Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Concern About Hobbits

Two races are specifically referred to in the Ainulindalë as Eru’s special creation: “Now the Children of Ilùvatar are Elves and Men, the Firstborn and the Followers.”[1] This raises an obvious question: What about hobbits? Or dwarves? Or orcs? Do they have any role in Tolkien’s creation myth whatsoever? Perhaps a better way to phrase the question is "Why are other beings not included in the Ainulindalë?"

The obvious reason here seems problematic. It’s difficult to believe that Tolkien did not intend for hobbits, in particular, to be Children of Ilùvatar, in light of the role they play in his mythos. It also seems racist to introduce a spiritual distinction that only certain races have access to. I hope that exploring the various explanations for this issue may be enlightening.

One possible explanation is the myth’s tellers’ biases. In the original extant versions (labelled B, C, C*, and D by Christopher Tolkien[2]), either Rùmil (B) or Pengoloð (C-D) speaks the myth to Ælfwine. In versions C-D, Pengoloð tells the myth that Rumil had previously written. Notably, both of the tellers are elves, and the myth’s receiver is a man. This means that the two races mentioned in the myth match with the two races mentioned as the Children of Ilùvatar. So one possible reason for the exclusion of other races is that its tellers included themselves, but not others.

That, of course, has several possible meanings. One: The elves were racist and purposely left out other races. Two: The elves (as transmitters of the myth) were simply careless and did not insert other races (except men) into their myth. Three: The Valar, who gave them the myth, gave it to them with an elvish focus, and the elves were loath to change it. Four: The elves didn’t know about other races. This option actually seems possible for the B version, but not for the others, since Rùmil had dwelt in Tirion since the Eldar first traveled to Valinor. Therefore, he may not have known of the existence of hobbits[3] or dwarves or other creatures. Pengoloð, though, as a survivor of the sack of Tuor’s city, would certainly have known of the existence of Melkor’s creatures, and may well have known of the existence of dwarves.

However, this explanation as a whole has one glaring difficulty: The Silmarillion as we have it today is supposed to be Bilbo’s—a hobbit—translation of Rùmil’s works into Westron. Even if Rùmil did not know of the existence of hobbits, Bilbo certainly did, and had to choose not to change or annotate the myth.

Another possible explanation is satisfying for two subsets of the races of Middle-Earth. Dwarves were not actively created by Ilùvatar, but by Aulë. Likewise, orcs were created by Melkor, and not by Ilùvatar. Both of these races were created by Valar—but how? It seems impossible that the dwarves, in particular, could be mere automatons or golems; they act as though they have free will. But free will, like Being itself, is a gift from Ilùvatar. The Silmarillion states that Melkor “had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own…”[4] The Imperishable Flame seems to be crucial to creating Being, especially since Ilùvatar possessed it when he created the Music, but he placed it at the center of Arda when he first called it into existence. Is it possible that both Aulë and Melkor, as two of the most cunning Valar, were allowed to find part of this Flame? This seems especially plausible since Aulë was concerned with the earth and Melkor hid in caves. If it was within the earth itself, they may well have found it. Then the dwarves (and possibly the orcs) would be sub-creations of the Valar, imbued with life through Ilùvatar’s gift to them. They would not strictly be Children of Ilùvatar. Gimli’s voyage to Valinor, then, could be seen as the adoption of his race.

But what about hobbits? In Splintered Light, Verlyn Flieger points out that Tolkien compares them with men.[5] That comparison, though, seems to be made because both races have free will and both have the Gift of Men—death. Dwarves, as a sub-creation of the Valar, also have these two gifts—they too are like men.

The final possibility is that the hobbits are also sub-created beings. Like dwarves, they are given the gifts of man, but are not quite men. They are lesser in both size and number, and they have a ‘racial personality’ that is much more strongly marked than that of men—dwarves are greedy diggers, hobbits are silly drinkers. (Of course, these stereotypes are proven wrong.) Men are marked by nationality rather than by being men. These similarities may indicate that both dwarves and hobbits were sub-created races. This brings up the question of racism again—are these sub-created races less than the races created by Ilùvatar himself? I have no good answer except that their fate, like the fate of men, remains unknown to any but Ilùvatar himself.

I do, however, have a random theory for your amusement.What if Tom Bombadil, like Yavanna, is a Valar who communes with nature? What if his power over the Ring and over nature—power that even Gandalf does not quite possess—indicates that he is even more powerful than Elrond suspects? If Tom Bombadil, as he is described in the books, were to create a race of beings, I believe he would create one very much like hobbits.

