The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien


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  • Updated 7 December 2016
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Free Fair

A Midsummer festival in the Shire

A regular event in the Shire, held at Lithe or Midsummer on the White Downs in the Shire's Westfarthing, near its chief town of Michel Delving. The fair was a place of commerce and trade, and indeed the 'free' in its name came from the fact that any merchant who wished could set up a stall without charge. The Free Fair wasn't merely given over to trade, however, and there was also an important element of festival and celebration.

The Free Fair also served as a focus for the politics of the Shire, such as they were, as the Mayor of the Shire would be elected there once every seven years. We know that there was an election in the Shire-year 1420 (or III 3020), so it is possible to work out when these elections normally fell. The election preceding the War of the Ring must have been in 1413 (III 3013), and so on.

It is difficult to be absolutely sure how often the Free Fair was held. Our only specific statement on the matter comes from the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, where we're told that the Mayor '...was elected every seven years at the Free Fair'. This is slightly ambiguous: it might mean that the Mayor was elected at every seventh annual fair, or it might mean that the fair itself was only held once every seven years.

Historically, fairs of this kind would normally have been held annually and, quite apart from this, it is difficult to imagine the convivial Hobbits of the Shire only holding a celebration every seven years when they could do so every Midsummer. On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable to read the Prologue's reference as describing a fair held every seven years (and indeed some secondary sources state this as a simple fact). There does not appear to be any recorded statement from Tolkien himself that settles the question one way or the other.

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