Posted on

lord of the rings weed

It seems like a stretch to say that tobacco, a stimulant, slows a person’s mind. In fact, this is a sentiment much more commonly associated with marijuana. To further hammer home the degree to which Jackson implied hobbits liked to get lit, let’s recall the moment in which Merry and Pippin light up their pipes in the ruins of Isengard and sit around smoking, snacking, and laughing, their eyes narrowed in that characteristic way:

In the book, which also includes beautiful, wood carving-styled illustrations by Graham Judd, Walter Judd notes that Tolkien’s pipe-weed was actually just plain old tobacco. He uses the word “tobacco” in the narrative voice in Lord of the Rings and even named the tobacco plant genus Nicotiana in the Prologue section “Concerning Pipe-weed.” Furthermore, Bilbo explicitly mentions tobacco in The Hobbit, telling Gandalf that it’s “a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors.”
This bad news comes by way of Flora of Middle Earth, an actual botany text released by Oxford University Press on Tuesday. In the book, which explores the factual and fictional plants of Tolkien’s world, author and University of Florida botanist Walter Judd, Ph.D. reveals that Tolkien’s famed pipe-weed is a lot less exciting that fans might hope.

While it’s possible that fans may have overstated the cannabis head-canon, it’s not all in their minds. Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy heavily suggested that Gandalf and Frodo’s pipes were filled with something a little stronger than tobacco. You may recall the moment Saruman rebukes Gandalf for his smoking habits, hitting him with the wild side-eye:
There is a certain variety of stoner whose identity is inextricably linked to a love of Middle-Earth, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and all things J.R.R. Tolkien. This person spends lazy summer afternoons reading The Silmarillion, perhaps puffing on a long wooden pipe packed with sticky green cannabis flowers.
Despite these obvious textual clues, which would have been apparent to any fan who read the books closely, the pipe weed-marijuana connection has persisted for a long time, probably tracing its roots to dorm room stoner culture that rose around the same time as Dungeons & Dragons. The game draws significantly on Middle-Earth for mythology and characters, so it’s no stretch to say that the same people who spent their weekends engaging in D&D campaigns and smoking joints probably also loved Lord of the Rings. Be that as it may, though, Tolkien’s original text, as Judd points out, does not support this interpretation.
We have some bad news for those marijuana-loving Lord of the Rings fans: Pipe-weed is not weed, as many people — this reporter included — long assumed it was.
Turns out pipe-weed was more brown than green.

Whatever our wishful thinking — and Peter Jackson’s creative liberties — had us believe, the evidence cited in Flora of Middle Earth is fairly clear: Pipe-weed is tobacco. Bummer.

Turns out pipe-weed was more brown than green.

Lord of the rings weed

With strong overtones of environmental sustainability, anti-industrialism, strong female characters like Arwen and Éowyn, and champion underdogs that stood no more than four feet tall, Tolkien’s books took on a widespread cult following because of their undeniably strong overlaps with civil rights, counterculture, and psychedelic drugs.

You don’t need to look further than the book’s appendices to know that Tolkien was talking about tobacco, not cannabis.
“[Tolkien] could only deplore those whose idea of a great trip was to ingest The Lord of the Rings and LSD simultaneously,” Doughan adds in his biography.

Although hemp was a common agricultural product, tobacco was the leaf of choice for those looking to pack a bowl and relax. Tolkien, too, was fond of it. In a 1958 letter to Rayner Unwin, a reviewer of his books, an excited Tolkien described a “Hobbit Dinner” he had been invited to in Holland:

“There is another astonishing thing about Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of a herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana.”

Perhaps Tolkien found mind-clearing qualities in tobacco that many find in cannabis. But regardless of what pipe-weed actually is, or what J.R.R. himself actually smoked, the plants are different means to facilitating same end that no scholar, reader, or critic can deny Tolkien intending: an appreciation toward detail, nature, and things as simple as a pipe full of your favorite herb. And might we suggest one of these LOTR-themed strains?
Tolkien’s comparison of himself to hobbits is also telling: “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size)…I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking.” Some also say that tobacco tins were used as storage in his home.
So in summary, it would seem that pipe-weed isn’t at all a euphemism for cannabis, given the historical context in which Tolkien lived. Though it is unfair to say that Tolkien never used cannabis because he was a studious professor, a family man, and a devout Catholic, there exists very few cultural bridges between him and the demographics drawn to cannabis in both Tolkien’s earlier and later life.

Did that “probably” leave enough room for the imagination to bring in the possibility of a psychoactive alternative? If you’ve seen Jackson’s movie adaptation, you’d know the answer for many wishful thinkers is yes.

J.R.R. Tolkien's hobbits love their pipe-weed. What is pipe-weed exactly, and what is its connection to cannabis and counterculture?