I grew up on The Lord of the Rings. My father owned 5th edition printings of the books (the ones with with the circle on each cover) and, when the extended versions of the Peter Jackson films were released, he bought those too. These films introduced me to the wonderful world of JRR Tolkien, and I would take every opportunity I could to watch them – of which there were plenty, as they were constantly being shown on television. It wouldn’t be until I was about 9 or 10 that I would finally get around to reading through the books themselves and, having fallen in love with the simple complexity of Middle Earth, I moved onto The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. For me, Tolkien’s world became a second home, but I always found myself drawn to the realm of The Shire in particular.
I grew up in a small island community focused primarily on farming. We have a population in my hometown of just over 8,000 people, and I find it to be similar to The Shire in many ways. Bard the Bowman once said of his village Laketown that “It’s a small town, everyone knows where everyone lives” which is true of all communities this small. Even if somebody isn’t aware of somebody else’s address, there seem to be no qualms with openly sharing that information, especially if they happen to be buying from another local online. There is a certain amount of comfort in the people who surround you, even if you don’t know them by name. There is a comfort in The Known , and a fear of The Unknown. Personally I find 8,000 people to be a bit too much, so I would prefer a population closer to that of Hobbiton. It’s large enough that it isn’t purely family members, but small enough that I could still recognise everybody by name.
The attitudes between my two homes are similar as well. There is a certain “status quo” that needs maintaining, and I see this in the reaction to changes proposed by our local council. If they want to change the layout of the high street or add bollards on roads, then the general public will make their disdain known. Even if changes were to be made, it would require vigorous planning and compromises to be met. It’s the kind of place in which abandoning your entire life to assist Dwarves on a quest to retake their homeland would probably be frowned upon. I’m sure that it was the talk of The Shire that day, and the day after, but eventually life returned to normal. It was yesterday’s news, and people moved on. This is true the world over, but I think it is especially prevalent in small communities where word travels fast, and news reaches everybody before the day is out. Of course the status quo does not necessarily need to exist in your own household, but in public you behave in a way that is acceptable. Gandalf is seen as a bit of a troublemaker by the time of Fellowship of the Ring but he recognises the customs that are in place. He doesn’t do anything he thinks might upset the peace.
Bilbo happens to be a brilliant example of the status that exists within small communities. He becomes a well known figure, and his 111th birthday is such a large event that even those hobbits who don’t receive invites are expected to attend anyway. This kind of notoriety leads to people recognising you even if you don’t recognise them. I have, to a fairly small extent, been prone to this myself, although I tend to get recognised because of my mother’s charity work as opposed to my own. However my grandfather- a local historian- was definitely a man of great renown within my hometown, to the extent that walking through the street could take an hour instead of the 15 minutes it should, because people continuously stopped to speak to him. He passed away recently, and as the hearse drove him through every main road, there were numerous people lining the pavements out of respect. All events here are major, and I’d presume that is even more the case in The Shire.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Hobbit-life is how relaxed it seems to be. Even in my hometown, which is viewed generally as a “simple farming community”, the 21st century has arrived and the nature of modern life has taken hold. Everybody seems to feel the need to be constantly busy, always in a rush to get somewhere. We have an ever growing number of loud boy racers doing engine revs late at night, and construction sites starting early in the morning. The town is constantly moving except for in the very early hours. Between the closing of the pubs and the opening of the shops, there exist several hours of peace. I have often found myself awake during that time feeling more at ease than ever. I’m not really a people person. I get anxious in large crowds, even if it’s a large group of friends, I often feel like the general public is judging me for being openly queer, and the people here can come across as a little brazen. I don’t dislike the people here, but I have always said that my town would be a perfect place without them.
I think this is why I fell so deeply in love with The Shire. It is the ideal version of my own hometown. It lacks the harsh aura and the busy atmosphere, whilst having the smaller elements that make my town home. I see in those hobbits the same kinds of people that I already know, from the elderly men smoking over a pint, to the children just excited to watch fireworks. I have friends like Sam, Merry, and Pippin whom I trust as much as Frodo trusts them. Of course, I see myself as Frodo, as I’m sure many people who read The Lord of the Rings do (although it requires some genderbending on my part). Here is a hobbit who wants to see the world, but is still so at ease in the place where he lives. Much like his uncle before him, it would take a wizard to nudge him through the door of adventure, and I hope that my partner can eventually do the same for me. It also helps to associate The Shire with a beautiful piece of music like “Concerning Hobbits” which never fails to bring me joy.
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