This Side of the Pond – May 29, 2014

By Sarah Pridgeon

 

If you are by chance a fan of Tolkien, it may interest you to hear that you are acquainted with a real life hobbit. As the epic tale in The Lord of the Rings has essentially become the modern mythology of my homeland, it’s only natural that I fit among the branches of its imaginary tree of life. But it might surprise you to hear that I think you belong there, too.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the details of Middle Earth, the hobbits are a diminutive race of human-like creatures who live among the rustic dwellings and corn fields of the Shire, smoking pipe-weed, sipping from frothing beer mugs and enjoying a good old sing-a-long.

Unlike the elves, dwarves and men, the hobbits prefer a quiet life, free from the unpleasantries of wars, quests and dungeon-delving. They spend their time in the fresh air, caretakers of the land and custodians of tradition. Where possible, they prefer to indulge in at least six meals per day, with first and second breakfasts followed swiftly by elevenses.

Hobbits also have rather large feet and slightly pointed ears, but these are details best ignored when searching for their real-life counterparts. According to the movie version and the truth to be found in my heart, it’s my own friends and neighbors who fill the hobbit role.

I can also tell by listening to them. Hobbits, at least according to Hollywood, speak with the lilting southern accent. Though my own voice contains only a hint of the rolling Dorset dialect, I do still double up my vowels and occasionally indulge in a drawl.

Hobbiton is also startlingly similar in appearance to the rural villages and farms of my home county – and the ones that share its borders. We, too, are regarded as simple folk with a love of country living (although I’m sad to report that most of us only eat the one breakfast).

I believe that the sentiments of my home county can be summed up by the traditional rhyme of our neighbors in Somerset, the next county along. “Dorset born, Dorset bred, strong in the arm and thick in the head,” they say of us, although I hasten to point out that we claim the limerick to be our own but substitute Somerset’s name in our version.

Why do I bring up hobbits? Because you, too, are almost certainly a hobbit. Just like my friends at the southern end of England, you have chosen the tranquil country life over that ill-advised adventuring shenanigans – and quite right, too. As one of our hobbits tells us, they are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things that make you late for dinner.

You may also appreciate the sentiment behind the beloved novels. Though they seem on the surface to be a fantastical story of fairytale creatures, they are really about the preservation of a more traditional way of life.

The thread of the story that concerns we hobbits speaks of the encroachment of industrialization on the once-tranquil Shire. As the evil characters grow in power, they cut down the trees and destroy the natural landscape to build their nefarious empires and feed the flames of war. By the time our heroes return to the land of hobbits, it has been scoured to a blackened shell.

Tolkien was greatly dismayed by the growth of industry. As an adult, he watched as the big city crept nearer to his rural home and the land he so loved was slowly diminished. Though he accepted that a great deal of good came from the industrial revolution, he lamented its effects on the ecology of England.

Tolkien, of course, disliked allegory and insisted that his stories certainly did not fall into that category. Instead, he said, he preferred the term “applicability” and gave his readers the freedom to interpret his work in the light of their own life and times. I choose to interpret that freedom to celebrate the good things in life and note that, here in Sundance, Tolkien could have found the unspoiled home he so craved.

The Lord of the Rings is important to we English because it is essentially the mythology of our homeland. Unlike the Greeks, Romans and Norse with their pantheons of deities and legends of heroism, the United Kingdom has no written record of ever having had its own mythos.

The closest we came in historical times was in the tales of King Arthur, our once and future king, who some say slumbers still under Glastonbury Tor, waiting for the day when England needs him most. These tales of knights and damsels in distress did not appear until long after the supposed king existed, however.

Tolkien recognized that England needed a mythology and set about creating one. Pulling from sources as far-reaching as his experiences in World War I, his talents as a linguist and Nordic epics, he devised what many of us believe is a suitable saga to represent our nation.

It’s taken me a while to come around to the idea of being a hobbit, because it’s not the most immediately glamorous role in the world of Middle Earth. In my imagination, I have always thought of myself rather as an elf.

In my mind, I am gliding elegantly around the streets of Sundance as we speak, resplendent in diaphanous gown with flowing locks of hair. In reality, I am stomping about the office wearing a cardigan and sensible shoes. I am forced to admit that there’s little question of my allegiance and it’s too late for things to change.

But as the snow melts from our mountain and the flowers begin to emerge, I can think of no better time to embrace the hobbit in all of us. A hobbit pauses to look at the view and appreciates a straightforward slice of bread and butter. A hobbit lives in the moment and values the littlest of pleasures, from time with family to a job well done. And as the most famous hobbit of them all once said, “It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.”