- "Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch."
- —Gandalf, in The Fellowship of the Ring
Hobbits, also known as Halflings, were an ancient mortal race that lived in Middle-earth. Although their exact origins are unknown, they were initially found in the northern regions of Middle-earth and below the Vales of Anduin. At the beginning of the Third Age, hobbits moved north and west. Most of their race eventually founded the land of the Shire in about the year TA 1601, though one type of hobbit known as Stoors remained in the Anduin Vale (the type of hobbit Sméagol was).
It is unknown when Hobbits first appeared in Arda. They are only known to have originated somewhere in the Valley of the Anduin River. By the time they were discovered by the other peoples of Middle-earth, they had already been around for many generations. The earliest known group of hobbits lived in the Valley of Anduin, in the region of Wilderland between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains. According to The Lord of the Rings, they forgot any genealogical ties to the "Big People" (Men). At this time, there were three breeds, or tribes, of Hobbits, with different physical characteristics and temperaments: Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides. While situated in the valley of the Anduin River, the Hobbits lived close by the Éothéod, the ancestors of the Rohirrim, and this led to some contact between the two. As a result, many old words and names in "Hobbitish" are derivatives of words in Rohirric.
About the year TA 1050, they undertook the arduous task of crossing the Misty Mountains. Reasons for this trek are unknown, but it possibly had to do with Sauron's growing power in nearby Greenwood, which was later named Mirkwood because of the shadow that fell on it, as Sauron was searching the area for the One Ring. The Hobbits took different routes in their journey westward, but as they began to settle together in Bree-land, Dunland, and the Angle formed by the rivers Hoarwell and Loudwater; the divisions between the Hobbit-kinds began to blur.
In the year 1601 of the Third Age, two Fallohide brothers named Marcho and Blanco gained permission from the King of Arnor at Fornost to cross the River Baranduin and settle on the other side. Many Hobbits followed them, and most of the territory they had earlier settled was abandoned. Only Bree and a few surrounding villages lasted towards the end of the Third Age. The new land that they founded on the west bank of the Brandywine was called the Shire. The crossing of the Brandywine, as the hobbits called it, was the event that led to the settlement of the Shire, thus the Shire Reckoning began. Originally, the Hobbits of the Shire swore nominal allegiance to the last Kings of Arnor, being required only to acknowledge their lordship, speed their messengers, and keep the bridges and roads in repair. During the final fight against Angmar at the Battle of Fornost, the Hobbits maintain that they sent a company of archers to help, but this is recorded nowhere else. After the battle, the kingdom of Arnor was destroyed, and in absence of the king, the Hobbits elected a Thain of the Shire from among their own chieftains.
The first Thain of the Shire was Bucca of the Marish, who founded the Oldbuck family. However, the Oldbuck family later crossed the Brandywine River to create the separate land of Buckland and the family name changed to the familiar "Brandybuck". Their patriarch then became Master of Buckland. With the departure of the Oldbucks/Brandybucks, a new family was selected to have its chieftains be Thain: the Took family (Indeed, Pippin Took was son of the Thain and would later become Thain himself). The Thain was in charge of Shire Moot and Muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms, but as the Hobbits of the Shire led entirely peaceful, uneventful lives, the office of Thain was seen as something more of a formality. The major political power in the Shire was actually held by the Mayor of Michel Delving (the Shire's chief township). His duties included overseeing the post and the "police" force (Shirriffs); he was also obliged to preside at banquets. The Hobbits' numbers dwindled, and their stature became progressively smaller after the Fourth Age. However, they are sometimes spoken of in the present tense, and the prologue "Concerning Hobbits" in The Lord of the Rings states that they have survived into Tolkien's day.
Types of hobbits
- The Harfoots were the most common Hobbits. They were smaller and shorter than the other kinds and had browner skin. They did not grow beards and rarely wore shoes or boots. They were skilled with their hands and feet and preferred hillsides and highlands to live in. In ancient times, they had frequent contact with the Dwarves of Middle-earth and lived in the foothills of the mountains for a long time. While the other varieties of Hobbits were still in the Wilderland, the Harfoots moved west, travelling across Eriador as far as Weathertop.
- The Stoors often chose to live near water or on flat land. They were broader and heavier in build than the other Hobbits and their feet and hands were larger. They were the most reluctant variety of Hobbit to leave the River Anduin, where some Stoors continued to stay. Others travelled west after the Harfoots and followed the River Loudwater southward. Many of the Stoors settled between Tharbad and the borders of Dunland before they continued north.
- The Fallohides, who preferred trees and woodland, were the least common variety of Hobbits. They had fairer skin and hair and were taller and slimmer than the others. They also had better relations with the elves of Middle-earth, were more skilled with language and song, and preferred hunting to tilling. They crossed the mountains north of Rivendell and then followed the River Hoarwell.
