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Tolkien was a good artist to say the least. He did not have problems with perspective and whatnot in the other illustrations he made for The Hobbit, so that can't really be the explanation.

Yet, the final illustration in The Hobbit, drawn by Tolkien himself, shows a GIGANTIC door which Bilbo could not possibly reach up to the knob to open it, and it looks more like a large hall than a cozy hobbit hole.

I was frankly disappointed and frustrated by this last illustration in the very end of the book. Now I'm going to think of this instead of the far more cozy version which I had imagined in my head, and which is the one part which the movies got right.

I can almost swear that the outside didn't make it look this big, even in Tolkien's own illustrations...

enter image description here

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    Modern human mansions often have huge doors and even double doors. As Bilbo is a very well-to-do Hobbit, it could just be that he has an ostentatious door. Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 3:30
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    Don't forget that the door has to accommodate much larger beings that Hobbits. Humans for instance.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 7:13
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    @Paulie_D it doesn't have to, and unless you have evidence I see no reason Bag End should've been built to accommodate larger beings.Bilbo lived at Bag End before even meeting Gandalf for the first time or Dwarves/Men/Elves.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 7:32
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    Perhaps worse than the door is the height of the clock! Mr Bilbo would have to scramble up a stack of chairs just to pull the winding weight!
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 11:45
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    I think we have to go for an out-of-universe explanation. 1) Tolkien was more interested in showing hobbits' diminuitive stature more than realistic proportion. 2) Tolkien was an OK artist (certainly better than me) but not a great one. Hence his insistence on having Pauline Baynes illustrate his other works.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 17:40

3 Answers 3

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Tolkien seems to have not commented on it.

In J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull discuss this drawing, and note the proportion problems, but also note that Tolkien did not ever mention this in his correspondence with his publisher about this illustration.

The Hall at Bag-End, the last illustration in the book, is an intriguing interior. Tolkien enthusiasts have made many deductions about Hobbit culture and crafts from its contents. Tolkien himself was not happy with it: he confessed to Allen & Unwin that he had misguidedly put a shadow in wash behind the door. which in the line-engraving became all black and obscured a key in the lock. He said nothing to his publisher about the proportions of the door relative to Bilbo, but surely, as drawn the hobbit would have had to stand on a chair to reach the knob. The drawing has other odd features as well, For example the two framed mirrors on opposite sides of the door, one curved against the wall, the other flat and upright. But these are incidental faults, and they do not detract from the important aspect of the picture: its strong perspective along the lines of the tube-shaped hall to, and through, the open door. It says, on the one hand, that Bilbo is home again, comfortable and (to judge by his paunch) well-fed; but it also says. Look: the door is wide open, and there is the lane beginning just outside, going down The Hill and ‘ever ever on‘ (as Bilbo says in chapter 19), towards the horizon and adventure. Indeed, in less than a year after this drawing was made. Bilbo went once more into the east, in the sequel to The Hobbit Tolkien began to write in December 1937: The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator - "The Hobbit"

Nearly two decades later Hammond and Scull again discussed this illustration in their The Art of the Hobbit book, but did not have anything further to add about this.

The letter referred to has been partially printed in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

In the 'Hall at Bag-End' I misguidedly put in a wash shadow reaching right up to the side beam. This has of course come out black (with disappearance of the key) though not right up to the beam. But the print is I think as good as the original allows.
February 5th 1937 Letter to Allen & Unwin

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The door does seem rather large here. A few possible explanations:

  1. While not necessarily needing to be large enough to accommodate larger beings, it would need to be large enough to accommodate any and all furniture, deliveries, etc., as I presume there is definitely no other opening to get such things in.
  2. It was drawn a bit exaggerated to emphasize and symbolize the great wide world/adventure waiting outside.
  3. The perspective was difficult to draw correctly on the page dimensions, and the door is intended to appear further away from the viewer (and thus appear smaller) than it actually does.
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    This is fairly speculative. Do you have any evidence that one of these answers is correct?
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 20:13
  • Hobbit homes are holes built into hills. And we know he has furniture to accommodate a large group of guests. #2 is definitely speculative. #3 the illustration itself is the evidence.
    – Yar
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 19:17
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    The door is further away, and perspective would make it smaller than it actually is, thus, looking at the flat drawing and comparing things with recently calibrated finger calipers, that makes the door even bigger as Bilbo approaches it!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 11 at 13:00
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Most likely, the door was so large and ceiling so high so that Bag End could accommodate much taller visitors, such as Gandalf. The Shire hobbits had dealings with Men—obviously not the extent of the hobbits of Bree, who lived side by side with the Big People—but there seems to have been nothing particularly surprising to Bilbo in "An Unexpected Party" about having a Man come up to his door. Bilbo seemingly sees no impediment to inviting Gandalf to come back for tea at a later date, which suggests that Bag End must have been built to be large enough to accommodate Man-sized visitors without too much trouble.

This may not have been typical of all hobbit holes. The gentry were probably much more likely to have foreign Men as visitors than lower-class hobbits. However, Bilbo's family had a known history of friendship with Gandalf at least. His grandfather, the Old Took, was a particular friend of the wizard, and Gandalf mentions Bilbo's mother Belladonna as well, expressing mock shock that her son would treat him so shabbily. So it is entirely reasonable that Bungo and Belladonna—who were rich enough to afford it—would have built a hobbit hole large enough to accommodate much taller guests now and then.

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  • This seems highly speculative.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 7 at 22:02
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    @Valorum Except the part about Bungo and Belladonna. Commented Jun 8 at 0:46

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