dreamt of in youth. Both found themselves transformed by the end of their adventures. And we have the sense that they arrived where they were meant to be. This causes me to think that they, as children of Iluvatar, answered the call put forth to them by Iluvatar.

Maybe for Tolkien it was as simple as "Middle-earth," middle-age. Essentially, Tolkien described it being in the middle of the world. Bilbo and Frodo were essentially in the middle of life.

But I like that crossroads/call of the road myself. That's what happened to me, and it's what happens to just about everybody. In the largest sense, this is when you are called to come to terms with your own Ring.
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Old 02-22-2004, 12:00 PM   #19
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I speak as a 30-something who has settled down and become set in his ways, and whose "Tookish side" is fading fast
Just you wait until 50, Saucy - the Tookish side can come back! Actually, nowadays at 50 many people have reached the same independence that Bilbo and Frodo had as bachelors - less responsibility for grown-up children both financially and time-wise, so with more time and money, when adventure calls, it's easier to answer!
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Old 02-23-2004, 02:12 AM   #20
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Hear, hear, Estelyn Telcontar! Hurray for the fifty-something Tooks! I have my plans already. I will be taking early "retirement" in my mid-fifties due to a loophole in the superannuation rules here, in a number of years, and studying archaeology, something my Tookish side has always wanted, though I ended up a schoolmarm and librarian. In my forties I joined the Youth Hostel Association and started doing things I'd never done before. I find Bilbo quite believable, thank you!
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Old 02-24-2004, 02:46 PM   #21
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Re: What's so special about '50'?

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Originally posted by Child of the 7th Age
Yes, I know that some hobbits live to the ripe old age of one hundred or more. But if you take the geneologies plus HoMe and calculate the average age at death for hobbits, it comes up as 92. Using this as a standard, Bilbo and Frodo at '50' were no longer young.
Perhaps our view of the age of 50 is influenced by our modern lifespan lengthening due to modern medicine, healthy environmental knowledge such as improved sanitation, and other lifespan effects due to modern scientific technology such as improved efficient food production and distribution.

Let's suppose that we (21st century men) have longer spans due to many of these issues, and our average in the Western world these days is about 75 or so. What kind of adjustments could we consider, to see how the hobbit age of 50 relates to the hobbit age of 92?

I would say that we have a lot longer-lived people on average because of our medicine. First, hobbits may have had many of their folks die prematurely due to lack of medicine. That is to say, that if they had our medical care, their life spans would have averaged well over 100.

Second, our medicine may prolong many infirm folks' lifespans well beyond their expectations without modern medicine. We have people who live for years on life-sustaining medicines and treatments. The hobbits would have had little of this. (Though ale and Old Toby could ease your situation, I am sure.)

So I would speculate that a medicine adjustment would make our life spans average around 60.

On the other hand, the Shire was relatively prosperous in the sense of food, lack of war, plenty of trade. So I am not sure how, or if, to make any adjustment in comparison to our current era. Also, from what I have read in JRRT's Letters, Tolkien seemed to lack an appreciation of how technological progress would enhance medicine, sanitation and other environmental concerns, and food production. So here, I suppost no adjustment is applicable (calculable/estimable?).

Using your average hobbit lifespan calculation of 92, 50 years old is just a little above the half-way point of 46. And if our adjusted modern human lifespans were about 60, then the halfway point would be 30. So someone just a little older than that, about early 30's, would not really seem old, but on the other hand they are too old to be drafted and sent off as a young warrior.

And for another comparison, hobbits "came of age" or reached adulthood at 33, so a 50-year old would be about half again as old. And for us, we are considered adult at about 18-21. And someone in their early 30's would be about half again as old.

Looks to me like a 50-year old hobbit would not be so old after all.
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Old 02-24-2004, 04:30 PM   #22
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midlife crisis number six...

Okay, so I'm only 42. (Hush, ya young whippersnappers, or I'll whack you with my cane.) But the lower paragraph resonates. I walk in the woods more now, not less. I am more restless. The old paths, old ways do seem too well trodden. I look around my surroundings and think, There Must Be More. I hum the U2 song "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

My sister says I'm having my second childhood. Then she corrects herself, and says, "Third? Fourth??"

I'm much more likely to stop somewhere and explore.

