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***Shire Discussion: General Hobbit Culture
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May 1, 5:07pm

Post #51 of 66 (10215 views)
very much how I see it [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
the Shire's enviable complacency was their Achilles' Heel since they had so social or political mechanism for preventing Lotho & the ruffians' rise to power, and arguably they had no effective resistance until Frodo & Co returned (just ask Fredegar Bolger how the resistance went for him).

That's very much how I see it. It is not that the Shire simply had the bad luck to be overwhelmed by irresistable force and there was nothing anyone could do. The comparative ease and bloodlessness of Frodo's counter-revolution suggests the opposite.

It is that several features of Shire culture made the fall fairly easy. Along with complancency and ignorance of the outside world. I'd argue there were habits of respect for authority and group solidarity. I don't mean to argue that those are necessarly bad things. But they were kept up after The Wrong Baggins was in charge and the leadership was headed for disaster and no longer deserved those respects.

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


May 1, 5:30pm

Post #52 of 66 (10190 views)
Never said better? [In reply to] Can't Post

I found some lovely stuff from 'Never Felt better' an Irish blogger who has written much interesting critique of Tolkien:


If there is one thing I love about the Shire chapters, more so those at the beginning rather than the end of the book, is that though its characters are all, essentially, little people with hairy feet, Tolkien creates a very viable and believable countryside environment. Anyone from, or who has spent time in, a rural area, will recognise the common traits here: a seemingly peaceful, easy-going populace, tightly interconnected by family and marriage with their own deeply held opinions of specific branches and nearby locations, no government of any consequence, literacy not even being all that required (Hamfast Gamgee notes that his son being “learned his letters” – which, in itself indicates the difficulty some in this society have with grammar – as an exceptional thing, though there are plenty of mentions of writing later). Magic and creatures from outside the borders are the subject of scepticism and suspicion. It is a populace who mark their lives by simple social gatherings and the like, and where the local pub is the usual place for discussion and debate of everything going on in the world. The Shire is both an agrarian anarchy and a libertarian fantasy, where people get by without much in the way of top down control, work hard and seem happy with their lot, with nary a sign of any serious social problems. Tolkien will keep this up in a lot of other locations: homelessness, serious poverty or class differences will never be a large part of the make-up in places like Bree, Edoras or Minis Tirith. There will be a stratification in those societies, but it’ll be rare that it is outlined in a really negative fashion: when the Gaffer tells his son “Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you”, it doesn’t seem as if he is putting a derogatory meaning behind “betters”.

I’ve mentioned it already, but I’ll do it again (sort of): the gossipy scenes in the pub (more in the next chapter) are a really good representation of country life, at least from my experience (my Mother’s family being from North Clare) where family history (a term often used to disguise basic gossip, which hobbits “have a passion for“) is a crucial topic, the oldest are treated as experts on nearly all things (namely Hamfast Gamgee here, holding forth), rumour and intrigue are rife, and outsiders are frequently despised and ignored (Tolkien, in a sign that he recognised the flaws in this kind of environment could sometimes write harshly of such things, describing the hobbits’ mindset as “a mental myopia that is proud of itself”). Even in the text here, Tolkien writes like a bystander instead of a unattached viewer, dropping references to people and characters, like “old Holman” for example, whenever he can. Places that would be considered down the road in other parts, like Buckland, are far away here, living next to rivers is “unnatural”, actually taking a boat onto one of them is asking for trouble and “decent folk“, like those in Hobbiton, would never dream of doing something so out of the ordinary.

The Lord Of The Rings, Chapter By Chapter: A Long Expected Party

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


May 1, 5:48pm

Post #53 of 66 (10179 views)
I agree [In reply to] Can't Post


It's not only the underground-dwelling little people that impart a degree of strangeness, but also things like the pipe-smoking and the handwritten letters that are such integral parts of the Shire culture. Edwardian England is a very specific place in space and time, and that place is constantly getting more distant.

Now, I remember (tobacco) pipe-smokers and hand-written letters clearly. But it increasingly makes me sound like I'm claiming to have been born in Gondollin before its fall. Smile

So I think that you're right - what may have originally have been intended to be reassuringly familiar is becoming ever more exotic.

