ScienceShot: Why Hobbits Always Win

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug/Mark Pokomy/Warner Bros. Pictures

ScienceShot: Why Hobbits Always Win

Ever wonder how a hobbit and his small band of allies were able to defeat armies of goblins and trolls in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Vitamin D. That’s the conclusion of a study published today in The Medical Journal of Australia, which proposes that good always triumphs in fantasy literature because villains are sun-deprived and eat poorly. Important for calcium and phosphate intake, vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin with adequate exposure to ultraviolet light and is also found in certain foods such as cheese, egg yolk, and oily fish. Deficiencies in vitamin D—as might be caused by living in dark caves and dieting on human victims—have been associated with skeletal muscle weakness, which might undermine battle prowess. To test their hypothesis, the researchers studied the cast of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Each character was ranked on their level of vitamin D intake (on a scale of zero to four, based on reported diet and sun exposure), which was compared with their morality (good versus evil) and situation at the end of the novel (victorious or defeated.) Good guy Bilbo Baggins (above), for example, is described as enjoying pipe-smoking in his sunny garden and having a remarkably varied diet—having once offered visiting dwarves “cake, tea, seed cake, ale, porter, red wine, raspberry jam, mince pies, cheese, pork pie, salad, cold chicken, pickles and apple tart,” according to the researchers. This lifestyle, earning a vitamin D ranking of four, may have paid off [SPOILER ALERT]—with the book’s conclusion seeing Bilbo victorious. In contrast, the light-averse and ultimately bested antagonists (such as Gollum and Smaug) all received significantly lower vitamin D scores (by 3.2 points, on average) than the good guys. While these preliminary results support the initial hypothesis, the researchers concede that further work is needed to see if this holds true for the wider Tolkien and fantasy corpora, wryly commenting that “intervention studies may need to be imagined.”

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