AudioFile [Earphones Award]
The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing and Start Living a Richer, Happier Lifeby Tal Ben-Shahar PhD, Eric Conger
Do you want to be perfect? Or do you want to be happy?
We're all laboring under our own and society's expectations to be perfect in every wayto look younger, to make more money, to be happy all the time. But according to Tal Ben-Shahar, the New York Times bestselling author of Happier, the pursuit of perfect may actually be the number-one/i>/i>
Do you want to be perfect? Or do you want to be happy?
We're all laboring under our own and society's expectations to be perfect in every wayto look younger, to make more money, to be happy all the time. But according to Tal Ben-Shahar, the New York Times bestselling author of Happier, the pursuit of perfect may actually be the number-one internal obstacle to finding happiness.
Applying cutting-edge research in the field of positive psychologythe scientific principles taught in his wildly popular course at Harvard UniversityBen-Shahar takes us off the impossible pursuit of perfection and directs us to the way to happiness, richness, and true fulfillment. He shows us the freedom derived from not trying to do it all right all the time and the real lessons that failure and painful emotions can teach us. He provides exercises for self reflection, meditations, and “Time-Ins” to help you rediscover what you really want out of life.
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- HighBridge Company
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- Unabridged; 7 hours on 6 CDs
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Read an Excerpt
AN UNEXPECTED PARTY
IN A HOLE IN THE GROUND there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet
hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry,
bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was
a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green,
with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened
on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel
without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted,
provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and
coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on,
going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill—The
Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it—and many
little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on
another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms,
cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms
devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same
floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the
left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have
windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows
beyond, sloping down to the river.
This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was
Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for
time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not
only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had
any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a
Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.
This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself
doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the
neighbours' respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he
gained anything in the end.
The mother of our particular hobbit—what is a hobbit? I
suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have
become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or
were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the
bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic
about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to
disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me
come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can
hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they
dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes,
because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown
hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever
brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs
(especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can
get it). Now you know enough to go on with. As I was saying, the
mother of this 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 at 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.
Not that Belladonna Took ever had any adventures after she
became Mrs. Bungo Baggins. Bungo, that was Bilbo's father, built the
most luxurious hobbit-hole for her (and partly with her money) that
was to be found either under The Hill or over The Hill or across The
Water, and there they remained to the end of their days. Still it is
probable that Bilbo, her only son, although he looked and behaved
exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father,
got something a bit 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 years
old or so, and living in the beautiful hobbit-hole built by his
father, which I have just described for you, until he had in fact
apparently settled down immovably.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of
the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits
were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at
his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that
reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed)—Gandalf came
by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard
about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear,
you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and
adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the
most extraordinary fashion. He had not been down that way under The
Hill for ages and ages, not since his friend the Old Took died, in
fact, and the hobbits had almost forgotten what he looked like. He
had been away over The Hill and across The Water on businesses of his
own since they were all small hobbit-boys and hobbit-girls.
All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old
man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak,
a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his
waist, and immense black boots.
"Good Morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was
shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from
under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his
"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning,
or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that
you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
"All of them at once," said Bilbo. "And a very fine morning
for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you have a
pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There's no hurry,
we have all the day before us!" Then Bilbo sat down on a seat by his
door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke
that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over
"Very pretty!" said Gandalf. "But I have no time to blow
smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an
adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find
"I should think so—in these parts! 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 the old man. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and
wanted him to go away. But the old man did not move. He stood leaning
on his stick and gazing at the hobbit without saying anything, till
Bilbo got quite uncomfortable and even a little cross.
"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don't want any
adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The
Water." By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.
"What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!" said
Gandalf. "Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it
won't be good till I move off."
"Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don't
think I know your name?"
"Yes, yes, my dear sir—and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo
Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don't remember that I
belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I
should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son, as
if I was selling buttons at the door!"
"Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard
that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened
themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who
used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and
goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected
luck of widows' sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly
excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on
Midsummer's Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and
snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all
evening!" You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so
prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of
flowers. "Dear me!" he went on. "Not the Gandalf who was responsible
for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad
adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves—or sailing
in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite
inter—I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon
a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in
"Where else should I be?" said the wizard. "All the same I am
pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember
my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope.
Indeed for your old grandfather Took's sake, and for the sake of poor
Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for."
"I beg your pardon, I haven't asked for anything!"
"Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact
I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for
me, very good for you—and profitable too, very likely, if you ever
get over it."
"Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today.
Good morning! But please come to tea—any time you like! Why not
tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!" With that the hobbit turned and
scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he
dared, not to seem rude. Wizards after all are wizards.
"What on earth did I ask him to tea for!" he said to himself,
as he went to the pantry. He had only just had breakfast, but he
thought a cake or two and a drink of something would do him good
after his fright.
Gandalf in the meantime was still standing outside the door,
and laughing long but quietly. After a while he stepped up, and with
the spike on his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit's
beautiful green front-door. Then he strode away, just about the time
when Bilbo was finishing his second cake and beginning to think that
he had escaped adventures very well.
The next day he had almost forgotten about Gandalf. He did
not remember things very well, unless he put them down on his
Engagement Tablet: like this: Gandalf Tea Wednesday. Yesterday he had
been too flustered to do anything of the kind.
Just before tea-time there came a tremendous ring on the
front-door bell, and then he remembered! He rushed and put on the
kettle, and put out another cup and saucer, and an extra cake or two,
and ran to the door.
"I am so sorry to keep you waiting!" he was going to say,
when he saw that it was not Gandalf at all. It was a dwarf with a
blue beard tucked into a golden belt, and very bright eyes under his
dark-green hood. As soon as the door was opened, he pushed inside,
just as if he had been expected.
He hung his hooded cloak on the nearest peg, and "Dwalin at
your service!" he said with a low bow.
"Bilbo Baggins at yours!" said the hobbit, too surprised to
ask any questions for the moment. When the silence that followed had
become uncomfortable, he added: "I am just about to take tea; pray
come and have some with me." A little stiff perhaps, but he meant it
kindly. And what would you do, if an uninvited dwarf came and hung
his things up in your hall without a word of explanation?
They had not been at table long, in fact they had hardly
reached the third cake, when there came another even louder ring at
"Excuse me!" said the hobbit, and off he went to the door.
"So you have got here at last!" That was what he was going to
say to Gandalf this time. But it was not Gandalf. Instead there was a
very old-looking dwarf on the step with a white beard and a scarlet
hood; and he too hopped inside as soon as the door was open, just as
if he had been invited.
"I see they have begun to arrive already," he said when he
caught sight of Dwalin's green hood hanging up. He hung his red one
next to it, and "Balin at your service!" he said with his hand on his
"Thank you!" said Bilbo with a gasp. It was not the correct
thing to say, but they have begun to arrive had flustered him badly.
He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and
he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the
cakes might run short, and then he—as the host: he knew his duty and
stuck to it however painful—he might have to go without.
"Come along in, and have some tea!" he managed to say after
taking a deep breath.
"A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to
you, my good sir," said Balin with the white beard. "But I don't mind
some cake—seed-cake, if you have any."
"Lots!" Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise;
and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint
beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-
cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
When he got back Balin and Dwalin were talking at the table
like old friends (as a matter of fact they were brothers). Bilbo
plumped down the beer and the cake in front of them, when loud came a
ring at the bell again, and then another ring.
"Gandalf for certain this time," he thought as he puffed
along the passage. But it was not. It was two more dwarves, both with
blue hoods, silver belts, and yellow beards; and each of them carried
a bag of tools and a spade. In they hopped, as soon as the door began
to open—Bilbo was hardly surprised at all.
"What can I do for you, my dwarves?" he said.
"Kili at your service!" said the one. "And Fili!" added the
other; and they both swept off their blue hoods and bowed.
"At yours and your family's!" replied Bilbo, remembering his
manners this time.
