Literature Study GuidesThe Lord Of The RingsPrologue Of The Ordering Of The Shire Summary

The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | Prologue (Of the Ordering of the Shire) | Summary



The Shire was divided into North, South, East, and West "Farthings" as well as East March (Buckland) and Westmarch. The Shire had hardly any government; for the most part, families took care of their own matters. The only real official was the Mayor of Michel Delving (or Mayor of the Shire), who was elected once every seven years and was generally idle except when required to attend banquets on the Shire-holiday, though these occasions were rather frequent. There was also office of the Thain, mainly a decorative title, which was passed down to the Took family from the Oldbucks centuries before. The Shire also had public employees of a minimal sort: Shirriffs, who were the closest equivalent to police; and the Watch and the Messengers, the only two Shire-services. The Messengers delivered mail (the segment of hobbits who were literate were quite prolific in their letter-writing).


The history and development of a minimal Shire government connects with events in The Lord of the Rings. In the time around the beginning of the novel, Tolkien tells the reader the groups of Shirriffs who patrol the borders, called Bounders, "had been greatly increased. There were many reports and complaints of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders, or over them: the first sign that all was not quite as it should be."

Pippin becomes Thain, because he is a Took and this office is inherited. It is fascinating that the Shire has inherited offices, such as Thain, as well as democratically elected ones, such as the Mayor.

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