Hobbits are a fictional race from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth universe which first appears in the book The Hobbit. They also play a major role in The Lord of the Rings. Hobbits are described as about a yard tall, with furry feet, and fond of an unadventurous bucolic life of farming, eating, and socializing. Hobbits also liked to drink ale in inns, not unlike the English countryfolk, who were Tolkien's inspiration. We can also see that in the name Tolkien chose for the part of Middle-earth where the hobbits live: "The Shire" is clearly reminiscent of the English county names (e.g., Lancashire, Shropshire - see English Shire).
Hobbits were also called "Halflings" (in Sindarin, perian for singular and periannath for collective) due to their small stature. Hobbits were not offended when they were called so, however they called themselves simply "hobbits". Tolkien's etymology for the latter name is interesting as well: obviously constructed without prior intent, it would have been natural for him to connect it to the German prefix "hob" meaning "small" (e.g. "hobgoblin"). However this prefix dates back "only" to the 13th century, too late by Tolkien's standards, and so he constructed an alternative etymology, from Old English hol-bytla, "hole-dweller". When later he began to work out the language relations further, Hobbit was to be derived from the Rohirric (actually Anglo-Saxon) Holbytlan (hole builders). In the original Westron, the name was Kuduk (Hobbit), derived from the actual Rohirric kūd-dūkan (hole dweller).
According to Tolkien, the word 'hobbit' was the first element of the Hobbit that he created. As a university lecturer, so the story goes, he was in the process of correcting reports when he started scribbling on a piece of paper and wrote, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," and the multitude of stories sprang from that.
Some well-known hobbits:
Some time near the beginning of the Third Age, they undertook, for reasons unknown, but possibly having to do with Mordor's power, the arduous task of crossing the Misty Mountains. Some of the Stoors, however, stayed behind, and it is from these people that Gollum would come many years later. The Hobbits took different routes in their journey westward, but eventually came to a land between the River Baranduin (which they renamed Brandywine) and the Weather Hills. There they founded many settlements, and the divisions between the Hobbit-kinds began to blur.
Around the year 1600 of the Third Age, two Fallohide brothers decided, again for reasons unknown, to cross the River Brandywine and settle on the other side. Large numbers of Hobbits followed them, and most of their former territory was depopulated. Only Bree and a few surrounding villages lasted to the end of the Third Age. The new land that they found on the west bank of the Brandywine is called the Shire.
A map of the Shire and surrounding regions may be found at Eriador.
Hobbit is a trademark owned by the Tolkien estate as well as most of the names, places and artifacts included in books by J. R. R. Tolkien. For this reason Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy tends to refer to Hobbits and Hobbit-like races rather as Halflings.