Dec 27 2010 11:09am

LotR re-read: Return of the King VI.8, “The Scouring of the Shire”

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien In the Lord of the Rings re-read, we have reached the penultimate chapter, “The Scouring of the Shire.” (But not the penultimate post; there will be at least one about the Appendices, one about the third movie, and one wrapping things up.) The usual spoilers and comments follow after the jump.

What Happens

The four hobbits come to the Brandywine Bridge and are told by the hobbits guarding it that they are not allowed to admit anyone at night. Merry and Pippin climb over and find Bill Ferny, who unlocks the gate after Merry threatens him and flees with a farewell kick from Bill the pony.

The next evening, a band of Shirriffs purport to arrest them. The travelers suffer their company for a time the next day, but eventually leave the Shirriffs behind on foot. They come to Bywater and are confronted by human ruffians. Pippin, backed by Merry and Sam, draws his sword on their leader after Frodo defies him. The humans leave to get backup.

The travelers raise the Shire: Merry blows the horn of Rohan, Sam goes to Tom Cotton’s farm (speaking briefly with Rosie), and Pippin goes to Tuckborough. Acting on a plan of Merry’s, the hobbits kill one human who attacks them and take prisoner another twenty-odd who surrender. During the night, they lay plans and hear from Farmer Cotton of how Lotho made himself Chief, backed by the ruffians, and how Sharkey came about a month ago and took control, running things in a wantonly destructive manner that has now progressed to killing.

In the morning, about a hundred Tooks arrive ahead of about the same number of ruffians. This time almost all the humans fight, and most are killed in the ensuing battle (again conducted by Merry), along with nineteen hobbits. Afterward, the travelers go to Bag End looking for Lotho, but find it filthy and empty.

As they are about to leave, they are greeted by Saruman, a.k.a. Sharkey, who tells them that he decided to beat them to the Shire and wreck their home just as his was wrecked. Frodo orders him to leave. Saruman attempts to stab Frodo, but his knife snaps on the mithril coat. Frodo still refuses to allow Saruman’s death, out of respect for his past greatness and hope that he will find a cure. Saruman abuses Wormtongue, telling everyone present that Wormtongue killed Lotho (on Saruman’s orders). Wormtongue snaps and cuts Saruman’s throat; he is immediately shot dead by hobbits. A figure of mist forms above Saruman’s body, looking to the West, but a cold west wind dissolves it, bringing the War to an end.


This is a very full chapter, but the thing that interested me most about it is the amount of characterization we get for the four hobbits. We haven’t had this much focus on the four of them for a very long time.

Of all of them, I think Merry may have changed the least. He was previously shown to be insightful and a thorough planner; obviously he has now expanded his areas of competence (probably during the months in Minas Tirith), but he’s still the one planning and directing almost everything. And working hard individually, too; before the battle he’s said to have been out all night, and of course he is the one who kills the leader of the ruffians, “a great squint-eyed brute like a huge orc.”

But Merry hasn’t turned dictatorial, and still listens to Frodo. Indeed one of the things I found surprisingly touching about this chapter is the way that Frodo is not only still fairly active and assertive, but so clearly esteemed by his friends. It’s less obvious with Merry, as he’s closer in age than Pippin is to Frodo (Sam is a couple years older than Merry, but they aren’t from the same class) and they always felt more like peers to me. But it’s the ruffian’s insult to Frodo that causes Pippin to draw his sword (“His thoughts went back to the Field of Cormallen, and here was a squint-eyed rascal calling the Ring-bearer ‘little cock-a-whoop.’”), and of course Sam still sees Frodo as the leader and describes him as such to Robin Smallburrow and Farmer Cotton. And while Frodo doesn’t fight or direct the fighting, he is very clear on what he wants: as little killing as possible, and mercy for Saruman and Lotho. He doesn’t get all of it, but not for lack of trying or being listened to.

Pippin is still more light-hearted than the rest, it seems to me. When they leave the Shirriffs behind, he’s the one with a comment that strike me as at least half-humorous:

‘You’re breaking arrest, that’s what you’re doing,’ said the leader ruefully, ‘and I can’t be answerable.’

