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Apr 282014

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

So what exactly do Bilbo and Gandalf have stuffed in their pipes in both the books and Peter Jackson’s films?

“Ah, Old Toby! Best weed in the Southfarthing!”

Now… I know this is an old gem of a Tolkien question, but I thought it might be fun to revisit some of these questions Tolkien left to the readers imagination!

This question of  Tobacco vs Marijuana often raises as much ire among devotees of the books and films as the age old question…‘Does the Balrog have wings!’ Oh yes… I went there! So, I thought we might give the Mordor Thunderdome a rest for a bit and tackle this thorny question with a Mordor Poll Vote!

To make the vote clear… Choice 1 is Nicotiana which is Tobacco, Choice 2 is Cannabis which is Marijuana and Choice 3 is simply to say that it’s neither, but a leaf particular to Middle-earth!

Go HERE to see the Final result of our Poll

From my way of thinking, Tolkien deliberately left this question open, as he has done with many aspects of his Middle-earth writings. Tolkien created an ancient and archaic world, that is full of mysteries left unanswered. Is it a fantastical version of our own history or is Middle-earth a place all it’s own? Professor Tolkien deliberately left many questions unanswered and went to great pains not to place anything in Middle-earth, the could be traced directly back to own own. This is part of the great genius of his work.

So… is Old Toby tobacco or another form of weed one might enjoy smoking… or should I say toking?

Lets begin by taking a look at what Tolkien says in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring when he mentions the ‘Halfling’s leaf.’

‘There is another astonishing thing about Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of an herb, which they called “pipe-weed” or “leaf,” a variety probably of “Nicotiana.”‘

J.R.R. Tolkien ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue

A variety probably of Nicotiana. I think the key word here is “probably” rather then using the word ‘certainly’ or ‘absolutely’ or ‘without a doubt’ I think what Professor Tolkien is saying here, is that it may not be something of our world… but something new and different. Like many of the plants described in Tolkien’s writings, that are named or described in detail, they are indigenous to Middle-earth with no direct correlation to our world. The same can be said of the ‘Halfling leaf’ perhaps.

The origins of Pipe-weed listed on Wikipedia

Pipe-weed, a herb with sweet-scented flowers, was evidently brought to Middle-earth by the Númenóreans during the Second Age, as Merry speculates in the Prologue, and as suggested by its common name in Gondor: westmansweed. It was known among theDúnedain as sweet galenas for its fragrance. As the Hobbits’ custom of smoking it became more widely known, the habit spread to Dwarves and the Rangers of the North, and the plant became known as Halflings’ Leaf.

Pipe-weed was first grown among Hobbits by Tobold Hornblower in Longbottom (a region in the Southfarthing of the Shire). Despite its foreign origins, the Hobbits (possibly those in Bree) were the first to use it for smoking. (As Merry points out, not even the Wizards had thought of that.) Popular Hobbit-grown varieties include Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, and Southern Star; its cultivation became an established industry in the Southfarthing.

The Wizard Gandalf learned to smoke pipe-weed from the Hobbits. In The Hobbit he turns smoke-rings into different colors, although this might be purely due to the director Ralph Bakshi’s style, as many of his other works show both tobacco and cannabis smoke turning different colors. One palpable description of the weed’s effects is given by Gandalf to fellow wizard Saruman upon a meeting of the White Council:

“You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway, it gives patience, to listen to error without anger.”

Although Saruman initially derided Gandalf for smoking, at some point he took up the habit himself. After the destruction of Isengard, pipe-weed is found among its food stores, but the Hobbits Merry and Pippin fail to realize the sinister implications of the discovery that Saruman has had commerce with the Shire.

The word pipe-weed first appears in the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings in the section called “Concerning Pipe-weed”. Tolkien says the Hobbits of old “imbibed or inhaled through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of an herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana“. In the same paragraph, Tolkien as narrator refers to “the tobacco of the Southfarthing”. Throughout The Lord of the Rings none of the characters ever uses the word tobacco. The word tobacco is only used in the narrative voice of the books.

For example; in The Two Towers, the word tobacco is used once. In the chapter “Flotsam and Jetsam” Tolkien as narrator says “He produced a small leather bag full of tobacco.” Merry is then quoted saying “we found they were filled with this: as fine a pipe-weed as you could wish for, and quite unspoilt”. Pipe-weed is used four times in The Two Towers.

Author T. A. Shippey speculates that Tolkien may have preferred the Old World sound of pipe-weed, because tobacco, an Arawakan name for a New World plant, would be an anachronism, and have a “foreign feel” in the world of elves and trolls.

The Hobbit, which was written before the The Lord of the Rings, uses the word tobacco exclusively. Pipe-weed does not occur at all.


