The Hobbit Hole has always been iconic, but think about what it says about the Hobbits, about Bilbo. It is small looking and unpretentious, close to the ground. But it is filled with luxuries and food! (I’ve always wondered how Hobbits, especially bachelor hobbits, always managed to have that much food on hand!) In a way, it is the perfect introvert’s home, buried and retiring. I don’t think it was just to make a word count that Tolkien has Frodo move out of the Hobbit Hole at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. While the Hole was perfect place for retiring, it was not a very good place to plot adventures from.
A character’s home is almost a manifesto of who they are. And characters that do not have a home, like Alan Breck in Kidnapped or Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, seem to be some of the most dogged and loyal to a place. Alan will never stop loving Scotland, and Aragon’s thoughts never seem to be far from Gondor. Is it a lack of a small place, such as a house, to call their own that causes them to cling so tenaciously to these larger places?
What the author writes says as much about them as it does about their characters. Take L.M. Montogmery’s impeccably neat yellow kitchen as opposed to the cool and aloof garden at F Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby party. The difference could not be plainer, one all rigid morals and good humor, the other lavish cynicism. Think of Plumfield in Little Men, bursting to the seams with people, mainly high-spirited and healthy boys. Then think of Badger’s house in The Wind in the Willows, where he lives alone and even his welcome mat is buried with snow (that’s not say that no one ever visits Badger, that’s just to say it is only People Who Matter to Him). What might these differences relate about Louisa May Alcott and Kenneth Grahame?
Most importantly, we-the-readers need these homes, in all of their various idealizations. We need to know that after everything is said and done, the character can go home and be safe at night. No matter how many quests and perils may lead them away, they always have something to go back to. And even those who never go on quests and never face perils need a place where they can be totally themselves; sometimes even a big and friendly world can seem too big and too friendly. When we watch the characters live out their lives, we need to know they have some small place that belongs to them.
That is how I would define “home.” It is a little bit of your world that belongs to you.
Do you have a favorite literary home? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!