Page 1. " This book is largely concerned with Hobbits "

A Hobbit hole from inside
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA Hobbit hole from inside - Credit: Rob & Jules at Flickr
 The Hobbit is a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings and it is advisable that the reader first acquaint themselves with this earlier (and much shorter) work before embarking on the great adventure that awaits them in the trilogy.

Page 2. " Bandobras Took (Bullroarer), son of Isengrim the Third, was four foot five and able to ride a horse. "

Bandobras Took, nicknamed Bullroarer, lived between 2704-2806 in the Third Age.  He was the son of Thain Isumbras III, not Isengrim II as stated in some editions, which is a misprint corrected in the 50th anniversary edition.  Bullroarer was indeed famous among Hobbits for his great height.  He led the defence of the Shire against a Goblin invasion in 2747.  Legend has it that with his club Bullroarer he knocked the head clean off the Goblin leader Golfinbul at The Battle of Greenfields. The head rolled down a nearby rabbit hole and thus Bandobras Took was credited with inventing the game of golf.

Page 3. " Their own records began only after the settlement of the Shire "
Worcestershire countryside
Creative Commons AttributionWorcestershire countryside - Credit: Dplanet:: at Flickr

 The Shire is a pleasant, green land inhabited by hobbits, an easy-going and unassuming people who want nothing more than a simple life.

Tolkien stated that Hobbiton, the area of the Shire where Bilbo and Frodo live, is intended to be located at the same latitude as Oxford, England. The Shire is described in the prologue of Lord of the Rings as existing in the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea. The descriptions of the land, weather and dialogue found in the Shire also reflect areas of England. These hints suggest that the Shire can be equated with England.

There are many areas that may have influenced Tolkien when creating the Shire. Worcestershire and the West Midlands, an area where Tolkien lived in his youth, made a big impression on him. In particular, the area around the River Cole and Sarehole Mill represented an idyllic landscape that seemed doomed to disappear through industrialisation. Tolkien’s aunt owned a farm in Worcestershire named ‘Bag End’ by the locals, the influence for the home of Bilbo and Frodo.

Another suggested influence is the Roman and Iron Age mineral workings at Lydney Park in the Forest of Dean, where Tolkien worked on the archaeological team in the 1920s. According to legend, the indigenous people living in the area soon forgot the Romans after they left, and began to tell tales of how the ruins were inhabited by dwarves and little people.

In the 40s, Tolkien frequently stayed at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. It is possible that the countryside around this area could have influenced descriptions of the Shire and Middle-earth. It is also possible that areas of Yorkshire may have left their impression on Tolkien, who taught at the University of Leeds in the 20s.

Finally, it has been suggested that Bloemfontein, a city in South Africa where Tolkien was born, may have influenced the Shire. Though Tolkien would probably have been too young to remember it, he will have been told stories of its picturesque green hills. Click here to see a picture of the countryside around Bloemfontein.

The name Shire comes from T.H. White’s book England Have My Bones, in which White refers to living in “the Shire”.

Rural English Countryside (Yorkshire Dales)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRural English Countryside (Yorkshire Dales) - Credit: Dave Dunford at Geograph via wikimedia commons