Book Review – The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith
First off just let me say that, as an Aussie, I was a bit dubious at being asked to review a self help book based on the Shire. We tend to be a bit wary of these sorts of books and part of me jumped to the conclusion that such a book could only be an attempt to cash-in on the new Hobbit films. I am very pleased to say that my initial prejudices were completely unfounded. The Wisdom of the Shire is an excellent, well written book, by a true fan of Tolkien.
I found The Wisdom of the Shire to be funny, insightful, thought provoking and a thoroughly enjoyable read. It brought back to mind several aspects of Tolkien’s world. Over the years I’ve read much of the good professor’s work, some works more than once. Noble’s book had me looking at familiar passages in a way I hadn’t before.
The Wisdom of the Shire is a nice enhancement to reading Tolkien, taking nothing away or for granted from what long time readers know of Middle-earth already. Who knows, Noble Smith’s book may hold some surprises for new and not so new Tolkien fans alike. Fans will love “The Hobbit Test” towards the end of the book (no I’m not going to tell you how I scored ) Noble’s instructions on how to make a small Hobbit garden had me smiling as I thought of Sam tending his beloved garden :-).
Noble’s knowledge and understanding of Tolkien’s work shines through on every page. His comparisons to contemporary situations are presented with finesse and don’t detract from the flow and overall Middle-earthy feel of the book. The Wisdom of the Shire quotes at the end of each chapter are excellent summations; I fully expect to hear them repeated by Tolkien fans in the years ahead.
This is definitely a book I’m happy to have living on my bookshelf amongst the rest of my Tolkien books.
You can get your copy here The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life
Noble Smith is an award-winning playwright who has worked as a video game writer, a documentary film executive producer and the media director of an international human rights foundation. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. To read even more about Noble and his book you can visit www.shirewisdom.com or follow him on Twitter @shirewisdom .
After reading The Wisdom of the Shire I had the great pleasure of talking to its author Noble Smith.
Kelvarhin: You’ve read many of Tolkien’s books, which one, if any, is your most favourite?
Noble: My most favourite Tolkien book is The Lord of the Rings. I’ve probably read it twenty-five or thirty times in my life. I read the entire book out loud to my girlfriend in college. (We’re still together, by the way, a quarter of a century later, and we’re still Tolkien freaks!) But there are certain scenes in LOTR I’ve read fifty times or more. I’ve had the big single-volume red leather edition since 1981 and it’s been my constant companion. I bought it with my Christmas money. It has sat on every bookshelf in every house or apartment I’ve lived in since the age of 12. I pick up that book when I’m sad or stressed. It’s like therapy. Anyway, there are certain scenes that I go back to: Gandalf the White returning in Fangorn; Éowyn and Merry slaying the Witch King of Angmar on the Pelennor Fields. Those two scenes always make me sob. Don’t get me wrong. I love The Hobbit. And Thorin’s death scene is one of the great moments in literature. The part where he says to Bilbo “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” That’s essentially the foundation of my book The Wisdom of the Shire. Thorin’s quest for gold and redemption and revenge was a chimera. His friendship with Bilbo was the most important thing in his life. And he didn’t learn the true lessons of the Shire-folk (and life) until he was about to leave Middle-earth and journey to the Halls of Waiting.
Kelvarhin: I know you first got your idea for “Wisdom of the Shire” about 30 years ago, what was it about Tolkien’s world that kept you inspired to keep going and write your book?
Noble: Yes. I actually thought of the idea when I was a kid. I had a copy of The Tao of Pooh, and I thought it was so clever. I said to my best friend Daniel, “We should do a book like this about Hobbits and Middle-earth and call it “The Tao of Hobbits!” Daniel, by the way, had all of the Tolkien record albums (on vinyl) memorized, and would recite them word for word (even the skips in the record!) on car trips. The thing about Tolkien that a lot of people don’t understand is that you keep discovering things every time you read the books, whether it’s The Silmarillion (which my wife just read for about the fourth time) or LOTR or even The Hobbit. I recently read Corey Olsen’s book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and he pointed out so many cool things I had never thought of before. His “Riddles In The Dark” chapter analysis should be required reading for Tolkien fans. Amazing book. Corey and Ethan Gilsdorf (author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and I did a podcast last week and we talked for nearly two hours…and we were just getting warmed up. Ethan’s book, by the way, is a wonderful example of somebody rediscovering his love of Tolkien and how that rediscovery opened up all of these new doors in his life.
