By now we’re all familiar with Tolkien’s masterworks of fantasy, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Together the series have sold over 250 million books worldwide, and each was turned into a three-movie blockbuster (one of which stands today as a benchmark in modern cinema, and was…you know, actually good).
By default, this means we all know what hobbits are. But what are they really? Many wiki articles refer to them as a subset of the men of Middle-earth, which makes complete sense if we take into account the scattered notes we’ve been left in The Silmarillion, the LOTR appendices, and other pre-Hobbit manuscripts. However, I feel Tolkien has purposely left their origins a mystery, and it us that have chosen to fit them inside the framework of our own world.
Because here’s the thing; Tolkien gave us an incredibly detailed history in The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales’, one that spans from the dawn of creation right up until Bilbo finds the ring. In it he describes how each living (and non-living) thing came to be, from the universe and the Ainur to the mountains and various forms of plant life on Middle-earth. He describes the races created by Iluvatar, Elves and Men, and the dwarves that were made by a lesser god, Aule. He describes the perversion of the Elves to create Orcs, and the growing of all things, great and small. In Tolkien’s pre-Hobbit history, we are presented with the creation story of the universe, gods, demi-gods, spirits, elves, men, dwarves, orcs, wolves, horses, eagles, dragons, plants and other animals…but not hobbits. At most they are mentioned as an afterthought, a simple people that were suddenly discovered like long-lost cousins.
So in a universe where each creation is part of a great song – has purpose (even those created outside the music of Iluvatar and the Ainur) – what purpose do hobbits serve as one of the few sentient beings mentioned in the annals of Middle-earth?
I think it must be chaos.
Let’s examine The Hobbit, first. A mighty dwarven city is ransacked by one of the last of the great dragons. This dragon defeats an army of dwarves and men, and entombs himself inside a (nearly) impregnable fortress. Along comes Gandalf, who decides he will help a small band of dwarves to reclaim the city from said dragon. Now, Gandalf himself is a demi-god, one of the Maya, who are powerful beings in their own right. Charged by Manwe and the Ainur to help the goodly races against Sauron, he is one of the few on Middle-earth to possess even a small understanding of the great song of creation. Why then does he choose Bilbo to accompany the dwarves in such an important role? Surely he didn’t think that the polite dinner conversation and appreciation for food he brought to the table was a game-changer against a dragon that could destroy armies. So we need to think of it in other more fantastical terms. If Gandalf could choose one weapon to arm the dwarves with, something that would by its very nature change the course of events, what would he arm them with?
This same logic can be applied to LOTR. Against insurmountable odds, Gandalf entrusts the ring to Frodo and his companions. First they must carry the ring to Bree, then Rivendell with Aragorn, and then finally to Mount Doom. Each of these journeys is fraught with perils in their own right, but with some clear miracles to behold.
- Frodo and Sam successfully make the most dangerous part of the journey alone from Rauros to Mount Doom.
- Frodo resists the power of the ring the entire journey.
- Merry and Pippin convince the peaceful Ents to go to war.
- Pippin looks into the palantir and resists the power of Sauron.
- Merry survives a war of men, and helps Eowyn slay Sauron’s number one guy.
None of the hobbits displayed or professed to any special skill or endurance. Though it is worth mentioning that Gandalf, Aragorn and the warden in the Houses of Healing all allude to hobbits being unnaturally sturdy folk, quick to heal and tough of fibre. But would this sturdiness account for the miracles they directly had their hands in? No, I think a greater force was at work. One that did not require strength of arms or ancient wisdom.
For the moment let’s accept that hobbits = chaos. What does that mean? It means that in some part of the history of Middle-earth, Iluvatar decided that a balance to the overwhelming might of Morgoth and Sauron was needed. That power wasn’t the elves or men, as they came before. Nor was it the Istari (wizards), because sending them was Manwe’s decision. I think it stands to reason that that power was chaos, which Iluvatar embodied in the race of hobbits. They aren’t in any of the great histories because they hadn’t been created yet. I would surmise that it wasn’t until after the War of Wrath – in which the Ainur overthrew Morgoth, the original dark lord – that hobbits were placed in Middle-earth. They were created to be a balance to the growing power of evil, and were used in exactly the fashion they were meant to be. That lucky roll that can change everything, but is never meant to land.
If we look at it in those terms, then Gandalf’s choices make more sense. He’s not sending a witless hobbit (or group of hobbits) into peril beyond their reckoning, he is simply directing a known and accepted force of nature…that could very well backfire in his beak-nosed face.
When you can’t simply walk away from a hopeless situation, what can you do but toss the die?
Hobbits = chaos.