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


May 1, 6:43pm

Post #54 of 66 (10168 views)
clutural exhibit something-or-another: Grantchester [In reply to] Can't Post

Warning: I'm on both coffee and cold meds. With enough time I'll connect everything to everything else .... that doesn't run away. Smile

Thinking about other sources of roughly Edwardian rural English Idyll, I remembered The Old Vicarage Grantchester by Rupert Brooke.
The poet writes from Berlin in 1912, missing home. It's the last two lines of the poem that are famous (in some locations and time periods). But I'd forgotten the comically exaggerated slander of other towns and villages around the perfect village of Grantchester - entirely in keeping with what teh good folks of the Ivy Bush in Hobbinton might think of the 'queer folks;' just a day's walk away. It goes along with what might be a serious pean to home (hard to tell, nowadays):


God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) ...
Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? ... oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

They'd fixed the clock -- The Vandals!!!!--by the time I walked there from Cambridge. And my misadventures on the way back in the dark prove I'm not an elf, and are known to old timers here

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


May 1, 7:59pm

Post #55 of 66 (10082 views)
I cropped out the "Welcome to Kentucky" sign, but yes, obviously. // [In reply to] Can't Post


Ethel Duath

May 1, 11:36pm

Post #56 of 66 (9980 views)
I still send greeting cards. :D And my dad smoked [In reply to] Can't Post

a pipe during my childhood--until the dentist said something looked like a lesion starting! Luckily he stopped in time. But I remember pipe smoking in general, certainly all through the 60's and probably early 70's at least. A fellow student walked into my dorm room for a visit around 1976 (his freshman and my junior year) and said "do you mind if I smoke a pipe?" (I did. Laugh)

I think letter writing was still pretty common through the 1980's. But the advent of personal computers changed things so suddenly that I think it seems farther into the past than it would have if it had changed more gradually.

Ethel Duath

May 1, 11:41pm

Post #57 of 66 (9977 views)
Rings true to me, based on [In reply to] Can't Post

my reading; and also by an old pastor of mine, who visited England sometime in the 70's or possibly 80's, and met people who literally hadn't ever gone much over 20 miles from their home village.


May 2, 9:40am

Post #58 of 66 (9928 views)
Ah I see... [In reply to] Can't Post

...though not very well given the bright light pouring out of that painting!
Is that Destiny, do you think ? Or if it's Hobbits Take Kentucky, maybe the Dwarves have already settled in Los Alamos, and are conducting a weapons test?
Either way, does this explain why the hobbit game of Marcho Blanco has to be played with eyes shut?

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


May 2, 10:06am

Post #59 of 66 (9898 views)
A sense of being with the land [In reply to] Can't Post

That's important, isn't it.

Just recently (by co-incidence) I was reading this:

Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, however, no matter how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression -its weather and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you are there.

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez 1986

There is a lot in Lopez' excellent book about being on the land of the Arctic and having a sense of being with it like that. Being with it rather than just it being made part of human plans (whaling, kudos-garnering expeditions to the arbitratry point of the North Pole, petrochemical extraction, military space...)

I heartily recommend his book both for th ideas and the writing. But for a quick fix, Goodreads has some choice quotes from it.
For a more scary interaction, Wordsworth - freaking out when the land goes a bi Carhadras like, or at leastknows he's there ('her' in the first line of the quote is Nature, btw):

One evening (surely I was led by her)
I went alone into a Shepherd's Boat,
A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tied
Within a rocky Cave, its usual home.
'Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a Vale
Wherein I was a Stranger, thither come
A School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays.
Forth rambled from the Village Inn alone
No sooner had I sight of this small Skiff,
Discover'd thus by unexpected chance,
Than I unloos'd her tether and embark'd.
The moon was up, the Lake was shining clear
Among the hoary mountains; from the Shore
I push'd, and struck the oars and struck again
In cadence, and my little Boat mov'd on
Even like a Man who walks with stately step
Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure; not without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my Boat move on,
Leaving behind her still on either side
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. A rocky Steep uprose
Above the Cavern of the Willow tree
And now, as suited one who proudly row'd
With his best skill, I fix'd a steady view
Upon the top of that same craggy ridge,
The bound of the horizon, for behind
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily
I dipp'd my oars into the silent Lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Uprear'd its head. I struck, and struck again
And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measur'd motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn'd,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree.
There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,
And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave
And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Work'd with a dim and undetermin'd sense
Of unknown modes of being; in my thoughts
There was a darkness, call it solitude,
Or blank desertion, no familiar shapes
Of hourly objects, images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty Forms that do not live
Like living men mov'd slowly through the mind
By day and were the trouble of my dreams.

