304. Pipe Smoking in Middle Earth Drops Today!

“In the far South it is said that men drink smoke, and wizards I have heard do so. But always I had thought it was part of their incantations or a process aiding in the weaving of their deep thoughts.”
“My lord,” said Merry, “it is rest and pleasure and the crown of the feast.”
—The War of the Rings, 36-37I am pleased to announce the release later today of the new edition of Pipe Smoking in Middle Earth.  Per Andy Wike at SPC: “We’re releasing/featuring the PSME book this Thursday as part of our regular website update (so 9/29, around 3:30 pm ET).”

While PSME is a little book and perhaps doesn’t even justify the name at only a hundred pages, it’s still dear to my heart. C. S. Lewis taught me early on that we write the books we want to read, and that was certainly the case with this one. I could never fathom why there was nothing about pipes and tobaccos in The Lord of the Rings when so many from my generation began smoking a pipe precisely because of it, and apparently my generation isn’t alone in this. Steve Mawby (Customer Service Manager) and Andy Wike (Marketing Director) at Smokingpipes (both considerably younger than myself) have told me Tolkien was also a big factor in their own pipe pilgrimages.

Over the years as I read and reread LOTR, I only became more intrigued with the unobtrusive yet foundational nature of pipe smoking in Tolkien’s world. In 2006, when I opened the saga to read it again, several sheets of notebook paper fell out with handwritten notes for a concordance of every mention of this crucial subject. At the time, I was hopeful my nephew was taking up the pipe, so I prepared the concordance and wrote a few short essays to accompany it, placing everything in a chapbook.

Five years later in 2012, as my work life became more intolerable, my thoughts slipped back to the chapbook. The Peterson book was just beginning to take up my spare time and with the rise of self-publishing, I thought I’d revise the chapbook and give it a shot. I got my old friend Charles Mundungus to create some suitably primitive illustrations and waited to see if anyone else was interested in the subject. As it turns out, they were. In 2015, Tolkien Studies even ran a short review of it in one of their literature roundups:

“In Pipe Smoking in Middle Earth: The Fellowship of the Smoke Ring Mark Irwin gathers every reference he can find to pipes in Middle-earth, both in Tolkien’s novels and in Peter Jackson’s films (wisely separating the two). Accompanying two thorough concordances are several short essays on pipes, pipemen, leaf, and related subjects, along with a dozen drawings of the various pipes discussed. It is a short exploration of a niche subject, but Irwin manages some worthwhile observations.” *

After I became fully immersed in the Peterson book project, I never dreamed I’d come back to this one.  With about 500 copies being sold between 2012 and 2016, I thought it had probably reached its audience and I could let it go. As soon as I let it lapse, however, I began getting emails, sometimes two or three a month, asking me where a copy might be found, which surprised me.

When the 20th anniversary of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations came around last December I began to think about a thorough revision and rewrite, in part because I’d get been getting an email every three months or so from CPG John Coatney. When I heard shortly afterwards about Amazon’s five-season The Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power (which has been out for a few weeks now) I thought the time was right and set to work.**

Marie Irwin stepped in to do the layout and design chores, which was an immediate improvement over the original (like night and day). I’m convinced she could design a lawnmower manual and make it a NY Times bestseller. I also cajoled Charles Mundungus into creating some new illustrations as well as freshening up his originals.  Just as important, the concordances have been updated to include references to all six of Jackson’s films, as The Hobbit trilogy hadn’t yet been released when the last edition came out.

Most important to me, however, was the chance to take a fresh look at Tolkien’s own understanding of the role of pipes and tobaccos in his personal life as well as the world he created.  As I look back at my own life, his work is obviously one of the reasons I did my graduate studies in the interdiscipline of religion & literature, convincing me that there is a deep religious understanding in every great work of literature.  While enthusiasts of LOTR often dismiss the “niche” importance of pipe smoking, I believe pipes and tobacco are actually as crucial to his self-understanding as his passions for illustration, ecology and Marian devotion.

Like the blog and the Peterson book, it’s in hopes of sharing what I’ve learned with others that I launch this little book out in the world yet again. If you’ve loved the books, the films or both, I think you’ll find something here to pass a few evenings with your favorite pipe.

Pipe Smoking in Middle Earth: The Fellowship of the Smoke Ring, by Mark Irwin. With illustrations by Chas. Mundungus. Layout & Design, Marie Irwin. 3rd edition, July 2022. Xiii+87pp. $16.95, Smokingpipes.com.

The book is available exclusively at SPC. If you know fans of Middle Earth who are also pipe smokers, do let them know the book is out as it will only be available there.

Nai aistalë Eldaron hilya le!
“May the blessing of the Elves go with you!”



* Tolkien Studies, Volume 12, 2015, pp. 199-247.

** Michael Drout’s guest editorial at the NYTimes on the new Amazon series is required reading for serious fans of the book.



An Early Republic 307 Rustic System, c. 1965, atop the original 1965 Ace edition covers
of LOTR used on the earliest Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperback Authorized issue.


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