Although the Hobbits took different routes west, they eventually arrived in a land between the River Baranduin (which they renamed the Brandywine) and the Weather Hills. There, they founded many settlements, and the divisions between the varieties of Hobbits began to blur. By TA 3001, the Hobbits of the Shire included families of Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Hornblowers, Bolgers, Bracegirdles, and Proudfoots.
Originally, Fallohides were often found as leaders among clans of the other Hobbits. Around the year TA 1600, two Fallohide brothers, Marcho and Blanco, decided to journey across the River Brandywine and settle on the other side. Large groups of Hobbits followed them, and most of their former territory was depopulated. The Hobbits who had left called their new home the Shire.
The Hobbits of the Shire originally swore their allegiance to the last Kings of Arnor. However, after the Battle of Fornost, the kingdom of Arnor was destroyed. To replace the king's authority and leadership, the Hobbits elected their first Thain of the Shire, Bucca of the Marish, from among their own chieftains. The Thain was responsible for chairing the Shire-Moot and leading the Muster of Hobbitry-in-arms in emergency situations. However, conflict rarely threatened the Hobbits of the Shire, and the Thain usually had no need to exercise his authority.
Age and appearance
Most Hobbits lived longer life spans than Men, a race of which they might have been an off-shoot. The average lifespan of a Hobbit was about 100 years, though it was not unusual for a Hobbit to live as many as three decades beyond that. The time at which a young Hobbit matured and was accepted as an adult was 33, compared to a Man's 18 years. Thus, a 50-year-old Hobbit would only be middle-aged. The most distinguishing feature of Hobbits was their short stature. They were smaller than Dwarves and were usually between two and four feet in height. With the gradual passing of time, Hobbits became even shorter. By the Third Age, they were usually less than three feet tall. Hobbits' ears were slightly pointed and their furry feet had leathery soles, so they generally didn't need (and rarely wore) shoes or boots. Tolkien wrote that a typical Hobbit had a "round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and 'elvish'."
Hobbits were skilled listeners and had good eyesight. Although they were inclined to be fat and did not hurry unnecessarily, they were also nimble and deft in their movements. In The Hobbit, Bilbo manages to sneak up on the Trolls without them hearing him because he, like all Hobbits, could walk around very quietly. The Hobbits who lived in the Shire dressed in bright colors and were fond of yellow and green. Their hair usually ranged from a light or dark brown to blonde or a golden red and was almost always curly.
In the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes them as between two and four feet (0.6m-1.2m) tall, the average height being three feet, six inches. Elsewhere he specifies, "between 3 and 4 feet tall, never less and seldom more". They were not quite as stocky as the similarly-sized dwarves, but still tended to be stout, with slightly pointed ears. Tolkien says the following of Bilbo Baggins:
"I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of fairy rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fat in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur that are extremely small. Clothing: green velvet breeches; red or yellow waistcoat; brown or green jacket; gold (or brass) buttons; a dark green hood and cloak (belonging to a dwarf)."
Tolkien wrote also in the Prologue that they dress in bright colours, favouring yellow and green. Nowadays (according to Tolkien's fiction), they are very shy creatures, but they are and have been capable of amazing things. Their feet are covered with curly hair (usually brown, as is the hair on their heads) and have leathery soles, so most Hobbits hardly ever wear shoes. Hobbits (Halflings) are often depicted with large feet for their size, perhaps to visually emphasize their unusual nature. (This is especially prominent in the influential illustrations by the Brothers Hildebrandt, and the large prosthetic feet used in the films by Peter Jackson). Tolkien does not specifically give size as a generic hobbit trait, but does make it the distinctive trait of the Proudfoot hobbit clan. Hobbits can sometimes live for up to one hundred and thirty years, although their average life expectancy is one hundred years. The time at which a young Hobbit "comes of age" is thirty-three. Thus, a fifty-year-old Hobbit would only look 26–30 years by human standards.
Most Hobbits enjoyed farming, food, ales, parties and the giving and receiving of presents. They were usually friendly and happy-go-lucky, although they were often shy of Men. Hobbits preferred a quiet, normal, and peaceful life, which is why Gandalf was humorouly frowned upon sometimes, because he brought adventure to Bilbo. Many of them had seen him returning from his long journey to the Lonely Mountain (the journey told of in The Hobbit) with his steed laden with great chests of gold. They also have developed a keen taste in the smoking of Pipe-weed and blowing smoke rings. This was first started by Tobold Hornblower of Longbottom in the Southfarthing. They were very ignorant and knew little of the happenings of the world. They dwelt in Hobbit-holes (known also as "Smials").
Hobbits, particularly those of the Shire are very insular and suspicious of other people from other places and anything that disturbs the peace. Hobbits refer to people outside the Shire as Outsiders, being a very broad term, were simply those foreign to any region.
The Hobbits had a distinct calendar. Every year started on a Saturday and ended on a Friday, with each of the twelve months consisting of thirty days. Some special days did not belong to any month - Yule 1 and 2 (New Year's Eve and New Years Day) and three Lithedays in mid summer. Every fourth year there was an extra Litheday.
