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The Purple Path  by Dreamflower

 Continuing the "Concerning the Shire" entries from B2MeM March '17.

B2MeM Prompt and Path: Purple path; Square 4, Wild Card--"Complete any prompt from the Orange path" (non-fiction). I chose Worldbuilding.
Format: Essay
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: G
Warnings: n/a
Characters: Hobbits
Pairings: n/aCreator’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. I hope to later footnote this more thoroughly.
This section is more fanon and RL history than anything told us, so consider this as some wild speculation.
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 Three: Occupations, Business and Trade


Of the five major hobbit characters we come to know about in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, only one of them has a paying job.

Frodo, Merry and Pippin are what I classify as gentry, among the upper class of hobbits who are wealthier, more educated and from older families than the majority of hobbits. This is not to say they do not work at all; running an estate, managing the extended family and so forth can be a lot of work. But they do not get wages for that, and for the most part it does not involve much in the way of physical labor.

Samwise Gamgee, we are told, is a gardener. A respected profession in the Shire, to be sure. His father, Hamfast, is called "Master", and Sam grows up to work under his father and then to take the job on his own. This generally seems to be the pattern of work in the Shire, although sons do not exclusively follow their fathers into the same occupation.

Tolkien does not tell us much of the jobs held by Shire-hobbits. Sam is one of the few working class hobbits we know by name. (Farmers Maggot and Cotton are two others.)

We know that both the named farmers are considered persons of importance in their immediate area, and Farmer Cotton and his sons are already defying the Ruffians in a small way before the Travellers return home, so in the absence of recognized authority (as the Mayor was in the Lockholes, the Thain was under siege, and Buckland cut off from the Shire) might have been considered a spokesperson, if not a leader in fact. In an agrarian society, as we are told that the Shire is, this makes sense for those whose jobs are raising food.

But there are many jobs and trades mentioned in canon. From The Hobbit we see mentioned: greengrocer, and we also hear of "Messrs. Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes" at the end of the story when the contents of Bag End are being auctioned off. I have always presumed that since they were in charge of what was basically an estate sale, that they were a firm of lawyers, although there are a couple of other possibilities as well. In my Shire I did decide to do that, and a Mr. Grubb is Bilbo's personal lawyer.

In LotR, we know that there are inns, so innkeepers exist; shops mean shopkeepers; a Postal Service means post-hobbits. All the crafts needed to keep the Shire going must exist, as well as the hobbits who know how to do them. Tolkien never tells us much about the infrastructure, he simply assumes we will know it is all there.

And of course, we do. But many fanfiction writers want to know more, and when we are not given them, we create our own explanations. I am no exception, and have come up with some various bits of headcanon to fill in the details of my own stories.


As I stated in my earlier part about education, the majority of healers in the Shire are female. I simply decided that this is one way in which the Shire differs from our own world. There are male healers, but they are few and far between. Of my very many hobbit healer characters, only one is male. He happens to be the Head Healer at Brandy Hall in the years leading up to and immediately after, the War of the Ring.

One of the things that seems to be unique to "my" Shire is the practice of Healing in the Shire. Because my husband (a Registered Nurse for over forty years) is also a Certified Healing Touch practitioner, I decided that some of the ideas and practices might be ones that would be of use to hobbit healers. For the purposes of story and plot, I have somewhat exaggerated the scope of Healing Touch, so that it is a much more reliable diagnostic tool than it is in reality. One of the tools used by each of my healers in the Shire is a pendant, each one unique, with which the healer may diagnose past and present ills. Healing Touch is used in other ways among hobbits as well, though I have made less use of that aspect in my stories.

As in the rest of Middle-earth, much of the medical practices of the Shire rely on herbal medicine, making use of various plants and herbs to create tonics, potions, teas, salves and other such things in order to treat the patients. I rely on a number of books and online sites to try and make the concoctions my healers come up with plausible.

Another way in which the hobbit healers differ from those of the healers of other races of Middle-earth is that they make very little use of surgery. Surgery is mostly used to repair injuries, such as sewing up cuts or amputating damaged limbs. Most hobbit healers are aware of other techniques known in Middle-earth of various invasive surgeries, but they are frowned upon as too dangerous. This attitude begins to change after the War of the Ring, when some of the practices from outside begin to be found in the Shire.

