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The Purple Path  by Dreamflower

Continuing my Wild card--

Warnings: n/a
Characters: Hobbits
Pairings: n/a
Creator’s Notes (optional): This essay is basically backstory I have constructed for my version of the Shire, concentrating on a few aspects of Shire society, and some explanation for how I came up with that backstory.
These speculations and conclusions in Part Two are pretty much based on two quotations cited in LotR, and quoted in the body of this section of the essay, so this part is not as well documented as the previous part.
Summary: Tolkien gives us a lot of information about the society of the Shire, but only some of the particulars. Coming up with details is up to the author of the fanfic; here are a few of mine.

Concerning the Shire, Part Two: Education


We are not given a lot of information about education in the Shire, although it is clear that Shire hobbits are in general fairly literate. There is a very active Postal System, engaged in delivering letters all over the Shire, which would not be a particularly profitable endeavor if the majority of hobbits were not literate. In the Prologue Tolkien tells us By no means all Hobbits were lettered, but those who were wrote constantly to all their friends (and a selection of their relations) who lived further off than an afternoon's walk. And in the chapter “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”, it is said All hobbits, of course, can cook, for they begin to learn the art before their letters (which many never reach)

So it is also clear that literacy is not universal in the Shire; the Gaffer Gamgee is illiterate, as are his children, until Bilbo takes a hand in young Sam's education.

Therefore, I rather arbitrarily decided that literacy is about 75% in general, with the rate a bit higher in Buckland and the Tooklands, which are the seats of the two most prominent families, and a bit lower in more isolated areas and small villages. I am of the opinion that the area of Hobbiton would also be rather high, due to the presence of the Bagginses, but still have some families that are unlettered.

So how were young hobbits educated? I again turned to the Prologue, where the most important quote about Shire society is to be found: The Shire at this time had hardly any 'government'. Families for the most part managed their own affairs.

I take this to mean that there were no government sponsored public schools. Therefore, families saw to the education of their children. This could also explain the pockets of illiteracy: if the parents did not read and write they could not teach their children. Therefore, some families might remain illiterate for generations.

Did the families hire tutors? I thought this over and came up with a “yes, but no” answer. Here is the system I came up with:

A child's first tutor would be his or her parents (especially in the case of an only child) or if there were older siblings far enough along in their lessons, a brother or sister. Such lessons would consist of basic reading, writing and arithmetic, and not much more. For the majority of Shire hobbits that would be as far as lessons went, especially among the working class hobbits.

For the children of the gentry, learning needed to go further. They would need to learn such things as history, husbandry, genealogy, and managing their inheritances, and perhaps other things as well. Would the Tooks or Brandybucks or Bagginses entrust this important knowledge to strangers? No, learning must have usually been a family affair. Most of the Great Families had a Family Tutor; unless he was the Head of the Family, he'd be paid a small stipend to spend most of his time educating the young cousins, neices and nephews of his clan.

Of course, it was not completely all in the family, as the case of Sam Gamgee shows. Therefore I decided that in some cases children might be educated by (or for) an employer or a Master/Mistress if they were apprenticed. I figured that most of the gentry would want servants with at least a basic education, and that most artisans and craftshobbits would also want apprentices who could also read and write. If for some reason, the employer or Master/Mistress could not undertake the task, they might pay someone to do this on their behalf.

Teaching in this version of the Shire was primarily a male task, undertaken by bachelor uncles or adult cousins who had a natural scholarly bent. Females usually only taught (other than their own children) if they had a special area of talent or expertise. (Just as in my Shire, healing was a female profession; male healers were rare, and rather regarded as not quite as good. The women were the primary healers, physicians, not nurses. Nursing was done by family members of both sexes; or if no family member was available, by the healers' apprentices. But I digress; healing will probably have its own section.)

Speaking of special talents and abilities, it was expected that an adult who was a skilled artist or musician would take on teaching the skills to younger family members. In my Shire, Frodo had an older cousin. She was a renowned painter, and when Frodo proved to have artistic ability, she began giving him lessons in art which continued until he moved from Brandy Hall to Bag End. Esmeralda Took played the fiddle, and she taught Pippin to do so, since Merry had no interest in music. Pippin also learned other instruments from various Took cousins. Folco Boffin learned to play the flute from one of his older cousins. In the case of such specialized lessons, gender was of no account.

Of course, all this was formal learning, apart from the everyday household skills young hobbits were taught. Cooking was one of the most important, and little hobbits often were accomplished at tasks that might be found inappropriate or dangerous by a modern adult. Yet they learned to safely work around fire and to use sharp knives. This was not something that only the lasses learned. Cooking was not a gender specific task. And any adult or older hobbit might be teaching the lesson. Certainly cooking would be learned from whomever in the household was the main cook, but other members might teach different skills. I have always pictured preparing a meal as a cooperative venture in hobbit households, with the hobbits working as a team with very little need of direction once they reach a certain skill level in the kitchen. But it is not instinctive. It must be taught.

