Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Hobbits In Kentucky

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on October 19th, 2019 (All posts by )

    I am reprising my top 100 most-visited posts over at Assistant Village Idiot, and this was number #22.
    From the early days of the blog, December 2007, and reprinted twice here, just because I love it.

    ****

    Not a joke or a misprint. Bumbling around doing research for a Beowulf post, I happened across an essay by Guy Davenport, literature prof in KY who studied under Tolkien at Merton College, Oxford. Back in the US, he became friends with Alan Barnett, who he later learned had been an earlier student at Oxford with Tolkien. Barnett related how fascinated JRRT had been to hear about the country folk of Kentucky, growing tobacco and having such English country names as Burrowes, Barefoot, Proudfoot, and Baggins. Two versions of the same story, each with information the other lacks, are here (scroll down) and here. Barnett, BTW, had not heard that his friend Tolkien had later become a novelist and knew nothing of The Lord Of The Rings, which is rather humorous.

    Davenport wrote a NYT piece on it in 1979, but the Times archive only goes back to 1981. (2019 Update: A reader has unearthed the Davenport article.)

    Commentary. The rural West Midlands area that Tolkien patterned the Shire after had become more urban by the time of Tolkien’s writing, and the idea of something even remotely like it being preserved in America might well have charmed him. To a European classicist, rural America had much the same remoteness that Professor T was trying to capture about the Shire. Americans would immediately associate Kentucky with Appalachia, which was settled by rambunctious Scots-Irish and English Borderers, and discount the idea of any connection. But Tolkien may not have had that association, and in this case it is not accurate anyway. That section of KY between Frankfort and Louisville was actually settled by a higher percentage of West Midlanders, more like Ohio was.

    I looked up all those Hobbit-names, comparing that part of KY with the rest of KY, and with other places across the US. There weren’t any Bagginses,* Gamgees, or Bracegirdles, but there were Tookes, Grubbs, Barefoots and Proudfoots, Burrowes, and Pippins. There were no Butterburs, but there were Butterbaughs. BOOderbaw my second son pronounced immediately after I’d told him. “We had a Butterbaugh in my class” (at Asbury College in Kentucky, 2005). There was indeed a greater concentration of all these names around Shelbyville and Louisville. These names occurred elsewhere in the country, but were much less common – only a few in huge California, New York, and Texas, for example.

    The attempts to show a similar speech pattern I find less convincing. Rural archaic constructions all sound very similar at first go until you take them apart. That archaic constructions persisted at all, however, would have been known to Tolkien but still likely to intrigue him.

    One commenter on a Tolkien site suggested that examining the census records for 1910 – 1930 for that area might be more revealing than a current phone listing. Likely true, but I’m not likely to do it myself.

    Update 2009: There is a Cooter Baggins who graduated from a HS in Indiana, right across the river from that part of KY. Hmm.

    *There is a Bilbo Baggins in Louisville, but I assumed that was a taken name, not a christened name.

     

    3 Responses to “Hobbits In Kentucky”

    1. Brian Says:

      I have a very difficult time Tolkien would have never mentioned this given his prodigious note writing, letters, etc.

    2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      Lewis was a great letter-writer. I don’t know that Tolkien was. His extensive notes for Middle-Earth do not mention the Eddas either, though they are clearly sources. It wasn’t the sort of thing he wrote down, I don’t think.

    3. Kirk Says:

      Cooter Baggins…? Why am I suddenly picturing a run into Mordor with the Fellowship of the Ring hanging on for dear life in the back of a monster truck, while their Hobbits drive and ride shotgun, spinning tires and yelling “YEE HAW!!!!” as they run over orcs and goblins on the way to Mount Doom?

      There’d have to be an Uncle Jesse Baggins, and a very hot, very scantily-clad Daisy Baggins, too…

      Bad guy would be Boss Sauron Hogg, with Sheriff Saruman P. Coltrane as his lieutenant, to balance things out…

    Leave a Reply

    Comments Policy:  By commenting here you acknowledge that you have read the Chicago Boyz blog Comments Policy, which is posted under the comment entry box below, and agree to its terms.

    A real-time preview of your comment will appear under the comment entry box below.

    Comments Policy

    Chicago Boyz values reader contributions and invites you to comment as long as you accept a few stipulations:

    1) Chicago Boyz authors tend to share a broad outlook on issues but there is no party or company line. Each of us decides what to write and how to respond to comments on his own posts. Occasionally one or another of us will delete a comment as off-topic, excessively rude or otherwise unproductive. You may think that we deleted your comment unjustly, and you may be right, but it is usually best if you can accept it and move on.

    2) If you post a comment and it doesn't show up it was probably blocked by our spam filter. We batch-delete spam comments, typically in the morning. If you email us promptly at we may be able to retrieve and publish your comment.

    3) You may use common HTML tags (italic, bold, etc.). Please use the "href" tag to post long URLs. The spam filter tends to block comments that contain multiple URLs. If you want to post multiple URLs you should either spread them across multiple comments or email us so that we can make sure that your comment gets posted.

    4) This blog is private property. The First Amendment does not apply. We have no obligation to publish your comments, follow your instructions or indulge your arguments. If you are unwilling to operate within these loose constraints you should probably start your own blog and leave us alone.

    5) Comments made on the Chicago Boyz blog are solely the responsibility of the commenter. No comment on any post on Chicago Boyz is to be taken as a statement from or by any contributor to Chicago Boyz, the Chicago Boyz blog, its administrators or owners. Chicago Boyz and its contributors, administrators and owners, by permitting comments, do not thereby endorse any claim or opinion or statement made by any commenter, nor do they represent that any claim or statement made in any comment is true. Further, Chicago Boyz and its contributors, administrators and owners expressly reject and disclaim any association with any comment which suggests any threat of bodily harm to any person, including without limitation any elected official.

    6) Commenters may not post content that infringes intellectual property rights. Comments that violate this rule are subject to deletion or editing to remove the infringing content. Commenters who repeatedly violate this rule may be banned from further commenting on Chicago Boyz. See our DMCA policy for more information.