Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Shire is not a utopia - but Rivendell is

I often get the idea, from the descriptions of the place, that modern readers often regard The Shire as Tolkien's perfect earthly society - his utopia; but that clearly is not the case: his utopia is Rivendell. 

Of course, the Shire and its hobbits has many good characteristics; but there is no doubt that Tolkien regarded the society as too limited.

As he said in his Letters; only exceptional hobbits are major characters in Lord of the Rings (even Sam, the most typical, is very unusual in his fascination with elves, and desire to read and learn 'culture'); by contrast, the average hobbits are depicted as narrowly materialist peasants (whose idea of bliss is eating, drinking and smoking); their main virtues are generosity and family loyalty but their main vice (a very serious one) is apparently spiteful envy.

This is made clear in the very first scene of Lord of the Rings:

And confirmed throughout.

Tolkien would have appreciated many aspects of Shire life - the countryside, a farming-based economy, the food and the pipeweed, the genealogy and maps... but Tolkien was a scholar and a writer: in The Shire he would have been as isolated and frustrated as those literary hobbits Bilbo and Frodo; who are always yearning for elves and dreaming of The Mountains.

For the likes of Tolkien, Bilbo and Frodo; Rivendell is the ideal place and society. He says so explicity, in very similar words; both in The Hobbit from Bilbo's point of view "Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever", "[Elrond's] house was perfect...", then again in Lord of the Rings from Frodo's by re-quoting Bilbo's 'perfect house' paragraph.

Rivendell was beautiful, as safe as anywhere; full of noble and wise persons, ancient books, language, songs and stories...

Of course it was Tolkien's utopia!


Mike said...

What is Lothlorien then?

Bruce Charlton said...

Utopia *for elves*.