‘We shall break a good many things yet, and not ask you to answer,’ said Pippin. ‘Good luck to you!’

But otherwise I think Pippin may have changed the most, what with the demanding respect for Frodo at swordpoint and the leading the Tooks and the fighting and all. It’s quite satisfying to see.

Sam remains pragmatic (he says at least twice that he can tell that there’s work ahead) but has added assertiveness. He was never completely shy—see his conversation with Ted Sandyman in “The Shadow of the Past”—but I’d be surprised if he would have talked back to the Shirriff-leader before this journey, for instance.

(By the way, “Shirriff” is an incredibly annoying word to type.)

While we’re talking about hobbit characterization, I feel I ought to say something about Rosie, as this chapter has her first and, I think, only lines. Drawing on three paragraphs of dialogue, I infer that she: (1) is an optimist, because she didn’t believe Sam was dead; (2) has an admirable ability to focus on what’s actually important (“If you’ve been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d’you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?”); and (3) has enough perception and kindness see that Sam is discombobulated by that comment and to reassure him with a compliment and expression of concern. Which is more than some characters get, certainly.

* * *

A couple of recurring things I noticed about this chapter. First, this may just be logistics, but it seems like people are blowing horns at every turn in this chapter. I’d remembered Merry’s, of course, but there are far more than that. I count eight, blown by: (1) someone on the other side of the gate at the Brandywine Bridge, when they first arrive; (2) someone guarding that gate, after Merry and Pippin climb over; (3) the ruffians scared off by Pippin in Bywater; (4) Merry, when they decide to raise the Shire; (5) Merry again, when Pippin leaves to get the Tooks; (6) Merry again, during the battle, when some of the humans break out; (7) Ted Sandyman, when he sees the travelers’ escort and (8) Merry in response. This is not actually more than all the rest of the book put together, but it does seem to be a pretty high concentration, and spread out over a number of people (not like Boromir, or Helm’s Deep). Again, this may be just logistics, the easiest way to communicate, or I may only have noticed it because I remember the horn of Rohan, but I went to the trouble of counting them so I might as well note it here.

Second, on the continuing theme of inns, the travelers are repeatedly thwarted in their hopes of going to inns at the opening of this chapter. At the Brandywine, Merry points out that the Bridge Inn has been pulled down. Frodo asks the Shirriffs to escort them to The Floating Log, but that’s closed too. And then Sam finds out from Robin that, in fact, all the inns are closed, by order of Lotho. This happens pretty early in the chapter, and it’s not a major part, but since inns were such a big part of the Shire’s life before we left, I think it’s a telling detail. (And one that requires we hear of re-opened inns in the next chapter. I remember comments about beer, so I think that’s a safe bet.)

* * *

Some logistical stuff. They’re quasi-arrested on November 1st; Sharkey showed up at the end of September. In prior comments, Jerry Friedman had commented about the strangeness of the delay in getting home here, and I have to agree that the purpose seems to be allowing Saruman to get entrenched. As Robin, the Shirriff friend of Sam’s, says, “If we all got angry together something might be done.” Lotho alone, or even a little Saruman, wasn’t going to get ordinary hobbits angry enough to justify taking up arms. And the confrontation with Saruman was clearly a necessary part of the story, meaning that dislodging his followers would also be required, and that would be a lot harder if the Shire hadn’t been roused.

(We’re not told why Lotho was killed; his mother was arrested after Sharkey arrived, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that he protested and was killed as a result, but the timing on that isn’t explicit.)

This chapter also demonstrated to me that I have absolutely no feel for the size of the Shire’s population. Robin tells Sam that there’s “hundreds of Shirriffs,” and Pippin brings a hundred Tooks, which are those the Thain can spare from running down other brigands. The significance of those numbers, as proportions of the Shire? No idea.

On the other side, we’re told that the ruffians “seemed to have no leader among them who understood warfare.” I imagine that Saruman’s truly competent minions would have been at Isengard, that he wouldn’t have wasted those people on transporting goods and intimidating mere hobbits. As such, they wouldn’t particularly need to understand warfare on this scale, though you’d still think that the idea of scouting ahead in hostile territory would be self-evident. On the other hand, arrogance is dangerous stuff.

