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The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life
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The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life

4.5 18
by Noble Smith, Peter S. Beagle (Foreword by)
 

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In The Wisdom of the Shire, Noble Smith sheds a light on the life-changing ideas tucked away inside the classic works of J. R. R. Tolkien and his most beloved creation—the stouthearted Hobbits.

How can simple pleasures such as gardening, taking long walks, and eating delicious meals with friends make you significantly happier? Why is the act

Overview

In The Wisdom of the Shire, Noble Smith sheds a light on the life-changing ideas tucked away inside the classic works of J. R. R. Tolkien and his most beloved creation—the stouthearted Hobbits.

How can simple pleasures such as gardening, taking long walks, and eating delicious meals with friends make you significantly happier? Why is the act of giving presents on your birthday instead of getting them such a revolutionary idea? What should you do when dealing with the Gollum in your life? And how can we carry the burden of our own "magic ring of power" without becoming devoured by it? The Wisdom of the Shire holds the answers to these and more of life's essential questions.

Editorial Reviews

author of The Last Unicorn and the introduction to Peter S. Beagle

Noble Smith reminds us that we can all be as constantly surprising as the Hobbits.
From the Publisher

“Noble Smith reminds us that we can all be as constantly surprising as the Hobbits.” —Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn and the introduction to The Lord of the Rings

“I haven't had too many 'Personal Gollums' in my life but the next time I happen upon one I will take Noble Smith's book out and thumb through it like a manual. My only fear is that I will find someone doing the same thing to figure out how to deal with me. Such a fun book!” —Ty Burrell, Emmy winning star of Modern Family

“Good books transport us, great books transform us. Noble Smith was clearly transformed by reading J. R. R. Tolkien's classic novels, and this book is the delightful result. It's a humorous but impassioned celebration of enduring values, worthy sacrifices, and simple pleasures. You can't beat that combination, either in the novels or in this irresistible homage.” —Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk

“How to live long and prosper, Hobbit-style. … A life-affirming, must-have morsel for Tolkien's colossal fan base.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A definitive guide to Tolkien's worldview.” —Wired.com

“Smith urges hobbit-wannabes to embrace the original small-is-beautiful lifestyle --grow your own food, walk everywhere. And sing. Even to love Tolkien-style!” —USA Today

“Delves into Middle-earth to show us how Tolkien can instruct us how to live a better life on Regular-earth.” —The Boston Globe

“Funny, insightful, thought-provoking, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.” —TheOneRing.net

Library Journal
Smith, a playwright and film producer, shrewdly connects spiritual writing to the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy work, likely to crest once again with the release of the first of three movies based on The Hobbit. While charming, the book falls somewhat victim to the dangers of spirituality-from-a-book thinking: since Tolkien's book was not (explicitly not, since Tolkien was a devout Christian) scripture, but a narrative, it occasionally strains credulity to draw conclusions from the hobbits' adventures. Nor does Smith present especially deft literary criticism. VERDICT A sweet offering unlikely to stand up to careful analysis, this is nonetheless a fine companion to the Hobbit movies for the fantasy reader or spiritual seeker.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250038296
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
10/29/2013
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Wisdom of the Shire

A Short Guide To A Long And Happy Life


By Noble Smith

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Noble Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-02641-5



CHAPTER 1

HOW SNUG IS YOUR HOBBIT-HOLE?


Throughout my life I've often heard people describe a snug home or a particularly cozy room as being "just like a Hobbit-hole." This is one of the highest compliments a Tolkien fan can give, for it's the sort of place where they'd want to spend some serious leisure time — to read a book or have a conversation, to eat a delicious meal or just sit and think.

On the very first page of The Hobbit Tolkien introduced the world to Bilbo Baggins (and Middle-earth for that matter) with a lengthy and loving description of a Hobbit-hole. His Halflings are, without a doubt, creatures of comfort. But they don't live in ostentatious mansions or castles of stone. Their cozy homes, built into the sides of hills for optimal insulation, are cheery wood-paneled refuges with fireplaces, well-stocked pantries, featherbeds and pretty gardens right outside their deep-set windows.

Peter Jackson's film adaptations show Bag End in all its oak paneled and glowing hearth fire glory. Who wouldn't want to inhabit that welcoming house with its hand-hewn beams, big round front door and cozy sun-dappled kitchen? The fact that you're reading this book means you're most likely smiling wistfully right now thinking, I would live there faster than you can say "Drogo Baggins's boat!"

