Why the Shire is Called the Shire

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The truth behind one of the most misunderstood names in Middle-earth.

Contrary to popular belief, the Shire is not supposed to represent England. The name does not denote a special relationship to England. So why is it called 'The Shire,' an archaic English word?

In one of his blog posts, Tolkien scholar Michael Martinez answers this question. I will not steal too much of his thunder, so I will just give you a brief overview of his ideas.
The Shire is meant to represent a country or location familiar to the readers of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien was English, so his books were written in English, and were meant to be read by English people. One of the most familiar countries to the English people is, of course, England. However, Tolkien wanted translators to go so far as to change the original text to make the Shire's geography identify with a region well-known to the speakers of that language.
Michael Martinez is supported by a section in The Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings:

"It is desirable that the translator should read Appendix F in Volume III of The Lord of the Rings and follow the theory there set out. In the original text English represents the Common Speech of the supposed period. Names that are given in modern English therefore represent names in the Common Speech, often but not always being translations of older names in other languages, especially Sindarin (Grey-elven). The language of translation now replaces English as the equivalent of the Common Speech; the names in English form should therefore be translated into the other language according to their meaning (as closely as possible)."

The reason this is ignored and the true reason behind the name 'The Shire' is because in America we also speak English. There is no need to translate any of Tolkien's works into our language. That is why The Shire appears to represent England, even though it does not.

I thought that this was an interesting blog post, and especially fitting for this blog. If you want to read the original essay, go to the Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog by Michael Martinez. However, for now, this website seems to be down, so instead, you can visit the copy cached by Google here.

Source: Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog by Michael Martinez

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