Desires – Bilbo POV
In which desires are exposed, offers are extended, and choices are made.
As usual, Bilbo ends up with much more to deal with than he originally bargained for.
This is the first we hear about Frodo’s “naughty” behavior from his perspective. Bilbo is not listening as carefully as he should, though given the shock of tale, I think he can be excused, and he overlooks some things that will resurface in later stories.
The challenge in writing this chapter was to show Frodo’s victimization and vulnerability without robbing him of his agency. When I was writing this, I was sick of reading Victim!Frodo stories that portray him as helpless, childish and overly-innocent, in need of rescue. Some have him brutalized as a child and others have him endure it as an adult, and there’s always a rescuer (Sam, Bilbo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas – basically whichever movie star the writer most has the hots for) who always ends up having sex with the kid/adult to heal him of his trauma. Or else is the person inflicting the trauma. It’s all pretty awful.
More disturbing to me was the undercurrent of sex/sexuality as a tool for emotional manipulation, with a feminized (Frodo) passive partner and an aggressive, masculinized rescuer. The stereotypes of “good” femininity and the need for transgression to justify desire aggravated me as much because I knew who would be reading the stories as much as for the stupidity of the story itself. You can be sexually adventurous and not deserve to be treated badly. Desire on your part does not justify abuse from anyone else. Etc.
It’s important for Frodo to hear Bilbo speak, though very generally, about his own sexuality and sexual history. Possibly for the first time, Frodo listens to someone explain the ethical boundaries of their desires, which lays the foundation for a change in their relationship, from visiting adult and young child to something that falls between parent/child and mentor/student. Frodo’s tears at the end aren’t quite what Bilbo thinks they are. But that’s for another story.