‘I know these fields and this gate!’ he said. ‘This is Bamfurlong, old Farmer Maggot’s land. That’s his farm away there in the trees.’
‘One trouble after another!’ said Frodo, looking nearly as much alarmed as if Pippin had declared the lane was the slot leading to a dragon’s den. The others looked at him in surprise.
‘What’s wrong with old Maggot?’ asked Pippin. ‘He’s a good friend to all the Brandy bucks. Of course he’s a terror to trespassers, and keeps ferocious dogs – but after all, folk down here are near the border and have to be more on their guard.’
‘I know,’ said Frodo. ‘But all the same,’ he added with a shamefaced laugh, ‘I am terrified of him and his dogs. I have avoided his farm for years and years. He caught me several times trespassing after mushrooms, when I was a youngster at Brandy Hall. On the last occasion he beat me, and then took me and showed me to his dogs. “See, lads,” he said, “next time this young varmint sets foot on my land, you can eat him. Now see him off!” They chased me all the way to the Ferry. I have never got over the fright…’
Let’s talk about Farmer Maggot. He is a terrifying sort, who keeps wild dogs to protect his delicious mushrooms from prying young hobbits. Should the interloper find success, he is to be torn limb from limb by the fell beasts and left as fertilizer for next season’s crop. Seriously, though, he’s a nasty guy there away in the queer parts of the Shire where they wear boots and reside near the bounds. Right?
Well, no, actually. The master of Bamfurlong, his farm, is really a special sort of hobbit. His most rousing endorsement comes from old Tom Bombadil himself, who said that
“There’s earth under his old feet and clay on his fingers;wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open”
He traverses the Old Forest at times and plays host to three traveling hobbits, one of whom has spent his life in mortal fear of the old farmer.
Maggot is the ‘lord’ of Bamfurlong, a farm located in the Marish. The Marish was to be found in the East Farthing of the Shire, not far from the Brandywine River. Because it is in the lowlands of the river valley, at the bottom of the hilly Woody End, that land is marshy and wet, but fertile. In fact, Marish is just an old word for marsh. Being a tough land, it was inhabited by tough Hobbits, specifically the Stoors who came up from the south after the founding of the Shire with their adventurous ways and heavy boots. They were house-dwellers, as opposed to hole-dwellers, which makes sense when you live in a swamp. Most of the Stoors would head into Buckland, after its founding, but some stayed in the Marish and old Farmer Maggot would surely have come from such stock.
Maggot is a bit of a mystery, not unlike his friend Tom Bombadil across the river in the old forest. His background is little known: all there is to learn about him, we learn in his interaction with the three traveling Hobbits: Sam, Frodo, and Pippin. He has a family and a household, including farmhands, the best mushrooms to be found in the Shire, and three well-trained hounds to keep pilferers at bay. Like any good hobbit, he’s fond of his vittles and puts out quite the spread when the three travelers pay him a visit in the early parts of Fellowship:
“There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare.”
He’s even generous with his mushrooms! But is that reason enough for Tom Bombail to speak so highly of him? We can’t say, though he does seem to be very keen. He suspects much of Frodo’s errantry and his move to Buckland during their talk in his house. He is strong in resisting the Black Rider who comes to his home, asking about Bagginses (as Pippin says, he’s a stout hobbit), and shows no fear in whisking Frodo and his companions away to the Ferry to meet with Meriadoc. It’s pure speculation, but whatever connexion there is between Tom and Maggot, it seems to have given him a larger view of the world than is allotted most Hobbits. This connexion started in the poem Bomadil Goes Boating, where old Tom, after much adventure on his trip down the Withywhindle, ends up in the Marish looking for ale and is welcomed into Bamfurlong. There were several versions of this story, and several iterations of Maggot in the multiple rewrites of his part in Rings. The intention and result, however, are clear: Maggot is not like other Hobbits. He talks with Bombadil about the goings-on of the Shire and the bounds, and whether Maggot was shrewd by his own ways or made shrewder by his odd encounters with Bombadil, of which there appear to be more than one, cannot be said. In the end, though, I’m glad to have him on our side.