Love, Intimacy and Desire Among Hobbits

by Cara J. Loup


1 – An Introduction to the Problem
Marriage Customs Among Elves and Hobbits
The Author and the Text: some preliminaries
Sex in Tolkien's Works
Frodo and Sam: the crux of a unifying sexual standard

2 – Family, Marriage and Sex in the Shire
2.1 'Good characters are chaste': Continence, Sam's tryst with the beer-barrel, and some fallacies of argument
2.2 Cultural Difference and the Historical 'Otherness' of Middle-Earth Societies
2.3 What Is Sex, and How Do We Define It For Middle-Earth?
2.4 Kinships Structures and Marriage Among Hobbits: known and unknown factors
2.5 Love and Romance: Beren and Lúthien enter the hobbit-world
2.6 'Rustic Love': (Re-)conceptualising Sam's marriage
2.7 Open Endings and the Secrets of the Sea: The choices of Master Samwise

Author's Note: Due to sheer lack of time, this essay is still incomplete, but I'm currently working on the third chapter and hope to finish it soon. Meanwhile, all comments, criticisms, questions and suggestions will be most welcome. Please contact me at

Throughout this essay, I will quote from a one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings, identifying volume, book and chapter numbers alongside the actual page numbers: since the page numbering varies from one edition to the next, this will hopefully make it easier to trace quotes.

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Chapter 1: An Introduction to the Problem

The purpose of this essay is to examine love, intimacy and desire among hobbits: issues that are, in different ways, related to the question of hobbit sexuality. But to narrow this inquiry to 'sex' alone quickly leads to a dead end. There are no explicit references to sexual acts, ethics or erotic desire among hobbits in The Lord of the Rings (abbr. LotR), The Hobbit, or the drafts and notes published in several volumes of The History of Middle-Earth (abbr. HoME). Within the framework of Tolkien's texts, sexual matters can't be discussed without equal attention to marriage customs and friendships, the constitution of families, and the various concepts of love and intimacy.

All of the above will be addressed in this essay, with regards to both male/female and male/male relationships. Most prominent in Tolkien's hobbit-centric narratives, LotR and The Hobbit, is the portrayal of five male (unmarried) hobbits and their relationships. At least one of these – the intense bond that forms between Frodo and Sam during the Ring-Quest – raises questions about possible homoerotic implications. In the final chapter of this essay, I am going to discuss this particularly controversial issue as well. It is not my intention to make a case for a single, irrefutable interpretation of Frodo and Sam's relationship, but I am going to argue that a 'queer' reading is as valid as the alternative (and more wide-spread) interpretation of their bond as an intense but 'platonic' friendship.

Since sex is a particularly loaded topic, several clarifications seem essential to me. First of all, a clear definition of 'sexuality' is required (see Chapter 2). Secondly, I'll aim for equal clarity when it comes to the parameters of interpreting Tolkien's texts. The purpose of this essay is not to present an ultimate explanation of hobbit sexuality. By establishing a clear theoretical framework for my reading, I acknowledge the possibility of other approaches and hope to encourage readers to draw their own conclusions from the presented materials, from the ambiguities and contradictory elements in Tolkien's writings about hobbits. As a consequence, this essay will feature various digressions of a more theoretical nature that readers may well prefer to skip.

In this introductory chapter, I'll specifically address Tolkien's non-literary comments on sex in Middle-earth and sexuality in general, and the question to what extent these commentaries can be pertinent and productive for textual analysis. My aim here is to disable an ultimately circular argument: if we take as given that Tolkien personally believed in a single (hetero-)sexual standard and furthermore that his literary works merely exemplify this standard in a linear and unequivocal fashion, then all textual evidence that questions this one coherent meaning must also be explained aside. The initial assumption, in other words, dictates not only the focus but also the results of interpretation. The reasoning that Tyellas presents in her essay Warm Beds Are Good: Sex and Libido in Tolkien's Writing ( is at least in part shaped by such a circularity. Her conclusion in particular that Frodo and Sam's relationship must be understood as non-sexual (Warm Beds, p. 5f.) relies entirely on the assertion that Tolkien conceptualised it this way, rather than resulting from a discussion of the textual evidence (or the relevance of Tolkien's commentary). Before I return to this specific issue at the end of this chapter, I find it necessary to discuss the diverse assumptions and generalisations involved in this argument.

Tyellas quotes both Tolkien's letters (especially Letter 43 [1]) and his elaborations on marriage customs among Elves in Laws and Customs among the Eldar (published in HoME vol. 10: Morgoth's Ring; p. 207-214) to arrive at some general statements which she applies to "the 17 books of Tolkien's published work". Her list begins with: "Sex belongs in marriage – good sex takes place in marriage, bad sex happens outside of marriage or breaks the rules that govern marriage" (Warm Beds, p. 3). While this may or may not correctly summarise Tolkien's personal convictions and ethical standards, can they truly offer the one and only key to analyzing the sexual behaviour patterns, codes and ethics of the diverse cultures that populate Middle-earth in Tolkien's literary texts?

To begin with, there are no equally detailed statements about the sexual or romantic customs of other races. Also, when we look at Tolkien's literary works, it's not always easy to identify 'sex' or erotic attraction, let alone determine the meanings attached to the protagonists' sexuality. Laws and Customs is indeed the only text in which Tolkien explicitly and systematically addresses erotic desire and physical intimacy, within the context of marriage and procreation among Elves. I'll therefore start out by taking a closer look at the relevance of Laws and Customs for the question of hobbit sexuality.

Marriage Customs Among Elves and Hobbits

The most obvious parallel between the marriage customs of Elves and hobbits is the principle of monogamy (which Tolkien applies to all cultures of Middle-earth[2]). However, certain differences are easily apparent:

– Whereas a second marriage (after the death of a spouse) is an extremely rare and problematic event among Elves (Laws and Customs, p. 210), widowed hobbits occasionally marry again (cf. Letter 214, p. 293).
– Unmarried life, by contrast, is rare among hobbits: "Bilbo and Frodo Baggins were as bachelors very exceptional", Tolkien writes in the Prologue of LotR (p. 7). In Laws and Customs, he allows for 'strange fates' that may keep Elves from marrying and his writings indeed provide more than a few examples (Legolas, Finrod, several sons of Fëanor among others[3]; p. 210f.), which makes an unmarried status seem less of an exception than it is among hobbits.
– While Tolkien notes that most Elves married early in their adulthood, the family-trees in LotR Appendix C show that this is not the rule among hobbits. It seems to be most common for male hobbits to procreate in their early fourties, 8-10 years after their official 'coming of age' at 33.[4]
– Where the wedding customs themselves are concerned, Tolkien explains that mutual consent (given without formal ceremony or witnesses) establishes a legitimate marriage among Elves (Laws and Customs, p. 212). Neither The Hobbit nor LotR present us with an actual hobbit wedding, but there are clear indications that their customs involve greater formality.[5] When Sam tells Frodo of his decision to marry Rose Cotton, mutual agreement obviously doesn't suffice to establish a socially acknowledged, legitimate bond, and the actual wedding – while not described in any detail – takes place a while later. Sam's statement also implies that only the male partner can propose a formal courtship or marriage,[6] a restriction absent from elvish customs that tend more towards equality between the sexes.

Given these differences (I'll return to the topic of marriage customs in the Shire in Chapter 2), it can't be assumed that all the norms and customs outlined in Laws and Customs apply to hobbits as well, including their sexual ethics or their understanding of love and physical intimacy. Still, there remains the matter of Tolkien's personal ethics which doubtless shaped his portrayal of Middle-earth's cultures and the various love bonds and marriages. Several crucial issues are connected with this: first of all, to what an extent can an author's (documented or inferred) intention determine the meaning of a literary text?

The Author and the Text: some preliminaries

Recent literary theory has achieved a critical re-appraisal of the author's role in the process that shapes meaning within literature, emphasising that poetic language and literary narrative invariably create and sustain different layers of meaning that allow for divergent, even conflicting, yet equally valid readings. Within this paradigm, the author's conscious intentions are only one factor in the complex constitution of meaning.[7]

Another force involved in the process is the culture from and for which an author produces his or her texts. There is always a dialogue between authors and their cultural environment which inscribes its specific modes of perception and representation, its ethical values, social norms, etc. Equally, every text responds to other texts by reiterating, appropriating and modifying genre concepts, narrative patterns, and themes, etc. and draws on this textual universe to establish its own meanings (and this is particularly true of Tolkien's works). The result is a complex – multivocal, possibly heterogeneous – conglomerate of meanings, which can't be realigned to a simple unequivocal 'message'. This approach does not in any way imply that interpretation becomes arbitrary, a matter of the critic's personal preferences; it merely broadens the context within which an individual work is situated and which literary critics take into consideration.

In this context, it's also important to note that an author's intentions do not amount to a changeless set of coordinates enabling us to chart the meaning of his or her texts. In Tolkien's case, the drafts published in HoME provide ample evidence that his plans for LotR, his approach to the plot and characters changed quite dramatically over time. In his commentary, we find various statements that do not lend themselves to a coherent interpretation of his literary works, or even directly contradict each other.[8] Tolkien's intentions can only be known to us through his writings, but what exactly do we choose as focus and framework when we look for them? How certain can we be that the sexual ethics he laid down in a private letter to his son articulate the single standard to which Tolkien adhered all his life, and on which he based the entirety of his literary writings?

As Tyellas points out herself, Tolkien's attitude towards marriage and sex grew more conservative in his later years and prompted him to retroactively 'censor' some of his own texts (Warm Beds, p. 2). Is the author's ultimate word on the matter, then, his most recent statement? How do we approach his literary works if they happen to express positions that Tolkien no longer approved of, after they had been published?

It is not my intention to simply dispense with the author's personal system of meaning by placing my considerations within the theoretical framework I've briefly sketched above. However, it's important to realise that 'Tolkien's intention' is always already a result of selection and interpretation, not a knowable, objective fact or a set of instruments that gives access to the 'intended meaning' of his literary texts. Secondly, I hope to demonstrate that Tolkien's portrayal of intense personal relationships, of love, romance, eroticism and marriage within different cultures is in itself too complex to be contained within a single coherent interpretation, even when the author's stated convictions are taken into account.

Crucial to this complexity is Tolkien's endeavour to present a new 'mythology', or a mythical history. From the medieval sources, the various myths, sagas and motifs incorporated into The Silmarillion and LotR to his use of archaic language, Tolkien sought to lend historical depth and otherness to his portrayal of Middle-earth as a mythical past.[9] He laboured for decades to meticulously describe the histories and customs of cultures that differ in profound ways from British/Western societies of the 20th century (and he drew on various sources from other periods and cultures to do so).[10]

While the Elves may to a large extent embody his personal ideals, and certain types of behaviour (like rape) are universally condemned, not all the social customs and types of relationships that we encounter within his works can be aligned to a single standard. Among Dwarves, for instance, married life is not the rule: due to the shortage of females among them, less than a third of their kind marry, and Tolkien writes of the males that "many also do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts" (LotR Appendix A.III, p. 1053). Clearly, Tolkien conceived of a multitude of cultures shaped by the characteristics of the given race, their environment, chosen professions and pursuits. Can we then ascertain that he nonetheless intended for us to read a single sexual ethics into such diversity? How visible is such a standard in his literary works about protagonists other than Elves? Where do we find 'sex' in his writings?

Sex in Tolkien's Works

The clearest evidence is provided by the facts of procreation: from the mention of descendants we can infer that sexual acts have taken place, yet this does not automatically imply that those acts were experienced as particularly fulfilling or personally meaningful, or that they were motivated by romantic attraction and passion. While genealogies abound in Tolkien's works, descriptions of – or allusions to – sexual or erotic gestures are rare even among married couples. Of Aragorn and Arwen, not a single kiss is reported in LotR (however, in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, LotR: Appendix A.I.v, p. 1038, the dying Aragorn kisses Arwen's hand). We know they had children, but what kind of erotic expression their love may have found, what sensual pleasure may have been involved in the procreative act and to what extent it defined their relationship remains a matter of speculation. Faramir and Éowyn, by contrast, kiss and embrace after the discovery of their mutual love (before they are married). Whether or not sensual pleasure is involved in these gestures remains undisclosed, although the emotional context may well suggest it.

The most prominent romantic couple of Tolkien's Middle-earth texts, Beren and Lúthien, is never shown to be intimate beyond joining hands, kissing and embracing (however, the one kiss that is mentioned occurs when Beren is about to die, and it is not specified whether Lúthien kisses him on the mouth or the forehead, the latter being by far the most frequent form of facial kissing in LotR). We hear that when Lúthien had "slipped from his arms", Beren "lay upon the ground in a swoon, as one slain at once by bliss and grief" (The Silmarillion: Of Beren and Lúthien, p. 198).

