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Author Topic: The Hobbit Caste System
Q
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Based on the fact that certain hobbits inherited servants along with money and property, one has to wonder just how far it really went. We know that Sam was Frodo's servant, but didn't he have a choice whether or not to leave his service without Frodo's permission? Did his society allow this?
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Mithrennaith
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Well, I think it is a class system, not a caste system. We discussed aspects of this quite recently in another topic (and an older one before that).

I think that Sam could leave Frodo's service (giving proper notice) if he wanted, there was no legal obligation to stay in service beyond that - he was certainly no serf. But he was, what is called in Britain, an old retainer: there was a bond of loyalty between him and Frodo that was not just personal, but went back several generation in the families of both master and servant.

That is not to say that retainers were inherited as chattels; that again would be serfdom. But when one works at a Manor, it is not unusual, nor unreasonable to keep on working for the new squire, nor is it a bad idea for the squire to keep on the same people who know the place and the job. Certainly when the new squire comes from the family, and has probably been acquinted with the servants of his predecessor (father, uncle, brother, grandfather). Conversely, in earlier times it was quite common for the children (or younger relatives) of servants to be taken on in junior positions, to learn the trade, so to speak, and succeed their elders when they became elderly. There would often not be a formal pension, old servants would often be kept on in nominal positions with little actual work, or be cared for in the families of their children as it became necessary.

In Britain, up till WW II, this was a situation that often continued between families of landowners and servants for generations, especially in the communities of rural England, and Tolkien knew this quite well. Indeed he partly based the Shire on the part of rural Warwickshire in which he grew up around 1900. Also, he would have seen at close quarters what heppened quite often in WW I, that when the sons of the landed gentry became officers, the sons of their old retainers became their batmen (officers servants).

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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It would seem that the laws of the Shire were the feudal-inheritance "estate" system under the High King of Fornost, i.e. all persons owned the "estate" collectively (and vice-versa ala "king and country") but it was governed by the gentry, who were those educated persons of families deemed fit to do so; they in turn collected from the tenants who chiefly worked the land or were military conscripts for its defense.
This was naturally an aristocracy, i.e. "rule by the best," in that that those higher in government represented a higher class of person-- up to the king, who was considered on a par with divinity.
As for the distinction between hired servants and serfs, it's fairly arbitrary in that they had virtually no chattels to own and considered themselves part of the land, and so had nowhere else to go.
As the text stated, the chief activity was "raising food and eating it" ala Tolkien's fondness for qaintness and contempt for progress.

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Mithrennaith
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Well, that is a short and rough description (almost succeeding in not showing any bias) of feudality ...

But Tolkien's view of the order of things would hardly have considered the king to be on a par with divinity. Somewhere between the angels (the real King at least had a drop of Maiarin descent) and the rest of the mortals.

And the Hobbits of servant class would probably consider themselves to co-exist with the land, rather than form part of it. And they clearly owned chattels in the same way as anyone in modern western society who lives in a rented house and plies a manual trade. Making that out to be little more than serfdom is a bit disingenuous, I think.

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Roll of Honor Thorin
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At one point the Professor labels Sam Gamgee with the “peasantry” but the definition of “peasant” does not necessarily have a negative caste connotation.

quote:
As to Sam Gamgee. I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name [to Goodchild] without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits.

Letter #76

“Peasantry” can also refer to a more “rustic” people in a rural system and not to someone tied to the land in a feudal society. The Professor mentions Sam’s “rustic” background in other letters. I think Mithrennaith has explained it beautifully, and the above quote from Letters backs up what he said before. The class society in the Shire was a very “English” system, although it seems to have been a bit glorified and romanticized.

I think it also of interest that Tolkien thought “Goodchild” would be a more proper name for Sam. In that letter the Professor specifically refers to the hobbit class system.

quote:
Sam by the way is an abbreviation not of Samuel but of Samwise (the Old E. for Half-wit), as is his father's name the Gaffer (Ham) for O.E. Hamfast or Stayathome. Hobbits of that class have very Saxon names as a rule – and I am not really satisfied with the surname Gamgee and shd. change it to Goodchild if I thought you would let me.