* * *

Also dangerous is greed, which is in typical Tolkien fashion is the source of Lotho’s downfall. As Farmer Cotton put it,

Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about. It soon came out that he already did own a sight more than was good for him; and he was always grabbing more . . .

More than was good for him, indeed. He doesn’t seem to have lost control for quite a while, though, as it was in early January that they arrested the Mayor, and it seems to have been Saruman’s arrival that really dislodged his control.

Because the Foreword to the Second Edition specifically mentions the mill, it’s worth noting the difference between Lotho and Saruman’s changes. The Foreword says that the Scouring “does not” have

any allegorical significance or contemporary political reference whatsoever. It has indeed some basis in experience, though slender (for the economic situation was entirely different), and much further back. The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten . . . . Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important. I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.

Lotho’s new mill is “outlandish,” but appears to be at worst unnecessary, as there isn’t enough corn to justify a bigger mill. Saruman doesn’t bother to pretend to use it as a mill, just using it to generate noise, air, and water pollution. Neither of which is, itself, an argument against industrialization, merely stupidity and malice.

Which brings us to Saruman. Still dripping contempt for the hobbits getting above themselves (“riding along with all those great people . . . (and) dangling after” Gandalf), still rolling in schadenfreude—I’d say it’s his only pleasure now, but I think it’s no longer schadenfreude if you’re actively causing the misfortunes of others that you’re reveling in? But he’s been too far consumed by his contempt and spite and it leads to his death. I’m sure he always disdained Wormtongue, but he would have previously hid it a lot better. Now he’s completed his descent into treating Wormtongue as subhuman: he calls him “Worm” and kicks him in the face while he’s cowering, whimpering, and groveling on the ground—after he’s come out “crawling, almost like a dog.” And Saruman reaps the consequences: Wormtongue “snarl(s) like a dog” when he cuts Saruman’s throat.

Also, Saruman’s attempt to stab Frodo is far beneath him, crude violence from a master of subtlety and indirection. He retains enough intelligence to recognize that he has not dragged Frodo down to his level and that his revenge is as a result no longer sweet, but otherwise he is far more diminished than I’d previously understood. Which is reflected in the events after his death: a shape of mist forms over his corpse and looks forward the West, but is “dissolved into nothing” by a cold wind from that direction. Of course, this is a pale cousin to Sauron’s demise, which resulted in a “huge shape of shadow” that was “blown away” by “a great wind.” In addition, knowing what we do from Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion, we can infer that Saruman has been denied a return to Valinor. In another book I’d also think that the line about “dissolved into nothing” suggests a destruction of Saruman’s spirit or soul, but not here. Gandalf says, in “The Last Debate,” that the destruction of the Ring would turn Sauron into “a mere spirit of malice,” and a worse fate for Saruman seems unlikely, besides my doubt that such things are even possible in Tolkien’s cosmology.

Last chapter proper next time, somewhat to my bemusement (we’re really almost done!).

« Return of the King VI.7 | Index

Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
Possibly my favorite chapter in the entire book. There's a feel of justice and rightness on a more human scale than we've been dealing with that probably makes it all so satisfying.

Thinking about it, Saruman's death was very likely a necessity. Given that he was of the same order as Sauron, had he lived he would have had the potential to be just as troublesome someday.

Horns seem to have been a fairly common form of warning and emergency communication in the Shire. Consider the horn of Buckland way back in Book I.

Despite Tolkien's protests, I would say this chapter contains quite abit of social commentary. We have greed and the idea of change for the sake of change; Robin's comment about how something could be done if all the hobbits got angry together; I would even say that Rosie's characterization is supposed to reflect the hard-headed practicality of British womanhood. And, of course, we see how the travelers, especially the younger three, come back greatly changed. This undoubtedly also connects to Tolkien's war experience.
2. pilgrimsoul
Merry should have just gone ahead and stuffed his (pipeweed) pouch down Saruman's throat--better than smoking the stuff.
3. Neville Park
Yes, this is my favourite chapter too. Throughout the books the Shire has been this innocent homely little paradise, and it's only now that Shit Gets Real. The shift into the Fourth Age looks very different for the Shire than it does for, say, Gondor or Lorien, but it happens nevertheless, and Saruman's industrialization is just the most obvious manifestation.
Bill Reamy
4. BillinHI
Definitely agree with DemetriosX @ 1: This is also one of my favorite chapters and for the same reasons. While the last chapter is quite a fitting end to the tale, it is very sad in many ways.