Is there a sexual meaning to this description of their first meeting? Can there be, when their publicly sanctioned wedding takes place only after the couple's quest for the silmaril and Beren's loss of his hand? Was their love chaste until Beren had met Thingol's demands and "took the hand of Lúthien before the throne of her father" (Of Beren and Lúthien, p. 222)[11]? Or were they perhaps already married, according to the elven custom of mutual consent? Even when we resort to the standard presented in Laws and Customs – that sex both constitutes and follows marriage – it remains arguable when exactly Beren and Lúthien were legitimately married. But is the reverse conclusion, that where marriage is not an option, sex can (or must) not occur, equally cogent?

Tyellas draws this conclusion from Tolkien's following statements in a text closely associated with Laws and Customs (Of the Severance of Marriage, p. 226): "Marriage is chiefly of the body, for it is achieved by bodily union, and its first operation is the begetting of the bodies of children. [...] And the union of bodies in marriage is unique, and no other union resembles it." Here, however, the equivalence of marriage and sex is defined with immediate reference to procreation. Marriage may be the unique access to sex, or it may be the unique access to 'begetting', i.e. producing legitimate offspring. But is there room for non-procreative sex in Middle-earth?

While this question concerns unmarried couples of any race or gender, it becomes a point of particular contention where the issue of 'homosexuality' in Middle-earth is concerned. To my knowledge, Tolkien never explicitly addressed this subject.[12] The fact that he was a devout Catholic and his professed preference for marital sex may or may not imply that he objected to homosexual behaviour within his contemporary reality. But do the 20th-century concepts of sexuality and their attendant moral values translate immediately to the cultures of Middle-earth? Tolkien's commentary on the mores of Elves may suggest this, but the brief description of dwarven marriage customs points to the contrary.

Given the diversity of cultures and gender relations, can we assume that all individuals are supposed to harbour a 'natural' heterosexual inclination, whether it was acted upon or not? Or that homosexual acts, if they did occur, were considered sinful or socially destructive? The texts are silent on this matter, and any interpretation has to rely on contextual evidence and inference. As eloquent as Tolkien's explanations are in Laws and Customs, little unequivocal evidence can be found in LotR or The Hobbit, specifically when it comes to the hobbits' customs of love, sex and marriage.

Frodo and Sam: the crux of a unifying sexual standard

I will now take a quick jump ahead and consider a relationship that raises a lot of arguments about the range and meaning of eroticism in Tolkien: the bond between Frodo and Sam. While I'll offer a more detailed analysis in Chapter 4, I will limit myself to discussing two particularly relevant quotes here. As Sam fights Shelob in defense of Frodo, his actions are described with the following words:

"No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts; where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate." (TT IV.10: The Choices of Master Samwise, p. 711)

This analogy clearly serves to stress the empowering force of natural instinct. Yet in this context, Sam and Frodo's relationship is also compared to that of sexual partners (mates) in the animal world. It can of course be argued that Tolkien chose this comparison to emphasise the instinctual quality of Sam's protective impulse, yet he could easily have used a less ambiguous metaphor that bears no sexual implications whatsoever, for instance by likening Sam to an animal defending its offspring.[13]

The second quote comes from the Epilogue to LotR as it appears in HoME vol. 9: Sauron Defeated. Sam's daughter Elanor has just heard the tale of Galadriel and Celeborn's (temporary) separation and Celeborn's words to Aragorn: "Kinsman, farewell! May your doom be other than mine, and your treasure remain with you to the end" (RK VI.6: Many Partings, p. 960; the reference here is to Arwen and the hope that Aragorn will not be separated from his wife). To this Elanor responds:

"I did not understand at first what Celeborn meant when he said goodbye to the king [...]. But I think I do now. He knew that Lady Arwen would stay, but that Galadriel would leave him. I think it was very sad for him. And for you, dear Sam-dad. [...] For your treasure went too. I am glad Frodo of the Ring saw me, but I wish I could remember seeing him." (HoME 9: The Epilogue, p. 125).

By picking up on the key word 'treasure', Elanor's response likens Sam and Frodo's relationship to that of at least one, if not two, married couples. Not only that, Celeborn's comment and feelings become understandable for Elanor through her father's feelings for Frodo.

Certainly, the two passages I've quoted here do not identify Frodo and Sam as sexual partners or a married couple, yet their relationship is illustrated by drawing on that very frame of reference. This observation raises many interesting questions. If Tolkien's intention was to reserve sexual intimacy for married couples across all Middle-earth cultures, by what logic can it be argued that this facet is absent when the bond between two males is framed in terms of marriage? The Epilogue segment in question establishes no such exclusion, nor does it contain any qualifications or markers by which the reader is prompted to limit the comparison to a non-sexual meaning. Sam does not, as might be expected, correct his daughter's comments as a childish misunderstanding. Neither does he explain to Elanor that he is in fact married to Rose Cotton, or that the two relationships are of a different nature. He does not contest or modify the comparison at all; instead he tells Elanor that his sadness has lessened and confides that he hopes to see Frodo again, thereby implicitly validating his daughter's insights.

Is this then the one instance in all of Tolkien's works where the 'marriage equals sex/sex equals marriage' tenet does not apply? And if so, why not? The most obvious answer to this would be that two males are unable to procreate, and that therefore neither marriage nor (legitimate marital) sex are available to them. But this conclusion cannot be drawn from any of Tolkien's writings. While Laws and Customs defines the 'begetting of children' as the 'first operation' of marriage, there is no assertion that sexual relations are prohibited when a spouse proves to be sterile, or that continuing sexual relations when procreation is for any reason impossible or unwanted are considered illegitimate or immoral. Tolkien merely states that the erotic desire of Elves naturally dwindles once they have had children. There is, within Tolkien's works, no theory that exclusively identifies sexual desire with the impulse or purpose to procreate. As a consequence, the possibility of desire between non-procreating partners cannot be ruled out even within the context of elven culture, whose sexual customs Tolkien made explicit.

We are left with the fact that Frodo and Sam's bond is likened both to a marriage and to the animal partnership that exists for mating purposes. From the textual evidence so far discussed, two contradictory readings can be derived. We can interpret Tolkien's personal ethics of marital sex as an implicit exclusion of homosexual behaviour.[14] If sex can only legitimately occur within a heterosexual marriage, then Tolkien may have intended to exclude all sexual implications from the quoted analogies (albeit without making this exclusion explicit or tangible). But we can also infer the exact opposite: that by drawing these comparisons Tolkien meant to imply that sex between Frodo and Sam was legitimate because it occurred within a bond that met the given standards of marriage. The marriage = sex equation allows for both interpretations.

To argue that a unifying ethics defines the sexual mores of all cultures, in all extant Middle-earth texts, and to conclude at the same time that sexual intimacy between Sam and Frodo can be firmly ruled out – as Tyellas does – is thus in itself contradictory. I will discuss Sam and Frodo's relationship in detail later, but I believe the quoted passages already demonstrate that the literary potential of creating multiple meanings (which then lend themselves to divergent interpretations) cannot be reduced to one single meaning defined by the author's intentions, even when the author's personal views on a given subject are known.

A final word on the materials I'll consider here: in the following, I will focus on LotR and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit as the central or primary sources. These books constitute the body of work that introduced hobbit culture to the majority of readers and, at the time of publication, were considered meaningful without recourse to additional texts. However, I will also discuss quotes from the relevant secondary sources – such as Tolkien's Epilogue, earlier drafts, notes, and extra-literary comments – to throw additional light on some textual complexities. While these secondary texts certainly add meaning to the originally published works, it will also become apparent that consulting them doesn't necessarily simplify the issues at hand. In fact, meanings are sometimes multiplied, and contradictions emerge. Then again, the aim of this essay is not to defuse complexity but to study and appreciate it as a genuine quality of Tolkien's literary works.

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Chapter 2: Family, Marriage, and Sex in the Shire

2.1 'Good characters are chaste': Continence, Sam's tryst with the beer-barrel and some fallacies of argument

From Tolkien's personal ethics emerges an ideal of continence and self-restraint that is also reflected in his statements on the elven attitude towards lust and desire. In Laws and Customs, he writes of Elves that "they are seldom swayed by the desires of the body only, but are by nature continent and steadfast", and "seldom is any tale told of deeds of lust among them" (p. 211, 210). The underlying standard obviously encompasses more than erotic desire. Elven nature, as Tolkien envisioned it, leans towards a dominance of spiritual inclination over physical impulse. But, as the Middle-earth texts demonstrate in abundance, neither are all other races endowed with a continent nature, nor do all cultures and individuals subscribe to such ethics. To quote Tyellas: "Men in Tolkien's backstory seem to 'wive by force' a lot more. Rape and forced marriage are plot points in several stories of Men" (What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf-Sex). Of course, rape (whether motivated by unbridled lust or sociopolitical ambitions) is by Tolkien's ethical standards an abominable crime.[15] But whether other cultures equally valued restraint towards all physical desires and pleasures still needs to be examined.

Dwarves, while sometimes chastised for their greed, obviously value material possessions and the accumulation of wealth. In LotR, this tendency is exposed as both questionable and fraught with destructive consequences (the deep-delving of the Dwarves in Moria wakened the Balrog[16]), and the foundation for specific aesthetic sensibilities, revealed in Gimli's highly poetic speech about the glittering caves at Helm's Deep. Legolas' response to this ("you move me"; TT III.8: The Road to Isengard, p. 535; see also 3.1) indicates that this central element of dwarven culture is two-faced. While desire for material wealth can degenerate into destructive greed, it can also give rise to a commendable appreciation (and creation) of beauty. Furthermore, Dwarves are said to be "fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily than all other speaking peoples" (The Silmarillion: Of Aulë and Yavanna, p. 51). Even from these few details, a complex picture emerges: of a culture that is well able to overcome and control certain needs and yet does not consider continence the ultimate goal in every area of existence.

Hobbits, this much emerges clearly from LotR and The Hobbit, do not practice an overall restraint of bodily needs and pleasures either. Their love for food and drink is well-documented,[17] and their custom of exchanging and accumulating mathoms points to a general appreciation of material possessions as well. Like Dwarves, they are able to overcome physical needs when faced with adversity: "they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them, and could survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather in a way that astonished those who did not know them well and looked no further than their bellies and their well-fed faces" (LotR: Prologue 1. Concerning Hobbits, p. 5f.).

Tolkien describes them as "contented and moderate"[18], which generally precludes the occasional excess of greed as witnessed among Dwarves. But how much does this imply about the hobbits' attitude towards erotic desire and sex? Does a general leaning towards moderation equal an ethics that prohibits, for instance, extra-marital sex of any kind?

Let me explain briefly why Tolkien's comments about elven continence cannot be transferred to hobbit culture. While Elves rarely have sex out of physical desire alone, the "union of love is indeed to them great delight and joy" (Laws and Customs, p. 213). Continence among Elves obviously means that sexual pleasure ideally involves heart and spirit as well, which makes it a 'union of love'. However, elven custom also allows for a spontaneous form of marriage (and its consummation), once two adults have discovered their mutual love. Hobbits, as outlined in Chapter 1, have no such custom, and marriage among them involves greater formality.[19] Does their general penchant for moderation then stand against a 'union of love' outside marriage? Or does it merely mean that they are not excessively lustful?

Once again, it's easy to get trapped in a circular argument. If it is assumed that no positively drawn character in Tolkien's Middle-earth writings could possibly have had sex outside marriage, then the texts' silence on sexual acts will automatically be construed as proof for the initial assumption. This is exactly what shapes Tyellas' argument when she quotes Sam's 'farewell to the beer-barrel' in Bag End's cellar[20] as an example of morally admirable restraint (since Sam might have indulged himself with Rose Cotton instead, but refused to do so).[21]

There are several fallacies to this argument. At this point in the story, no connection whatsoever exists between Sam and Rose. Since Rosie has not even been mentioned yet, nothing at all can be known about Sam's feelings for her, if in fact such feelings exist. To interpret his interlude with the beer-barrel as an instance of self-restraint and sexual abstinence means to conjecture a number of elements for which there is no evidence in the text: an existing erotic attraction to Rosie; a personal relationship between Sam and Rosie that would make it expectable for Sam to take his leave of her rather than disappear without a word; and finally a general code of behaviour that prompts Sam to resist a sexual impulse and direct his attention elsewhere.

Tyellas' argument rests entirely on the tenet that sex can and should occur only within marriage, and the fact of Sam's marriage to Rose after his return to the Shire. However, the text does not establish whether this marriage is (even in part) motivated by erotic desire, and the scant information given about Sam and Rosie's pre-marital association is in itself contradictory (see 2.6). No connection whatsoever is drawn between Sam's beer-drinking on the eve of departure and any other desires he may harbour. That he indulges his love of ale prior to leaving the Shire can easily be taken as an expression of the hobbits' known penchant for pleasures of the palate: this conclusion at least does not require conjecture of any sort.

