Hobbits in Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Hobbits, Halflings, Half-highs, Little Folk, Little People, Shire-folk, holbytla or even Periannath, whatever you want to call them, they are possibly the most popular race in all of Tolkien’s works. Their depiction across decades of artwork and films has been fairly consistent throughout, but now we are getting a very different look at what are being referred to as ‘precursors’ to Hobbits, the Harfoots.
In a previous post, I ventured into the development and history of Galadriel in an attempt to show that perhaps Amazon’s depiction of the character was not completely unfounded. On reading Tolkien’s very own words, I discovered that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that she could be depicted as a strong, battle-ready female elf, which is much to the dislike of many fans of The Lord of the Rings that are very vocal on YouTube and online fora.
It’s been known for a while that Sir Lenny Henry will portray the ‘first black Hobbit’ in Amazon’s Rings of Power, which caused a bit of a stir online to say the least. And now that we have a much clearer view of what Amazon’s Hobbits will look like, I thought now would be a great time to look into Tolkien’s own words on Hobbits and see what we can find. This time, I will be addressing the main complaints towards Amazon’s Hobbits and see if there’s any evidence at all that may back up or outright deny their attempts at bringing Hobbits into the Second Age of Middle-earth.
A Few Notes Before We Start
My main sources for the information found in this post are as follows. I try to leave a page reference where possible, but there will likely be a few missing.
- The Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
- The Hobbit (TH)
- The History of Middle-earth Volume VI: The Return of the Shadow (ROTS)
- The History of Middle-earth Volume VII: The Treason of Isengard (TOI)
- The History of Middle-earth Volume XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth (POME)
Amazon do not have the rights to any of the History of Middle-earth books, which I reference often in this post. While this is true, my intention in reading into these books is to get a better understanding of what Tolkien wrote, or thought to write, in LOTR. My belief is that while Amazon may not have the rights to adapt these books (along with the Unfinished Tales, which did not include any useful information in relation to the criticism of Hobbits in the show), I don’t see why they cannot use them as a reference for themselves and a source of inspiration at the very least. In doing so, they can attempt to keep things ‘Tolkienian’ as they often say they are.
I’d also like to make it clear that the intention of this post is not to ‘defend’ Amazon and their creative decisions. I am merely looking at the text and seeing how their decisions may fit where possible and also to educate myself more on Hobbits purely for my own benefit as a reader of Tolkien. I have many concerns about the show but the knee-jerk reactions from fans is what frustrates me the most, which is why I am focusing on the criticisms as it creates specific items of discussion to start from.
I use the term ‘Hobbit’ to refer to Harfoots as well. There seems to be this misunderstanding that Harfoots are not Hobbits but that is not really true. Hobbit is the term they made for themselves, referring first the Harfoots and then later the Stoors and Fallohides as they integrated more through the centuries.
With that, let’s look at some of these arguments.
Hobbits Didn’t Exist in the Second Age!
The Second Age spans millennia and ends even the events in LOTR are set millennia after the beginning of the Third Age. For anyone who hasn’t read anything other than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this may come as a bit of a surprise. Even more so to those who have only watched the films. The misconception from this comes mainly from lack of information and in some cases, I feel, an obstinate denial. You only need to look at the second page of The Lord of The Rings to find that the history of the Hobbits ‘lies far back in the Elder Days’ and is now all but forgotten. The Elder Days refers to the First Age of Middle-earth, again set millennia before the Second Age and further still from the Third Age in which The Lord of the Rings is set.
It is totally false that Hobbits did not exist in the Second Age but it is true that they were essentially unknown or uncared for in those days in which any record of history of those times was made by the Elves or Men who had little to no contact with them (although there is reason to believe that there was contact with Men at the very least considering the similarities in language); they obviously weren’t important enough to write about. The term Hobbit itself didn’t come until much later and before then, although ‘in origin one race’ (POME, p. 37) they gradually divided into three separate ‘breeds’: the Harfoots, the Stoors and the Fallohides, each with their own different characteristics, which I will go into a bit more detail later.
Amazon’s inclusion of Hobbits in the show does not go against Tolkien’s writing in any way, however their presence in the show may contradict the idea that they remained unknown or at least didn’t do anything of any importance for all those years. My main concern is that they will try to use the same theme from The Lord of the Rings and have the little people do something big and heroic, potentially taking away the importance of what Frodo and his friends did to save Middle-earth in the Third Age or stomping over an already established plot.
If the Hobbits have their own self-contained story and whose actions have an unknown impact on whatever unfolds in the show, I think that’d be acceptable. According to the prologue in LOTR, the Harfoots in particular interacted mostly with the Dwarves in the mountains (specifically the Misty Mountains in earlier writing, POME, p. 56, which is near the area where Hobbits are believed to originate) in ‘ancient days’. Ancient days is not specifically defined, but it’s enough for me to be comfortable with them being present in the show and having dealings with the Dwarves at that time.
