I should very much like to buy Fatty Bolger an ale. For all people who hold down posts that are unglamorous, or fight the good fight in a small town, or generally fail to make much social progress, Fredegar (“Fatty no longer”) Bolger is a literary saint for our time.

If Fredegar is mentioned on a dozen pages of The Lord of the Rings, I would be surprised. He is among Frodo’s inner circle of friends, though not quite as inner as Merry and Pippin. He helped Frodo pack when he made the difficult decision to sell Bag End and went ahead to warm the house in Crickhollow where Frodo never truly intended to live.

Tolkien gives us few glimpses of his personality in this early stage of the epic; it is far more important to the grand narrative to learn something about the hobbits who will be a part of the Fellowship of the Ring. Fredegar’s loyalty to friends is a clear feature of his character, but this positive impression is offset somewhat by the ridiculousness of his nickname. Fatty is clearly the handle for the friend in the circle least likely to be taken seriously, and Tolkien, perhaps hinting at the superficiality of Bolger’s outlook, tells us that “even Fatty” was content after a shared meal in Crickhollow.

Nevertheless, courage and self-sacrifice outweigh whatever else may be said about our unsung hero. Aragorn was bred for adventures, and even Frodo’s heroism is diminished a bit by his blood relation to towering figures in hobbit history with names like Bilbo and Bullroarer. Fredegar is terrified of the Old Forest and relieved that his role in the plan keeps him out of it. He was “to stay behind and deal with inquisitive folk, and to keep up as long as possible the pretence that Mr. Baggins was still living at Crickhollow.” Staying behind in Crickhollow means facing the Black Riders, however, and he plays his part manfully (hobbitfully?).

If these United States determined to wage a just war on some grand scale tomorrow, and I were to sign up to fight, my decision would have little do with patriotism. I love my country, but this love would be entirely overwhelmed by the fear that my friends and my wife (in no particular order, mind you) would think me a coward otherwise. Whenever men my age begin talking about time spent in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, my old (but still operative) reservations about those conflicts feel something stronger than a mere tug of shame. Whatever moralizing kept me from following the well-trodden military path to hoped-for glory, I have never been certain that it was more than a thin veneer over an ugly and painful cowardice. It seems to me, however, that Fatty Bolger’s willingness to stay behind in the Shire came at an immense cost. If his fellow hobbits’ mission were successful, he would always be the friend who had stayed home. Had the mission failed, I doubt he ever would have had a decent night’s sleep again, knowing that he had remained safe at home while his friends faced whatever perils were before them. If the Black Riders had never come, Fredegar Bolger would have had a difficult time living with himself.

Of course, they did come, and he was able to raise the alarm in Buckland, despite being terrified beyond the capacity for measured speech. Perhaps he was celebrated enough for this moment to help him avoid any gnawing, agonizing sense that he ought to be wherever Sam, Merry, and Pippin were? The three of them had wanted to protect Frodo and the Shire, so they left. Fredegar wanted to protect Frodo and the Shire, so he remained. When all things are considered, whose role was harder?

Like most hobbits and even a few people, Fredegar had a real commitment to the local. It is tempting to try to save the world, but there are demons at the village gates, too. These grassroots level terrors are perhaps mere deputies of the boss villains, but their sting is devastating, nonetheless. Critiques of the current pontificate/presidency/zeitgeist/global cause du jour can be fascinating, but our neighborhoods, parishes, and even our bowling leagues appear to be in sadder shape than they used to be. A teacher will not solve global hunger and poverty, but she may rescue a young person from fentanyl/suicide/familial apathy/modern civilization. Being a dad means, among other things, occasionally being (insert unpleasant bodily function here) upon by the smallest of your offspring. A strong family, though, might anchor a school or neighborhood, blazing a trail of holiness through hostile terrain, and this will be infinitely harder without a strong pair of parents fighting the good fight at home.

At first, it seems as though Fredegar Bolger deserved far better than Tolkien gave him. For eight hundred pages, the reader hears nothing about him. He is not even able to take part when the Shire is scoured. Instead, he is rescued from the prison in the Lockholes at Michel Delving. He was thrown in and left to starve for having been the leader of a rebellion against Saruman’s puppets. Pippin is the first to recognize the lengths that Fredegar went to fight the Enemy on the home front: “You would have done better to come with us after all, poor old Fredegar!” Perhaps Pippin is right, but none of the friends call Fredegar Fatty anymore, and those chaps know something about heroics.

Image via New Zealand Department of Conservation

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. “…but our neighborhoods, parishes, and even our bowling leagues appear to be in sadder shape than they used to be”. It is unfortunate that local heroes and heroines are not praised more for their good and honorable work. It is oh so fashionable to fight for the triumph on the hill, but what of it if there is nothing to come back down to?


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