Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tolkien's Wild Hobbits

This is a follow-up to the earlier, "Hobbits as the Rangers of Basic". I started on it right after that post but didn't get a chance to finish until now.

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How might one envision a Hobbit Ranger? Tolkien considered this idea in the late '30s when he was working on the sequel to The Hobbit, which eventually became Lord of the Rings. In these drafts, published in The Return of the Shadow (1988), the role of Strider was served by Trotter, a Hobbit Ranger. 

As the Hobbits approach Bree, the idea of "Wild Hobbits" is introduced:

"For not all hobbits lived in the Shire by any means. But the Outsiders were a rustic, not to say (though in the Shire it was often said) uncivilized sort. Some were in fact no better than tramps and wanderers, ready to dig a hole in any bank, and to stay there just as long or short a time as it suited them" (pg 132 of the Return of the Shadow). This sentence survived in edited form into the published Lord of the Rings as part of the introduction to Bree.

When Trotter first appears, he is described much as Aragorn in the Prancing Pony:

"...a queer-looking, brown-faced hobbit, sitting in the shadows behind the others, was also listening intently. He had an enormous mug (more like a jug) in front of him, and was smoking a broken-stemmed pipe right under his rather long nose. He was dressed in a dark rough brown cloth, and had a hood on, in spite of the warmth, - and very remarkably, he had wooden shoes!" (pg 137 of RotS).

Mr Butterbur, proprietor of the Prancing Poncy, describes him:
"O! that is one of the wild folk - rangers we call 'em. He has been coming in now and again (in autumn and winter mostly) the last few years; but he seldom talks. Not but what he can tell some rare tales when he has a mind, you take my word. What his right name is I never heard, but he's known around here as Trotter. You can can hear him coming along the road in those shoes: clitter-clap - when he walks on a path, which isn't often. Why does he wear 'em? Well that I can't say. But there ain't no accounting for East or West, as we say here, meaning the Rangers and Shire-folk, begging your pardon" (pg 137-138 of RotS).

Gandalf equates the Rangers with Wild Hobbits in his letter:
 "...I am giving this to a ranger (wild hobbit) known as Trotter: he is dark, long-haired, has wooden shoes! He is an old friend of mine and knows a great deal. He will guide you to Weathertop and further if necessary" (pg 154 of RotS). Tolkien considered having the wooden shoes be wooden feet - Trotter having lost his feet in Mordor (pg 413 of RotS), though he never developed this story further.

Trotter goes on to serve the same role in the following chapters as Strider; much of his dialogue and actions are unchanged in the final book, and the wild hobbit Rangers are much like the human Rangers. It's striking how much of our concept of Rangers in D&D comes from material that Tolkien originally wrote for a Hobbit character.

In one outline, "Trotter takes them to a wild hobbit hole, and gets his friend to run on ahead and send a message to Weathertop by pony" (pg 162).
In draft form, this becomes: "Trotter also had a notion that if he came across any of his friends among the wild hobbits, one that he could rust, they might send him an ahead on the pony to Weathertop" (pg 166). 

In a later draft, Tolkien considers having the Rangers be a mix of Hobbits and Humans:
"In the wild lands east of Bree there roamed a few unsettled folk (men and hobbits). These the people of the Bree-land called Rangers. Some of them were well known in Bree, which they visited fairly frequently, and were welcome as bringers of news and tellers of strange tales" (pg 332 of RotS).

In a draft of the Prologue of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien also writes:
"For [Hobbits] existed now only in the Shire, Bree, and lonely here and there were a few wild Hobbits in Eriador. And it is said that there were still a few 'wild hobbits' in the eaves of Mirkwood west and east of the Forest" (pg 10 of The People of the Middle-Earth). In the published Lord of the Rings, the area west of Mirkwood is identified as the ancestral home of Hobbits (see the Prologue), and also the place where some Stoors, possibly Smeagol's ancestors, returned after trouble appears in Eriador (See The Tale of Years in Appendix B). Eriador is is where the ancestral Hobbits migrated before settling in Bree and The Shire (Prologue), so it makes sense to associate remaining wild hobbits with this region.

An interesting back-story for Trotter was tried out in the later drafts:
"Peregrin was the grandson of Bilbo's mother's second sister Donnamira Took. He was a mere babe, five years old, when Bilbo came back from his journey; but he grew up a dark-haired and (for a hobbit) lanky lad, very much more of a Took than a Boffin. He was always trotting round to Hobbiton, for his father, Paladin Boffin, lived at Northope, only a mile or two behind the Hill. When Peregrin began to talk about mountains and dwarves, and forests and wolves, Paladin became alarmed, and finally forbade his son to go near Bag-end, and shut his door on Bilbo.

Bilbo took this to heart, for he was extremely fond of Peregrin, but he did nothing to encourage him to visit Bag-end secretly. Peregrin then ran away from home and was found wandering about half-starved up on the moors of the Northfarthing. Finally, the day after he came of age (in the Spring of Bilbo's eightieth year) he disappeared, and was never found in spite of a search all over the Shire.

In former times Gandalf had always been held responsible for the occasional regrettable accidents of this kind; but now Bilbo got a large share of the blame, and after Peregrin's disappearance most of his younger relations were kept away from him. Though in fact Bilbo was probably more troubled by the loss of Peregrin than all the Boffins put together.