Wordsworth - excerpt from The Prelude, Book 1

And with much more hobbity quiet delight than Wordsworthian primal fear, Ross Gay weeding in his garden:


“75. Bindweed … Delight?

THERE ARE GARDENERS reading this who are likely thinking that if I try to turn bindweed, that most destructive, noxious, invasive, life-destroying plant, into a delight, they will bind me and pour glyphosate down my throat. That might be overstatement. All the same, it is a cloying glass-half-fullness to wrangle bindweed into a delight, though I am going for it, shortly after having spent about twenty minutes pulling it from my newly planted mound of five sweet meat squash—yes, sweet meat; try to say that without smiling—out near the woodpile. Already coming up in that mound is all the buckwheat and clover I planted, which, along with the hopefully soon-to-be-thorough coverage of the sweet meat foliage, might crowd out the bindweed. You are right to observe in me the desire not to live with bindweed, which does not in the least negate or supersede my desire to make living with bindweed, which I do, okay.

I carefully pull the arrowheaded and somewhat reptilian plants from the soil, which if left to grow will quickly find something to ascend by wrapping, or binding, it. There is a lovely feeling to gently pulling the sprouts so that the roots slide unbroken and blanched from the soil, putting them in my pockets (I always have bindweed in my pockets), very careful not to drop any part, which, lore has it, will reroot and strangle your children as they sleep. I do this work, often, on my hands and knees, scanning my garden beds for bindweed, pulling the straw back over here, lifting the leaves of the collards over there. I notice the lettuces are untouched by critters, but the cabbages are getting nibbled. The parsley is starting to get thick. The potatoes need mounding, I notice, sliding a long strand of bindweed from the patch. The beans maybe got washed out from all the rain. And when I pull this sprout, breaking it at the stem, and dig some to get it all out, I notice the worms tunneling through the soil.

And if I think I’m in a hurry, or think I ought to be, and quickly walk by to peek at the beds, the teeny bindweed sprouts will sing out to me. “Stay in the garden! Stay in the garden!” And I often oblige, despite my obligations, getting back on my hands and knees, my thumb and forefinger caressing the emergent things free, all of us rooting around for the light.”

— The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

(Also an excellent book)

The Hobbits have, I think that kind of delight in being with the land. Not in the pure sense of Tom Bombadill who has vague duties if any and lives mostly as a delighted observer when he can. And hobbits are more Entwifely than Entish - they are a foremost a farming culture. But they are far from the other end of things - the land as the conduit and scope of Old Man Willow's power; or Saruman regarding Fangorn as mere lumber and firewood; or Sauron with a polluted hellscape outside his abode, where an English Lord's Palladian gardens would be.

"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.

Ethel Duath

May 3, 9:06pm

Post #60 of 66 (9457 views)
I've read about half of it-- [In reply to] Can't Post

my brother got it for me a few years ago.
That quote is exactly how I feel about "nature" (for lack of a better term).

Thank you for the reminder--I need to dig it out and finish it!

"With measur'd motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me."
I've had that experience in the Rockies--during the day, though, when the majestic is more present than the fearfulness. But they do, sometimes, appear to march.

(This post was edited by Ethel Duath on May 3, 9:06pm)

Ethel Duath

May 3, 9:12pm

Post #61 of 66 (9454 views)
" Few things slow down a fantasy or science fiction story [In reply to] Can't Post

 to such a turgid mess as an author who insists on too-speedily introducing the minutae of the orignal landscape or culture or language they've had fun inventing."
Ah, yes! That happens frequently, in many other books, but I hadn't thought of the obvious antithesis in Tolkien. Some of it was probably not deliberate in LOTR, with the initial idea of more of a Hobbit sequel, plus "this tail grew in the telling." But it works beautifully.


