Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Importance of Food in The Lord of the Rings

The prompt from The Tolkien Society: The importance of food in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings: Carefully read the book you want to work from if you have not already done this. Note down and think about eating and feasting of all kinds in the story. Who does it? Where is it done? What do you think is important about it? Don't forget trolls, orcs, wolves and the things they eat.

Cram, petty-dwarf roots, honey-cake, lembas, ent-draught, miruvor, orc "vitality drink", and limpë are just some of the foods mentioned in The Lord of the Rings.
A batch of lembas I made.  See the recipe here.

When I think of food and The Lord of the Rings, I of course think of Hobbits; and with good reason!  Hobbits eat seven times a day: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper.  Bilbo refers specifically to bacon, bread and butter, and tea often throughout the course of The Hobbit.  It would seem that the hobbit diet closely reflects Tolkien's own standard English diet, and indeed he indicated this, saying, 
“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.” (emphasis mine)
Hobbits enjoy eating simple things and they do it a lot.  It is one of the highlights of their existence and plays a major role in many of their celebrations.  Their appreciation for food is linked to a love for simple things and little joys.

Let's look at the attitude of other races towards food.

The Elves, instead of focusing on the pleasure of eating food, look more at it's usefulness.  They developed lembas (which I love) not for it's tastiness, but for it's practicality: it is not burdensome to carry, it is useful for journeys and it helps them get things done.  They have more of a "one does not live on bread alone" mentality about them.

No specific comments are made of the diet of Men, but it is probably safe to assume that they have diets similar to those in medieval England: lots of grain, meat, and depending on location, dairy.  Men do not put a special emphasis on food like the Hobbits, but they seem to take more pleasure from it than the Elves.

Orcs, on the other hand, are completely perverted and don't appreciate food at all.  They don't take any enjoyment from it, and only drink to stay alive.

Over the course of thinking about this question, I found it a bit odd to notice that the Hobbits put and almost undue and gluttonous emphasis on eating.  Generally, characters in The Lord of the Rings are praised if they are able to detach themselves from the things of the world.  The Hobbits seem to almost do the opposite of this.   This makes it even more of a sacrifice for the Hobbits to make when they leave all their food behind to go to Mordor.

I think that is the main thing that the prevalence of food represents: enjoying small things, but understanding they are not the most important things--recognizing that saving the Shire is more important than staying there and comfortably eating.


  1. I struggle with putting food in my own stories. I just don't think of it, which is strange because I really do love food, and am eating or wanting to eat while I write more often than not. I should take a lesson from both Tolkien and Brian Jacques! :)

    1. Goodness, I think Brian Jaques must write something about "strawberry cordial" on EVERY OTHER PAGE. I get so hungry reading his stories XD

    2. Me too.
      By the way, I love your new blog header! Perfect for a LOTR themed blog.

    3. Thank you! I spent a lot of time trying to pick the perfect one:)

  2. I just found a wonderful recipe for Lembas bread. I am going to try it as soon as possible.

    And I tagged you for the Infinity Dreams Award/Tag here:

    1. Oh thank you! How kind :) I'll get to it as soon as possible.