Worse (or so some think) I am hanging around with tweenagers. And some teenagers, too. I am playing music twenty years younger than I am, but somehow feeling way older than I look.


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' So it went on, until his forties were running out, and his fiftieth birthday was drawing near: fifty was a number that he felt was somehow significant (or ominous); it was at any rate at that age that adventure had suddenly befallen Bilbo. Frodo began to feel restless, and the old paths seemed too well-trodden.... He took to wandering further afield and more often by himself; and Merry and his other friends watched him anxiously.
No, I think Tolkien liked older explorers. Strider might have had a triple-lifespan; but that doesn't make his 87 years "young". Gandalf was no spring chicken. Boromir and Faramir at 40 and 35, respectively, weren't young soldiers either. Everywhere the grandeur of maturity looks on the enthusiasm of youth, and smiles; Pippin holds his own in the adventure, but it takes him a while to shine and stand on his own.

All that muttering to conclude: fifty was significant to Tolkien, or at least maturity was significant and 50 was a handy place to peg it for hobbitry. His man-hero was 87. His wizard was conveniently ageless, but always portrayed as old. I'm with you, Sharon; Tolkien liked older heroes.
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Old 02-24-2004, 05:40 PM   #23
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The older I get, the more restless I become. Tis true! I notice this with my hubby also. Now why on earth did we have that baby at forty! Gandalf....adventure please!
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Old 02-25-2004, 08:31 AM   #24
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Helen and Din - Those are very lyric descriptions. And Theron - You make a good argument for your own stance with all the calculations.

I guess we can never know for sure whether Tolkien meant his fifty-year old hobbits to be young lads just out of their tweens, hobbits on the verge of middle-age., or something in betwen. Hobbit lifespan is somewhat longer than ours, especially when compared with the figure of average lifespan about 1930.

It's interesting we have so little agreement about this. And think how much our answer to this question influences our visual image of the characters! Personally, I do see Bilbo (and by implicaton Frodo) standing on the verge of middle-age. Leaving all statistical arguments aside, I am influenced by Tolkien's description in UT where Bilbo is portrayed as forsaking the ways of his youth and settling down "immovably". This just sounds too much like the way many people approach middle age.

I had another thought about The Hobbit, and its subtitle "There and Back Again". Obviously that can be read in a literal and geographical sense. Yet there may be another element present here. There have been dozens of studies done on this work, showing how it is a journey of 'maturation' for Bilbo as he evolves beyond what he was in the beginning. While the details of some of these studies may be "iffy", I feel the central point is well taken. There may be a different way of looking at that subtitle, in terms of the life cycle. "There and back again" can refer to Bilbo getting in touch again with what was in his youth -- his love of adventure, willingness to disregards what his neighbors say, etc. In effect he is going forward to "true" and responsible adulthood; yet at the same same time it leads him back to his values as a younger hobbit.

I think one could well make the argument that it is very difficult to mature and go forward unless one has some sense of where one's coming from and can get in touch with the feelings and experiences that one had as a child. This also makes sense in terms of Frodo. One of Frodo's dilemmas at the end of the book is that he has lost the "Shire" in a personal (and not just geographical) sense. He can not get back to being the person he was when he was younger. His challenge in the West may well be to learn to go ahead on the basis of everything that's happened to him during the Ring quest while still integrating his Shire past. A very difficult task indeed! For the most part, we see Bilbo going "there and back again" but with Frodo there is an incomplete trip and we're left not knowing if he's going to make it.

Liriodendron - Your little one shouldn't stop you from forging ahead. Look how Bilbo surrounded himself with younger hobbits? Your "travel" may be of a different nature -- less geographical and more internal -- but it is adventure nonetheless!

My youngest is turning twelve and I am several years past the age when Frodo departed. She keeps me on my toes.
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Old 02-25-2004, 10:15 AM   #25
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I have to say that I’m a little skeptical of these “adjustment” arguments. I’m not convinced we moderns have significantly higher life expectancies than our forebears. Socrates was 70 and still going strong when he was compelled to drink hemlock. Plato lived to the ripe old age of 80. Sure, we have fancy new medicine and technology – but we also have pollution to poison our air, a depleted ozone layer, dangerous chemicals in our food and drinking water, heart disease from fast-food diets, sedentary lifestyles, etc. – all health challenges with which the ancients did not have to contend. My understanding is that life expectancy figures have skewed upwards since the 1930’s in significant part because of lowered infant mortality rates.

