The Shire was the homeland of the Hobbits. It was located in the northwest of Middle-earth, in the region of Eriador and within the Kingdom of Arnor, that is, while the kingdom existed. By the Third Age it was one of the few heavily-populated areas left in Eriador. Its name in Westron was Sûza "Shire" or Sûzat "The Shire". Contrary to popular misconception, The Shire was not the birthplace of Frodo Baggins.
The Shire was settled by Hobbits in the year TA 1601 (Year 1 in Shire Reckoning). The Hobbits (who originally lived in the vale of Anduin) had migrated west over the Misty Mountains in the decades before, and before entering The Shire they had lived in Dunland and parts of the depopulated Arnor splinter-realms Cardolan and Rhudaur. It has been speculated that the Hobbits had originally moved west to escape the evils of Mirkwood, and the trouble caused by the Easterlings.
The Shire was a part of Arthedain, and as such a part of Arnor. The Hobbits were granted official permission from King Argeleb II at Norbury (Fornost) to settle the Shire, which was not populated at the time, and seen as the King's hunting grounds. The Hobbits considered themselves to be subjects of the King, and sent some support troops to the great battles Arnor fought against Witch-king of Angmar. Tales claim that some Hobbit bowmen were involved at the Battle of Fornost, although no tales of it exist in Men records. After the fall of Arnor, the Shire remained a small but independent entity.
Third Age and beyond
This peaceful situation changed after Bilbo Baggins' acquisition of the One Ring in the year SR 1343 of the Shire Reckoning. Shortly after the first events that led to the War of the Ring (autumn of the year 1419 in Shire Reckoning), the Shire was first visited by the Nine Ringwraiths who went as far as Hobbiton, and then captured by Saruman. It was liberated with the help of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin after the end of the Quest of the Ring. 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 order that forbade the entrance of full-sized Men into the Shire.
The Brandywine River (Baranduin) bound the Shire from the east. (Hobbits also lived in Buckland, which lay 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 Aragorn II Elessar.) From the north and the west The Shire had no topographical borders, but rather was bounded by the ancient south and east roads, and by vague geographical features such as the Tower Hills.
The Shire was quite densely populated in parts with many villages and a few towns, but it still was open enough to allow for wide forested areas and marshes. The total amount of land calculated in square miles was 21,400 probably not including the Westmarch.
Government and Defense
The Shire was originally divided in four Farthings (Northfarthing, Southfarthing, Eastfarthing, and Westfarthing), but Buckland and later the Westmarch were added to it. Within the Farthings there were some smaller, unofficial divisions such as family lands; nearly all the Tooks lived in or near Tuckborough, for instance. In many cases a Hobbit's last name indicates where their family came from: Samwise Gamgee's last name derived from Gamwich, where the family originated. Outside the Farthings, Buckland itself was named for the Oldbucks (later Brandybucks). See further Regions of the Shire.
The Shire's small size, relative lack of importance in terms of geographical position, natural resources, or even concerning hobbits themselves made it too modest an objective for conquest from the more dominant races of the East and South. More importantly, the Shire was guarded and protected by the Dúnedain Rangers, who patrolled the borders and kept out intruders, though Tolkien notes that many of the current hobbits of the Shire have grown so accustomed to this that they have forgotten their protectors altogether.
However the limited government of the Shire did hold its own voluntary police force known as Shirriffs that helped to keep the Shire safe, usually from trespassing beasts rather than from enemy forces. The only foreigners 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. Despite this, two battles were fought in the Shire, the Battle of Greenfields, and the Battle of Bywater. The Shire was also attacked by White Wolves in TA 2911 during the Fell Winter, prompting the use of the Horn-call of Buckland.
The Shire derived its laws from the authority of the King at Fornost. After Fornost fell and the last king died, the Hobbits appointed a Thain to continue the authority of the missing king. The title of Thain eventually passed to the head of the Took clan in Tuckborough. The Thain commanded an armed force during emergencies, but otherwise had only a symbolic role.
The Mayor of Michel Delving, elected once every seven years, became the most important official in the Shire. Most hobbits regarded Michel Delving as the principal town of the Shire, particularly with regard to its government. The Mayor was also the Postmaster and the First Shirriff for the whole Shire, so some called him the Mayor of the Shire.
The Shire was a small but beautiful and fruitful land, beloved by its inhabitants. The Hobbits had an extensive agricultural system in the Shire, but did not proceed with industrialization. Various supplies could be found in the Shire, including cereals, fruit, wood and pipe-weed (a favourite treat of Hobbits). Its relatively peaceful existence during the perilous period preceding the defeat of Sauron can be attributed to the vigilance of Gandalf and Rangers of the North led by Aragorn who used daring tactics to keep evil at bay. However when these set out to a distant war, the Shire became essentially defenceless, which led to its capture. But the damage which Saruman caused by forced industrialization was undone by the Hobbits' efforts. The Shire was restored with soil from Lórien, given to Sam by Galadriel. The year SR 1420 was called The Great Year of Plenty and was considered by the inhabitants of the Shire to be the most productive and prosperous year in their history.
The industrialization of the Shire was based on Tolkien's witnessing of the extension of the Industrial Revolution to rural Warwickshire 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.
On Tolkien's maps, the Shire was located at about the same position as England was on modern European maps and has been cited as an example of Deep England ideology (of course, England being on an island while Shire is inside the continent). Throughout the narrative, Tolkien also implies numerous points of similarity between the two, such as weather, agriculture and dialect. One can also see England as Tolkien's source of inspiration for the shire in its very name ("Shire" is a synonym of "county" see: English Shire).
Appearances in adaptation
The Shire is depicted in the following video games:
- The Lord of the Rings: Conquest
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king
- The Lord of the Rings Online
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game)
- The Hobbit (2003 video game).
- LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game
Panoramic view of Shire
Places of Middle-earth and Arda
Forests & Mountains:
The rest of Arda:
- ↑ The Atlas of Middle-earth, Regional Maps, "The Shire"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B: The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands), "The Third Age"