I do wish Peter Jackson could have included the scouring in the last movie, though. It was a bit jarring to have the hobbits return home and find everything the same as it was when they left. Maybe he actually shot those scenes and they'll be on the Blu-ray extended edition? Does anybody know when that will be coming out? I got suckered in on the DVDs and bought both the theatrical releases and the extended editions, but I don't intend to do that for the Blu-ray versions.
5. Doug M.
This is probably my /least/ favorite chapter. Let me try to articulate why.

Yes, there's some wonderful stuff in here -- most particularly the death of Saruman, which is both dramatic and appropriate. And some returns to recurring themes. Kate mentions the horns. Here's another one: trees may be good or bad, but bad guys always hate trees. Cutting trees down wantonly is, in Tolkein's universe, one of the most certain indicia of capital-E Evil.

But the whole "modernity = Evil!" thing, which has been a subtext all through the trilogy, suddenly becomes foretext here. And IMO that's a grave mistake. It's one thing to have a continuing theme of "the world is gradually becoming less magical, numinous wonder giving way to mechanism and grubby mundanity". It's another thing entirely to rub "machinery is bad! only Evil uses it!" in the reader's face.

There's also the whole Menace of Socialism thing. Kate doesn't mention it, but the Shirriffs spend much of their time "gathering and sharing" -- except that of course all is gathered and nothing is shared. Obviously a regime run by Lotho and Saruman is going to exploit and rob the hobbits, but there are dozen different ways this could be characterized. ("Taxes for your own protection!") The 'gathering and sharing' thing really comes across as a dig at redistribution of wealth. Tolkein's politics were sui generis -- he referred to himself as "either an anarchist, or an unconstitutional Monarchist" -- but he thoroughly disliked the postwar Labour government. (Another conservative Catholic writer, Evelyn Waugh, referred to the late 1940s as "the Attlee Terror".)

Yes, Tolkein insisted that this chapter wasn't about postwar Britain. Honest! And he may even have sincerely believed it. But it doesn't read that way.

Finally, while the death of Saruman is very fine, his attempt to stab Frodo is idiotic at every level. What if he'd succeeded? The hobbits would promptly have killed him. An orc wouldn't be that stupid. And the sudden descent into hand-to-hand violence simply doesn't fit the character -- not even the "diminished" version of him that we see here.

Finally, there's something about the chapter title that just grates on me. "The Scouring of the Shire". Scour is a nasty verb -- it's what you do with steel wool to a greasy pan. It implies work and roughness on the part of the actor, filth and contamination on the part of the subject. Even granting that Tolkein lived decades before the unhappy neologism "ethnic cleansing" took hold, it's still a pretty unpleasant term to use. It's a verb that smacks less of Beowulf than of Goebbels.

Just to be clear: the hobbits having to come home and confront Saruman in the Shire -- that I'm fine with. The hobbits having to make do without Gandalf, Aragorn, or anyone taller than themselves? That's great too. It's not what Tolkein does in this chapter that's annoying, but how he does it.

Doug M.
James Goetsch
6. Jedikalos
I never liked this part. I remember feeling when I read it the first time that they had all suffered enough it should be over damnit! I still feel like that every time I re-read it, and I was glad the movie left it out.
7. pilgrimsoul
Maybe the gathering and not sharing and the lack of fuel and food is a heartfelt reaction to postwar shortages and endless rationing. And lots of folks shared the frustration. I don't think it has anything to do with actual politics or economics though.
8. Michael S. Schiffer
This is sort of a side-note, but the use of "humans" to contrast with "hobbits" in this piece strikes me oddly. I'm not sure that Tolkien would have characterized hobbits as nonhuman-- my impression is that he considered them a subvariety within the same species.

