The story begins and ends in The Shire, in the Village of Hobbiton, a completely imaginary place which resembles a medieval English country village unspoiled by modern inventions. In one major way Hobbiton differs from a real world village, even one in the Middle Ages: it is inhabited by hobbits, creatures about three feet tall who prefer to live in hobbit-holes rather than in houses above ground. Although Tolkien does not use the name Middle-earth in The Hobbit, in The Lord of the Rings he places the world of Bilbo’s quest in this realm. Physically, Middle-earth resembles modern earth, with its terrain, seasons, and natural beauty. It is the inhabitants of Middle-earth who add a touch of unreality. In making a world in which Bilbo and his dwarf companions can conduct their quest, Tolkien assumes the creative rights which his essay “On Fairy-stories” grants to a story-maker: the right to be free with nature and use the real world as a basis from which to fashion something new, with its own inner consistency.

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