Rather than adjusting the mean Hobbit life expectancy upward as Theron has suggested, I wonder if it shouldn’t rather be adjusted downward. Any Hobbit mentioned in the genealogies is bound to be a more high-born, well-to-do Hobbit, with greater access to good food and whatever sort of healthcare that was available. They’d naturally have better shelter and a lifestyle less afflicted by hardship. Your average working Hobbit, bending his back on a farm, say, and living in a drafty house instead of a cozy Hobbit-hole, would probably have a slightly lower life expectancy.

Even if you take these values on their face, 92 years for the average Hobbit, 75 as a nice round number for real-world folks, the math works out so that 50 Hobbit years equals 40.8 human years – definitely standing at the gate of middle age.

In The Hobbit, Bilbo is clearly intended as a rather ridiculous fellow. Who’s more comical and absurd, the youthful hero heading out for a grand adventure, or a short, paunchy, middle-aged fellow who never leaves the house without a pocket-handkerchief in his waistcoat and second breakfast in his belly? The latter, of course.

It’s also significant that Frodo is older than his friends. Only Pippin is not yet out of his tweens – and acts like it. Tolkien could just as easily have made Frodo a contemporary of his younger companions, but he didn’t. Why? I don’t know if the question can be answered definitively, since even in very early conceptions of the story, well before the journey Frodo would take was imagined, “Bingo” was older than his traveling companions and still middle-aged for a Hobbit. Perhaps it’s simply that making Frodo younger changes the focus of the story to a coming-of-age motif – and Tolkien wasn’t setting out to tell a coming-of-age tale.

Interesting side note: while checking out a little HoME for this post, I noticed that ‘Orlando’ and ‘Vigo’ [sic] were both considered as names for Hobbits in early versions of LotR. Hum The Twilight Zone theme with me...
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Old 02-25-2004, 11:22 AM   #26
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Tolkien could just as easily have made Frodo a contemporary of his younger companions, but he didn’t. Why?....Perhaps it’s simply that making Frodo younger changes the focus of the story to a coming-of-age motif – and Tolkien wasn’t setting out to tell a coming-of-age tale.
That's kind of what I thought. Tolkien wanted to tell a different kind of tale, one in which he desired a character who was already of age and had essentially become who they were going to become. In other words, a grown up who had lost most of their mischievousness and irresponsibility. The mission Frodo had to complete wouldn't have been finished had Frodo still been a mushroom-pinching youngster (and the same thing applies to Bilbo). I don't think his mind would've been strong enough for the task due to limited wisdom and experience and having less practice at mastering himself.

And once Tolkien decided that he wanted his hobbits to be sort of middle aged- why not pick 50? It's a nice, big, round number (a number that I would be if you doubled my age and then added a few more years) .
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Old 02-25-2004, 01:10 PM   #27
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Tolkien

Too true. I don't think Frodo could have completed the task if he had been young and mischievous. I think someone hit on earlier about Frodo having younger companions. I don't know the age of Fredgar, but does anyone feel like Frodo was lingering a bit long in youth? To me, it still feels like a (sort of) coming of age story. Maybe the movie may have changed my perception more, but I always felt that though Frodo was older, he still was trying to hang onto youth. Me being 22 and my last year in college, I feel like Frodo does. The paths are too well-trod. The views are all the same. Time for a change, time for something new. Maybe Tolkien was trying to give us messages are being complacent. In both the LOTR and the Hobbit, the characters were too well 'dug-in.' Bilbo was too set into his daily routine, and both Frodo and Bilbo was living the bachelor life too well. Notice he kept putting off leaving the Shire. He knew he could never come back to life the way it was if he left. *laughs* We sometimes get too set in our ways, it seems. Maybe age had nothing to do with it, but the idea that we become too comfortable where we are and don't put a mind to anything else.