May 19, 5:55pm

Post #62 of 66 (6382 views)
great thread and some belated thoughts! [In reply to] Can't Post

I’m very late to this Expected and very well-organised Party but I still wanted to say what an awesome thread this has been to read. Excellently framed and curated, CuriousG; and superb setting of the wheels in motion, Ethel.

The threads within the thread are so wide-ranging and impressive that I don’t have much of substance to add, beyond saluting all those who’ve posted. Inspired by what I’ve read from others, there are a handful of things I want to touch on, whilst trying to keep the duplication to a minimum.

the land maketh the Hobbit or the Hobbit maketh the land?

I loved this theme within the thread and I reckon I agree with those who more or less arrive at ‘it’s a bit of both’, with the process playing an undeniable and massive role in shaping Hobbit culture in the Shire, lest we forget the contemporaneous ‘Bree-hobbits’, as they’re called in the ‘Prologue’ to LotR. The discussion on this did get me thinking about the “three somewhat different breeds” of Hobbit introduced in the Prologue, the Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides, and whether there was a particular ‘mingling’ of these ‘breeds’ that went hand in hand with the settling of the Shire. The Prologue mentions that there were many Hobbit settlements (“ordered communities”) in Eriador prior to the establishment of the Shire, naming only Bree and the Chetwood, and noting that most of these “had long disappeared and been forgotten in Bilbo’s time”. The Shire is a relative latecomer in this settlement history. Looking back over the descriptors of the three Hobbit strains, we get convenient and simplified associations and affinities that can serve as cultural or proto-cultural signifiers: Harfoots & “highlands and hillsides”; Stoors & “flat lands and riversides”; Fallohides & “trees and of woodlands”. Extrapolating from what we know about the geography of the Shire (otherwise known as me dabbling in a bit of good old clutching at straws…!), what became known as the Shire literally had something for everyone: highlands and hills (the Far Downs, the White Downs, the North Moors, Green-Hill Country etc); trees and woodlands (Bindbole Wood, Woody End etc); and flat lands and riversides (the Marish and much of Eastfarthing).

Bree and the Chetwood obviously worked for many Hobbits. And in Frodo’s day, Bree-land is described as a “small country of fields and tame woodland”, which sounds very Hobbit-friendly as a landscape. But Marcho and Blanco, “the Fallohide brothers”, stereotypically exercising that Fallohide cultural trait of being “somewhat more bold and adventurous” than the other types of Hobbit, are still able to inspire and lead a successful new colonial enterprise. The appeal and secret to their success? The land they have in mind can cater to all tastes. Or rather every type of Hobbit taste. No wonder, perhaps, that the Prologue often borders on the idyllic and downright pleasantly convenient, when it comes to explaining the ‘how’ of the Shire!

the Shire and Bree: two sides of the same rare coin?

Does what we know about the founding of the Shire and development of its culture constitute something unique within Hobbitdom? Up to a point. As before, ‘it’s a bit of both’ for me. It’s certainly different to how the Bree-hobbits live, in that they live and mix with humans, and by the time of the War of the Ring, it’s outlived, as far as we know, any other standalone Hobbit settlements that may have existed. However, there are other things about the Shire that point to enduring, shared culture or perhaps ‘accrued Hobbit habits’ being a better way of putting it. There’s an emphasis on ‘orderliness’ when it comes to how Hobbit settlements are described. Prior to the settling of the Shire, there’s the aforementioned pattern of “ordered communities”, of which Bree is but one. This is possibly reflected in the very businesslike and orderly seeking of permission to settle, by Marcho and Blanco from the then King of Arthedain, Argeleb II. And, of course, if there’s one thing that both Shire and Bree-hobbits share in common it’s their love of pipeweed. And gossip, come to think of it. And singing in pubs.