Dentistry is not practiced by healers as such. Hobbits have barbers (although I am quite certain the actual Westron word for barber is different, since hobbits don't have beards), however they specialize in hair-cuts, foot-grooming and pulling teeth. If a hobbit healer has a patient with an infected tooth, she will call upon one of the local barbers to deal with the tooth-pulling.

Hobbit healers are usually assisted by one or two apprentices, who come to them somewhat older than apprentices usually do; most crafts take their apprentices young, in their teens (which among Men would be pre-adolescent, rather than adolescent), but among healers the apprentices are usually in their mid to late tweens.

Most healers live in the villages and towns in small houses with their apprentices. They tend to cultivate their own gardens and grow their own herbs, which they process in their own stillrooms. However, there are a very few apothecaries in the Shire who do not practice healing, but instead concentrate on herbal lore and making preparations for healers and for families who don't have their own stillrooms.

The Great Families who dwell in multi-family smials usually have their own healers. They are paid a retainer and stipends to be at the service of the household. In Buckland, the healers tend to be family members. But the Tooks tend to hire outsiders. This is probably due to the fact that the Tooks have a reputation of being remarkably obstreperous patients; a family member would likely find it difficult to ride herd on them. There the healer is a non-family member, and lives on the grounds of the Great Smials, but not within them. She has a cottage of her own close to the Smials where she dwells with her apprentice.

However, this changed post-War, as Diamond North-Took, who was a healer's apprentice, married the Thain's Heir, Peregrin Took. She never became the official healer of the Great Smials, but she did become a Mistress of Healing, and was often available to take care of medical needs there. In addition, a Took cousin also became a Healer, and she did become the official healer to the Tooks.

Other Occupations

Just about every craft necessary for everyday life was also held as an occupation by someone. There were potters, weavers, spinsters, tailors, seamstresses, ropers, millers, smiths, bakers and artists of every kind. In my Shire, potters were mostly female and weavers mostly male. Spinning was almost exclusively female, but tailoring was done by both genders. However, non-tailored sewing for hire (of shirts, household linens, undergarments, etc.) was also almost exclusively female, and was usually done for pin money--most hobbit families did their own simple sewing and mending. Milling, baking and metal smithing tended to be family businesses, and the gender depended on the family make-up, whether there were mostly sons or daughters in the family.

To be an artist (as in a painter or sculptor) or a musician was not a common profession, as most were talented amateurs. But there were some who made enough of a name for themselves that they could eke out a living with their talent. If they were a part of a secure family they could do very well for themselves. One of the most well known Shire artists of the late Third Age was Calla Brandybuck of Brandy Hall. Her portraits were much in demand, as were her impressively illuminated documents. She even had commissions from as far away as Long Cleeve in the Northfarthing. Lalia Clayhanger Took tried to get Calla to paint her portrait, but was refused. Calla also was the art teacher for Frodo Baggins during his youth in Brandy Hall.

The services needed to carry on with everyday life were also represented; not simply the usual household servants of the wealthy, but those who hired themselves out to perform services for others: farm workers, carters, drovers, tinkers, and so forth.

Of course we must not forget the public servants: the Post, the Shirriffs, and the Bounders. The Shire Post was the largest of the public services, and was overseen by the Mayor. Every town or village of any size had a Post Office, and those too small to have their own had a Post Rider come through every few days. In those small villages the post would be left at a local shop or tavern to be picked up. The Quick Post riders were the dashing heroes of the Post. They rode the fastest ponies at breakneck speed to get urgent messages to their destination. They were given special chits, to give to innkeepers or livery stables to get fresh ponies for their destination. The Thain kept four messengers at the Great Smials who were also considered a part of the official Shire Post, though he saw to their stipend and their keep. In Brandy Hall it was a less formal arrangement; there were usually a few cousins who were designated messengers when there was need. Bucklebury had it's own Post Office and Quick Post riders.

