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Frodo had retired for a while and left his friend Merry Brandybuck to keep an eye on things.

(The Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter 1, "A Long-expected Party")

According to Appendix C of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo was born in 1368 of the Shire Reckoning, and Merry in 1382. That would make Frodo 33 (just come of age) and Merry 19 at the time of Bilbo's Long-Expected Party in 1401.

But 19 (for hobbits) isn't as old as it seems. They recognized a period of pre-adulthood they called the tweens: "the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three" (Book I, Chapter 1, "A Long-expected Party"). This period occupies roughly the last third of pre-adulthood. In a similar way, "the teens" for normal humans comes after childhood proper, and occupies roughly the last third of pre-adulthood before "coming of age" at 21.

It seems, then, that "the twenties" or "the tweens" for hobbits seems to function socially like "the teens" for humans. In particular, prior to this period hobbits seem to be regarded as children.

To emphasize by repetition: Frodo is the hobbit equivalent of a twenty-one-year-old. Merry is the hobbit equivalent of a twelve-year-old. It seems odd that the two would consider each other friends, as they obviously do. It seems even more strange that Frodo would have Merry relieve him.

Did Tolkien comment on the authorial decision to allow this (other than as a means of introducing Merry as a responsible hobbit, of course)?

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    Frodo, like Bilbo before him, gets along better with his younger relatives than anyone his own age. And there are some 12- or 13-year-olds that I would trust to see guests on and off a property... and many that I wouldn't. (Not an answer, as I don't have the sought-after authorial comment, but just some relevant thoughts.) – Tim Pederick Feb 13 '17 at 7:35
  • @TimPederick He appears to, given that the only relationships we see him develop in the book are with people younger than himself - but we're not told this, as we are for Bilbo. – Matt Gutting Feb 13 '17 at 15:02
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Frodo didn't have Merry oversee the whole distribution of the gifts that Bilbo had left for family and friends. He was there for most of it.

Frodo was waiting on the step, smiling, but looking rather tired and worried. He welcomed all the callers, but he had not much more to say than before. His reply to all inquiries was simply this: ‘Mr. Bilbo Baggins has gone away; as far as I know, for good.’ Some of the visitors he invited to come inside, as Bilbo had left ‘messages’ for them.

Inside in the hall there was piled a large assortment of packages and parcels and small articles of furniture. On every item there was a label tied. There were several labels of this sort:

For ADELARD TOOK, for his VERY OWN, from Bilbo; on an umbrella. Adelard had carried off many unlabelled ones.

(and so on)

The Lord of the Rings: Book 1, Chapter 1, A Long-expected Party

We are told that hobbits are regarded as "irresponsible" in the period between childhood and coming of age at 33, but their rate of development may not match ours. A hobbit's level of responsibility can't necessarily be compared to a human's in mathematical fashion (hobbit 33 = human 21, hobbit 22 = human 14, etc.).

In the scene described in the question, it seems that Frodo retired at some point during the proceedings, and asked to Merry to "keep an eye on things". It is true that Merry was young for a hobbit, but you have to consider that Frodo himself had only just come of age, so it is unlikely that he considered himself very much more mature than Merry.

You also have to consider that, as far as we know, there wasn't anyone else available to give Frodo a break. I expect that an older hobbit would raise his eyebrows (at least) if ordered around by a "tween" (even one who is acting for the owner of the home), but we can assume that Merry was precocious. In fact, the book doesn't report that he had to do that. He politely replies to a question from Otho and is ordered to go to find Frodo.

In the middle of the commotion the Sackville-Bagginses arrived. Frodo had retired for a while and left his friend Merry Brandybuck to keep an eye on things. When Otho loudly demanded to see Frodo, Merry bowed politely.

‘He is indisposed,’ he said. ‘He is resting.’

‘Hiding, you mean,’ said Lobelia. ‘Anyway we want to see him and we mean to see him. Just go and tell him so!’

Merry left them a long while in the hall, and they had time to discover their parting gift of spoons. It did not improve their tempers. Eventually they were shown into the study.

The Lord of the Rings: Book 1, Chapter 1, A Long-expected Party

That is the only recorded interaction with the older hobbits, although he later helps Frodo to evict some younger hobbits.