The Stoors later had frequent interactions with Men, too, as they gradually moved west in the earlier years of the Third Age but I wouldn’t be surprised if they meet them as well in the show. I would say that it’s unlikely that having lived right next to Greenwood (later Mirkwood) where some Elves dwelt, that they would have had no interaction at all. However, I’d imagine that the Elves were so above them that they saw them as little else as strange creatures of the world with very little interest or reason to know. Their indifference towards the Hobbits is very well portrayed even in the LOTR. It’s important to note in context that the events of the First and Second Age (and even before) that are ‘recorded’ (i.e. what is written in The Silmarillion) are primarily of Elvish (and Númenórean) origin, and thus mainly concern their own traditions and history, in which Hobbits played no notable part. This is essentially the reason that Tolkien gives to the mystery behind Hobbits and their own origin and history.
They Look Like Grubby Poor People!
Yes, they do. Tolkien never described Hobbits as being dirty but did clearly write that poorer hobbits continued ‘living in holes of the most antiquated kind’ (ROTS, p312), some without any windows. Only the poorest and richest hobbits lived in holes of two very different varieties. The poorest ones probably because they didn’t have enough money to buy or build a house and the richest perhaps because they wanted to keep their traditions alive, which as we know can cost quite a lot. Consider it similar to buying a thatched roof cottage or similar in the UK; they cost a bomb! Surprisingly, many Hobbits actually lived in stone and brick houses after they had possibly learnt the art of building, which may have ‘came originally from the Elves’ (ibid). Their older dwellings were ‘really artificial holes of mud’ roofed with dry grass that very much belong to ‘ancient history’ (Ibid., 313).
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if I lived in a hole in the ground or in a hillside all my life, I think I’d pick up a bit of dirt along the way. Richer Hobbits would live in much more luxurious versions of their traditional holes and if you consider that the Hobbits in the show are from thousands of years before and unimportant in the eyes of much higher beings, I think it’s safe to assume that they probably lived in dirty conditions. I think most people understand that Bilbo was a particularly rich Hobbit, but the idea that all Hobbits are like him and Frodo is evidently incorrect.
Hobbits Are Farmers, Not Nomads!
Similar to the previous criticism, this image of Hobbits comes from and is exclusive to the Hobbits of the Shire, who did not come about until over a thousand years into the Third Age. when the threat from Greenwood (Mirkwood) grew and Men began to multiply in the area, forcing them to leave. Even at that time, it is correct that by definition they would not be considered ‘nomads’ and were described as ‘a wandering people’ (POME, p. 119) who were gradually finding their way to the west.
However, we are talking about the Second Age here, not the Third. Hobbits didn’t start being farmers really until they settled in the Shire or sometime before (first the Harfoots, followed by the Fallohides and then some Stoors), so the idea of them being farmers then is probably inaccurate. They are believed to have ‘long dwelt in Greenwood the Great or near its western eaves, and in the vale of the upper Anduin’ (POME, p. 229), which could potentially be a vast stretch of land. If they weren’t settlers or farmers, that leads to a pretty reasonable assumption that they had to be nomads, moving back and forth between locations to survive.
Of course it’s all conjecture, but at least it makes sense. Furthermore, ‘in their unrecorded past they must have been a primitive, indeed “savage” (in the sense of uncivilised, not cruel or vindictive) people’ (POME, p. 310) who later would adopt more civilised traits from Men, Elves and Dwarves. This alone is enough to add some credence to the idea of them being dirty, unkempt nomadic tribes as they are to be portrayed in RoP.
Hobbits Are Rustic English People – They Can’t Be Black!
The ‘issue’ of skin colour is perhaps one of the most contentious ‘discussions’ that surrounds RoP right now, and I believe this really stems from the following quote from Tolkien in an interview he did in 1964:
“The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination.”J. R. R. Tolkien, 1964
It’s a really fun interview to listen to and I would highly recommend it.
The idea that Hobbits are rustic English people, is of course preposterous. They are Hobbits, not people, and certainly not English. To me, it’s obvious that Tolkien meant that they are based on the rustic English people who he grew up around and loved so much. Does that mean that Tolkien saw them as white English people in his mind? Well, that is possible, of course. I imagine that when he was growing up in Warwickshire that everyone around him probably was white. However, the words that Tolkien uses to describe some Hobbits in his writing could suggest that this is not necessarily the case.
In his earlier writings, Aragorn was called Trotter and was not a man but a hobbit, or specifically a wild hobbit or ranger, the term used to refer to Aragorn and other men in the area in the final version of LOTR. Trotter was described as a ‘wild hobbit: dark, long-haired, has wooden shoes!’ (TOI, p158). The use of the word ‘dark’ here is debatable, of course, and would not necessarily refer to the colour of his skin. But this is not the only reference to darker skin when talking about Hobbits.
The Harfoots are specifically described as being ‘browner of skin’ (LOTR, p. 3), which many people argue that Tolkien ‘meant’ they were more of an olive complexion, perhaps due to staying outdoors for so long farming and gardening, more like southern European than African. In TROS, Hobbits are also described as having ‘brown fingers’ (and not in direct relation to their love of gardening and farming), which was then later changed to ‘skilful fingers’ in the final version.
