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Old 12-27-2004, 09:02 PM   #1
littlemanpoet
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1420! What ain't there and ought to be.

One of the primary drawing points of LotR is the setting: Middle Earth itself. Not least, the Shire and all the things that make it what it is.

But I recently noticed that some things are missing from the Shire that ought to be there if it's to be a viable community. It's not as if the things are actually absent from the Shire; they couldn't possibly be. The thing is, Tolkien didn't include them in any description.

One thing that ain't in the Shire and ought to be is grave yards. There are hobbit holes, lanes, gardens, a museum even, and of course lots of inns; there are mills and towers and trees and party fields and pipeweed; but no grave yards.

There are barrows in Rohan and spread across the landscape of Eriador. There is a tomb in the heart of Erebor. There is Rath Dínen in Minas Tirith. But in the Shire there is no grave yard, no tombstone; the closest we come to such a thing is the memorial to the Battle of Bywater.

What's going on then? Is Tolkien being unrealistic? Are there truly no cemeteries in the Shire? That can't be, because we have deaths listed in the family trees of Appendix C. So obviously there are graveyards in the Shire - we just never come across one.

Why not?

What else ain't there and ought to be?

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Old 12-27-2004, 09:17 PM   #2
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1420! a peaceful picture...

Here's a thought. The Shire was a very peaceable land. No wars, no need for town walls(exception: Buckland's Hedge) or armies or a large police force or anything like that(which could be another ain't but ought to be: army/police). The biggest problems would probably be tavern brawls, which I imagine there would be quite a few, considering how much hobbits drink.

But seriously, the Shire was very quiet and peaceful. Maybe Tolkien put the graveyards out of the picture because it would ruin the picture. Really, cemeteries are very scary places, especially in Middle Earth. I can certainly see why it would make the Shire seem less... well... Shirelike. It might make it more real, but it would ruin the quiet and perfectly peaceful feeling.
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Old 12-28-2004, 04:00 AM   #3
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I always find The Shire to be the most 'complete' community or society within Middle Earth - at least to my modern eyes - it has some kind of governmental structure, trade, clearly delineated districts, and many of the other aspects we might expect from a community. In contrast, other socieites seem to be lacking in essential aspects; Rohan for example does not appear to have a structure in place for trade, which may tie in with its feudal nature, but as Anglo-Saxon society had this, I would have expected to see it in Rohan.

As to why there are no graveyards in The Shire, it might simply be that Tolkien saw no need to write them into the story. Tragedies do happen in The Shire, such as The battle of Bywater, but it is essentailly viewed as an idyllic, bucolic place, and to mention such as graveyards might have affected the mood somewhat. As pure speculation on my part, maybe Hobbits followed the 'green burial' ideal, burying their dead in an eco-friendly fashion in green fields, or maybe even in their own gardens - but as I say, that's pure speculation!
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Old 12-28-2004, 10:13 AM   #4
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Really, cemeteries are very scary places, especially in Middle Earth.
Huh? The only cemetery in Middle earth that I remember being scary or dangerous was the Barrow Downs. The rest of them were somber and sad, but did not possess particular attributes that made them scary.

I don’t remember any mention of Hobbit funerary customs being made anywhere at all. You would think there would be some mention of it regarding the hobbits killed in the battle of Bywater.

Perhaps it has to do with the theme of the hobbits. The other burials were from more warlike races and had kind of a tone of “the great honorable dead” that would go ill with the tone for hobbits as a peaceful people.
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Old 12-28-2004, 11:37 AM   #5
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Well, Sam does mention graveyards in the silly troll rhyme he recites:
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'Up came Tom with his big boots on.
Said he to Troll: 'Pray, what is yon?
For it looks like the shin o' my nuncle Tim,
As should be a-lyin' in graveyard.
Caveyard! Paveyard!
This many a year has Tim been gone,
And I thought he were lyin' in graveyard.'
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Old 12-28-2004, 12:08 PM   #6
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Good question, Littlemanpoet! You've got me thinking again when I should be doing household chores.....

My own feeling is that this is a purposeful omission. As Kuruharan and Gurthang say, it's not so much a matter of being "scary" as that a cemetary just desn't fit into the overall depiction or tone that Tolkien gave us of the Shire.

In addition to the memorial that's already been mentioned, there actually was one brief reference to the internment of the 70 ruffians and 19 hobbits killed in the Battle of Bywater. This seems to imply that burial was the general rule for Hobbits, since it's mentioned so matter-of-factly:

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The dead ruffians were laden on waggons and hauled off to an old sand-pit nearby and there buried: in the Battle Pit as it was afterwards called. The fallen hobbits were laid together in a grave on the hillside, where later a great stone was set up with a garden about it.
I am trying to remember if there are any mention of Hobbit burial customs or tombs in the books outside Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit--specifically Unfinished Tales, the Peoples of Middle-earth, and the four volumes of HoMe that cover the War of the Ring. I could be wrong, but I don't believe so.

I think there are reasons for this. First, the Shire and the Hobbits originated in the children's book The Hobbit . Tolkien added to this tapestry in the beginning chapters of the Lord of the Rings but he essentially did not change the tone of things he had established earlier. Cemetaries or burial customs certainly wouldn't have fit well in a children's book, and Tolkien does not change this pattern at the start of LotR. I am reminded of Tolkien's own short description of the Shire:

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...an ordered district of government and business, the business of growing food and eating it and living in comparative peace and content.
The emphasis here is heavy on "living" in the sense of day to day activities, rather than anything larger. Indeed, the Hobbits are the one folk in the book who best exemplify the simple joys of everyday life.

Other people have commented that the Shire in the early chapters of the Lord of the Rings has a different "feel" about it than other places described later on in Middle-earth. (There is a thread about this that Littlemanpoet started.) Certainly, the Shire was more fanciful, a less somber and dangerous place than others in Middle-earth. There were no Orcs, no battles or hardships in recent memory, and even the weather had taken a milder turn. The reader knows the real reason for the Shire's "protection": its relative distance from the problems further east and, even more importantly, the guardianship of the Rangers. But the Hobbits themselves did not.

There is one other point that bears mentioning. I have always seen a very sharp contrast between the realm of Numenor and that of the Shire. Tolkien may not have done this intentionally, but it certainly comes over in the reading. The people of Numenor were preoccupied with death, those of the Shire preoccupied with living. Numenor built great tombs above the ground and had elaborate burial rituals, which were similar to those in Egypt according to the Letters. The Hobbits were exactly the opposite. They had no elaborate death rituals and the holes they built in the ground were for living and not for death. Hence, there are no cemetaries in the Shire. Interesting thought indeed, when one considers that JRRT's personal experience with a "hole in the ground" was that of the trenches of World War I, places of terrible evil, death, and destruction. Perhaps, in the years after the war, some part of his mind transformed these places of death into the Hobbit holes, which were essentially symbols of life, that we all know and love.

(Interestingly, you can make a similar comparison between Hobbit "living" versus Elvish "decay"and "embalming"....)

And I can think of one other thing that is missing from the Shire, which I believe was left out very intentionally by the author. The Hobbits have no long range memory. They are a people who have forgotten where they come from. Every people that I know preserves some kind of tale that describes their origin, either in the form of history or myth, but the Hobbits simply do not remember and do not seem to be curious to know. The reader is told that they originated about 1050 in the area of the Anduin, although the Hobbits themselves preserve only tiny hints of this distant past. Nothing is known before this date, either by the Hobbits or the reader.

Obviously, like other peoples of Middle-earth, the Hobbits must have been somewhere before 1050. So why doesn't Tolkien go into this when he carefully delineates the line of migration for all three Hobbit branches starting at the Anduin? I don't think it's just negligence. And I refuse to believe that Hobbits simply sprang from the ground in the year 1050. I can think of two possible reasons for their earlier absence. Hobbits aren't part of the Silm so it's easier to say their early history is forgotten. that way there is no need to rewrite the earlier Legendarium, which Tolkien was frequently trying to do. Yet, in actuality, Tolkien really wouldn't have had to rewrite Silm since he covers himself by saying that the Elvish sources simply weren't concerned about Hobbits.

Perhaps it is more than that, and Hobbit history had to be forgotten. If Sauron had been aware of hobbits from his sojourn in Numenor or snooping about in Beleriand or in some other context, he would have been more cognizant of where they lived. He would have realized from the outset that they were a small people and easy to enslave, and would have been able to get to the Shire more easily and capture the elusive "Baggins". So perhaps Hobbit amnesia was a protective device, shielding them from prying eyes and making it possible for Gandalf to choose someone to carry the Ring whom Sauron would be less likely to suspect.
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Old 12-28-2004, 12:42 PM   #7
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And I refuse to believe that Hobbits simply sprang from the ground in the year 1050.
Aule got bored again and created more cave-dwellers, but this time made them cute and harmless so his wife would complain less.
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Old 12-29-2004, 06:59 PM   #8
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Pipe animals/humans

Gurthang:
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...no ... large police force ...
Maybe not large, but there were the shiriffs.

