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Someone Had to Ask: "Concerning Pipeweed"

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Someone Had to Ask: "Concerning Pipeweed"

Old 12-17-03, 05:23 AM
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Someone Had to Ask: "Concerning Pipeweed"

OK, after having thought nothing of it while reading the books originally (in elementary school) and absolutely nothing of it while watching the Rankin-Bass cartoons, the pipeweed of Middle Earth has come to my attention lately through the re-reading of the books and the heavy attention to it in the series.

So is it tobacco?

Is it ganja?

Is it some hybrid of the two?

I can't figure it out -- I've heard it argued over and over again that the pipeweed referred to in the book is based on an English tradition of pipe-smoked tobacco, and just another example of Tolkien placing Anglo-Saxon stylings in his tale. However, either Jackson's a smoker that's trying to get in a few nudge-winks with every pipeweed scene he can, or else there's something funny about this stuff.

Re-reading the trilogy last Christmas holiday made me suspicious.

The scene from the Two Towers EE where Merry and Pippen discuss whether or not to share the pipeweed reminds me way too much of how real-life smokers I know handle their goodies. Plus, the whole smoke billowing out of the room followed by a long string of Hobbit laughing thing while Treebeard was peeking in was very... hotboxy, I suppose.

What clinched it for me was tonight -- the "Flotsam and Jetsam" scene towards the beginning, where Gandalf and the boys run into Pippen and Merry sitting on the wall -- chiefing away on their pipes, and laughing quite a bit. For once, though, in all of the smoking I've ever seen on screen in the trilogy -- ONE OF THEM SOUNDED TRASHED. Pippen, I believe (according to Merry, he's the one that "smokes too much". I mean, come on.), was the trashed one. Regardless, I didn't see too much for them to be dealing with that'd get 'em trashed -- and the big deal had already been made about the Southfarthing leaf.

So -- it smokes, it smokes out of pipes, it gets you messed up, it's something that once you've gotten a taste for it, you want as much for yourself as possible and don't like sharing; and if you smoke enough of it, Gandalf can turn a puff into a sailboat.

But when the barrels were opened in TTT: EE, they almost looked like they were full of tobacco leaf. However, I've never seen anyone have trouble standing up straight after smoking too much tobacco; nicotine virgin or not, and if Pippen smoked as much as Merry claimed, the nicotine certainly wouldn't have had such a concentrated effect on the Hobbit's state of mind.

So, if asked to compare Tolkien's pipeweed to a modern-day equivalent -- what would it be?

Maybe I'm reading into this too much, but it's gotten to the point where I want to hear what people have to say other than: "Oh yeah, it's weed. They keep calling it weed in the movie, so of course it is."

I can't recall at this point if it's discussed in the appendices, but I guess I'll go check now. Thanks in advance for any information!


(Oh come on, you know you want to find out too, just for party conversation purposes. There's got to be some sort of LOTR scholar on this board.)
Old 12-17-03, 08:57 AM
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Here's my take on it: Tolkien did indeed intend for the readers to consider it tobacco. I'm not sure that "weed" was even a common slang term for marijuana back when the books were written. However, I do feel that in the movies they play it up a bit as possible ganja as kind of a joke.
Regardless, I thought it was pretty funny to watch the hobbits get excited about weed and mushrooms within the first hour of FOTR.
Old 12-17-03, 09:09 AM
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To blaze a fattie with Gandalf has long been a childhood dream of mine. *swoon*
Old 12-17-03, 09:10 AM
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I have a .wav of "Old Toby, finest weed in the South Farthing!" if anybody wants it.
Old 12-17-03, 09:45 AM
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Your love of the halflings leaf has clouded your mind...
Old 12-17-03, 12:02 PM
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The books make it pretty clear that it is just tobacco. In the prologue of LOTR it discusses "pipe-weed" as a variety of Nicotiana, which is the scientific name of the family of plants of which tobacco is a variety.

The name pipe-weed was used to maintain consistency in the language of the books, Tolkien made a very concerted effort to omit any "New World" terms from the books, tobacco was a "New World" word (he also dropped references to tomatoes, a New World item, from early drafts of the books.) In early encounters with tobacco the English referred to it as sotweed, so the name nicely parallels that English term.