The Prologue is largely about Hobbits of the Shire – hardly surprising, given its Red Book antecedents. The Bree-hobbits come into it a bit but largely only to give context to Shire material. So, what can we say about them and their culture, if anything very much? Two chapters, ‘Fog on the Barrow-downs’ and ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’, provide snippets about the Bree-hobbits and the emphasis in the telling is an interesting contrast. Frodo, almost in sight of Bree-hill, makes the following remark:

It [Bree] may be all that we could wish… but it is outside the Shire all the same.”

So, we’re straight into ‘we’re different and will be seen as different’, even though the conversation leading up to Frodo’s assessment is about what Bree has in common with the Shire: Hobbits. This is developed further in a kind of mini-prologue, if you like, to the ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’, where the Shire-centric narration divides the world of Hobbitry into ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’, with the Insiders of the Shire Hobbits looking down on the Outsider Bree-hobbits (“considering them dull and uncouth”). To be fair, Butterbur, in a slip of the tongue, calls his unexpected guests from the Shire ‘Outsiders’ too!

The other theme that comes through for me is that while the Prologue goes into detail about how the Hobbits of the Shire interact with, and within, their particular bit of Middle-earth real estate, these Bree-land scenes are about people mixing. Yes, there’s a short reference to the geography of Bree-land but the focus is on interaction between Little Folk and Big Folk. They were:

on friendly terms, minding their own affairs in their own way, but both rightly regarding themselves as necessary parts of the Bree-folk.”

The Prologue gives us how everything nearly fits together within the Shire. While Bree-land potentially comes across as ‘messier’ in this chapter ('At the Sign of the Prancing Pony'), it's no less functional - even if the pressures of the war are beginning to be felt. And the symbiosis, which I reckon many of us would agree is an essential part of how we understand Hobbits and the Shire, is, for ‘Bree-folk’ centred on the people as much as the place, if not more so.

And to finish off this section, I’ll posit this: we could argue here that as there’s nothing left of the older Hobbit settlements in Eriador to help us understand what a ‘typical’ or ‘model’ Hobbit settlement and culture looked like, then is there intrinsic value in judging the uniqueness or otherwise of the Shire? Or to strain that thought a fraction more: yes, the Shire is unique but so too are the Bree-hobbits. Indeed, as observed by Roverandom, the special case of Bree is explicitly acknowledged in the opening to the chapter ‘At the Sign of the Prancing Pony’, with reference to the mixed nature of Bree-land: “Nowhere else in the world was this peculiar (but excellent) arrangement to be found.”

Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk


May 19, 7:11pm

Post #63 of 66 (6364 views)
Gem of an observation [In reply to] Can't Post

I dub the Rdg Room both a fusion reaction & a fission reactor as we boldly fuse & split atoms to create new elements--so much fun! (Yeah, it's a chemistry metaphor, so it won't work for everyone.)

Anyway, nice fusing of ideas here to get to a new observation:

But Marcho and Blanco, “the Fallohide brothers”, stereotypically exercising that Fallohide cultural trait of being “somewhat more bold and adventurous” than the other types of Hobbit, are still able to inspire and lead a successful new colonial enterprise. The appeal and secret to their success? The land they have in mind can cater to all tastes. Or rather every type of Hobbit taste. No wonder, perhaps, that the Prologue often borders on the idyllic and downright pleasantly convenient, when it comes to explaining the ‘how’ of the Shire!

So Marcho & Blanco found the land that checked off all the boxes on the hobbits' "Want" list, and voilà, we have the idyllic Shire, which is idyllic because it pleases them all, and which becomes more idyllic because their main cultural ambitions are to preserve and enjoy it.


I think you brought up the Bree connection at the right time in our hobbit discussion, Felagund, because Bree can give us a lens on the Shire as well as a lens on hobbit commonalities seen in both places--they have much more in common than they have differences, except that Bree-hobbits co-exist comfortably with Men, whereas Shire-hobbits tolerate them but see them as foreign (all men, not just ruffians). It seems to me that there is an imperative in world-building that Tolkien first needed to give us a pure-hobbit land of the Shire so we could understand hobbits and what makes them tick, and once we mastered that lesson, we were ready for Bree with its Men-hobbit mix. And that peaceful coexistence seems plausible to us readers because hobbits value peace and order and, for the most part, getting along with their neighbors, so it feels organic to encounter this more complex society.

