Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Clothes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Quick note: the debate has been delayed--my sister was too busy to finish.  It should be up tomorrow!

The prompt from The Tolkien Society: Carefully read the book you want to work from if you have not already done this, Note down and think about all the kinds of clothes, all the colours, and especially the words Tolkien uses to name and describe the clothes worn by his characters. How do you think clothes, their colours and the words used help us to 'see' the characters and their world? Do the clothes they wear have a special shape, are they used for special purposes, do they tell us something extra about the character?

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on the clothing of a just a couple species:

  • Hobbits - "Clothing: green velvet breeches; red or yellow waistcoat; brown or green jacket; gold (or brass) buttons; a dark green hood and cloak (belonging to a dwarf)." (Letters 27)
  • From Cosplay.com
  • Dwarves - "They seem to have favoured simple durable clothing, coloured hoods and heavy cloaks for travelling, and belts of gold or silver."  (According to The One Wiki to Rule them All, Dwarves)
“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size...I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien seems to have based a few characteristics of Hobbits off  his own likes, even their dress.  Judging by the way Tolkien phrased it, both he and the Hobbits enjoy "dressing up" and looking nice "even...in these dull days".  This would suggest that Hobbits do care about their appearance if only to look "respectable" in front of their neighbors.

When Bilbo goes to Beorn's house in The Hobbit, he is "painfully aware" of his missing buttons on his waistcoat which have popped off as he was escaping Gollum's cave.  Clearly Bilbo considers his appearance very important, important enough to be embarrassed about.

Furthermore, this indicates that Hobbits don't do much manual labor (aside from farming and general chores of course) and are more of a relaxed folk.  This corroborated by the fact that Hobbits do not wear shoes.  Of course it is true that Hobbits have thick soles, but it is hard to imagine a Hobbit going through the typical elf-work day of fighting, riding horses, and travelling even with their hard soles.  One would imagine with that work load, they would benefit from some type of shoe.

Hobbits like wearing bright colors which adds to the reader's vision of the race as a happy and joyous people.  Additionally, it requires much more effort to make clothes in bright colors such as red or yellow, especially when (like the Hobbits) one only has a loom for clothes making.  This emphasizes that the Hobbits have a lot of leisure time, or at least time to dye their clothes.

When Merry and Pippin return to the Shire after the War of the Ring, they all have livery on, much to the shock of the other residents.  However, Merry and Pippin don't even remember that they are wearing mail, which signifies just how much they've changed; being clad for war has become second nature for them and is just another mark of their dynamic character.

From The One Ring forums
In The Hobbit, the dwarves are dressed rather comically, I suppose to appeal to the young readers Tolkien had in mind when he wrote the story.  They all have different color hoods which are described one by one as they enter the hall at Bag End.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gimli is the only member of the Fellowship to wear mail as they set out.  The others choose not to because it is too heavy and would hinder their passage (Frodo does wear mithril, but it is notoriously light).  The fact that Gimli could endure it, shows how hardy and strong Dwarves are.

In The Silmarillion, Dwarves have terrible masks they wear in order to frighten their enemies.  This is probably to compensate for their lack of stature height-wise and proves to be an effective tactic.

Clothing in The Lord of the Rings is an important way to identify a species and learn a bit about them just by their appearances.

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