[1] Silmarillion, page 18.
[2] The Lost Tales and Morgoth’s Ring.
[3] It is unclear exactly when hobbits came into existence, but it seems to be in the Second Age, after the Awakening of Men.
[4] Silmarillion, page 16
[5] Splintered Light, page 51

--Marguerite Meyer


  1. I enjoyed reading your post because I too have been wondering where the hobbits are. One reason I might guess they are not included is that perhaps they really are a subcategory of Man. This seems like a slightly off theory because Treebeard adds a line to his poem implying hobbits belong to an entirely separate category. However, in Letter 153 Tolkien does stress that not everything characters say will be accurate, as their voices and knowledge set do not equate to his. In various parts of Tolkien’s writing, he points out that Elves, Dwarves, etc represent different aspects of Man. After all, as he explains in “On Fairy-tales”, people are interested in reading stories about people.
    In another direction, your final theory that the Hobbits are sub-created beings intrigues me, because they truly were sub-created more than elves, dwarves, or even Valar. While yes, Tolkien does at the end of Letter 156 explain that he tried to name his mythological creatures with similar English names that do not fully represent them, Elves, Dwarves, and Valar (angels or pantheon gods) are much more reminiscent of past lore than the Hobbits, which have been purely sub-created by Tolkien, more than just in name.

    -Emily Berez

  2. I echo Emily's sentiments and have also always wondered where the hobbits really originated from and who created them. It is very inconvenient that they all managed to forget their genealogical origins and become apathetic as a whole. In that case, I could see why you might say that Tom Bombadil created them, even if you did state that theory in jest. Unfortunately there is not nearly enough textual evidence to support that claim.
    To the issue at hand, I do like the idea that the Hobbits are really more sub-created than the other races on Arda. They are truly unique in Tolkien’s works and the word itself is a random note of his. That only further raises the question of their creation. In order to figure out where to start, what about the time period provided when hobbits first appeared? Although that is unknown precisely, we know that hobbits crossed the Misty Mountains in the early Third Age, around 1050, according to Concerning Hobbits. We can infer that hobbits probably appeared sometime around the time of the passing of the Second Age into the Third. That is speculation, no evidence to back that up, but it is just for the sake of the discussion. If they were created so recently compared to the other races, then who could have done so? The Valar seemed quite distant from Middle Earth after the destruction of Numenor and the rounding of the Earth. Could it be that hobbits were not made by the Valar? Perhaps Maiar? Perhaps they are results of an experimentation on Men by Elves. Yeah, that is a stretch, but hey, I want to consider everything.

    Kevin Peterson ;)

  3. You have raised a very interesting question and just like Emily and Kevin, I have also been trying to solve the puzzle of how the Hobbits came to be. I think an additional possibility that has not really been discussed yet is that of evolution. Is it possible that Hobbits have evolved long ago from the descendants of Men? When taking all of the races of Middle-Earth into account, Hobbits seem to most resemble Men, especially in the gifts that they were given like Marguerite pointed out in Flieger’s text. As a result, it seems possible that a group of men split off from the rest, similar to how the Elves divided into three groups shortly after they came to be in the Silmarillion, and evolved according to their needs for survival, thus producing what we now recognize as Hobbits. However, it is obviously difficult for us to tell which theory is actually right, which reminds me of a similar debate in our primary reality. Today, experts continually analyze the creation vs. evolution debate for humans and it is possible that we may never actually unlock a definitive answer. Maybe Tolkien was playing into this debate as well and purposefully did not provide us with an answer because he wanted us to engage in a similar debate about his secondary reality. One fact that lends support to this theory is that Hobbits conveniently lost all of their historical records, similar to how humans have no records of our first moments on Earth. I am not sure if this theory is too much of a stretch, especially because it seems highly unlikely that Tolkien did not have a definitely answer to this debate, but I still think it is good to include it when discussing the mystery surrounding the creation of Hobbits.