And tobacco, as experienced by the English, freshly cut and dried without additives, filters, etc. has a definite physiological effect on the body, weaker than marijuana or other drugs, but a noticeable effect. I'm not a smoker and the few times I've tried a cigarette or cigar I've noticed a very pronounced light-headedness and energy, if it weren't for the ill feeling I get in my stomach and the pain in my lungs I think I'd find the feeling as pleasurable as a light buzz from alcohol...

And there is no question as to its addictiveness, and we all know at least one chain smoker that makes odd choices (quitting jobs that won't permit smoking, enduring subzero temperatures just to get their nicotine fix, etc.) because they have a stronger attachment to nicotine than a lighter smoker or a non-smoker...

Although, it does seem that PJ took some liberties and is making allusions to pipe-weed being marijuana, the books present pipe-weed as tobacco...
Old 12-17-03, 01:04 PM
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I'm sure some weed (Mary-Jane, ganja, pot) was smoked to come up with this whole story of middle-Earth. No way this whole epic could've been written just from smokin worthless tobacco
Old 12-17-03, 04:50 PM
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I thought they were drinking ale, too. That was why they were tipsy. I may be wrong.
Old 12-17-03, 04:58 PM
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The reason I didn't think their buzz was ale-based was Gimli's comment regarding the Hobbits' "eating... and smoking". Drinking was not mentioned -- didn't notice mugs, just those long wooden pipes.

Thanks for all of the info, everyone -- especially jim_cook87 for the Nicotiana family reference from the introduction. I knew I'd made the connection between pipeweed and tobacco from something I'd read, but where it came from escaped me.

So the other thing is -- if it IS just P.J. going for some Merry/Pippen - Cheech/Chong gags, why didn't he just go all the way and make the Longbottom Leaf look like something out of Amsterdam? I can't figure out the motivations behind the handling of the substance, but figure with all of the LOTR references from New World-weed culture (e.g., Zeppelin songs, that crazy "The Habit" poster with all of Tolkien's characters getting blazed, etc.) that it's being used as kind of an art-reflecting life-reflecting art kind of thing, where the weed references made in the filming of the series today would not have been as ambiguous as they were pre-"Misty Mountain Hop".

Oh well, just reading more into it than I should again, I guess.
Old 12-17-03, 05:00 PM
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Originally posted by caligulathegod
I thought they were drinking ale, too. That was why they were tipsy. I may be wrong.
Bingo! They were DRINKING. Not only were they drinking, they were elated. They got the Ents to go to war and defeat Saruman, not a small task.

The scene in The Two Towers EE does have definite marijuana connotations, but you can also claim that they're giggling because for the first time in weeks, they have real food and a taste of home. At heart, they're not heroes, they're just normal hobbits.

Take it how you will. I think Jackson put a little wink in there, but didn't intend it to be anything but a mild joke.
Old 12-17-03, 05:30 PM
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Originally posted by Suprmallet
Bingo! They were DRINKING. Not only were they drinking, they were elated. They got the Ents to go to war and defeat Saruman, not a small task.

The scene in The Two Towers EE does have definite marijuana connotations, but you can also claim that they're giggling because for the first time in weeks, they have real food and a taste of home. At heart, they're not heroes, they're just normal hobbits.

Take it how you will. I think Jackson put a little wink in there, but didn't intend it to be anything but a mild joke.

right, plus in the book both characters were realizing their potential and getting bolder. This leads up to a certain event at the end of the series.
Old 12-17-03, 08:21 PM
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I brought this up while I was reading LOTR after the release of FOTR. The answer I was given, by tor_greg I believe, was that [paraphrase]"No way J.R.R.T. would have written about that because he is a Catholic!"[/paraphrase] Right, Catholics never smoke dope...

To me, even with the reference in the introduction, it's painfully obvious that this is marijuana-like activity. As with most things Middle-Earth, you can't really make direct comparisons with real-life. The descriptions given by Tolkein himself allude to a plant that has the same effects of marijuana.