He had, however, other young friends, who for one reasons or another were not kept away from him. His favourite soon became Frodo Baggins..." (pg 385 of RotS).

The reference to Gandalf is based on Chapter 1 of the Hobbit:
"...and once in a while members of the Took clan-clan would go and have adventures" (pg 12), and "'Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad ventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves - or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores!" (pg 14; the original 1937 version of the Hobbit said " stowing away aboard the ships that said to the Other Side?").

As he continued to draft, Tolkien eventually decided that having a human Trotter as a  worked better in the chapters following Rivendell, and the larger story, and changed his character and all of the Rangers to all humans. While Trotter didn't make it into the published LOTR, there are still references to hobbits acting more like the 'wild hobbits' than the typical Shire resident:

-The Fallohides, who are the ancestors of Tooks like Pippin, love the woodlands, prefer hunting over farming, and are elf-friends (pg 12 of the Fellowship of the Ring). This is later echoed in the 'Scouring of the Shire' where the Tooks that Pippin brings out of Tuckborough are described as hunters, with bow & axes. The history of the Hobbits in the Prologue also retains a strong association between the early Hobbit migrants and the Dunedain (who became the Rangers) in Eriador.

-Hobbit bowmen are sent to fight for the last King of Arnor against the Witch-King at the Battle of Fornost against the Witch-King (pg 14 of FotR). The draft of this section reports that they "took some part as allies of the king in the wars of Angmar (sending bowmen to battle)" (pg 9 of The Peoples of Middle-Earth).

-The 'Bounders' patrol the borders of the Shire to "see that Outsiders of any king, great or small, did not make themselves a nuisance" (pg 19). Aragorn & the human Rangers also  guard the borders of the Shire so we could imagine some contact here. ('Bounder' might be might be used as the name of a dedicated 'Hobbit Ranger' class).

-Sam's cousin Hal goes hunting up in the North Moors in Northfarthing, where he encounters a "Tree-Man" (pg 53 of FotR). This is the same location where a runaway young Trotter was found wandering (see above). Some of the farmers in the 'Scouring of the Shire' also have hunting bows.

-Smeagol's people, perhaps related to Stoors who returned to the vicinity of Mirkwood (see above), have an affinity for swimming & boating (pg 62).

-Hobbit Outsiders: "There were probably many more Outsiders scattered about in the West of the World in those those days than the people of the Shire imagined. Some, doubtless, were no better than tramps, ready to dig a hole in any bank and stay only as long as it suited them" (Chapter 9). This is an edited version of the first sentence I quoted above, and the strongest remaining reference to the 'Wild Hobbits' remaining in the published book that I could find. The stereotypical view of a Hobbit is influenced by the Shire and may not accurately represent all Hobbits. 

-In some ways, the idea of Wild Hobbits is preserved in the Woses or "Wild Men" of Chapter 5 of The Return of the King, who (like Hobbits) are a short and secretive branch of humanity: "Remnants of an older time they be, living few and secretly, wild and wary as the beasts ... Let us be thankful they are not hunting us: for they use poisoned arrows, it is said, and they are woodcrafty beyond compare".


  1. It's too bad that the hobbit rangers gave way to the patronizing human ones, I like the little dudes were able to protect themselves rather than relying on Numenoreans to hold their borders.

    Also: glad to see that I'm not the only one celebrating Hobbitfest this week.

  2. Loving this and the previous hobbit post! They're giving me ideas for my game, so thanks for that. Think I might do a race-as-class thing where hobbits and rangers are one-and-the-same, though I do like the concept of rangers as a human-only class. It shouldn't undermine humans, though, since only they can be clerics

  3. Tolkien did make pains to separate the Woses from the Hobbits, but in gaming terms, I'm not sure that makes much sense. Were I to be attempting to set LotR in a D&D world (or vice versa), I think I'd give Woses the same stats and rules as Hobbits, and then have some special class ability that allowed NPC Wose shamen to create animated stone guardians.

    I love the idea of 'Bounders' as being a 'Hobbit Ranger' class.

  4. That's great, thanks so much for posting that!

  5. Isn't there a "Wild Hobbit Wood" in Arduin in the southeast corner of the kingdom?

  6. I am reminded that in about 1986 (quickly checking, it was Issue 77 May 1986), White Dwarf published a scenario for MERP and D&D called 'A Secret Wish'. It's a while since I looked at it but I think it was by Graeme Staplehurst, who worked for TSR then GW and did most of the LotR-related stuff at WD.

    In the scenarioo, the party encounters a community of Hobbits who live, if memory serves, in a giant tree-house village (a little like Ewoks?) somewhere round the mouth of the Gwathlo. The supposition was that the normal MERP campaign-setting of c1640TA was being used, though like anything published for MERP, there was a recognition that not everyone was sticking to the official ICE timeline.

    I think there were three 'classes' of Hobbits, the normal villagers, some 'Scouts' who were L2 (I think, counted as Thieves, but 'Bounders' would of course be better - though as this was Basic D&D I think, no Ranger class was available anyway) and 'Sages' who were the elders of the community. I can't remember their stats.

  7. Good stuff! I enjoyed both articles, especially the Tolkien research. I had this thought a few years back when I first started going through Moldvay again and was thinking about what archetypes were being covered by the class mechanics of B/X.