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!
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?
‘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)