Saturday 2 January 2021

What is the role of Hobbits in the destiny of Middle Earth? A theory by Billy Charlton and Bruce Charlton

Do the Hobbits have a special role, or purpose, in the destiny of Middle Earth? Were they just an evolutionary accident, or was the fact of their (apparently) arising during the Third Age of Middle Earth for an important reason? 

It is clear that Hobbits - in actual fact - played an essential role in the defeat of Sauron; in some very obvious ways (Bilbo finding the ring, Frodo bearing it to the Cracks of Doom); but also in several essential but non-obvious ways - when Hobbits are overlooked, or their abilities unknown or discounted. But was this role in any sense planned?

What is fascinating about Hobbits is that they represent a departure from the 'usual' idea that the future of Middle Earth is determined by individuals and peoples with special powers. The usual way that the Valar tried to prosecute the war of Morgoth, then Sauron, was through enhancement of either personal, magical or 'technological' power. 

A prime example of this is the High Elves - who were super-elves; and another is the Numenoreans - a race of super-men (including the lineage of 'half-elven' who also had divine descent from Melian the Maia). Sending five wizards to work against Sauron in the Third Age was a further instance. 


The fatal problem with this super-power strategy was corruption; because so many of the most powerful individuals (and, indeed, races) began Good but became evil. The usual result was the super-powered Good was neutralised or overcome by super-powered corruption onto the side of evil. 

This began with the most powerful Vala, Morgoth; then the most powerful elf, Feanor - who also led many of the most powerful elves - Noldor - into evil works; including Celebrimbor who made the Three Elven Rings but without whom the (more powerful) One Ring could not have been made. 

There was a whole string of corrupt Dark Numenoreans (surviving as the Corsairs of Umbar), until nearly the whole of the Numenoreans were corrupted. The last and most powerful Numenorean King - Ar-Pharazon - was on the side of evil. And there was a powerful dark Numenorean magician who became the Nazgul Witch King. 

Of the Wizards, although Gandalf was a great success, he was substantially negated by the corruption of the originally most powerful wizard - Saruman; and the other three wizards were either almost ineffectual/ neutral (Radagast), and (perhaps, as speculated in Unfinished Tales) the mysterious lost Blue Wizards became grey eminences behind the Sauron-allied Eastern men.  

We could say (to adapt Spiderman): With power, goes great desire for more power...


So, we could imagine that the Hobbits were an opposite strategy against Sauron. Instead of enhancing 'power' - where power is seen as the ability to impose one one's will on others, the Hobbits arose. Half the size of men, weaker, less intelligent; their special abilities mainly concerned with quietness and concealment; and their relative immunity to the temptations of power

In a world where corruption to evil is the plague of all with power; Hobbits seem intrinsically the most resistant of all races to this kind of corruption (Tom Bombadil is one-off, not a race). 

Of course, average/ normal Hobbits have all kinds of petty vices such as greed and laziness, narrow materialism, and a negative clannish parochialism of attitude. But their typical lack of desire for power, or to dominate, becomes a special strength in the world of the Third Age. 


Consequently, as Anti-Power specialists, Hobbits display an unique resistance to the One Ring - as exemplified even by Gollum (who carried it for hundred of years, and survived); but also (in different and better ways) by the other Ring-bearers Bilbo, Frodo and Sam. 

The story makes it clear that (ultimately) the entire hope of Middle earth rested upon these four Hobbits; and only the Gollum-Frodo-Sam trio - with Frodo as the bearer - could have led to the destruction of the One Ring.  


So, if we accept that the emergence of Hobbits was 'meant' - and not just a happy accident - who made them happen? 

Were they a contribution by one of the Valar - as Aule made dwarves or Yavanna made ents, with Illuvatar secondarily providing the necessary creative life? 

