Bilbo is forced to reveal his secret about the ring as he attempts to get the dazed and drugged dwarves away from the spiders: “He was rather sorry about it, but it could not be helped” (175). Does that make him a hero? Would someone else have given up such an advantage for his friends? Maybe. But that doesn’t lesson the value of Bilbo’s decision.
First, he kept his head when it would have been easy not to. In the midst of sticks and stones and spiders, Bilbo had a plan, communicated that plan as best he could, and then began to implement that plan. While anyone might have sacrificed an advantage for a friend, could just anyone pull it off successfully?
Second, he did value his friends lives over his secret. He didn’t try to have his cake and eat it too by quietly disappearing and then pretending later he had gotten separated. He knew if the plan was going to work, they must be in on it.
Third, he wasn’t disappearing to avoid conflict. When he had accomplished much of what he wanted to by drawing the spiders off, he reappeared and charged into the midst of the spiders so that his friends could finally escape, risking his own life for theirs.
It is a minor scene in a long chapter—taking up a little over a page of type. Yet by now in our story we see a much different Bilbo than we saw when he was a disgruntled hobbit at Bag End being put out by a party of dwarves. Bilbo is indeed becoming the necessity to the party that Gandalf said he would.