Note: I wanted to write a review on this book since I started this blog, but my copy of it mysteriously ‘disappeared’. I searched both mine and my grandparents’ houses for it, but it did not ‘appear’ until around a month ago – right in the middle of a stack of books I had already looked through twice! I couldn’t fathom it, but then I realised that the message in this book was incredibly pertinent to this time of year when families come together and we take stock of our lives, preparing for the new year. Maybe it had concealed itself until the time was right? Who knows… But, anyway, without further ado…
It might sound melodramatic but it would be the truth to say that this book changed my life. Any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings knows how profound and incredible those stories are, but I never realised just how much wisdom lay in those books and how much of it I could incorporate into my own life.
Samwise Gamgee was always my favourite character (and in my opinion, the real hero of the story), and I was always fond of the hobbits: I loved the fun-loving, mischievous Merry and Pippin, the look of Hobbiton in the films, and I loved the idea of the ‘little guy’ triumphing against all odds. But, the hobbits were never my favourite race of beings in Middle Earth. I was always drawn to the elegance and ethereal beauty of the elves, and the rugged heart and strength of the men and women of Rohan.
Then, I read this book. Not only did it change my opinion to wholeheartedly believing that the hobbits are the best race, but it made me realise just how wise Tolkien really was. The word ‘genius’ is bandied around too lightly these days, but that’s exactly what Tolkien was: a genius.
In The Wisdom of the Shire, Noble Smith gets to the heart of exactly what is important in life and shows us exactly how the hobbits teach those values. The Shire is a utopia, but a real and down-to-earth utopia that we can each create – and sustain – in our own lives.
For those who are unfamiliar with the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Shire is the land of hobbits, the little folk – or halflings – who live in little houses built into the hills and who spend their lives growing things, eating hearty meals, singing together over a good mug of ale, and living out a pleasant, untroubled existence away from the shadows and evil lurking in other parts of Middle Earth. Compared to the grandeur of the human kingdoms of Gondor or Numenor, or the elven realms of Lothlorien and Rivendell, the hobbits seem unworldly and unsophisticated. But, that doesn’t make them unwise.
In fact, the hobbits live their lives based on good, true, honest values, and that makes them the wisest of all. We can all learn a thing or two from the hobbits about contentment, simple living, good honest fun, living in harmony with nature, spending time making memories and being happy and healthy in spirit and mind.
Everyone I know who read this book immediately said afterwards “I want a vegetable patch!”. The simple life is so appealing because it is peaceful, joyous and free from ‘modern world’ complications, and this book makes you realise that whether or not you live a simple life is a choice that you can make whenever you want.
After finishing this book I made a herb garden and started to grow fruit-bearing plants in a little greenhouse, and it gave me more genuine satisfaction than I had imagined. I even acquired the nickname ‘Allywise Gamgee’, after my beloved Samwise. It reinforced to me how important it is to spend time with friends, eating well and looking at the stars. We don’t have to succumb to the mental drudgery and stress of modern life if we don’t want to.
The philosophy put forward in this book doesn’t just give benefits for us as indiviudals, though: it shows us how a hobbit way of life would benefit the environment, local trade, farmers and wildlife. Noble Smith gives suggestions for things like making your own little hobbit garden, learning to mend and repair, and cooking hobbit-y meals. Before I’d even heard about the Zero Waste movement, The Wisdom of the Shire convinced me to move towards a more sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle close to nature.
You wouldn’t expect that a fairy tale, fantasy novel like The Lord of the Rings could have such a profound and practical bearing on our real, modern world. The Wisdom of the Shire is not just about changing our lives in the physical sense, though: it is about shifting our mental, emotional and spiritual outlook. Personally, I feel a lot happier and content, and a lot more aware of what I really want in life, after reading this book.
It is my most sincere and honest opinion that – and don’t laugh – living like a hobbit could solve ALL of our worldly, spiritual, economical and political problems. A man who started writing about his hobbits in the 1930s gives us all the answers to the dilemmas of our modern world, and Noble Smith has had the insight, intuition and presence of mind to reveal to us exactly what wisdom lies in Tolkien’s writing.
Don’t believe me? Give this book a go.
(Buy it here through hive.co.uk and support independent book shops!)
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – Tolkien, The Hobbit