What follows are speculative plot highlights from the The Hobbit, imagined if Bilbo had undertaken his “there and back again” adventure in AD 2014 instead of 2941 of the Third Age.
Bilbo Baggins, a seemingly ordinary yet, as we shall soon see, rather extraordinary little hobbit, lives at Bag End, a modestly proportioned, LEED-certified in-hill construction near the hamlet of Hobbiton. Ah, here he is now, his stocky frame hunched floorward as he removes a tray of organic carroway seed cakes — a personal favorite — from his natural-gas-fired oven…baking and eating being two activities any hobbit is fond of engaging in. Bilbo is comfortably middle class — well-off enough to hire a gardener to tend his vegetable patch, and to keep his home outfitted with the latest in Energy Star appliances, but lacking the wealth needed to relocate (as many of the hobbit 1% have done) to the walled community of Grey Havens out by the bay, with views over the Great Sea so fair one could almost claim to glimpse the towers of Numenor on the horizon. He works from a home office in his hobbit hole as an IT representative, assuring anxious hobbit customers that no, their computer isn’t broken…have they tried restarting it? By night, he scans travel websites, dreaming of how he’ll spend his two weeks of annual vacation, while overlooking the fact that he’s never actually used his vacation time to travel, despite repeatedly and publicly claiming (as anyone who spends more than a few moments within earshot could attest), “I’ve always wanted to visit the Sea of Rhun. You know, they say it’s the hidden gem of the Eastlands.”
Instead, Bilbo enjoys learning about the various places and cultures of Middle Earth through his role as a Couchsurfing host, which, as a matter of fact, is how he winds up meeting a band of 13 raucous dwarves and one aged but clearly mischievous wizard named Gandalf. After their visit had been arranged online, he rather doubted whether the dwarves, in the end, would come to stay at Bag End, knowing as he did how their race prefers sleeping in caves and wouldn’t be fond of the gluten-free / vegan pantry he very clearly advertised on his CS account page. But nonetheless, here they are knocking on the dual-paned smart-glass and reclaimed-river-ferry wood of his hobbit door. When the dwarves, upon entering, start in with an a cappella version of an old folk song, something concerning an ancient technique for manufacturing hammered goblets, the thought crosses Bilbo’s mind that this may be some new species of flash-mob action, and his nose wrinkles.
But no, the dwarves are legitimately on the road, making their way back East to Lonely Mountain, where resides a powerful dragon named Smaug the Golden, who, for the last 200 years or so, in the common reckoning, has been hoarding the most valuable of all modern treasures: technology patents. He now has such a monopoly on the patent market that the ordinarily industrious dwarves are unable to put into production any of their ingenious and delicate round-cornered touchscreen tablets (mobile data plans sold separately) for fear of legal action, and the only solution, in their minds, is to take Smaug’s patents by force. The dwarves tell Bilbo as much — while attempting clandestinely to deposit the hobbit’s no-bake pipe-weed cookies under the rug. Though at first Bilbo doubts the veracity of their tale, a quick Google search confirms the existence of Smaug and the great patent law crisis of Middle Earth, which has been described as “a roadblock to innovation and all that is good on this earth” in the op-eds of the Angmar Times. “Dear me, what a villainous plight,” mumbles the hobbit to himself, shuddering at the mere thought of dragons and armed conflict and trademark legalese. Imagine his shock, then, when the dwarves further reveal they’ve come to Bag End specifically to enlist him for their journey, convinced with dwarven fervor that the services of an IT expert will come in handy when confronting the dragon.
A high-pitched and somewhat unseemly argument ensues, with Bilbo steadfastly refusing the unexpected and, in his mind, overly forthright invitation. But Gandalf knows which button to push (he’s already scanned Bilbo’s browser history with a tap of his magic staff): “Bilbo, my boy, this may be the best chance you ever get in your short and rather inconsequential hobbit life to quit your job and travel the world.” (Yes, the wizard actually has the ability to hyperlink his speech.) Remarkably, this does the trick, but when the dwarves hand Bilbo his plane ticket to Lake Town, eastern hub of Fire Drake Airlines and closest port of call to Lonely Mountain, he turns them down flat: “I want an ‘authentic cultural experience.’ We go on foot, or I don’t go.” Gandalf sighs. Bilbo pulls from a closet and dusts off an 80-liter trekking pack, a never-used graduation gift from his mother (Belladonna Took, herself quite a renowned — or, from the perspective of the average Shire-dweller, infamous — wanderer, as seems to come naturally to most belonging to the Took lineage), double checks a few select webpages he’s bookmarked for just such an unlikely occasion — 40 travel accessories that will prepare you for anything, How to pack food for the backcountry — and the next morning they’re off. Before exiting the Shire’s 4g network coverage, he composes a tweet: “Finally doing it! So excited, and ever so overjoyed to announce to my cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses: suck it. #halflingburn”
The journey gets off to a rocky start when Fili, scouting ahead, is so engrossed in a Spotify playlist that Kili recently shared with him — it has all his favorites: “Ode to Mountaintop Removal,” “The Ballad of Thorin, Son of Thrain, Son of Thror,” etc. — that he doesn’t notice he’s led his companions into a den of Luddite trolls (less sophisticated relatives of the patent trolls of the East, many of which were hired by Smaug in order to amass his patent collection, and promptly eaten on completion of their contracts). After a somewhat uncomfortable few hours where the dwarves are kept in sacks while the three trolls debate how to cook them — Asian fusion vs. “Mordor style” (blackened) — Gandalf is able to distract the trolls relatively easily with a series of YouTube videos depicting kittens playing with balls of elvish twine, until the sun comes up and they’re turned to stone by its heavenly rays.
Following this embarrassing (for the dwarves) and trouser-soiling (for Bilbo) experience, the party is relieved to have the opportunity to spend time relaxing at Rivendell, the super-exclusive 7-star resort of the elves. Gandalf secures them a complimentary private suite by promising Elrond, property manager, favorable coverage in the next issue of Conde Naste. Bilbo, having never before seen the work of elvish masons, marvels at every detail of the hotel’s high-end design features through the pale glow of his smartphone, snapping photos of intricate botanical reliefs, cozy fireplace nooks, and innovative lighting solutions for dark corners, assigning each a clever and logical filename, and wistfully daydreaming about how they will later be cataloged in his ever-growing “Remodel Inspiration” board on Pinterest, which he curates diligently and, some might say, obsessively. Balin, on the other hand, cleaving to a stubborn dwarven aesthetic, is unimpressed, and uses a desktop in the business center to leave an anonymous TripAdvisor review hinting that Rivendell just might have a bedbug problem, closing with, “It’s no Moria.”
Despite Elrond’s generous offer of a digital copy of Middle Earth Trail Atlas (2014 Edition), Gandalf insists on employing Siri-based navigation via his new, unwieldily large (even for a wizard’s pocket) iPhone 6, having been a stalwart devotee to the Apple cause since early in the Third Age. Consequently, soon after the party departs the Last Homely House, they find themselves lost on a high, deserted 4×4 road in the Misty Mountains (the route was abandoned many years earlier upon construction of the Luthien Tunnel, a wonder of modern elvish engineering). They take shelter from a sudden snowstorm in a cave, not realizing the cavity is actually a disguised entrance to a top-secret military technology development laboratory, run under the auspices of a cloak-and-dagger government agency, codenamed “Necromancer.”