Lalwendë:
Quote:
Rohan for example does not appear to have a structure in place for trade, which may tie in with its feudal nature, but as Anglo-Saxon society had this, I would have expected to see it in Rohan.
Well, Anglo-Saxon society was technically not feudal. It may have had feudal aspects, but it was the Normans that brought thoroughgoing feudalism to England (another reason why Tolkien considered 1066 to be such a disaster?). Feudalism was a post-Roman Imperial economic and political phenomenon, whereas the Anglo-Saxon liege-earl relationship had its roots in prehistoric Nordic patterns. Heorot in Beowulf is the best exemplar of this. Anyway, a reader may assume that Rohan had everything that Anglo-Saxon society had, just as one may assume that the Shire had everything one might expect of 1800s Oxfordshire (including graveyards).

I'm with Kuruharan in thinking of cemeteries as not scary places. However, whereas Kuruharan mentions sadness, I like Child's reminder of the historic component of cemeteries. Monuments are built right into what a cemetery is, including dates. My wife and I often stop at a cemetery and walk around, just to get a sense of the names of those who inhabited the regoin, and their dates. The Hobbits' lack of historic depth is another "ain't there and ought to be", although the "ought to be" is debatable.

Child, The Hobbits' penchant for living is something I had thought of before I started the thread, but I wanted to see what others said.

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They had no elaborate death rituals and the holes they built in the ground were for living and not for death. Hence, there are no cemetaries in the Shire. Interesting thought indeed, when one considers that JRRT's personal experience with a "hole in the ground" was that of the trenches of World War I, places of terrible evil, death, and destruction. Perhaps, in the years after the war, some part of his mind transformed these places of death into the Hobbit holes, which were essentially symbols of life, that we all know and love.
I would have to reply that your "perhaps" is too sieve-like. My own thought runs along the line that Hobbits are (in part) Tolkien's exemplars of humans who are at home being animals/animals who are at home being human. I can't think of a better way to put it. Tolkien calls them a sub-species of humans; these have furry feet, eat constantly, are quick and quiet (in order to avoid Big People), live in holes, and are largely oblivious to things beyond their own small realms. These are all characteristics of animals (and some humans!); and these "animals" are at home being human, loving their beer, baths, gardens, a clean front hallway, are millers, farmers, ostlers, etc. All of that to make the point that Hobbit holes have more to do with the character of hobbits as created by Tolkien than any subconscious reference to World War One trenches.

I do think that your point, contrasting Numenoreans's death-obsession with Hobbits' passion for life, is quite apt.

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Perhaps it is more than that, and Hobbit history had to be forgotten.
Talk about seeing things from the author's point of view! I can't help wondering if this is overstated, though.

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Old 12-30-2004, 12:25 AM   #9
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that Hobbits are (in part) Tolkien's exemplars of humans who are at home being animals/animals who are at home being human.
Hmm...interesting. I think I can go along with this as long as I see the qualifier: the words "in part". I don't think the later experiences of Sam and Frodo, or even of Merry and Pippin, fit well under this rubric if it's applied too narrowly. Surely they have gone beyond this.

I also have another question. If we accept the definition you've given above for Hobbits, then what does it say about us as humans, or even about JRRT? At one point, the author himself said something to the effect that "I am in part a hobbit". Are we saying that the animal part is an important piece of us? Perhaps, we're not just Elves, driven by the desire to subcreate or embalm, and that we ignore the Hobbit or animal part (in a positive sense) at our own peril. Perhaps, despite the narrowness and parochialism that limits the Hobbit mind, we can not be a full human without it. After all, in one footnote in the Letters, Tolkien clearly said that all the different races--Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit--were simply different pieces of the human mind. If that is so, and the Hobbit is an "animal", what does it say about us?

But are we actually so sure about this animal/Hobbit equivalency? At one point JRRT furiously denied that the Hobbits were the equivalent of "rabbits". I know there is another recent theory set down on paper that Hobbits actually resemble badgers more closely. This is discussed in The Uncharted Realms of Tolkien , by Lewis and Currie, which is a book I'd love to read but it's only available in the UK, and, even there, it seems hard to get hold of. I believe that Davem owns this work so he may have some knowledge of this argument.

And despite your skepticism, I still can't help thinking that JRRT's personal experiences crawling around in muddy holes in WWI bore some relation to Hobbit holes, if only in the sense of transforming a terrible experience into something far different. Of course, there's another way to look at this, which deals neither with my WWI trenches or your animal holes in the ground. Many of the faerie folk live inside hills. Indeed, this was said of the Sidhe who were said to hide inside hollow hills. Knowing the layer upon layer of meaning in JRRT's mind, I would rather think that all three of these factors had some part to play in the evolution of the Hobbit hole.

Regarding Hobbit history.... I do think there is a mysterious absence of it. Can it be explained solely by the lack of memory typically shown by the animal? I just don't think so once you bring Frodo and Bilbo into the equation. Bilbo spent most of his life gathering and translating tales of the Elvish past, going far back in time, but not one word is said about the existence of Hobbits before 1050. That can't be coincidence.

I am admittedly thinking out loud in this post and floundering for answers, but I believe there are implications here that go beyond what you've suggested.
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Old 12-30-2004, 03:31 AM   #10
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This is interesting - why do Hobbits live in Hobbit holes and what does it mean? Firstly, I have to point out that not all Hobbits live in smials, and surely the practice would eventually become more obsolete as the population of The Shire grew and it became harder to find suitable hole delving 'real estate'?

I like Child's idea of the smial being developed from Tolkien's experiences in the trenches, but I'd like to turn it around a little and look at a hole in the ground as being a place of safety. During trench warfare, the 'hole in the ground' would be the only relatively safe place to be. It was above ground that the real dangers lurked. And smials are not deep holes, they are not like the tunnels of the Dwarves and Orcs, they have windows and while snug and safe, they are also close to the surface. The dangerous tunnels might be like those seen in Birdsong, dug deep beneath the trenches for the purposes of undermining the enemy front lines. So, perhaps Tolkien saw the smial as emblematic of relative safety.

Quote:
Many of the faerie folk live inside hills
There is definitely something interesting in this, and rather than Hobbits being animal, I think they are far more faerie. They are slightly, but not completely, hidden in their smials. They are in effect camouflaged; like inhabitants of faerie, we can see them if we try just hard enough to look beyond what we expect to see (i.e. just a hill), and they are always there. If we don't allow oursleves to 'see' then we will not notice them, rather like Sauron fails to notice the existence of Hobbits, as he is unable to make himself open to the possibility. In some ways, Hobbits are more like the inhabitants of Faerie than the Elves are. They are more linked with our folklore, and more like us, like another aspect of us.
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Old 12-30-2004, 10:13 AM   #11
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Pipe mythic unities

I'm going to have to start a new thread, because this idea of mythic unity goes way beyond the scope of this one. But just to give you a clue as to what I'm talking about, I think that Tolkien achieved a lot of mythic unities in LotR. That is to say, he re-combined things in various races that had gotten pulled from each other. I'll get into more detail in the new thread.

Lalwendë, you've hinted at it with your conception that hobbits are more like faeries than animals. I would agree with you, except that I would state it thusly: hobbits' faerie nature partakes (in part) of a fascinating combination of humanity and animality.

Child, yes, I think the animality/humanity of hobbits says a lot about us, and I tend to think that JRRT knew exactly what he was getting at with it.

I still think that the WW1 trenches have more to do with Tolkien's Mordor than the Shire.

And I agree that the five primary hobbits do go beyond the animality/humanity unity; after all, they are the main characters! They would have to. Nevertheless, Samwise never loses the unity. Being a happily married gardener (and mayor) is all about the animality of being human. Onto that new thread!
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Old 12-30-2004, 10:37 AM   #12
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Lalwende - You may be right on the idea of the "comparative safety" of the trench at least when considering the alternatives that JRRT would have had! In reality, however, they were muddy and unsanitary and unpleasant places!

Littlemanpoet -

I'll definitely take a look at that "new" thread..... after I get my chores done .

I did drop a note to Davem regarding the question of Hobbits as badgers and am hoping he'll drop by to give us more clarification on that idea. I've been told by several friends in the UK that it's an interesting book and an intriguing argument, though it is all conjecture rather than hard fact.

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Old 12-30-2004, 01:36 PM   #13
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Lalwende - You may be right on the idea of the "comparative safety" of the trench at least when considering the alternatives that JRRT would have had! In reality, however, they were muddy and unsanitary and unpleasant places!
The trenches were undoubtedly so! Tolkien was after all sent home with Trench Fever, which is contracted by suffering from lice, so we can tell he did not find the trenches too pleasant. Now, right at the start of The Hobbit, Tolkien actaully qualifies exactly what sort of hole a hobbit might live in:

Quote:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
The words in bold seem to convey a little of the trenches - and maybe he made use of the 'comparative safety' element when creating smials, but also needed to make sure we knew, as readers, that these holes were something quite different to the filthy conditions of the trenches.
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Old 12-30-2004, 01:43 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by lmp
I still think that the WW1 trenches have more to do with Tolkien's Mordor than the Shire.
Definitely. Philip Gibbs, British WW1 correspondent, published 'Now It Can Be Told' after the war was over. He gave his eyewitness account of the trenches at the Somme. I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say that .... No. Nevermind.

In Tolkien's 'nastiest' LOTR narrative, he never even came close.

The fact that a hobbit-hole was a NICE, pleasant place makes it diametrically opposite from the trenches at the Somme. They weren't safe, they weren't cozy and they weren't nice. Men went mad sitting in them during the endless shelling. Trenches were worse than oozy, filled with much much much worse than the ends of worms. And you don't want to know about the smell. I've said too much already.
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Old 12-30-2004, 02:14 PM   #15
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In answer to Child's question on the theory about Badgers in The Uncharted Realms of Tolkien.