    --Will Long

  4. As the other commentators already pointed out, you've hit upon a really fascinating question. I think you're on to something when you introduce Tom Bombadil at the end of your post, although I don't think it's reasonable to think of Bombadil as the creator of the hobbits (I've always thought there's a slightly dangerous edge to Tom, I imagine his creations [if indeed we don't meet them already] would be a tad more dangerous than hobbits). Instead, I think that, like Bombadil, the hobbits represent a sort of intrusion into the world. Both mark unexpected, and unaccounted for, intrusions into the expected order. I think we can see this both on the macro- level, as you've discussed, and in terms of their actions within the story. Think about how Tom appears, out of nowhere, saving the day rather conveniently. The elves can't account for him, even Gandalf considers him a thing apart, fundamentally different than himself. Likewise the hobbits, suddenly come wandering into creation over the mountains, stay quietly out of the way for centuries and then, at the moment of greatest crisis, prove perfectly suited to carry out the task and win the day. What's more, a large part of their suitability lies precisely in the fact that no one is quite sure what to do with them. To me, this smacks not of sub-creation, but of the original creation. The hobbits (and perhaps Bombadil) are the notes which make the discord of Melkor harmonious. No one realizes this, because no one's been told (Gandalf certainly seems to have a suspicion). At least that's one possible theory that your post inspired.

  5. This is a very interesting discussion. When I first read the Lord of the Rings, I was also curious about the origin and classification of Hobbits, whether or not they were an anomaly. However, in the Silmarillion it seems clear that Eru is the only being with the true power of creating life. Though Melkor twists the forms and minds of elves to create orcs, Aule “builds” the dwarves, and Yavanna thought of the Ents, they did not give any of them life. It was necessary for Eru to bring life to each of these races.

    Therefore, since hobbits were not created distinctly I think the implication is that they are of the race of men. The Silmarillion implies that it is impossible for any sentient being to be created without the action of Eru who has the “flame imperishable.” It seems the Valar can shape the forms of creatures or twist them, but they cannot “create” them. If so, then hobbits are a branch of men that are different than others like the Dunedain were different from the men of Gondor or the men of the south and east. All these sub-races of men have very differently portrayals, but they are still men.


  6. Like the other commentators, I have been grasping at this for some time. The hobbits both fit and do not, as though they sprang from the Shire (though there are records of discovery and settlement). Your musing on the nature of the Ainulindalë has quite a bit of merit--myths and records survive longest and in their "purest" form when they are directly applicable to their keepers.

    As for Bombadil, well, I'm inclined to say that were he to create anything it would be more like Beorn (though he supposedly came from a race of men capable of shape-shifting...). I find it unlikely, as previous commenters have noted, that--if he had the capability to create, which he very well might--Bombadil's creations should be so timid and stagnant.

  7. It is interesting to consider the Hobbits as a race, but I think it is important to think about Tolkien’s motivations for separating these races. The Hobbits seem to be meant as an important part of the endeavour to destroy the ring. As we mentioned towards the end of the quarter - why exactly are Hobbits chosen to bear the ring? Why is it that we see four Hobbits, chosen of all the various races, leading a quest into the darkest parts of the earth?

    It is likely that Tolkien was using the Hobbits to represent an important subset of humans that are missing an important part of a devout life. The sacrifice they choose to take on can be viewed as a redemption for a life without praise. The Hobbits are very jolly folk, but only enjoying their own kind. They do not appreciate outsiders, do not wish to leave the Shire, and have no desire to be involved in the stories, myths, and existence of other races. We never see them looking towards Valinor or thanking the Valar or Iluvatar for the gifts they have received. They are rather petty (see Bilbo’s birthday party and examples like the Sackville-Baggins) and it is for these misbehaviours that it seems like Tolkien chose them as the race to complete the quest of destroying the ring.

    That most certainly places them under the subset of the race of Men, although it still makes them interesting.

    As for Tom, I still just consider him a mystery. Nothing about him makes sense, so I’ll just leave it as that. I don’t think he made Hobbits, and only Iluvatar can give free will, but… yeah. Tom. That’s about all I’ve got.


  8. The oldest memories of the Hobbits go back to the Valley of the Anduin. Before the people of Rohan were granted Rohan itself, they lived in Rhovanion, to the south and east of Mirkwood. They people of Rohan also had the word holbytlan for hobbits, which suggests they had some ancient contact, maybe even common ancestors. Both the existence of this word and the proximity of their ancient dwelling-places suggests some relation. Thus it seems quite likely to me that Hobbits split off from Men long before the third age, but did not move too far away from the men they were related to. They and the Rohirrim were likely descended from some group living in the area of Mirkwood and the upper vales of the Anduin long before.
    I find your proposal that Tom Bombadil created the Hobbits quite interesting. I had never thought of the Hobbits as separately created, or of Tom Bombadil as creating any peoples in that way. However, I think it unlikely that he created the Hobbits. Given his unwillingness (inability, perhaps?) to leave his land, I could not explain why he would create a race of people and place them in the the Valley of the Anduin, so far from his country. On the other hand, he does seem to like Hobbits a lot, and I can see that if he would create a race, it would, as you say, likely be like the Hobbits.