Letter #72

As a side note on the above letter, we do know that the Professor played around quite a bit with Hobbit names even after that letter was written in 1944. At one point the Brandybucks had very Roman (or perhaps even Byzantine!) names. What would have that meant for them? Would they have been royalty or held an imperium of sorts? []
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Mordor
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you got to feel bad for sam he is a servant and so it would apear as if he was not allowed to tell gaffer that he was leaving
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The Witch-King of Angmar
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Sam told the gaffer that he was going away to serve Frodo at Crickhollow, which was true as far as he knew; it "wasn't his to reason why." When Frodo returned, the gaffer asked Frodo if Sam he had "given perfect satisfaction" during his service.

quote:
But Tolkien's view of the order of things would hardly have considered the king to be on a par with divinity. Somewhere between the angels (the real King at least had a drop of Maiarin descent) and the rest of the mortals.

Hardly just "a drop:"

quote:
‘Strange indeed,’ said Legolas. ‘In that hour I looked on Aragorn and thought how great and terrible a Lord he might have become in the strength of his will, had he taken the Ring to himself. Not for naught does Mordor fear him. But nobler is his spirit than the understanding of Sauron; for is he not of the children of Lúthien? Never shall that line fail, though the years may lengthen beyond count.’
quote:
And the Hobbits of servant class would probably consider themselves to co-exist with the land, rather than form part of it. And they clearly owned chattels in the same way as anyone in modern western society who lives in a rented house and plies a manual trade. Making that out to be little more than serfdom is a bit disingenuous, I think.
It's true that private operators such as Sandyman, Cotton and Maggot enjoyed a level above serfdom, however their only chance for true wealth came from land ownership-- which was why the Cottons, despite being well-off family, enjoyed grat wealth and prosperity only after marrying into inheritance and reknown.
However if anything is disingenuous, it's this rosy presentation of pre-industrial feudualism, compared to actual history.

[ 02-04-2008, 09:10 PM: Message edited by: The Witch-King of Angmar ]

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Artaresto
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quote:
Sam told the gaffer that he was going away to serve Frodo at Crickhollow, which was true as far as he knew
No: Sam, Pippin and Merry knew that Frodo was going to leave the Shire (the conspiracy) and Sam was their main collector of information. He knew well that he wasn't going stay in Crickhollow.
quote:
[Merry to Frodo]: 'Anyway, there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid - but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.'

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Mithrennaith
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WKoA wrote:
quote:
However if anything is disingenuous, it's this rosy presentation of pre-industrial feudualism, compared to actual history.
O, it certainly is
quote:
glorified and romanticized
as Thorin said. But even the less rosy side of it comes out in a limited way in the portrayal of Lotho's dealings.

Tolkien was not ignorant of the downside, but I think he believed that there were values in the feudal system that could be separated from its abuses and work to the good, and WKoA may see feudalism as a cause of evil in itself and that presenting it as unfavourable as possible will work to the good.

I actually don't subscribe to either point of view.

e: specified "downside".

[ 02-05-2008, 12:30 AM: Message edited by: Mithrennaith ]

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Mordor
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sam may have told gaffer he was going to Crickhollow but i think gaffer would have relized that sam was gone gaffer is probly not stupid
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hasquaati
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I've read this forum, and there are some valid points.

But you know what I think?

Hobbits are not interested in power or ruling or being ruled. I think that as long as their bellies are full, outside people leave them alone they are all happy.

I think Sam loved Frodo and helped him because of that love. I guess there are Status Levels in the Shire due to people who have mingled with higher quality blood therefore were wiser, wealthier, etc. I however don't see it effecting the Hobbit mentality.

Very interesting topic though!

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Numenorean Sword Trainer
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Since the laws were handed down from the High King at Fornost, then I'd guess they'd follow the system of a typical shire under a king, which were ruled by local noblemen; in this case this would be Pippin's father, Paladin Took, and lesser officials at local levels like the mayor of Hobbiton (in this case Will Whitfoot) and the Master of Buckland (Merry's father?). Other educated gentlehobbits owned land, like the Tooks, Bagginses and Brandybucks, and managed the tenancy; tenant-farmers like Farmer Maggot worked the land, and the serving-hobbits like the Gamgees apparently worked for meager wages.
I'm guessing at all of this, I don't have any actual text to back it up.

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Michael Martinez
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There are tales of ambition and politics even among Shire hobbits but their ambitions are mostly about who will lead their families.

The Thains were appointed by the heads of the leading families to hold the authority of the kings and lead the defense of the Shire in times of need.

They certainly had a class as was noted above a few years ago. I don't think there was anything like a caste system at the end of the Third Age but the Fallohides may have enjoyed the status of a superior caste when they were merging with the other families, as many leaders are said to have been descended from Fallohides.

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