Sam, in the scene discussed above, is not presented as a particularly continent character, yet there is also no implication that his occasionally evidenced delight in food and drink is morally questionable. Rather, the trials he undergoes in the course of the ring-quest bear witness to the statement that hobbits value physical pleasures because they are also able to do without them. If we want to generalise from Sam's attitude towards food and drink, we might speculate that he would enjoy sexual pleasure while being equally able to live without it when necessary. Such a conclusion may be a reasonable transferral of hobbit moderation into the realm of sex, but it offers no clues to the question whether marriage provides the only approved access to sexual acts and pleasures.

To avoid circular argument, a different approach is necessary. Since there are no explicit statements about the connections between sex and marriage in hobbit culture, we can only approach this issue by examining the information given about hobbit marriages and their purpose. But before I discuss the established facts, I will outline my approach to interpreting the textual evidence and the theoretical framework for analysing 'sex' and erotic desire.

2.2 Cultural Difference and the Historical 'Otherness' of Middle-Earth Societies

Tolkien's project of presenting a plausible 'English mythology' relies on the historical layering of the world he describes. His Middle-earth texts show an extreme diligence in the portrayal of foreign cultures (especially elven cultures) with their own languages, social structures, aesthetic sensibilities and modes of symbolic representation. Many of the tangible influences in Tolkien's writing – from the style of Victorian prose to the key features of medieval epics – are skilfully employed to sustain the construction of a historically different world with its own integrity.

Overall, the world of Middle-earth is presented as distinctly pre-modern and bears a basic likeness to the European Middle Ages. The predominance of agriculture and limited intercultural trade, the absence of a generalised money economy and abstract forms of wealth, the range of available technologies, the feudal hierarchies witnessed in many societies, limited social mobility, the prevalence of oral rather than written traditions and limited literacy – to name only the basic traits – all point to a medievalised concept of Middle-earth. Tolkien presents a pre-industrialised world that knows neither the printing press nor the concepts that define modernity, such as an understanding of labour (or sex) as merchandise, or a concept of selfhood based on exclusive individuality.[22] However, some important social and cultural forces that shaped the middle ages are equally absent: first and foremost, the orthodox Christian church and with it institutionalised religion as a whole (indeed there seem to be no religious cults in Middle-earth whatsoever).

As an expert on medieval literature, language and culture, Tolkien evidently drew on many pre-modern sources, incorporating and modifying not only themes and motifs but also fundamental concepts and systems of meaning. Analysis of Tolkien's texts can therefore profit from considering the medieval analogies and source concepts. There are, at the same time, a number of other factors that shape Middle-earth's 'otherness', such as the existence of 'magic' (rather than science, even in the medieval sense), the presence of immortal races with their specific abilities, and not least a geography that includes the Immortal Realm of Valinor. Finally, certain 'romantic' concepts, a set of ethics and aesthetics that belong to the 19th (rather than the 20th) century can also be traced across Tolkien's works.

By making the 'otherness' of Middle-earth the vantage point of my reading, I want to acknowledge a fundamental principle of Tolkien's works. Most important to this principle is its potential of establishing a dialogue between the pre-modern and the modern, between historically different concepts and ideologies that are not reducible to the author's personal set of beliefs. As I've already indicated in Chapter 1, Tolkien's textual construction generates a complexity of meanings, including foreign concepts and ideologies that may unsettle our contemporary understanding of universal or 'natural' truths. But this effect is at the same time a central (and intended) quality of Tolkien's Middle-earth texts.

What do these theoretical considerations contribute to the question of hobbit sexuality? First of all, the Shire towards the end of the Third Age is not identical with a medieval European culture, yet there are some important structural parallels.[23] Some of the social and cultural patterns witnessed here are common to agricultural, stratified societies (i.e. hierarchically organised, based on class distinction) beyond the middle ages, and indeed persist from late antiquity to the Eighteenth Century.[24] Based on the approach I've outlined here, I will take a look at hobbit sexuality in terms of its 'pre-modern otherness' and consider how Tolkien's portrayal engages in a dialogue with modern concepts of love, intimacy, friendship and marriage. What remains to be clarified is how 'sexuality' can be conceptualised within this context.

2.3 What Is Sex and How Do We Define It For Middle-Earth?

As Tyellas points out, Tolkien "deliberately did not place modern sexual dynamics or mores into Middle-earth" (Warm Beds, p. 13). But to acknowledge this also means that we can't simply draw on our contemporary understanding of sexuality to fill the gaps where Tolkien's works are silent on sexual or erotic matters. But one which frame of reference can we draw? When Tyellas discusses the portrayal of Frodo and Sam, she states: "It was in no way Tolkien's intent to present Sam and Frodo as homosexual. To clarify his intent with these characters, we need to examine the Victorian and medieval ideals of friendship" (Warm Beds, p. 5). In the following, one Victorian model of 'romantic friendship' is outlined briefly, while medieval concepts aren't discussed at all.

I very much agree with this general approach, yet there are some troubling implications to Tyellas' argument as well. To describe Frodo and Sam as 'gay' or 'homosexual' would obviously mean to project 20th-century standards onto Tolkien's texts and generate an anachronistic reading. However, to present an alternative of "Gay or Victorian?", as Tyellas does, implies that the terms are somehow mutually exclusive. Yet 'romantic friendships' in the Victorian context hardly align to a single (non-sexual) standard; it's still a matter of contention among scholars whether and to what an extent the concepts and realities of (male) friendship encompassed erotic possibilities.[25] The same general caveats apply to the perception of male-male friendships in the middle ages (I will discuss them more fully in connection with Tolkien's friendship concepts in Chapter 3).

When we look towards historical models of love, intimacy, or friendship as a means of interpreting Tolkien's works, the scope and character of these models have to be established first. Above all, we need to be very clear on the terms and categories of interpretation. Nowhere in his Middle-earth texts does Tolkien employ the vocabulary that defines our contemporary discourse of sex: 'Sexuality', 'heterosexual', 'homosexual', the central 20th-century terms for sexual acts, sexual orientation, and erotic desire are all absent – as absent as they are from medieval (and most Victorian) descriptions of love, romance or friendship. My approach here is based on the understanding that Tolkien drew on historical models in order to establish unfamiliar Middle-earth specific concepts rather than transferring contemporary categories. But this approach also requires some theoretical clarifications.

The concept of 'sexuality' as an independent set of feelings, behaviours and experiences (regardless of the type of relationship or the social context within which sex occurs) is a recent and distinctly modern invention. It centres on the idea that the individual's sexuality is located at the core of the self, so that a person's most private truth is intrinsically connected with an innate 'sexual orientation'.[26] As the works of countless historians and literary critics have shown, the 19th-century categories of 'homosexuality' and 'heterosexuality' – as the two basic concepts of sexual orientation – cannot be viewed as 'natural' or universally true facts. These categories are themselves based on specifically modern gender roles and identity concepts. However, the absence of these restraining categories does not imply that sex in other cultures is in any sense more 'liberated' or more 'natural'. Every culture applies certain codes of meaning and behaviour to personal relationships and family ties in particular, including sexual codes.

In his History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault introduces a generalised but crucial distinction between a pre-modern understanding of 'sexual acts' and the modern understanding of 'sexual identity'.[27] The fundamental difference I'd like to stress here is the absence of a 'sexual self' in a pre-modern context. Only when sexual choices and acts are viewed as crucial to a person's individual identity does it become necessary to create and uphold an absolute distinction between homo- and heterosexual. Only within such a context does engaging in sexual intimacy with a partner of the same or the other sex become an identity-defining choice – and only then is it possible to label a person 'gay', 'lesbian' or 'straight'.

With specific attention to the perception of masculinity, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has outlined a history of the modern split between heterosexual and homosexual identities. In her seminal study Between Men, Sedgwick argues that pre-modern (and early modern) cultures knew a continuum of 'homosocial desire', ranging from political ties to non-sexual friendships and love to intimate relationships that include sexual acts. The important point here is that no absolute boundaries are maintained between the different types of relationships. It is, in other words, possible to 'slide' along the continuum without being forced to re-define one's identity. As a consequence, pre-modern and early modern cultures and literatures present us with various forms of intense male bonding that defy our contemporary categories.

Within this framework, it would indeed be anachronistic to describe Sam and Frodo's relationship as 'homosexual', but neither is it possible to identify Sam as 'heterosexual' because he married and had children. On the other hand, the modern categories were a part of Tolkien's contemporary reality and may well have contributed to his portrayal of Middle-earth. How then do the historical and theoretical concepts I've introduced here pertain to an interpretation of Tolkien's works? As I've argued in the previous section, Tolkien's literary texts engage in a dialogue between pre-modern traditions and systems of meaning and their modern counterparts, and it is this dialogue that I intend to analyse in the following chapters. But before I return to hobbit culture, I would like to give some more thought to the presence of a 'sexual self' or 'sexual acts' in Tolkien's Middle-earth writings. To what extent does the one text in which Tolkien discusses sexuality in Middle-earth imply the concept of a 'sexual identity'?

In Laws and Customs, erotic desire is almost indistinguishable from the overarching ideal of personal love and commitment that incorporates a number of other factors. Tolkien's statement that Elves "have many other urges of body and mind which their nature urges them to fulfil" (p. 213) indicates that the sexual urge does not occupy a privileged position in their understanding of self either. While there is no mention of same-sex relationships or a division between hetero- and homosexual orientation, the differences between the genders are minimised when compared to other Middle-earth cultures: "there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals" (p. 213). As a consequence, elven society leans towards greater gender equality when it comes to social status, division of labour, etc. Considering to what an extent the modern perception of sexual identities relies on a fundamental difference of gender roles, this may imply that any concept of a 'sexual self' among Elves is also more fluid than its 20th-century counterpart. But does elven culture rely on such an identity-defining sexual truth at all?

Tolkien's description suggests a more comprehensive perception of the self and significant personal relationships. Sexual acts and pleasures are incorporated into personal bonds and contribute to their meaning, but there is no indication that specific erotic desires or sexual activities distinguish individual identities. What emerges from Laws and Customs is a concept of sexual love as an integrated phenomenon which may also explain why there is no specialised 'sexual vocabulary' in Tolkien's literary works. That he refers to sexual acts as 'the union of love' in Laws and Customs, that we encounter 'embraces' or a couple's mutual 'joy' rather than explicit descriptions of sensual pleasures can of course be viewed as an expression of 'prudishness' that prefers to employ vague euphemisms. But it is equally possible to interpret Tolkien's chosen language of love and eroticism as a translation of an integrated view, as outlined above.[28]

How then can we speak of 'sex' in Tolkien? To acknowledge the constructive presence of historical models in Tolkien's Middle-earth texts, it is necessary to base all further considerations on one crucial principle: only the biological facts of procreation are the same across all cultures and historical periods. Everything else that surrounds 'sexuality' – the range of sentiments, sensations, gestures and practices that are considered and experienced as sexual, the language of eroticism, the meanings attributed to sexual pleasures and the connections between sexual activities and personal/social relationships – depend on each culture's specific codes and concepts.

An overview of Tolkien's works immediately shows that references to unquestionably sexual acts are rare. For hobbits, they can only be deduced from the given facts of procreation. In the following, I will therefore refer to 'sex' and sexual acts only in this limited context, rather than speculate that descriptions which may carry erotic connotations also imply sexual activity. But, now that I have questioned the existence of 'sexual identities' and established the absence of 'sexual acts' in Tolkien's works, what is left to discuss? A great variety of topics. While marriage customs and family structures may be the most obvious sites for sexual matters, the concepts of love and friendship, the language and gestures of affection within close personal relationships, the spheres of intimacy and the individuals' attitudes towards bodily needs and pleasures can all offer additional insights. At the same time, I don't intend to reduce any of these issues to their sexual or erotic implications and will instead attempt to chart the scope of their diverse aspects and meanings.

2.4 Kinship Structures and Marriage Among Hobbits: known and unknown factors

For elven culture, Tolkien conceptualised an ideal balance of emotional, spiritual and physical desires, so that sex can be experienced as a comprehensive expression of love. The value placed on the individual's emotions and personal choices is directly mirrored by the society's customs: the choice of partner itself constitutes a legitimate marriage. Hobbits, on the other hand, are not legally married after the declaration of intent. Do we then assume that personal choice was considered less valuable or meaningful in their culture and that social approval played a bigger role for their understanding of marriage? Or, if we suppose that the ideal of sex as an expression of emotional/spiritual love applies to hobbits as well, what ethical or social code prohibits the consummation of a love bond prior to, or outside of, marriage? This is precisely where the 'sex belongs in marriage' rule shows its limited applicability to the customs and ethics of other Middle-earth cultures. After taking a closer look at the known facts of hobbit marriages in this section, I will address love and romance in the next.

Information about the making of a hobbit marriage and descriptions of wedded life and families are scant in LotR (and entirely absent from The Hobbit). From the Prologue (p. 7) we learn that "the houses and the holes of Shire-hobbits were often large, and inhabited by large families. [...] Sometimes, as in the case of the Tooks of Great Smials, or the Brandybucks of Brandy Hall, many generations of relatives lived in (comparative) peace together in one ancestral and many-tunnelled mansion. All Hobbits were, in any case, clannish and reckoned up their relationships with great care. They drew long and elaborate family-trees with innumerable branches."

