Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish doctor. However, he is best known for collecting Finnish folk tales during the mid-1800s and producing the Kalevala. The Kalevala is considered the national epic of Finland (kind of like the Sagas of Iceland).
So, why would I include Lönnrot here?
There are actually a couple of reasons.
The main impetus is this drawing of Lönnrot.
In order to compile the Kalavala, Lönnrot traveled the Finnish countryside collecting the tales. The picture is described as a “caricature” of him doing so. Now, I don’t know if that means that he really did so barefoot or not. I suspect not, but there would be a reason to show him barefooted and wearing the kind of open folk clothing of the area: that would be because the locals really did go barefoot. I talked about that in my last blog entry: Bare Feet in Scandinavia.
There is another reason to include Lönnrot. You may recall that J.R.R. Tolkien was a folklorist and linguist. Tolkien actually taught himself Finnish to that he could read the Kalevala, and it is considered one of the sources that Tolkien drew upon to write The Lord of the Rings. Even more so, the elven language Quenya is based on Finnish.
I have no idea if the caricature of Lönnrot influenced Tolkien to have the hobbits perennially barefoot, but it is an interesting idea.
There were undoubtedly other influences. The book Ents, elves, and Eriador: the environmental vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, by Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans, suggests it is because the hobbits were to be considered truly connected to the earth (which is why the scouring of the Shire was so awful). The book talks about their environmentally friendly underground houses, and notes:
In any case, their dwelling in the ground is fundamental to the nature of Hobbits, and although in Buckland and in Bree some live in houses aboveground, Hobbits of the Shire consider this aboveground life to be unnatural. Hobbits are close to the earth, and they are closely associated with the material substance of the soil. They wear no shoes, and their walking around barefoot keeps them in direct physical contact with the earth. This literally down-to-earth image is extended further when we learn in the fourth paragraph of The Hobbit of their uncanny ability to blend in with nature: “There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along”—a point repeated at the start of the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings.
The hobbits barefootedness really is fundamental to their nature, and keeps them “down-to-earth”. That barefootedness is also undoubtedly part of their being able not to “blunder” around. As we all know, going barefoot provides an elegance to one’s movements.
How’s that for a blog entry? Started out with a Finnish folklorist and ended up with an Arizonan survivalist?