"Dwalin and Balin here already, I see," said Kili. "Let us
join the throng!"
"Throng!" thought Mr. Baggins. "I don't like the sound of
that. I really must sit down for a minute and collect my wits, and
have a drink." He had only just had a sip—in the corner, while the
four dwarves sat round the table, and talked about mines and gold and
troubles with the goblins, and the depredations of dragons, and lots
of other things which he did not understand, and did not want to, for
they sounded much too adventurous—when, ding-dong-a-ling-dang, his
bell rang again, as if some naughty little hobbit-boy was trying to
pull the handle off.
"Someone at the door!" he said, blinking.
"Some four, I should say by the sound," said Fili. "Besides,
we saw them coming along behind us in the distance."
The poor little hobbit sat down in the hall and put his head
in his hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to
happen, and whether they would all stay to supper. Then the bell rang
again louder than ever, and he had to run to the door. It was not
four after all, it was FIVE. Another dwarf had come along while he
was wondering in the hall. He had hardly turned the knob, before they
were all inside, bowing and saying "at your service" one after
another. Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, and Gloin were their names; and very
soon two purple hoods, a grey hood, a brown hood, and a white hood
were hanging on the pegs, and off they marched with their broad hands
stuck in their gold and silver belts to join the others. Already it
had almost become a throng. Some called for ale, and some for porter,
and one for coffee, and all of them for cakes; so the hobbit was kept
very busy for a while.
A big jug of coffee had just been set in the hearth, the seed-
cakes were gone, and the dwarves were starting on a round of buttered
scones, when there came—a loud knock. Not a ring, but a hard rat-tat
on the hobbit's beautiful green door. Somebody was banging with a
Bilbo rushed along the passage, very angry, and altogether
bewildered and bewuthered—this was the most awkward Wednesday he ever
remembered. He pulled open the door with a jerk, and they all fell
in, one on top of the other. More dwarves, four more! And there was
Gandalf behind, leaning on his staff and laughing. He had made quite
a dent on the beautiful door; he had also, by the way, knocked out
the secret mark that he had put there the morning before.
"Carefully! Carefully!" he said. "It is not like you, Bilbo,
to keep friends waiting on the mat, and then open the door like a pop-
gun! Let me introduce Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and especially Thorin!"
"At your service!" said Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur standing in
a row. Then they hung up two yellow hoods and a pale green one; and
also a sky-blue one with a long silver tassel. This last belonged to
Thorin, an enormously important dwarf, in fact no other than the
great Thorin Oakenshield himself, who was not at all pleased at
falling flat on Bilbo's mat with Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur on top of
him. For one thing Bombur was immensely fat and heavy. Thorin indeed
was very haughty, and said nothing about service; but poor Mr.
Baggins said he was sorry so many times, that at last he
grunted "pray don't mention it," and stopped frowning.
"Now we are all here!" said Gandalf, looking at the row of
thirteen hoods—the best detachable party hoods—and his own hat
hanging on the pegs. "Quite a merry gathering! I hope there is
something left for the late-comers to eat and drink! What's that?
Tea! No thank you! A little red wine, I think for me."
"And for me," said Thorin.
"And raspberry jam and apple-tart," said Bifur.
"And mince-pies and cheese," said Bofur.
"And pork-pie and salad," said Bombur.
"And more cakes—and ale—and coffee, if you don't mind,"
called the other dwarves through the door.
"Put on a few eggs, there's a good fellow!" Gandalf called
after him, as the hobbit stumped off to the pantries. "And just bring
out the cold chicken and pickles!"
"Seems to know as much about the inside of my larders as I do
myself!" thought Mr. Baggins, who was feeling positively flummoxed,
and was beginning to wonder whether a most wretched adventure had not
come right into his house. By the time he had got all the bottles and
dishes and knives and forks and glasses and plates and spoons and
things piled up on big trays, he was getting very hot, and red in the
face, and annoyed.
"Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!" he said
aloud. "Why don't they come and lend a hand?" Lo and behold! there
stood Balin and Dwalin at the door of the kitchen, and Fili and Kili
behind them, and before he could say knife they had whisked the trays
and a couple of small tables into the parlour and set out everything
Gandalf sat at the head of the party with the thirteen
dwarves all round: and Bilbo sat on a stool at the fireside, nibbling
at a biscuit (his appetite was quite taken away), and trying to look
as if this was all perfectly ordinary and not in the least an
adventure. The dwarves ate and ate, and talked and talked, and time
got on. At last they pushed their chairs back, and Bilbo made a move
to collect the plates and glasses.
"I suppose you will all stay to supper?" he said in his
politest unpressing tones.
"Of course!" said Thorin. "And after. We shan't get through
the business till late, and we must have some music first. Now to
Thereupon the twelve dwarves—not Thorin, he was too
important, and stayed talking to Gandalf—jumped to their feet, and
made tall piles of all the things. Off they went, not waiting for
trays, balancing columns of plates, each with a bottle on the top,
with one hand, while the hobbit ran after them almost squeaking with
fright: "please be careful!" and "please, don't trouble! I can
manage." But the dwarves only started to sing:
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates—
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you've finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! carefully with the plates!
And of course they did none of these dreadful things, and
everything was cleaned and put away safe as quick as lightning, while
the hobbit was turning round and round in the middle of the kitchen
trying to see what they were doing. Then they went back, and found
Thorin with his feet on the fender smoking a pipe. He was blowing the
most enormous smoke-rings, and wherever he told one to go, it went—up
the chimney, or behind the clock on the mantelpiece, or under the
table, or round and round the ceiling; but wherever it went it was
not quick enough to escape Gandalf. Pop! he sent a smaller smoke-ring
from his short clay-pipe straight through each one of Thorin's. Then
Gandalf's smoke-ring would go green and come back to hover over the
wizard's head. He had a cloud of them about him already, and in the
dim light it made him look strange and sorcerous. Bilbo stood still
and watched—he loved smoke-rings—and then he blushed to think how
proud he had been yesterday morning of the smoke-rings he had sent up
the wind over The Hill.
"Now for some music!" said Thorin. "Bring out the
Kili and Fili rushed for their bags and brought back little
fiddles; Dori, Nori, and Ori brought out flutes from somewhere inside
their coats; Bombur produced a drum from the hall; Bifur and Bofur
went out too, and came back with clarinets that they had left among
the walking-sticks. Dwalin and Balin said: "Excuse me, I left mine in
the porch!" "Just bring mine in with you!" said Thorin. They came
back with viols as big as themselves, and with Thorin's harp wrapped
in a green cloth. It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin
struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo
forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under
strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole
under The Hill.
The dark came into the room from the little window that
opened in the side of The Hill; the firelight flickered—it was April—
and still they played on, while the shadow of Gandalf's beard wagged
against the wall.
The dark filled all the room, and the fire died down, and the
shadows were lost, and still they played on. And suddenly first one
and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing
of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes; and this is
like a fragment of their song, if it can be like their song without
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.
For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.
On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.
Goblets they carved there for themselves
And harps of gold; where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.
The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.
The bells were ringing in the dale
And men looked up with faces pale;
Then dragon's ire more fierce than fire
Laid low their towers and houses frail.
The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled their hall to dying fall
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.
Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him!
As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things
made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a
fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then
something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the
great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and
explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He
looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the
trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark
caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up—
probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering
dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He
shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End,
He got up trembling. He had less than half a mind to fetch
the lamp, and more than half a mind to pretend to, and go and hide
behind the beer-barrels in the cellar, and not come out again until
all the dwarves had gone away. Suddenly he found that the music and
the singing had stopped, and they were all looking at him with eyes
shining in the dark.
"Where are you going?" said Thorin, in a tone that seemed to
show that he guessed both halves of the hobbit's mind.
"What about a little light?" said Bilbo apologetically.
"We like the dark," said all the dwarves. "Dark for dark
business! There are many hours before dawn."
"Of course!" said Bilbo, and sat down in a hurry. He missed
the stool and sat in the fender, knocking over the poker and shovel
with a crash.