Last, I'll say that as a hobbity person who values peace & order over conflict, I connected quite happily with this line from Tolkien on my first read in my early teens as it sets the ethos for his whole story as a preference for pluralism and tolerance:

“Nowhere else in the world was this peculiar (but excellent) arrangement to be found.”


May 19, 7:51pm

Post #64 of 66 (6354 views)
fun with borders [In reply to] Can't Post

Takes me back to a thread you got going back in 2021 that started off with 'Did Farmer Maggot ever met Aragorn?' and which then got into lots of chat about Sarn Ford and where the Shire's southern border lay :)

It's here, for old time's sake!

And it's a shame that Tolkien didn't complete a full map of the Shire. The one we have misses out the home of Longbottom Leaf (Southfarthing - there's only an arrow pointing off page) and the North Moors (Northfarthing), past which Sam's cousin Hal swore he saw a Tree-man!

I like Karen Wynn Fonstad's map of the Shire but even she had to make do with assumptions when it came to the northern, southern and western borders.

Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk


May 24, 4:38pm

Post #65 of 66 (5702 views)
the Shire and Bree-land - two ends of a spectrum? [In reply to] Can't Post

You are very kind, CuriousG!

I've also long loved Tolkien's phrasing about Bree-land and the pluralism implicit there.

This has come up before in discussion on the boards and it's one I'm partial to - the interpretation of the Shire being something of a cultural 'dead end' in comparison to Bree, especially after the War of the Ring. King Elessar sanctions what can be interpreted as a 'preserving in amber' approach to the Shire. The Shire's interaction with outsiders, already on a delicate footing before the war, becomes officially regulated thereafter: "King Elessar issues an edict that Men are not to enter the Shire" ('Appendix B', LotR). There's no mention of whether Dwarves and Elves can keep passing through but the impression I've always had of this development is that the Shire becomes much more of a closed land, officially. Yes, Merry and Pippin continue their links with Rohan and Gondor respectively but they're hardly representative of your average Hobbit. Bree, on the other hand, seems to remain a relatively open place, astride key lines of communication in the northern half of the Reunited Kingdom. Continued exposure to the outside world is heavily implied.

Openness and closeting no doubt both pose their own challenges to societies but open ones arguably can be more resilient (sweeping statement alert!). An imperfect comparison, admittedly, but I look to the very much closed Lórien which, if Arwen's final sojourn there is anything to go by, has effectively become extinct in the Fourth Age. Yes, its rulers have left, which must have been disruptive for the locals but the exchanges between Legolas and his distant Silvan kin, while the Fellowship was being escorted through Lórien after the flight from Moria suggest that Lórien was very much an isolationist entity, even by Third Age Elven standards.

More to explore here, I suspect!

Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk


Jun 2, 7:16pm

Post #66 of 66 (2603 views)
some further late thoughts: governance as a reflection of culture & vice versa [In reply to] Can't Post

While reading up in preparation for posting on oliphant's very fine 'Bilbo's Shire; Frodo's Shire' thread, a few additional thoughts on 'General Hobbit culture' came to mind :)

Something you mentioned in a later post in this thread, about decentralisation being part of hobbit DNA, in terms of how they organise themselves, had me reaching for Tolkien's Letters. Specifically Letter #183 (more a note than a letter), where Tolkien refers to the Shire as a "half republic half aristocracy". This very nicely encapsulates the very light touch nature of the Shire as 'state' - "hardly any 'government'", as it's put in the 'Prologue'. And a great header for how one might explain Shire governance as a reflection of Shire hobbit culture.