(summary, in my own words, with scattered quotes)

Quote:
The 'Rabbit' connection has been pointed out by Shippey. Rabbits are not a native English species, but badgers are. Badgers tend to be fat, as they don't hibernate. They live in Burrows of up to 25 clan members. 'Their sociability, love of food & home comforts, communal underground dwelling & general inoffensiveness combined with great courage & tenacity at need - are they the very points at which hobbits are most like badgers?'

The name ‘badger is modern. The older name is ‘brock’ (from old Welsh).

Quote:
What is singularly important in the present context is the names which the Scandinavian languages use for ‘badger’. Danish has has ‘graevling’, Norwegian has ‘grevling’, & Swedish has ‘gravling’. ...almost all the words are associated with holes or excavations in the f=ground - ‘grav’ is grave in Danish & Norwegian, & grave, ditch or hole in Swedish...A linguistic point which connects badgers & Hobbits is that of place-names in the Shire which contain badger words
Brockhouses means a ‘badger-sett’ - also the ‘Brockenborings’. Another possible badger name is ‘Bagshott Row’ (deriving from Bag’s Holt - meaning Badger’s wood or thicket) - this acording to Paula Marmor in Allen: ‘An introduction to Elvish’.

The author’s then proceed to speculate on whether Tolkien began by writing a ‘beast fable’ about badgers, which grew into the story we have.
The Badger/Hobbit link is clear - well, it is after reading the whole 12 page, closely printed chapter. But how far it can be pushed is another question. It's possible Tolkien was just playing linguistic games. Its cetainly interesting...
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Old 12-30-2004, 02:55 PM   #16
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Boots

I can just see the Hollywood animated feature now: Roger Badger (and the Barrow of Doom?).
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Old 01-02-2005, 05:56 AM   #17
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Sorry to digress as I often to do the start of a thread...

But I always imagined that tradition in the shire was that hobbits were buried in a suitable place - need not be together - for instance under a favourite tree or out in the orchard - in a loved glade or near a favourite turn in a stream. I didn't imagine that the hobbits would leave large gravestones, merely a small cairn of rocks or a small plaque, simply engraved. To me, this fits in with the wholesome nature of hobbits - rememberance should be in the head - let them rest in a favourite spot and remember them in your annals and geneologies - without marring the landscape with unsightly stones or graveyards.

That of course would been there were many graves scattered aroudn the shire - impractical considering all the digging the hobbits do - the fear of disturbing old bones would mar any gardener's plans.

Good point - i can't really find a place for the dead in hobbit society - cept in their annals of course. Probably better that Tolkien left it out.

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Old 01-02-2005, 09:01 AM   #18
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The lack of certain pieces of what we would normally assume to be ‘important’ pieces of information has always struck me as a conscious piece of story-telling by Tolkien, insofar as it makes his world more realistic (in the sense of literary realism). In a novel set in contemporary London, for example, would you expect to find descriptions of graveyards and police forces if these did not feature in the story? Of course not, because we know that graveyards and police are a part of the fabric of London, along with Buckingham Palace and doubledeck buses and dog mess on the sidewalks, and on and on and on.

I remember once reading an interview with George Lucas in which he explained that for him, one of the hallmarks of bad sci-fi is that it spends too much time describing the world it is set in rather than telling a story set in that world. I think that Lucas learned this from Tolkien.

Of course there are graveyards in the Shire, just as there are kitchens and larders in Minas Tirith – these features are not described by the narrators because they are not part of the story and to take time out to address these would call attention to the fact that ‘need’ to be described, which would destroy their reality. A novel set in Paris does not need to describe the Eiffel Tower because we already know it’s there and it is real. To set about describing a Hobbit graveyard is to highlight the fact that one has to describe such a thing because such a thing does not exist. It’s a wonderful slight of hand practised by realist authors since the invention of the form in the 19th century: what you don’t describe is magically made into an ‘assumed’ or ‘given’ element of the story’s reality. In effect, you make things real for the reader by ignoring them!

This has always struck me as a double-edged sword in fantasy, however, for it shows up how the tactics of realist authors are anything but ‘real’. The London of Dickens is no more a “real” place than the Shire; they are created/imaginative realms that are brought to life for the reader through a set of literary/narrative techniques. Where things get interesting, of course, is in looking at why certain elements of the narrated world are deemed ‘important’ to the story by their inclusion in it: the patterns of hobbit-holes (living) and Numenorean-tombs (death), for example, is a fascinating idea I’d never considered before.
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Old 01-02-2005, 09:34 AM   #19
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I think the question of the absence of 'graveyards' arises for a good reason, and though what you say is a good point, it is the fact that we see a significant battle with deaths resulting that brings up the question - we expect to see graveyards/burial rites because we have already seen them in other parts of the book. Throughout LotR we see many deaths, which are usually followed with solemn 'burials' - I say 'burials' as not all are actual internments, some are more 'funeral rites'. In addition, to Hobbits, funeral rites are not a strange concept as they see these in other cultures.

Yet we do have graveyards of a kind in The Shire after the Battle of Bywater:

Quote:
Nearly seventy of the ruffians lay dead on the field, and a dozen were prisoners. Nineteen hobbits were killed, and some thirty were wounded. The dead ruffians were laden on waggons and hauled off to an old sand-pit nearby and there buried: in the Battle Pit, as it was afterwards called. The fallen hobbits were laid together in a grave on the hill-side, where later a great stone was set up with a garden about it. So ended the Battle of Bywater, 1419, the last battle fought in the Shire, and the only battle since the Greenfields, 1147, away up in the Northfarthing. In consequence, though it happily cost very few lives, it has a chapter to itself in the Red book, and the names of all those who took part were made into a Roll, and learned by heart by Shire-historians. The very considerable rise in the fame and fortune of the Cottons dates from this time; but at the top of the Roll in all accounts stand the names of Captains Meriadoc and Peregrin.
What is interesting in this passage is that the communal burial with a stone and garden is highly reminiscent of the war memorials we see today. The 'Roll' also brings to mind the boards which are seen in churches listing fallen locals in various conflicts. So we do not see an extensive graveyard, but we do see that the fallen Hobbits are buried, and they do receive an appropriate memorial and resting place.

Another interesting aspect to this is that in the fourth version of A Long-Expected Party it is said of Bilbo's death (as was intended at that time):

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His relatives and neighbours lost the chance of a funeral, and they had a good deal to say.
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Old 01-06-2005, 01:24 PM   #20
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Lalwendë,

Thanks for that final reference on the funeral. I had totally forgotten it.

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Also, the other day I was blithely reading a Tolkien interview from the NYTimes of January 1967 when my jaw dropped open. Some of the ideas expressed in these two paragraphs seemed to bear an odd resemblance to our discussion in this thread! (The italics are mine)

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"Hobbits," Tolkien says, "have what you might call universal morals. I should say they are examples of natural philosophy and natural religion." They are certainly capable of extraordinary bravery and humaneness; living in burrows, their creator declares, doesn't amount to anything like an animal kink.

"People still love thatched houses; they pretend it's because they're cool in summer and warm in winter, and they'll even pay a bit of extra insurance. We found German trenches which were often very habitable indeed except that, when we reached them, they faced the wrong way about. And have you been to England's oldest pub, the Trip to Jerusalem? It is carved out of the solid rock of Nottingham Castle. I went to Nottingham once for a conference. I fear we went to the Trip to Jerusalem and let the conference get on with itself."

"Animal kink!" I love it. First, Littlemanpoet you're obviously going to have to duke it out with the Professor if you persist in your belief that living in burrows is further proof of the Hobbits' essential animal nature. Then again JRRT had a solid reputation for contradicting himself. If we searched more intensively on the web, I can probably find another interview where the author argued the exact opposite. I say that with considerable amusement and affection!

Secondly, who said that a German trench couldn't be the original prototype of Bag-end?

Seriously though, what leaps out at me from these brief consecutive paragraphs is how JRRT's mind leapt from one subject to the next, making these interesting connections that would never have been evident on the surface of things. I can see how this can be wonderfully creative, yet make it difficult for someone to finish anything they start. And, perhaps more importantly, it also means it's difficult for us or any other so-called critics to nail down the origin of many of the ideas and concepts he's used. They've just gone through too many permutations.

I confess that my own mind works similarly, but only in one exceedingly humble respect. When I try to do housework, my mind flashes from one task to the next and consequently nothing whatsoever actually gets done!
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Old 01-06-2005, 03:59 PM   #21
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His relatives and neighbours lost the chance of a funeral, and they had a good deal to say.
I wonder what this implies about Hobbit funerals. Were they 'wakes'? Were they highly organised events - like Birthday parties. If not, why were the hobbits annoyed at having missed Bilbo's? Of course, this tells us nothing about what happened to the body.

Of course, it could be that funerals were solemn events which were felt to be 'the proper thing'. It may have been another example of Bilbo 'letting the side down' - or rather Bingo letting the side down. These little asides are interesting because of what they reveal about Hobbit culture, & about Tolkien's heroes in particular. Clearly this aside was intended to convey something about the two hero's attitude to the mores of the Shire, & show how different they were. A funeral should have been held for Bilbo, but wasn't, & the other Hobbits didn't approve.