Finally on this topic, Tolkien writes in POME that by the time the Hobbits are first encountered, ‘they already showed divergences in colouring, stature, and build’ (p. 310), which to me personally is enough to accept that perhaps the ‘proto-Hobbits’ (Harfoots) as they are so called, could have a variety of different colours. While this may be true more between clans, it wouldn’t be totally outlandish to think there was some crossover, despite their strong sense of clanship.
Willie Baggins, anyone?
Their Names Don’t Make Any Sense!
I’ll admit, I had a very similar attitude to their names when I first read them. Why would Hobbits from thousands of years ago have names so similar to those that feature from the mid- to end-Third Age? That doesn’t make any sense, surely? They sound too ‘modern’ and I think that has rubbed people up the wrong way.
So far, we have:
- Sadoc Burrows
- Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot
- Poppy Proudfellow
- Largo Brandyfoot
- Marigold Brandyfoot
I would have said for that for the most part they seem very reasonable names for Shire-hobbits but not perhaps something you’d expect from a much older group. Yeah, sure they had brandy in those days. However ‘there is, in fact, no evidence for the distillation of brandy in the Shire’ (POME, p. 54), so there. And this is where it gets a bit complicated. I didn’t actually intend to include this critique in this post at first as I honestly didn’t know much about it, and I am currently writing this on a tangent before finishing the previous one, but while researching into that, I came across a fascinating section on the Appendix on Language in POME. While LOTR does have an appendix on language itself, the level of detail in The History of Middle-earth is phenomenal in comparison.
I was always aware that LOTR was essentially supposed to be a translation of the long-lost Red Book of Westmarch written by Bilbo, Frodo and a number of others, but I never realised how that affected character names, which I took purely at face value. The Common Speech, while English in all of Tolkien’s works, was not at all English. Stepping away from Hobbits for a moment but to give an eye-opening example, Barney Butterbur’s (father to Barliman and owner of The Prancing Pony) actual name was Batti Zilbirapha, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t sound English at all! He took his created languages and tried to find modern equivalents in not only English but other languages, to create names that were similar in meaning, which was very important to him. In the same vein, we can assume that these aren’t really their names, but the closest translations in English when translated. It’s as simple as that and I believe can be just as easily applied here.
Burrows is a fairly safe name, but it does concern me that they are trying to create an unnecessary link with the Baggins family, as they do feature in their family tree, although admittedly this would be very difficult to shoehorn in considering the timeline (similarly to how they had to shove Aragorn’s name into The Battle of Five Armies film). I have no particular comments on Proudfellow but at least it sounds Hobbitish and I think in this case it’s good enough. I’d actually rather they did make up names that have a loose connexion (in this case to Proudfoot) to the more well-known ones, because it only alludes to some kind of family tie without shoving it in your face. They could have so easily created a Baggins and I am so glad that they did not.
Brandyfoot is a bit of a difficult one. It certainly sounds like it could be a Hobbit name and I think that is true, but perhaps only at a certain point in time. Brandybuck was ‘translated’ from Zaragamba or Assargamba, which was later changed to Brandugamba (Brandybuck) taken from the Elvish name of the Brandywine river (Branduhim), which ran just east of the Shire, which at this point in time, they shouldn’t know about. It’s a mega-nerdy point, but there we are. As a side note: the name Brandywine actually means ‘foaming beer’ to the Hobbits, which I think is pretty awesome.
Their first names are also fairly safe as well. I am not totally sure where Sadoc comes from (the closest I could find was Saradoc), but it doesn’t sound out of place. Largo is the name of a Hobbit in the Boffins and Baggins family tree (LOTR, Appendix C). Poppy and Marigold follow the Hobbit tradition of naming daughters after flowers (Poppy is also the name of another Hobbit in the Baggins family tree and Marigold is the name of one of Sam’s sisters), so I think they’ve hit the mark there. Elanor, while not obvious at first sight, is also the name of a flower, albeit a fictional one that was brought by the Elves to Númenor in the Second Age. This begs the question, how would these Hobbits know about this flower at all? It’s a nice little nod to Samwise Gamgee’s daughter of the same name but it is a bit out of place.
I had a lot of fun reading up on this topic and my findings were surprising and taught me a lot of about Hobbits and perhaps where the creative decisions of Amazon’s show creators are coming from, whether intentionally or not. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel more interested in the show per se but it has allowed me to see what they’re doing from a different perspective. I think they’re probably having quite a rough time and putting something together that fans will like and I’m willing to give it a shot at this stage. I know that a lot of the stuff they’re doing they have to make from scratch and I understand that they really have no other choice. It might be terrible and it might be good. Who knows? But do I think that their Hobbits feel Tolkienian? That I am still unsure of but I can say that my perception of Hobbits has changed that may make me think so.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Sorry if you didn’t!