I will therefore begin with the family-trees featured in LotR Appendix C and sum up what they reveal about hobbit families, match-making and gender relations.

1. Hobbits generally marry within their own 'class' or social sphere.[29] The family-trees of the wealthy and politically important clans of the Shire and Buckland – the Tooks, the Brandybucks and the Bagginses – show that these clans occasionally intermarried, and that the range of families providing wives or husbands is somewhat limited.

The Tooks intermarry with Baggins, Chubb, Banks, Brandybuck and the North-Tooks of Long Cleeve; the Brandybucks with Tooks, Baggins, Bolger, Bracegirdle, Goldworthy, Goold and Burrows; the Bagginses with Grubb, Bolger, Bunce, Hornblower, Goodbody, Sackville, Proudfoot, Chubb, Bracegirdle, Brownlock, and Boffin (beside Tooks and Brandybucks).[30] This longer list of related families may indicate that some Bagginses chose spouses whom neither Tooks nor Brandybucks would have considered of suitable social station, and this in turn might reflect the greater social eminence of the latter two clans whose respective heads bear the titles of 'Took and Thain' and 'Master of Buckland'. Yet this observation could also point to a geographic scattering of the Bagginses. In A Long-expected Party, it's mentioned that some of Bilbo's relatives arrived from distant parts of the Shire and had never travelled to Hobbiton before (FR I.1 p. 28). Bilbo's official rank is Esquire (according to The Hobbit, p. 282), and all three families are firmly placed among the hobbit 'gentry'.

The pattern of class-exclusive marriage is underscored by Sam Gamgee's family-tree. None of the names of ancestors and relatives – Gamwich, Roper, Greenhand, Cotton, and Goodchild – make an appearance in the other family-trees, nor do the first names of male children overlap. While the Tooks and Brandybucks in particular favour elaborate names that bear a distinct likeness to names preferred among the medieval nobility (such as Ferumbras, Isembold, Hildibrand, Sigismond and Gormadoc, Marmadoc, Rorimac, Seredic respectively), the first names in the Gamgee, Roper and Cotton clans are simpler and more humble (Hamfast, Cotman, Hob, Tolman, Carl).[31] A similar distinction is noticeable among the female children whose names are generally derived from flowers or precious stones: Amarantha, Salvia, Pimpernel, Camelia, Esmeralda on the one hand; May, Rose, Daisy, and Bell on the other. However, the occasional overlap of female names (Rosamunda, Rosa and Rose; Belladonna, Mirabella and Bell) indicates that for female hobbits, social distinction depends on the family name (i.e. the husband's name) more than the first name.

Among the Bagginses, the first names of males and females generally seem less elaborate (e.g. Ponto, Otho, Drogo; Pansy, Linda, Poppy), and the list includes two female names – Daisy and Lily – that also appear in the Gamgee/Cotton family-tree. Again, this may imply that the Bagginses' social status is somewhat inferior to that of the Tooks and Brandybucks. On the whole, there is no evidence for mésalliances among hobbits (i.e. marriages between partners of different classes) and therefore no implication of upward mobility or class-transcending social advancement through marriage.

2. Equally obvious is a patrilinear understanding of the family structure (that is, a dominance of the father's lineage over the mother's). Each family-tree traces the male descent and focuses on the lineage of the male 'family head'. Upon marriage, female hobbits adopt the male family name and are integrated into the husband's clan.[32] The fact that the family-trees often omit the names of wives to represent only male descent in itself shows that wives (and daughters[33]) are not considered equally important to the constitution of the family and the laws of inheritance. Titles and property appear to be transferred from one male heir to the next, with a preference for the eldest son, as the Took genealogy shows most clearly.

This patrilinear slant seems more pronounced in the Gamgee family-tree, as male children are often named directly after their fathers, sometimes by adding a -son suffix (e.g. Hob/Hobson, Andwise/Anson, Hamfast/Hamson). While female names may also appear more than once within a family, there seems to be no similar custom that would indicate an equally strong sense of matrilateral lineage.[34] However, it seems likely that this practice of passing on the father's name compensates for the absence of hereditary property or a socially significant legacy (such as offices and titles) among the "poor and unimportant families" (I.1, p. 21).

3. That an unmarried status is exceptional emerges from the family-trees as well. Only a few (male) individuals remained unmarried (or died without heirs), as added entries specify.[35] While the genealogies do not include a complete list of descendants, this feature implies that all (male) individuals married and had children unless otherwise noted.[36] Bachelors, it appears, are not entitled to bequeath titles and property by choice. As the line of Thains shows, the title reverts to the family of the eldest surviving brother in such a case. While The Fellowship of the Ring details how Bilbo adopted Frodo as his heir and subsequently left him all his possessions, the (obviously rare) practice of adoption is not reflected in the family-trees. Frodo's status is not likened to that of a son, nor is his adoption even referred to.

Additional information about the hobbits' clannish society structure can be found in Letter 214 (p. 291ff.),[37] where Tolkien discusses some central anthropological features of their culture and provides details that are not included in LotR or The Hobbit:

– Wedding celebrations don't involve gifts other than flowers, but the parents of bride and groom assist in furnishing the couple's home;
– a married couple doesn't necessarily move to a new home but may remain with the larger family, whether or not this involves separate apartments;
– if a spouse dies young, hobbits sometimes, albeit rarely, remarry;
– the larger family and household are governed by a 'dyarchy' of master and mistress, both commanding separate spheres of responsibility while entitled to act as each other's legal representative;
– while the title of family head (the 'headship') can be passed on to a hobbit's widow, this 'titular' status is distinguished from control over the family's property and its management;
– the family head is usually the eldest male within a clan and the title is passed on to his immediate male heirs (albeit after his widow's death, if his wife happens to survive him);
– if there are no male heirs, a daughter can pass on the title to the eldest grandson (this custom, Tolkien adds, is practiced only by some clans);
– some hereditary titles and offices, such as Took and Thain, can only be passed on to male heirs (in other words, a Took widow could never become acting Thain);
– whether or not the position of family head can be influenced by adoption is a matter of contention among hobbits (thus the Sackville-Bagginses' protest when Bilbo instated Frodo as his heir);
– 'matriarchal' clan structures and polyandry (i.e. one female taking several husbands) are firmly excluded.

In this letter, Tolkien describes hobbit families as "'patrilinear' rather than patriarchal" (p. 293), but the listed features themselves, and the descriptions given in LotR, argue against this distinction. Not only are the laws of inheritance and the transfer of names dominated by the male side of the family (thus following a patrilinear preference), the range of social responsibilities and privileges also favours male hobbits, indicating a largely patriarchal – male-dominated – culture. Female hobbits gain (limited) access to control over family and property through marriage alone, and only the widow of a family head can achieve a position of social influence as her deceased husband's representative. Tolkien's insistence that the term 'matriarch' (once used by Gandalf in The Shadow of the Past and applied to Gollum's grandmother) doesn't refer to "a strictly 'matriarchal' system, properly so-called" (p. 296) is equally telling.[38] Finally, all existing political offices are held by male hobbits, nor do females act as bounders or shirriffs, or partake in the fighting during the Scouring of the Shire.

Tolkien doesn't elaborate on the master and mistress's separate functions within the family household, but the text of LotR offers further clues about gender relations in the Shire. While we encounter a variety of professions (millers, ropers, gardeners, farmers, shirriffs, etc.) and offices, none of these is ever occupied by a female hobbit.

The only female prominently (and vocally) involved in social affairs, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, is cast as a negative character from the outset, a thief of silverware and a resentful, unpopular individual (cf. I.1, p. 37, 38). While Mrs. Maggot, Mrs. Cotton and her daughter Rosie make brief appearances in Fellowship and The Return of the King, they are each connected (if not confined) to the house and home, whereas Farmer Maggot and Farmer Cotton are not only given much more dialogue but also play an active role in the events. Mrs. Maggot is shown to serve drinks and dinner and prepares provisions; while her husband engages in conversation with Frodo and his companions, she 'bustles in and out'. When the farmer accompanies the travellers into the night, his wife stays behind, "worriting" (FR I.4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms, p. 109, 111). Guarded by Nibs, the youngest Cotton boy, Mrs. Cotton and Rosie also remain in the house, while Farmer Cotton plays a leading part in the first scuffle with the ruffians. Wife and daughter may be present during the strategy discussions that ensue, but have no say in them. Equally, female hobbits make no appearance in the two tavern scenes featured in the first chapter of LotR.

Taken together with the information provided by the Prologue, the family-trees and Letter 214, the image of a male-dominated society emerges from these scenes: matters of social and political importance are negotiated exclusively among male hobbits; social hierarchies and family structures are shaped by homosocial (male-male) relationships of various types (see also Chapter 3). The "cultural separation of women and men" which Tyellas identifies as a common trait in Tolkien's Middle-earth texts (Warm Beds, p. 3) is certainly visible in hobbit society as well. Necessarily, these basic conditions also shape the perception of marriage, match-making and partner choice, and the reality of married life.

From this first survey, two central characteristics of marriage can be established. Marriage, procreation and kinship are closely linked. The importance of the clan both to the social structures and the hobbits' mindset (witnessed by their specific attention to kinship connections and degrees, and the fact that genealogies are among the few traditions they preserve in written form[39]) tell us that much. Ideally, a marriage serves not only the purpose of procreation but also stabilizes and expands relationships within the larger social network:[40] this can be gleaned from the recurring intermarriages between certain families.

Secondly, marriage and family life determine the social status of female hobbits and the range of their activities to a large extent, if not exclusively. Their responsibilities and priorities are centred on the household, whereas the life of male hobbits encompasses a greater variety of professional, social and political activities. As a consequence of gender separation, male and female hobbits share only a limited amount of the experiences, ambitions and expectations that pattern their individual daily lives.

This, I think, is a characteristic which deserves to be stressed since it contradicts our contemporary concept of marriage. Not only a basic equality of husband and wife, but also an accord of shared expectations and experiences, and the desire for emotional intimacy shape our understanding of marriage as the centre of our private lives. However, the living conditions of hobbit culture neither afford nor require such a sphere of privacy or intimacy for the married couple. I will return to this topic in Chapter 3, but it's already clear that the average hobbit household includes a group of relatives beyond the couple's children (possibly several generations) as well as servants or farmhands.[41]

That hobbits marry within their own social circles can be viewed in two different ways. Either the patterns of social interaction informally suggest such a partner choice through opportunity (assuming that unmarried hobbits spend most of their time among company of similar social status), or social, class-specific rules largely govern the choice of spouse. The patriarchal clan structures furthermore imply that appropriate spouses are likely selected or suggested by family heads and elder male relatives.[42] Of course a combination of both elements is also conceivable.

Considering that married couples often live with the larger family, and that a multitude of kinship (and friendship) ties connect the larger clans, it seems unlikely that the choice of spouse would be regarded an entirely private and individual affair. This doesn't necessarily imply that individual preferences are overruled by paternal authority, however, or indeed that hobbits would perceive a basic conflict between collective and individual desires. Rather it means that the family's wishes and well-being are an integral and self-evident part of the individual's choices from the outset. What we already know is that the formal marriage proposal is a male privilege, but there is no information about the rights of female hobbits to agree or refuse, or about the factors that determine the choice of spouse, beyond certain social and gender-specific limitations. I will therefore conclude this section by listing several unknown variables that prompt further questions.

The family-trees trace lineage through blood relations and alliance (i.e. kinship established by marriage), and marriage is obviously reserved for male/female couples. While a variety of male homosocial bonds is implied in the genealogies and the scenes discussed above, their social and emotional meaning is yet barely tangible. That no formal recognition of same-sex bonds exists and furthermore, that adoption of a male heir presents a rare and legally complicated case, indicates a general perception of the family as based on bloodlines, male/female alliance and procreation, within a patrilinear/patriarchal framework. Beyond this trait, the examined sources don't suggest anything about the perception and experience of intimate relationships, regardless of gender, or the meaning of emotional ties between individuals. That love and affection govern personal relationships is certainly clear in LotR, but what is the hobbit concept of love? To what an extent is love a foundation for marriage, and does it involve a concept of 'romance'?

2.5 Love and Romance: Beren and Lúthien enter the hobbit-world

Throughout LotR, there are many explicit references to love among hobbits, or hobbits expressing love. I will quote some examples here to demonstrate the range of meaning that the term itself covers:

– "But at the same time he [Frodo] felt deeply troubled: he realised suddenly that he loved the old hobbit dearly" (I.1, p. 31).
– "I do love tales of that sort" (Sam; FR I.2: The Shadow of the Past, p. 62).
– "I'd dearly love to see some Elf-magic, Mr. Frodo!" (Sam; FR II.7: The Mirror of Galadriel, p. 352).
– "'My dear and most beloved hobbits!' said Frodo, deeply moved. 'But I could not allow it. [...]'" (FR I.3: Three Is Company, p. 102).
– "In their shed they found the ponies; sturdy little beasts of the kind loved by hobbits, not speedy, but good for a long day's work" (FR I.6: The Old Forest, p. 107).
– "'I have often wondered what you and Bilbo were doing, so close in his little room,' said Merry. 'Bless the old hobbit! I love him more than ever. [...]'" (FR II.6: Lothlórien, p. 327).
– Sam "shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: 'I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no […]'" (TT IV.4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit, p. 638).
– "Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he [Merry] knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. 'May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap Théoden King?'" (RK V.2: The Passing of he Grey Company, p. 760).
– "His [Sam's] love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: 'I'm coming, Mr. Frodo!'" (RK VI.1: The Tower of Cirith Ungol, p. 879).
– "'Well, you have [found me] now, Sam, dear Sam,' said Frodo, and he lay back in Sam's gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand." (VI.1 p. 889).