We suggest that the most likely; is that Hobbits were a direct, but secret and undeclared, intervention by Illuvatar

At about the same time as the Valar were yet again trying their usual strategy of supplying power-enhanced individuals - wizards - for the fight against Sauron; perhaps The One, God: Illuvatar quietly made Hobbits. 


This would make Hobbits the third-comers among the Children of Illuvatar - coming in the Third Age after first elves, then Men, emerged in the Elder Days. The Hobbits' special role, prepared from the first but only evident at the very end of the Age, was to be the destruction of the One Ring and thereby of Sauron; which we could assume was the main priority of that Third Age, after Isuldur had failed to destroy the Ring at the end of the Second Age. 

The covert emergence and existence of Hobbits was, indeed, part of the plan. Very few of the wise and powerful knew or cared anything about Hobbits - which is exactly what enabled them to do their vital job. They were continually - and for Saruman and Sauron fatally - despised, underestimated and overlooked - left-out of all plans and considerations. 

Yet again and again this neglect and condescension is exactly what enabled Hobbits to make their decisive interventions - not just the Ring-bearers; but also Merry in slaying the Witch King; or Pippin in accidentally misleading Sauron when seen in the Palantir; or both of them in triggering the awakening and mobilization of the Ents and Huorns.  


In conclusion, we suggest that the Hobbits arose in the Third Age of Middle Earth, as part of a new, different and secret plan by Illuvatar - The One - to oppose Sauron and to destroy the One Ring. Therefore, Hobbits ought not to be considered as merely 'small Men', but as a separate and unique creation of God, with a separate and vital - albeit temporary - role in the history of the world. 

Note from Bruce Charlton: The above is another in a series of insights I have developed in conversation with my son Billy - indeed Billy should get most of the credit for this idea since the main conceptual breakthrough was his


Ranger said...

I believe you meant to say that Ents were created by Yavanna, not Elves.

As to the main thesis, it's something to think about; I always just assumed that Hobbits were a "branch" of Men, so to speak.

Bruce Charlton said...

@R - Thanks: typo corrected.

BenL said...

Love it! Elucidates a kind of nebulous feeling I had about Hobbits.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ben - Thanks... it does the same for me!

Wes S said...

What to make of the scouring of the Shire, in light of this theory? Was Saruman an equal-opportunity corruptor/conqueror of all peoples, or did he have a growing thought that they merited special treatment? If the former, then the demoralization was merely a type of predatory relish in exploiting a "weak" race. If the latter, then perhaps a dim realization that they had *some* mysterious purpose, since he kept running into these halflings during his geopolitical maneuverings.

Doktor Jeep said...

They could be mistaken for children...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wes - I would say that Tolkien is pretty clear about Saruman's motivations: they are purely spiteful and pettily vengeful, to demonstrate how low he has fallen from greatness.

T said...

I like it. This post not only illuminates, but exemplifies. I've read a fair amount of commentary on LOTR, and I'm not sure I haven't heard a message something like this before, but I can say, I've never had it said so simply yet powerfully.

"Anit-Power specialists" - perfect!

Francis Berger said...

I have never considered this before. I believe Billy is on to something here.

Karl said...

As Milton's Adam observes of God's providence:

by small
Accomplishing great things, by things deemed weak
Subverting worldly strong, and worldly wise
By simply meek

Bruce Charlton said...

Karl - Very apposite.

We must, however, realise that T was not idealising Hobbite - and went to lengths to show that *normal*, average Hobbits (Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were far from typical - although Sam was closest to the average), were very limited in their views:

Amethyst Dominica said...

It always seemed strange to me that the Hobbits had come into existence after the loss of the One Ring. Now it seems obvious that they were Eru's "Ringers" who were intended to destroy the One Ring all along. Everything about them - their stealth, their love of simple pleasures, their resistance to Dark Magic and the Ring's influence - was designed to have them perform that one task. (One could argue that Samwise was the most important to the mission in the end, as he was able to protect Frodo and keep him going when the One Ring was weighing him down. He was humbler and lower born than Frodo, so it makes sense that he would be "purer" and more resistant to the Ring's effects.)

