One Day In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford

IMG_9376(The Grave of J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith, Wolvercote Cemetery)

This summer I found myself in a curious but wonderful predicament for a Tolkien fan: I had one day to explore Oxford, England; and then I had to dash off—continuing on my business trip north—like Bilbo hustled along by Gandalf and the Dwarves.

I thought to myself, “What should I do in such a short amount of time in the city where J.R.R. Tolkien not only went to college (and later worked as a professor), but is also the hallowed ground where he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings…and drank lots and lots of beer?”

The answer, it turns out, was that I could do quite a lot! I managed to stand outside the walls of Tolkien’s college (where I discovered an Orc); paid homage to the author’s message-strewn grave; lingered in front of the house where he wrote his books; discovered an Ent in the Botanic Garden; and drank a pint…errr, well…several pints…in the famous snugs at the Bird and the Baby. And so much more!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first time I came to Oxford I had just turned fourteen. I was on a family adventure with my parents and grandparents, driving around the United Kingdom—all five of us crammed into a tiny British car. My family had made a special detour to Oxford so that I could see the place where my favorite author had lived and worked.

Merton Doorway(Hobbit-sized door at Merton College)

It was a thrilling experience for a young Middle-earth-crazed-lad to walk the streets of Oxford. But I had expected to find a museum dedicated to Tolkien—a shrine where I could peruse his original manuscripts and ogle his illustrations; and I was thoroughly disappointed to find that such a place did not exist.

To this day nobody has seen fit to make a Tolkien museum in Oxford; but the truth is that the city is infused with the man’s spirit; and you can find traces of him in so many different places there. I didn’t know how to find many of those places back when I was a kid; but with age (and repeated visits to this beautiful city imbued with a thousand years of learning) I acquired at least a little wisdom.

And now I impart this magical itinerary on to you.

Sunrise/Radcliffe Square and Exeter College

There’s no need to sleep when you’re in Oxford on a beauteous summer morning in the summertime. And if you’re like me, you didn’t get a wink the night before. You’re like Tolkien’s Elves who sleep with their eyes open; or someone from Seattle suffering spectacular jet-lag. But you’re so excited to be here that you don’t care. Here’s the best part about getting up this early: hardly a soul is walking around Oxford yet. All of the tourists are still in bed; and all of the summer students are sleeping off their hangovers. You practically have the city to yourself.

Head to Radcliffe Square and lean against the wall of Exeter College. Behind you, over this ancient bastion, is the school where Tolkien began his Oxford studies at the age of 19. And in front of you stands the grand circular building called the Radcliffe Camera (home of the Oxford science library)—a place that would fit right into the uppermost level of Minas Tirith.

IMG_9440 (Radcliffe Camera and St. Mary’s Church)

Beyond the “Rad Cam” (as it is called) rises the lofty tower of St. Mary’s church (built in the 13th century).

Sketch of Rad Cam(From my sketchbook)

Next, walk down the little alley running along the Exeter wall called Brasenose Lane until you come to Turl street, and then take a right. You’re standing in front of Exeter College’s main entrance.

Exeter(Exeter College entrance)

On the second story is a stone awning. And if you look really closely at its ornamentation you’ll see a gargoyle that looks suspiciously like an Orc.

Gargoyle Orc(Exeter College Gargoyle-Orc)

See what I mean? Did Tolkien see that too? He must have. He passed through this entrance every day for years. It’s fun to speculate about things that might have influenced his work in this city. Like the sagging 14th century timber-framed building on nearby Ship Street that looks like it came straight off the Bree film set.

IMG_9339 (Ship Street)

Go ahead and find yourself a restaurant serving a proper English breakfast. Yes! I’m talking about the kind with mushrooms, beans and tomatoes. It’s going to be a long day and you’ll need your “victuals” as Sam Gamgee would call them. And don’t forget the tea.

English Breakfast(Christ Church College’s breakfast!)

9:00 AM/Wolvercote Cemetery

Once you’ve eaten, head to the Magdalen Street Bus stop by the MacDonald Randolph Hotel (on the corner of Magdalen and Beaumont) and catch the #6 bus heading north. Tell the bus driver that you need to get off at Blandford Ave. From here you have to walk a couple of blocks north to get to Wolvercote Cemetery on 5 Mile Drive. (The gates officially open at 9:00 AM.) Tolkien’s grave is not marked on any sort of tourist map at the cemetery, but it’s in the northwest corner, with the marker facing east toward the rising sun. If you haven’t found it after a while, ask one of the helpful groundskeepers. They’re used to lost Tolkien fans.


When I found the grave there was nobody else in the place. I didn’t think that I would be as moved as I was to see the spot where Tolkien and his beloved wife were buried. But I was. People had left dozens of little messages on the plot—handwritten notes thanking Tolkien for changing their lives for the better, and for bringing them such joy.

IMG_9479(Sketch from my notebook)

See how he had the names Beren and Luthien inscribed on the tombstone? Those were the pet names that he and his wife used for each other—the hero and heroine from the Silmarillion. Beren was the human who fell in love at first sight with an Elf long before Aragorn did the same with Arwen. Tolkien saw his new bride Edith dancing in a field soon after they were married, and this vision inspired the scene in the Silmarillion where Beren first lays eyes on Luthien as she’s dancing in an Elven glade.

Stay for a while in the cemetery. It’s a peaceful place. A great spot to read a little Tolkien.

11:00 AM/ 20 Northmoor Road

The next stop is the house where Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, typing the entire manuscript twice using only two fingers on an old manual typewriter! You can either walk there from the cemetery (1.6 miles), or catch the bus on Banbury Road and getting off at Belbroughton Road. Head down Belbroughton going east until you come to Northmoor Road. You’ll see this sign.


Number 20 is just a short walk from the sign. The house has always been described as pokey, but it looks like a lovely place to me. Tolkien used to love to potter about in the garden here. And it must have been a great place to write, because he penned The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and a bunch of other stuff inside its walls. There’s a blue plaque embedded high in the wall stating:

J.R.R. TOLKIEN Author of The Lord of the Rings Lived here 1930-1947

When I visited the house this summer, there was nobody else on the street; and the house directly across from the Tolkien home was for sale. I instantly thought, “How cool would it be to live right across from Tolkien’s house?” And the next thought that popped into my head was, “Is there any way that I could convince my wife and kids to sell our house in Seattle and buy a home in Oxford, England?”

IMG_9510(Tolkien’s old house)

12:00 PM/The Eagle and Child

It’s time for a pint at Tolkien’s favorite pub, so head back into town and go straight to The Eagle and Child on St. Giles’ Street. This is the pub where Tolkien and his pal C.S. Lewis used to sit in the “snugs”—the cozy little booths right at the front parlor of the 360-year-old pub. You need to get there when it opens at noon, however, if you want even the inkling of a chance at snagging one of the snugs—especially the one to the right of the entrance with the big oil painting of Tolkien hanging above the fireplace. Just imagine…Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sitting here and reading to each other from their manuscripts? Tolkien fans go all squidgy in this place, like the family of Tolkien-loving Kiwis touring England who popped in for a bite, and found a place to rest their proudfeet.

IMG_9393(The snugs at the Eagle and Child)

Make certain that you eat a big Hobbit-sized lunch. The food here is great, and the beer is even better. You can’t go wrong with a pint of the Old Dairy. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, by the way, referred to The Eagle and Child by the nickname The Bird and the Baby (and others have called it The Foul and the Foetus). If you look at the pub sign (a sign that Tolkien would have seen from his earliest days as a student at Exeter—long before he started writing about Middle-earth) it seems impossible that this image didn’t inspire the Eagles from Middle-earth. Doesn’t it?


1:00 PM/Blackwell’s Books

Now it’s time for a visit to Blackwell’s Books, just a few blocks away from The Eagle and Child over on Broad Street.


This is the publisher that started Tolkien’s career when they printed his first published work: a little poem called Goblin Feet. What’s hilarious is that they spelled his name wrong! (Tolkein instead of Tolkien.)

IMG_9633(My copy of Fifty New Poems for Children & the poem Goblin Feet)

Blackwell’s Books is an Oxford institution, and one of the best independent bookstores on the planet. And they also have one of the biggest selection of Tolkien books of any bookseller that I’ve ever seen.


That’s a proper Tolkien display! If you’re thirsty after looking at all of these tomes, you can go right next door to a most excellent pub—The White Horse. The pub’s sign of a running horse is reminiscent of The Prancing Pony in Bree. Here, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis came to drink during World War II when The Eagle and Child could not get a supply of beer because all of the American troops who were guzzling it.

2:00 PM/The Bodleian Library Treasures Room

Just down the street from Blackwell’s Books is the Bodleian Library where you can view, on display behind glass, the painting of Hobbiton that Tolkien did for the first edition of The Hobbit. It’s really incredible to see this painting up close. Not only is it a stunning illustration, but it’s filled with an incredible amount of detail for something so small. The brushes that Tolkien used must have been tiny, for even the Hobbit holes at Bag End have tiny little doorknobs.

IMG_9395(Tolkien’s watercolor with the publisher’s layout guides still attached)

Right across from Tolkien’s work is displayed the antiwar poem Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen—a poet killed during World War I who was only one year younger than Tolkien. The poem is a harrowing work about the horrors of war, and “the old lie” that it’s honorable to die for one’s country. You can’t help but think of young Ronald (as Tolkien was called) suffering through the hellscape of the trenches—a place that inspired so many of the most terrifying visions in The Lord of the Rings, from the Dead Marshes, to the Orcs besieging Minas Tirith, to the desolation of Mordor. Saying goodbye to his wife before heading off to the trenches, he said in his letters, was “like death.”

Tolkien caught trench fever (like his friend C.S. Lewis) and had to leave the front lines. He wrote the beginnings of his fantasy mythology while recovering in the hospital. Tolkien’s grandson, Simon Tolkien, recently stated in an interview for his new book No Man’s Land that The Lord of the Rings is essentially a war story in which his grandfather mythologized his past.

3:00 PM/University of Oxford Botanic Garden

Stroll down St. Aldate’s toward Christ Church college—the biggest college in Oxford. Across the street is Pembroke, the school where Tolkien taught for almost 20 years before moving on to teach at Merton College (there are 38 colleges at Oxford!). Past Christ Church is the entrance to the War Memorial Garden that was opened in 1926—one year after Tolkien started teaching at Pembroke. He would have stepped over the golden sword embedded in concrete (and the quote from Pilgrim’s Progress) as he walked down the lovely Broad Walk behind Christ Church, making his way toward one of his favorite places in Oxford: The Botanic Garden.

Oxford 2(On the way to the Botanic Garden)

Here in the shelter of a wall once stood the famous “Tolkien Tree”—a magnificent black pine that Tolkien dearly loved and which he posed in front of for a famous photograph.

IMG_9528(The 216-year-old  Hornbeam)

Sadly, this tree partly blew down in a windstorm and had to be removed. But right next to the place where it once stood is a towering tree—a Hornbeam. Anyone who knows anything about Ents will recognize this name as one of the Ents from Fangorn Forest. [Note: This tree would have been over a hundred years old when Tolkien started school at Oxford.]


4:00 PM/Merton College

There’s one more stop on this brief but revealing journey. Head back toward Christ Church College and you’ll come to Merton College—the place where Tolkien was Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945-1959 (The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 while he was here).

merton-doorway(Original watercolor of Merton College entrance from my collection painted circa 1900)

You can walk around the place, including the gardens and chapel, imagining what it must have been like to see a particular white-haired Oxford don wearing a waistcoat like a Hobbit, walking around smoking his pipe on breaks between lectures.

IMG_9423(Merton College garden)

On one of the walls of the college is engraved all of the names of Merton graduates killed during the two wars. The number of names of the dead from World War I is staggering; and Tolkien must have been constantly reminded of all of the friends that he had lost in the trenches; and relief that his own beloved sons had survived the Second World War unscathed.

IMG_9308(Merton Chapel at sunset)

5:00 PM/Pub Crawl

Now it’s time for dinner and an epic pub crawl. You can go back to the Bird and the Baby, and the White Horse, and The King’s Arms (another pub where he and Lewis frequented near Blackwell’s Books). Take your time. You have all evening to eat and drink and think about what you’ve seen. I assure you that you will never regret the journey to Oxford, and you will go there and come back again with a renewed love for Tolkien and his works.


Tolkien’s Oxford One Day Itinerary

Radcliffe Square/Exeter College

Wolvercote Cemetery

20 Northmoor Road

The Eagle & Child

Blackwell’s Books

The Bodleian Library Treasures Room

The Oxford University Botanic Garden

Merton College

Pub Crawl

You can order my book The Wisdom of the Shire from Amazon US or Amazon UK.


The Art of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Art of the lord of the ringsI got this beautiful book as a Christmas present from my son, and it’s an excellent read as well as a great addition to my Tolkien library. It’s so cool to study the dramatic evolution of places like Orthanc through Tolkien’s sketches. It’s also fascinating to see the author’s Middle-earth doodles on graph paper, or on a City of Oxford Air Raid Precautions sheet, or in the margin of an Oxford English Course page from 1943.

Tolkien thought that he was a poor artist and that he’d done a bad job illustrating the Hobbit. But you can really see how he’d grown as an artist over the years since the publication of that book (e.g. his awesome drawings of Old Man Willow, Dunharrow, Barad-dur and Lothlorien).


Tolkien was meticulous about the smallest details of his world, from a cutaway showing the twists and turns of Shelob’s lair, to a plan of the buildings in the citadel of Minas Tirith, or even a sketch of a minor character’s abode (Farmer Cotton’s house).

It’s fun to learn (and see) how Tolkien obsessed about creating the perfect rendition of the Tengwar (Elven) inscription on the One Ring that appears in the Fellowship of the Ring; or to see his hand-lettered version of the King of Gondor’s personal letter to Sam (which appeared in an earlier version of the Return of the King).

The book itself is well made, with nice details on the cover boards (a sketch of the Doors of Durin embossed on the back, and the White Tree and Seven Stars on the front). If anybody gives this tome less than a stellar review they’re nowt but a ninnyhammer (as the Old Gaffer Gamgee would say). Authors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have created another magnificent companion to Middle-earth.

Buy it from your local indie bookseller.


My Trilogy Is Done

New Triptych

I finished writing my series The Warrior Trilogy in May. The final book is called Sword of Apollo, and it comes out in hardcover December 8th, 2015. I was on Amazon today and noticed that my publisher had put the cover on the site (they hadn’t even sent me a JPEG to look at). That’s one of the weird things about being an author. You do some Internet surfing and lo and behold–you find your new book’s cover! I think all three books look cool together. It will be interesting to see how the foreign publishers do the covers (Brazil and Italy). Greek translations have been done for the first two books and here are those covers. I’m incredibly proud of this series, and especially that it’s published in the language of the place where it is set.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 4.48.57 PM

To read the rest of this blog visit my Warrior Trilogy page.

Tearing Down Sharkey’s Rules

Tolkien's art work for Hobbiton-across-the-water               The Shire, illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

I am absolutely blown away by the number of people who have read my piece about J.R.R. Tolkien’s lost Rotterdam Hobbit Dinner speech. Right now the Huffington Post article has received over 50 thousand Facebook likes. In that speech Tolkien read a lost poem about “cold-hearted wizards” who have corrupted our own world. When Mark Ostley of The Middle-earth Network first told me about the recording, he said that Tolkien’s lost poem reminded him of the chapter in my book “Tearing Down Sharkey’s Rules.” Here’s the whole chapter, excerpted from my book.

The Wisdom of the Shire is available in hardcoverpaperbackKindleNook and audiobook. Several foreign translations (Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) can be found on iTunes.

Chapter 6: Tearing Down Sharkey’s Rules (© Noble Smith)

Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin truly are fighting for something invaluable during the War of the Ring—for friendship and the love of the Shire. And that is why they are so crushed when they return after their long absence to find the evil wizard Saruman has taken over their small country with a gang of Big People. Saruman has imposed a fascistic strong-arm rule with the sole intent of destroying the Shire and teaching the Hobbits a lesson—a punishment for their part in the wizard’s downfall.

Hobbits live in an egalitarian society where the poorest amongst them, like the old gardener Gaffer Gamgee of Bagshot Row, have the same rights and intrinsic value the wealthiest inhabitants of the Shire, such as the famous Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. They’ve figured out a rule of thumb for making many things work, and they have a collective agreement to keep doing it that way. The farmer, the miller, the gardener and the innkeeper are all a part and parcel of the Shire—a sustainable and self-sufficient “nation” of independent people, all of them living and working together, never fighting amongst themselves. A place where the most important building isn’t a public hall, but a public house. [1]

The Hobbits don’t have a government. Instead they hold meetings called “moots” where the Shire-folk gather together to decide important matters and sometimes elect a nominal leader called a “thain.” There are certain basic laws called the Rules that have come down from ancient times when they were reigned over by a king, but the last one of those Men died a thousand years before, and Hobbits could care less if no king returns.

They believe in free will, but there is a robust social agreement and longstanding traditions preventing people from stepping on each other’s shoeless toes. The Hobbits have a deep moral code that includes the treatment of animals. [2]

Tolkien based the Shire on an idealized version of an England that existed before the Norman invasion of 1066, when the local population of Anglo-Saxons lived under a kind of early democratic monarchy. Like Middle-earth these people dwelled in regions called “shires” with “moots” and “thains.” The great majority of them were industrious farmers. England was prospering in the 11th century and had been at peace for two generations until William the Conqueror came across the Channel, killing the Anglo-Saxon King in battle, vanquishing his army, and imposing French rule and language on the defeated natives.

As a boy, Tolkien—the cheeky lad—participated in a school debate where he argued against the French invasion and its aftermath, like some kind of alternate reality historian. In his fantasy the Normans lost the war and the Anglo-Saxons kept their pleasant way of life intact. Later in life Tolkien would invent his Shire—the beating heart of Middle-earth. [3]

Try to imagine the Shire as Tolkien, or rather a Hobbit, would have seen it. The place is rich with natural resources—dense woodlands interspersed with fertile soil for growing crops. There is no unemployment and food is plentiful for those willing to put in a hard day’s labor. It’s a safe place too—a Hobbit can walk from the East to the Westfarthing under starlight without fear. (Hobbits don’t murder each other, at least not in the Third Age of Middle-earth.) There is no standing army or police force, only twelve Shirriffs [4] to patrol the entire Shire on foot, mainly to round up wayward livestock.

The Shire-folk practice sufficiency, a concept that means, “If you have enough you don’t need to take any more.” Businesses consist mainly of craftspeople, and these family-run enterprises remain small generation after generation, because nobody sees any need to expand them. People concentrate on the growing of food (and the eating of it), making things with their hands and living life to its fullest. They have a whiff of the Luddite about them and are wary of any machines more complicated than a loom or a mill.

There’s a profound tranquility to be found here. A rhythm to the way of life that’s been going on interrupted for over a thousand years. The Hobbits have little concern for what’s taking place outside of the Shire. They very rarely venture further than the Mannish town of Bree to the East, or the borderlands to the West. From here the Hobbits can look across the rolling hills toward the direction of the Sea. If the moon is out they might catch a glimpse of Elven towers atop The Tower Hills—a reminder of the Elder Days and the mysteries of the past—shimmering in the distance.

When Frodo and his friends return to the Shire after the War of the Ring they are devastated by the destruction they find. The inns have all been shut or converted into factories, even The Green Dragon is vacated—its windows all broken. Houses are abandoned and burned to the ground. Trees have been wantonly chopped down. Ugly smokestacks pour black grime into the sky. Hobbiton has become the Detroit of Middle-earth. For Sam, this is worse than Mordor. Frodo tells him this is Mordor—the malice of Sauron has crept into their home.

Saruman, having lost his fortress of Isengard and his army of Orcs, now lords over the Shire with a gang of brutes who call him by the name of “Sharkey.” The wizard has been enforcing his will with a set of officious orders. These are “Sharkey’s Rules.” We only get a glimpse of these edicts, but from the reaction of the returning Hobbits we understand they are numerous and frivolous—the malignant efforts of an evil mind to impose a bureaucratic damnation on an autonomous and freethinking people. [5]

Tolkien was a self-described anarchist. He wasn’t your typical revolutionary, of  course. He was speaking tongue-in-cheek. What he meant was he didn’t want the “whiskered men with bombs” in control of the world, inflicting a way of life that defied common sense and common decency. You can see reflections of this repugnance of despotic leaders in his stories. The venal Master of Laketown, the archetype of the deep-seated bureaucrat, is the minor villain of The Hobbit. He embezzles funds meant to feed the homeless and flees from his burning city, leaving his fellow citizens to die.

Denethor, the tragic figure of The Return of the King, is the power-hungry Steward of Gondor—an entrenched functionary—who, seeing his realm and control slipping away, abandons his constituency in their time of extreme crisis, burning himself alive, “Like a heathen king of old.” Even the Steward’s pompous death was an aspirational act. [6]

Saruman the wizard is an autocrat seeking power by any means necessary (like secretly creating his own hybrid army of Orcs, or placing his agent Wormtongue in Rohan). With the Hobbits, though, his influence is more insidious. He’s been spying on them for decades, having grown suspicious of Gandalf’s dealings with the Halflings. When he takes over the Shire the wizard knows that the way to break generous and kind-hearted people is to turn them against each other—trick them into becoming spies and sneaks and tattle-tales, rewarding the worst kind of behavior, and punishing the honorable. In that way he seizes control of a great many Hobbits with only a handful of followers at his back and imprisons all of the dissenters in isolation cells called “the lock-holes”—the Gitmo of Hobbiton.

What is Saruman creating, one wonders, inside all those factories belching black fumes and polluting the once pristine little streams and ponds of Hobbiton? We’ll never know for sure. Perhaps he’s just burning up all the trees out of spite, for the sheer wicked joy of making smoke. Or maybe he’s making diabolical weapons to sell to Gondor’s enemies—a sort of Hobbiton arms manufacturer. Whatever the case, Saruman & Co. is like an evil conglomerate that moves into a pretty little rural town, builds a factory on the river, guts the natural resources and poisons the soil and water until there’s nothing left but a derelict Superfund site.

The first thing Pippin does when he sees a list of Sharkey’s odious rules posted on the walls of a Hobbit guard-house is to rip them all down in a fit of indignation. Then he proceeds to break rule Number 4 by burning up all the firewood. The Hobbits are despondent. They’ve gone through pain and death to come home to this devilry—these hateful stipulations. No pipe-smoking! No beer! And a band of Shirriffs bickering and spewing “Orc-talk.” What has become of their cherished country?

Bill Ferny, the squinty-eyed pony abuser from Bree is the first invader they meet at the newly constructed iron gates blocking the passage of the River Brandywine. The only way to deal with a bully like Ferny, Merry swiftly decides, is with the threat of violence. And the cowardly Ferny runs away as fast as he can from the Fearless Four.

The gang of murderous thugs the companions find ensconced in Hobbiton are more violent and hell-bent than Ferny, however. And it takes a concerted effort of Hobbits, led by Samwise, Merry and Pippin to kill, to capture and drive them out (and not without loss to the Shire-folk). It’s a bloody and violent little revolution, and a melancholy way for the War of the Ring to finally end.

The last invader they must deal with is the despicable Saruman. [7] What takes place next is a kind of Shire trial where all of Hobbiton stand as witnesses and jury with Frodo acting as the judge. The Hobbits want Saruman to be put to death for his crimes, but Frodo asks the Hobbits to spare the wizard’s life and send him away from the Shire and into exile. Frodo does not wish to see more savagery—he abhors the thought of his beloved and gentle people going down a slippery slope of brutishness where they become like the merciless Saruman who (Frodo explains to his countrymen) was once of an honorable kind and might still be capable of redemption.

Saruman, humiliated by the Ring-bearer’s benevolence, tells Frodo-the-judge he’s become “wise, and cruel.” But the wizard, his reason clouded by a corrupting lust for power, is completely in the wrong. He’s become as deluded and as unprincipled as any of the Men he was sent to Middle-earth to give counsel to. Frodo’s journey through the world of the Big People has indeed taught him wisdom. But Saruman is the one who is cruel, and therefore projects that hateful attribute onto others. Hobbits, at least the ones we love, do not have the capacity for cruelty, and neither should we. [8]

The change in our own society is less dramatic, of course, but just as pernicious as Sharkey’s Rules. Our rights and privacies have slowly been stripped away through edicts such as The Patriot Act. With a deficit over 15 trillion dollars, the banksters have perpetrated the greatest fraud in the history of the world, mortgaging our children’s futures for personal gain. And corporations continue to cut away workers’ rights and benefits to meet the bottom line. When are we going to tear down Sharkey’s Rules in our own lives and build bridges to new and healthier ways of doing business and dealing fairly with other nations?

In the days after the “Scouring of the Shire” Sam laments that only his great-grandchildren will see the beauty of Hobbiton as it was before the desecration of Saruman. But he rolls up his sleeves and starts to work straightaway, probably with this saying of the Gaffer in mind: “It’s the job that’s never started as takes the longest to finish.”

The Hobbits—and all of their kindred—react to the calamitous situation with the grit and determination they’ve shown throughout the stories . . . in just the same way humans always seem to pull together after some terrible natural disaster. The industrious Shire-folk set to their multitude of tasks, clearing away the ugly sheds and factories, cleaning up the filth, replanting and mending.

The Hobbits have come to understand they can’t keep the world fenced out anymore, but at least they now know how to deal with the rest of Middle-earth. They’ve become a little wiser, but they’ve done so without tainting the essence of what makes them Hobbits—the abiding goodness intrinsic to the people of the Shire.

Sam is eventually appointed mayor of the Shire, a political position he holds for almost fifty years, until he resigns at the ripe old age of ninety-six. We can imagine Sam was a wonderful mayor. Without a doubt more trees were planted under his tenure than any other mayor in the history of the Shire. Fireworks were certainly lit off on every public holiday and festival. Presents given out on his birthday were doubtlessly of great practicality and thoughtfulness. And I’m pretty sure the only decree he ever submitted for ratification in his long term of office was “No new rules.”

The Wisdom of the Shire Tells Us…“Baffling rules made by flawed men sometimes need to be torn down and replaced with the standards of common sense.”

The Wisdom of the Shire is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook and audiobook. Several foreign translations (Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) can be found on iTunes.

Trivia, inserts and sidebars for Chapter 6: Tearing Down Sharkey’s Rules

[1]Some of the best known inns of the Shire were: The Golden Perch, The Floating Log, The Green Dragon, and The Ivy Bush.

[2]Hobbits, we are told, did not hunt animals for sport.

[3]Tolkien attended secondary school at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England where the school song proclaims there are “No fops or idlers” in attendance.

[4]Shirriff: A sort of Hobbit policeman. Based on the Old English for “shire reeve.”

[5]Orcs were created eons before by the evil demigod Morgoth to serve as his army in his fight against the Elves. Sharkey is an Orkish word meaning “old man.”

[6]Faramir’s father Denethor burned himself alive with a palantir or “seeing stone” clutched in his hands. It was said if someone tried to look into that palantir thereafter, all they would see were Denethor’s old hands withering in the flames.

[7]Frodo did not participate in this fight. After the Ring was destroyed he gave his sword “Sting” to Sam and essentially lived out the rest of his days as a pacifist.

[8]The actor Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is the only actor in the films to have actually met J.R.R. Tolkien. Lee reads The Lord of the Rings every single year.

It’s Tolkien Reading Day

Reading day

Check out the many excellent articles on’s Tolkien Reading Day site. In my piece “Break Bread Like A Hobbit” you can learn how Tolkien took (Took?) his tea; and what was on the dessert menu at the Prancing Pony.

You can also read a very brief but wonderfully insightful firsthand account of  J.R.R. Tolkien from noted scientist Amory Lovins.

My New Book


My new action-adventure novel Spartans at the Gates arrives in bookstores on the 24th of June from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. It’s the sequel to my book Sons of Zeus and is the second part of the Warrior Trilogy. Read my most recent blog on the book’s homepage. Here’s a new blurb from histfic author Angus Donald.

Angus Donald blurb


The Ultimate Showdown

Tolkien showdown

The Lord of the Rings Versus Game of Thrones

J.R.R. Tolkien and G.R.R. Martin have the most initials of any two fantasy authors in history. They also have millions of devoted followers who swear that one of them is better than the other. I’m a fan of both of these great storytellers, but I believe that Middle-earth will be held up as an exemplar of fantasy (and literature) long after Westeros has faded away (though don’t tell that to the guy who built the entire city of King’s Landing out of Minecraft blocks). In honor of Tolkien’s 122nd birthday, here’s a comparison of the relative merits of the fantasy creations The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones (aka LOTR and GOT) from J.R.R. and G.R.R, IMO.

To read my entire Huffington Post piece click here.

The Quest of the Shandar Wizards

A good smoke

Journey back in time with me and author Ethan Gilsdorf (Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) as we enter the strange world of the early eighties. We wax on about Dungeons & Dragons, Dune, DYMO label makers and more! (And yes, that is a picture of me smoking a pipe when I was twelve years old.)

The Top 10 Things You May Not Know About Legolas the Elf

Elf Love

Are you obsessed with pictures tagged “Legolas” on Tumblr? Do you feel that Orlando is Bloomalicious? Well, you’re not alone in thinking that this archer from Mirkwood Forest puts the “sin” in Sindarin Elf. Peter Jackson couldn’t get enough of him either. Even though Legolas did not appear in Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, he is featured prominently in the filmThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But what do we really know about this legend from Middle-earth besides his intense Elf-on-Dwarf relationship with Gimli? Click here to read my latest piece on The Huffington Post.

Must-have Tolkien Books: 14 Holiday Gifts For Any Middle-earth Lover’s Library

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 1.24.03 PM

I have a new piece on the Huffington Post. It’s a handy little guide for purchasing Tolkien-themed books for your loved ones this Christmas. Now I couldn’t put every book on this list. I left out the obvious ones (like The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), but I did recommend the new version of The Hobbit (illustrated by Jemima Catlin). Some of the books are classics that I’ve had since I was a kid (like The Father Christmas Letters, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Atlas of Middle-earth). And a couple have been published in the last couple of years (Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks). Whatever the case, they’re all excellent books…but I could have easily added another dozen great Middle-earth tomes to this list. Check it out.