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.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Tales From the Perilous Realm; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2008
Tying up the boat near the farm – W. Roelofs (Wikimedia Commons)