Several of the given examples express love for kin and friends, and in the instance of Merry's oath of fealty to Théoden, a politically significant gesture is motivated by impulsive love for a father figure (Merry adds a little later: "As a father you shall be to me"; V.2, p. 760). But 'love' can also denote affection for animals, appreciation of tales and poetry, or love of one's home country. Interestingly, the expression 'in love', occurs only once and in just such a context, when Bilbo says: "I want to see the wild country again before I die, and the Mountains; but he [Frodo] is still in love with the Shire, with woods and fields and little rivers" (I.1, p. 32).[43]

By contrast, love for wife or husband is not explicitly mentioned, nor does the term occur anywhere in The Lord of the Rings with reference to Sam and Rosie.[44] But, given that hobbit love encompasses the Shire, family and friends, there is no reason to assume that equal terms of affection wouldn't also define the marital bond. However, none of the quotes above appear to imply the deeply personal and passionate/erotic love on which the modern concept of 'romance' is based. There is indeed no evidence that hobbit culture or marriage customs involve such a concept. The hobbit 'literature' we encounter – their songs, tales, riddles and poems – can be comical or glorify the pleasures of a homely fire and a hot bath, but their traditions apparently feature no love stories or romantic ideals of any kind.[45]

This observation can be further traced across the hobbits' encounter with the central myth of 'romantic' love in Tolkien's Middle-earth writings, the story of Beren and Lúthien. Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry first hear the tale from Aragorn at Weathertop, and that none of the four appears to be familiar with it is in itself significant. How they interpret the story for themselves is not disclosed in this chapter (the hobbits do not react to Aragorn's account in any way), though some clues emerge from Sam's later comments on Beren and Lúthien (see Chapter 4). The song with which Aragorn introduces the tale describes love as 'enchantment' which leads to an apparently impossible choice of partner and the many trials and separations that the couple has to endure (FR I.11: A Knife in the Dark, p. 187-190). From Aragorn's abbreviated account emerges the concept of a high yet tragic love which culminates in Lúthien's choice of mortality (and, as the reader is to find out later, this part of the story is paralleled by the romance of Aragorn and Arwen).

'Romantic love' in LotR indeed appears to be derived from the ideal that Tolkien also developed in Laws and Customs. It involves a personally motivated choice of partner for a lifelong bond that combines the physical union with spiritual and emotional commitment. Yet because this love is characterised as a force that seizes every aspect of the individual's self, a doom (in the original sense of 'fate'), or an enchantment, it may in some cases result in a direct transgression against social customs or the very boundaries of existence – if, for instance, such a love happens to grow between mortal and immortal.[46]

These 'love stories' originate, however, within a very specific social framework. It is no coincidence that the human characters who experience 'romantic love' in The Lord of the Rings are in various ways connected with elven culture and Númenórean traditions (Aragorn is, of course, a prime example, but the same connection is implied for Faramir[47]). High romance in Tolkien's works resembles the medieval concept of courtly love[48] at least to the extent that it evolves within privileged social circles and does not amount to a model of behaviour that can easily be adopted as a universal standard, across the boundaries of race, class and gender. It is not, by reverse, a concept that would be considered useful (or practical, or even meaningful) by Gondorian foot-soldiers, Woses, or hobbits. The one character in LotR who imitates Beren in the most obvious fashion – Aragorn – happens to be a very distinguished individual of royal lineage and elven upbringing.

While Sam develops a marked fascination for the tale of Beren and Lúthien and quotes it several times in the course of the Quest, the elven ideal of a love union and the tragic stories of high romance are obviously foreign to hobbit culture. If there is anything approaching a hobbit theory of love in LotR, it can be found in Merry's answer to Pippin's remark "Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can't live long on the heights": "'No,' said Merry. 'I can't. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. [...]'" (RK V.8: The Houses of Healing, p. 852).

First and foremost, this statement acknowledges that the cultural background shapes the individual's emotions and personal attachments as well as a specific understanding of love. Secondly, while the difference between the 'heights' and the more humble ways of living in the Shire is certainly clear, Merry's comments also insist on a fundamental equality of different cultural traditions. His assertion that the Shire soil is deep implies that its traditions have their own merits and aren't necessarily inferior to what is perceived as high and noble. Finally, his 'not yet' opens up the possibility of adopting the standards and ideals of other cultures: an interesting point, considering that all five hobbits whom Tolkien's works portray in detail ultimately leave their own culture behind. Merry and Pippin spend the last years of their lives in Gondor (LotR: Appendix B, 1484), while Bilbo, Frodo and Sam depart from Middle-earth to live in the immortal realm of Valinor. The latter three show, at various points, a strong affinity for elven culture.

In my discussion of the connections between the Beren and Lúthien story and the portrayal of Frodo and Sam in Chapter 4, I will return to the question whether their affinities with elven culture involve a gradual change in their understanding of love. Here it suffices to summarise that the absence of a 'romance' concept in Tolkien's depiction of hobbit culture is corroborated by the hobbits' responses. The idea of choosing a spouse as a consequence of deeply felt, individual commitment which may even violate social boundaries apparently plays no part in the hobbits' understanding of marriage. Of course this does not imply that love and affection are not viewed as desirable in a marriage, or that individual emotional fulfilment is impossible within such a relationship. It merely means that the commonly accepted purposes of hobbit marriage do not entail the deeply personal and encompassing love on which elven marriages are ideally based.

Some purposes of hobbit marriages have already been established, namely procreation and the stabilisation and expansion of family ties. Beyond these most basic traits that emerge from the margins of LotR, only the portrayal of Sam's marriage promises further insights. (Although it is of course arguable to what an extent Sam's marriage can represent the common hobbit standards, considering Sam's particular biography and the intricate connections between his marriage and his bond with Frodo.) Yet again the information given in the final chapter is scant, and I will therefore include the Epilogue as well as Tolkien's comments on the matter in my following discussion of this subject.

2.6 'Rustic Love': (Re-)conceptualising Sam's marriage

In Letter 131 (to Milton Waldman, 1951, p. 160f.) Tolkien writes: "But the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond's daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in a short tale, Of Aragorn and Arwen Undómiel. I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty." I'll return to the remarkable second part of this description in the next section.

To begin with, Tolkien's opening statement mirrors Merry's juxtaposition of 'the heights' with the 'depth of Shire soil' quite closely. Opposite the high romance among noble and exalted protagonists, there is the 'rustic' love associated with 'ordinary life'. This, apparently, is what the qualifier 'rustic' implies: "breathing, eating, working, begetting". In other words, love between the married couple serves the purpose of procreation, of continuing social and economical existence, whereas 'romance' is notably absent from this concept.

What Tolkien outlines here is an understanding of marriage that dominated European cultures throughout the middle ages and early modernity. Only in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries did the idea emerge that 'passionate' or 'romantic' love could be a reliable foundation of marriage (and, even later, the primary and most valid motivation to marry).[49] Prior to this, marriage served a variety of dynastic, political, communal and economical purposes. Affection and friendship within marriage were certainly viewed as desirable, but the purpose of marriage was not to grant personal fulfilment to the individual. It is therefore not surprising that medieval and early modern accounts of passionate (erotic) love (such as the widespread stories of Tristan and Iseult or Lancelot and Guinevere) firmly locate such a love outside marriage. Only from a modern standpoint – which articulates the individual's claim to personal fulfilment and selfhood across romantic/passionate love – does the earlier understanding of marriage begin to appear deficient.

In this sense, Tolkien's quoted comment seems to balance the romantic ideal of love expressed in his writings about Elves (and some exceptional Men), by emphasising the merits of a marriage based on the rustic love that sustains 'ordinary life'. Indeed Tolkien expresses similar views in Letter 43, where he points out that happy marriages are more frequent in societies in which parental authority controls or limits the younger generation's choices; he therefore commends the "social ethic of plain unromantic sensibility" (p. 52). In this letter, the very ideal that shapes the concept of elven marriage is viewed in an extremely critical light: "But even in countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people believe that the choosing of a mate [sic!] is solely a concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really [...] 'destined' for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love" (ibid).

Tolkien comments on contemporary realities in this letter, yet the scarcity of great and destined loves and their inclination towards separation and tragedy[50] resonate with the high love stories in his literary works. The distinction of different types of marriage – one based on personal choice, the other governed by parental authority and social requirements – also seems to echo his comments about Sam and Rosie's marriage. Yet there are some additional features worth noting in Letter 131. Whereas Tolkien's initial statement draws a clear line between the 'high' and the 'ordinary', the latter comments draw quests, causes, and desires beyond breathing and begetting into the orbit of the ordinary. His explanations close with a reference to "the 'longing for Elves' and sheer beauty", and all of this is said to define Sam's character. But how exactly do these issues relate to the concept of 'rustic love'?

There is no simple answer to this question. Once we consult secondary materials that expand the story of Sam and Rosie's marriage or comment on its meaning, certain shifts and re-interpretations also become apparent. Indeed, this process begins within The Lord of the Rings itself. In the following, I will start out by reviewing the known facts of Sam and Rosie's marriage and discuss the more complex implications next.

As a character, Rose Cotton is first introduced through Sam's reminiscences in Mordor, as he faces the possibility of his impending death:

"But I would dearly like to see Bywater again, and Rosie Cotton and her brothers, and the Gaffer and Marigold and all". And: "He felt the cool mud about his toes as he paddled in the Pool at Bywater with Jolly Cotton and Tom and Nibs, and their sister Rosie" (RK VI.3: Mount Doom, p. 913, 918).

Rosie is listed among Sam's (childhood) friends and family, but there is not yet any implication of an intended marriage, nor do we find another reference to her prior to The Scouring of the Shire, where Sam also mentions that the 'Cotton lads' used to be his friends. While the background of the two families' association isn't elaborated, the family-tree in Appendix C shows that the Gamgees and the Cottons are already related by marriage, three generations back. In addition to Sam's marriage to Rosie, the marriage of Tom Cotton and Marigold Gamgee, Sam's youngest sister, also reconfirms and renews these already existing kinship ties. That the Cottons supported Gaffer Gamgee during the Occupation of the Shire, in Sam's absence, implies a sense of responsibility resulting from kinship and longstanding friendship.

In The Scouring of the Shire, Sam's later marriage to Rosie is preluded in two instances, albeit in a very understated fashion.[51] When Sam expresses concern for the safety of Mrs. Cotton and Rosie, Farmer Cotton grins and suggests that Sam might help protecting them himself (RK VI.8 p. 984f.). When Frodo speaks of Sam's newly acquired fame ("they are making songs about his deeds from here to the Sea and beyond the Great River"), "Sam blushed, but he looked gratefully at Frodo, for Rosie's eyes were shining and she was smiling at him" (VI.8 p. 991). The next time that Rose is mentioned, Sam tells Frodo of his intention to marry her.

The Lord of the Rings features only one brief scene that portrays direct interaction between Sam and Rosie, which I will therefore quote in full:

"'Hullo, Sam!' said Rosie. 'Where've you been? They said you were dead; but I've been expecting you since the Spring. You haven't hurried, have you?'
'Perhaps not,' said Sam, abashed. 'But I'm hurrying now. We're setting about the ruffians, and I've got to get back to Mr. Frodo. But I thought I'd have a look and see how Mrs. Cotton was keeping, and you, Rosie.'
'Well, be off with you!' said Rosie. 'If you've been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d'you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?'
This was too much for Sam. It needed a week's answer, or none. He turned away and mounted his pony. But as he started off, Rosie ran down the steps.
'I think you look fine, Sam,' she said. 'Go on now! But take care of yourself, and come straight back as soon as you have settled the ruffians!'" (VI.8 p. 985).

Most prominent in this exchange is Rosie's misinterpretation of Sam's priorities and Sam's inability to respond. Yet this particular theme is not limited to their interaction. Shortly afterwards, the Gaffer's garbled summary of the Quest ("chasing Black Men up mountains"; VI.8 p. 990) illustrates that the events of the Ring War are beyond the understanding and concerns of 'ordinary' hobbits, and the entire Cotton family shares this attitude: "the Cottons asked a few polite questions about their travels, but hardly listened to the answers: they were far more concerned with events in the Shire" (VI.8 p. 988).[52]

The brief exchange between Sam and Rosie obviously serves to introduce this general lack of comprehension, but it also establishes a dynamic that persists in Tolkien's depiction of the relationship. While Rosie expresses affection for Sam and perhaps a certain amount of attraction (if her 'I think you look fine' can be viewed this way), the text provides no answering sentiment from Sam beyond the 'grateful look' he gives Frodo. The limits of personal communication and a certain imbalance[53] characterise these scenes, and a similar tendency emerges from the later portrayal of the marriage.

