Ok, not actually a song. Trust me, you wouldn’t want that, you really wouldn’t. But I *do* love The Shire and I don’t care who knows it. I’m not talking about The Shire of the books or films (although I do love them as well) but rather The Shire of the Lord of The Rings Online game and I really, really do mean I love it.
But why o why are you telling us this, Lord Burro the Irrelevant?
Because my loyal Gazellings I have seen a lot of anti-Shire sentiment in my kin chat of late and whilst defending the place to my kin mates I realised this would make a good post. Or a post at least. Beggars can’t be choosers, mate now sit down and listen.
It seems to me that most of the Shire ill-feeling is generated by, and directed toward, exactly what these misguided folks should be celebrating about the place – it’s almost transcendent sense of whimsy. Let’s face it, if you read Tolkien’s books the Hobbits and their beloved homelands are whimsical to the point of absurdity. The Shire is given over as some form of English rural paradise chock full of the types of folk you expect to meet in the (very real!) village of North Piddle: eccentric, blustering, loud Squires; hrumphing, superstitious salt-of-the-earth farmhands; nosey old fishwives and an ever-flirtatious Rosie beckoning you over to the hay barn with a jar of cider and flash of sun-kissed calf. Ahh, Cider with Rosie… so formative…
Sorry, where was I? North Piddle, wasn’t it? Anyhoo, the point is Tolkien drew on all these archetypes and locked himself away in a lab with a DNA splicer until, one moonlight All Hallow’s Eve, The Shire was born. And its first word was “Bloomers!”. The Shire has to be whimsical in the game because The Shire Tolkien created *is* whimsical. It is a place where, no matter your level, skills with a sword or prowess at killing Dragons, if you can’t deliver a fruit pie to the next village in time then what use are you? Really? I mean, all that buff and bluster about fighting this silly bugger and killing that sillier bugger and you can’t carry a fruit pie from an old lady to the nearest pub? Useless. Now, if you can chase a squirrel out of a library or rescue a chicken from a wolf, well that’s a different matter…
You see too many people go into The Shire expecting it to be Angmar. They have their Hero Heads on. They want action and drama and killing – lots and lots of killing. What they get is errands. Errands and vignettes into the life of a Hobbit, which is most assuredly not about running all over Middle Earth punching Orcs into a coma. The life of a Hobbit is far more important than that, thank you very much and this is the mindset you have to enter The Shire with – you are not just entering another region with quests in another MMO, you are entering one of the most whimsical places ever committed from imagination to paper. If all you want is to power up the levelling chart and wave your big manly sword about then you probably are not going to take kindly to an old Hobbit granny asking you to take her grandson his butties, are you? See The Shire as a holiday from the endless violence of other regions – see The Shire as an oasis – See The Shire as the refuge Tolkien created it as.
Once you do that, you’ll grow to love The Shire too. And if you don’t, well The Shire doesn’t care as neither The Shire nor the Hobbits are impressed with you one little bit. You know nothing about growing pipe-weed.
p.s. Listen to Shipwreck’s cracking Shire-based podcast here.
p.p.s. I, for one, want to extend a huge and heart-felt WELL DONE! to Turbine’s creators who have done a bloody amazing job. Seriously, get the books or the audiobooks and read/listen through the descriptions at the start of The Lord of The Rings (the parts where Frodo leaves) and see just what a bang-up job they have done. Hat’s off to you guys, and thank you for enabling me to walk in the places I’ve held in my imagination and heart for so long.