In The Hobbit, when Bilbo is trapped inside the Elven-king's palace — existing as an invisible and lonely thief without a bed to call his own — he wishes he were back in his dear home, sitting by the fireplace with a shining lamp on his table. To him this is the height of comfort. Warmth. Light. Peace of mind. We must remember that Bilbo rushed out of his home in such a hurry to join Thorin Oakenshield and his band of Dwarves that he'd forgotten to bring a pocket-handkerchief!

When I was a boy I tried to turn my drab suburban bedroom into my own private Hobbit-hole. I found an old wingback chair at the local thrift shop — a chair suitable for marathon sessions of The Lord of the Rings. I stacked my shelves with Tolkien books I'd rescued from used-bookstores. I started a secondhand pipe collection (assuring my mom they were "Just for show!") and bought some cheap drugstore pipe tobacco called "Borkum Riff," placing it in a big jar I labeled Longbottom Leaf. Every time I opened the lid it filled my room with a scent redolent (at least I thought) of Bag End. This room was my refuge, even though it probably reeked like the back of a union hall.

Over the years I've found I was not alone in my earnest longing for a Hobbit-hole to call my own. This notion, however absurd, appeals to many of us Shire enthusiasts. Some people have managed to create their own versions of Bag End, like Simon Dale in the United Kingdom who built an abode worthy of Hobbiton. The house, half-buried in the Welsh countryside, was entirely fashioned by hand out of local materials such as stones and wood from surrounding forests. It has a roof that collects water for the garden and an air-cooled fridge.

There are very few places throughout the various Halflings' adventures that offer a facsimile of the extreme comforts of the Shire home: the magical Rivendell with its whispering trees, soft beds, wistful Elves and Lays of the Elder Days Poetry Nights; Tom Bombadil's cottage nestled in the woods near the gurgling Withywindle River, complete with chef Goldberry — ravishing daughter of the River-king; and Beorn's wooden hall with its endless supply of honey cakes, mead and waitstaff of trained bipedal animals.

All of these locations have something in common, despite their curious inhabitants. Like Hobbit-holes they're safe, warm, comfortable and filled with good food. They're homey places to rest and regenerate before a long journey, and they're connected to the natural world in a way that makes them almost part of the surroundings.

Modern homes are a sharp contrast to the cheery Hobbit-holes and have become repositories for cheap imported junk that we toss out like so much rubbish after a few short years of use. For many of us our connection to the world outside our homes is what we see from our cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to hermetically sealed office buildings. Urban sprawl or "Orc-ification" is turning our cities and towns into vast and ugly corporate retail outlets.

Everything inside and outside a Hobbit-hole would have been made by hand. And it would all have been created to last a lifetime, from the brass knob in the center of the big round front door, to the clay mugs in the kitchen, to the chair in front of the fire. When did we all become so helpless that we stopped learning how to make or fix the simplest things? Why don't we expect the same sort of permanence and quality in our own lives?

There are ways to change. Internet sites like Makezine.com show people all over the globe making remarkable utilitarian objects by hand, and Instructables.com will teach you the step-by-step process of how to build and mend things you would have thought were impossible. Online retailers like Etsy allow hundreds of thousands of craftspeople from all across the world to sell their handmade items (everything from furniture to clothes to ironmongery) to millions of buyers. These artisans are making amazing things out of recycled products as well as upcycled materials.

Seventy years ago Tolkien lamented how machines seemed to be taking over the world. Everywhere he looked trees were being cut down to make way for ugly garages, gasworks and factories. (Imagine how he would feel about the state of things now.) He wrote most of The Lord of the Rings during WWII at his house in Oxford while thunderous warplanes roared overhead flying off to Europe. He mused grimly that Moloch must have taken over as ruler of the world.

Tolkien wrote often to his son Christopher (his chief audience for his stories) who was serving in the Royal Air Force at the time, sending him chapters of The Lord of the Rings as soon as he could get copies typed up. In his letters he described to his son the little joys of life back in Oxford. He also told him about the simple trials and tribulations of being a homeowner. Reading about the mundane, when you're far from home, is sometimes just as interesting as hearing about the sublime.

Tolkien had seen the horrors of mechanized war firsthand, having served in the trenches of WWI in France. Like the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, he'd returned from the desolation of the battlefield to a changed world — a world where all but one of his friends no longer walked the Earth. Ten years after the Great War he was staring at a blank page of paper when the opening lines of The Hobbit popped into his head.

And thus was born the first Hobbit — the reluctant hero who departs his beloved abode and returns from a great adventure a changed man. We'd all be lucky in life if we had the chance to experience an unexpected adventure, and then make our way back safely to a place of comfort. Sometimes the only way we can appreciate our home and the simple happiness it has to offer is to be away from it for a while.