Then they went round the hole, and evicted three young hobbits (two Boffins and a Bolger) who were knocking holes in the walls of one of the cellars. Frodo also had a tussle with young Sancho Proudfoot (old Odo Proudfoot’s grandson),

The Lord of the Rings: Book 1, Chapter 1, A Long-expected Party

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  • I understand Merry wasn't in charge of things - for very long at least. But even after Frodo had seen Lobelia out, he still has Merry help him with, for example, evicting Sancho Proudfoot from the premises. And to take the analogy of human ages, even as a twenty-one-year-old, I would have considered myself far more mature than a twelve-year-old. – Matt Gutting Feb 13 '17 at 4:35
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    @MattGutting Hobbits weren't retarded. A 19 year old hobbit didn't behave like a 12 year old human. It was just a social norm that "adulthood" (whatever that means) started at 33. – isanae Feb 13 '17 at 7:36
  • @isanae Do you have evidence to back that up? Tolkien seems to say in the quote I give above that childhood extends until age 20 or so. – Matt Gutting Feb 13 '17 at 11:14
  • @MattGutting No real evidence except for Merry's behaviour in A Long-Expected Party, which does not strike me as being childish, and the general impression that the coming of age at 33 is more of a social construct than a commentary on intelligence and maturity. But I understand this is the crux of you question. – isanae Feb 13 '17 at 11:42
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    Fair enough. I'll let this ride for a while, but you've got a sound answer here. (I'm not sure you've entirely convinced me, but that's not because of the quality of your answer.) Thanks! – Matt Gutting Feb 13 '17 at 15:50
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Once upon a time I read an old magazine that had reminisces from old timers. One old person wrote that when he was a child he and his brother, both young children, were sent to drive a wagon on a long trip to town for some business. They met a cavalry patrol and were told a war party of hostile Indians was in the area.

I also remember reading something where General Sheridan, in command on the plains, complained about the careless way the western settlers would let their women and children make dangerous trips unprotected.

Around 1855, Isaac Stevens, territorial governor of Washington, sent his thirteen year old son Hazard Stevens (1842-1918) on a long ride with an important message, a ride compared to the famous ride of "Portugee" Philips in 1866.

You may have heard about Madeline de Vercheres (1678-1747) left in command of her parents settlement and fort at the age of 14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_de_Verch%C3%A8res[1]

You may remember that in the age of sail it was common for British naval officers to begin their careers as apprentice officers at the age of 12 to 14, and had some degree of authority. Sir John Theophilius Lee began his naval career at the age of nine, and was ten years old at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. After the battle he as sent with a ship's boat to try to retrieve floating masts and spars and thus had his first command at the age of 10.

In the US Navy Admiral David Farragut (1801-1870) became a midshipman at the age of 9 and had his first command at the age of 12 when in command of sailing a captured British merchant ship to port, and was later wounded and captured at the age of 13.

According to Cassius Dio Roman history LXXII

Marcus Antonius remained in Pannonia in order to give audience to the embassies of the barbarians; for many came to him at this time also. Some of them under the leadership of Battarius, a boy twelve years old, promised an alliance; these received a gift of money and succeeded in restraining Tarbus, a neighboring chieftain, who had come into Dacia and demanding money and threatening to make war if he should fail to get it.

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/72*.html[2]

So if Merry was the equivalent of a human 12-year-old, so what? There are plenty of examples of human 12-year-old children being entrusted with much more important duties than watching the house while Frodo took a nap.

PS - I have heard of a practice called babysitting, in which teenagers or even younger children are hired to watch, and if necessary, protect younger children.

PPS - I remember when I was a child walking to elementary school the intersections near the school had crossing guards to help the children cross the streets safely, and those crossing guards were older elementary school children.

So those are more or less contemporary examples of children being given more important tasks than watching Bag End while Frodo took a nap.

PPPS - Of Frodo's four upper class friends mentioned in "The Shadow of the Past" Folco boffin was born in SR (Shire Reckoning) 1378, Fredegar Bolgar was born in SR 1380, Meriadoc Brandybuck was born in SR 1382, and Peregrin Took was born in SR 1390, and Frodo's gardener Samwise Gamgee was born in SR 1380. The Farewell Party was in SR 1401.

So Merry was the youngest of Frodo's friends except for Pippin, and was probably chosen to watch the house because he happened to be around when Frodo wanted to take a nap.

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