The Children of the Shire

 

There’s not a whole lot of information about Hobbit children in Tolkien’s works. In fact, the youngest Hobbit mentioned in The Lord of the Rings is Pippin (28 when The Fellowship of the Ring begins). But if you read between the lines and piece together the facts from Tolkien’s own life, you can learn a lot of interesting things about kids. Read an exclusive bonus chapter from my book The Wisdom of the Shire courtesy of Middle-earth News.

The Children of the Shire (Part 1)

Hobbit Moments

Last week I entered the virtual Hobbit-hole (via Skype) of Tolkienista Milo Broadbelt, the creator of the wonderful site Hobbit Moments. Milo lives in England in a place that very much resembles a real version of the Shire of Middle-earth. He takes stunning photographs of his world, documenting the often overlooked miracles of life: a fallen autumn leaf on a rock; mushrooms springing up amongst leaves; fledglings on a power line.

Milo talks about the world around him with beautiful prose that is often reminiscent of his hero J.R.R. Tolkien, and Milo’s philosophy stirs something in my soul:

“By taking the time to look around us, wherever we are, each and every day – to look, really look, not merely glance – the changes each day can be seen and felt and enjoyed. Nature is changing with the seasons, be a part of it and who knows what might change in you?”

Reading Milo’s blogs feels like you’re taking a walk with Bilbo or Frodo around the Shire. He creates an entrancing link between Tolkien’s works and reality. One of these days I wouldn’t be surprised if Milo ran into some real Elves, or maybe even Tom Bombadil!

Milo also writes great reviews about Tolkien-related books, posts The Hobbit film news, and talks about cool things like the newest Hobbit Trilogy replicas from Weta (such as Thorin’s key).

Listen to Milo interview me about my book The Wisdom of the Shire.

iTunes

or via Milo’s website

What Would Bilbo Do?

Let’s face it. At the start of The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is a twerp. He’s one of those inveterate (and annoying) bachelors obsessed with his own daily routine. Get up, brush copious foot hair, shine the big brass knob in center of door until it gleams like gold, have tea and pipe on the porch, avoid all contact with mysterious strangers (e.g. door-to-door button salesmen or vagabond Wizards).

He has become his own inner child.

Gandalf, however, senses great things in Bilbo. “There is a seed of courage,” Tolkien wrote about the Hobbits, “hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid Hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.” The Wizard thinks Bilbo’s seed of courage is ready to sprout, and that’s why he browbeats him into joining Thorin & Co. on their quest to the Lonely Mountain.

Perhaps it is Gandalf’s goading that finally lures Bilbo off on the adventure. Or maybe it’s the rousing Dwarven song that bewitches the poor Hobbit (“We must away ere break of day/To seek the pale enchanted gold.”) Whatever the case, it’s a whingeing, frightened little fellow who dashes away from Bag End, forgetting even to bring his “pocket-handkerchiefs.”

For the first part of the journey to the Lonely Mountain Bilbo is a terrible companion. He’s constantly complaining about their trials. “My stomach feels like an empty sack,” he whimpers to Thorin. And not only that—he’s missing blackberry picking back home! (Bilbo “Berries” Baggins isn’t exactly the toughest burglar to send into the den of a homicidal dragon.)

Bilbo’s “seed of courage” grows throughout the tale, from facing the horde of spiders in Mirkwood (and single-handedly saving all the Dwarves), to freeing his captive companions from the Elven-king’s dungeons, to sneaking into the very heart of Smaug’s lair and facing the monster, albeit wearing a ring of invisibility.

But the most courageous act Bilbo commits in the entire story is not what most people would consider to be an act of valor. It is, in fact, an act of pacifism. When Bilbo sees that his Dwarf friends bewitched by the “pale enchanted gold” he realizes the entire adventure has been mere folly. He doesn’t want riches, anymore. All he desires is the taste of pure water from one of Beorn’s wooden bowls. He just wants to get back home to his snug little hole.

And when he understands that the Dwarves—led by the pigheaded and treasure-possessed Thorin—are going to take on an entire army of Men and Elves (and thereby almost certainly get slaughtered), Bilbo’s true “seed of courage” finally bursts fully to life. He takes the jewel called the Arkenstone—the one thing from Smaug’s hoard that Thorin prizes above all others—and brings it to Thranduil. He presents the jewel to the Elven-king as a peace offering, knowing full well that Thorin will probably kill him for the act. Bilbo willingly gives up his share in the treasure (the equivalent of billions of dollars!) to stop a war. How many people in our world have been tempted by wealth to do the exact opposite?

The enraged Thorin very nearly does commit Hobbit-murder. The Dwarf comes perilously close to throwing Bilbo off a high wall before Gandalf steps in and saves him. In the end, upon his deathbed, Thorin begs Bilbo for his forgiveness. He tells Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Bilbo returns to the Shire with more than enough wealth to last him a lifetime. And he spends the rest of his days in peace, adopting his young cousin Frodo (whom he fondly refers to as his nephew). Bilbo is the first stay-at-home single dad in the history of literature! The cheerful, kind and generous master of Bag End is a much-changed person from the callow Hobbit who started out the tale.

He’s become, for lack of a better word, a man.