While Sam tells Frodo that he has 'spoken up' (which apparently implies a formal marriage proposal), he is 'torn in two' between the desire to live with Frodo in Bag End and the desire to get married, and the final decision is made only after Frodo has suggested that both options can be reconciled. Rosie herself does not make another appearance in the text until the very end of the book, where she wordlessly places Elanor on Sam's lap after his return from the Grey Havens. Prior to this point, all decisions that concern Sam's marriage and family life are negotiated between Sam and Frodo, while Rosie is absent. Together Sam and Frodo decide where the married couple will live, they choose the name of Sam's first child,[54] and decide that Sam will accompany Frodo on his journey (ostensibly to Rivendell), albeit acknowledging Sam's responsibilities to his family.

All three scenes seem to confirm the patriarchal cast of hobbit society. Rose was expected to wait until Sam 'spoke up'; neither he nor Frodo see anything wrong in naming Elanor without consulting the newborn's mother. However, the lack of communication between Sam and Rosie also persists. Her response to his proposal, as Sam reports it, was "Well, you've wasted a year, so why wait longer?" (RK VI.9: The Grey Havens, p. 1001). At the time of this exchange, several months have passed since Sam's return to the Shire, yet there is no indication that Rosie has arrived at an understanding of the Ring-Quest in the meantime. While Sam protests that he wouldn't consider the time 'wasted', he is able to understand her perspective ("Still I see what she means"; VI.9 p. 1001).

What must unsettle a contemporary concept of marriage as an individual love-match is that Sam's decision to marry Rose is not at all affected by her lack of understanding. He seems to accept unquestioningly that it is impossible for his (future) wife to comprehend the meaning of the Ring-Quest or the personal experiences that have shaped his identity to a large extent. Apparently, Sam's expectations do not involve intimate personal communication between husband and wife. While such an expectation certainly shapes the 'romantic' concept of marriage, it is neither crucial nor particularly relevant for the 'rustic' love. If the purposes of marriage revolve around the continued welfare of family and community, as both the family-trees and Tolkien's comments indicate, intimate understanding of each other's feelings and experiences cannot be a central concern either. What then can be deduced about the making of this marriage?

Absent from the account in The Lord of the Rings and the Epilogue are all elements corresponding to a contemporary concept of 'falling in love', or its Middle-earth counterpart, as presented in the tales of Beren and Lúthien or Aragorn and Arwen.[55] While neither text mentions whether and to what an extent the two families were involved in the match-making, the existence of a second Gamgee/Cotton marriage at least implies parental encouragement, if not more. The last chapters also suggest a pre-quest association between Sam and Rose, but here the implications are somewhat ambiguous.

Rosie's statement that she expected Sam 'since the spring' may articulate a private hope or refer to a previous agreement of some kind. However, Sam's later comment ("I didn't speak, because I had a job to do first"; VI.9 p. 1001) doesn't quite match the account of his departure from the Shire in Fellowship, which doesn't hint at a marriage prospect anywhere. The public announcement that Sam will accompany Frodo to Crickhollow and become a permanent resident of Buckland (a distant region and home of 'queer' folk, according to Shire hobbits; cf. I.1 p. 22), and Sam's own perceptions, early in the journey,[56] leave little room for a realistic chance of marrying Rose. Yet it's even more striking that Sam's thoughts of her in the Mount Doom chapter don't reveal such a prospect either: If a previous intention (or an informal agreement) had existed, one might expect Sam to devote a regretful thought to Rosie as his intended bride. Earlier evidence, scant as it is, therefore appears to contradict the assertion that Sam merely delayed a proposal to 'finish the job' first. Instead, his statement implies a re-interpretation of the known facts and his previous hopes for the future.

An even more pronounced re-interpretation can be found in Tolkien's Epilogue, of which two versions have been published in HoME 9. This text focuses on Sam's conversations with his children (Elanor, Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Rosie in the first version; Elanor in the second version). Here, Sam makes an obvious effort to relate and explain the events of the Ring-Quest, yet Rose is once again absent from the scene. Only a short segment of the text adds to the depiction of the marriage as the couple commemorates the anniversary of the Ring's destruction:

"Master Samwise stood at the door and looked away eastward. He drew Mistress Rose to him, and set his arm about her.
'March the twenty-fifth!' he said. 'This day seventeen years ago, Rose wife, I didn't think I should ever see thee again. But I kept on hoping.'
'I never hoped at all, Sam,' she said, 'not until that very day; and then suddenly I did. About noon it was, and I felt so glad that I began singing. And mother said: "Quiet, lass! There's ruffians about." And I said: "Let them come! Their time will soon be over. Sam's coming back." And you came.'
'I did,' said Sam. 'To the most belovedest place in all the world. To my Rose and my garden.'
They went in, and Sam shut the door. But even as he did so, he heard suddenly, deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth."
(HoME 9: The Epilogue, p. 127f.)

This brief segment subtly shifts both the already established facts and the connections between them to lend them a different meaning. While the Mount Doom chapter features Sam's thoughts of Rosie and, elsewhere, his tenacious hope of returning to the Shire, the original account certainly isn't focused on Rose to the extent that the retelling in the Epilogue suggests. Secondly, while Rosie's expectation for Sam's return remains unexplained in The Scouring of the Shire, it now receives an entirely new connotation. Her retrospective account links Rosie to the Ring's destruction that she alone was able to sense from afar. However, such a 'telepathic' sensitivity isn't easily reconciled with her lack of interest in, and understanding for, Quest-related events in The Return of the King. Finally, Sam's reply to her once again presents known facts in a changed light: neither Bag End's garden nor Rosie were 'his' at the time of his return, and his frequently expressed hopes for a homecoming always encompassed the whole of the Shire, his family and friends (in combination with his repeated intention to return with Frodo, or not at all). The retrospective shift of meaning clearly serves to establish a connection between Rosie and Sam that predates the conclusion of the Ring-Quest, and to augment its significance.[57]

Such a shift of perspective can in part be read as the changed view of an older Sam, now the head of a large family. At the same time, the re-casting of earlier events points to an underlying and unresolved tension which I'll examine more closely in the next section. Where the marriage is concerned, the Epilogue specifically re-interprets Rosie's role in the post-quest events. As wife and mother ('Rose-wife', 'Mother Rose'), she now represents the home Sam returned to, and for the first time we see Sam touch his wife and express affection for her. However, neither romance nor erotic desire are implied in this extended portrayal of the marriage, and Sam's physical display of affection towards his wife ("He drew Mistress Rose to him, and set his arm about her") is more restrained and distanced compared to the tenderness he shows with Elanor ("kissing her gently"; p. 125).

That Sam alone can hear the Sea once again isolates him from his wife and indicates a sphere of privacy which is also evident in the main part of the Epilogue: the secret Sam shares only with his daughter once again excludes Rosie (and everyone else in the family). These two elements – the motif of the Sea and Sam's relationship with his daughter – bring us back not only to the topics that conclude Tolkien's letter comments ("the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty"), but also to Frodo's continuing presence in Sam's marriage and family life.

2.7 Open Endings and the Secrets of the Sea: The choices of Master Samwise

One very evident tendency in the Epilogue is the desire to provide narrative closure. This is particularly apparent in the first version which features a longer variant of Sam's final statement: "'I did,' said Sam; 'to the most belovedest place in all the world. I was torn in two then, lass, but now I am all whole. And all that I have, and all that I have had I still have.'" (HoME 9: The Epilogue, p. 119). Once again, the scene concludes with the Sea's murmurs on the shore. Yet in this version, the references to the Grey Havens chapter are more pronounced than in the second version and invoke Frodo's parting words to Sam: "Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years"; and: "But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you" (VI.9 p. 1006). While Sam's statement in the Epilogue seems to confirm everything Frodo predicted for him, the sense of wholeness expressed here is missing from the description given in The Return of the King.

The Grey Havens chapter itself ends with a double conclusion. As the ship sails into the West, Sam is left on the shore: "There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart" (VI.9 p. 1007). As he returns to Bag End, no further description of his feelings is given, and in his "Well, I'm back" resonates the unspoken (and perhaps unspeakable) alternative: 'I'm home'.[58]

The contentment and the sense of being at home that characterise the Epilogue are absent from the conclusion of LotR. However, even where the signals of closure are the most marked, the sound of the Sea directly contradicts them:[59] its "sighs and murmurs", and especially the epithet "unstilled", evoke a restless longing and foreshadow Sam's journey across the Sea as his final destination (LotR: Appendix B, 1482). The symbolism of the Sea is, of course, connected to the Elves' departure from Middle-earth and Frodo in particular. Both themes in turn are closely linked to Elanor's presence in the Epilogue and the main part of the narrative.

In another part of Letter 131, Tolkien summarises the conclusion of LotR with the following words: "Sam has to choose between love of master and of wife. In the end he goes with Frodo on a last journey.[60] [...] There is a brief epilogue in which we see Sam among his children, a glance at his love for Elanor [...] his eldest, who by a strange gift has the looks and beauty of an elven-maid; in her all his love and longing for Elves is resolved and satisfied."[61] The second version of the Epilogue, to which Tolkien appears to refer in the letter, stresses Elanor's importance for Sam and illuminates a particularly close bond between them. Elanor, with her elvish looks, is cast as the connecting element between 'rustic love' and 'sheer beauty'. However, the shared intimacy between father and daughter centres not only on Elves but also on Sam's relationship with Frodo. In her response to the tale of the Ring-Quest Elanor likens Sam and Frodo's relationship to a marriage (see the quote in Chapter 1), and when Sam in turn explains why his sadness at the separation has faded, he reveals a secret:

"And there is one other reason, which I shall whisper to you, a secret I have never told before to no one, nor put in the Book yet. Before he went Mr. Frodo said that my time maybe would come. I can wait. I think maybe we haven't said farewell for good. But I can wait. I have learned that much from the elves at any rate. They are not so troubled about time. And so I think Celeborn is still happy among his trees, in an Elvish way. His time hasn't come, and he isn't tired of his land yet. When he is tired he can go" (HoME 9: The Epilogue, p. 125).

Sam's explanation follows the logic of his daughter's earlier remark, in which she likened Sam's separation from Frodo to the temporary separation of Celeborn and Galadriel. Without any thought or question about her parents' marriage, Elanor now concludes that Sam, too, will eventually grow tired and cross the Sea. When she vows to accompany him, her father cautions her: "'Maybe, maybe,' said Sam, kissing her gently. 'And maybe not. The choice of Lúthien and Arwen comes to many, Elanorellë, or something like it; and it isn't wise to choose before the time. [...]'" (ibid).

While this passage develops the emotional closeness between father and daughter across the theme of Elves and Frodo's absent presence, it also brings out a new facet in Sam's fascination for Elves. The contentment and resolved longing that Tolkien mentions in his letter are achieved by adopting an elvish attitude. That Sam can wait, as he states twice, is based on his deepened understanding of Elves and their fundamentally different perception of time. Yet the waiting itself speaks not of an ultimately satisfied longing but of the ability to sustain it. Finally, the story of Beren and Lúthien is once more invoked to foreshadow future choices (see also Chapter 4). The alternative implied here, however, is not to choose between 'love of master and of wife' but between the land (of which both Celeborn and Sam may eventually tire) and the journey that leads to an ultimate reunion with Galadriel and Frodo respectively.

It's also interesting to note that Elanor's significance gains complexity in the Epilogue, when compared to Tolkien's description in the letter: Not merely "the looks and beauty of an elven-maid" link her to the Elves theme,[62] but also the discussion of her name, which then leads to conversation about the Elves' passing and Frodo's departure. Her remark "I am glad Frodo of the Ring saw me", once more refers to the scene of her naming in The Return of the King.[63] While Sam's 'love and longing for Elves' may be satisfied in Elanor, Elanor in turn becomes the guardian of her father's secret. Her questions connect the motifs of future choices, ongoing journeys and the longing of/for the Sea, and here the underlying tension of the Epilogue also becomes the most tangible. There is, on the one hand, a marked tendency to establish Sam's contentment and ground it in the love for his wife and family, especially his daughter. On the other hand, the very element Tolkien employed to bring closure to Sam's experiences, his relationship with Elanor, points to an unresolved issue and a different destination: the choice that will eventually take Sam beyond the boundaries of Middle-earth.

