When I was younger, I used to play an online computer game called Shadowmere, which at one time had a relatively large player base. In this game, the user will begin a kingdom of a particular race such as orcs, trolls, dwarves, humans, halflings, high elves, dark elves, wood elves, or even options such as deities. Over weeks to months, the player would run his or her kingdom and do battle, steal from, or help other players of similar score. One of the main influences upon the design of the game was the influence of Tolkien’s Legendarium upon the selection and the characteristics of the races. It was the elves with the strong troops and the excellent scholars, who I would always play. I never wanted to play as the halflings, despite their excellent thieves and spies.
At the beginning of our class, the question was posed as to who would like to be a Hobbit. My initial reaction was that this was a rather silly question. Of course, no one would want to be a Hobbit. However, I was given some pause at the number of people, who had raised their hands to indicate their preference for the Hobbit life. Over the course of the lecture, as I mused on the question somewhat, and I came to (the unusual) conclusion that my instinctive reaction was totally incorrect. This blog post will be devoted to instructing readers as to why it makes sense to want to be a Hobbit.
Initially, I can see why I thought that being a Hobbit would be undesirable because being a Hobbit does admittedly have some drawbacks compared to being a member of another race. For instance, the Hobbits are oblivious to the rest of Tolkien’s legendarium, and they live a sheltered life away from the rest of the epic events of Middle-Earth. Furthermore, the Hobbits are often the comic characters, which I sometimes saw as meaning that they did not merit being taken seriously. In terms of behavior, Shippey summarizes that Hobbits are plain, greedy, frequently embarrassing, and distrustful of outsiders (Shippey 78). While the elves suffer from a form of stagnation in their societies, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings left me with the distinct impression that the society of Hobbits was stagnant in that there was little innovation and development. Individuals seemed to live out their lives without their society making progress. In addition, in terms of physical characteristics, I’m a runner, but Hobbits are described as generally fat and smokers, which I find unappealing (Fellowship 7; 9). Even worse, Tolkien writes that Hobbits have little interest in scholarly study outside of compiling genealogies (Fellowship 3). Yes, I can see why I did not find the idea of being a Hobbit appealing at first.
Nonetheless, I believe that my older impressions of Hobbits were overly harsh because I now realize that Hobbits illustrate many characteristics and virtues that are central to the human condition. For example, although Hobbits seem to always need a push out the door in order to do great things, it is easy to forget the human tendency to procrastinate. Essentially, people often do not act until pushed. In terms of Hobbit pettiness and their tendency to be embarrassing, we all have our moments in which we are petty and embarrassing, and these moments often pertain to informal venues in our own life, which correspond to the homely world of the Hobbits in the Shire. It is also important to remember that Tolkien describes Hobbits as speaking the language of men in the distant past (Fellowship 2). As we have discussed, Tolkien uses language to establish kinship, so Hobbits are aligned most closely with men in Middle-Earth. As a people, the Hobbits are described as ancient, nimble, good-natured, merry, and hard to daunt (Fellowship 1-2; 6). Hobbits also display generosity in frequently giving presents to many others as tokens of goodwill (Fellowship 28). These are all positive human characteristics.
To answer my own criticism that Hobbit society does not display much progress, I think that since Hobbit society is portrayed as so homey and idyllic, there is no need for rapid progress. Hobbit society is not stagnant so much as it is a paradise, which can be upset by vulgar introduction of industry that can be used towards destructive ends. Hobbits are stagnant in an intellectual way in that there is no mention of Hobbit philosophers, but it is possible that they are living an enjoying life more than many of the elves, who are vulnerable to the tendency to fade into stagnation and tire of long life. It is also significant that Hobbits are mortal and are meant to die like humans, but the elves are meant for immortality because it is the natural nature of each of them.
