Feeling Hobbity? It's Tolkien Trivia Time!
For those who are not familiar with my weekly post. Tolkien Trivia Time is a delve into the deeper world of Tolkien's Middle Earth, what inspired it, and how it is formed and made.
Today we are looking at Hobbits. (Thanks for Goldilocks Took for inspiring the idea!)
At the very beginning of the adventure, Tolkien introduces us to Hobbits thus:
"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."~An Unexpected Party*~ The Hobbit.
His description of the hole itself sets the tone for the whole book and gives the reader the understanding that a hobbit is in fact much like the kind of person you would have met in the British countryside any time in the last 150 years. That is, save for their height and their rather hairy feet!
"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats... The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill.. and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side then on another...: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage." (as above)
What can be said about that? First of all, A few notes on language. Where did Tolkien get the word Hobbit from?
Well with Tolkien you can guarentee that there is a detailed explanation. It starts with holbytla the name used in Rohan in LOTR for Hobbits. Holbytla is based on the Old English for "Hole-builder." (Originally the word was Kûd-dûkan "Hole-Dweller")
For ease of understanding Tolkien changed all the ancient Rohirric words to Old English and all the Hobbit words to Modern English or something that sounded similar, to make it easier for readers to connect with the story. To show the relationship between the two peoples and the languages they spoke, Tolkien pointed out that Rohirric was to Hobbit as Old English is to Modern English (which has about a third of the same words as Modern English and has the same method of ordering words in a sentence). Thus holbytla became hobbit as Kûd-dûkan became Kuduk.
Other examples can be found in mathom meaning something of little or no use that no one wishes to throw away. Which is based on the Old English (OE) máthm and is supposed to represent the hobbit word kast and its relationship with the Rohirric Kastu. Smial/smile which means 'burrow' is based on the OE word of the same meaning; smygel. The original Hobbit word for smail was trán and the original Rohirric word was Trahan Its interesting to note that this is what the name Sméagol is based upon. And his original name would have been Trahald which means 'burrowing, worming in' very fitting don't you think?!
Smial is used a number of times in Hobbit place-names and surnames. The best known example being Great Smials. But I don't want to bore you with language. Today I want to look at something different. A little known fact, it has even been missed by many Tolkien scholars and biographers... Tolkien lived not 10 miles away from....
Real hobbit holes!
Not far from Sarehole where Tolkien grew up - then on the boarders of the English counties; Worcestershire and Staffordshire - are a collection of little villages. One called Kingsbury, one called Kinver, and one called Holy Austin. Of these three, only Kinver continued into modern day as a substantial village, and sadly, not many of its original buildings remain. Kingsbury was abandoned in the mid 1950s and Holy Austin is kept as a museum.
So what is so special about these three villages? Well, Tolkien and his brother frequently visited them, which makes them significant in their own right, and many people in the local area still do. But to the outside world, they are almost completely unknown. Even if you were to ask someone living in the nearby City of Birmingham if they had heard of these places, you would be very lucky indeed to find a "Yes" amongst the answers given. Until recently when part of Kinver was taken over and rebuilt by the National Trust (a major heritage charity in the UK) they were rarely ever visited by tourists. And even now the Tolkien connection is played down. This is a fairly typical reaction recorded in their guest-book:
I have only lived in kinver four years and only found out it was on my doorstep three days ago when i helped take a display cabinet there thought it was great and will definately go back very soon
~Dean from Kinver.
So where's the proof that there are Hobbit holes in these villages then? I hear you ask.
I suppose the proof is in the pictures! Seeing as many of you will never get the chance to visit them. I don't suppose it will be of any use for me to swear that I have stood inside them and even climbed on their roofs! So I will give you what you are waiting for.. Photographs!
First of all, these are pictures of The Compa which is the Warden's Lodge at Holy Austin.
Gorgeous isn't it!?
an interesting difference though, is the lack of round windows. Obviously this was an addition of Tolkien's imagination. Though I must point out that, it has a green door! just in case you didn't notice. *winks*
Now I must point out that if you went to Kinver you will find only a normal English village, with brick houses and streets. The Rock Houses as they are known locally are found only on the very edge of the modern village on Kinver Edge; a rather prominant hill that overlooks the village. This has brought many to believe that Kinver is the original setting for Hobbiton, as it has one row of rather more substantial Rockhouses on top of another layer of smaller two-room dwellings like those inhabited by the Gamgees in bagshot row. But I don't suppose we will ever know if that is true or not.
The interior of the main Kinver house looks much like this: the house was recently "restored" by the National Trust which IMHO means "spoiled." But you can judge that for yourselves. If you wan't to see what they've done to it, you can see it here. The houses were cut into the local sandstone rock, which is easy to carve and manipulate. Most of the local houses are also built out of it. They joke that if you need a new shelf all you need to do is apply a chisel.
As with Humans Tolkien described how Hobbits originally all lived in holes in the ground - or caves in real archaeological terms and that slowly they developed buildings:
"All Hobbits had originally lived in holes in the ground, or so they believed, and in such dwellings they still felt most at home; but in course of time they had been obliged to adopt other forms of abode. Actually in the Shire in Bilbo's day it was, as a rule, only the richest and the poorest Hobbits that maintained the old custom. The poorest went on living in burrows of the most primitive kind, mere holes indeed, with only one window or none; while the well-to-do still constructed more luxurious versions of the simple diggings of old.
"The craft of building may have come from Elves or Men, but the Hobbits used it in their own fashion. THey did not go in for towers. Their houses were usually long, low and comfortable. The oldest kind were, indeed, no more than built imitations of smials, thatched with dry grass or straw, or roofed with turves, and having walls somewhat bulged."
This is much like the countryside around Sarehole and Kinver which is well known for its thatched roofs. It does seem that Tolkien's art is imitating life.
Still not convinced? Well, here is a picture of what the main house at Holy Austin would have looked like when Tolkien visited it as a child: If you wan't to see further pictures.. Including what the approach to the house looks like -which reminds me very much of Bilbo's gate with the "No admittance except on Party Business" not on it. click here It even has steps up to the door remeniscent of the images used in the movie. And a number of interior shots to give you an idea of what it would have been like to live there.
Not all of the houses have been restored or in a liveable condition: as this picture here shows For sadly many of those who lived there did not find their Hole-dwelling habits in keeping with the increasingly fast-paced 20th century mode of life. Just as Tolkien says in his explanation for Hobbits, the Holy Austin rock-dwellers are far less numerous now than they used to be:
"Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge- bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools." ~Prologue FOTR.
When I read this, I cannot help but think that Tolkien was writing an epitaph for those who had given up on the Rock-houses. Many were moved into stark modern council houses, while others simply remained until they died and then the dwellings fell into disrepair. Think of the poor hobbits moved out of their holes and into big brick houses by Sharkey and his goons. Imagine how they must have felt, and you will get the idea.
But some of the Rock-houses are still used.
and retain something of the charm that would have appealed to J.R.R and his brother on their visits as children to the area.
*just a little note. I love the fact that Tolkien ties in the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by including continuity in the titles of the opening chapters. In The Hobbit the first chapter is "An Unexpected Party" and in The Fellowship of the Ring it is "A Long-Expected Party". *smiles*
Sorry this was so long, I promised myself I would keep it short this week. LOL ah well, hope it was an enjoyable read regardless!