Reading the beginning of the Hobbit is a pleasure, how the adventure invites itself into Bilbo's life and shifts it is intriguing. The book Playing at the World by Jon Peterson taught me about the "Visitation Theme" and that is through this lens that I was re-reading The Hobbit.
The first two works in the Visitation Theme that Peterson points at are King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard, 1885) and A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (Mark Twain, 1889). The latter title explains it all, a modern person visits another era or a mythical setting.
Peterson notes that a roleplaying game might be a powerful variation on the visitation theme. We are immersed in another era or a mythical setting. No wonder, this is Appendix N material.
Back to the Shire. One thing that always got me thinking but never bothered me was that the Shire looked 18th Century while the rest of the Middle-Earth felt straight out of Beowulf. The Drawing by Professor Tolkien shown here has a clock and barometer. Barometers became common in rich houses by the end of the 17th Century and pockets seem to have been added to vests in the 18th century... Distance in time.
Is Mr. Baggins visiting another era that starts as soon as the Shire ends? Maybe the Shire is a stepping stone for us. It is located in an England that Professor Tolkien experienced as a child. I remember my Grandfather in his farm surrounded by fog, that was fourty years ago and it was in another world. Stories told there could not be tagged with a timestamp, they had happened before and the time flew in a different way (in a different direction?).
In Glory Road (Heinlein, 1963), Gordon answers to a newspaper ad that asks "Are you a coward?" and becomes a visitor. But in Three Hearts and Three Lions (Poulson, 1961), Holger Carlsen is a danish resistant shot by the german forces and that turns him into a visitor to Charlemagne's court. Bilbo has the blood of the Old Took in his veins, but he is far from Gordon or Holger. A wizard and thirteen dwarves visit him and he finds himself running from his hole towards adventure in the east. Part Gordon, where he is offered a burglar job and part Holger, with being left almost no choice.
What direction does it go? Is the outer world inviting itself in the peaceful Shire or is Bilbo visiting that outer world? Was the Somme visiting a peaceful english shire and taking away its young men? What an unexpected party.