The Shire is a region of J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth, described in The Lord of the Rings and other works. The Shire refers to an area settled exclusively by Hobbits and largely removed from the goings-on in the rest of Middle-earth. It is located in the northwest of the continent, in the large region of Eriador and the Kingdom of Arnor. Its name in Westron was Sûza "Shire" or Sûzat "The Shire". Its name in Sindarin was i Drann.
The Brandywine (Baranduin) river bounds the Shire from the east. (Hobbits also live in Buckland, which lies east of the river and west of the Hedge protecting the Shire from invasion from the Old Forest; however, Buckland was not formally recognised as part of The Shire until after the War of the Ring, when it was granted officially to The Shire by King Elessar.) From the north and the west, the Shire is bounded by the ancient south and east roads and by geographical features such as the Tower Hills.
The Shire was originally divided in four Farthings but Buckland and later the Westmarch were added to it. Within the Farthings there are some smaller, unofficial divisions such as family lands: the Tooks nearly all live in or near Tuckborough in Tookland, for instance. In many cases a Hobbit's last name indicates where their family came from: Samwise Gamgee's last name derives from Gamwich, where the family originated. Buckland was named for the Oldbucks (later Brandybucks).
The Shire is described as a small but beautiful and fruitful land, beloved by its inhabitants. The Hobbits had an extensive agricultural system in the Shire but were not industrialised. Various supplies could be found in the Shire, including cereals, fruit, wood and pipe-weed.
In particular, the Shire corresponds to the West Midlands region of England, extending to Worcestershire (where Tolkien located his "home" in particular, his mother's family being from Evesham), Shropshire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Staffordshire, as argued by Tom Shippey forming a "cultural unit with deep roots in history
The name "Shire" harks back to T.H. White's book England Have My Bones, where White says that he lives in "the Shire" (with a capital "s").
The industrialisation of the Shire was based on Tolkien's witnessing of the extension of the Industrial Revolution to rural Worcestershire during his youth, and especially the deleterious consequences thereof. The rebellion of the Hobbits and the restoration of the pre-industrial Shire may be interpreted as a prescription of voluntary simplicity as a remedy to the problems of modern society. Saruman, the responsible party for the pollution of the Shire, derives the Saru element of his name partly from Sarehole Mill, in the vicinity of which Tolkien spent "the most idyllic period" of his childhood. The Shire is, of course, in no straightforward way "identical" to the West Midlands. The region in a more remote past, as Mercia, serves at the same time as a model for the Mark of the Rohirrim.
The original parts of the Shire were subdivided into four Farthings ("fourth-ings" or "quarterings"): the Three-Farthing Stone marked the point where the borders of the Eastfarthing, Westfarthing and Southfarthing of the Shire came together, by the East Road (Iceland was traditionally also divided in Farthings, or "fourth parts", as the Shire is).
On the north bank of the Water in Hobbiton was 'The Mill', with a large water-wheel and a yard behind it. Sandyman the Miller owned the Mill and operated it with the help of his son Ted Sandyman. Lotho Sackville-Baggins had the Old Mill knocked down and the New Mill built in its place. The New Mill was an ugly red-brick building with a tall chimney. It was bigger than the Old Mill and full of wheels and strange contraptions to increase production. The New Mill straddled the Water and poured pollutants into the stream. It was operated by Men, and Ted Sandyman stayed on to help them. When Saruman came to the Shire in September of 3019, the Mill was no longer used for grinding corn but for some industrial purpose; and loud noises, smoke, and filth issued from it. After Saruman was killed and the Chief's Men defeated at the Battle of Bywater, the New Mill was removed.
Buckland and the Westmarch are sometimes reckoned part of the Shire, though they are not part of any Farthing. Buckland was described in Chapter V A Conspiracy Unmasked in The Fellowship of the Ring as being "virtually a small independent country... a sort of colony of the Shire." Westmarch became part of the Shire only after the end of the events portrayed in Lord of the Rings, in the Fourth Age.
