This week Senator John McCain lashed out at fiscal conservatives during a debate on the debt ceiling, quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial that denigrated “the tea-party Hobbits” who “could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.” But at least Frodo got the job done, which is more than we can say for the budget wizards in the Senate.
Anyone with a literary bent would never use the term “Hobbit” as an insult. The Hobbits are the most admirable characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s opus The Lord of the Rings. Mr. Tolkien was a traditionalist with a romantic attachment to particular English ideals and myths that also have strong resonance in this country. The Hobbits were an archetype of the doughty English yeomanry, a free people living productive and pleasant lives, hard working, honest and happy. They stand in contrast not only to the evil denizens of Mordor but also to the city folk of Gondor. The Hobbits lived more simply, free of the complexities, anxieties and dangers that beset their urban human counterparts. And the same type of people who inspired Tolkien to invent the Shire are those who came to America in the 18th century to forge a pastoral utopia on the Midwestern frontier.
There is reason to believe that this linkage is more than a coincidence. According to Bradley J. Birzer, author of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, one of Tolkien’s classmates at Oxford was a Kentuckian named Allen Barnett. Mr. Barnett recalled that the two lads used to talk at length about his American home. He said Tolkien had “the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins, good country names like that.” So Bilbo Baggins had his roots in the Bluegrass state? Well, as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul tweeted, “I’d rather be a Hobbit than a troll.”