After the battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Merry is recovering in Gondor's Houses of Healing from his brave attack on the dread Witch-king of Angmar, he tells Pippin that one thing alone has sustained him through the hardships of his terrible journey: the deep spiritual roots he's put down in his beloved Shire.

This is Merry's Hobbit-hole of the mind.

Try to think of a place in your own life that was like a Hobbit-hole. It could have been your beloved grandparents' living room, or a kindly music teacher's studio or a good friend's comfy apartment. What was it about that place that made you feel at home? That allowed you to dream? Was it the space itself, or the people in it? Or a combination of both? At some point in your life your subconscious put down "roots" in this place, and you can take strength from this memory, even if the actual place no longer exists.

You can create a snug "Hobbit-hole" wherever you are — in your office, in a hotel room, in a college dormitory, in an apartment in the city or a bedroom in the suburbs. Because the space which you inhabit is irrelevant compared to the power of your mind to project contentment. For me that contentment has always meant having a good book at hand, so that no matter where I was stuck physically, my mind was free to soar.

In the final scene of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee returns from the Grey Havens to Bag End, arriving at night. He's just said good-bye to Frodo forever and he is terribly sad. But then he sees the cheery yellow glow of firelight emanating from the house that now belongs to him — a home bequeathed to him by Frodo. The house itself — the structure — is not important, however. It's what's inside: his loving wife and daughter waiting for him with a warm meal on the table.

It's a beautiful bookend to Tolkien's beloved novels: The Hobbit starts at Bag End with a callow bachelor and The Lord of the Rings ends there with a wise father. All of Tolkien's great adventures are set in between the opening and closing of the door to a simple and yet miraculous dwelling called a Hobbithole.

The Wisdom of the Shire Tells Us ...

"Your true home is inside your heart and stays with you wherever you go; but a nice snug room is a lovely thing to come back home to!"

CHAPTER 2

EAT LIKE A BRANDYBUCK, DRINK LIKE A TOOK


Hobbits are quite possibly the most lovable foodies in all of literature. They are constantly astounding Elves and Men and even Dwarves (who are voracious eaters and drinkers in their own rights) with their fathomless stomachs and thirsty throats. They eat six meals a day, as Tolkien tells us in the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, at least "when they could get them."

Bread and cheese, butter and clotted cream, mushrooms, sausages and rashers of bacon ... and beer. Quarts and quarts of beer. These are the staples of Hobbits who will pester and scrounge to fill their growling bellies.

Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took (aka Merry and Pippin) are the finest examples of Hobbit epicureanism. After the colossal Battle of Isengard — where the army of tree-like giant Ents destroys the evil wizard Saruman's high walls — the rascally pair raid the sorcerer's storerooms for provisions and stuff themselves silly on rashers of bacon, salted-pork, bread and honey. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas find them lounging atop the ruined walls, smoking their pipes contentedly. What's the first thing Merry and Pippin do? They join their friends in a second luncheon!

When Gandalf whisks poor Pippin away to the citadel of Minas Tirith, the Hobbit's first urgent questions upon arrival are, "Where are the dining rooms? The inns? And where can he get a decent draught of beer?" Who cares if the undead Lord of the Nazgûl and his raving gang of Ringwraiths are trying to hunt him down like a Buckland rat. All he's been thinking about on the long ride from Isengard is bread and ale, the poor ravenous little chap!

In The Hobbit Bilbo's growling stomach is a persistent reminder of the vast and adored pantries he's left behind at his home in Bag End. He's like having a grumpy ten-year-old boy along for a cross-country car trip who is constantly complaining about being hungry.

What was so appealing to the Hobbits about food from the Shire? It's the most basic kind of fare, after all. But sometimes the simplest things done up the right way are the most delicious. When was the last time you had a slice of homemade bread with homemade jam? I promise you it is one of the most scrumptious (to use Gollum's favorite word) things to eat in Middle-earth or this Earth. Everything we eat now is processed and watered down and concocted to trick us with "natural flavors." We've lost our taste for what is real and honest and, well, Hobbitish. When we dine on fast food, we might as well be eating Orc food.

Tolkien said he identified with the Hobbits more than any other characters in his works. So why was Tolkien so obsessed with eating? Perhaps the nightmarish months he spent in the barren wastelands of the trenches during WWI (about as close as our world has ever gotten to Sauron's desolation of Mordor) made him keenly aware of the value and beauty of good food. Like the other soldiers at the front, he would have existed on the few ounces of bread and cheese and boiled vegetables allotted daily. He spent several long months recovering from trench fever in a hospital back in England where patients were served reviving meals like the delightful sounding "toast water" and the oh so mouthwatering "jellied beef tea custard."

