Was the Shire meant to be England?
From: The Tolkien FAQ by William D.B. Loos
In this case, the balance between "actually *was*" and "was based upon" is entirely tipped towards the latter. There is no hint that the Shire was in any sense supposed the be the country now called England in an ancient state. On the other hand, there is plainly a very strong resemblance between the Shire and the rural England of about a century ago.
More precisely, the Shire plainly could not *be* England in any literal sense: England is an island, and even changes in "the shape of all lands" (FR, 11) is insufficient to explain such a discrepancy (especially since even the westernmost part of the Shire was some 200 miles from the Sea). Nevertheless, the Shire was more exactly based on England than any other part of Middle-earth was based on any part of our world: the climate, place-names, flora and fauna, terrain, food, customs, and the inhabitants themselves, were all English. In effect the Shire was an idealized version of the rural England of Tolkien's childhood. Some of his comments on the matter were:
Letters, 230 (#178)
Letters, 250 (#190)
Letters, 235 (#181)
Finally, great care must be taken not to confound the idea of the Shire's having been based on England with a concept found in Tolkien's earliest writings, that Tol Eressea (Elvenhome) eventually *became* England. This appeared during his early work on the Book of Lost Tales (which eventually evolved into the Silm). Very probably it had been supplanted even before he stopped work on the Lost Tales (1920) (BoLT I, 22-27). In any case, it had long since been abandoned by the time LoTR was begun in 1937, and plays no part in the 'history' of Middle-earth as presented in LotR, Silm, "The Hobbit", etc.
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