Hobbiton, as any good Hobbit knows, lies in the heart of the Shire. Some may call this the best land in Middle Earth, I prefer to call it home. That is, I would call it home if only I could be there (subjunctive conditionals are always so troublesome!). You see, I dream of Hobbiton and my own, my very own, my precious hole in the ground. Hobbitus ille, I would say of myself – the Hobbit under that other hill I would be. In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus: nec foedum, sordidum madidumque foramen, nec extremis lumbricorum atque odore caenoso impletum, nec etiam foramen aridum, inane, harenosum, in quo nihil erat ad considendum aut edendum aptum; immo foramen-hobbitum, ergo commodum. Thus spoke the great Bilbo Baggins (although in a fairer tongue I am certain), of whom I believe that I am distantly related (many times removed on my mother’s side), and of whom I have received through the generations such tales of Hobbiton that would make any aspiring Hobbit’s imagination run a-wild. In fact, I sense that occurring even now.
Today I awoke in my own little hole in the ground – much to my surprise! The light streamed through round, port-hole type windows, and played fanciful games upon the bedroom wall. Up I leapt – not unlike Bullroarer Took of old is said to have done: with determination – and ran at once for the front door. How I knew where it was amid the winding passages and many rooms of my grand Hobbit home is still a mystery to me. How I awoke in Hobbiton is, indeed, an even greater enigma; but oh how wonderful a quandary! Through the door and down the hill I ran, laughing in the morning sun and breathing such fresh air as never has been smelled by the likes of us non-Hobbitses in well over an age of this earth. The Shire smells of all goodness and good earthy things – it smells of flowers and flowing water, of promises kept and friendships sustained; but most of all it smells of home cooked food. The very trees, leaves, dirt, and sky cannot help but bring one’s musings to the joys and satisfaction of a well-laid table and warm hearth.
Food. It is one of the highest callings of a rational creature: to eat well. Hobbiton is not known for its philosophers (although the old Gaffer comes mighty close to being one), but if there were such strange beings as a philosopher-Hobbit his subject matter of choice no doubt would be food. Food: eating, feasting (never fasting!), dining and partying, there is no end to a Hobbit’s delight for the simple pleasures of food. For food teaches Hobbits from an early age the value and virtue of staying put. One cannot eat well if dilly-dally is the name of the game. To go hither and thither is a sure recipe for a missed meal; and besides, why would anyone leave the Shire? Now that I am here, walking under skies of the bluest blue and upon the greenest grass, I long with the very essence of my being (what those Greek Fathers in wonder called one’s ousia but which it takes a modern man to reduce to the vulgarity of an haecceity) – with my very essence I say – to linger in this land. Linger… Such a strange thing to wish upon oneself: to stay but a little while. To take one’s fill of good things understood as they are meant to be: as good. If I could sing a rhapsody for the grass of the shire it would be strange, I confess as much, but it would be such that few in our world have matched (save, perhaps, the finest lines of Shakespeare in the grip of love). It must have been a glimpse of the grass in the Shire that caused that great writer of our world, a certain Mister Lewis, to say of Heaven: it is so real to those not accustomed to it that the very grass cuts their feet.
The culinary arts, however, are not the only matter of which Hobbits think of when food is the subject of discussion. Indeed, what is bread and meat without ale – draught of the gods, as one of our Greek poets may have remarked. Dionysus and Bacchus would be pleased to find, but would be unable to make any contribution to, such a fine tradition of drinking as is found in Hobbiton. To our distant ears songs and tales have made their way – “the finest brew for the brave and true…” – and what bravery and truth there is in a Hobbit tavern! Indeed, here we see that true bravery which The Philosopher, of whom the Aquinas spoke so much, only guessed at. For bravery is not only to be found in the battlefield (of which Hobbits are never eager to see nor afraid to consider), but rather in the daily hum-drum of a life well lived. Any Hobbit will tell you that it takes courage to stand up to the Sacksville-Bagginses or perhaps the occasional wandering mountain troll! Yet even more than these, the courage of the Hobbit, of which I must admit I am only beginning to emulate, is to be found in the daily faith in good earth, in the hope of abundant rains and pleasant weather, and in holding fast to all that is good, beautiful, and true. Such is no easy ordeal – of this I know – but somehow Hobbits have a natural inclination; they have not yet heard of those 3Ds: Derrida, Deconstruction, and Damnation. Nor will I ‘enlighten’ them, in my brief time among them.
I must confess that much of my day in the land of these fair people was spent sampling the fare of the Green Dragon. Of the menu therein I can scarce describe with the modern tongue. We lack adjectives sufficient for describing what Hobbits know as everyday features. Imagine a potato so perfectly round, thumb sized and so delicious that you almost sing its glory rather than consign it to the briny deep! And ale that no Englishman in his favorite pub – nay, not even an Irishman – can know the likes of that found in this delightful public house. Suffice to say that all things here bear that certain je ne sais quoi.
Here again, in the company of such fine people, one learns a thing or two about the bonnum in communem, of the spes in gaudium. That is, Hobbits put tell to poor old Polonius – a sage in our world – when he advises ‘neither a borrower nor lender be…’ Hobbits, being genuinely gentle folk, know nothing of this admonition. Every Hobbit is a borrower and lender, and freely so. In their gentle hearts there is all – or nearly so – lack of guile. Gather ‘round the table friends, this meal is for all in need or want. In such times and places all strangers are friends, and every Hobbit turns Gaffer. It is among these good people, children of the kindly West, that I have come to know that if more of us valued the ways of Hobbits – food and cheer above hoarded gold – it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave their world and so, again to my ever-persistent wonder, find myself back in my rickety chair, at my old wooden desk, amidst my own good friends: books.