Or maybe it was the food shortages that occurred during WWII (while Tolkien was writing much of The Lord of the Rings) when butter and bacon were rationed and an adult was allowed a single egg for an entire week. Tea, a favorite of Hobbits, continued to be rationed until 1952, two years before The Fellowship of the Ring was published.

Whatever the reason, Tolkien had his Hobbits turn to food for comfort in nearly every situation. In their long and weary journey through the land of Mordor, Sam Gamgee wistfully reminisces about fish and chips, much to the disgust of the nearly cannibalistic Gollum who is used to eating fish (and smallish goblins) in the raw. "Keep your chips," sneers Gollum, to which Sam replies in disgust, "Oh, you're hopeless!"

Sam, however, cannot stop thinking of a homely meal, "something hot out of the pot" with "taters and carrots." Shire food is a reminder of happier times. Of civilization and goodness. When Gollum catches some rabbits for them to eat, Sam manages to find herbs for a stew — herbs nosed out in a strange war-torn land! (Now that's an undaunted Hobbit chef.)

A Hobbit like Sam would have spent his entire life eating everything from within an area fifty miles in diameter surrounding Hobbiton. Is it possible to survive like this in our modern age? The answer is an emphatic "yes," and people are doing it all over the world. It's called being a locavore. Give it a try. See how much food you can discover to eat that's produced within a hundred miles or so of where you live. Nowadays, the average food item on our grocery store shelves travels up to fifteen hundred miles before it gets there. That's just about the distance from Hobbiton to Mount Doom.

Shop at your local farmers market and meet the people who are growing organic food in your area — food that hasn't been genetically modified or shipped across the ocean in a bulk freighter. Small farmers (they work on tiny farms and are not, as a rule, tiny people) are a lot like real-life industrious Hobbits, and entering a farmers market feels as if you're stepping back in time to another age when people knew who grew their food, and the land where they grew it.

Or try foraging for food in the wild like a Hobbit. Mushrooms, we're told, made the Shire-folk greedier than anything. When Frodo was a lad he'd risked being attacked by Farmer Maggot's vicious dogs (named Grip, Fang and Wolf) just to steal some of the delicious fungi off his land. Anyone who has ever hunted for the elusive and succulent morels knows the allure that mushroom hunting can have when it takes hold. Aragorn was a great forager and tells the Hobbits they won't starve in the wilderness with him guiding them because he can find "berry, root and herb."

Foraging has become a popular pastime and there are many resources (in books and on the Internet) explaining where it's legal on public lands to harvest mushrooms or berries. Blackberries grow almost everywhere and you can easily preserve them for a taste of summer in the wintertime. Or try a local U-pick blueberry farm — the kind where they let you eat as much as you like while you're filling your buckets. Kids (most of whom eat like Hobbits) will love this too.

The very first time we meet Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings they're introduced as a sort of Greek chorus sitting around a table at an inn called The Ivy Bush, drinking ale and discussing the party preparations for Mr. Bilbo Baggins's eleventy-first birthday and gossiping about the strange goings-on in the world outside the Shire. The Hobbits love a good pub (or inn as they're referred to in Middle-earth). The Golden Perch is a famous inn of Buckland, and both Sam and Pippin are distraught when they can't partake of its renowned drink, thwarted in their quest to taste "the best beer in the Eastfarthing" by those pesky screeching Ringwraiths who are hot on their hairy heels.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith. Copyright © 2012 Noble Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet 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 is author of the novella Stolen from Gypsies and the novel Sons of Zeus, the first book in the Warrior Trilogy. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children.

