It is interesting how a dwelling place often matches the personality of its dweller. It is very often that an inhabitant imparts their own character to the place they live in, so the place becomes very much like the person that inhabits it. Once we look at Farmer Maggot and his farm, we see how well the similarities between the house and the dweller show. The Farmer is as perfect for Bamfurlong as Bamfurlong is perfect for him.

As Frodo, Sam and Pippin are making their way through the wild grassland, they find themselves in Farmer Maggot’s land. Frodo is terrified and believes this turn of events to be no better than encountering the Black Riders. Even more than thirty years later the memory of facing the angered Farmer and his ferocious dogs is very clear in Mr Baggins’s mind. But this time the Hobbit is not stealing the Farmer’s mushrooms, as he used to do in the past, so he does not need to be afraid.

Bamfurlong the farm is situated in the Marish, in the Eastfarthing, and the Farmer with his family dwells in a stout brick house. In fact, at that time only poor and rich Hobbits lived in holes — either very basic, or very luxurious respectively. A lot of other Hobbits, mostly in low-lying or flat areas, built houses of wood, brick or stone, in most cases due to the lack of suitable places for holes.

It is exactly the case with Farmer Maggot’s farm. The Marish is a boggy region, so the Hobbits there do not dwell in holes, as the soil makes it impossible to construct them, but build houses above the ground. Farmer Maggot’s house “was stoutly built of brick and had a high wall all round it. There was a wide wooden gate opening out of the wall into the lane” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 121).

It was believed that the custom of building farmhouses and barns came from the inhabitants of the Marish. Being largely the Stoors in blood, they are rather broad and heavy in built. Farmer Maggot himself fits the description perfectly and is as stout as his house. When Frodo, Sam and Pippin notice him, they see “a broad thick-set hobbit with a round red face.” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 121). Another distinctive feature of the Hobbits dwelling in that region is that they have beards (while other Hobbits do not grow any) and wear dwarf-boots in muddy weather.

When Frodo, Sam and Pippin approach Farmer Maggot’s farm, they are met by three ferocious dogs that the Farmer sets on them. His actions are well grounded, though: living in the borderline region, Maggot always has to be on his guard and keeps the dogs for protection. But in this case his caution has a more specific reason. On seeing Pippin, whom he knows very well, the Farmer’s attitude changes “from a scowl to a grin” and it becomes clear why he was so unfriendly just a few minutes ago. It is due to the Farmer’s recent unpleasant encounter with a Black Rider that he is even a bigger terror to any visitors. Facing Black Riders is not the nicest experience in the world, as Farmer Maggot had a chance to see for himself:

I could not see any face, for his hood fell down so low; and I felt a sort of shiver down my back. But I did not see why he should come riding over my land so bold.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 124)

The Farmer was clearly frightened, just like most experiencing the Nazgûl are, but he showed great courage in dealing with the Rider and told the uncanny visitor to be off. It nearly cost him his health, as the Rider spurred his horse right at the Farmer, but all is well that ends well. It is no wonder that Pippin refers to Farmer Maggot as to “a stout friend”. Tolkien does a wonderful play on words here, like he very often does in his works, choosing an epithet that works in several ways. When used about people, stout is an adjective meaning “heavily built” and “having/showing courage”. Both meanings fit Farmer Maggot perfectly. While many become frozen with fear at meeting the Black Riders of Mordor, this stout Hobbit overcame his fear and dealt with the intruder courageously and confidently.

Being very hostile to unwelcome, weird strangers and trespassers, Farmer Maggot is a brave hobbit with a big heart and a good friend. Seeing that his three guests, and Mr Baggins in particular, are in trouble, he offers his help. First, the Farmer invites them to stay for supper and they glimpse the inside of his house:

The sun was already behind the western hills, and the light was failing. Two of Maggot’s sons and his three daughters came in, and a generous supper was laid on the large table. The kitchen was lit with candles and the fire was mended. Mrs. Maggot bustled in and out. One or two other hobbits belonging to the farm-household came in. In a short while fourteen sat down to eat. There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare. The dogs lay by the fire and gnawed rinds and cracked bones.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 126)

The Farmer’s stout brick house with its surrounding wall is a very welcoming, warm place on the inside. Though it might produce a bit imposing impression at first sight, inside it is the picture of cosiness and friendliness. The house gives much needed safety and comfort as the darkness is falling outside and the Black Riders are lurking in the growing shadows.

After supper the Farmer takes the three Hobbits to Bucklbery Ferry in his waggon. It saves them a lot of time, walking and the three friends reach the place of their destination faster than they could have done otherwise. They begin crossing the river just in time, because in the middle of their journey Sam turns around to see a Black Rider on the other side. Where the Hobbits could have met him if Farmer Maggot had not offered his help is hard to tell, but it seems that the meeting would have been a soon and a very nasty one.

Apart from The Lord of the Rings, Farmer Maggot also appears in the poem Bombadil Goes Boating. As Tom Bombadil is going in his boat along the river, the Farmer is not particularly welcoming to him and is, as usual, on his guard. But Tom rebukes him for not recognising an old friend at first sight and they proceed to the house to the warm welcome:

Stars shone on Bamfurlong, and Maggot’s house was lighted;

fire in the kitchen burned to welcome the benighted.

Maggot’s sons bowed at door, his daughters did their curtsy,

his wife brought tankards out for those that might be thirsty.

(Tales from the Perilous Realm, p. 188)

Following the meal, Tom and Farmer Maggot spend a big part of the night talking and exchanging news, like good old friends often do. Farmer’s being well acquainted with Tom Bombadil adds another curious stroke to the picture of his personality and shows him as a very non-ordinary Hobbit.

Stout on the outside and a terror to trespassers, a great friend in need and a courageous soul, Farmer Maggot is a very unusual and interesting character, with the main features of his intriguing personality showing clearly in his dwelling place.

This essay was written especially for Tolkien Reading Day 2018.

Further reading:

On Hobbits

Like dwellers, like land

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – Tales From the Perilous Realm; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2008

Featured image: 

Tying up the boat near the farm – W. Roelofs (Wikimedia Commons)

17 thoughts on “Farmer Maggot: a stout friend.

  1. Maggot’s wagon lent the Hobbits more protection from the Black Riders than just speed. The Nazgúl seem to avoid places where there’s food and beer and conviviality. “There is power, too, of another kind in the Shire,” as Gandalf put it. It amuses me to set Mrs. Maggot’s basket of mushrooms next to the Phial of Galadriel as a help in dark places, each according to the stature of its maker.

    1. That’s a wonderful insight, Joe! Merrymaking and good food/drink are definitely not to the Nazgûl’s taste. I can hardly blame them, though.
      Haha, in such a war every little helps!

  2. Maggot is probably the most interesting hobbit out of those that stayed in Shire. On one hand he fits a description of folk that prefer good peaceful meal over anything but on the other his connection with Tom Bombadil adds so much more depth. Just as Maggot lives on the border, he has these sides of his character that make him very hobbit-like and at the same time a person who knows more than that.

  3. I really enjoyed this post Olga, and Farmer Maggot is a fascinating character to pick up on for this theme; he is an intriguing Hobbit indeed and even more so now that you have pointed out his connection with Tom Bombadil.

    Farmer Maggot’s house is one that I would love to visit and stop by for dinner!

    Now to follow along your links for some further reading. 🙂

    1. I fell in love with the Tolkien’s Shire when as a pre-teen and teen I lived in the Nahe River Valley of Germany. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, wooded hills, and medieval buildings and ruins, I felt I was living in Middle Earth!

      I had forgotten about Farmer Maggot’s connection with Tom Bombadil. Intriguing! Perhaps this helps explain why the hobbits stay with the Maggots and Bombadil and Goldberry are my favorite scenes. There is more respite in the hobbits stay with Tom and Goldberry than with the Maggots, but I greatly enjoy the scenes of comfort and rest in TLOTR books. I think these two scenes are also my favorites because they aren’t in the movies, only in the books and my mind’s eye. 🙂

      I would also love to visit and stop by the Maggots farm for dinner!

  4. The high gated wall around the house is also telling. It’s harder to walk straight up to Maggot’s door than to Frodo’s. Near the Shire’s borders, more care is taken.

  5. What a delightful appreciation of Farmer Maggot! I have met some of those red-faced farmers. Tolkien would have known many more. As I lamented before, agriculture seems to be becoming an industrial process in Britain. Tolkien could see it coming.

      1. A PS, I was in Pershore this morning and had a delightful experience. A man had parked his car in the entrance to a yard off the main street that I mentioned my comment on your Roverandom post. A builder’s truck was trying to pull into the yard off the street but could not do so. A lot of the traffic was piling up behind the truck. Three young girls, perhaps his daughters, came out of the a house besides the yard as if they had all the time in the world. I was stuck behind the truck and looked across at a woman who was also patiently waiting. She looked back at me and we both laughed giving each other a thumbs up sign. I was so delighted that good humour is still alive in a small country town. If we had been in London, horns would have been blaring and people shouting. Long live Pershore!

      2. That was a delightful experience, Stephen! It’s great to hear there are still patient and good-natured people in the world. I think our lifestyle in big cities is far too hectic and fast, that most can’t wait even a couple of minutes. So good it’s not the case in Pershore!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.