A Tolkien Virgin: The Return of the King - Book VI - Chapter 8 - The Journey Continues

Book VI
Chapter 8
The Scouring of the Shire

I did not, said Frodo. But I might have guessed.  A little mischif in a mean way: Gandalf warned me that you were still capable of it."I did not," said Frodo. "But I might have guessed.  A little mischif in a mean way: Gandalf warned me that you were still capable of it."So they finally come to the Shire and sure enough there's a gate in their way. Things have taken a turn for the worse in their absence. Lotho with his Big Men have taken over the Shire, abusing the hobitfolk, and setting up a bunch of new rules to keep them in line. As Sam says, "no welcome, no beer, no smoke, and a lot of rules and orc-talk instead."

The next morning, a bunch of hobbits "arrest" Frodo and the others on their way to Hobbiton. But our four heros laugh them off and go on their way with the sherrifs tagging along. Eventually though, the sherrifs couldn't keep up and the four heros went along, breaking arrest as they went.

When they got to Bywater they found trees cut down, gardens untended, old homes burnt down or missing and ugly new houses built. And a bunch of ruffians. When Pippin has enough of their insults, he draws his sword and demands an apology. Merry and Sam join him, but noteably Frodo doesn't. This is the first we see of Frodo's pacifistic tendancies. Are we supposed to sympathize with Frodo in this? I can't tell, but I don't. I'm with Merry when he says, "You won't rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo." In fact, it isn't Frodo or Sam who suggest raising the Shire as I may have suspected at the begining, but Merry. And it's Merry with his horn from Rohan that first stirs things up.

Sam dashes off to get Farmer Cotton. Of course he must've been wanting to see Rosie, too. And, it wasn't until Rosie pointed it out that I missed the fact that this was the first time Sam "abandoned" Frodo since their adventure began.

Although at first Cotton talks to Frodo as if he is in charge, when it seems that fighting will be inevitable, Merry comes up with a plan and Frodo leaves him to it. After the first encounter, Cotton says, "You came back in the nick of time, Mr. Merry."

Worried for his gaffer, Sam goes off after him, meeting up with Frodo and Merry at Cotton's farm later. With the hints at romance between Sam and Rosie, I think it goes without saying that they'll end up married. I like that. Frodo and Bilbo on the other hand are bachelors to the end. That's kinda sad, wouldn't you say? To live all those years alone?

The next day, Pippin returns with hobbits from Tookland, and the Battle of Bywater takes place. The ruffians are routed, a number of hobbits killed. And then Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin head off to settle up with Lotho and Sharkey. All along the way they're met with more destruction and ruination, and the Party tree cut down at Bag End. Sam has words with Sandyman, but when they go inside to look for Lotho, he can't be found. We find out later that he's already been killed.

The showdown. I feel a little bit foolish for it, but I had no idea, no suspicion, that Sharkey was Saruman! Earlier when the ruffian leader expressed no worry over Saruman at Frodo's news, I suppose I just thought that these ruffians and their leader Sharkey were sent here by Saruman a good long while ago and with Saruman no longer around they would just keep on enjoying the good life in the Shire at the hobbits expense. Somehow I hadn't put two and two together that Sharkey had come recently to the Shire and Lotho hadn't been seen for a couple weeks etc.

Well, predictably, Frodo won't let Saruman be killed, even after Saruman attempts to knife Frodo on his way out. Although Frodo's pacifistic tendancies are somewhat irritating to me, I found it right that he should hope for Saruman's cure, or redemption, rather than meet revenge with revenge. Frodo's attitude here strikes me as significantly Christian, and at this point, I tend to agree with him. Perfaps not because it is such a Christian attitude, but perhaps because it seems a greater cruelty to let Saruman wallow in the misery of his fall than to grant him peace in death. But, I don't know, because I had a conflicting feeling a moment later when Wormtongue snaps and kills Saruman (and is then killed, himself). Saruman's spirit, or whatever that mist was, looks away West only to be blown away by a cold wind coming from the West. That short scene speaks volumes. How incredibly sad. I should feel like Saruman got his just deserts, but I'm struck by the finality of the image, the rejection of Saruman by the Valar he betrayed. Could his look toward the West indicate some sense of regret, some kind of admission of wrong-doing, a realization of the depth of his sin, his fall? It's satisfyingly not spelled out for us.

Understandably, it may seem to the hobbits that that was the very last stroke of the war, there on Bag End's doorstep. But I'd take Sam's closing comment a step further and say that I don't think there will ever be an end to the war since the evil of Sauron and Saruman, and before them Melkor, will go on without them.

But, in the end, I have to wonder: where the heck is Fatty?? The other conspirators are back in the Shire, they're cleaning things up, setting things right, why couldn't we have Fatty Bolger show up and play a bigger part?

till next time, keep thinking,

Mark-Edmond Howell
Kanazawa, Japan
far(out

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