Tuesday, September 21, 2010


If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of J. R. R. Tolkien’s landmark fantasy novel The Hobbit, and after a somewhat somber entry last time, I welcome a happier occasion as grist for the virtue mill. Today we’re going to entertain an aggregate virtue I’m hereby inventing, which I will dub “Hobbitude.”

For the two of you five readers who aren’t familiar with it (hi, Gram!), The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, an unlikely hero who at the behest of the wizard Gandalf joins a band of Dwarves on a quest. Bilbo is not a human, but rather a hobbit, which the book explains:  

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it).

Tolkien himself at a later date admitted that, aside from stature, he himself exhibited many hobbit attitudes--or should we say Hobbitude:

I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.

In addition to their fondness for simple food, staying at home, and sleeping in, the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia lists some other virtues of hobbits: Shrewdness, Generosity, Patience, and Fortitude. The entry on “The Character of the Hobbit” deems them “neither ambitious nor introspective, but content.”  

In the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gives us further insight into hobbit Contentment as he describes hero Samwise Gamgee. Sam shows not laziness, but rather self-sufficiency, satisfaction with what he has, and an absence of greed: “Deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense... The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.” Joseph Pearce gives a nice discussion of this “hobbit-sense” in his book Tolkien: Man and Myth.

So tonight, fix yourself a tasty plate of sauteed mushrooms and a pint of your beverage-of-choice, kick back on a soft couch, and raise a toast to the attitude of Gratitude: Hobbitude. Let us remember to be content with what we have, and that the greatest adventure is what lies ahead...  

May we see the gates of Hobbitude, and perhaps make a (very comfy) home there.

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