This is underscored by the symbolism of a choice between 'land' and 'Sea'. The Return of the King doesn't explain what exactly Sam refers to when he feels 'torn in two', and only Tolkien's letter translates this conflict as a choice between 'love of master and of wife'. The Epilogue, however, rearticulates these alternatives across a series of subtle shifts. Even though the conversation with Elanor involves the topic of marriage, Rosie is never mentioned and replaced by the 'land' of which Sam may eventually grow tired. By contrast, the motif of crossing the Sea evokes Frodo with increasing directness. As a consequence, the "sighs and murmurs of the Sea" in the only scene that depicts Sam and Rose alone with each other allude to his simultaneous presence and absence one last time.

Two related issues remain to be considered here: on the one hand the matter of Frodo's pervasive presence in the marriage; on the other, the question how 'rustic love' and 'ordinary life' are interconnected with quests and sacrifices. To begin with the former: it's worth noting that neither The Lord of the Rings nor the Epilogue can seem to speak of Sam and Rosie's marriage without also involving or invoking Frodo. There is, literally, no scene in either text that portrays Sam and Rosie's relationship independently of Frodo's presence.

Of course, one connection with 'quests and sacrifices' is immediately obvious: Frodo's immense sacrifice is not only the prerequisite for Sam's marriage and the fathering of his children; by leaving everything to Sam, Frodo also provides a home that the Gamgee family can own. However, it is striking that Frodo and Rosie are never simultaneously present (nor do they ever interact) in The Return of the King: the logic of choices and alternatives that also pervades the Epilogue suggests that Sam can be either with Frodo or with Rosie, and either of them occupies a separate sphere within his life. After Frodo's departure, the sphere Sam once shared with him transforms into the secret of which Rosie has no knowledge.

By stating this, I don't intend to infer a subtextual rivalry between Frodo and Rosie as Sam's partners in two very different relationships. Reading The Return of the King and the Epilogue this way would, I think, reduce the complexities of both texts to the more familiar dynamic of an 'erotic triangle', whereas the symbolism of land and Sea, the references to elvish time and the choice of Lúthien, introduce a layer of meaning peculiar to Tolkien's writings about Middle-earth.

I will consider the significance of these elements for Frodo and Sam's bond in a later chapter. In the context of marriage concepts, the meaning of 'rustic love' can perhaps be defined more clearly now. Viewed together with Tolkien's comments on 'ordinary life', the implications of the 'land' point back to Sam's role in the Shire after his return from the quest. His box of earth – Galadriel's gift and a material connection with the land of Lórien – defines Sam's task as one of healing, restoring and regenerating. The planting of new trees and gardens, marriage and procreation all combine into the renewal of the Shire:

"Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of a beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth. All the children born or begotten in that year, and there were many, were fair to see and strong, and most of them had a rich golden hair that had before been rare among hobbits" (VI.9 p. 1000).

Sam's marriage and the birth of Elanor are emblematic of this renewal, and here the connection between the 'ordinary' and 'sheer beauty' that Tolkien suggests in his letter is easily visible. Quests, causes, and the sacrifices both Sam and Frodo have made, find their fulfilment and reward in the healing of the land they set out to protect. Yet this passage also describes a temporary balance, a fleeting gleam of beauty beyond mortality, and this theme is carried over into the Epilogue, where Sam and Elanor discuss the gradual disappearance of the 'elven-light' from Middle-earth.

Within this context, Sam and Rosie's marriage is both 'ordinary' and part of the renewal that raises life in the Shire above the ordinary and expected for a limited period. From this emerges another reason why the marriage and the choices that lead up to it are not described in terms of individual 'romantic' love: only the outlined purposes of marriage – to strengthen and renew the ties of family and community – can, at the end of the Ring-Quest, culminate in the restoration of the Shire as a whole. As a 'rustic love' Sam and Rosie's marriage can be a meaningful part of the Shire's healing, while a more individualised concept of love and marriage would not lend itself so readily to this vision of wholeness and collective fulfilment.[64]

Sam's commitments to the larger family, the community, and the Shire as a whole are epitomized by an understanding of marriage whose primary purpose it is to serve the society's stability and continuation, not the fulfilment of individual needs. However, as Tolkien's comments on the subject show, such a marriage is by no means devalued; it is made possible by 'quests and sacrifices' and connected to 'sheer beauty' through the Shire's regeneration and the birth of Elanor. 'Rustic love', in this view, is not inferior to 'high romance'; both concepts (and the resulting marriages) are appreciated in their own right. And yet, not even the Epilogue achieves full closure where Sam's personal choices are concerned.

Ideally, within a traditional understanding of marriage and society, the collective's and the individual's needs and desires are one and the same. Not so with Sam, who is at first 'torn in two' and in his later years sustains an unstilled desire the Shire cannot fulfil. The secret and the sound of the Sea prelude the 'choice of Lúthien', though in Sam's case the reverse choice involves a transition to the realm of immortality: Frodo, as Sam envisions him here, "has gone where the elven-light isn't fading" (HoME 9, p. 125). Next to the resolved longing for Elves, another longing persists.

To return to the opening questions in this chapter, I believe it has become apparent that hobbit concepts of love, marriage and family differ in several fundamental respects from the ideas and customs of Elves. Hobbit society on the whole appears to be focused on the multiple and complex ties that structure their community rather than exclusively personal commitments; love and affection are comfortably expressed within these patterns without lending themselves to a romantic ideal. At the same time, there seems to be no particular emphasis on an ethics of continence beyond the basic moderation necessitated by a traditional society that does not accord emphatic value to individual claims and desires.

Equally visible is a pronounced patriarchal cast of hobbit society, the cultural separation of males and females, and the prominence of various homosocial bonds. As a consequence, it's worth noting that the hobbit understanding of love is not derived from a romantic model of male/female love, but rather encompasses a variety of relationships, not least the friendships between hobbits of the same gender. The modes and meanings of expressing love and affection, the hobbits' understanding of intimacy and desire can't be explored further without giving equal consideration to the friendship ties that are so prominent in The Lord of the Rings and will therefore form the focus of Chapter 3.

* * *

Coming chapters:
3 – Intimacy and Emotion: The Range of Love and Friendship
4 – 'Strange Fates' or 'Queer Fates'? The Matter of Sam and Frodo

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Footnotes to Chapter 1:

[1] To his son Michael, written March 6-8, 1941. In this letter, Tolkien discusses male/female relationships, sexuality and marriage on the grounds of Christian ethics. This letter contains much biographical information and commentary on current social realities and offers interesting insights into Tolkien's personal ethics as well, but does not address his literary works or concepts anywhere. Its relevance for an interpretation of Tolkien's Middle-earth texts therefore depends entirely on the chosen analytical approach.

[2] Cf. Letter 214 to A.C. Nunn (not dated, probably written in 1958/1959).

[3] Cf. Tyellas' essay What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf-Sex which also lists several other prominent characters whose marital status is uncertain.

[4] No marriage dates are given; I have therefore deduced them from the birth of children. Since the procreative purpose is prominent in Tolkien's concept of marriage, it seems reasonable to assume that a first child would be born within a year or two after the wedding. Among the Bagginses, the ages of males fathering their first child range from 38 to 60 (interestingly, Drogo Baggins, Frodo's father, was latest to marry), among the Tooks from 38 to 48, and among the Brandybucks from 38 to 42. (I take into account that the family-trees don't always include all offspring; the above overview is based on family segments where all children are listed and the birth-year of the eldest is therefore reasonably certain.)

[5] This is also in keeping with the general emphasis on ceremony in hobbit culture. Witness Sam's response to the formal gestures involved in Faramir's decision over Sméagol's fate: "Sam sighed audibly; and not at the courtesies, of which, as any hobbit would, he thoroughly approved. Indeed in the Shire such a matter would have required a great many more words and bows" (TT IV.6: The Forbidden Pool, p. 675). See also Tolkien's Letter 214 where the formalities involved in the giving of mathoms are further explained.

[6] "It seems she didn't like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn't spoken, she couldn't say so" (RK VI.9: The Grey Havens, p. 1001).

[7] Cf. such theorists as Michael Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Michael Riffaterre, and others.

[8] Some of these conflicting interpretations will be addressed in this essay. Even though the focus of inquiry here is not to trace the history of Tolkien's diverse approaches to his own texts, the subject certainly deserves further study.

[9] Of course, this construction involves patterns of sameness, or recognisability, as well. Yet Tolkien's repeated rejection of allegorical readings of LotR also illustrates that he did not intend his works to be read as a historically camouflaged portrayal of contemporary reality.

[10] Tolkien scholarship has discussed a plethora of sources incorporated into the Middle-earth texts, medieval epics and the Finnish Kalevala in particular.

[11] Other versions of the story can be found in The Book of Lost Tales II (HoME 2) and The Lays of Beleriand (HoME 3).

[12] From Tolkien's Letter 294 (to Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, Feb. 8, 1967), and the brief comment on Mary Renault's novels included therein, Tyellas concludes: "He was open-minded enough to intellectually appreciate works that discussed homosexuality in an appropriate historical context" (Warm Beds, p. 2). Since the context in question involves a "firmly pre-Christian setting" (ibid), there is no reason to assume that this could not extend to Middle-earth, another pre-Christian world, as well.

[13] A parent-child analogy is by no means excluded from Tolkien's descriptions of Frodo and Sam's relationship, as the following quote demonstrates: Frodo "lay back in Sam's gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand" (RK VI.1: The Tower of Cirith Ungol, p. 889).

[14] It seems necessary to me to point out that this is not an inevitable conclusion. Tolkien's statement (in his letter to Michael) that sex should wait until the couple has married does not in any sense amount to a moral judgement of homosexual acts. As a Catholic, Tolkien may have believed that marriage was rightfully reserved for heterosexual couples. But his comments could also be based on the acknowledgement that because contemporary customs excluded homosexual couples from access to socially sanctioned marriage, the outlined ethics of marital sex could not in any way apply to them. Since Tolkien did not explicitly address the issue, his attitude towards homosexuality and homoeroticism within his own time remains a matter of speculation.

Footnotes to Chapter 2:

[15] When faced with the threat of rape, Elves chose to 'reject bodily life and pass to Mandos' (Laws and Customs, p. 228, footnote 5). It appears, then, that rape is the ultimate crime driven by a base physical need and forms the exact opposite to the Elves' continent nature. The threat rape poses to their identity and integrity is so immediate that they prefer to end their physical existence rather than endure such a violation.
Interestingly, this response is by no means in keeping with the traditional Christian/Catholic teachings concerning suicide: Church Father St. Augustine, whose writings Tolkien may well have known, specifically addresses the question whether it is legitimate to commit suicide in order to avoid rape and concludes that it is not (cf. Civitas Dei, I.20 ff.).

[16] Cf. Gandalf's description in FR II.4: A Journey in the Dark, p. 309: "The Dwarves tell no tale; but even as mithril was the foundation of their wealth, so also it was their destruction: they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Durin's Bane".

[17] To quote only from the introductory description: "Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted" (LotR: Prologue 1. Concerning Hobbits, p. 2).

[18] "Growing food and eating it occupied most of their time. In other matters they were, as a rule, generous and not greedy, but contented and moderate, so that estates, farms, workshops, and small trades tended to remain unchanged for generations" (Prologue 1. Concerning Hobbits, p. 9).

[19] The first draft of The Long-expected Party (HoME 6: The Return of the Shadow, p. 16f.) offers a peculiar description of 'wedding habits' among hobbits. Here, Bilbo ends his birthday speech by announcing that he'll get married, and the narrator comments that hobbits kept their wedding intentions secret: "Then they suddenly went and got married and went off without an address for a week or two (or even longer)". However, this element is introduced to create a plausible explanation for Bilbo's disappearance (and subsequently dropped from the text, as the One Ring came into play), and the draft as a whole differs in several fundamental respects both from later drafts and the published version of the chapter. In addition, the habit of eloping contradicts all other descriptions of hobbit marriages and family life in Tolkien's works (see especially the footnote to Letter 214, p. 292, where Tolkien refers to the celebration of hobbit weddings).

[20] Before he leaves the Shire with Frodo; FR I.3: Three is Company, p. 68f.

[21] Warm Beds, p. 3: "Honourable characters do not try to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. It is telling that Sam Gamgee needs to be called to join Frodo at his departure from Bag End not because he had his hand down Rosie's blouse, but because he was saying goodbye to the beer-barrel."

[22] This extremely abbreviated summary of key differences between pre-modern and modern societies in Europe is largely based on the works of Niklas Luhmann. See for instance: "The Individuality of the Individual: Historical Meanings and Contemporary Problems." In: Thomas C. Heller / Morton Sosna / David E.Wellbery (eds.): Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought. Stanford, Ca. 1986, p. 313-325; Social systems. Stanford, Ca. 1995; Theories of Distinction. Redescribing the Descriptions of Modernity. Stanford, Ca. 2002.

[23] Cf. Tolkien's introductory remarks about hobbits in the Prologue, p. 1: "They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools." This isn't the place to discuss Tolkien's 'Victorianisms' in any detail, but of course there are traits in his portrayal of hobbit culture that remind us of a 19th century rural idyll (in Letter 181, to Michael Straight, January or February 1956, p. 235, Tolkien acknowledges that it was in part modelled on rural life in Warwickshire). Most of these 'anachronisms' are fascinating to contemplate, and could also be viewed as a result of the co-existence of differently developed societies in Middle-earth and the cultural transfer between them.

