Bilbo Baggins, a not-so-respectable but very rich Hobbit living in the Shire, has been settled in his house at Bag End for quite a while.
Sixty years before, Bilbo went on an adventure and came back with a great deal of gold.
Ever since then, his fellow Hobbits have thought him "very rich and very peculiar" (1.1.2).
Bilbo is also unusually well-preserved (translation: he looks good for an old dude.) Even though he is now over a hundred years old, he has looked mostly unchanged since his fifties.
The local people comment wisely, "It will have to be paid for [...] It isn't natural, and trouble will come of it!" (1.1.3)
When Bilbo is ninety-nine years old, he adopts his favorite younger relative, Frodo, to be his heir. Frodo comes to live with Bilbo at Bag End.
Twelve years later (yeah, we know), Bilbo and Frodo are planning a combined birthday party. They both have the same birthday: September 22. (First day of fall!)
Bilbo is turning "eleventy-one" (1.1.6) – one hundred and eleven – and Frodo is turning thirty-three, the year of a Hobbit's coming-of-age. There's going to be a huge party, and the whole Shire is talking about it.
One of the major sources of information on this party is Ham Gamgee, the gardener at Bag End, also known as the Gaffer. (A gaffer is British slang for an old man.)
The Gaffer likes to hang out at a local inn and gossip about Bilbo. He's extremely loyal to Bilbo, but he's still happy to tell his friends everything he knows about Bilbo, Frodo, and Frodo's family connections.
Frodo's mother was a Brandybuck (a Hobbit from near the Brandywine River); her name was Primula. She married Drogo Baggins, Bilbo's second cousin.
Sad alert: Primula and Drogo drowned while boating on the Brandywine River during a visit to Primula's father, Gorbadoc Brandybuck.
Frodo lived for a while at Brandy Hall with his hundreds of extended relatives, but finally, Bilbo came along and brought him to Bag End.
The Gaffer thinks that this adoption was "a nasty shock for those Sackville-Bagginses. They thought they were going to get Bag End, that time when he went off and was thought dead. And then he comes back and orders them off [...] And suddenly he produces an heir and has all the papers made out proper" (1.1.18). Man, he's got a lot of opinions.
The Gaffer mentions that his son, Samwise Gamgee, also works at Bag End.
Bilbo has taught Sam how to read and has filled his head with "stories of the old days" (1.1.20).
The Gaffer praises Bilbo for doing things "proper at Bag End" (1.1.24).
Bilbo is generous with his money, and the whole Shire has been invited to his birthday party.
In the second week of September, an old man arrives with a large cart; it's Gandalf the Wizard, with a cargo of special fireworks.
He asks Bilbo if he "mean[s] to go on with [his] plan then?" (1.1.33).
Bilbo agrees; after all, he needs a holiday. (What this plan is, we still don't know.)
Carts keep rolling up to Bag End for the rest of September, loaded up with party supplies.
Finally, the day comes and the whole Shire is at a fever pitch of excitement. Party time!
It's Hobbit tradition to give presents at your own birthday party (kind of like party favors), and the presents at Bilbo's party are unusually nice.
Everyone eats a lot, enjoys the fireworks, and generally has a grand old time.
After the feast, Bilbo stands up for a speech.
He addresses the crowd: "My dear Bagginses and Boffins [...] and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots" (1.1.55). (Just to give you an idea of the hilarious names you'll encounter...)
They all cheer and clap, but then Bilbo starts to lose them. He says, "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve" (1.1.60).
The Hobbits are having some trouble working out what this means, but it doesn't sound complimentary. What do you think?
Bilbo thanks them all for coming and then announces: "this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!" (1.1.64). And Bilbo disappears into thin air with a flash of light.
The guests are all stunned and rather upset.
Bilbo sneaks off, using his magic ring of invisibility. He then arrives at Bag End and starts preparing for his departure.
Gandalf turns up to see Bilbo off.
Bilbo tells Gandalf he doesn't intend to come back to the Shire. He's feeling old – "all thin, sort of stretched" (1.1.78).
Gandalf reminds Bilbo that he also promised to leave Frodo the magic ring. Bilbo agrees, but he has a lot of trouble actually letting the thing go.
Bilbo tells Gandalf the Ring is his own: "My own. My precious. Yes, my precious" (1.1.94).
Gandalf looks worried at these words and reminds Bilbo of Gollum, the Ring's previous owner.
Bilbo finally agrees: "it goes to Frodo with all the rest" (1.1.109).
And with that, Bilbo sets out on his journey.
Frodo comes in soon after and asks Gandalf if Bilbo has gone. Gandalf confirms that he has, and gives the Ring to Frodo in an envelope.
He warns Frodo not to use it and to keep it a secret. (This is putting it lightly, don't you think?)
Just like that, Frodo becomes the master of Bag End.
He spends most of the next day trying to keep busybodies and snoops off the property.
The Sackville-Baggins family (Lobelia and Otho) are particularly insistent on inspecting Bag End; they would have inherited Bilbo's home and possessions if he hadn't adopted Frodo, so they hate Frodo's guts and do their best to insult him.
Otho Sackville-Baggins storms off after shouting that they've waited sixty years to inherit Bag End. Sounds kind of bratty to us.
Lobelia stays around the place for a bit; Frodo actually has to shoo her out after removing "several small (but rather valuable) articles that had somehow fallen inside her umbrella" (1.1.153). Sneaky girl.
Later on, Gandalf arrives to ask Frodo what he knows about the Ring.
Frodo knows the true story of how Bilbo came upon the Ring by chance, but like Gandalf, he doesn't understand why Bilbo would lie and say the Ring was a present from Gollum.
Gandalf cautions: "I have merely begun to wonder about the Ring, especially since last night. No need to worry. But if you take my advice you will use it very seldom, or not at all [...] I say again: keep it safe, and keep it secret!" (1.1.175).
Gandalf wishes Frodo farewell and leaves the Shire.