The Buckland Gate is, for all intents and purposes, the eastern gate of the Shire. Located at the eastern end of the Brandywine Bridge, the gate stood on the Great East Road as it approached from the town of Bree some thirty miles east of the Shire. Beyond the gate lay the Brandywine Bridge, which crossed the Brandywine River or Baranduin, and also the road which led south into Buckland. The road to Buckland split off from the Great East Road just beyond the western side of the Buckland Gate but before the Brandywine Bridge. The gate itself was made into the northernmost end of the High Hay, the great hedge that separated the Old Forest from the hobbit-populated region of Buckland.
The High Hay is the name given by Hobbits to the great hedge-wall that separated the Old Forest from the Hobbit-populated region of Buckland along the Brandywine River. It ran from the Buckland Gate in the north ending at Haysend in the south, at the point where the Withywindle flowed into the Brandywine.
An important landmark is the Bucklebury Ferry, a raft-ferry used as the second main crossing point of the Brandywine River from the Shire to Buckland, after the Brandywine Bridge (which is said to be twenty miles further north; the number is believed to have been a mistake by Tolkien, and newer editions of The Lord of the Rings correct it to ten miles). It is apparently left unmanned to be used by hobbit travellers as needed. En route to the new house at Crickhollow, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, crossed using the Ferry just before the arrival of a Black Rider, who was forced to go around to the Brandywine Bridge since there were no boats kept on the western bank of the river. (In the film version by Peter Jackson, the encounter is more immediate.)
Crickhollow was a village in Buckland. After selling Bag End, Frodo Baggins moved to a house in Crickhollow. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Fredegar Bolger prepared the house ostensibly for Frodo to live in retirement, but instead the purchase of the house was intended as a ruse to allow Frodo and Samwise Gamgee to leave the Shire unobtrusively. Merry and Pippin lived together for some time after their return to the Shire in the house at Crickhollow.
Because Buckland is east of the Baranduin, it is not part of the land given to the hobbits by King Argeleb II of Arthedain. It was thus not part of the Shire proper until the beginning of the Fourth Age when King Elessar made Buckland and the Westmarch officially a part of the Shire.
The Bucklanders are unlike other hobbits: they are prepared for danger and are thus less naive than the Shire-hobbits. They close the Hay Gate and their own front doors at night and are prepared to rush to arms when the Horn of Buckland is blown. Most Bucklanders were originally of Stoor stock, and they were the only hobbits known to use boats.
After the events of the War of the Ring at the start of the Fourth Age, King Elessar granted the hobbits of the Shire effective self-rule inside his reunited kingdom, banning any Men from entering the land.
He also granted the Shire a stretch of new land: this reached from the ancient western borders of the Shire, the Far Downs, to the Tower Hills. The area between the downs and the hills became known as the Westmarch. Like Buckland across the river Brandywine, it was not part of any of the four Farthings of the Shire.
The eldest daughter of mayor Samwise Gamgee, Elanor the Fair, married Fastred of Greenholm, and they moved to the Westmarch. After the passing of master Samwise into the Grey Havens, they and their children became known as the Fairbairns of the Towers or Wardens of Westmarch, and the Red Book of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins passed into their keeping, becoming known as the Red Book of Westmarch.
The principal towns of the Shire were:
The Shire was a part of Arthedain, and as such a part of Arnor. The Hobbits obtained official permission from King Argeleb II at Norbury (Fornost) to settle the lands, which were not populated and seen as the king's hunting grounds. The King stipulated three conditions to this grant; that the hobbits should acknowledge his Lordship, that they should maintain the roads within the Shire and finally that they should aid his messengers. The Hobbits therefore considered themselves subjects of the king and sent some archers to the great battles Arnor fought against Angmar. After the fall of Arnor, the Shire remained a minor but independent, self-governing realm. The chiefs of the Clans elected an official named the Thain to hold the king's powers after the North-Kingdom fell. The first Thains were the heads of the Oldbuck clan. It later came to be held by the Tooks.
Its small size, relative lack of importance, and brave and resilient Hobbit population made it too modest an objective for conquest. More importantly, the Shire was guarded and protected by the Dúnedain Rangers, who watched the borders and kept out intruders. The only strangers to enter the Shire were the Dwarves travelling on the Great Road that ran through the Shire to and from their mines in the Blue Mountains, and the occasional Elves on their way to the Grey Havens.