Formal lessons as taught by parents or teachers were usually done in the teacher's home. Usually a table would be set aside for the pupil or pupils. The youngest would work first on slates, and then perhaps on cheap paper (Yes, there was paper in the Shire. It is an ancient process and can be done in the home. Rag paper is not hard to make.) When a young hobbit grew more skilled with the pen, he or she would also begin to learn to use parchment.

Rote learning was common; young hobbits learned to memorize their letters, their ancestors, their numbers, and to recite poetry and other pieces. As their writing skills improved they were also set to writing essays on various subjects. In fact, the writing of essays was often used as a form of discipline. A young hobbit who did something foolish might be given an essay to write about what the consequences of such an action might be.

Teachers were absolutely autonomous. Each one set his own lesson plans, chose all his own materials and methods, and decided how to schedule the pupils. In some families one-on-one was the most common form of teaching. In the larger families, the family tutor might take on as many as four or five pupils at a time. Hobbits would have been appalled at the idea of a class of twenty or thirty children all the same age, and none of them related to one another!

The children did not spend all day having lessons. Instead, perhaps three or four times a week they would spend a few hours at it. Small ones still learning the basics from a parent or older sibling might only spend an hour or so a day. Older children who went to the Family Tutor would spend about three or four hours at a time on three or four days out of the week at their lessons. Homework as we know it was rare.

In my Shire universe, the Bagginses tended to have a scholarly bent. Bilbo's father Bungo was a rarity—a Family Tutor who was also Family Head. Bilbo followed in his father's footsteps. Drogo Baggins was being groomed by Bilbo to take over as Family Tutor when he got old enough, but all of that changed after his Adventure. Bilbo lost his reputation after his return, and his students had made other arrangements. The only pupil Drogo actually taught was Frodo. After his father's death, Frodo was tutored by the Brandybuck family tutor until he went to Bag End, and Bilbo took up the role. Bilbo never again became the primary Baggins tutor, however.

Dinodas Brandybuck, one of the younger brothers of the Master Rorimac Brandybuck, was a long-time tutor at Brandy Hall. He taught a number of young Brandybuck hobbits, beginning with his younger siblings, and continuing on through his neices and nephews and younger cousins, including Frodo for a time, Merry, and even Pippin when he was on lenghthy visits to Brandy Hall.

In the Great Smials, there were at least four teachers, all cousins or nephews of the Thain. One of them had the task of evaluating young hobbits who came to work as servants in the Great Smials, and making sure each and every one could at least read, write legibly, and do simple sums.

Brandy Hall also required basic literacy, though they did not maintain a tutor for that task. Instead the senior servants were tasked with seeing that the new hires could read and write.

At all levels, the end of the pupil's education was at the discretion of the teacher, with input from the student and his or her parents. There was no actual formal graduation, although some teachers might make some sort of special occasion of the accomplishment. When the tutor felt the young one had learned all he had to teach, he or she was simply released from future lessons. Sometimes the pupil might decide to quit. There was no stigma to this nor repercussions unless a parent decided otherwise.


Throughout history, up until the last couple of centuries in our own history, the way to learn a craft or artistic skill was through apprenticeship to one who had already mastered the subject. Even now, apprenticeships still exist, although they are no longer the primary way to enter a profession.

Among hobbits, someone in a skilled profession would choose their apprentices first among their own children and kin, but would also take on other young hobbits if they showed talent in their field. Depending on the profession, the age and number of apprentices would vary, but it would be unusual for a Master or Mistress to have more than two at a time, unless they were family.

We know that among the Gamgees, Sam tried out for a while with his uncle Andwise Roper of Tighfield, the Ropemaker; however, Sam's heart was in gardening and he returned to his father's side. His older brother Hamson did indeed apprentice with Uncle Andy and apparently stayed there afterwards. Sam's brother Halfred also moved away, to the North-farthing; it is not a stretch to imagine that it also could have been for an apprenticeship of some sort or other.

In my Shire, most young hobbits began their apprenticeships in their mid-teens (since I follow the two-thirds ratio on age, with Hobbits aging at two-thirds the rate of Men, this would have been in pre-adolescence rather than adolescence), but some jobs or professions preferred older apprentices. Among Healers, this would have been about twenty-five to twenty-eight years old.

While the average apprenticeship was seven years, it would not be unheard of for one to be a little shorter or last a little longer, depending on the abilities of the apprentice. There was no "journeyman" stage, as hobbits did not usually travel around a lot. However, when finishing an apprenticeship, a hobbit might continue in a more or less independent partnership with his or her Master or Mistress, until he or she feels confident enough to strike out alone.

I came to these various conclusions about hobbit education through my own research into the early history of education added to my interpretation of the importance of family in the Shire. I find it far more plausible that hobbits would handle the teaching of their young this way, rather than giving the task over to someone outside the family. This is of course, my own headcanon, one that I think can be supported by logic and the hints in canon. But it is by no means something to insist upon, and other writers of fanfic have come up with their own ideas.


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