I suppose this is another thing that 'ain't there & ought to be' - not in the sense that Tolkien has missed something out, but in the sense that his heroes have a tendency to miss things out. Perhaps its an example of Tolkien's own 'Hobbitry'.

One could perhaps say that our esteemed LmP has lost his chance of graveyards in the Shire & has had a good deal to say about it
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Old 01-06-2005, 04:31 PM   #22
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Quote:
Clearly this aside was intended to convey something about the two hero's attitude to the mores of the Shire, & show how different they were. A funeral should have been held for Bilbo, but wasn't, & the other Hobbits didn't approve.

Davem -

It's interesting because my reaction to this quote was different than your own.

Quote:
His relatives and neighbours lost the chance of a funeral, and they had a good deal to say.
What drew my attention in that quote were the final words: "and they had a good deal to say." It seems to me that what they were bemoaning was not that a "proper" funeral had not been held, but rather that they had not had a chance to discuss Bilbo behind his back, after he was dead and they were quite safe from his sharp wit.

Above all else, a funeral is a social gathering where you get to see people you haven't seen in ages. A great deal of time is spent discussing the attributes of the deceased. Some of this is open and shared with all. Other conversations are quietly held in the corners, since they may be too 'honest' for some. Yes, it's all said with a wistful smile and in good spirits, but people do remember the foibles of the deceased as well as the accomplishments. Bilbo had a great many foibles in the eyes of his neighbors. Without a funeral, his neighbors found they'd been denied a final opportunty to discuss their nonconformist neighbor.

To me, this brief quote is another example of the fact that, in the Shire, the emphasis is on the living and not the dead (as it was in Numenor). Even a side quip about a funeral focuses humorously on the needs of the mourners to gossip rather than viewing it as a solemn memorial to the deceased.

There is a social or communal aspect of mankind that is reflected in the Shire. I do agree with Littlemanpoet that the Hobbits have some natural and animal-like characteristics, but they also display certain social behaviors that operate on a different level. Such proclivities remind me less of rabbits and badgers, and more of what I see in my neighbors when folk attend funerals and weddings, spread rumors over the back fence or, heaven forbid, post here on the Downs!
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Old 01-06-2005, 07:01 PM   #23
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1420!

I wonder if Hobbits give gifts away at funerals... I know I could see Bilbo writing out invitations for his own funeral, and getting a good chuckle out of it.
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Old 01-06-2005, 09:09 PM   #24
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1420! a mild remonstration...and one not so mild

Child, you misapprehend my meaning. Probably my fault.
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you're obviously going to have to duke it out with the Professor if you persist in your belief that living in burrows is further proof of the Hobbits' essential animal nature
Essential? I want to protest, but then it ends up depending on how you mean 'essential'. Ah, what hey, right? Anyway, I bet that Tolkien was defending his hobbits against "nothing buttery". I certainly join him in that! Hobbits certainly are not nothing but animals disguised as humans! That would be silly, but that was what some critics were snidely saying, if my memory serves me correctly. I don't blame Tolkien at all for defending against that ridiculous blather!

All I am saying (in both this and that other thread ) is that we humans, as both animal and having fëar, are not often able to be at peace being both at once. Tolkien's supreme success with hobbits is that they are happy being both. Would that we were - but then we'd be hobbits, I suppose, and maybe that's not such a bad thing!

Quote:
One could perhaps say that our esteemed LmP has lost his chance of graveyards in the Shire & has had a good deal to say about it
davem, are you actually equating me with the Sackville-Bagginses!? The nerve! I always thought there was a bit too much Took in you!
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Old 01-07-2005, 12:54 AM   #25
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An admission and some reflections....

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All I am saying (in both this and that other thread ) is that we humans, as both animal and having fëar, are not often able to be at peace being both at once. Tolkien's supreme success with hobbits is that they are happy being both.
Littlemanpoet -

Thanks for that clarification. Stated in those terms, I feel you are right in pointing out the Hobbits' singular ability to accept and appreciate both sides of their nature.

Yet there's one other question I can't help raising. I'm not quite sure how to phrase this, but I'll try. Littlemanpoet - Perhaps your statement about the ragged split in our nature and our inability to accept who we are does not apply equally to all human beings. Perhaps this is something that's more prone to strike so-called modern "educated" men and women, those who feel they've gone beyond man's "more primitive" side and rejected anything that can't be proven rationally.

Yes, I'm talking about folk like us who take pride in intellectual achievement and come to a website to spend endless hours analyzing a piece of literature. (Looks guiltily in the mirror....!) Or other folk who take such joy in being "professionals" that they define their worth in terms of a particular niche they fill in a community. Even more likely victims of the disease would be someone like Howard Bloom or Greer Germaine, who were such great admirers of Tolkien! (In fact I wonder if it's possible to be a 'serious' reader of Tolkien, and not have at least a grudging admiration for those furry-footed Hobbits and their unique dual nature.) Basically, I think that in any situation when one faculty is emphasized to such a degree, something else is in danger of being lost.

We lose touch with part of who we really are: that fellow with the big furry feet who finds delight in small family matters and home-cooked meals. I guess I am looking backward in my own life and remembering human beings who contradict what you've said concerning the great rift in the human soul. I think such people do exist. I grew up in what was a neighborhood where few people had any semblance of higher education. While this was not a rural community, the values that I saw were not too different than those Tolkien depicted in his Shire. There was no deep love of the earth, but there was a consistent joy in small things: family, gossip over the back fence, hearty tankards of ale and simple human interaction (without counting who'd scored a point and who did not). Somertimes I found these things missing in the academic world to which I'd managed to gain admittance.

I don't want to idealize that childhood community beyond the point of recognition. There were limitations in thinking, a narrowness and parochialism that Tolkien himself recognized in Hobbits, and which I wanted to flee. Yet, even today, there are things I glean when I go 'home' to that original community that seem harder to find elsewhere. My 94-year old mom, for example, knows who she is and accepts her place in life, which to me is an essential ingredient of any Hobbit. I wish I had a little more of that quality, and a little less of the great divide! (No wonder poor Frodo couldn't live in the Shire any more! I can't think of any character who had a greater divide than he did by the end of the book.)

I think Tolkien modelled Hobbits on real people he had encountered in his own childhood: simple but extraordinary people who had managed to bridge the two parts of the human soul. They were small and limited in many respects but they were also very real. What strikes me about Tolkien is that he was able to appreciate both sides of his own nature in an extraordinary way. He had an amazing mind, but he never stopped appreciating the simplest of joys. There are stories told how the old gentleman professor would stop and strike a conversation with the gardener or porter in the college and have an earnest discussion on one thing or another. Yes, I'm sure there were "class differences" but how many of us treat other people like people even to this degree.

We've come a long way from death and tombstones.....or have we? To understand why those tombstones aren't there in the Shire, we have to acknowledge that a large piece of Hobbit nature was focused on the simple task of living in the present. That meant history was minimized and forgotten. So too was the need to dwell on cosmic questions of mortality and immortality such as the Numenoreans had done. Since Hobbit life focused on the here and now, why erect fancy memorials to the deceased? Whatever came afterwards, you would simply accept....

Hey, thanks for those ideas, Littlemanpoet . You got me thinking, probably more for myself than anyone else's benefit. But it was interesting.
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Old 01-07-2005, 07:08 AM   #26
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Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Tombs & Caves

It's occured to me that this discussion of 'essential nature' in relation to death and death rituals is something that we can follow to the other races of Middle-earth.

Elves, for example, don't have graveyards -- at least, there is no mention made anywhere. Arwen, of course, gets buried after her death, but she's mortal then so gets treated like a human. It makes sense that Elves don't have tombs or graves or anything, since they are immortal. Seems to me that they would be rather ill-equipped to deal with death, or even to understand it really. This has always struck me as a particularly limited aspect to Elvish nature: to go on for centuries never having to face death. I am sure that there was plenty of death in the First Age but the wars of the Second and Third Age were relatively sparse and the casualties among the Elves well below the numbers of those departing for the West. Besides, death in war is a special case: there simply is no part or place for 'natural' deaths in Elvish society. They're almost like children insofar as they never have to think about their mortality or face the loss of a loved one.

It's interesting, then, that like hobbits they live underground: at least some of them. While by the time of the War of the Ring, there's only (apparently) Thranduil who still has a large underground palace, there were a number of such places in the First Age. Given how out of touch Elves are with the natural cycle, what do we make of their desire to live in the earth? I can't help but see their underground palaces as very Elvish places in which they did not try to live 'in' nature, but in defiance of it: above ground, things change and grow and die. Below ground, things are a lot more stable and static.

Dwarves are, of course, also a people who live underground, but despite this they seem somehow -- and perhaps oddly -- more in touch with nature than the Elves. This is counter intuitive, I realise: I am not suggesting that Dwarves 'get' trees better than Elves (clearly ridiculous) but that they seem more in tune with, or accepting of, the natural cycle than Elves. Their tunnels and halls underground are mines: places of industry and change, where they acquire goods for trade and commerce with other peoples. Their acceptance of change and flux is marked by the fact that they have tombs (Thorin's and Balin's in the books). They apparently have a well-developed set of rituals around death and dying which allows them to incorporate these into their societies. In fact, so adept are they at 'accepting' and incorporating death that Thorin's tomb becomes the literal centre of Erebor.