There's a 'medieval' footprint, of holding land from the king, later evolving into a stewardship of sorts, with a Thain chosen locally "from their own chiefs" to "hold the authority of the king that was gone." - on paper and in inception, not utterly unlike the Ruling Stewards of Gondor. This post came with powers to summon, in times of emergency, a Shire-wide moot and muster of arms ('Hobbitry-in-arms' has to be one of the hobbitiest terms ever!). It also becomes hereditary by default and shifts families only once that we're made aware of, from the Oldbucks (proto-Brandybucks) to the Tooks. Even after the Thainship "ceased to be no more than a nominal dignity", the 'chief Took' of the day maintained the title. At least one other hereditary title persisted at the time of the War of the Ring, that of Master of the Hall - also known as the Master of Buckland. Essentially, this is the head of the Brandybuck family, ruling Buckland from their lair in Brandy Hall, described as a "virtually small independent country" and "a sort of colony from the Shire" ('A Conspiracy Unmasked'). After the War of the Ring a new hereditary cum territorial title emerges in the form of 'Warden of the Westmarch', bestowed by the then Thain Peregrin I upon the family of Sam's daughter Elanor and son-in-law, Fastred ('Appendix B').

The hereditary aspect of the above builds on and reflects, I would argue, the clannish and decentralised foundations of Shire hobbit society. The appointment of the original Thain is the result of various local 'chiefs' making a choice to appoint one of their own. The description in the Prologue of the Shire's early years includes reference to 'folklands', family-based subdivisions of the Four Farthings. The most famous of these were the Tooks of Tookland and the extra-territorial Buckland of the Brandybucks reflected this model. HoMe VI, via one of the earliest sketch maps of the Shire (frontispiece), shows Tolkien had further 'family territories' (as CJRT put it) in mind, notably for the Bracegirdles, Bolgers and Boffins ('Delays are Dangerous', note 9). The Prologue goes on to note that these 'family territories' were largely no longer the prime determinant of where a particular family surname might be found. From a feigned historical perspective, speculatively, this could be interpreted as an 'in-world' erosion of hereditary clan power, such as it was, as hobbits evidently mixed within the Shire over time.

Into the mix, at some point an elected office emerged - that of Mayor of Michel Delving, also described as mayor of the Shire (Prologue) and the "only real official in the Shire" at the time of the events retold in LotR. In turn, the office-holder's duties underscore the light touch nature of Shire 'government': the mayor is titular head of a tiny police force (the Shirriffs); ad hoc auxiliaries (Bounders); and a postal service. Interestingly, and perhaps reflective of the Shire's fragmented organisation, part republic part aristocracy, Lotho and Sharkey don't get the keys to the Shire just because they lock up and depose the mayor, appoint a Chief Shirriff or take over many of the biggest settlements (Michel Delving, Hobbiton, Bywater, Waymeet, Frogmorton etc). Tookland, most notably, remains off-limits to Sharkey's forces, with the Thain reasserting his authority at a time of crisis. And, as CuriousG notes, there's every reason to conclude that after the crisis passes, the 'decentralised DNA' of the Shire means that things snap back into place, more or less. A Thain, a mayor, a Master of Buckland, a Warden of the Westmarch etc all rub along. Given the individual postholders in question after the Battle of Bywater, it's arguably as cosy a set-up as it ever was, with no one treading on each other's furry toes.

Taking the Thainship as the illustrative and concluding bookend of this longer than anticipated post (apologies!), any similarity with the position of Ruling Steward in Gondor was fleeting, beyond first principles. Both positions were established in lieu of regal authority. However, whereas the Ruling Stewards of the House of Húrin became, for all intents and purposes, the very much puissant rulers of Gondor in the absence of the king, the 'stewardship' of the Thains, be they Oldbucks or Tooks, effectively merged with the Shire's decentralised matrix of 'historico-residual folklands', local chiefdoms, elected officialdom and post-folkland fragmentation. Gondor undoubtedly needed an active (and hopefully benign) autocrat, given the constancy and existentialism of the threats Gondor faced. Life in the Shire was obviously less liminal or contested. Yet that didn't mean zero threats to its territorial integrity and well-being, be it the Long Winter, the Battle of the Greenfields or the Scouring of the Shire. Yet, on each occasion what appears to emerge on the other side of such crises is a society that orders itself pretty much the same as it was before. Resilient decentralisation, to paraphrase CuriousG's eloquence.

Feigned history stretched out once again, with more than a leap or two in there but hopefully an entertaining read!

Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk

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