I came across an interesting piece of health research this week and of course couldn’t help but make the connection with the rather peculiar behaviour unique to hobbits. We are told in The Hobbit that they:
“…dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly)…”
(The Hobbit, Chapter I: An Unexpected Party)
This observation is reiterated in The Lord of the Rings too:
“As for the Hobbits of the Shire, with whom these tales are concerned, in the days of their peace and prosperity they were a merry folk. They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green; but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads, which was commonly brown. Thus, the only craft little practised among them was shoe-making; but they had long and skilful fingers and could make many other useful and comely things.”
(The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring – Prologue: 1. Concerning Hobbits)
That does not mean, of course, that hobbits never wore shoes. Tolkien points to this in his letters in which he suggests Bilbo should have been wearing boots in his journey after he had got to Rivendell, but that he mistakenly omitted it. And of course the hobbits had differences amongst them, with it being more common for fallohides to wear shoes than the stoors or harfoots.
It seems we are not expected to glean much importance from this general practice other than to understand that hobbits are rustic folk and have a strong connection to the earth I suppose. Additionally, for those interested in knowing more about hobbits and how they differ from the ‘big people’, we are able to note their rather unremarkable physical attribute of tough leathery soles that allowed them to express their love of the earth by going shoeless. Of course there are humans who go without shoes, but we tend to assume, and probably on most occasions correctly, that it is not out of choice. Sadly for many, shoes are a luxury. In contrast, hobbits preferred or chose to go without shoes. – unlike the disparity in their dwellings, between elaborate Smials and dusty holes in the ground, no mention is made of wealthier hobbits opting to have their feet shod as a mark of their affluence.
But it would seem that hobbits knew more than we or perhaps they even realised, and greater credit should be given to their shoeless habits! For, apparently, when you walk bare foot on the earth, it is beneficial for your health. The earth carries a negative charge, which, it turns out, is an excellent source of anti-oxidants and free-radical destroying electrons. And of course the best way to harness this supply is to place your bare feet on the ground – an ‘activity’ that has come to be known as ‘earthing’ (although why it needs a label other than ‘walking on the earth’ is not obvious…while describing it as an activity seems to be dressing it up a bit). It should be noted that one ought to be walking on natural earth to gain any benefit – grass, sand, soil, not concreted pavements.
Research published in the Journal of Environmental and Public health suggests that walking on the earth with bare feet could be a treatment for a variety of chronic degenerative diseases. Thus walking on earth could be an effective strategy for tackling chronic stress, autonomic nervous system disorders (producing dizziness or fainting), inflammation, pain, and poor sleep.
Another study from the University of California found that even one hour contact with the earth restored blood flow regulation to the face – leading to enhanced skin tissue repair.
Meanwhile another study in the Journal of alternative and Complementary Medicine found ‘earthing’ to reduce blood viscosity which is a major factor in cardiovascular disease.
So now, if anyone asks why hobbits did not wear any shoes, we may give this answer. I imagine Tolkien would have been delighted with this happy coincidence, that there was in fact some logic to the customs and habits in Middle-earth unbeknown even to those who practised them.
*Drawing by Colleen Doran