These seems to be a 'better' way and approach than the Elves, but it leads toward a dangerous path, I think -- that charted by the Numenoreans, who quite famously became so obsessed with death and funerary rites, that their whole society became statically obsessed with these rites to its destruction. So is there some kind of a spectrum here? With Elves at one end, in death-denial, Men at the other in death-celebration (even the Rohirrim have the mounds right in front of their city; the Barrows are the creations of Men), and Dwarves are somewhere in the middle?

So where does this leave the hobbits? Might I suggest that they somehow synthesise these positions? They live in the ground and resist change, like Elves, but at the same time are engaged in the natural world of change and generation. Their holes are not retreats from the world but very much part of the word. Whereas the great Elven halls are "carved from the living rock" hobit holes are "delved in hill sides". In this they are perhaps a bit like Dwarves, insofar as their holes are places that get 'used' for the process of living, but they do not combine their homes with places of industry: they don't live in mines, the purpose of which are to remove the goods from the earth. They work with nature and in nature, without living off of nature or removing things from it. Like Dwarves and Men, then, they have a sense of the change of natural living and accept it, and make a place for it with funerary rites and funerals, but only where and when appropriate. They don't, like Men (and possibly Dwarves) go to the other extreme and place death and dying and remembering the dead at the centre of their culture and experience. They make room for the dead in the realm of the living.

The extensive genealogies might have something to do with this. Family trees are really little more than records of the dead -- commemorations of the dead: tombs in paper. But they are tombs that are expressed in the form of life: family trees which outline how the living are related to one another through the dead. It is a way of keeping the dead 'around' as part of the living society, while maintaining and emphasis upon the living and the act of living.

So here I go with what may be something of a flyer: why are there no graveyards mentioned in the Shire? Because the hobbits already live in tombs: their holes are living, natural tombs. They are holes in the ground where the memory of the dead, and even the 'presence' of the dead, are maintained and celebrated in and by the process of living and natural existence kept up by their descendants. By the end of LotR, I think we can see Bag End as Bilbo's and Frodo's tomb, kept alive and in joy by Sam, Rosie and their children. The Appendices even extend this by telling us of the death of Rosie and the passing of Sam -- so Bag End becomes their 'living tomb' as well.

One more thought that just occurs to me: Merry and Pippin are both buried in tombs with Men (both are buried in Gondor, are they not? With Aragorn?). Perhaps this is the final marker of their otherness, their separation from their essential hobbitish nature?
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Old 01-07-2005, 09:16 AM   #27
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Fordim -

There's some awfully interesting ideas here. I like your description of geneologies as "tombs on paper" and as a way to keep the dead around as part of the living society....also, your reference to Bag-end as a "living tomb" and the idea that Merry and Pippin's unique burial emphasizes the way in which these two Hobbits have separated from the community.

It's strange to think of Merry and Pippin's wives buried safely back in the Shire, while their husbands' bodies were laid to rest so far away. Tolkien was so intent on keeping wives and husbands together throughout the entire Legendarium. Characters like Luthien and Arwen had to give up their very nature to cling to their spouse, Aragorn had to wait to marry till his wandering was over, and other characters like Bilbo and Frodo could not marry at all because, as Tolkien implies in Unfinished Tales, they had to be free to journey on their own and carry out their great responsibilities in terms of the Ring. Having Pippin and Merry buried so far away does represent a break from this theme of responsibility of husband to wife. He must have had a good reason for depicting Merry and Pippin's burial as being so separate from their wives and the Shire as a whole.

And it isn't only Merry and Pippin who had a "unique burial" that emphasized their separateness from other Hobbit kin. So too did Frodo and even Sam. Both of them were buried far outside the Shire in a tiny tomb in the West. (I love Mithadan's description of the Hobbits' resting place in his fanfiction. ) Like Merry and Pippin, Sam's burial involves separation from his own wife. So the mere fact of being a Hobbit who participated in the Ring quest requires you to be buried "separately" from the Shire and your normal kinfolk, even down to splitting the natural husband/wife bond.

But there's one part of your equation I'm wondering about: that of the nature of Elves.

Quote:
Elves, for example, don't have graveyards -- at least, there is no mention made anywhere. Arwen, of course, gets buried after her death, but she's mortal then so gets treated like a human. It makes sense that Elves don't have tombs or graves or anything, since they are immortal. Seems to me that they would be rather ill-equipped to deal with death, or even to understand it really. This has always struck me as a particularly limited aspect to Elvish nature: to go on for centuries never having to face death. I am sure that there was plenty of death in the First Age but the wars of the Second and Third Age were relatively sparse and the casualties among the Elves well below the numbers of those departing for the West. Besides, death in war is a special case: there simply is no part or place for 'natural' deaths in Elvish society. They're almost like children insofar as they never have to think about their mortality or face the loss of a loved one.
Actually, I've usually thought of Elves as being very preoccupied with death, just as much as Men if not more so. They were so preoccupied with the need to stave off any change that they "embalmed" their own world. That word "embalmed" that Tolkien consistently used to describe Elven culture is laden with meaning. Maybe most Elves didn't die individually, but they turned life itself into a kind of living death because they feared the death of that which was around them. How hard it must have been to live for thousands of years and see death constantly taking away the people who were close to you. Finrod makes this clear in his discussion with Andreth:

Quote:
"Sad to me, Andreth," he said, "is the swift passing of your people. For now Boron your father's father is gone; and though he was old, you say, as ages go among Men, yet I had known him too briefly. Little while indeed it seems to me since I first saw Beor in the east of this land, yet now he is gone, and his son's, and his son's sons also."
This type of loss would have been common in the First and even the Second Age when Men and Elves came in contact with some regularity. By the Third Age, Elves had purposely secluded themselves from Men and other mortals so they wouldn't have to deal with this distressing reality of death.

Many Elves met individual bodily death: this was common in the early ages. Finrod's response to Andreth on this subject was very strong, and suggests that Elves feared death greatly and and that this fear of death was uppermost in their minds:

Quote:
What do ye know of death? Ye do not fear it, because ye do not know it," said Andreth.

We have seen it and we fear it ," answered Finrod. "We too may die, Andreth; and we have died. My father's father was cruelly slain, and many have followed him, exiles in the night, in the cruel ice, in the insatiable sea. And in Middle-earth we have died, by fire and by smoke, by venom and the cruel blades of battle. Feanor is dead, and Fingolphin was trodden under the feet of Morgoth."
When Andreth responds to him, she argues that Elves do not really know death, since they go out for only a limited time, but then return to the world and life. Finrod's response to that was very swift and worded even more strongly, stressing the fact that Elves have no idea what will occur at the end of Arda, when they will seemingly die forever.

Quote:
Thus far, then, I perceive that the great difference between Men and Elves is in the speed of the end. In this only. For if you deem that for the Quendi there is no death ineluctable, you err.

.....You see us, the Quendi, still in the first ages of our being, and the end is far off. As may be among you death may seem to a young man in his strength...But the end will come. That we all know. And then we must die' we must perish utterly, it seems, for we belong to Arda... And beyond that what? "the going out to no return," as you say; "the uttermost end, the irredemable loss."

"Our hunter is slow footed, but he never loses the trail."
How sad this is! My feeling is that Elves, as much or more than the men of Numenor, were preocupied with images of death and demise: the death of the mortals around them, their own individual slayings and, most of all, the prospect of annihilation when the final chapter of Arda came. There was no way out of this cycle, no way to go "beyond the circles of the world" that had at least been promised to Men.

So I see the equation differently in terms of Hobbits. Rather than a balance with the Hobbits in the middle, the Elves on one end (unconcerned with death) and the Men on the other (preoccupied with death), I see a teeter totter: Elves and Men equally concerned by death, and Hobbits at the other end. I guess with their "tomb" burrows and their geneologies that pulled the dead back into their lives, they somehow incorporated death in life rather than being so ruled by it.
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Old 01-07-2005, 09:49 AM   #28
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Child: thanks for the fascinating and eloquent reply, but I must clarify my point a bit in response to yours.

I do not think that the Elves are "uconcerned" with death: quite the reverse. Like you, I find the Elves to be nearly obsessed with death, but this obsession takes the form of denial. Everything they do and are is in defiance of death: they do not die, they live their lives in fear of what they love dying, the wars they fight are to prevent the death of what they want to keep. In this respect I suppose we see Men and Elves in the same way -- each is preoccupied with death, but in different ways.

For a race that is born to immortality, the idea of death must be a foreign thing. It is not a part of their 'natural' functioning, death for Elves is unnatural. Where I think they go wrong, all too often, is in letting their fear and denial of death effect the way they live. The same thing happens with Men. Whereas Men defy death by erecting tombs to the dead, the Elves seem to entomb, even mummify, their lives. The greatest of the Elven realms become like sterile sarcophagi that go on unchanging and static in defiance of natural change, and living. These are beautiful places, but static and 'dead' nonetheless: like the pyramids of Egypt, Lorien is a place that I'd love to visit, but I wouldn't want to stay there forever as to do so is to give up on the process of living.