[24] Or even longer, in some rural communities. Medievalist Jacques LeGoff has developed a complex model to describe the diverging historical extent of social and economical structures. See Jacques LeGoff: Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages. Chicago 1980.

[25] Cf. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick: Between Men. English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York 1985. Richard Dellamora: Masculine Desire. The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism. Chapel Hill, London 1990.

[26] Cf. Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York 1978.

[27] Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York 1978; The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality Vol. 2. New York 1985; The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality Vol. 3. New York 1986. These are not historical studies in the strict sense, but they remain the most engaging and challenging philosophical works about the way we perceive ourselves and our society through a 'sexual' lens. See also: Robert Padgug: "Sexual Matters. On Conceptualizing Sexuality in History." In: Edward Stein (ed.): Forms of Desire. Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy. New York 1992, p. 43-67; Louise Fradenburg / Carla Freccero (eds.): Premodern Sexualities. New York 1996.

[28] Either approach has far-reaching consequences for discussing sexuality in Tolkien's works. If an interpretation is based on the idea that 'Victorian' ethics dictated euphemisms or outright silence, then all the missing information about sexual acts and their meanings will have to be supplied by drawing on a single (idealised) frame of reference outside of Tolkien's writings, literary and otherwise. Such an approach seems problematic to me because it necessarily reduces the 'pre-modern otherness' of the depicted societies to surface accessories, and therefore also neglects a defining force in Tolkien's texts about Middle-earth.

[29] Class distinction between hobbit 'gentry' and 'commoners' is also marked by profession ('commoners' are generally tradesmen or farmers) and underlined by different speech patterns. The dialogue of Sam, the Gaffer, Farmer Maggot and Farmer Cotton, to name only the most prominent examples, feature colloquialisms, grammatical incorrectness and idioms that are absent from the speech patterns of Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and Pippin.

[30] Most of these names also occur where the relatives attending Bilbo's farewell party are listed in A Long-expected Party: "There were many Bagginses and Boffins, and also many Tooks and Brandybucks; there were various Grubbs (relations of Bilbo Baggins' grandmother), and various Chubbs (connexions of his Took grandfather); and a selection of Burrowses, Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Brockhouses, Goodbodies, Hornblowers and Proudfoots" (FR I.1 p. 28). Cf. Bilbo's speech: "My dear Bagginses and Boffins, he began again; and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots" (I.1 p. 29). Compared to the family-tree, the name Bunce is missing, while Brockhouse is added.

[31] Cf. Tolkien's notes on translating hobbit names from the Westron in Appendix F.II, p. 1169: "In some old families, especially those of Fallohide origin such as the Tooks and the Bolgers, it was, however, the custom to give high-sounding first-names."

[32] Tolkien elaborates on this in Letter 214: see my discussion below, in this section.

[33] In two instances, 3 daughters (fathered by Adalgrim and Adleard Took respectively) are only summarily referred to rather than being included by name. That the descendants of Mirabella Took remain unnamed (six children) indicates a related neglicence towards matrilinear descent. However, one such summary listing also occurs for Sadoc Brandybuck's heirs (two sons).

[34] Only a few wives and female children are listed in the Gamgee family-tree: Sam's sister May seems to have been named after the Gaffer's sister, and Rose Cotton after her great-grandmother, wife of Cotman. Only one of Sam's children was named directly after her mother, but since several of his sons also received names that belonged to the socially elevated clans, this choice may be owed to Sam's unique biography rather than a commonly observed custom.

[35] Among the Tooks: Isengrim III (died young, no children); Hildigard (died young); Hildifons (went off on a journey and never returned); Ferumbras III (unmarried).

[36] This conclusion seems less cogent for female hobbits. In the Prologue, Tolkien only refers to male bachelors, and the limited significance that the family-trees accord matrilinear descent may imply that an unmarried status among females is not considered important enough to deserve specific mention. Since there is no matrilinear inheritance, the absence of female heirs is irrelevant for the genealogies' focus.

[37] While drafted as a personal missive, this letter consists only of anthropological commentary on hobbit culture. Tolkien explicitly speaks as the 'recorder' of Third Age history, thereby re-adopting the role of narrator/translator from LotR. Both this adopted speaker role and the content place this letter among the essays, notes and drafts that accompany Tolkien's Middle-earth texts, rather than his personal correspondence, in which his biographical self speaks.

[38] Tolkien specifically replies to the suggestion that matriarchal clan structures may have developed among the Stoors and rejects such a possibility.

[39] Cf. Prologue, p. 20, 26f.

[40] By their very nature, genealogies never represent the full reality of kinship in a given society: they articulate the society's ideal of the family and the culture patterns that shape its order. In this sense, the hobbit family-trees don't tell us that no Brandybuck ever married a serving maid, or that same-sex couples never set up a shared household, but they do show that alliances of this kind are not considered valid within the ideal system of kinship.

[41] The presence of two farmhands ("also belonging to the farm-household") at the Maggots' supper table bears witness to this (FR I.4: A Short Cut to Mushrooms, p. 109).

[42] In Warm Beds, p. 3, Tyellas lists the 'paternal authority figure' as a recurring feature in Tolkien's stories of love and marriage. While accounts of hobbit marriage are scant, paternal authority is unquestionably present in their culture: witness the many instances when Sam quotes his father's opinions and judgments.

[43] Frodo confirms this later in the same chapter, by telling Gandalf "I love the Shire" (I.1 p. 40). By the same token, Galadriel addresses Sam as a "lover of trees" (FR II.8: Farewell to Lórien, p. 366).

[44] I am well aware that Tolkien referred to their 'rustic love' in one of his letters and will discuss that concept together with the relevant segments of the Epilogue in section 2.6.

[45] Hobbit 'passions', according to LotR, focus on other pursuits: "hobbits have a passion for family history" (I.1 p. 22); "Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of Big People" (FR I.5: A Conspiracy Unmasked, p. 100).

[46] In the tale of Beren and Lúthien, race and class boundaries threaten the romance, and Beren's mortality eventually takes the couple beyond 'the confines of the world'.

[47] Éowyn is a very different case, however, and more than deserves a separate essay. It's interesting to see that her 'romantic' association with both Aragorn and Faramir is intricately (and ambiguously) entwined with her rebellion against the restrictions imposed by both gender roles and social status.

[48] In Letter 244 (draft to a reader of The Lord of the Rings, c. 1963), Tolkien draws a sharp distinction between the medieval concept of courtly love and the noble loves he portrays in LotR: "This tale does not deal with a period of 'Courtly Love' and its pretences; but with a culture more primitive (sc. less corrupt) and nobler" (p. 345). What is indeed absent from Tolkien's love stories (and crucial to the medieval concept) is the ritualised imbalance of worship across an insurmountable distance between the knight and his lady.

[49] Cf. Niklas Luhmann: Love as Passion. The Codification of Intimacy. Cambridge 1986.

[50] Cf. Letter 43, p. 52: "yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering".

[51] Bilbo's parting gift in Rivendell also preludes the theme: "To Sam he gave a little bag of gold. 'Almost the last drop of the Smaug vintage,' he said. 'May come in useful, if you think of getting married, Sam.' Sam blushed" (RK VI.6: Many Partings, p. 964). Since Bilbo acts without knowledge of Sam's private hopes or intentions, the gift implies that marriage is an expectable development in a hobbit's life, and nothing further is said on the matter. Sam's blush might indicate that he does hope to marry, that he has never thought of it before, or that he's embarrassed by the generous gift.

[52] The following quote illustrates that this attitude persists even after the Shire's return to peaceful order: "Frodo dropped quietly out of all the doings of the Shire, and Sam was pained to notice how little honour he had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrin and (if Sam had known it) to himself" (VI.9 p. 1002). Merry, Pippin and Sam are appreciated for their obvious involvement in the restoration of the Shire, whereas the events of the Ring-Quest have little or no impact on the hobbit community's perceptions.

[53] A certain one-sidedness is also implied in Sam's remarks about Rosie's feelings ("It seems she didn't like my going abroad at all, poor lass"; VI.9 p. 1001). Once again, there is no responding sentiment on Sam's part.

[54] In this scene, Sam also tells Frodo that he and Rosie had previously agreed to name a boy after him, yet this, too, requires Frodo's consent ("Rose and me had settled to call him Frodo, with your leave"; VI.9 p. 1002f.).

[55] Compare Appendix A.I.v, p. 1095f. The first meeting of Aragorn and Arwen concludes with: "yet from that hour he loved Arwen Undómiel daughter of Elrond."

[56] Cf. the following exchange between Frodo and Sam: "'It is going to be very dangerous, Sam. It is already dangerous. Most likely neither of us will come back.' 'If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain,' said Sam" (I.4 p. 85). A short while later, Sam describes his new perception of what lies ahead: "I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can't turn back. It isn't to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don't rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire" (ibid). While Sam clings to the hope of returning to the Shire throughout the Ring-Quest, he is by no means blind to the slim chances for his own survival; this awareness is perhaps implied here, too.

[57] Here, for the first time, we see the couple touch, and Sam expresses affection for his wife as well. At the same time, it is interesting that he calls her "Rose wife" (and "lass" in the first version), a less personal form of address than the simple use of her first name would be. Since Elanor addresses him as "Sam-dad" (and Sam refers to his wife as "Mother Rose"), this may imply a hobbit custom in keeping with the less personalised concept of marriage and family I've described above.

[58] This is all the more striking since Sam's awareness of being at home in Hobbiton is very pronounced before. Compare, for instance, his initial reaction to the destructive changes in the area: "'This is worse than Mordor!' said Sam. 'Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home, and you remember it before it was all ruined.'" (RK VI.8: The Scouring of the Shire, p. 994). – In Letter 131, Tolkien quotes Sam's line as "Well, I've come back". In a footnote, Christopher Tolkien points out that this "does not mean the same thing" (HoME 9, p. 132, 135). The difference is indeed interesting, since 'I've come back' implies the possibility that Sam might not have returned.

[59] Perhaps this all too apparent contradiction prompted Tolkien to shorten Sam's dialogue in the second version of the Epilogue.

[60] Tolkien's phrasing here is quite ambiguous (and this ambiguity isn't resolved in his subsequent retelling of the journey to the Havens, which I've omitted for the sake of brevity): what exactly does he say about Sam's choice? While Sam ultimately returns to his family, his spontaneous reaction to Frodo's decision is "And I can't come" (VI.9 p. 1006), implying that he might have chosen to follow Frodo, had Frodo not forestalled that option. One possible reading of Tolkien's phrasing – that Sam in fact chose his master rather than his wife – is thus suggested by the account in LotR as well.

[61] This part of the letter, a summary of the events described in LotR, was not published in the edition of Tolkien's letters. Christopher Tolkien includes it among his comments on the Epilogue in HoME 9, p. 131f.

[62] There is no description of her physical appearance in the text of LotR. That her looks are 'elvish' can at best be inferred from a general reference to fair-haired children born that year (VI.9 p. 1000). A footnote to the 1421 entry in Appendix B also mentions Elanor's beauty and golden hair (LotR p. 1071).

[63] While the naming of Elanor is described as the result of a spontaneous interaction between Frodo and Sam in The Grey Havens, it can be traced back to the formal 'incorporation' of the hobbit child into the family, as Tolkien explains it in a footnote to Letter 214 (p. 291): "Anciently this apparently took place, shortly after birth, by the announcement of the name of the child to the family assembled, or in larger more elaborate communities to the titular 'head' of the clan or family." What is interesting here is that Frodo and Sam appear to re-enact this ritual outside the boundaries of kinship, as Frodo is neither related to Elanor nor head of the clan.

[64] It would be interesting to compare the connections between marriage and renewal of the land that appear in the story of Aragorn and Arwen and that of Sam and Rosie. There are some clear symbolic parallels (e.g. the planting of the White Tree and the planting of the mallorn), but it is also significant to what an extent the renewal of Gondor is focused on the actions and choices of exceptional individuals rather than community, which dominates the healing of the Shire, through expanded family ties, procreation, and collective activity: "Meanwhile the labour of repair went on apace, and Sam was kept very busy. Hobbits can work like bees when the mood and the need comes on them. Now there were thousands of willing hands of all ages, from the small but nimble ones of the hobbit lads and lasses to the well-worn and horny ones of the gaffers and gammers" (VI.9 p. 999). Also, while the symbolic planting of the new White Tree in Minas Tirith heralds Arwen's arrival and Aragorn's wedding with her, the planting of the mallorn in the Party Field is just as obviously linked to Frodo and Sam's shared experiences.


Editions quoted:
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings. (The Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers. The Return of the King.) [Originally published 1954, 1955] London 1995. (abbr. LotR, FR, TT, RK)
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit. London [1937] 1990.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London [1977] 1979.
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. A Selection edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. London [1981] 1995.

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