Thursday, 27 February 2014

Feasting and Fasting (part 2)

In my last post in this series, we examined the concept of feasts: a large and abundant meal shared by many individuals, usually to mark a celebration or significant occasion. In the case of Théoden's funeral, the food and wine at the feast not only helped to bring physical comfort and pleasure to the mourners, but brought them together in celebration of his life and of a positive future for Théoden's surviving children.

Théoden's funeral is the final feast mentioned in the Lord of the Rings series. Though it is made clear that all remaining members of the party led relatively peaceful, comfortable lives following their return to their respective homes; the extravagance of the event serves to close a large chapter of their lives. Their days of struggle and starvation on their quests are over, but so are their victories. Life is to continue as before they knew about the ring.

It is the struggle to safely take the ring to Mordor during which the brunt of the story takes place. Tolkien whisks his hobbits away from safety, from second breakfasts and suppers and large round bellies and throws them in the face of adversity and deprivation. They must learn from and rely on the endurance and wisdom of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas to make do with what little they have in what is a state of war in Middle Earth.

"Down in the lowest and most sheltered corner of the dell they lit a fire and prepared a meal. The shades of evening began to fall, and it grew cold. they were suddenly aware of great hunger, for they had not eaten anything since breakfast; but they dared not make more than a frugal supper.


'I don't see how our food can be made to last,' said Frodo. 'We have been careful enough in the last few days, and this supper is no feast; but we have used more than we ought, if we have two weeks to go, and perhaps more.'"(248)

The above excerpt from Fellowship of the Ring is one of many similar examples: the fellowship must travel miles and miles on difficult terrain, from town to town, evading capture and injury as best they can. There is very much a sense of uncertainty throughout: 'perhaps more' is indicative of Frodo's pessimism about the future of the quest, and of their safety. It provides evidence that the hobbits, at the very least, do not see far ahead, and yet they must if they are to ration their food adequately. In contrast with the feast, company, and solid shelter at Théoden's funeral later in the series, there is no comfort to be found for the fellowship here. 'The lowest and most sheltered corner of the dell' is they closest they have: a corner of an open valley, exposed to the cold and the elements is not adequate, but it must do. Indeed, for the hobbits it is a far cry from the comforts of the shire.

The concept of safety is also disregarded completely; Frodo's speech repeatedly focuses on being frugal, careful, planning ahead, and depriving themselves of what is needed at the time with what they will need in the future. The idea that the travellers do not 'dare' prepare a more filling supper is interesting, that they cannot take risks in what is an already dangerous journey. Taking care and preserving their resources is absolutely paramount.

Tolkien's Middle Earth, during the Lord of the Rings series, is a world under threat from an evil, powerful and power-hungry ruler, with resources and armies seemingly unparalleled throughout the land. Tyranny forces the inhabitants - be them human, hobbit, dwarf, elf or otherwise - to be careful in everything they do. As we have seen, this extends to food. In discussing food of the wartime periods, Nicki Humble explains that, "where people's choice of food had previously involved issues of tradition and habit, social status and style, it was now hedged with questions of patriotism and morality..." (23). This applies both to the home front and the battlefield. One can see these same problems and questions posed to the inhabitants of Middle Earth, the most marked being the change the hobbits face from a relatively carefree life at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring to being forced to resist temptation and be self-sacrificing for the greater good of the quest. Furthermore, the wandering and hunger the fellowship feel is not unlike those narratives of frontline soldiers, both in reality and in fictitious works as Ian McEwan's Atonement (2003).

The theme of struggle and deprivation, such as that felt by the fellowship, is not uncommon for a children's novel. Indeed, Tolkien uses it as a tool for moral education. Through being careful with resources and grateful for whatever food they may be given, and through creativity, there is food for all and strength throughout the arduous journey. Furthermore, it gives them a greater sense of appreciation for feasts in the future. For those children born following the two World Wars, for whom The Lord of the Rings was a formative series, the hunger pangs felt by Frodo and co. give a taste of the experience of those first readers' parents and grandparents lives, and perhaps a greater appreciation for the relative feasts they then got to enjoy.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien (1955) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. London: HarperCollins (2007) pp. 248
  2. Nicola Humble (2006) 'Mock Duck and Making Do' Culinary Pleasures: Cookbooks and the Transformation of British Food London: Faber & Faber.
  3. Image courtesty of weheartit:
  4. Image courtesy of

1 comment:

  1. I think your point on the Hobbit's lifestyle of plenty juxtaposed against the frugal journey to destroy the ring is really interesting. By tearing members of the peaceful and rural community of Hobbiton into the harsh wilderness of the land, Tolkien to me seems to be commenting on the wartime mentality of rationing. The fellowship have to forage and ration in order to ensure they can eat, a complete subversion from the 'second breakfast' of the days before, and no doubt after the quest to destroy the ring.

    The role of hunger also struck me while reading this entry. I realised that while the Hobbits (and the rest of the fellowship) go hungry while traversing through the uninhabited areas of Middle Earth, Sauron as you rightly pointed out is "power-hungry". There is a distinct difference between the hunger of longing and desire and the hunger of greed and consumption, the latter ultimately leading to self-destruction.