The banner is a low-tech simulation of my place through time: the first photograph is intended to invoke the tundra of the PaleoIndian period, 12,500-10,000 BCE; the second, the swamps and woodlands of c. 1630, of the contact period between the Massachusett and the first European settlers. The third photograph is of my front yard when I moved in (the yard was used as a doggie playground), c. 2007; the fourth, a photograph of my garden, c. 2010.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

guest blogger Becky Cohn, on Tolkien's Shire

[A]ll ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it. – Cheryl Glotfelty

The Shire is an example of an invented ecology created by JRR Tolkien for his book The Hobbit and his trilogy The Lord of the Rings. It is comprised of rolling green hills dotted with small farms, and it contains the towns and villages where the hobbits live. You might even say that the hobbits are part of this ecology, as Tolkien writes in The Fellowship of the Ring that they have “a close friendship with the earth.”
One of the most fascinating things about Tolkien’s books is that he chose the apparently weakest and most simple-minded species of his creation to have the most impact on the fate of Middle-Earth. Hobbits originally are hardly seen and little heard of, and in fact when Frodo and his companions meet men for the first time the men are astounded at their existence. However, they continue on in their travels to deliver the One Ring, the instrument of greatest evil, to destruction. The reader is left in no doubt that only a hobbit could have completed this task, which was integral in the fight against the spread of destruction and slavery from Mordor. Although Gandalf the wizard and Aragorn the King of the men of Gondor had their roles to play in defeating Mordor and its ruler Sauron, the final glory of the victory went to the hobbits that had traveled leagues alone in dangerous enemy territory to destroy the Ring.  
I believe that Tolkien chose hobbits to have such an important role because they have kept what only the elves, out of all the other inhabitants of Middle-Earth, have also retained. This is their strong connection to the earth. In The Hobbit, readers are informed that each hobbit family makes its home in a hole in the ground, “not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it [is] a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” Regardless of how homey hobbit-holes are, they are nevertheless inextricably linked to the earth.
Furthermore, Tolkien created hobbits to have no need for shoes, as the soles of their feet are tough and leathery and can withstand the outdoors without the protection of a leather sole. This brings them into constant contact with the ground whenever they are outside, which furthers their intrinsic connection with nature. Tolkien is almost suggesting that the hobbits are another part of the Earth; hence they could be considered part of the ecology of the Shire.
When we compare the culture of the Hobbits to that of the men of Gondor, we see that the men have become too caught up in either political struggles or the battle between Gondor and Mordor. Very few men remember that their roots and their histories lie with the Earth. Tolkien suggests that because of men’s lost connection with the earth, they are unable to fix the world.
Paul Kocher argues that another reason for hobbits’ strong presence in the novels is that “Tolkien is sure that modern man’s belief that he is the only intelligent species on Earth has not been good for him.” Hobbits are everything men aren’t: peace-loving, content with their world, neither conceited nor arrogant. The hobbits’ strong connection with the ground has made them simple farmers, attached to where they grew up, and unadventurous. This means that hobbits such as Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins, who each go on adventures of their own, are viewed as black sheep, shunned and looked at with a mixture of awe and disapproval by their fellows. However, these two still retain the intrinsic hobbit longing for their home of the Shire, and for peace amongst the inhabitants of Middle-Earth.
            Tolkien’s intense fondness for hobbits is clear from his affectionate descriptions of them, and also clear perhaps when we look at the origins of his inspiration for hobbits and the Shire. It is no wonder that an author would make his favorite creation central to the plot of his story. In the introduction of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wishfully muses that perhaps hobbits still live in the same region they used to: “North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea.” If you look at the figure 1, the map of Middle Earth, it is clear that this is the area where the Shire lies.

 Figure 1

When compared to a modern map, this would suggest England, which includes the hamlet of Sarehole, Birmingham which inspired Tolkien to create the Shire and its hobbits. The mill in Figure 2, a picture that Tolkien drew of the Shire (including the Hill where Bilbo Baggins’s home is), is based on the Mill of Sarehole. (For photographs of the mill at Sarehole and other images of the area, follow this link:

Figure 2

            It is no secret that Tolkien cherishes his hobbits. In The Fellowship of the Rings, Tolkien tells us that Hobbits “love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom.”  I believe that by presenting hobbits as the saviors of Middle-Earth, Tolkien is promoting a symbiotic and appreciative relationship with the earth itself, which is what the hobbits of the Shire have.

Works Cited

Curry, Patrick. Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity.
            New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings.
            Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again.
            Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.
"Middle Earth Maps LotRO Combo Blog." LotRO Combo Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.
"The Assorted Adventures of Captain Prucha." - All-the-dragons: The Shire by Tolkien "Help... N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment