I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien when I was a Hobbit. Actually, I was a twelve-year-old boy and very short for my age, longing for adventure. Hobbitish, one might say. Like so many millions of other readers I fell into Middle-earth as though I’d tumbled through a portal into an alternate reality—a reality I did not want to leave.

I raced through the Tolkien canon with the speed of Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax, thrilling at The Hobbit, devouring The Lord of the Rings and mining every last detail of The Silmarillion. When Peter Jackson’s movies came out decades later I was overjoyed by the passion that went into the films. The filmmakers revered the books just as much as the rest of us.

Throughout my life I’ve never gotten over that sense of happy surprise at discovering someone else who loves Tolkien. I’ve seen his books on the shelves of famous playwrights and industrious farmers, successful businesspeople and cutting edge computer scientists. All of these men and women shared something in common: they loved the Hobbits more than anyone else in Tolkien’s tales.

That’s because there’s something about the character of the Hobbits (and not the characters called Hobbits) that makes them live inside us in a profound and lasting way. Tolkien crafted Middle-earth in his mind, but the Hobbits sprang from his heart. Our lives might be better if some of the traits of these cheerful, honest, steadfast and industrious people could become our own.

I want to show how the habits of the Hobbits and the wisdom of the Shire can be relevant to those of us residing outside of Middle-earth. Tolkien’s heroes might be works of fiction, but the lessons we can take from their adventures are wonderfully real and meaningful to our lives.