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Dreamflower's Musings  by Dreamflower



All of us are aware to some degree or other, of the presence of certain pervasive ideas that are not found in canon, yet seem to inevitably find their way into most stories of a certain genre. These ideas seem to propagate naturally, and so become memes; the term that has been coined for these memes is “fanon”.

In this essay, I wish to examine seven of the prevalent “fanon” memes found in much “gen” hobbit-fic, as this is the type of story which I read and write most often. I will examine the underlying basis for some of these ideas, and whether or not they seem to be valid.

For the purpose of this essay, the films will be treated as another type of fanfic, and not as canon in themselves. I will also examine the impact of the film versions on “fanon”. If I have a good idea as to where the idea may have originated, I will try to indicate that as well.

All of these memes are those which I have seen used repeatedly in various stories, and which I myself have used from time to time. My singling them out as fanon is not a judgement on their value as elements of a story.

(1) After the death of his parents, Frodo Baggins’ guardians in Buckland were Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck.This particular notion is found in a good many of the stories which feature young pre-Quest Frodo. Is there a basis in canon for this idea? While it is never so stated in the books, this is a bit of speculation that has a good grounding in other canon facts. We are told in “A Long Expected Party” that Frodo was brought up after his parents’ deaths in Brandy Hall, where he lived at least until he was twenty or twenty-one years of age. In looking at the Brandybuck family tree in Appendix C we see that his uncle was Rorimac Brandybuck, Master of Buckland. Frodo was the only child of the Master’s youngest sister Primula and her husband Drogo Baggins. Frodo had some other uncles and aunts, according to the family tree: three other uncles--Saradas, Dodinas and Dinodas, and two aunts, Amaranth and Asphodel. We have no information on Amaranth, other than dates of birth and death, so we do not know if she was married or had children. The same applies to Dodinas and Dinodas, except they do not even have dates. Asphodel, however is married and has a son who would have been in his tweens by the time Frodo was born. Saradoc Brandybuck was Rorimac’s son, and Frodo’s first cousin. He and Esmeralda, at the time Frodo’s parents died, were childless. It seems logical then, that the cousin--younger and unencumbered with children of his own, would be a suitable guardian. We know, for example, that Saradoc’s wife was at the Birthday Party (and thus may assume Saradoc was as well) which indicates a certain closeness.

Therefore, this particular fanon meme appears to have enough canon evidence to be not only credible and possible but probable as well.

(2)Frodo and Merry were like brothers growing up, until Frodo left Brandy Hall at the age of twenty-one. This particular meme follows on the heels of the first one. If in fact, Merry’s parents were Frodo’s surrogate parents, then it would seem likely that the two of them would form a brother-like bond. It goes a long way toward explaining the deep love and loyalty Merry shows in conspiring to follow his older cousin into danger. Most of the evidence pointing to this is the same as the evidence for number one. It is slightly more subjective, but the canon basis is fairly solid for this one as well.

(3) Pippin Took is musically talented.Although the popularity of this particular meme appears to have originated with Billy Boyd’s brilliant portrayal of Pippin, and most especially his poignant singing of an altered version of “Upon the Hearth” in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, as well as his spirited singing along with Dominic Monaghan as Merry, in a couple of other scenes. There is a small amount of evidence in the book that Pippin may have been somewhat musically inclined. In the chapter “Three is Company” we see him singing in the early morning after the three hobbits have camped. He also appears to initiate the singing when they are walking. And in “A Conspiracy Unmasked” he sings a rather spirited bath-song. Of course, while this does indicate he likes to sing, there is nothing there to indicate that he is good at it, except perhaps the lack of any complaints from his companions. However, in “The Siege of Gondor” we have this exchange:

Denethor asks him “…Can you sing?”

“Yes, well, yes, well enough for my own people. But we have no songs for great halls and evil times, lord…”

While it appears, again, to be negative evidence, given the innate modesty of hobbits, for Pippin to admit that he sings “well enough” for his own people, probably would mean he sings more than tolerably well. However, the evidence is not so strong as to constitute a probability. And as for the idea that he can play instruments, it is totally a fanon invention, although given a person with musical interests, not an illogical one. But it is not one supported by any evidence from the books.

(4) Frodo Baggins and Pippin Took like to climb trees. This is more or less a fanon invention, with very little canon evidence to back it up. It appears to have originated with Baylor’s excellent story “The Care and Feeding of Hobbits”, as well as with the scene in the extended edition of the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring, in which Frodo is shown sitting in a tree smoking a pipe as he and Sam cross the Shire. Against the notion are the several times stated fact that hobbits do not like and are afraid of, heights, as well as this scene in “Lothlórien”:

Hobbits do not like heights, and do not sleep upstairs, even when they have any stairs. The flet was not at all to their liking as a bedroom. It had no walls, not even a rail; only on one side was there a light plaited screen, which could be moved and fixed in different places according to the wind.

Pippin went on talking for a while. “I hope if I do go to sleep in this bed-loft, that I shan’t roll off,” he said.

There are only three bits of evidence, and very slim at that, to weigh against such statements. One is the oft reiterated notion that Tooks are not like the normal, average hobbit. The other is another scene that takes place in the same chapter, a bit later, as the hobbits cross the Silverlode, by walking across a rope stretched over the stream:

Of the hobbits, Pippin proved the best for he was sure-footed, and he walked over quickly, holding only with one hand…”

This episode is a clear discrepancy, which I have exploited and examined in one of my own stories.

The third bit of evidence, which might possibly account for Frodo’s ability to enjoy tree-climbing was Bilbo’s climb to the top of the tree in the “Flies and Spiders” chapter of The Hobbit. It could be argued that this was his “Tookish” side, and that Frodo might have inherited his affinity. It has to be admitted, that although Bilbo is said not to have had much practice at climbing trees, he seemed to master this one rather quickly, and to enjoy himself a bit when he got to the top: not a possibility for the average hobbit.

