Chapter I

A Long-expected Party

When Bilbo, son of Bungo of the family of Baggins, had celebrated prepared to celebrate his seventieth birthday there was for a day or two some talk in the neighbourhood. He had once had a little fleeting fame among the people of Hobbiton and Bywater – he had disappeared after breakfast one April 30th and not reappeared until lunchtime on June 22nd in the following year. A very odd proceeding for which he had never given any good reason, and of which he wrote a nonsensical account. After than he returned to normal ways; and the shaken confidence of the district was gradually restored, especially as Bilbo seemed by some unexplained method to have become more than comfortably off, if not positively wealthy. Indeed it was the magnificence of the party rather than the fleeting fame that at first caused all the talk – after all that other odd business had happened some twenty years before and was becoming decently forgotten. The magnificence of the preparations for the party, I should say. The field to the south of his front door was being covered with pavilions. Invitations were being sent out to all the Bagginses and all the Tooks (his relatives on his mother’s side), and to the Grubbs (only remotely connected); and to the Burroweses, the Boffinses, the Chubbses and the Proudfeet: none of whom were connected at all within the memory of the local historians – some of them lived on the other side of the shire; but they were all, of course, hobbits. Even the Sackville-Bagginses, his cousins on his father’s side, were not forgotten. There had been a feud between them and Mr Bilbo Baggins, as some of you may remember. But so splendid was the invitation-card, all written in gold, that they were induced to accept:; besides, their cousin had been specializing in good food for a long time, and his tables had a high reputation even in that time and country when food was still what it ought to be and abundant enough for all folk to practice on.

      Everyone expected a pleasant feast; though they rather dreaded the after-dinner speech of their host. He was liable to drag in bits of what he called poetry, and even to allude, after a glass or two, to the absurd adventures he said he had had long ago during his ridiculous vanishment. They had a very pleasant feast: indeed a engrossing entertainment. The purchase of provisions fell almost to zero throughout the whole shire during the ensuing week; but as Mr Baggins’ catering had emptied all the stores, cellars and warehouses for miles around, that did not matter. Then came the speech. Most of the assembled hobbits were now in a tolerant mood, and their former fears were forgotten. They were prepared to listen to anything, and to cheer at every full stop. But they were not prepared to be startled. But they were – completely and unprecedentedly startled; some even had indigestion.

  . . .

‘I have called you all together,’ Bilbo went on when the last cheer died away, and something in his voice made a few of the Tooks prick up their ears. ‘First of all to tell you that I am immensely fond of you, and that seventy years is too short a time to live among such excellent and charming hobbits’ – ‘hear hear!’ ‘I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and less than half of you half as well as you deserve.’ No cheers, a few claps – most of them were trying to work it out. ‘Secondly to celebrate my birthday and the twentieth year of my return’ – an uncomfortable rustle. ‘Lastly to make an Announcement.’ He said this very loud and everybody sat up who could. ‘Goodbye! I am going away after dinner. Also I am going to get married.’

      He sat down. The silence was flabbergastation. It was broken only by Mr Proudfoot, who kicked over the table; Mrs Proudfoot choked in the middle of a drink.

       That’s that. It merely serves to explain that Bilbo Baggins got married and had many children, because I am going to tell you a story about one of his descendants, and if you had only read his memoirs up to the date of Balin’s visit – ten years at least before this birthday party – you might have been puzzled.

       As a matter of fact Bilbo Baggins disappeared silently and unnoticed – the ring was in his hand even while he made his speech – in the middle of the confused outburst of talk that followed the flabbergasted silence. He was never seen in Hobbiton again.

                          J. R. R. Tolkien, 'The Return of the Shadow" (1988), pp.13-15
                          Vol. 6 of The History of Middle-earth, ed. C. Tolkien

From the first draft of the opening chapter of
Lord of the Rings