August 13, 2014

Do Hobbits Really Have Big Feet?

Since the late 1930s (and especially since the early 2000s) Hobbits have become embedded within our modern culture.  Even someone who hasn't read the books or seen the films probably knows a little about what a Hobbit is.  One of the most popular icons of these little people are their big feet, but did you know Tolkien never described them that way? 

In the first part of the prologue of The Lord of the Rings (titled, "Concerning Hobbits"), Tolkien spends several pages giving the reader a backdrop of information about Hobbits, including descriptions of their physical appearance.  One aspect of their physique he describes in great detail are their feet:

"...they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads, which was commonly brown.  Thus, the only craft little practised among them was shoe-making..." (emphasis added)

Later, Tolkien further explores variation between the three "somewhat different breeds" of Hobbits:

"The Harfoots were browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and they were beardless and bootless; their hands and feet were nimble; and they preferred highlands and hillsides.  The Stoors were broader, heavier in build; their feet and hands were larger; and they preferred flat lands and riversides.  The Fallohides were fairer of skin and also of hair, and they were taller and slimmer than the others; they were lovers of trees and of woodlands." (emphasis added) 
It seems that only one of the three "breeds" of Hobbits had larger feet.  But that's not all, Tolkien continues:

"They [the Harfoots] were the most normal and representative variety of Hobbit, and far the most numerous."

Would a purist deny wearing these?
So, according to Tolkien, the majority of Hobbits didn't have large feet at all!  In fact, most Hobbit feet were "nimble".  Furthermore, when you look at Tolkien's description of the Stoors in context it suggests that their feet were larger relative to the feet of the other Hobbit "breeds".

It's somewhat controversial within Tolkienist circles, but Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin were mainly
descended from Harfoot and Fallohide families (although some Stoor blood could have been mixed in) while Sam was most likely a Harfoot.  One must conclude then that the 5 hobbits most people are familiar with probably did not have large feet!  (But don't tell that to the poor actors who had to stand for hours each morning to get their feet glued on.)

While Peter Jackson's movies have undoubtedly contributed to the widespread notion of large Hobbit feet, the idea was actually first suggested by the Brothers Hildebrandt in their illustrations for the 1976 Tolkien Calendar.  Of their 13 paintings 7 include images of Hobbit feet, all of which are disproportionately large.  Over the next two years they continued to produce artwork for the annual tradition and again large Hobbit feet were included.  Below are some of my favorite examples:


So next time someone talks about Hobbits and their large feet you can correct them! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post ... and wow! I never really thought of that before. Though I think PJ might have known about it, and he chose big feet because using this idea would enable the actors to have "feet-protectors" - I know I wouldn't like to tramp around New Zealand in my bare feet!