J.R.R Tolkien's Middle Earth is a place of magic and wonder, a place of immortal creatures, warlike heroes and fair and virtuous maids. It's a land of legend, locked in an eternal strife between Good and Evil where kings clash with dark and malicious powers. And because of all this is, by nature, so far removed from us, the reader and the audience, it can be easy to look at it with cold detachment and not truly get invested in it. Or it would be if Tolkien hadn't placed a relatable heart at the center of the story.
That beating heart that drives the Trilogy is found in the humble and kind hobbits, whom in their non-magical essence and their gentle hearts and simple minds create a familiar link with the reader that guides him through Tolkien's mystical world.
It's the quiet and tranquil hobbits that lie at the emotional core of the story. But it's that same every-man quality of theirs that lies at the very center of this epic and its theme. Because of these, we decided it was high time we talked about them in this series.
Hobbits, the little people that tend The Shire, were so important to Tolkien that he dedicated an entire 21-pages long prologue to them. In it, Tolkien explained their culture and traditions in extensive detail. So, how do you translate that onto the screen? Doing a documentary/slash 20 minute prologue is completely out of the question, as a movie, you need to jump right into the story. So how do you solve this conundrum?
Well, through every cinematographic tool there is: production design, acting, script... and, of course, costume design.
And make no mistake, there is a lot of information being transmitted solely through their clothes. But before we get to how these are transmitted, we need to briefly look at exactly what needs to be transmitted.
So, what is a Hobbit? Hobbits are, according to Tolkien, small creature between two and four feet tall with big feet covered in curly hair with leathery soles. They tend to be stout with slightly pointed ears. They are a distant branch of the race of men.
I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; only slightly pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur. --- J.R.R Tolkien in a letter to his American Publisher---
But even more than their looks, it's particularly important to understand what defines Hobbits as a group. Hobbits are fond of an unadventurous, bucolic and simple life of farming, eating and socializing. And although their mildness would seem contrary to it, they will defend fervently and courageous their way of life when threatened. They eat around six meals a day and prefer simple and homemade food. They also love smoking pipe-weed.
With that in mind, we will look at how they managed to translate that into the costume through the quartet of hobbits in the saga.
THE HOBBITS: FOUR HEROES
In order to visually translate the habits and traditions of the Hobbits onto their costumes, Ngila Dickson had three main tools: style, color and fabric. And she makes the most out of it.
The first and most obvious tool she has is style itself. Probably, the most telling aspect of their designs is that they have nothing in common with the elegant and luxurious look of the elves (read more about it here) or the rough yet proud look of the men of Rohan (read more about it here). The style of the hobbits is simple and utilitarian. They are farmers, their costumes are made to work with them.
This means that all their outfits consists of work-pants, shirt and suspenders and a vest or jacket. This is clearly inspired by the traditional work clothes for the field. They are made to be comfortable, not pretty, which helps transmit both the idea that farming is an essential part of their lifestyle and that they are content in it.
This style is found in every single hobbit shown on screen, which helps highlight the idea that they are a tight community. The difference in personalities is mainly highlighted through fabric and color, but never through style.
And so, if the style and layering is the same for all, we'll need to focus more on how the differences are used to highlight not only the different personalities, but also to cover all the aspects and characteristics of their race, thus creating a true cultural spectrum.
If hobbits are simple people, Sam is the simplest of them all. He is kind, shy and dedicated. He cares not for riches but for love and everything green in this world. He might not seem much, but his heart alone would will the ring to destroy itself. And so his clothing reflects all that.
When you look at his clothes, you see wool, cotton and "poor" fabrics. Look at the jacket he is wearing in the frame above; it looks rough and not gentle to the touch. It's a work jacket. He is a hard working hobbit, and so his are the clothes of someone that breaks his back working day in day out.
Another important element is that you can clearly see that he gives no importance to his clothes. Unlike the leather canteen he carries around or the gigantic backpack that includes a set of pans and pots and other such essential tools when you set out to save the world... which he clearly cherishes and never once even separates from them until they are deep into Mordor.
This, if anything, highlights both the hobbits' dislike of adventure (he seems more worried about basic daily routines such as eating than the actual danger, at least when they depart towards Rivendell) and also underlines how essential is food and eating to their culture (beautifully rendered both in the second breakfast scene with Aragon and the "rabbit and potatoes" scene with Gollum).
Another key element of the hobbits that is mainly represented in Sam is their shyness. Sam doesn't enjoy attention, and has a strong aura of shyness about him. Which is marvelously integrated in his costume through color.
He mainly dresses in very muted and unobtrusive colors; brown for the trousers and desaturated beiges and greens and greys for the rest. Which certainly underlines the fact that he doesn't dress to call attention to himself. His palette perfectly blends in with the landscape he loves so much.
Aside from the color, you'll also notice that he is the only of the four main hobbits that actually wears plaid. Plaid shirts are usually worker's clothing. And it's the same for Sam. He is not rich, he is a worker.
Himself and his designs represents hobbits at its most humble and kind. Which is radically opposed in the aforementioned cultural spectrum to someone as, say, Frodo Baggins.
Frodo shares a lot of characteristics with Sam: a deep love for his home, love for his peers and a kind humility. But Frodo is not a worker. For starters, Frodo is quite rich for a hobbit (take into account that Bilbo took back a literal treasure back with him from his adventure with Smaug).
And how is that shown? Well, through fabric. He is usually dressed in much finer clothes than Sam. For instance, in the picture above, he is wearing green velvet trousers and a fine linen shirt, and both are much nicer than any of Sam's wool and cotton outfits. After all, Sam is his gardener and not the other way around.
He also has some richly patterned vests that are meant to visually indicate his higher economic status within the community.
But character wise, Frodo is also radically different than Sam. Frodo is much more insightful and thoughtful. He dedicates his time to reading on the outside world, and has a certain curiosity for knowing that Sam certainly doesn't share.
But he also is much more social than Sam (at least before the quest), and so his costumes are not made to blend in so much as Sam's. He doesn't mind being noticed.
Which brings us to his color palette: most of Frodo's outfits are in a rich and broad palette of browns, which heavily contrast with Sam's more muted and unobtrusive colors. Also, in that brown outfit, Frodo looks like one of his leather books, which beautifully ties into his more bookish personality.
And so, you can see how the designer found a clever way to visually differentiate the both of them whilst still having them wear a very similar style.
MERRY AND PIPPIN
Merry and Pippin are a representation of hobbits at their most fun-loving and social. They enjoy life at its fullest and all its simple pleasures: they like eating, pranking, dancing and drinking. They are loud and vociferous. And so is their clothing.
Both Merry and Pippin regularly dress in rather bright and cheerful colors. Merry in rich yellows and ocres, and Pippin in blues, calling attention onto themselves rather gleefully.
Also, notice the difference between their clothing and Sam's. These two do not dress for work, but for the Pub.
And so, the four of them together, manage to represent the whole of Hobbit community both in look and personality. From the hardworking Sam to the funny and noisy Merry and Pippin. Because of this, we think that this was the perfect way to introduce both the hobbits as a race and the four main characters, which is really clever because it saves runtime, but still manages to transmit all the information that Tolkien wrote in that detailed prologue without ever bringing the story to a halt.
We hope you enjoyed this new entry and we'll see you next time. As always, tell you that we don't know what other designs from Lord of the Rings we will be covering yet. This functions more or less the same way that the Padme series works (improvising basically) but if you want to request any specific design from the Trilogy don't hesitate to contact us and tell us!
All the images of the dress used in this article (and many more)
can be found in the amazing collection of movie costumes
that is The Costumer's Guide.