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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
where did Hobbits come from?
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Sep 5 2010, 10:10am

Post #26 of 41 (296 views)
"Taking the literary conceit [In reply to] Can't Post

...as it's begging to be taken."

Thanks, squire, that's a good way of putting it.

I find it almost impossible to put my ideas into words without ending up sounding as if I'm trying to treat Middle-earth as "real history", which is not at all my idea. It's two different levels of story that I see, one more "realistic" than the other.

For me, it's readers like the correspondent in Letter 153 who are treating Middle-earth as "real history" (as Tolkien seems to be saying himself). That's what leads to questions and criticisms regarding the immortality of Elves and so on. I don't see issues like that as a problem, because I read them as mythic or metaphorical ideas that make sense at a completely different level.

That's why I said that hobbits "evolved" earlier in this thread. Within the mythology, as I said at the time, their origins are simply unknown. But "behind" the myth, as it were, is the hovering sense (which Tolkien confirms in Letter 131) that they are really (but still fictionally, of course) "a branch of the human race". If you want an answer to a question that's unknowable within the mythology of Middle-earth, all you can do is to step outside the mythology of Middle-earth and look at the (still fictional) underpinnings of the myth. Trying to deduce an answer within the mythology is what I would call treating the story as "real history".

Or something like that. As I say, putting this stuff into words is frustratingly difficult...

You may well be right that I've misstated something in my conclusion. I keep trying to get closer to a sense that I feel quite clearly but can't express, and I know I still haven't got there.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings


Sep 5 2010, 12:31pm

Post #27 of 41 (596 views)
Earlier in this thread [In reply to] Can't Post

you said:

"But Middle-earth is, after all, our own earth seen through pre-modern eyes, and Tolkien seems to expect us modern readers to figure out that evolution was going on anyway, even if the people at the time didn't know it."

I'm sorry if I misinterpreted what you said. To me that sounded like you were treating LotR as fiction set in the Primary World, not as fiction set in a fictional Secondary World. That's what I meant by treating it as "real history."

And I agree with squire that Tolkien does invite the reader to treat it exactly that way. So who am I to say it's wrong?


Sep 6 2010, 8:00pm

Post #28 of 41 (301 views)
We're just too tempted [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks to everyone for a stimulating conversation. I feel like I'm watching Olympic swimmers in prime form while I dabble my toes in the water. So I won't get wet trying to add anything, other than that, as Squire says, Middle-Earth seems so real to us we are tempted to fill in the gaps we find with realistic answers.

I don't have the same reaction to simple fairy stories like Snow White. I don't care why there are seven dwarfs or how their economy works or who created them, etc. I just enjoy it for what it's worth. Tolkien created such a deeper, more believably real world that, that we are sucked into it (willingly), and just as in real life we wonder why the sky is blue and why gravity holds things down, etc, we have the same curiosity for how things work in his world.

Just too tempting not to ask all our questions. And, this board would be a pretty boring place if we had no questions. Maybe people like me just need reminders to not dig too deeply after answers, the way the dwarves did pursuing mithril, or I'll wake up a balrog, and what a mess he'll make in my apartment.

Okay, that begs the question: are all balrogs male? For that matter, do we ever see a female orc? Do she-orcs fight, or stay home and make babies? More questions, and I know they don't have answers! I should stick to Snow White.


Sep 7 2010, 4:25am

Post #29 of 41 (307 views)
You raise a good question. [In reply to] Can't Post

(You don't beg the question, though. To beg the question means to reach a conclusion based on a questionable assumption.)

Ungoliant and Shelob and the Giant Spiders are specifically identified as female. That leads me to believe that other monsters identified as male are, in fact, male. Tolkien lived in a time when armies were male. Females had other roles, except for a few notable exceptions (Eowyn, Shelob). But the exceptions were not considered quite natural -- Shelob is an abomination and Eowyn eventually recognizes the error of her ways.

So the fighting Balrogs and orcs were male. The Balrogs may not have had any females, because as far as we can tell they do not reproduce. The orcs did reproduce, but presumably that happened somewhere other than the battlefield.


Sep 7 2010, 7:59am

Post #30 of 41 (248 views)
Balrogs [In reply to] Can't Post

we have to presume that they are male, since the only fire spirit that denied Morgoth was the female Maia of the sun. Orcs are corruptions of fully living beings and have children (Gollum's meal of an orc-imp) so there are presumably female orcs. Trolls meanwhile are halfway natural and halfway artificial; mockeries of Ents but not derived from them, hence perhaps no females. Treebeard also thinks the Uruk-hai are not bred naturally by Saruman, which may account for their activities in the morning.