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The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
DavidKershner More than 1 year ago
I read The Hobbit as a boy and was fond of Tolkien's book, but I was never a true fan. That has changed now that I have read Noble Smith's wonderful book The Wisdom of the Shire. With humor and a wealth of knowledge about life in the Shire, the book made me fall in love with Hobbits and their wise ways. As the author reveals, we have much to learn from Hobbits&mdash;much more than initially meets the eye. In the early 1980s, Benjamin Hoff wrote The Tao of Pooh, one of the most enjoyable works of non-fiction I've ever read. It is a humorous introduction to the Tao (also know as 'The Way', or path to harmony), using characters from the Winnie the Pooh stories. Now, Noble Smith introduces us in an equally enjoyable fashion to 'The Way of the Hobbit.' For anyone who is looking for a fun and engaging guide to how Hobbits can help us all live more peaceful, more fulfilling, more environmentally-sustainable lives, I highly recommend The Wisdom of the Shire. It also makes a great gift for someone you love, even if they don't love Hobbits (yet).
StephanMichaels More than 1 year ago
It is apparent that author Noble Smith read the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy at a seminal time in life, and that he found them patently uplifting. Clearly, Tolkien &quot;spoke&quot; to him, and Smith walked away with many empowering messages. In &quot;The Wisdom of the Shire,&quot; Smith shares these impressions and his distinct understanding of the lessons gleaned from Tolkien's Middle Earth. Along the way, he draws parallels and relevance to life in these difficult modern times. There's a simple message about living a simpler, saner life in the comfort of one's cozy Hobbit-hole, which can be a state of mind as well as one's physical surrounding. Lessons on to how to handle unpleasant encounters with the crazy-making, energy draining vampires that we all endure, in a chapter titled, &quot;Your own Personal Gollum.&quot; Replete with sidebars and footnotes loaded with fascinating factoids, the author's interpretations are like granules of insight sprinkled from page to page. In one side note, Smith likens the stewardship of the Ents as the very model for &quot;sustainability.&quot; In another aside, we discover that Tolkien had his wife's name inscribed on his own tombstone. The inference being that he probably hoped to see her again in the next world, perhaps on the distant shores of Valinor. Tolkien's mythology remains a powerful, mind-opening allegory, a didactic warning shot across the bow of an increasingly mechanized world. The burning of Fangorn Forest is the death knoll from the industrial revolution - and a call to action. The battle of The Ents and Samwise Gamgee's own green ethic are messages of hope. Smith also alludes to the Scouring of the Shire as a conflict with a kind of imperial corporate raider in his chapter, &quot;Dealing with 'The Big People.' &quot; In &quot;The Return of The King,&quot; the noble Samwise implores us, &quot;these things are worth fighting for,&quot; and Noble Smith's wizened and charming companion to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien tells us that these things are worth thinking about.
Sherwin-gws More than 1 year ago
The Wisdom of the Shire, A Short Guide to A Long and Happy Life is a fun and interesting read for fans of Tolkien's work. It is also a neat way, to refresh the pleasant memories of the series, without re-reading everything. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It has some good recommendations as well.
QuixoticMagpie More than 1 year ago
You know those conversations you have with close friends and family, late at night or on a long car ride, where you start talking about everything and anything? Like the one you might have had with your brother and husband, about what race of character would you be from The Lord of the Rings? Would you be an Elf, a Hobbit, a Dwarf, or a Human? Well, I always thought it would be cool to be an elf in Middle Earth, while my husband and brother always chose Hobbit. I would laugh and ask why. Why Hobbit when the elves had that cool language and had that communion with trees thing and lived in forests? Well, after reading Noble Smith&rsquo;s book, The Wisdom of the Shire, I would like to take back my answer. I would definitely choose Hobbit. The movement to eat local and organic, to simplify our lives, live in a sustainable and responsible way is huge right now. Thoreau knew it all those years ago, and wrote about it in Walden. But that seemed like a meager and hard existence. It appears Tolkien had a similar idea, but he shaped this idea, warmed it up, made it cozy and homey, and gave this life to the Hobbits in the Shire. Smith interprets this way of life for us, and the when I finished his book, I really wanted to move to the Shire. Although I can&rsquo;t do that, I certainly can take his lessons and apply them to my life. The Wisdom of the Shire implores us to take more walks, eat local, plant a garden, get enough rest, make your home a refuge, a place filled with love you want to go back to. To &ldquo;eat like a Brandybuck, and drink like a Took, &ldquo;with simple, delicious, nourishing food and, yes, beer. Lol. We learn to love like a Hobbit, and about courage and joy. We learn about giving gifts on your birthday instead of receiving. Smith had a Hobbit birthday once &ndash; Hobbits find gifts for others among their own belongings, and wrap them up and give them away on their birthdays. Smith did this one year and he loved it. I think this is something I would like to try next year. I really enjoyed this book. I loved all the Hobbit life lessons, and feel that I am going to implement this way of life into my own life. I think it is a worth a read, even if you are not familiar with The Lord of the Rings. And I am totally going to plant a Party Tree and a Hobbit garden.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author has some sweet and fun-sounding ideas for how to live more like a Hobbit of Middle-Earth, but some of his facts about the book are incorrect and his style is very simple. A quick read and cute, but I expected more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didn't u burn urself? >:(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im locked out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ar!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Galadriel, Galadriel, I thought of a slight complication."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
o.o Oh really? Lol. & how also, it's so not healthy for you. Hmm. dx
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't care.