Zachary D. Schmoll

Made for the Land

It is telling that J.R.R. Tolkien introduced the world to hobbits by first identifying their place in Middle-earth. He began The Hobbit with, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the 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 was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”1 Hobbits might be twenty feet tall with fangs and long, blonde hair, and the reader would be none the wiser. Hobbits might be animals, or they might be spirits. They might be just about anything capable of living in a comfortable hole in the ground. It is not until two paragraphs later that this particular hobbit is identified as a Baggins and another paragraph until he is called by his first name of Bilbo. The reader has already been given a substantive description of Bilbo’s hobbit hole and the fact that it is geographically situated on “The Hill” before being told that Bilbo is indeed the name of the hobbit being described.

Part of the reason for emphasizing the hobbit’s dwelling emerges in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings. It is written that “All Hobbits had originally lived in holes in the ground, or so they believed, and in such dwellings they still felt most at home.”2 Hobbits are meant to live in holes. It is where they are most comfortable, but it is not just any hole. They are not supposed to be nasty or dirty. They are not supposed to be sandy and dry. They are specifically meant to be comfortable, but that begs the question of whom they are meant to be comfortable for. The only logical answer is that they are meant to be comfortable for hobbits.

A hobbit hole would not be comfortable for everyone. Consider the humorous scene at the beginning of the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf constantly hits his head everywhere he turns. The fact that Gandalf cannot fit comfortably in Bag End says nothing about the objective goodness of living in hobbit holes. One could not say that hobbit holes are bad because wizards do not fit very well in them. Similarly, one could not say that hobbit holes are good because “big people” cannot fit in them and intrude on hobbits’ lives. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this scene is that Gandalf is not meant to live in that hole while Bilbo appears to be quite comfortable in this place that is meant for him.

Consequently, when considering the place of hobbits, their homes specifically, or the Shire more broadly, it is critical to remember that this place is good for the hobbits both because of who they are and what the place is. These two elements combine to affirm the goodness of place and rootedness in Tolkien’s work.

Merry and Pippin share a conversation after the battle of Pelennor Fields, which has truly shaken them. Merry has been injured after stabbing the Witch King while Pippin experiences the trauma of almost witnessing Faramir being burned alive by his father. Needless to say, both of them are a world away from the inns and draughts of ale they loved so dearly. They had volunteered for this “conspiracy” in the first place, and they reaffirmed that commitment in Rivendell. While they certainly did not know where their journey would ultimately lead, they knew they were leaving their home.

With this experience behind them, Pippin suggests that they smoke one of their only pleasures from home, Longbottom Leaf, and relax. Merry responds, “It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little.”3 There are places where hobbits belong, and there are places where hobbits do not belong, at least not for very long. Merry is grateful that he was able to experience what he did; he traveled with the greatest heroes of the Third Age of Middle-earth. He learned a little bit about the ways of the greater world that the average hobbit was, perhaps blissfully, unaware of. However, being among the powerful is not where he fits. He is fitted to love the Shire even though he knows that the world is a much bigger place than just his relatively small homeland.

This sense of being fitted is not just limited to Merry. On numerous occasions throughout their journeys, all four hobbits feel like they want to go home. They miss the place in the world where they fit. At one of the darkest points of his quest, Frodo is with Sam and Gollum outside of the stronghold of Minas Morgul, watching the hordes of evil march towards Minas Tirith. Even in this cursed setting, he experiences a moment of light, “Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam’s voice speaking. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!’ Had the voice added: ‘Your breakfast is ready,’ he would hardly have been surprised.”4While this could be written off as nostalgia, the Shire is embedded in his mind. He could have flashed back to Rivendell or Lorien; they were perhaps the most beautiful and objectively good places Frodo had visited on his quest. Even the darkness of this moment could not sever Frodo’s connection to his place in the world, his homeland.

Or, consider the Mines of Moria, another literally dark time. Although it was not the original path the Fellowship planned on treading, it was the option that was left open to them, so they found themselves journeying miles and miles in the dark, following Gandalf’s seemingly less than perfect memory. At this moment, a similar desire grasps Frodo, “But now his thoughts had been carried away from the dark Mines, to Rivendell, to Bilbo, and to Bag End in the days while Bilbo was still there. He wished with all his heart that he was back there, and in those days, mowing the lawn, or pottering among the flowers, and that he had never heard of Moria, or mithril – or the Ring.”5 Frodo felt a bit of restlessness in the Shire before he left. “He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself: ‘Perhaps I shall cross the River myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied: ‘Not yet.’”6 Once he found himself away from the Shire, though, his mind was drawn back to it, out of the situation he found himself in. Part of it certainly might be a simple longing for comfort in a time of great distress, but it might be that hobbits are meant for the Shire and not for grand adventures.

This is not to say that hobbits absolutely cannot go on grand adventures or do heroic things. Frodo himself, not to mention all the other hobbits, disproves that statement. However, it is out of character for hobbits to do such things. Elrond charges Frodo after he volunteers to carry the Ring and says, “This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”7 This time is appointed for hobbits to rise and save the world, but this is not something that is typically done. That is why it is so surprising, even to one of great wisdom like Elrond. According to Bilbo, hobbits are “plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”8 It is not impossible for hobbits to go on adventures; instead, it is unlikely for hobbits to go on such adventures because of their strong connection to their way of life in the place where they find themselves.