Quote:
Interesting side note: while checking out a little HoME for this post, I noticed that ‘Orlando’ and ‘Vigo’ [sic] were both considered as names for Hobbits in early versions of LotR. Hum The Twilight Zone theme with me...
That is kinda strange. That's one for the Movie boards, Mister Underhill, sir. Lord knows what the fan girls would have thought of Viggo and Orlando being hobbits....
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Old 02-25-2004, 03:40 PM   #28
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I quite agree with Child of the 7th age and Phantom(and the others)
Bilbo, before departing on his 111th birthday, says about Frodo:
Quote:
"He would come with me (...) in fact he offered to (...) but he does not really want to yet.(...) But he is still in love with the Shire, with woods and fields and little rivers. (...) I hope he will be happy, when he gets used to being on his own. It's time he was his own master now."
Clearly, Bilbo thinks that at that point Frodo is not mature enough yet for leaving the Shire, but as he uses the word "still" he expects obviously that after a time Frodo will not be content anymore in the Shire and will have the urge to go on an adventurous trip.

At first I felt this was a bit strange - one would expect younger people to be more adventurous, and middleaged peole more settled and content.
But perhaps this is only so because young people have usually more freedom to travel about and make experiments , and when people are older they have a job and a family and responsibilities so they can't just take off so easily anymore, even if they'd like to!
That's probably why Tolkien made both Bilbo and Frodo bachelors without a family to tie them.
And Frodo finally does become a bit bored in the Shire:
Quote:
"I should like to save the Shire, if I could - though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them."
he tells Gandalf.
Well, if he felt like that about them already before the quest, no wonder he couldn't go on staying in their company afterwards...

I also agree very much with Liriodendron's posts.

For me personally, this "taking off at 50" is a funny coincidence, because I read the Hobbit and LotR for the first time at the age of 50!! Discovering Tolkien was quite a revelation ! It was just what I needed at this point of my life - it opened up a whole new world and made my life so much richer . Not only did I set out to explore Middle-earth and learn more and more about Tolkien, but thanks to this I also discovered the internet (and therein the Barrowdowns) (Before becoming engrossed with Tolkien I had never even used a computer!) Once I travel THERE it is often quite hard to com BACK AGAIN !
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Old 02-26-2004, 12:05 AM   #29
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Child of the 7th Age:
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And think how much our answer to this question influences our visual image of the characters!
This put me in mind of what's different at 20 than at 50 (besides . . . ) Somehow, it's not quite the big deal at 20 that it is at 50 to be going off into the great unknown of possible no return. At 20, I figured that's what I was supposed to do, else why be 20? At 50, there is the "Hmmm . . . wait a minute, here. Aren't I supposed to be all nestled & settled in my hard-won comfort having completed my quest begun in my 20's?" At 20, I was still so full of questions about okayness and rightness, and carrying invisible audiences around with me in my head. At 50, I have cheerfully waved goodbye to many of those impediments. You know, now that I think about it--if I'm really ready for an adventure/fated quest at 50, maybe I did something right after all! Maybe you live and survive the first 40 decades to be ready for your real quest!

I was reading one of the earlier letters Tolkien wrote to his son, Michael, about the relationship between the sexes. He says that one cannot truly be ready for love & marriage until later in life, and maybe not even then! He clearly thought age was a factor in handling life's serious matters.

Child again:
Quote:
One of Frodo's dilemmas at the end of the book is that he has lost the "Shire" in a personal (and not just geographical) sense. He can not get back to being the person he was when he was younger.
Please forgive if I repeat an earlier post in this thread, but I think I read very recently in Letters of . . . . Tolkien saying something about innocence and being overmatched by circumstances. I love Lyta Underhill's (sp?) signature--"Frodo could not live with having failed an impossible test." It is a powerful caveat that has stuck in my mind. The relationship between innocence and the "cold, hard world," is a deep well that perhaps another thread could (has?) dip into.

Mr. Underhill:
Quote:
Interesting side note: while checking out a little HoME for this post, I noticed that ‘Orlando’ and ‘Vigo’ [sic] were both considered as names for Hobbits in early versions of LotR. Hum The Twilight Zone theme with me...
LOL I actually caught myself humming . . . "do DO do do . . . "

Sleeping Beauty:
Quote:
I don't think Frodo could have completed the task if he had been young and mischievous.
Again, I think Tolkien (or someone else in this thread) said much the same thing. [This is sloppy, slack posting--I should be looking up the letter or post to reference it; however, my eyes are buggy and getting very heavy.]