Similarly Dragons, bred from who knows what are all male, though they do age -Glaurung was young and rash early on while Smaug is pretty cantankerous and huffy.

Orcs are perhaps indistinguishable by other peoples' eyes (like Dwarves)l they may be so disgusting that female orcs look, sound, grunt and howl just like male orcs; or Morgoth made them asexual/heamaphroditic since Orcs have no love for anything, not even each other and reproduce like humans breathe.


Sep 7 2010, 8:05am

Post #31 of 41 (308 views)
I've always thought that [In reply to] Can't Post

I've always thought that Hobbits, because of their very settled way of life and general unwillingness to leave settled dwellings plus a non-reliance on trade with outsiders (unlike Dwarves) moved very slowly compared to the other Men, and perhaps went far south to avoid Morgoth's cold. The Three Houses were all nomadic, ranch/herder type of people or forest dwellers (Haleth) who were in fact residue from human mass migration westwards that otherwise settled on the Anduin or in Eriador and the plains of the East. There would be no point in Hobbits moving; they only did so in the Third Age because of other factors, and that the Arnorian king invited them to stay in the Shire. Even then some lagged behind and lived in Bree with Big People, then other families stayed in Buckland etc.


Sep 7 2010, 12:47pm

Post #32 of 41 (290 views)
If there are no female balrogs [In reply to] Can't Post

Then balrogs cannot be called male. They must have no sex at all. Sex is not an absolute quality, it is entirely relative. Bacteria that reproduce by splitting in two are not "male" any more than they are female. Of course, our male-oriented society tends to make the male sex the default sex especially when picturing aggressive creatures, so balrogs (like most monster types) are always drawn with more or less male humanoid bodies - "fighters", as you put it - even when there is no mention of a female sex to justify this tradition.

Now it is possible, if we can't imagine the physiognomy of a balrog that is not based on a human male body, that the females of the same "species" of spirit assumed a different form. Sexual dimorphism in some species is so pronounced that science took a while to recognize that the males and females were in fact the same beast.

I suspect that the Istari, despite an outward appearance of being male, are actually the female balrogs. Their role in the world's spiritual ecosystem, in contrast to the "fighting balrogs", is that of nurturing and sustaining. (The exception, of course is Saruman, who comes out of the closet at the end of the Third Age). Anyway, this species of Maia may thus contain within itself the spiritual/sexual conflict between good and evil that permeates the mythology.

And this also explains the attraction between Gandalf and the balrog of Moria. You can just imagine the two of them muttering, between vicious blows in their fight to the death, "Balrogs/wizards! You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em!!"

squire online:
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Sep 7 2010, 2:41pm

Post #33 of 41 (270 views)
Nice! [In reply to] Can't Post

But then you miss a whole layer of the imagery when the Balrogs with their whips of flame "smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she recolied and turned to flight, belching black vapours to cover her".

A fair warning: I am a nitpicker by taste, talents and profession.

"Does it matter whether the things Tom has to do are "useful" things? ... Perhaps nothing would seem much different if he wasn't there with 'my singing, my talking and my walking, and my watching of the country.' But something would be missing - something intangible, hardly noticeable maybe. A little of the spirit would have gone out of the land. "
- FarFromHome.

Tol Eressea

Sep 7 2010, 2:55pm

Post #34 of 41 (246 views)
Heh heh heh heh [In reply to] Can't Post

Nice Squire, male = evil and female = good. Balrogs cannot be called male so the Istari must be female. Drugs are bad mm'kay? LaughSmileWink

King Arthur: Who are you who can summon fire without flint or tinder?
Tim: There are some who call me... Tim.

Tim: Follow. But. Follow only if ye be TORNsibs of valour, for the making of The Hobbit is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel that no TORNsib yet has fought with it and lived. Bones of an A List veteran director lie strewn about its lair. So, brave TORNsibs, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for Hollywood studio bureaucratic ineptitude awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth!

Studio Exec: And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped.
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Sep 7 2010, 3:22pm

Post #35 of 41 (251 views)
The Valar and Maiar are divided into male and female [In reply to] Can't Post

despite the fact that they don't normally have children (and could probably arrange to be whatever sex they liked).


Sep 7 2010, 4:07pm

Post #36 of 41 (253 views)
Yes they are - permanently [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien is quite firm on the idea that one cannot change one's sex, no matter who you are.
But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby. ('Ainulindalë', The Silmarillion)
Tolkien sexes a balrog only twice: once in the titling of Gothmog as Lord of Balrogs, in The Silmarillion; and again in Gandalf's retelling of his battle with the balrog of Moria ("Name him not!", etc.). Both are deemed male. But there is no general statement about their sex in the various tales. If one does not believe for a second that the Istari were the female balrogs (and who would?), we can instead adopt the idea that the general population of balrogs were of both sexes whether it is mentioned or not. Or we can speculate that of the various demon spirits recruited to evil by Morgoth in the beginning, only the male ones were allowed by him to become his elite guard of balrogs, for whatever reason we might offer regarding the inability of females to terrorize their foes and wield whips of fire.