It basically comes down to how each individual interprets it. I think the fact that the text has to be analyzed to try to dispell the belief that pipe-weed is a reference to marijuana, is great evidence that it is. I don't see why it's so hard to accept. Does anyone really believe that marijuana is evil anymore? Does the government have that much control over your minds?
Old 12-18-03, 06:28 AM
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I'm sure Tolkien must've been on something to come up with this story
Old 12-18-03, 07:42 AM
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Does anyone really believe that marijuana is evil anymore? Does the government have that much control over your minds?
yes, clearly.
you should have seen the "news reports" here on the border, when Canada was first making big noise about lightening their prohibitions against weed.
there seemed to be a concentrated effort to trot out all the old cliches to make sure us Americans would not get any wrong ideas.

its amusing that characters that are clearly addicited to alcohol and the effects of intoxication are all right, but if there were any overt references to the use of marijuana in these films the hue and cry would have been thunderous.
Old 12-18-03, 07:48 AM
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Your love of the halflings leaf has clouded your mind...
that line is the most telling.
marijuana used to be, especially around the time JRRT was writing these stories, more milder a substance than it is commonly found to be today.
Draconian drug laws and insane levels of prohibition have contributed to the drug being 'engineered' to have a much higher potency than even back in the early 70's.

but then, we all know pot wasn't criminilized for its psychoactive effects, don't we?
Old 12-18-03, 09:30 AM
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All this talk of herb is getting me fidgety.
Old 12-18-03, 09:32 AM
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Originally posted by jim_cook87
The books make it pretty clear that it is just tobacco. In the prologue of LOTR it discusses "pipe-weed" as a variety of Nicotiana, which is the scientific name of the family of plants of which tobacco is a variety.
Exactly. It is tobacco. End of story. I can't believe how often this question comes up.
Old 12-18-03, 01:43 PM
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Originally posted by Jason
Your love of the halflings leaf has clouded your mind...
Exactly, we call it pakalolo others call it marijuana and in Middle-Earth it is called pipeweed.
Old 12-18-03, 01:47 PM
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Originally posted by Rivero
I'm sure Tolkien must've been on something to come up with this story
i'm guessing that him setting in the trenches of World War doesn't have anything to do with it
Old 12-18-03, 08:13 PM
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Originally posted by Morf
Exactly. It is tobacco. End of story. I can't believe how often this question comes up.
While this plant may be from the same family as the tobacco plant, I think we can all agree there is more going on here than a Camel Light. If you don't see the similarities between the pipe-weed and marijuana, you're just ignorning them. It's entirely possible that in Tolkein's fantasy world, marijuana is in the same plant family as tobacco.
Old 12-19-03, 10:14 AM
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Tolkien's fantasy world is still our world, just a fantasy time. Of course there are some fantastic creatures like Elves, orcs, Mumakils, etc., but a beech is still a beech, an oak is still an oak.
Old 12-19-03, 11:10 AM
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Originally posted by Bust
While this plant may be from the same family as the tobacco plant, I think we can all agree there is more going on here than a Camel Light. If you don't see the similarities between the pipe-weed and marijuana, you're just ignorning them. It's entirely possible that in Tolkein's fantasy world, marijuana is in the same plant family as tobacco.
First, as Caligula points out, Middle Earth is our Earth. It is before our recorded history, but it is our Earth none-the-less. So it is not possible for marijuana to be part of the Nicotiana family.

Second, Tolkien was very precise in detailing Middle Earth and went to great pains to ensure accuracy in animals, plants, and word choice throughout the books. Had he intended us to think that pipe-weed was marijuana he would have described it as being a plant of the Cannabaceae family.

Tolkien wholly intended pipe-weed to be a tobacco related plant.

But, as PJ decided to change the nature of Faramir's character, take liberties with Arwen, and eliminate many plot lines, I think he also chose to ignore the canon description of pipe-weed for the sake of some snickers...

But the books are canon and pipe-weed is not marijuana. (But it is funny considering the Hobbits and Gandalf stoned... )

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