Hobbits constantly surprise Elf kings, dragons, and Dark Lords with their courage and valiant spirit, but we rarely associate them with wisdom. Thankfully, Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life exists to correct our mistake. Wisdom of the Shire is one part self-help book and one part homage to Hobbit wisdom.
Smith divides his work into a series of essays, with titles like “How Snug is Your Hobbit-hole?” and “Your Own Personal Gollum.” The chapters often begin with a summary of Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures (sometimes Gandalf gets a mention and there’s even a chapter on “The Lore of the Ents”) in Middle-earth, which ends with a concise summary of the essay’s lesson.
Unfortunately, the essays rarely led to a startling revelation for me, perhaps because, unlike Elf kings, dragons, and Dark Lords, I have read a lot about Hobbits.
“Walk Like a Hobbit,” for example, ends with this pearl of wisdom: “No matter where you live, whether it be city, town or countryside, let your eager feet lead you to wellness, peace of mind and adventure.” I actually found that I could condense this message still further: walk routinely. But I already knew walking is good for the mind and the body.
I was rarely surprised by the wisdom that Smith found in Tolkien’s stories. Perhaps the only counter-intuitive essay here is “Love in the Third Age,” which argues, though I felt unconvincingly, that romantic love plays a larger role in Middle-earth than usually acknowledged. (It ends with this summary: “True love must be defended bravely with the soul of a warrior, and yet tended with the patience of a gardener.”)
For the most part, I found the most striking details in The Wisdom of the Shire were actually Smith’s personal anecdotes. I was particularly touched by “Sing Like a Hobbit,” in which Smith explained how he lost the ability to speak for months. Smith always keeps these anecdotes brief, perhaps thinking that readers have opened this book for its analysis of Middle-earth, not details from his life.
However, because I found so much of The Wisdom of the Shire familiar, I began to wonder who this book should appeal to. It seems like the ideal reader might be someone who has read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings but has not thought very deeply about them — but who also likes the books enough to wonder about how to model one’s life after Hobbits. A rare sort, in other words. Or perhaps people like me — library patrons who noticed the book and decided to read it because, “well, why not?” — are the intended audience. Who can say?
In the end, if I were to buy The Wisdom of the Shire, I’d buy it as a stocking stuffer for someone that likes Tolkien’s books and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.