Guinivere:
Quote:
For me personally, this "taking off at 50" is a funny coincidence, because I read the Hobbit and LotR for the first time at the age of 50!! Discovering Tolkien was quite a revelation
Wow. I almost wish . . . And I can't think of a better reason to engage the insanity of the cyber world than Tolkien.

Wonder what Tolkien would've said about computers & internet?

At any rate, I think we are all in agreement that Bilbo's & Frodo's age does make a difference. In Frodo's case, I think it carries more of an impact. At 50, you have a much better grasp of possiblities, limitations--you've been in the dark, stark parts of life a bit and much of the romanticism has gone the way of most other superfluous sentiment. The dreams that remain call more strongly; the knowledge of what it takes physically, mentally, and spiritually to sustain such an effort has been learned & earned the hard way. One is more tempered and prepared for both the known & unknown (I think that this was what Tolkien said.)

Maybe Tolkien made them 50 because he knew they'd never succeed otherwise--their mercy toward Gollum, Bilbo's relinquishing the Arkenstone, Frodo's commitment . . .
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Old 02-26-2004, 05:40 AM   #30
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And 40 is often regarded as the beginning of "middle age". Or we could figure things in terms of the death date. If the average hobbit dies at 92, then 50 is more than half-way there, making it again equivalent to about 40 years in human terms.
Ah! It makes me want to run out and paint my door green, maybe put up a few extra pegs by the door incase some dwarves drop by!


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A great doom awaits you, either to rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin. Many years of trial lie before you. You shall neither have wife, nor bind any woman to you in troth, until your time comes and you are found worthy of it. - Elrond to Aragorn - RoTK Appendix A
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It came to pass that when Aragorn was nine and forty years of age he returned from the perils on the dark confines of Mordor, were Sauron now dwelted again and was busy with evil. - RoTK Appendix A

At this same age (49) Aragorn betroths himself to Arwen at Cerin Amroth.

Basically, I bring this up for quite a few reasons, one being to point out that the importance of fifty-ish is not exclusive to hobbits.

Initially, I didn’t think much about the fact that Aragorn was so near 50 when he “plighted his troth”, but when one reads Elrond’s speech the significance seems much greater. Aragorn’s time had come and he was found worthy. (Of course he had hung around Gandalf quite a bit by than, so maybe the Istari’s notion of an appropriate age had rubbed off on him as well!)

I also find it curious that Tolkien specifically mentions ages, although he had previously said this took place nearly 30 years after meeting Arwen at age 20. It is as though he wanted to make sure we knew just how old the character was when this happened, and not just leave us to do the math on our own. So I do suspect that there is something significant about fifty(ish) in his eyes.

Can anybody find anymore references to 50 hidden somewhere?
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Old 02-26-2004, 06:09 AM   #31
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I thought of something that may or may not be relevant to this discussion, it's more of a personal opinion: making Frodo start his adventure at 50, after having lived an adequate number of years comfortably as the master of Bag End and enjoying the pleasures of hobbity life makes me feel less sorry for his inability to enjoy the Shire afterwards. If Frodo was in his tweens when he started out, his story would have been too heartbreaking, even if he would have succeeded in finishing his task. We would have had an immature halfling uprooted from the Shire that he still did not get enough of, forced to become a hero before his time. Frodo at 50 indeed gives the impression that he was 'asking for it', asking for a change, an adventure, though unaware in the beginning of its potential magnitude.

Also I agree with Sleeping Beauty that Frodo's story resembles a 'coming of age' one, he 'has grown in wisdom', as Saruman says to him.

The issue of whether or not he would have succeeded in his task were he any younger is an interesting one. IMO, he might have. Frodo was always a serious and introspective nature, and his close friendship with Bilbo shows him to be more mature than his years.

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I read the Hobbit and LotR for the first time at the age of 50
Guinevere, that's a wonderful coincidence!
Quote:
Interesting side note: while checking out a little HoME for this post, I noticed that ‘Orlando’ and ‘Vigo’ [sic] were both considered as names for Hobbits in early versions of LotR. Hum The Twilight Zone theme with me...
*decides to be original and hum The X Files theme*
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