The Dead from the Shire

Tolkein’s Shire has always felt like home to me.

Whilst the great author of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings fiercely rebutted any hint that his books were in any way allegory, the cosy patchwork-quilt countryside of Bilbo Baggins’ homeland simply rings true.

To me, England is the Shire, and all within hide a hobbit. There are good hobbits and bad hobbits here, but hobbits we are, inside if not out.

I’ll try to explain what I mean. We have our motorways, our hideous industrial centres, our deprived areas, our poor, our shunned and abused. I do not paint us a fairytale country. But just step outside the door of the small house we call home and you step into the Shire.

Yesterday we pottered off to Windsor Great Park, scene of our recent ghost hunting expedition. It was cold and the grass was still wet, the ground squelching under our wellingtons. But the sun shone with all the zeal of late autumn, hanging low in the sky and illuminating the colours of a pastoral landscape.

It was, quite simply, stunning. It took the breath away: frame after frame of unaffected beauty, like a film set. The dogs ambled along by our sides, straining at horses and glaring at swans. This place, despite its dreary climate, can work its way into your soul. And if you are born a hobbit, your spirit is marbled with the landscape of the Shire.

In peace time it is all too easy to take this island for granted, packed as it is with pictures and stories.

But in times of trouble our men have gazed at these places, and the affable, parochial life of Hobbiton, and been forced to leave bound for hell.

Such a choice had Frodo, and Sam, and Merry, and Pippin in Tolkein’s great masterpiece. They looked at all that was familiar and comfortable and made a decision to leave it for the greater good, their destination Mordor, and the great mountain which was the heart of darkness.

Their journey was long and, because they are fictional, their ending ultimately happy. But it is interesting that the evil which threatened Middle Earth made its way to The Shire and changed it beyond recognition, making it a place of fear in the absence of the four adventurers.

Today, in about 15 minutes from my writing, actually, our Shire will stop. Our part of the world is bustling with soldiers, scouts, guides, cubs and brownies, mayors and councillors, priests and people putting on their best bib and tucker, pinning on a poppy – our sign of remembrance – and heading out to Remembrance services everywhere.

Because the harsh reality is that people are forced to leave the Shire and travel across the world to meet their death far from home. Unlike Tolkein, Life is not an author who is biased towards happy endings. A whole generation of young men was lost to us in the First World War; and then, despite vowing it would never happen again, a threat to our shores forced us to sacrifice our loved ones again in the Second. And it continues.

We pause at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. An ironic time which might make some bitter. Phil’s grandmother’s uncle was on the battlefield at the ninth and tenth hour of that eleventh day when the First World War was due to close. But by the eleventh, he had been killed. An artificial deadline robbed more than one creature from the Shire of their life that day.

I have ten minutes left before the Shire remembers. I must be ready to honour those who tore themselves away from our beautiful places, and never came back.

These pictures of the Shire – taken yesterday in brilliant Autumn sunshine – these are to honour them.

 

 

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44 thoughts on “The Dead from the Shire

    • Indeed. It sounds idealistic but when one comes down to the raw pain of losing and being lost, a young life so full of promise rudely snuffed out, no-one should ever have to experience that. Zero tolerance: world peace, or bust.

  1. An excellent tribute to those who have served – and continue to serve – their countries. May there come a time when when we don’t have to be at odds – militarily – with others. An idealistic hope … that I expect will never see fruition.

    • Amen, Judy. It is interesting that we have managed to stand back from the brink of nuclear war because of its consequences. We have proved it is possible: and that universal peace need not be a pipe dream, but a standard human expectation.

  2. Very moving, Kate. I admire your sentiments, particularly about Remembrance Day and our continual losses to war. When I left the Shire for good, I felt that the influences of the threatened evil to Middle Earth were well and truly present, and multiplying. I feel this still, and it saddens me more than anything.

  3. We stopped in our corner of Gloucestershire Kate ad did many others. Important to honour them for a couple of minutes. I always thought that whervere The Archers are set fitted The Shire perfectly.

  4. Those are lovely pictures. It looks like a shire well worth fighting for.
    My uncles fought in WWII, Uncles Bob and Dwayne in the Pacific, Uncle Clyde with General Patton. Uncle Clyde was in England, Belgium, France, and finally in Berlin. They were affable men of few words, never talked about the war. I didn’t know until after my Uncle Bob died at the age of 75 that he had a Purple Heart. He was just a quiet, steady man who mowed the lawn and didn’t make a fuss. I never knew I had heroes for uncles. They seemed so ordinary. Maybe heroes from the shire appear that way. God bless them.

    • They sound like Shire-dwellers, sure enough, Gale. I wonder if, when you have met the worst life has to offer, the things like mowing the lawn are shown for what they are: a sign of peace. True happiness.

  5. England is special. It engenders a love, through upbringing and literature, in those who have never been there. In my case my first impressions, with estate housing and the less pleasant parts of London, were a bitter disappointment. Then we went narrowboating, and wandering generally, and all the magic of Blyton and Farnol and Dornford Yates and the great poets and writers was still there. Really emotional.

    • I’m glad to hear it, Col. You don’t have to go far to find it. I live not far from Slough, and even there there are places which hypnotise, despite Betjeman’s damnation. Everywhere has its horrors. But they pale beside the preponderance of wonders here.

  6. Lovely, Kate. We’re honor and remember veterans today ~ Veterans’ Day. And your Shire is lovely.

    I hear the Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, will be out in about a month.

  7. So very beautifully said, Kate. Lovely and very moving. Remembrance is critical and in families where there has been loss during war times, it must be devastatingly important to know that others care. And the shire is gorgeous!

    • It must be most important of all to the families, Debra, you are right there. Here every family has its losses. There’s generally a story of someone in the family tree who never came back.

  8. I’d like to echo the thanks contained in these other replies too. I always liked the unfortunately false etymology that related the word ‘shire’ to ‘share’; it was always nice to imagine that our modern concept of the Shire was something we all held in common, wherever we originally hailed from.

  9. Wonderful post, Kate, and beautifully written. My dad was a hobbit from the Shire who went off to Dunkirk in WWII, was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW. It was a horrible experience but probably saved his life as he wasn’t amid the fighting. It did shorten his life, though, I’m sure of that. He said he joined the army and went off to war because it was the patriotic thing to do. He also escaped from his POW camps 3 times b/c he felt it was his duty to try. I can only imagine what they did to him when they caught him, but he wouldn’t talk of it.

    • It was a horrible experience! I have spent a little time studying the fate of those who did not make it back from Dunkirk. Those beaches were terrifying places at the time of the evacuation, and being a prisoner of war was grim indeed. And escaping three times: the Shire would be proud of him! Thank you. I learn so much from comments like these.

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