"Hush!" said Gandalf. "Let Thorin speak!" And this is how
"Gandalf, dwarves and Mr. Baggins! We are met together in the
house of our friend and fellow conspirator, this most excellent and
audacious hobbit—may the hair on his toes never fall out! all praise
to his wine and ale! He paused for breath and for a polite remark
from the hobbit, but the compliments were quite lost on poor Bilbo
Baggins, who was wagging his mouth in protest at being called
audacious and worst of all fellow conspirator, though no noise came
out, he was so flummoxed. So Thorin went on:
"We are met to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and
devices. We shall soon before the break of day start on our long
journey, a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all of us
(except our friend and counsellor, the ingenious wizard Gandalf) may
never return. It is a solemn moment. Our object is, I take it, well
known to us all. To the estimable Mr. Baggins, and perhaps to one or
two of the younger dwarves (I think I should be right in naming Kili
and Fili, for instance), the exact situation at the moment may
require a little brief explanation—"
This was Thorin's style. He was an important dwarf. If he had
been allowed, he would probably have gone on like this until he was
out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not
known already. But he was rudely interrupted. Poor Bilbo couldn't
bear it any longer. At may never return he began to feel a shriek
coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an
engine coming out of a tunnel. All the dwarves sprang up, knocking
over the table. Gandalf struck a blue light on the end of his magic
staff, and in its firework glare the poor little hobbit could be seen
kneeling on the hearth-rug, shaking like a jelly that was melting.
Then he fell flat on the floor, and kept on calling out "struck by
lightning, struck by lightning!" over and over again; and that was
all they could get out of him for a long time. So they took him and
laid him out of the way on the drawing-room sofa with a drink at his
elbow, and they went back to their dark business.
"Excitable little fellow," said Gandalf, as they sat down
again. "Gets funny queer fits, but he is one of the best, one of the
best—as fierce as a dragon in a pinch."
If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize
that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even
to Old Took's great-grand-uncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a
hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the
goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked
their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a
hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in
this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same
In the meanwhile, however, Bullroarer's gentler descendant
was reviving in the drawing-room. After a while and a drink he crept
nervously to the door of the parlour. This is what he heard, Gloin
speaking: "Humph!" (or some snort more or less like that). "Will he
do, do you think? It is all very well for Gandalf to talk about this
hobbit being fierce, but one shriek like that in a moment of
excitement would be enough to wake the dragon and all his relatives,
and kill the lot of us. I think it sounded more like fright than
excitement! In fact, if it had not been for the sign on the door, I
should have been sure we had come to the wrong house. As soon as I
clapped eyes on the little fellow bobbing and puffing on the mat, I
had my doubts. He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!"
Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side
had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be
thought fierce. As for little fellow bobbing on the mat it almost
made him really fierce. Many a time afterwards the Baggins part
regretted what he did now, and he said to himself: "Bilbo, you were a
fool; you walked right in and put your foot in it."
"Pardon me," he said, "if I have overheard words that you
were saying. I don't pretend to understand what you are talking
about, or your reference to burglars, but I think I am right in
believing" (this is what he called being on his dignity) "that you
think I am no good. I will show you. I have no signs on my door—it
was painted a week ago—, and I am quite sure you have come to the
wrong house. As soon as I saw your funny faces on the door-step, I
had my doubts. But treat it as the right one. Tell me what you want
done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of
East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert. I had a great-
great-great-grand-uncle once, Bullroarer Took, and—"
"Yes, yes, but that was long ago," said Gloin. "I was talking
about you. And I assure you there is a mark on this door—the usual
one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of
Excitement and reasonable Reward, that's how it is usually read. You
can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some
of them do. It's all the same to us. Gandalf told us that there was a
man of the sort in these parts looking for a Job at once, and that he
had arranged for a meeting here this Wednesday tea-time."