This is why I cling to the idea of hobbits as synthesising the position of Elves and Men. They accept death into their lives and acknowlege it (as the Elves are not able to do) and commemorate it without it becoming the defining term of their existence (as it does for Men).
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Old 01-07-2005, 12:30 PM   #29
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Fordim -

This must be my thread for misunderstanding what everyone is saying. However, on this one I'm going to stick to my guns. Actually, we agree on many points.... But I cannot agree with this sentence in your original post, and I think it's a critical point:

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They're almost like children insofar as they never have to think about their mortality or face the loss of a loved one.
I can't agree. Elves were very aware of the fact that they would die at the end of Arda and had thought about that in some sophisticated ways. Moreover, death in battle was extremely common during the tumult in Beleriand: entire families were split apart, women and children murdered with the sack of cities by Orc armies. And once in the Halls of Mandos, there was no assurance that an Elf would leave them quickly. Death did affect their lives. They might pretend to deny that, but the reality was otherwise.

In the First Age, Men and Elves fought side by side. Close relationships and alliance were forged. Far down into the Second Age, the Men of Numenor had close contact with the Elves who paid frequent visits. Many of these Men earned the title "Elf-Friend". And then there was the alliance at the end of the Second Age. Surely, the Elves would mourn the deaths of Men that they termed friends and, in some cases this relationship was close enough that it can be said that the Elves did "lose loved ones". It's only in this context that we can understand the "gated communities" they had constructed by the Third Age.

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This is why I cling to the idea of hobbits as synthesising the position of Elves and Men. They accept death into their lives and acknowlege it (as the Elves are not able to do) and commemorate it without it becoming the defining term of their existence (as it does for Men).
I would definitely agree that Hobbits were unique in not making death the defining term of their existence. They seem to have accepted it as part of a natural cycle. But I still don't see clear lines of demarcation between Elves and Men in this regard. In my opinion, both Men and Elves were preoccupied with denying the reality of death. One built memorials and had plaques with the names of the dead to try and perpetuate existence beyond physical life; the other tried to distance death by having philosophical discussions about the end of Arda and embalming their own community to avoid evidence of change.

The embalmed community was as much a commemoration of death as the physical remains left by Men. Remember that every evidence of change was an indication that the world was drawing nearer to its end, the point when all Elves would die. Hence, by stopping change they created an illusion that death could be defeated. But is this different in intent than the kind of funeral rituals and statuary that the Egyptians created, which Tolkien agreed was the best comparison with Numenor and, to some extent, with its step-child Gondor? Each was an illusion, an attempt to deny reality. As such I'm more comfortable with the teeter-totter than the three point balance.

It's interesting, however, how both our discussions focus on Numenor and Gondor as representative of men's fortunes but avoid place like Dale or Rohan.

It is the Hobbits who spend relatively little time or effort denying the reality of death. To the extent they pay attention to death, it is domesticated, with geneologies, tomb-like burrows and such. When death happens, it happens. A hobbit dying provides an excuse to gossip and probably to have a large potluck supper. To me the crucial difference is this: Hobbits accepted their place in the universe and didn't try to change or deny it as other races did. They had never even heard of Eru, but they were the ones most willing to accept the patterns that had been laid down by the Music and not to ask for a different portion in life.

Laying the teeter-totter and the balance aside, can we agree on this? Tolkien said that the LotR is a tale about death and the denial of death. It is this wish to deny or defeat death that Sauron used to corrupt the hearts of many. Perhaps the Ringbearer had to be a Hobbit because the urge to deny death was a little less strong in the heart of a Hobbit than it would have been in either an Elf or a Man? As we agree, Hobbits simply didn't spend a lot of time on such denial. Maybe the omission of the cemetary was very planned by JRRT. Sauron trafficked in death and the fear that others had of death, and the desire that different folk had to change their place in the grand scheme of things, which is a corollary of all this. Who better to defeat him than a people who had relatively little to do with death, but who were not terrified of it? Indeed, thoughts of death came as "consolation" for Frodo on the final stages of his journey....
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Old 01-07-2005, 01:40 PM   #30
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I've had to throw my lot in here because this is getting very interesting. I think that the concept of immortality is just as alien to us as is the concept of mortality to Elves. I am saying 'us' as I wish to draw our own thoughts and concepts into this as we are all mortal, but when I say 'us' you can think of Mortals in Arda. If I was immortal I would live through everything this world has to throw at me. For example, I may have been born in 2000 BC. If so, I would have seen the world change from small communities worshipping the Moon to vast urban communities worshipping Mammon; and considering my life would pass by extremely slowly, these changes would seem dizzying. Imagine staying in all week and then opening the door to find the world being covered in shiny metal, populated by weird floating beings who communicate by clicking their fingers. Mad idea, yes, but that is the kind of thing you would experience if you were immortal, in terms of your concept of time and change.

It is no surprise that Elves kept themselves shut away, and this is not even taking into account the fact that they would need to keep themselves away from mortals to spare themselves an endless cycle of grief. I don't think that they never had to face mortality at all, but many Elves will have chosen not to face it purely to save themselves the distress. So both Child and Fordim are right in a way. Immortality seems wonderful to us as Mortals, I for one would love to have a few extra years in which to get on with reading all those books I got for Christmas, but really, we couldn't even begin to comprehend the burdens of immortality. One of the few pieces of work which does approach it in some way is Dennis Potter's Cold Lazarus which really brought the horror of the concept home to me. In terms of Tolkien there is one heart-wrenching example, and that is the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen. Without doing the precise maths, it would be the equivalent of falling in love and then both your lives ending after just one week together. So Arwen gave up her life for just one week of love. Horrible.

Now, I want to throw in something else about Hobbits and Holes seeing as Hobbits are the topic here. And I want to defend the concept of a hole in the ground as a place of safety. I often see a similarity between the holes of Hobbits and the monuments of ancient peoples. Cave dwellers sought out 'holes' for safety, and as time went by, actually created their own caves. The Fogous of the South West of England (e.g. Pendeen Vau) are chambers cut into hillsides and lined with stone; each features a 'creep' through which access is gained to the inner chamber/s. One archaeological theory states that they were merely storage places; I reject this as if so, why were they not more widespread? Another theory states that they were ritual places, where a person might crawl into the safety of mother earth and there visualise, meditate or whatever they might do. Another example involves Mam Tor in Derbyshire; this is the great Mother Hill of the valley, but underneath is Odin's Mine which has been found to contain ritual objects, suggesting that people wished to find safety within the symbolic 'mother'. In many cases burial mounds and barrows were also used for this purpose. I think it is Wayland's Smithy which has shown evidence that it would be opened up not just for burial, but for ritual purposes. So, what am I hoping to say here (apart from giving an amatuer but enthusiastic lecture on archaeology )? I think that this is another example of the 'hole' as a place of safety and significance. Bag End has been passed on as a highly signififcant place right down to the Gamgee family; it clearly symbolises safety and protection and somewhere special. Interestingly, we even see, at the start of FotR, a Hobbit being caught delving for treasure in there; many of the old barrows and other such sites were often rumoured to contain treasure (and most did not!). If Tolkien had knowledge of Barrows and such, he may have known or suspected of the other uses of such places; even if not, it is an ancient concept and one that I couldn't lightly turn aside when thinking of why a hole should be invested with such status as Bag End.
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Old 01-07-2005, 10:44 PM   #31
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Tolkien The human ailment

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Perhaps your statement about the ragged split in our nature and our inability to accept who we are does not apply equally to all human beings. Perhaps this is something that's more prone to strike so-called modern "educated" men and women, those who feel they've gone beyond man's "more primitive" side and rejected anything that can't be proven rationally.
Child, I would say that you are right that the ailment does not affect all humans. I think that your following surmise is a little too narrow. It has to do with language. I refer you to my first post in the Mythic Unities thread.

Higher learning may be an ingredient in the ailment, but not the only one. I have a test for you to apply to people you know, including your 94 year old mother and her community: listen to their working vocubulary. How much of what is said derives from the Anglo-Saxon heart of English or your community's ethnic speech? How much is borrowed in from Latin? Greek? French? The more polysyllabic borrowed-in words in a person's vocabulary, the more that person is likely to suffer from the ailment.

What I find most interesting is that Tolkien, thoroughly educated in the Classics (he could speak fluent Latin and Greek), never lost the capacity for Hobbitness. I have an idea why. Most English speakers who use much Latin, Greek, and French borrowed words do so in ignorance of etymology. By contrast, Tolkien not only knew the etymologies of the words he used, he knew each language he studied to its bones: grammar, etymologies, cognates, etc. In essence, he could speak Latin, Greek, Gothic, Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, West Midland, etc., as a native speaker. That's my guess, anyway. So he could be hobbit in any language he chose!

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Given how out of touch Elves are with the natural cycle, what do we make of their desire to live in the earth?
Fordim, I must disagree with your "given". Perhaps "out of touch" is an unfortunate way to express your thought? My understanding of Elves is that they are both fëar and animal at once (I've already metioned this in the Mythic Unities thread). Rather than being out of touch, Elves are as close to nature as any created being in Arda - with the exception of their long lives. This very closeness is cause for their sorrow, since everything else in Arda, dies. Thus they embalm, perserving that which is supposed to die, by means of their art. Thus, Lorien with the leaves remaining in the trees until the next buds are ready to sprout.

As for living underground, I think that there are two aspects to it. First, Elves are close to nature, as our Dwarves and Hobbits. Men are also, except for those who have advanced cultures. It is the advanced cultures of Men in which the Towers have been erected and the obsession with death has been seen in elaborate tombs. In fact, it is only Men who have had contact with deathless Elves, who become obsessed with death. For all other free races, death is a part of life.