- "The Common Speech of the West in those days I have represented by English. This noble tongue had spread in the course of time from the kingdoms of Fornost and Gondor, and hobbits preserved no memory of any other speech; but they used it in their own manner, in their daily affairs very much as we use English; though they had always at command a richer and more formal language when occasion required, or when they had dealings with other people."
- —Tolkien in his first draft of Prologue: Concerning Hobbits 
In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the vernacular of the Shire is the Common Speech. Some names of families and locations originated from variants and contractions of Mannish words (e.g. Holman Cotton's name simply meaning "hole-man"), if not simply individual or contractions of English words (e.g. Bracegirdle, Cotton, Daisy, Bowman, Ruby). The Stoors, however, who in early times did not dwell in the Shire, are said to have probably adopted speech similar to Dunlendish.
The only occurrences of Hobbits speaking in other tongues as if naturally are the times in The Return of the King when Frodo and Sam find themselves invoking Elbereth out loud, or when Frodo cries the Quenya phrase Aiya elenion ancalima! to break the spell of the Watchers at the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
Hobbits were fond of an unadventurous bucolic life of farming, eating, and socializing. According to Jackson's trilogy, they enjoyed seven meals a day, when they could get them: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and, later in the evening, supper. In the book, however, supper is simply an alternative name for dinner; Bilbo only served three official meals at his Birthday Party: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper). They like simple food such as bread, meat, potatoes, and cheese, and also like to drink ale, often in inns — such as the English country folk, who were Tolkien's inspiration. They have also been known to have a particular fondness for cake. The name Tolkien chose for one part of Middle-earth where the Hobbits live, "The Shire", is clearly reminiscent of the English Shires. Hobbits also enjoy smoking herbs, which they refer to as "pipe-weed", out of long wooden pipes. This can be attributed to their love of gardening and herb-lore (as exemplified by Sam Gamgee). Another interesting fact is that hobbits have an inordinate liking of mushrooms, prizing them above many other foods. A common pursuit for younger hobbits is mushroom-hunting, and Frodo Baggins said he had stolen Farmer Maggot's mushrooms on at least one occasion. Some Hobbits live in hobbit-holes, known as "smials" which resembled the characteristics of the original places where they dwelt underground. They were found in hillsides, downs, and banks. By the late Third Age, only rich and poor hobbits continued to live in smials; the middle-class hobbits usually lived in large, low buildings, like Brandy Hall. Almost every building in the Shire has round doors and windows, a feature more practical to tunnel-dwelling that the Hobbits retained in their later structures.
Although Hobbits are a peaceful people, who usually shun fighting, they are also, as a race, very courageous, uncanny marksmen adept with missile weapons of all kinds, from throwing stones to slings and bows - hence the company of archers purportedly sent to aid the Arnorians at the Battle of Fornost. Shire lore says that squirrels, rabbits, and other garden pests have learned to run away quickly if a hobbit "so much as reaches for a pebble".
The Hobbits of the Shire developed the custom of giving away gifts on their birthdays instead of receiving them. They use the term Mathom for old and assorted objects, which are invariably given as presents many times over or were stored in a museum (Mathom-house).
Instead of saying "one hundred and twelve" they say "eleventy two" and that with every other three plus digit number (although in Jackson's Trilogy, Bilbo tells the party-goers that it was his One Hundred and Eleventh Birthday).
Etymology and names
In the legendarium, the term Hobbit is derived from the Rohirric word Holbytla, a word which means "Hole-builder". In the original Common Speech, the name was Kuduk (Hobbit), derived from the actual Rohirric Kûd-dûkan (hole-dweller).
As Hobbits and Éothéod once lived close together, some names appear to have been passed between the two cultures before they departed to new lands. Known are Fastred, the name of a man of Rohan that fell at the Pelennor Fields and of a hobbit of Greenholm who wed Elanor, and Harding, the name of a man of Rohan who fell at the Pelennor Fields and of a hobbit living in Bag End, grandson of Frodo Gardner.
The first appearance of the word Hobbit, from the opening phrase of The Hobbit, was a spontaneous creation by Tolkien, with only a few speculated linguistic derivations.
It is discussed in the last episode of the documentary series Looking for the Hobbit how Hobbits were a wholly original created race of Tolkien's imagination, with no clear roots in the real-world mythologies that inspired the rest of Middle-earth.
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||哈比人|
|Irish (Gaeilge)||Na hobaid|
|Scopjian(former yugoslavian) Cyrillic||Хобитите|
|Serbian||хобити (Cyrillic) Hobiti (Latin)|
|Swedish||Homp (First translation 1947)
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- The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, I: "Concerning Hobbits"
- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 27
- The History of Middle-earth, Vol. XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, Part One, chapter II: "The Appendix on Languages", pg. 20
- The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, I: "Of Hobbits"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Six, Ch. I: "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"