J. R. R. Tolkien probably created one of the most extensive and exciting Fantasy universes when he developed Middle Earth. Since Middle Earth and the stories that take place in that universe are so popular, they are also often adapted by movie makers. Some of these adaptions are absolute classics (the Lord of the Rings Trilogy* comes to mind) and some are, well, they are something else.
When we talk about one of the less celebrated adaptions of Tolkien’s world, then many of us immediately think of the new series The Rings of Power*. One of the many criticisms fans had of that series is the presence of black hobbits who are seen as not compliant with Tolkien’s work.
But is that really the case? I was intrigued by that question and decided to take a closer look…
The Hobbits are described by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Prologue to the Lord of the Rings. He mentions that two types of Hobbits are light-skinned while the third and most numerous group of Hobbits, the Harfoots, are „browner of skin“. So Tolkien doesn`t explicitly name the Harfoots as dark-skinned but implies a darker skin and leaves the exact skin color of the Harfoots up for interpretation.
Let`s take a closer look!
J.R.R Tolkien writes that there were originally three groups of Hobbits that slightly differed from each other in temper and physical appearance. These different groups immigrated to the Shire one after the other around 2000 years before Bilbo Baggins finds the One Ring.
The first group to cross the Misty Mountains and immigrate into the Shire were the Harfoots who are described by Tolkien as the most numerous and also the most typical Hobbits (as written in „The Hobbit“*). Tolkien also describes the Harfoots as „browner of skin“ than the other two groups of Hobbits. Here* you can read it for yourself!
Sometime after the Harfoots the light-skinned Stoors and Fallohides also immigrated into the Shire.
All three groups of Hobbits settled in the same area and started to mix with each other. So at the time of Bilbo and Frodo, the differentiation into three different groups of Hobbits had long disappeared. However, the three groups of Hobbits had intermixed quite unevenly so that some families leaned more towards descent to one of the three groups.
And that is where it gets interesting for answering the question of whether or not Black Hobbits are realistic in Middle Earth.
As mentioned, Tolkien establishes the Harfoots („browner of skin“) as the most numerous group of Hobbits. As such I think it is quite possible that a large number of Hobbits at the time of Bilbo and Frodo had a more or less pronounced descent from the Harfoots (including their physical appearance).
So that obviously doesn`t prove that black Hobbits are running around in the Shire. But it means that there are Hobbits who, just like their ancestors, have a darker skin tone than other Hobbits. However, the exact skin tone of these Hobbits with a strong Harfoot heritage remains up to interpretation so that every reader can interpret it in his own way.
And that is, if you ask me, one of the best things about fantasy in general, and especially J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. It can be interpreted in so many ways that everyone can read the story a little differently.
But when it comes to actual history, then there is also a debate over the existence of people of Black African descent in medieval Europe. I wrote an entire article on that topic. Please feel free to check it out!
And if you want to find out more about whether or not there were black knights (in the sense of knights with black skin) in the Middle Ages, I would like to recommend you my article here. There I talk about the existence of black knights not only in the Middle Ages but also in the most famous medieval epos, the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.*
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (Boston 1954).
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