NOTE: The following discussion is about The Lord of the Rings books, not the movies. I’m concerned with what Tolkien intended, not what Peter Jackson and his friends decided to do with the story.
When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about Middle Earth, he was trying to write “a mythology for England.” His story is a like an epic poem or Norse saga and treats heroic characters like Aragorn and Faramir accordingly. They are portrayed as ethical, strong, and brave, ready to sacrifice themselves if they have to, with little doubt about what they must do. But perfect warriors and leaders can be hard to relate to. So why do we love The Lord of the Rings? The answer is hobbits.
Whether he thought about it consciously or not, one of Tolkien’s best ideas was to include hobbits in his tale. While I love the Ents (talking trees), the Rohirrim (horse-loving warriors), and even the elves (aesthetic immortals), the hobbits are my favorite creatures in the books, because I can relate to them. They are small and weak. They love food and comfort. They don’t know how to use a sword or what kind of danger they are up against. They are afraid and they make a ton of mistakes.
My favorite hobbit is Pippin — the youngest, silliest, and most clueless of the bunch. He screws up repeatedly. He gives away their location to the enemies twice, once by throwing a stone down the well in the mines of Moria and another time by stealing the palantir and looking into it. I’m pretty sure if I were a hobbit on a ring-destroying adventure, I would make exactly those kind of mistakes. So I feel for him, and that’s the genius of the hobbits.
The hobbits are our door into a heroic world that might otherwise be incomprehensible to us. The very creatures I admired above (Ents, Rohirrim, elves) are hard for me to relate to directly. But through hobbit eyes and hearts, I can see them and understand them a little better. They are more real to me than they would have been if Tolkien had chosen Aragorn to carry the ring to Mordor.
The hobbits aren’t just a gateway for the reader into the story, but also someone we can root for. Tolkien made Frodo the ring-bearer, and gave the little people a strength to combat evil that even the strongest heroes in the book lack. (Gandalf refuses the ring out of fear when Frodo asks him to take it.) The reader experiences Middle Earth through the hobbits and defeats evil with them. The biggest hero in the whole book is Frodo, who sacrifices his own happiness to destroy the ring and save the Shire along with the rest of Middle Earth.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo asks “Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?”
Gandalf answers: “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”
Frodo protests he has little of these things, but the books prove him wrong. He is strong and smart, and he accomplishes his task: to destroy the ring, but also to pull the reader deep into an epic story.
Do you love hobbits? Why or why not?