The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again
How we cite our quotes:
As I was saying, the mother of this particular hobbit — of Bilbo Baggins, that is — was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran on the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer. (1.4)
First of all, we find this passage hilarious because, in a few short words, Tolkien evokes how very hidebound and conservative the hobbits are. They may be cozy, happy people, but they also insist that no one does anything unexpected. And if someone does go and "have adventures," they'll exclude that "rebel" from hobbit society. This kind of exclusion would probably be really horrible for someone who only knows the world of the hobbits. But once you've seen the larger world, the bad opinion of a few people under The Hill probably seems a lot less serious – as, in fact, Bilbo discovers by the end of the novel.
"We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them," said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke-ring. Then he took out his morning letters, and began to read, pretending to take no more notice of [Gandalf]. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. (1.12)
(By the way, it took us a long time to figure out that when Bilbo says "braces," he doesn't mean the ones that go on your teeth. "Braces" is also an Anglo English word for "suspenders," which is what Bilbo actually means here.) So, Bilbo seems completely and totally dead-set against exploration. At what point during the Unexpected Party does Bilbo change his mind?
"All the same, I should like it all plain and clear," said [Bilbo] obstinately, putting on his business manner (usually reserved for people who tried to borrow money off him), and doing his best to appear wise and prudent and professional and live up to Gandalf's recommendation. "Also I should like to know about risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required and remuneration, and so forth" – by which he meant: "What am I going to get out of it? and am I going to come back alive?" (1.121)
Some of the humor in this first chapter comes from the fact that both Bilbo and Thorin regard his signing up to be a burglar on a quest for treasure as a "prudent and professional" business contract. In other words, we think that exploring foreign lands filled with goblins and dragons sounds exciting and romantic. But the dwarves and Bilbo keep using this formal legal language to keep things strictly business. The tone of these negotiations seems so at odds with the excitement of what they're planning!