Lawyers were in much demand in the Shire, and wills and other legal documents were their main livelihood. In addition, lawsuits were not unheard of. If a hobbit felt that a crime had been committed that the Family Head could not deal with (for example, if a member of another family had offended, or if the Family Head felt he (or she) could not be impartial, a lawyer might be engaged to arbitrate the case, rather than taking it to the Thain or the Mayor. This was called an "action-at-law" and could be very expensive for the loser. But more about that in the part on Shire Law.

Business and Trade

The Shire, in spite of its general insularity was a place with a thriving economy. In spite of the dangers and difficulties of the Late Third Age elsewhere in Arnor, the Shire was at peace internally, and not only that still saw some trade from the Outside, at least up until the final few decades preceding the War of the Ring.

The Great East-West Road ran through the Shire from the Stonebow Bridge over the Brandywine all the way to the Far Downs just East of the White Towers (in later years after the coming of the King, that area became a part of the Shire, called the Westmarch). It is my belief that in the years before trade was disrupted by the general troubles that foreshadowed war and invasion, that both Dwarves and Men often traveled that route, and carried out trade with the hobbits of the Shire. It is unlikely that they went far off the beaten track, but it's clear that there were certain items found in the Shire that (from what Tolkien tells us in the Prologue) were unlikely to be manufactured there: things like mantel clocks, pocket watches, umbrellas, and likely other things of that nature.

In my Shire, this is the result of profitable trade with the Dwarves of the Ered Luin (Blue Mountains). In fact, one particular Dwarf clan had a business agreement with the North-tooks in the Northfarthing. A certain North-took had an inventive mind, but no skill in making his ideas a reality; the Dwarves produced many of his ideas to sell to other hobbits, and his family were the distributors. However, his own role in the agreement was a closely guarded family secret.

There was also trade with the Outside through the Southfarthing: pipeweed was its main crop, and while most was sold within the Shire, Shire leaf was prized throughout the North by both Men and Dwarves. But there was a less savory side to the trade in the Southfarthing. According to the Tale of Years, S.R. 1353 (T.A. 2953), some sixty-five years before Gandalf even knew that the One Ring was in the Shire, Saruman became suspicious of all the time his fellow Istar spent there. He could not understand it was out of simple friendship, especially with the Took clan, and admiration of the Hobbit race. Saruman was certain that Gandalf had found something of actual value there. It was then he began to spy on the Shire, and began to set up business agreements with prominent Southfarthing leaf-growers, such as the Sackvilles and the Bracegirdles. It was, naturally, not the value of the pipeweed he valued, but the opportunity to insinuate his agents there and to gather information.

Trade with Bree was mostly through the Brandybucks, and had at one time been rather brisk, but as the roads grew more dangerous, that trade had begun to fall off and was quite rare by the time of Bilbo's famous Party. After the War, it once more became common to travel between Buckland and Bree.

Within the Shire itself, there were all sorts of the usual shops. In "my" version of Hobbiton, there was a green-grocer, a baker, a butcher, a dry-goods shop, a stationer, an inn (the canonical Ivy Bush; the more famous Green Dragon was actually in Bywater), a tailor, and several other shops. All of these shops were locally owned and family operated.

However, one enterprising hobbit in "my" Shire was early in thinking up the idea of chain stores. The Brownlocks were a wealthy and prominent hobbit family, although not in the top of the Roll of Great Families. Carlo Brownlock owned a large dry-goods store in Michel Delving. He had five sons, and wished to provide for all of them. Since only his oldest son would become Family Head, he began to open similar shops around the Shire. He had one in Tuckborough, and eventually opened one each in Budgeford and Hobbiton. Each of his younger sons was placed in charge of a store, while his older son oversaw the entire family. During the Occupation of the Shire, the Michel Delving store managed to hide away most of its inventory, and made use of it to assist hobbits suffering from the depredations of the Ruffians. The stores in Hobbiton and Budgeford, however, were looted. The store in Tuckborough was the only one that remained open for business throughout the "Troubles". However, the Brownlocks were able to recoup their losses, and eventually two more stores were opened in Long Cleeve and at the newly built village of Newbridge, at the site of the former Sarn Ford. They were run by Carlo's grandsons.

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