A lot of people don't like the Rankin/Bass Return of the King cartoon from 1980, but I liked one thing about it - at the end, Gandalf predicts that the Hobbits will grow taller over time and will eventually blend back into the human race. It makes sense to me. Their job as Ringbearers was done, so they no longer needed to be small, stealthy and resistant to magic. They would just have the same normal selection pressures shaping them that other mortal humans would have, and so would end up in the same place eventually. I don't think this idea is canon, but it's one that appealed to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AD - Thanks.

I would not argue against Sam's extreme importance - but Frodo had to be the Ring bearer because Sam could never have cooperated with Gollum and obtain that vital 'help' in getting into Mordor. And if Gollum had not been present at the cracks of doom, as Gandalf foresaw, it is hard to imagine Sam being able to do the necessary.

Frodo was the mecessary middle term between Sam and Gollum.

I know the Rankin Bass movie; which is of course very flawed in many ways. But its heart is in the right place, and it does have its moments - as you say. And I much prefer it to the 1978 first half of LotR, which I find painfully unwatchable.

Dr. Mabuse said...

No doubt, hobbits in generally were as you describe, a people with limited experience of the world, and unashamed of their provincialism. Typical English peasants, with loyalties to kin and village, and little beyond that. True, there are some stories out of the old days, of hobbit archers fighting for Arthedain, but that has very little to do with their life now, and is more like legend.

But the Scouring of the Shire was a moment when ALL the hobbits had their moment to fight for Good. Yes, they were led by Merry and Pippin, and it was the return of the battle-hardened hobbits that set the avalanche moving (just like the Ents) but the people themselves rose up and did the fighting. This was one of my objections to Peter Jackson's movies; not just that he omitted this scene, and deprived hobbits of their moment of heroism, but that he applied the same limited focus to ALL the ordinary people of Middle Earth.

Only the heroes, and that pretty much amounts to Aragorn and Gandalf, are able to do much of anything. Instead of everyone recognizing the stakes and doing their utmost to fight the Enemy, we have Denethor hiding in his room, soldiers of Gondor scurrying away, and lots of shots of cowering women and children. No one fights, no one decides, everyone is just useless until the hero arrives to save the day. The hobbits of the Shire get it worse than anyone, because the whole War of the Ring takes place and they're still the same stupid bumpkins at the end that they were in the beginning. They don't even appreciate Pippin, Merry, Sam or Frodo when they return, and the 4 friends are eventually left sitting in the bar, silent over their traumatic shared past, like outcast Vietnam vets.

The book made it clear that no-one was left untouched and unchanged by what happened. Even people who didn't march with the army had a job to do and a choice to make. Heroism was business of everyone, not just the gifted and elevated.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DM - True.

I rewatched the movies just last week, and while there are some really great moments (especially in the first and third - the TT is much less good) it is at a much lower level than the book - including a lower level of ambition.

I agree about the pathetic Gondorian soldiers; but the Riders of Rohan are even worse until the magnificent cavalry charge on the Battle of Pellenor, which may be my favourite scene of any movie.

The society of Rohan is a fairly simple, illiterate, warrior society, built on courage and panache; every boy and man trained to fight and many of the women. But for all their early scenes and through Helm's Deep, the Rohirrim are portrayed as fearful, drab, depressed, plagued by doubts; and a lot of ranting, sobbing, running and screaming...

This is of-a-piece with the movies' compulsive insertion of 'pork pie peril', and fake suspense - leading to plot-loops (Aragorn falling off the cliff and dying - then not, Arwen going to the Grey Havens - then not, Arwen dying - then not, Ents deciding not to attack Isengard then suddenly changing mind etc).

In sum; while I rated the LotR movies very high when I first saw them, they get downscaled every time I re-view.

Joseph A. said...

I really appreciate these Tolkien posts.