Consider how out of place Pippin feels on the steps of Orthanc. He feels like little more than the luggage and feels “both unimportant and unsafe.”9 He asks Merry, “What did we come for? We are not wanted.”10 Of course, Pippin was not specifically wanted for the Fellowship initially. Elrond advised against his coming, saying, “My heart is against his going.”11 Pippin spoke on his own behalf, saying that he was going to go or else, “Master Elrond, you will have to lock me in prison, or send me home tied in a sack … For otherwise I shall follow the Company.”12 Elrond ultimately relented, but Pippin finds himself in a situation where he wonders why he came in the first place. This was not where he fit in or was supposed to be.

This lack of comfort manifested itself in Pippin taking a drastic step to try to fly above his station. After retrieving the palantír cast out of Orthanc, Gandalf hurriedly takes it away from Pippin, which causes a great deal of discontent. He already felt useless, and this only increased his feelings of inadequacy. Pippin tells Merry, ‘That—glass ball, now. He seemed mighty pleased with it. He knows or guesses something about it. But does he tell us what? No, not a word. Yet I picked it up, and I saved it from rolling into a pool. Here, I’ll take that, my lad – that’s all. I wonder what it is?”13 After recklessly taking the palantír and experiencing a face-to-face encounter with Sauron, Pippin is understandably distraught. He shakes, and Gandalf, who has a degree of sympathy for him despite his frustration, says, “Don’t shudder! If you will meddle in the affairs of Wizards, you must be prepared to think of such things.”14 Gandalf knows, and now Pippin understands, that not everyone needs to be a part of every fight. Very few can face Sauron directly, and Pippin is not one of those few. That is not his place, and it is not the place of hobbits.

Sam shines through as the hobbit with the deepest connection to the Shire. Even his gift from the Lady Galadriel is meant for his ultimate mission to regenerate his homeland. Upon giving this small gift to him, she says, “It will not keep you on your road, nor defend you against any peril; but if you keep it and see your home again at last, then perhaps it may reward you. Though you should find all barren and laid waste, there will be few gardens in Middle-earth that will bloom like your garden, if you sprinkle this earth there.”15 She could have given him a variety of gifts. Other members of the Fellowship were given items that had practical value on a quest. Several received belts, Legolas received a bow, and Frodo was given the Phial of Galadriel, which would shine as a light in the darkness. She could have given Sam something practical like that, but she chose to give him something that would beautify his home if he could ever see it again.

Granted, part of her gift must have given Sam comfort after looking in her Mirror. He saw what turned out to be a prophecy of the devastated Shire, and he could not believe that Ted Sandyman was cutting down trees that he should not. Sam recognized that there was “some devilry at work in the Shire,” and he immediately decided that he needed to go home immediately to put things to rights.16 Galadriel does talk him down and reminds him that not everything in the Mirror has come to pass yet and that he should not base his actions on what he sees in it. Sam comes back around and decides, “I’ll go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all … But I hope I do get back some day. If what I’ve seen turns out true, somebody’s going to catch it hot!”17

As it turns out, Sam needs that gift to revitalize a devastated Shire, wrecked by the greed and exploitation of Saruman (and, of course, Ted Sandyman). “The trees were the worst loss and damage, for at Sharkey’s bidding they had been cut down recklessly far and wide over the Shire; and Sam grieved over this more than anything else. For one thing, this hurt would take long to heal, and only his great-grandchildren, he thought, would see the Shire as it ought to be.”18 The Shire ought to be a place of beauty, and it ought to have trees. The beauty and the trees are connected.

The place of the hobbits is not just about a geographic territory. The borders did not define what made the Shire fit for hobbits. They did not have their roots in the Shire because a surveyor had come and outlined a plot of land for them. For Sam, the Shire was the way it ought to be when it was a place of natural beauty. This motivated him to get to work, using his gift from Galadriel. Frodo advises him, “Use all the wits and knowledge you have of your own, Sam … and then use the gift to help your work and better it. And use it sparingly. There is not much here, and I expect every grain has a value.”19 Indeed, it did have a great deal of value. “Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty.”20 In the middle of a quest when such a gift might have seemed impractical, Galadriel gave Sam exactly what was needed to help him ultimately preserve his place in the world. If she had not given him that gift, perhaps Sam would have been correct, and only his great-grandchildren would have seen beauty return to their land. The best thing she had to give him was something that would help him revitalize and deliver goodness to his small corner of the world.

Sam settled down in the Shire, married Rose Cotton, had many children, and was elected mayor seven times. As described in the Prologue, serving as mayor was primarily a ceremonial position, and “almost his only duty was to preside at banquets, given on the Shire-holidays, which occurred at frequent intervals.”21 The hobbit who was able to bring natural beauty back to the Shire was the hobbit entrusted with the duty of overseeing celebration in the Shire. Joy and beauty go hand in hand. Sam beautifies the Shire and becomes the one who is responsible for hobbits enjoying their recovered place in the world.

1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: 75th Anniversary Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), 1, Kindle Edition.

2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), 6, Kindle Edition.

3 Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings,  870.

4 Ibid., 707.

5 Ibid., 318.

6 Ibid., 43.

7 Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 270.

8 Tolkien, The Hobbit, 4.

9 Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 577.

10 Ibid., 577-578.

11 Ibid., 276.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 590.

14 Ibid., 594.

15 Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 375.

16 Ibid., 363.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 1022.

19 Ibid., 1023.

20 Ibid., 1023.

21 Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 10.


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