"Of course there is a mark," said Gandalf. "I put it there
myself. For very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth
man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one
say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at
thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging
He scowled so angrily at Gloin that the dwarf huddled back in
his chair; and when Bilbo tried to open his mouth to ask a question,
he turned and frowned at him and stuck out his bushy eyebrows, till
Bilbo shut his mouth tight with a snap. "That's right," said
Gandalf. "Let's have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and
that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a
Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in
him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.
You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet. Now Bilbo, my boy, fetch
the lamp, and let's have a little light on this!"
On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shade he
spread a piece of parchment rather like a map.
"This was made by Thror, your grandfather, Thorin," he said
in answer to the dwarves' excited questions. "It is a plan of the
"I don't see that this will help us much," said Thorin
disappointedly after a glance. "I remember the Mountain well enough
and the lands about it. And I know where Mirkwood is, and the
Withered Heath where the great dragons bred."
"There is a dragon marked in red on the Mountain," said
Balin, "but it will be easy enough to find him without that, if ever
we arrive there."
"There is one point that you haven't noticed," said the
wizard, "and that is the secret entrance. You see that rune on the
West side, and the hand pointing to it from the other runes? That
marks a hidden passage to the Lower Halls." (Look at the map at the
beginning of this book, and you will see there the runes.)
"It may have been secret once," said Thorin, "but how do we
know that it is secret any longer? Old Smaug has lived there long
enough now to find out anything there is to know about those caves."
"He may—but he can't have used it for years and years."
"Because it is too small. 'Five feet high the door and three
may walk abreast' say the runes, but Smaug could not creep into a
hole that size, not even when he was a young dragon, certainly not
after devouring so many of the dwarves and men of Dale."
"It seems a great big hole to me," squeaked Bilbo (who had no
experience of dragons and only of hobbit-holes). He was getting
excited and interested again, so that he forgot to keep his mouth
shut. He loved maps, and in his hall there hung a large one of the
Country Round with all his favourite walks marked on it in red
ink. "How could such a large door be kept secret from everybody
outside, apart from the dragon?" he asked. He was only a little
hobbit you must remember.
"In lots of ways," said Gandalf. "But in what way this one
has been hidden we don't know without going to see. From what it says
on the map I should guess there is a closed door which has been made
to look exactly like the side of the Mountain. That is the usual
dwarves' method—I think that is right, isn't it?"
"Quite right," said Thorin.
"Also," went on Gandalf, "I forgot to mention that with the
map went a key, a small and curious key. Here it is!" he said, and
handed to Thorin a key with a long barrel and intricate wards, made
of silver. "Keep it safe!"
"Indeed I will," said Thorin, and he fastened it upon a fine
chain that hung about his neck and under his jacket. "Now things
begin to look more hopeful. This news alters them much for the
better. So far we have had no clear idea what to do. We thought of
going East, as quiet and careful as we could, as far as the Long
Lake. After that the trouble would begin—."
"A long time before that, if I know anything about the roads
East," interrupted Gandalf.
"We might go from there up along the River Running," went on
Thorin taking no notice, "and so to the ruins of Dale—the old town in
the valley there, under the shadow of the Mountain. But we none of us
liked the idea of the Front Gate. The river runs right out of it
through the great cliff at the South of the Mountain, and out of it
comes the dragon too—far too often, unless he has changed his habits."
"That would be no good," said the wizard, "not without a
mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are
busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood
heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts
are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles
or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore
legendary). That is why I settled on burglary—especially when I
remembered the existence of a Side-door. And here is our little Bilbo
Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar. So now let's
get on and make some plans."
"Very well then," said Thorin, "supposing the burglar-expert
gives us some ideas or suggestions." He turned with mock-politeness
"First I should like to know a bit more about things," said
he, feeling all confused and a bit shaky inside, but so far still
Tookishly determined to go on with things. "I mean about the gold and
the dragon, and all that, and how it got there, and who it belongs
to, and so on and further."