Kelvarhin: If you had the chance to sit down and chat with Christopher Tolkien, what would you love to ask him? Do you think he’d like your book?
Noble: I would love to sit down and talk to Christopher Tolkien. Without him we wouldn’t have The Silmarilion, or Unfinished Tales or The History of Middle-earth! I respect him so much. You know he typed all of the manuscripts for those books on his father’s old manual typewriter? There’s an illuminating interview that was done with him this year in Le Monde. He feels like his father’s work has been “eviscerated.” I feel, however, that at some point an author’s work has to be allowed to enter the public domain. Nobody can ever go back and rewrite J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. They are sacred and safe. I have no idea what Christopher would think of my book. It never would have been published without the blessing of The Tolkien Estate, so I am incredibly grateful to them. I think J.R.R. Tolkien would like my book because it’s essentially trying to get people to live more like Hobbits. I don’t see how the creator of The Shire could disagree with that!
Kelvarhin: You’ve been given the opportunity of travelling to Middle earth, which realm would you definitely have to visit?
Noble: This is such a great question. The Shire, of course. No doubt in my mind. I want to walk from Bag End to The Golden Perch and finally taste that beer everyone has been talking about! And then, oddly enough, I would want to visit Tom Bombadil’s house. And then I’d have to go to Minas Tirith and pay my respects to King Elessar’s tomb. Now that would be a great spinoff book: A Virtual Travel Guide to Middle-earth. Hit all the highpoints. But stay away from Bree. Total tourist trap.
Kelvarhin: What is it about Hobbits that resonates so strongly with you? Why do you think they appeal to so many of us?
Noble: The Hobbits live in an egalitarian society. They practice sustainability (living off what they grow in the Shire) and sufficiency (taking only as much as they need). They’re kind, cheerful, funny and devoted friends. They know how to live well without being greedy (except when it comes to mushrooms). They also stand up for what they believe in and will fight for what is right. How can you not love Hobbits?
Kelvarhin: I loved the wisdom of the shire quotes at the end of each chapter, my personal favourite is “Bear your own Ring of Doom only for as long as you deem necessary. When the time is right, cast it into the fire and be free of the burden”. Are there any you’re particularly fond of?
Noble: Thanks! I love those quotes too. I can’t wait to hear Simon Vance (one of the great book narrators working today) read those. He’s actually doing the recording for my book this weekend and yesterday we went over all the proper Elven pronunciations. Now back to your question. My favourite is “To grow your dinner from a seed planted and tended by your own hand is more wondrous than a wizard’s sorcery.” That’s from my chapter “The Gaffer’s Garden” which encourages people to grow their own Hobbit garden. Tolkien tells us that the Hobbits had this deep friendship with the earth. I feel that anybody can create this friendship by growing your own food. Or even just herbs for cooking! (Sam Gamgee would agree with me about the importance of fresh herbs.)
Kelvarhin: When did you first hear about TORn? Have you ever visited our Message Boards or Barlimans Chatroom?
Noble: Oh yes! I’ve visited the TORn message boards and chatrooms. I commented a few times in the early days of the site. I think my user name was Farmer Cotton. I’ve been following TORn since it first started. I remember you guys posted one of the first images from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like a year before The Fellowship of the Ring came out! It was that shot of the Hobbits posing in front of a big farm cart. I set my Safari homepage to TORn after that! TORn helped keep me going during some really tough times. I felt like there was this fellowship of Tolkien fans out there. People just like me for whom these books and movies really are a significant part of our lives. When I wrote the proposal for my book I mentioned TORn as the greatest fan site out there. I used your site as proof that Tolkien fans are here to stay.
Thanks so much, Kelvarhin. This has been an honor. May the Shire live for ever unwithered in everyone’s heart!
Thank you Noble, for taking the time to talk to us, I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.Posted in Books, Books Publications, Merchandise, The Hobbit on December 19, 2012 by Kelvarhin