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.
GeographyAccording to Tolkien, the Shire measured 40 leagues (193 km, 120 miles) from the Far Downs in the west to the Brandywine Bridge in the east, and 50 leagues (241 km, 150 miles) from the northern moors to the marshes in the south. This is confirmed in an essay by Tolkien on translating the Lord of the Rings, wherein he describes The Shire as having an area of 18,000 square miles (47,000 km²).
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.
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.
Regions of the Shire
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).
NorthfarthingThe Northfarthing is the least populated part of the Shire. It is the region where most of the Shire's barley crop is grown, as well as the only one of the Farthings where heavy snow is common. This was the site of the historic Battle of Greenfields.
- Long Cleeve was the home of the small part of the Took clan known as the North-Tooks, descendants of Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took, who settled here after the Battle of Greenfields.
WestfarthingThe western and most populated part of the Shire, this is the site of the towns Michel Delving, Tuckborough (part of Took-land), and Hobbiton.
- Michel Delving on the White Downs is the chief town of the Shire. Its name means simply "large excavation". The Mayor of Michel Delving, with a seven-year term, is the only elected official of the Shire.
- Bywater is a village a short walk east of Hobbiton. It is best known as the home of two inns, 'the Green Dragon' and the 'Ivy Bush'. It was also the site of the Battle of Bywater on November 3, 3019 T.A.
- Hobbiton is the village where Bag End is located, above the lane of Bagshot Row. This is the home of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee and the site of the beginning and conclusion of the novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The name "Bag End" comes from the farmhouse in the tiny Worcestershire village of Dormston, in which Tolkien's aunt lived. In the books, it is supposedly a translation of the fictional Westron language word Labin-nec, which has much the same meaning, and the same relationship to the Westron form of Baggins: Labingi.
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.
SouthfarthingThe Southfarthing is the site of Longbottom, where the best pipe-weed was grown, owing to the area's warmer climate.
- At Longbottom, a name meaning "long valley", Tobold Hornblower introduced the cultivation of pipe-weed to the Shire with plantations in his garden in T.A. 2670.
- The Green Hill Country, a region of rolling countryside in the central part of the Shire, extends into both the Southfarthing and the Eastfarthing.
- Sarn Ford is the stony ford across the Baranduin on the southern borders of the Shire. A road leaving the Great East Road at Michel Delving crosses the ford and meets the Greenway farther east. By this road Khamûl the Ringwraith entered the Shire during the Hunt for the Ring.
EastfarthingEastfarthing borders on Buckland and contains the towns Frogmorton and Whitfurrows and the farms of the Marish. Originally, the Eastfarthing was under the control of the Oldbuck family. Even after these became the Brandybucks, the farmers of the Eastfarthing acknowledged the authority of the Master of Buckland in addition to the Thain and Mayor.
- Stock was the location of 'The Golden Perch', an inn with a reputation for excellent beer.
- The Yale was a low-lying farming area shown on the Shire Map between the Stock Road and the East Road. This was the homeland of the Boffin family, and several Boffins in a genealogical table (deleted from Appendix C before publication) came from the Yale. The meaning of the name 'the Yale' is obscure. The well-known English personal and placename 'Yale' has its origins in a Welsh expression meaning "fertile upland."
- The Marish is the name of fertile but marshy farmlands located in the Shire's Eastfarthing. It is where the Oldbuck family is believed to have lived before Gorhendad Oldbuck removed the family across the Brandywine to Buckland and changed their name. Farmer Maggot lived at Bamfurlong in the Marish.
- Scary was a village located in the northern part of the Eastfarthing at the southern foot of the Hills of Scary. A road ran south from Scary to cross the Water at Budge Ford and join the Great East Road at Whitfurrows. There was a quarry to the east of Scary. During the War of the Ring, provisions were stored in the quarry by the Chief's Men, and after the Scouring of the Shire the Hobbits were able to use these stores of food and goods for the Yule holiday.
Other parts of the Shire
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.
Location, villages and bordersBuckland is located east of the Baranduin (Brandywine) river. The hobbits living in Buckland grew the High Hay, a hedge, to protect themselves against evil from the nearby Old Forest, which borders Buckland to the east. Buckland is bordered in the north by the Buckland Gate, the only entrance to Buckland near the Brandywine Bridge. In the south the borders of Buckland follow the High Hay until the Withywindle joins the Baranduin near the village of Haysend. The most important town of Buckland is Bucklebury where the Brandy Hall is located, home of the Master of Buckland, the hereditary chieftain of the Brandybuck family.
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.
History and cultureBuckland was settled around T.A. 2340 by Gorhenhad Oldbuck, the ancestor of Meriadoc Brandybuck. Gorhenhad Oldbuck thus became the first Master of Buckland. He renamed himself Brandybuck, which remained his family's name.
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:
HistoryThe Shire was settled by Hobbits in the year 1601 of the Third Age (Year 1 in Shire Reckoning). The Hobbits (who originally lived in the vale of Anduin) had migrated west over the perilous Misty Mountains in the decades before that, and before entering The Shire they had lived in Dunland and parts of the depopulated Arnorian splinter-realms Cardolan and Rhudaur. It has been speculated that the Hobbits had originally moved west to escape the troubles of Mirkwood, and the evil caused by the Easterlings.
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.
GovernmentThe Shire was a voluntarily orderly society. The only government services were the postal service and the rather smaller police force, the Shiriffs, whose chief duties involved rounding up stray livestock. Nominal officials of the Shire were the Mayor of Michel Delving in the White Downs (and by extension considered Mayor of the Shire); the Thain from Tuckborough, who was the head of the important Took clan; and the Master of Buckland at Bucklebury. The Thain, although standing in for the absent king, had only limited authority. He served as head of the Shire-moot and as captain of the Shire-muster and of the Hobbitry-at-arms; but as these positions were required only in emergencies (which rarely occurred), his role was essentially ceremonial. The Mayor, elected for a seven-year term, served as postmaster of the Shire's mail service, directed the Shiriffs, and presided at fairs. The Master was head of the Brandybuck clan; his authority was recognized throughout Buckland and across the river in the Marish.
The Hobbits of the Shire did obey the Rules, 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. 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 subject to the law of Arnor, but a law of this king forbade all full-sized humans (including himself) from entering the Shire.
marish in Bulgarian: Графство (Средна земя)
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marish in German: Regionen und Orte in Tolkiens Welt#Auenland
marish in Spanish: Comarca (Tierra Media)
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