Though The Hobbit leans toward Old Toby being tobacco, The Lord of the Rings is a bit more undecided in it’s writings and the films by Peter Jackson seem to lean toward that wacky kind of tobaccy for the Long Bottom Leaf! We definitely get the flavor of this in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, but most especially in The Hobbit films. The scene that comes to mind is of course when Radagast finds the company of Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves and is given a few puffs on Old Toby to calm his nerves… the smoke actually comes out his ears! And we also discover he has a thing for Mushrooms! Hmmm!

So… what do you think… what’s in the pipes they’re smoking in Middle-earth? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below and also VOTE in our Mordor Poll to the right and let your voice be heard! (Poll now Closed)


The joys of Pipe-weed in Middle-earth


 April 28, 2014  Posted by at 12:50 pm
  • Random Musings

    In my eyes it’s a mix of both, but mostly tobacco.

  • Chuck

    > they are indigenous to Middle-earth with no direct correlation to our world.

    No direct correlation to our world?

    I suggest you read the third paragraph from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth and verify the references if you wish.

    “Tolkien wrote many times that Middle-earth is located on our Earth.[1] He described it as an imaginary period in Earth’s past, not only in The Lord of the Rings,[2] but also in several letters.[3] He put the end of the Third Age at about 6,000 years before his own time,[4] and the environs of the Shire in what is now northwestern Europe (Hobbiton for example was set at the same latitude as Oxford),[5] though in replies to letters he would also describe elements of the stories as a “secondary or sub-creational reality” or “Secondary belief”.[6] During an interview in January 1971, when asked whether the stories take place in a different era, he stated, “No … at a different stage of imagination, yes.”[1][7] However, he did nod to the stories’ setting on Earth; speaking ofMidgard and Middle-earth, he said: “Oh yes, they’re the same word. Most people have made this mistake of thinking Middle-earth is a particular kind of earth or is another planet of the science fiction sort but it’s just an old fashioned word for this world we live in, as imagined surrounded by the Ocean.”[1] He continued to make references to its being “… a brief episode of History” of Earth as late as 1971.[8]”

  • An impassioned and thoughtful response… I love it!

  • Edward Gates

    With marijuana you smoke the flower, not the leaf. With tobacco, however, the dried leaves of the plant are smoked.

  • Jon Spang

    I agree with this, they speak of it in a way that borrows from both attributes of only marijuana, and only tobacco, so it is almost like a magical combination of the two

  • Old Toby

    I think its weed like gnome grown chronic, look at Gandalf and bilbo’s eyes when they blaze it up, they totally are baked, but in the barrels mary and pip find its kind of leafy and brown like tomacco, but when they start smoking it they start laughing it up hardcore, also i grow weed and if you dont take care of the harvested leaves and buds it can turn dark or brown if you store it in a hot dry place, but it will still get you high, but as for the love of the halflings leaf that clearely clouds your mind, unless you are jonesin for some tobacco it mainly chronic that clouds you mind, and my personal assesment is that its weed, i watch lord of the rings every month, it helps me escape real world issues when i can afford to vacation or its raining and i cant skate, but watching it baked and sparking up a bowl the same time the characters in Lord of the Rings do is awsome, and gives me a sense of being a part of their journey much more in depth, and they also call medicinal herbs weed in the LOTR like when Aragorn tells Sam to find kingsfoil, and he says, “ai, kingsfoil thats a weed, so it does vary because of the lingo they use, all in all i say the long bottom leaf is a sativa because sativas usually have long narrow leaves like long bottom leaves, then old toby can be like the slang name for that certain type of weed because when mary and pip are separated when mary leaves with gandalf he offers him his pouch of south farling old toby, and when he gives him the pouch he says, “the last of the long bottom leaf” and he says you smoke to much. And as for me i get kind of pissed when people say Sam and Frodo have homo moments, back then or at least in old time in our world that was called Phileo, a greek word for brotherly love, which is what they have, a real love for eachother like in the bible with King David before he was king, him and king Saul’s son Jonathan it was said they had a love so great for eachother they would have sacrificed anything to be together, i have experienced that love, and it can seem gay to our modern society, but its not, its love, love is not limites to man and woman and certainly has nothing to do with Sex like movies depict nowadays, diluting its meaning and valueu

  • Leeloo Dallas

    Very well said.

  • Leah VanZandt

    Aye. My soulmate and I would agree with you. The leaves provide a gentler state than the blossoms, but given that Hobbits are smaller they’d need less to get baked!

  • Hobbitink

    If its tobacco then why does this line exist, “( Gandalf) your love for the halflings leaf has clearly slowed your mind.” Just saying.

  • That line of dialogue is from the films and Peter Jackson stated they he playfully included the idea that Long Bottom Leaf might well be Marijuana or some ancient variation. However, in the written words of Tolkien, he leans much more toward it being Tobacco, but he was vague about it in The Lord of the Rings books.

  • Ringlordmordor easy