Two things struck me from the chapter “Shortcut to Mushrooms:” the nature of hobbits and Tolkien’s use of the situation both for foreshadowing and information. Pippin at this point in the book represents the ordinary hobbit, granted as normal as can be for a Took. He is not as closely tied in friendship and loyalties to Frodo as Sam. He is also unaware of the implications of the events that surround him. And so, in him, we get a glimpse of hobbit sense. With Pippin the primary focus and priority of all hobbits is reinforced: good food and good ale. His comments to Frodo when he finally wakes are very revealing. When there is good food, it’s essentially every hobbit for themshelf…unless you have a close friend like Sam to look out for you. The other point of interest is the amount of reverence given to food and the act of eating. Given the nature of hobbits, one could say this is their principle art form. therefore Pippin’s reaction to Frodo’s desire to think at breakfast is not just jest, I’d say its actual shock.
Then there’s Farmer Maggot. For a long time his character has perplexed me. As I’ve stated before, he acts as one of the first Guardians for the hobbits. He also acts as the window into the typical hobbit family, life and society. What is shocking about Maggot, however, is how he deals with the Black Rider. He stands up to it and even goes to far as to threaten it! What is more, upon finding that the Black Riders are a true threat to Frodo and company he offers his help in their journey as well as his continued aid in fooling the Black Riders of Frodo’s whereabouts. Hobbits can be strong-willed and courageous in a pinch, but it usually takes a lot to draw something like this out of them. One has only to think of Bilbo in The Hobbit or the Shire at the end of LotR for example. So what makes Maggot special? He is the paradigm of what it means to be a hobbit. He’s a farmer who likes his food. He has a large family. He likes to gossip. So how is he different?
Well, for one thing, he’s shrewd. He was able to guess the purpose of the Riders with no hints or guesses and come extremely close to the mark. And while it may have been courageous on his part to stand up to the Rider in his lane, much of that was most like bluff and bluster. I think this is revealed in large part by the anecdotes told by Frodo of his past relations with Farmer Maggot, as well as Pippins comments regarding his character. However, Maggot’s actions also reveal the true mettle of hobbits. They will stand up for themselves and others of their kind against any and all outsiders. There is also the fact that Bombadil seems to know Farmer Maggot or at least know of him.
In the end, who Farmer Maggot is and what he does is not that important. What he reveals about the nature of the Shire and Hobbits is. And this is what Tolkien does by taking a “shortcut.” As Pippin says “Shortcuts lead to long delays,” and this is a device Tolkien uses over and over in order to reveal information to the reader without needing to stop the plot or rely on exposition. There are many shortcuts used in The Lord of the Rings. Three stand out the most: Moria, Cirith Ungol and the Paths of the Dead. The Shortcut to the Mushrooms is just the first in a series of trips of discovery. Each of these supposed shortcuts reveals something; about the characters, about Middle Earth, or the nature of their quest and the evils of the world.
The hobbit’s shortcut in this chapter is not so important. It does, however, run in almost direct parallel to the shortcut through the Old Forest. Here we see the hobbits encounter normal problems, in a “normal” setting much like our own world. Here they attempt to do the unexpected by leaving the road. They try to cut across country, only to have nature turn them aside. And in the end they are saved by a guardian.
As discussed previously, the Lord of the Rings is a story of growth. Their challenges and the stature of their guardians reflect this. It also works to immerse the reader in Middle Earth. It is akin to testing the waters by dipping in a toe, or wading before diving in. That is the trek between Hobbiton and Bucklebury. With the hobbits, we readers are slowly being guided away from the known and comfortable into the blank parts of the map.