Turin Hurinson asked “What do you make of how the Lord of the Rings is a combination of originally separate worlds of the Hobbit and the Silmarillion? I love Tolkien’s works. Is it conceivable that he would have been better off keeping them separate, and if not, why was it good that he combined them? It’s true we wouldn’t have LotR if he hadn’t, but I’m sure we would have had something equally impressive set only in the Hobbit world or (more likely) in Beleriand.”
First to start with fact. I don’t have my copy of The Hobbit with me, so I’ll have to wing it a bit 😉
While in the trenches in France and while recovering in the field hospital during WWI, Tolkien began to write what would become the Quenta Silmarillion. It was always the work of his heart. He struggled with it, writing and rewriting it unceasingly throughout his life. To see its hold on him, one has only to look at his epitaph. His life, his tales, are one. The question becomes, then, how could he possibly keep The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, out of the world of the Silmarillion?
But there is also a flaw in the original question. The Hobbit is most definitely not in its own isolated world. It hangs in the balance between the new and the world of Tolkien’s heart. Granted Hobbits and the Shire are not of Middle Earth, they are more akin to England, but somehow they found their way into the ongoing tale of the Silmarillion. The Hobbit, in many ways, can be seen as Tolkien’s attempt to reconcile modern English society with Middle Earth. What would happen if a bourgeois Englishman were suddenly dropped into Middle Earth? This is the essential question of The Hobbit, and hobbits themselves. Using the anacronism of hobbit-culture and medieval Middle Earth creates humor as well as a point of familiarity for the reader. It also sets up an interesting new hero-type; one who is just like us.
This may be the starting point of The Hobbit, but it still does not touch upon the world it came to inhabit. Were they ever truly separate? Possibly. At least in the beginning. Yet already Tolkien’s great tale had its hold on him. It would come to take a larger and deeper role in his writings as he wrote. With The Hobbit, we begin to see the first shadows of a distant mythical past of Gondolin, High Elves and “Goblin” wars. To use Tom Shippey’s terminology, it is the first instance of “interlacement.” The story of Bilbo begins to weave itself into a wider and grimmer one. This becomes fully developed in The Lord of the Rings.
Is it a good thing that hobbits found their way into Middle Earth? As a literary element, yes, but who’s really interested in that?…except maybe the critics and literary intelligencia. What do the hobbits do for Middle Earth?
It is important to recall that the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were meant to create a new mythology for England. They are a type of pre-history. Hobbits are a bridge in that history; between elves and men. Hobbits are still “mythical.” They have comparatively long lives. They can hide unseen and move silently. They are very practical, full of hobbit-sense. They act as the transition from the world of Elves to the world of Men. Yet, even that is a literary device…so what really do the hobbits bring to Middle Earth?
I would have to say, most importantly, the hobbits bring innocence back to Middle Earth. After the War of the Jewels, the Domination of Sauron and the Fall of Numenor, what innocence is left in the world? What happiness, untainted by loss, yearning and regret? Hobbits are the bastion of innocence. One could even say they are far too innocent.
In the end, I believe it would have been impossible for Tolkien to avoid the melding of these two worlds. And looking at the results, I don’t think it could have worked any other way. Elves and Men needed the innocence of Hobbits, just as the Hobbits needed the sorrow and strength of Men and Elves to ground them.