One thing we can't state is that there are no female balrogs "because they don't reproduce". As you say, reproduction is apparently not an aspect of the Ainur's existence unless they take human form (i.e., like Melian - the only example given of a Maia who bears a child, unless you extend the question to the unspecified form of the spirit of the Withywindle river).

By Tolkien's statement above, the male and female sexes are the mere embodiment of innate and ineradicable spiritual temperaments, not an evolutionary reproductive strategy like in the real world. In today's terms, we see that in Tolkien sex follows gender - quite in line with modern thinking.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Sep 7 2010, 4:27pm

Post #37 of 41 (248 views)
We do know about one female fire spirit, [In reply to] Can't Post

Arien. And she remained faithful, dutifully pulling the Sun on its daily path.

It would make sense for Olorin to be a fire spirit, considering Gandalf's association with fire, but Tolkien never calls him that.

Whether there are female Balrogs may also depend on whether there were "hosts" of Balrogs, as Tolkien originally envisioned, or 3-7 Balrogs, as he suggested in his later writings.


Sep 7 2010, 5:17pm

Post #38 of 41 (244 views)
Melkor the misogynist [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting how these examples come to mind after we talk about she-balrogs and she-orcs.

1. Melkor seemed to fear Varda more than any of the Valar, including Tulkas and Manwe. At least, that's what I remember from reading the Sil as a whole.

2. Melkor was afraid of Ungoliant (for good reason, since he needed some balrogs to help him escape her). Oh, and to answer Curious' list of questions, Un-goliant is the opposite of Goliant (as in unhappy, undressed, etc), so once we figure out what Goliant is, we'll understand her. Smile

3. Melkor was afraid of the feminine Sun and dared not attack her, but did attack the male Moon, whom he perceived as weaker and attackable.

4. I can't imagine Melkor losing a fight against Melian, and maybe he was willing to let fate drag down Doriath instead of a direct assault, but it's curious he and Sauron, etc never challenged her Girdle. Only the rabid Wolf did. Were they afraid of her too?

I'm not saying Melkor only feared women, it's just interesting how many he did.

As a slight parallel, it's interesting to me that Saruman says after the war is over and the elves overtake him on the road by accident, that he says Galadriel always hated him, and he singles her out as one of his chief enemies. He doesn't mention Elrond or Celeborn, who were present.

My conclusion is that when women are present in Tolkiena, they are almost always very powerful and are feared by evil men. The frail, victim-types (damsels in distress) are few, such as Finduilas (both Orodreth's daughter and Denethor's wife). Aredhel, Galadriel, Melian, Luthien, Idril, Morwen, Haleth: it's a long list of women who are all exceptionally strong-willed or "man-hearted," as I believe Haleth was called.


Sep 7 2010, 6:22pm

Post #39 of 41 (383 views)
And don't forget Eowyn [In reply to] Can't Post

and the Witch-king. I think you are on to something.

There are some counterexamples, though. Ioreth is a comical character, although good. Ungoliant and Shelob and the Giant Spiders are all evil females. There's Queen Berúthiel and her cats. Turin's mother Morwen was strong, to be sure, but also, arguably, unbalanced. Even Galadriel was at one time an unrepentant rebel. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins repented in the end, but for most of her life was a bitter, vindictive woman. And then the vast majority of women are nonentities who stay in the background -- those who demonstrate strength are not typical of the females in Tolkien's world.


Sep 8 2010, 5:15pm

Post #40 of 41 (247 views)
Lobelia the attack hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

One of my favorite parts of LoTR is when Farmer Cotton fills Frodo and the others in on how the Shire went downhill. After Sharkey had taken over and the ruffians started reporting to him, Lobelia found they no longer deferred to her as Lotho's mom (or respected her son), and she attacked them with her umbrella--a little old short lady going after a group of big thugs! "We miss others more, but there's no denying she showed more spirit than most." She wasn't likable, but she was another strong female. (Though I don't think anyone was afraid of her, except Bilbo when he still lived in Bag End.)

Superuser / Moderator

Sep 8 2010, 7:26pm

Post #41 of 41 (601 views)
Best subject line of the week! :D / [In reply to] Can't Post


Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded b*****d with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories

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