The Hobbit TestPosted: 7 January 2011
Here’s a simple test. Answer yes or no to the following questions.
1. Do you have a tendency to collect technically worthless objects?
2. Do you crave any kinds of food that could be described as ‘hearty’?
3. Do you live in or near places which include the words ‘borough’, ‘ham’, ‘bourne’, ‘shire’ and ‘bury’?
4. Have you ever eaten a family meal at a local public house?
5. And finally, does the above picture in any way resemble your mental image of the country in which you were born?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to three or more of the above; congratulations, my friend; you are a hobbit. The chances are, you might also be English.
The Shire as depicted in J. R. R. Tolkien’s classics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings bears so much in resemblance to England; or at the very least, an idyllic picture of England. The rolling green hills and little forests; the acres of farmland. A pub on every corner serving the traditional roast on Sundays. The place names; Glastonbury, Durham, Cheshire, Eastbourne, Guisborough. The public treasure houses we call museums. The emphasis of enjoyment given to such pasttimes as smoking, drinking, dancing and eating. All the things which overseas visitors describe as ‘quaint’ and are so charmed by.
You would be forgiven for believing that the Shire is an allegory for England. Yet, Tolkien was not an author who entertained the application of allegory to his works. In the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings he famously said,
“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.
I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
This was in response to the suggestion that the great war in The Lord of the Rings was allegorical of the first of the world wars, in which Tolkien fought as a young man. It had been claimed that the evil that faced Frodo, Sam and their friends was a reference to the threats of Naziism and Stalinism which spread across Europe in the following years. Tolkien was an adamant critic of both; but was equally adamant in his denial of the allegory.
It would thus appear I have effectively contradicted myself. If there is no allegory in Tolkien’s works, how then could the land of the hobbits be England?
The Shire is a not an allegory but a collection of themes, which can be seen over and over again in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The Shire is the land that always stays green and peaceful, where the people are unmolested and live lives free of care and instead, full of the simple pleasures that a harmony with nature affords. The Shire is the land where the nastier side of politics consists of the mayor painting the Town Hole an unfavourable shade of green. The Shire is that idyllic land which is embedded in all our minds; the land worth protecting and fighting for with heart and soul. The place where we all wish to return to. Home.
I don’t believe that it is then hard to understand why the Shire resembles England. After all, it came from the imagination of an author who loved his home so much.
Picture credit: From the painting Hobbit Panorama by the amazing illustrator David T. Wenzel.