In addition, to understand why it is not bad to be a Hobbit, one must understand the origins of Hobbits. In brief, the Shire and the Hobbits can be described as a portrait of the English in their country. Shippey asserts, “Tolkien’s new equation of fantasy with reality comes over most strongly in his map, account, and history of ‘the Shire,’ an extended ‘Little Kingdom’… transplanted to Middle-Earth. The easiest way to describe it is to say that the Shire is ‘calqued’ on England” (Shippey 77). ‘Calquing’ is used by Shippey to describe a linguistic process of translating the elements of a compound word to make a new word in a different language that is indebted to the original word. While the derived word does not sound like the original, the influence is clear (Shippey 77). In other words, Tolkien created a society that can be thought of as an imagining of a society like England in Middle-Earth. In terms of the development of the Shire, Shippey writes, “Thus historically, the Shire is like/unlike England. The Hobbits are like/unlike English people. Hobbits live in the Shire as the English live in England, but like the English they come from somewhere else … Both groups have forgotten this fact” (Shippey 77). Shippey’s position is easy to hold when one sees parallels between the British and the Hobbits such as the integration of tribes after settling their land and the derivation of names of locations in the Shire from names of locations around Tolkien (Shippey 78). Hence, the Hobbits in the Shire are not a precise imagining of English men and women in Middle-Earth, but the Hobbits are a representation of the important characteristics that distinguish the rural English men and women such as the adaptability of English young men to the dire situations they faced in the trenches of WWI. Although Hobbits are more human than men in a homey, unheroic way, Tolkien subcreates them in Middle-Earth with the potential to do extraordinary things. Thus, the hobbits become instruments of Eru’s hands in disposal of the One Ring, which was a task that was destined for the ring bearers Frodo, Sam, Bilbo, and Gollum to complete.
In addition, I believe that Hobbits are portrayed in the most flattering light when one considers Sam and Merry as exemplary Hobbits that are matured by their journeys in a way that parallels children becoming adults. Both Merry and Sam find a world that gives them a push to self-improvement. As Bradley points, out Merry’s helps into old forest and his assistance with bringing ponies for the journey marks Merry as a good child figure in the early quest, but Merry discovers the world on his journey (Bradley 79-80; 82). Eventually, moved by love Merry finds a father figure in Théoden, and Merry states, “as a father you [Théoden King] shall be to me” (King 39). Upon the death of Théoden and the return of the Hobbits to the Shire, Bradley notes that Merry and Pippin have become embodiments of the good in Aragorn, Théoden, Gandalf, and Denethor (82 Bradley). Thus, Sam, Frodo, Pippin, and Merry are described as “Fearless Hobbits,” and Merry is the one who articulates the command, “Raise the Shire!” in resistance to the tyranny they observe (King 309; 310).
In addition, in Sam was have another character, who grows from a mere comic relief to a character that embodies some of the best human virtues. Because Sam accompanies Frodo out of love rather than out of commitment to a quest, Bradley asserts that Sam and Frodo have an idealized friendship based on platonic love (Bradley 90). Sam’s service to Frodo is marked with constant self-sacrifice and loyalty to his duty, which is like a war bond. Sam’s compassion for Frodo even grows in the heat of Mordor as Frodo weakens (Bradley 88). Moreover, Sam faces despair with bravery as he contemplates his possible doom, which Denethor was unable to do (Bradley 88). Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Sam is wise with the ring in that he sees the temptation of the One Ring and does not let himself be deceived into thinking that he can use it, and he immediately returns it to Frodo when it is requested, which shows remarkable self-mastery given the power of the ring. Back in the Shire, Sam rebuilds and helps to govern the Shire, and he reflects Aragorn’s renewed leadership of Gondor as mentioned in class. Now, the servant has elevated himself to become the leader. In addition, his marriage to Rosie Cotton and his numerous children reflect the cultivation of subcreation of life in Middle-Earth just as he cultivates the new gardens of the Shire. While Elves have immortality, Hobbits and men have a sort of immortality in genealogy by their kinship and relations to each other.
To sum up, the Hobbits of the Shire are a reflection of the homely characteristics in men in a fairytale world. If we keep this in mind, we realize that it is very important that humans and hobbits should live according to their natures. The Hobbits reflect the human capacity for growth when outside of the home, which is a reflection of the growth that people experience on journeys through life. While I might have secretly wished to been an elven lord while playing Shadowmere, I realize that immortality as a biologically living being is not in accordance with human nature. In this light, desiring to be elven seems to be an unnatural desire. Therefore, it is more natural for me as a human to desire to be a Hobbit than it is to be an elf. In many ways, we can attain the best characteristics that we see in Hobbits, while the human are fascinated with Elves because they have unattainable superhuman immortality, strength, art, and dexterity. However, this fascination might actually be unhealthy because those characteristics are arguably incompatible with our human natures when taken to such extremes. We should all be trying to emulate the self-sacrifice and growth of Hobbits such as Sam and Merry. We should want to be the best that Hobbits can be.
Bradley, Marrion Zimmer. “Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship.” In Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism, ed. Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 122-144.
Fleiger, Verlyn. “Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero.” In Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism, ed. Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 122-144.
Shippey, T. A., The Road to Middle-Earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Random House, 1994.
Tolkien, The Return of the King. New York: Random House, 1994.