This peaceful situation changed after Bilbo Baggins' acquisition of the One Ring in the year 1341 of the Shire Reckoning. Shortly after the beginning of the events described in The Lord of the Rings (autumn of the year 1418 in Shire Reckoning), the Shire was first visited by the Nine Ringwraiths and then captured by Saruman through his underling Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who turned the Shire into a police state and began a massive campaign to industrialize the Shire which brought widespread misery and severely damaged its ecology. It was liberated with the help of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin after the end of the Quest of the Ring through their victory at the Battle of Bywater. After Aragorn's return as the King of Arnor and Gondor, the Shire became a protected enclave inside the Reunited Kingdom. He is known to have issued an edict that forbade the entrance of full-sized Men into the Shire. The Shire was soon restored with magic soil from Galadriel's Lórien garden (presented as a gift to Sam). The year 1420 (SR) was considered by the inhabitants of the Shire to be the most productive and prosperous year in their history.
To a large extent, individual families and clans handled their own internal affairs. Where a prominent family was associated with a certain district, the head of that family would also exercise a kind of authority over his area. Thus, the Master of the Hall or Master of Buckland (the two titles are used interchangeably), hereditary head of the Brandybuck family, was the effective ruler of Buckland. The title Master of the Hall comes from his more immediate authority over Brandy Hall, the greatest of the dwelling places of the Brandybuck family, filling Buck Hill in Bucklebury. The Master also exercises a good deal of authority in the Marish, a region of the Eastfarthing just across the Brandywine from Buckland. Similarly, the head of the Took family, often just called the Took, ruled the ancestral Took dwelling of Great Smials, the village of Tuckborough, and the wider area known as the Tookland.
There were only two Shire-wide officials, the Thain and the Mayor. The Thainship was a hereditary office, set up after the collapse of the Kingdom of Arthedain, to hold the King's authority over the Shire. In practice, the Kings of Arthedain and the Hobbits of the Shire had left each other alone, so the Thain's duties were very limited, and were mostly related to defence: "The Thain was the master of the Shire-moot, and captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms; but as muster and moot were only held in times of emergency, which no longer occurred, the Thainship had ceased to be more than a nominal dignity." Nevertheless, the feeling remained widespread that, in the absence of a King, the Thain was the source for all proper authority in the Shire, and during Saruman's attempted conquest of the Shire in S.R. 1419, Thain Paladin II, aided by many Hobbits and particularly his Took clan, led an armed opposition to Saruman's forces from his capital at Tuckborough. When Frodo left the Shire at the outset of The Lord of the Rings (S.R. 1418), the office of Thain had existed for 1,039 years. The first Thain, Bucca of the Marish, took office in S.R. 379; he and his 11 successors of the Oldbuck family held the Thainship for 361 years. When Gorhendad Oldbuck led his family to settle Buckland (S.R. 740), the office of Thain passed to Isumbras I, head of the Took family, which had kept the Thainship ever since. In S.R. 1418, the Thain was Paladin II, the 31st Thain and the 19th of the Took line.
Thains of the Shire include:
The chief official of the Shire was the Mayor of Michel Delving, whose authority extended to the whole Shire. Elected every seven years at the "Free Fair", which was held on the White Downs in the Westfarthing, the Mayor's duties consisted largely of presiding at banquets. The Mayor was also ex officio Postmaster and First Shirriff.
The Hobbits of the Shire did obey the Rules, that is, the ancient laws of the North Kingdom, but there was no real need to enforce them; all Hobbits voluntarily obeyed them as they were both ancient and just. Hobbits had lawyers, but they dealt mostly with wills and such matters, and there is no record of a formal court system, still less of criminal prosecutions or punishments such as fines and imprisonment (the beatings and imprisonment instituted by Saruman's regime notwithstanding). Frodo stated that no Hobbit was ever known to have intentionally killed another Hobbit (and even the Elves could not claim the same of their own race): Sméagol's murder of Déagol provides a counterexample, but Frodo was always reluctant to think of Gollum as a hobbit.
At the resumption of the throne by King Elessar, the Shire again became part of the restored Kingdom of Arnor. Elessar permitted the Hobbits to keep their own laws and customs. (The office of Thain was also left undisturbed.) In 1427, Elessar issued an edict forbidding Men from entering the Shire, and declaring it a Free Land under the protection of Arnor.
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