Sunday, April 03, 2016

Food In The Hobbit

Sci-fi author Sarah Hoyt linked Food In The Hobbit today. Even on first reading I noticed that coffee was part of the Colombian Exchange and thus not possible for a hobbit-culture of hundreds or thousands of years ago.  I wondered what else was inauthentic, and was slightly irritated. After reading Lord of the Rings immediately after finishing The Hobbit, I found the first scenes of the earlier book jarring when I reread them all less than a year later, and the foods and musical instruments leapt out at me first. After all his painstaking history and linguistics of Middle-Earth it seemed out of character to be so anachronistic.  By the time I ran into someone to mention it to a few weeks later it had already occurred to me "Well, what did you expect him to list for foods? Anything authentic would have no romance in this era, and would not evoke the proper response."

Evocative.  Yes, it does that very well.  I liked reading about the pork pies, and learning that the cakes referred to would be relatives of fruitcakes and plum puddings.


Texan99 said...

Something else I always notice in fantasy stories of this kind is that it's impossible to see how all the food and other necessities of life are produced. In a society that pastoral in the real world, something like 97% of all the sentient creatures would have to be engaged in growing food, and real attention would have to be given to preserving and distributing it before people could casually set off on foot on months-long journeys--not to mention the need for armies to guard the crops, and the whole city-state contract that tends to develop between warriors and farmers. So we can't expect too slavish an adherence to reality or an avoidance of too many anachronisms when it comes to items on the daily menu.

Earl Wajenberg said...

If you want to ret-con it, you can take "coffee" to be a translation of some hot drink made with, say, dandelion root, and "taters" to be some other root vegetable. I think even Tolkien said "pipe weed" couldn't really be tobacco.

You think the economics of Middle Earth are bad? Try Narnia. Where did Mrs. Beaver get a sewing machine? The best I can do is wave my hands and say, "Dwarven craftsmanship."

Sam L. said...

Fantasy novels have fantasy economics. And agriculture. And Magick!!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

In "Three Ways of Writing For Children" - I think it's that one - Lewis talks about the advantages of certain forms. In beast-fable, the characters are like adults in that they have their own homes, they set their own schedules, they do as they wish; yet they are also like children in that they do not seem to labor much for their food, drink, and clothing. Meals appear. It is unrealistic, yet it is ideal for a certain type of story, in which the characters can show off their personalities unimpeded.

Elizabeth said...

Diana Wynne Jones examines the strange economies of fantasy worlds in her *Tough Guide to Fantasyland.* Very funny and perceptive.

As for the presence of pickles, tomatoes, and (in the films) maize in Middle-earth, the prevailing theory among geeks is that, like pipeweed, these crops were brought to M-e by the men of NĂºmenor at the end of the Second Age. It was, after all, a large land mass to the west.

Regarding the various anachronisms, Deborah Webster Rogers, to my mind, says it best: "Tolkien sticks to a mindset possible before Abraham, even if hobbits do have tea kettles and tobacco." (In *J.R.R. Tolkien*, Twayne's English Authors Series No. 304, 1980.)

Elizabeth said...

By this I mean that the anachronisms are intentional (particularly at the beginning of LotR as the world is beginning to open out), gently drawing us from the familiar into the legendary. Rohan and Gondor are pretty accurately-depicted Iron Age societies.

What remains consistent throughout is the theology of an epoch before God had revealed himself to humanity, or entered into his own creation as he will through Christ.