"Bless me!" said Thorin, "haven't you got a map? and didn't
you hear our song? and haven't we been talking about all this for
"All the same, I should like it all plain and clear," said he
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 forthby which
he meant: "What am I going to get out of it? and am I going to come
"O very well," said Thorin. "Long ago in my grandfather
Thror's time our family was driven out of the far North, and came
back with all their wealth and their tools to this Mountain on the
map. It had been discovered by my far ancestor, Thrain the Old, but
now they mined and they tunnelled and they made huger halls and
greater workshops—and in addition I believe they found a good deal of
gold and a great many jewels too. Anyway they grew immensely rich and
famous, and my grandfather was King under the Mountain again, and
treated with great reverence by the mortal men, who lived to the
South, and were gradually spreading up the Running River as far as
the valley overshadowed by the Mountain. They built the merry town of
Dale there in those days. Kings used to send for our smiths, and
reward even the least skillful most richly. Fathers would beg us to
take their sons as apprentices, and pay us handsomely, especially in
food-supplies, which we never bothered to grow or find for ourselves.
Altogether those were good days for us, and the poorest of us had
money to spend and to lend, and leisure to make beautiful things just
for the fun of it, not to speak of the most marvellous and magical
toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days.
So my grandfather's halls became full of armour and jewels and
carvings and cups, and the toy market of Dale was the wonder of the
"Undoubtedly that was what brought the dragon. Dragons steal
gold and jewels, you know, from men and elves and dwarves, wherever
they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live
(which is practically for ever, unless they are killed), and never
enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work
from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of the current
market value; and they can't make a thing for themselves, not even
mend a little loose scale of their armour. There were lots of dragons
in the North in those days, and gold was probably getting scarce up
there, with the dwarves flying south or getting killed, and all the
general waste and destruction that dragons make going from bad to
worse. There was a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm
called Smaug. One day he flew up into the air and came south. The
first we heard of it was a noise like a hurricane coming from the
North, and the pine-trees on the Mountain creaking and cracking in
the wind. Some of the dwarves who happened to be outside (I was one
luckily—a fine adventurous lad in those days, always wandering about,
and it saved my life that day)—well, from a good way off we saw the
dragon settle on our mountain in a spout of flame. Then he came down
the slopes and when he reached the woods they all went up in fire. By
that time all the bells were ringing in Dale and the warriors were
arming. The dwarves rushed out of their great gate; but there was the
dragon waiting for them. None escaped that way. The river rushed up
in steam and a fog fell on Dale, and in the fog the dragon came on
them and destroyed most of the warriors—the usual unhappy story, it
was only too common in those days. Then he went back and crept in
through the Front Gate and routed out all the halls, and lanes, and
tunnels, alleys, cellars, mansions and passages. After that there
were no dwarves left alive inside, and he took all their wealth for
himself. Probably, for that is the dragons' way, he has piled it all
up in a great heap far inside, and sleeps on it for a bed. Later he
used to crawl out of the great gate and come by night to Dale, and
carry away people, especially maidens, to eat, until Dale was ruined,
and all the people dead or gone. What goes on there now I don't know
for certain, but I don't suppose any one lives nearer to the Mountain
than the far edge of the Long Lake now-a-days.
"The few of us that were well outside sat and wept in hiding,
and cursed Smaug; and there we were unexpectedly joined by my father
and my grandfather with singed beards. They looked very grim but they
said very little. When I asked how they had got away, they told me to
hold my tongue, and said that one day in the proper time I should
know. After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as
best we could up and down the lands, often enough sinking as low as
blacksmith-work or even coalmining. But we have never forgotten our
stolen treasure. And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit
laid by and are not so badly off"—here Thorin stroked the gold chain
round his neck—"we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses
home to Smaug—if we can.
"I have often wondered about my father's and my grandfather's
escape. I see now they must have had a private Side-door which only
they knew about. But apparently they made a map, and I should like to
know how Gandalf got hold of it, and why it did not come down to me,
the rightful heir."
"I did not 'get hold of it,' I was given it," said the
wizard. "Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the
mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin."
"Curse his name, yes," said Thorin.
"And Thrain your father went away on the twenty-first of
April, a hundred years ago last Thursday, and has never been seen by
"True, true," said Thorin.