Second, Tolkien the historian understood that abodes built above ground is a relatively recent development in human culture, really in only the last five thousand years or so. Even then, most humans continued to live in abodes that were closely connected to the earth, drawn from the earth. Stone structures (though drawn from the earth) represent a departure from that humble way of life known outside human cities.

So I think that your notion of the hobbits' holes as their tombs is perhaps stretching the analogy a bit. Death as a part of life, yes, but I think it would be more apt, considering Tolkien's Elves as well as human history, to understand hobbit holes and underground palaces as the abodes of living beings still close to the earth.

I also like the metaphor of genealogies as "tombs on paper". Good thought!

So if we still want to chase after those analogies, I see neither a "balance" nor a "teeter totter". Rather, I see each race progressing along their own paths depending upon their history. Elves embalmed in order to preserve the nature they were so close to. Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men remained close to the earth, except for those Men who were confronted by, and befriended, deathless and culturally advanced Elves; these alone became obsessed with death.

What about Rohan, then? Perhaps their contact with the Descendants of Numenor is akin to the Men who had contact with Elves. On the other hand, burial mounds have a long tradition according to European archaeological history, so what about the Rohirrim and the proximity of the kings' mounds to Edoras? It occurs to me that these were the mounds of the kings. We have no record of other mounds in Rohan, except those raised after battles. I still think this is an example of "death as a part of life".

Which is precisely why it's so fascinating to me that there were no burial grounds mentioned in the Shire!

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[Tolkien] must have had a good reason for depicting Merry and Pippin's burial as being so separate from their wives and the Shire as a whole.
I think this points to two things. First, the significance of the Fellowship of the Ring. Second, Pippin and Merry swore oaths of fealty; not as land holders under kings (as in feudal times) but as "men" bound to their liege, as in the old Germanic times before feudalism. Thus Pippin became of Gondor, and Merry of Rohan. They were adopted into new kingdoms, as it were. To be buried with their lords was significant.

Lalwendë's reference to Barrows put me in mind of Frodo facing the barrow wight, and how alien the experience was. This illustrates how unlike tombs hobbit holes were.
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Old 01-08-2005, 01:55 AM   #32
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It makes sense that Elves don't have tombs or graves or anything, since they are immortal. Seems to me that they would be rather ill-equipped to deal with death, or even to understand it really
Well, some of them at least have tombs, but they seem only to be mentioned where they are significant to the tale:

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Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss. But the eagles coming stooped upon the Orcs, and drove them shrieking back; and all were slain or cast into the deeps, so that rumour of the escape from Gondolin came not until long after to Morgoth's ears.Then Thorondor bore up Glorfindel's body out of the abyss, and they buried him in a mound of stones beside the pass; and a green turf came there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it amid the barrenness of stone, until the world was changed. 'The Fall of Gondolin'
This makes me wonder whether the same is the case with hobbits - they have graveyards & maybe even family tombs, but they are simply not signicant to the story being told. No major hobbit character dies throughout the events of LotR, so why mention burials. When Tolkien did plan the demise of a major character - Bilbo - there was a mention of a funeral. Hobbits died, so something must have been done with the bodies, whether funerals or graveyards are mentioned or not. We don't hear much of Hobbit 'industry' generally. But we know they had books, umbrellas, clocks, etc.

I can't see, either, that Elves were 'out of touch' with nature - its simply that their own nature was different to that of others. Yes, they sought to 'remake the world in their own image' - but their desire was that their world reflect their own nature. Their motivation was to 'embalm', yes, but in the sense of wishing to turn life into 'art'. That's simply what they do - in other words, its not a 'vice' they've fallen into, something against their nature. They take it too far in the end, but its not unnatural for them to think the way they do.

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Originally Posted by LmP
In fact, it is only Men who have had contact with deathless Elves, who become obsessed with death. For all other free races, death is a part of life.
Is this so? Have we had contact with the 'deathless Elves' ourselves? Well, I haven't. Yet one of the things that draws me to the Legendarium is this exploration of death & deathlessness. I wouldn't say it was an 'obesssion', mark you! Perhaps one could say that if the 'deathless Elves' didn't exist men would have to invent them. Death is always a tragedy. It is always a part of life, but that doesn't make it acceptable. Bilbo's grief at the death of Thorin for example - two members of mortal races - shows that while mortality is a known & accepted 'fact' it is not one that anyone merely shrugs their shoulders at.
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Old 01-08-2005, 03:39 PM   #33
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Have we had contact with the 'deathless Elves' ourselves? Well, I haven't.
When discussing things Tolkien, one always runs the risk of crossing the border between history and myth .... wrongly! I hope I'm not doing that now, and think not.

But I would say that the contact of Men with the deathless Elves is comparable - and merely that! - to historic human progression into abstract thinking and all the distinguishing within concepts that has resulted from it. I was originally going to say that Men's contact with deathless Elves was perhaps Tolkien's mythological treatment of that progression, but I think it claims far too much. As it is, I only offer the comparison for the sake of application, if you know what I mean.

I think it's an apt comparison. When humans only thought concretely, death was the last step in any human's life. With the onset of abstract thinking, humans began to ask the difficult questions about death that still remain unanswered.

Oh, to be a hobbit!

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Perhaps one could say that if the 'deathless Elves' didn't exist men would have to invent them.


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Death is always a tragedy. It is always a part of life, but that doesn't make it acceptable. Bilbo's grief at the death of Thorin for example - two members of mortal races - shows that while mortality is a known & accepted 'fact' it is not one that anyone merely shrugs their shoulders at.
Yes. Even when humans thought concretely, they still created myths to fall back on to explain death. Hene, "He joins our ancestors in Valhalla!" And we have not changed, really, have we? "She has gone to be with Jesus." Not that to believe such a thing is necessarily to believe a lie, but it shows that we still seek, and seem to need, the same comfort as our concrete thinking forebears. And maybe our abstracting has only served to hinder our ability to access that comfort - the ailment in the human soul.

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Old 01-15-2005, 02:16 PM   #34
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Pipe Just a wee comment

I just now ran across this thread, and after reading the first few posts something occurred to me. The majority of the posts since then have been fascinating but slightly above me, at least at the moment... So please forgive me for using my dos pesetas to drag this back to the top!

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One thing that ain't in the Shire and ought to be is grave yards. There are hobbit holes, lanes, gardens, a museum even, and of course lots of inns; there are mills and towers and trees and party fields and pipeweed; but no grave yards.

....What's going on then? Is Tolkien being unrealistic? Are there truly no cemeteries in the Shire? That can't be, because we have deaths listed in the family trees of Appendix C. So obviously there are graveyards in the Shire - we just never come across one.

Why not?
Tolkien modeled the Shire after the English countryside of his childhood, correct? Well, my understanding, from a variety of well-known English authors, is that English graveyards aren't plunked down in random places next to a discreetly harmonious funeral home, as they are here. By and large, they are adjoining the village church. In fact, I don't recollect even reading the term "graveyard"; "churchyard" appears the preferred term.

Set aside what Tolkien may - or may not - have intended about hobbit, human, and Elf natures. To me, the near lack of organized religion in Middle-Earth cannot be an accident. So how would he work in a graveyard, if there was no church? As it stands, the Shire is a tolerable reflection of the countryside. There's no hole in the landscape without a church; subconsciously filled in or not, it's up to the reader. But what if he included information on hobbit burial customs, while keeping religion out of the picture? For me, that would be jarring my picture of the Shire. A graveyard without a church? How can that be England?

I don't think I'm expressing my thoughts well at all. I'm hampered, of course, by knowing absolutely nothing of the English countryside first-hand. But I do believe this is an aspect that was overlooked in the earlier discussions. Just imagine a painting of the countryside (even in America - I've got one in mind); then take out the church on the hill, but leave the graveyard. Now, that would jar me. Without the context of organized religion, I submit that an English graveyard would be surreal in the Shire.

Humbly,
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Old 01-15-2005, 08:16 PM   #35
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Tolkien Shall we subcreate?

Humble nothing, Nuranar, you're "spot on", as The Saucepan Man would say. I know this is going to sound awfully cheeky, but I knew Tolkien couldn't put graveyards (or churchyards) in the Shire because they are indeed associated with churches in his beloved West Midlands. I didn't want to mention it because I wanted someone else to.

Okay. So Tolkien couldn't put it in because it wouldn't work. So how about a little assistance to the professor? Let's imagine that we're subcreating for him because he's delegated this tiny task to us. How should it be done? What would the burial customs be in the Shire for pre-religious hobbits? Any ideas?

For that matter, what about handfasting (marriage) customs? What would they have been?

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Old 01-16-2005, 05:36 AM   #36
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What would the burial customs be in the Shire for pre-religious hobbits? Any ideas?
Well, the question assumes that Hobbits were 'pre-religious', which I think is wrong. I can't think of any human society which didn't/doesn't have some form of religious belief. If anything is missing from the Shire which ought to be there its that. The Hobbits must have had some form of spirituality, because all human societies do. People think that way - we're all looking for some explanation of life & death, some answer to the question of why there's anything, & where it all came from. Its the old 'God-shaped hole' thing.

So, we would have to work out what hobbit beliefs were before we could answer your question about what form their burial or marriage customs would take.

