This is the conclusion to the EXCLUSIVE Bonus Chapter:
The Children of the Shire
from The Wisdom of the Shire. Read the first section here.
Tolkien obviously loved his children. But strangely enough there is only one child portrayed in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he’s not even a Hobbit.* The simple truth is that Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are the real children of the Shire. They have a child’s youthful innocence, exuberance and wonder without acting like annoying juveniles (except perhaps Pippin who is a borderline delinquent). The Hobbits are brave boys wandering through a world inhabited by the Big People and even bigger monsters.
The Shire was a kid-friendly place. Many Hobbits lived in extended families with lots of children running about. Frodo and his cousins could ramble across the countryside, exploring their world with a freedom that few kids in our world enjoy. In the summer the Hobbits weren’t stuck inside all day playing video games or watching TV. They were out merrily working in the fields with their families, or running through the meadows, contemplating the stars, learning about the trees and animals of the Shire, or experiencing the harmless joys of swiping some mushrooms from a farmer’s woods (or even sneaking a peek at an uncle’s mysterious journal).
What many parents don’t realize is that children, just like Hobbits, are pretty darn easy to entertain. I’m always astonished at the things that fascinate my kids and their gang of curious cousins. Hand them a shovel and tell them to go dig a hole and soon they’ve created a game more fascinating than an archeological dig. Or give them some paper, brushes and paint and watch the young Picassos at work. They might end up simply painting their own feet—like my little girl enjoys doing—but that’s an important form of self-expression too, albeit a messy one.
Bilbo Baggins raised Frodo all by himself after he came to live at Bag End and he might very well be the first stay-at-home dad in the history of literature.* For four years I took care of my son while my wife went back to work, and I gained a unique perspective on the raising of a child that most men never get to have. I decided I never wanted to rely on television as a babysitter, so we banished the obnoxious thing from our house. To fill our days my son and I took long walks in the woods near our home and made fairy houses out of sticks and leaves. We flew kites, explored the beach, made crazy art projects, played endless games of make-believe, concocted hundreds of adventures, and read countless books including The Hobbit.*
Reading The Hobbit out loud to a child makes you conscious of what a brilliant piece of writing it is.* Tolkien liked to read his stories out loud to his kids, and if you’ve ever heard one of the rare recordings of the author, the world of Middle-earth comes to radiant life by way of his distinct and silvery voice. Do you read out loud to your kids? Because even when they get older and can read for themselves, the odds are they would enjoy hearing your voices. Even now I love to hear my dad read out loud. And I can do a pretty amazing Hermione Granger imitation (if I do say so myself).
Sharing Tolkien’s books with my own child has been a great joy. After reading The Hobbit and starting in on The Fellowship of the Ring, my boy said to me with a sudden flash of insight “The Hobbit is about someone who goes on an adventure just for fun. But The Lord of the Rings is about a guy who goes on a quest because he has to, so he can save others.” By the end of The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits have gone through many trials and terrors, but the core traits that make them Shire-folk remain intact. In fact, these traits have been amplified. The Hobbits are kinder, more generous, and wiser than they were at the start of the tale. Gandalf tells them they’ve become adults, and there’s nothing more he can do to help them on their path in life. He no longer has any fear for any of them, which is exactly the state of mind most parents are trying to achieve after shepherding their own children into adulthood.
Both of my kids, I’m certain, will learn a lot from Tolkien’s wonderful characters in the years to come.
About the author: Noble Smith is an award-winning playwright who has worked as a video game writer, a documentary film executive producer, and the media director of an international human rights foundation. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. Visit his website, ShireWisdom.com and follow him on Twitter @ShireWisdom.