Still, the evidence in favor is shaky at best. This meme is far more fanon than canon.

(5) Hobbits, especially in strange situations and times of danger, like to sleep huddled together. In other words, the famous “hobbitpile”. This fanon meme also appears to have emanated from Baylor’s “The Care and Feeding of Hobbits”. It is a charming idea, and given the situation the four hobbits found themselves in on the Quest, not an illogical one. Is there any canon evidence for such a thing?

The best that can be said for this is there is no evidence against it. Hobbits are described as social creatures in the prologue, as well as being very clannish and family oriented. While this is a good jumping-off point for the idea, it is not enough to make it have any basis in canon. Any evidence for the idea is rooted in psychological theory. However, as previously stated, the idea is a charming one, and not likely to go away. And since there is nothing to say it did not occur, it does not detract from the source material. It adds a good deal of depth to the characterization of hobbits as a race, and of the four hobbits on the Quest in particular. Nevertheless, it remains purely fanon, with no canon evidence one way or the other.

(6) Besides Frodo, the other hobbits who went on the Quest also suffered from psychological trauma and related to this, Merry Brandybuck also suffered from an anniversary illness on the date of his helping to kill the Witch-king of Angmar, Chief of the Nazgûl.

We really are not given anything to go on one way or the other on this in canon. JRRT concentrated his story of the effects of the Quest on Frodo. We are told of the facts of what happened with the other three, but we are not really allowed into their heads at this point, except for Sam, just a little.

However, there is one factor that seems to me to speak to this issue: at the end of their lives all three hobbits choose to leave the Shire and end their days elsewhere--the implication is that Sam sailed to the Undying Lands, while Merry and Pippin are stated to return to the South to the Kings who held their allegiance, first staying in Rohan until the death of Éomer and then going to Gondor, where they died at some indeterminate date before the death of King Elessar. This speaks to a certain feeling of alienation from the homeland they had loved so well, and would indicate that there were some things they had never quite recovered from.

We also have the rather odd fact that after their return from the Quest, Merry and Pippin went to live at Crickhollow, away from their families.  This is often taken as evidence of their efforts to hide their trauma from their families.

Add to this the fact that though they are hobbits, a peaceful race unaccustomed to turmoil, they had been exposed to the horrific face of war and evil, and had experienced battle and pain. There is no doubt that, in modern terms, they would have suffered at least somewhat from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Not, of course, to the extent that Frodo did, but most certainly to some degree or other.

The idea that Merry would have an anniversary illness is slightly more tenuous. It cannot be dismissed out of hand, for he also was exposed to, and wounded by, the same Enemy as his older cousin.

I would say that this particular meme is an application of logic and modern psychology, rather than canon. Nevertheless, although it seems on the face of it, to be possible; it remains purely fanon.

(7) There is a psychic link between some or all of the four hobbits who went on the Quest together. This particular example of fanon really stretches things. There are only two pieces of canon evidence that give very slim support to this. The first is that some hobbits, most definitely Frodo, and possibly also Pippin do seem to have some sort of psychic ability. Frodo has a number of prescient dreams, beginning even before he left the Shire, and after the Quest, he was frankly clairvoyant, prophesying Sam’s future, for example. Pippin also, on at least two occasions seemed to have a psychic insight: while in captivity by the Uruk-hai, he sensed Aragorn following them, and took the chance to leave the brooch he had been gifted in Lórien, and in Minas Tirith, he sensed against all evidence, that it was Aragorn arriving in the Black Ships of Umbar. He also was able to locate Merry when he was lost in the vast City after the Battle of the Pelannor, though that, admittedly might have been sheer luck. However, as we are often reminded by the author, chance plays little part in the world he created.

The second part is the exchange Frodo has with Faramir in “Window on the West”, in which, discussing how Faramir knows Boromir is dead, he quotes an old proverb: “Night oft brings news to near kindred.”, and he then tells Frodo of the vision he had of his dead brother.

While that may appear to be irrelevant to the question of hobbits--Faramir, is after all a Man, and of the Numenorean line--the remarkable thing about the exchange is that Frodo simply accepts it as a given. This saying seems to be known and agreed to by him. That there should be such a link between kin is not a strange notion to him, nor something to scoff at or doubt. This, to me, is far more telling than Faramir’s actual experience.

As to whether this fanon idea has enough evidence to give it a probability, I should say not. It does, however have enough evidence to give it credence as a possibility, as long as it is not stretched too far.

There are any number of other fanon notions: the hobbits' eye colors are often based on those of the actors in the films.  There are the notions that Merry and Pippin liked practical jokes, or that one of them did not get on with his father (usually Pippin and Paladin), that Pippin was a sickly child, and many others to numerous to list.  Some fanon is peculiar to certain genres of fanfic, such as hurt/comfort or slash (which does not come into the scope of this essay).

Those writers who are well-versed in the books, or have been writing for some time may recognize when such a meme has validity in canon or not. The choice of whether to use these elements should become a conscious one, and not an unconscious one. Learning to examine such things in the light of original source material should be something one is unafraid to do.

Newer writers, who are recently come to both the books and to fanfic would do well, when they come across ideas that seem familiar, to check with the original material and see whether this is truly so. Again, this is not to say that such notions should not be used--only used with caution, and with the knowledge of what canon does have to say, if anything.

New ideas about the original stories are part of what fanfiction is all about. If such ideas add to canon without detracting from what is already there, that is all to the good. Fanon can add a lot to one’s deeper understanding of the original canon, but it should never be seen as a substitute for canon.



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