I think we'd have to assume some form of 'natural religion', because there was no 'revealed' religion available for them to adopt. The point is they aren't 'savages'. They live in a structured society, & have a strong moral sense.

Do they have inherited 'Archetypes'? Do they 'mythologise'? If they are Children of Eru wouldn't there be some innate sense of the Divine, the numinous, which came out naturally?

I suspect Tolkien knew this was inevitable, but simply culdn't find a way to integrate it into his story. All humans tell stories. Stories 'grow in the telling' & become legends, which develop into myths, or more accurately into religious belief. It happens - it always has.

But I think, as Tolkien said, the religious element has been taken up into the story itself. In other words, in a sense, the story is a religious one. I'm struggling here, but its like the way many of Jesus parables don't mention God at all. Many are mundane, but the parable itself is 'religious' - the 'religion' is contained in the story, even though the story doesn't mention God. And it doesn't mention God because its intended to give an experience of God - which might sound contradictory, but isn't, because the intent is to open the mind to the experience of the Divine, not to talk about it.

The Divine is present in the Shire, in our experience of it, so in a sense any mention of religious practice in the Shire would get between us & the Divine. I find a greater sense of the spiritual comes through in LotR than in the Sil for this very reason - the Sil writings talk a lot about Eru & the Valar & the afterlife - the great religious questions are dealt with. LotR, on the other hand hardly mentions religion at all, but the Divine shines through every page.

So, 'absorbed into the story' - as it should be, if its to be communicated...
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Old 01-16-2005, 08:18 AM   #37
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The Rohirrim and Simirillion both give songs and phrases that seem to pertain to certain dieties. In fact, these "gods" are the patron Valar of these races. I don't mean to presume, but I would think that the hobbits would have adopted some beliefs from the Arnor kings at Evendim, and the rest from the secular-ish Rohirrim when they lived in the Gap. This is probably a mixture of earth mythology and lore, Numenorean fath, and Middle-folk patronage.

PS: (What about "Scouring of the Shire"? In that chapter, it clearly mentions the sand pits that the Big Men and Saruman are buried in, as well as burial mounds for the fallen militiamen at the battle)
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Old 01-16-2005, 07:57 PM   #38
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I thought that I had gotten the "pre-religious" idea from a Tolkien quote from the biography, but I haven't been able to find it again yet.

You had me worried, davem with the talk about Hobbit spirituality, but by the end of your post I was relieved at what you'd concluded about it.

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I would think that the hobbits would have adopted some beliefs from the Arnor kings at Evendim, and the rest from the secular-ish Rohirrim when they lived in the Gap.
Welcome, to the Downs, Michael! I hope you enjoy being dead. As to your idea, it's in keeping with the way history works, but seems somehow out of character for hobbits as such. davem's idea of experiencing the Transcendent (though he didn't use the word) throughout the Shire, appeals to me more.
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Old 01-17-2005, 04:44 AM   #39
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Davem, Littemanpoet

I couldn’t agree with you more that LotR has a greater sense of underlying spirituality than Silm, precisely because so much is left mysterious and unsaid. I also concur with your statement that every culture in the “real world” seeks answers to questions that we would term religious. Yet my own view of the Shire and Hobbits is somewhat different. Please excuse the length of this post. I am thinking things out.

On the question of hobbit "religion'.... Tolkien stated the following in an interview conducted in 1967:

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"Hobbits," Tolkien says, "have what you might call universal morals. I should say they are examples of natural philosophy and natural religion."
This would certainly support Davem's contention that we can not assume the Hobbits were "pre-religious". Additionally, it seems clear from the text that all Hobbits had a sense of natural law: a belief that certain basic guidelines must be followed for the good of their community. However, I am not certain how far beyond this we can go. We can rule out formal religious ritual in burials or handfastings, given this footnote by Tolkien in a letter in 1954:

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I do not think Hobbits practised any form of worship or prayer (unless through exceptional contact with Elves.)
An interesting statement and an even more interesting qualifier! Most Hobbits did not have any contact with Elves, so they would have fallen into the group that had no form of worship or prayer. It does, however, leave open the possibility that Hobbits like Bilbo, Frodo, or Samwise might have stood on different grounds, since they did have “exceptional contact with Elves”. This would be in accord with those instances in the text when Frodo and Sam call out to Elbereth for aid, at least from their subconscious.

To me, one of the most poignant passages in the book is when Frodo and Sam prepare to eat a meal with Faramir and his men. Frodo's reaction to what he sees says volumes, both about his own community’s lack of formal acknowledgment of the Transcendent, his personal desire for such a means of expression, and the substitution of impeccable human politeness as an alternative expression of thanks.

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They were led then to seats beside Faramir: barrells covered with pelts and high enough above the benches of the Men for their convenience. Before they ate , Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Samwise that they should do likewise.

"So we always do," he said, as they sat down: 'we look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and ever will be. Have you no such custom at meat?"

"No," said Frodo, feeling strangely rustic and untutored. "But if we are guests, we bow to our host, and after we have eaten we rise and thank him."

"That we do also," said Faramir.
How interesting that the first "Men" here is captalized, but not the second. The capital letter in the first word seems to tie in the recognition of divinity with ALL men, while the second refers to a specific group of men who were adherents of Faramir. Yet as Hobbits, Samwise and Frodo stand outside both these groups.

Davem raised these additional questions about Hobbits:

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Do they have inherited 'Archetypes'? Do they 'mythologise'? If they are Children of Eru wouldn't there be some innate sense of the Divine, the numinous, which came out naturally?
I'm not sure we can go this far. For example, all peoples in Middle-earth and real life have some kind of creation story at the core of their mythologies. Throughout the Legendarium, Elves and those Men descended from Numenor have greater or lesser knowledge about the Valar and Eru. Even Dwarves are aware of Aule and the story of their creation. Yet Hobbits lack any specific knowledge about their own origins. We are explicitly told that their earliest legends go back only to about the year 1050 when they resided near the Anduin. The creation myth is missing, just as all history prior to 1050 is missing.

By the time LotR was published, Tolkien had spent almost twenty years thinking and writing about Hobbits. If he had wanted to depict Hobbit folk myths or beliefs, even indirectly, he might have done so in any number of places. For example, he could easily have had Frodo recite some verses to Aragorn that hinted obliquely, even humorously, at what Hobbits 'believed', or perhaps a “heart-to-heart” conversation with Gandalf. There is precedent for both devices in the text, but instead the author is silent.

It seems noteworthy that one of the ways underlying spirituality is hinted at in LotR is “yearning” on the part of Men and Hobbits for Elves, presumably because they are a people who actually saw the light of the Trees. Frodo, Bilbo, and Samwise all exhibit this yearning for Elves in differing ways. We particularly see this light and spiritual growth reflected in Frodo as he struggles towards Mordor. Yet, always, this is depicted in Elvish, dreamworld, or, in one instance, Numenorean terms. Frodo’s morals, his basic goodness and capacity to feel pity, were clearly a product of the Shire, but his yearning for the West and the "beyond", even his dreams, do not have any “native” roots. No wonder he had to leave the Shire at the end of the story! I have always felt there were compelling reasons to do so that went beyond healing.

Interestingly, it’s precisely this yearning for Elves that causes their hobbit neighbors to view Frodo and Bilbo aand their associates with suspicion. There are hints of this in LotR itself and a more detailed confirmation in a scene where Bilbo's gardener comments on his master's visit to the Elves in UT. The Letters confirm that Tolkien considered Frodo and Samwise and the other hobbits on the Ring quest to be “exceptionally gifted": they were different than the rest of the Hobbits. In this case, I feel he was referring to more than their intellect or physical talents. He was talking about their moral and spiritual reach.

I do see underlying currents of spirituality in LotR, and the inhabitants of the Shire exhibit a sense of natural goodness and moral law that puts most of us to shame. Yet, as much as I might like to see evidence of wider spirituality or myths or folk beliefs, I don’t sense it in the general community. Nor do I feel that Tolkien would have added such things to the text. Instead I sense a purposeful omission. Only in the case of “exceptional” hobbits, those who were willing to be labeled as “odd” by their neighbors, do we see a true yearning that encompasses the “spiritual” and myth.
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Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 01-17-2005 at 12:17 PM. Reason: trying to tame my prose!
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Old 01-17-2005, 11:58 AM   #40
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Beautiful post Child.

That's very interesting about Frodo being 'exceptional' and that being a reason that he felt compelled to go West. But if that is the case, and all the Hobbits on the Ring quest were 'exceptional' in this way, then it would stand to reason that Merry and Pippin would have taken the ship also. This is where the actual bearing of the Ring comes into play. Merry and Pippin might have been "looking higher" in a sense, but because they did not actively carry the One, they could still find pleasure in the Shire and the rest of Middle Earth. Frodo and Sam could not forget or put off the effects of the Ring without going across the Sundering Seas.

It's interesting that most of the Hobbits don't seem to have any religion at all, but I think this is linked to their lack of history. They don't have any story about where they came from, or who created them, and so they don't feel that they should acknowledge a higher being. And with no story of where they started, there is no desire to wonder where they are going(meaning after they die). Those two questions(where did we come from/where are we going?) are the major building blocks at the base of religion. We think about what happens before and after life, and in this find a reason to believe that there is something more significant or higher that us.
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