"Well, your father gave me this to give to you; and if I have
chosen my own time and way for handing it over, you can hardly blame
me, considering the trouble I had to find you. Your father could not
remember his own name when he gave me the paper, and he never told me
yours; so on the whole I think I ought to be praised and thanked!
Here it is," said he handing the map to Thorin.
"I don't understand," said Thorin, and Bilbo felt he would
have liked to say the same. The explanation did not seem to explain.
"Your grandfather," said the wizard slowly and grimly, "gave
the map to his son for safety before he went to the mines of Moria.
Your father went away to try his luck with the map after your
grandfather was killed; and lots of adventures of a most unpleasant
sort he had, but he never got near the Mountain. How he got there I
don't know, but I found him a prisoner in the dungeons of the
"Whatever were you doing there?" asked Thorin with a shudder,
and all the dwarves shivered.
"Never you mind. I was finding things out, as usual; and a
nasty dangerous business it was. Even I, Gandalf, only just escaped.
I tried to save your father, but it was too late. He was witless and
wandering, and had forgotten almost everything except the map and the
"We have long ago paid the goblins of Moria," said
Thorin; "we must give a thought to the Necromancer."
"Don't be absurd! He is an enemy far beyond the powers of all
the dwarves put together, if they could all be collected again from
the four corners of the world. The one thing your father wished was
for his son to read the map and use the key. The dragon and the
Mountain are more than big enough tasks for you!"
"Hear, hear!" said Bilbo, and accidentally said it aloud.
"Hear what?" they all said turning suddenly towards him, and
he was so flustered that he answered "Hear what I have got to say!"
"What's that?" they asked.
"Well, I should say that you ought to go East and have a look
round. After all there is the Side-door, and dragons must sleep
sometimes, I suppose. If you sit on the door-step long enough, I
daresay you will think of something. And well, don't you know, I
think we have talked long enough for one night, if you see what I
mean. What about bed, and an early start, and all that? I will give
you a good breakfast before you go."
"Before we go, I suppose you mean," said Thorin. "Aren't you
the burglar? And isn't sitting on the door-step your job, not to
speak of getting inside the door? But I agree about bed and
breakfast. I like six eggs with my ham, when starting on a journey:
fried not poached, and mind you don't break 'em."
After all the others had ordered their breakfasts without so
much as a please (which annoyed Bilbo very much), they all got up.
The hobbit had to find room for them all, and filled all his spare-
rooms and made beds on chairs and sofas, before he got them all
stowed and went to his own little bed very tired and not altogether
happy. One thing he did make his mind up about was not to bother to
get up very early and cook everybody else's wretched breakfast. The
Tookishness was wearing off, and he was not now quite so sure that he
was going on any journey in the morning.
As he lay in bed he could hear Thorin still humming to
himself in the best bedroom next to him:
Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To find our long-forgotten gold.
Bilbo went to sleep with that in his ears, and it gave him
very uncomfortable dreams. It was long after the break of day, when
he woke up.
Copyright 1937 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
Copyright © 1966 by J.R.R. Tolkien
Copyright © renewed 1994 by Christopher R. Tolkien, John F.R. Tolkien
and Priscilla M.A.R. Tolkien
Copyright © restored 1996 by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, assigned
1997 to the J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Meet the Author
Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, New York Times-bestselling author of Happier, taught the largest course at Harvard on “Positive Psychology” and the third largest on “The Psychology of Leadership,” attracting 1,400 students per semester—approximately 20 percent of all Harvard graduates. Ben-Shahar graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy and psychology, and for the last fifteen years has been teaching leadership, education, ethics, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, and mindfulness. He is the author of the international best sellers Happier and Being Happy, which have been translated into 25 languages. An avid sportsman, Tal won the U.S. Intercollegiate and Israeli National squash championships.
ERIC CONGER has voiced over 150 fiction and nonfiction audiobooks. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Paris, he also works as a writer and playwright (The Eclectic Society. He lives in Weehawken, New Jersey, with his wife, Gayle, and two children.
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