(For that matter, even Elves are arguably the same species, as witness multiple successful fertile crossings. Differences like ears and beardlessness aren't much more dramatic than racial differences within H. sapiens, and the immortality is pretty clearly a spiritual rather than biological difference.)

I understand the reasons for avoiding a collective like "Men" as a general rule. In this case, though, I think the ruffians are all actually men.

It's a minor (and likely discardable) point regarding an excellent writeup. I'm just struck at how alienating a humans/hobbits distinction sounds to my ear as compared to the terms Tolkien used. (Was it mostly "big folk" and "ruffians" in addition to "Men", as my recollection suggests?)
Kelly McCullough
9. KellyMcCullough
This has always been one of my favorite chapters as well, and in years when I haven't had the time to reread the entire trilogy I have occasionally reread just this chapter. I think it's mostly the issue of scale and the return to the Shire which is a place I have loved my whole life, since I don't remember a time before they entered my consciousness when my mother started reading them to me.
10. Dr. Thanatos
a very satisfying chapter.

The hobbitses clearly have a perspective on things. After the Pellenor Fields and the Morannon, they view Sharkey's thugs as a joke---meeting them with humor before swords. I like how Frodo assumes the role of moral and spiritual leader and how his friends attend to the military aspects without letting it go to their heads.

Saruman's attempted stabbing of Frodo shows how low he has fallen...resorting to bladework. Hardly better than his Orcs. Perhaps deserving of the name Uruk-Guy?

In any case, he must meet this fate as the last supernatural bad guy on stage; he can't be left or he will be the nidus around which future evil crystallizes, and makes it impossible for Men to take over. The image of his spirit looking to the West and being dissipated by a cold wind is haunting. The last active move of the Valar in the history of Middle-Earth?

Saruman has clearly lost the privilege of being called Wizard. He is no better than a Lizard...

I'll have more thoughts when back from vacation; hard to think while freezing in Florida.

Regards to all, and happy whatever holiday you like!
11. Jerry Friedman
Thanks for remembering that comment, Kate!

Pippin does well in this chapter, but Merry wins again, slaying the leader of the ruffians. I guess evening out the martial feats might be part of the "pornography of war".

Since nobody noticed (ahem) that I pointed out that Frodo's curse on Gollum worked, I won't bother to point out that Gandalf's curse on Wormtongue worked: "Down, snake!... Down you your belly!" (from "The King of the Golden Hall"). I hadn't noticed all the dog imagery, though.

jmeltzer said in the last chapter that the copyeditor should have asked, "Who is Lotho?" I totally agree. How the HECK does Frodo guess that "the Chief" is Mr. Lotho?

And I'd like to know more about how he became "the Chief". Mere money from trading with Saruman surely wouldn't do it. Did some Men show up with orders to help him, and did he then force Will Whitfoot to name him Chief Shirriff or something?
12. EmmaPease
Mere money no, but Lotho used it to buy land (and at least one mill) whose tenants at least would be reluctant to oppose their landlord. He and his men also lopped off or isolated those who might be unifying leaders. Will Whitfoot was one of the first arrested. The Buckland was outside the Shire at this time, so the Master was unlikely to interfere (and might be dealing with dark things that were also frightening Bree). The Thain was beseiged in Tookland. Fatty Bolger who had been leading a small resistance had been captured (there may had been other groups but they hadn't united or raised the Shire in open rebellion). I do wonder what Farmer Maggot did.
Wesley Parish
13. Aladdin_Sane
I think Sharkey's killing of tho was done primarily for the following reasons:

he was a prominent hobbit, although neither trusted nor admired by his peers in the Shire (much like quislings throughout history, I'm afraid) and as such, he was a potential threat to Sharkey;

he controlled some aspects of the Shire that were at that time, beyond Sharkey's personal control, and Sharkey wanted those potential loopholes plugged;

and he was a relative of the one hobbit who had brought down Sharkey's bid at a personal empire controlling a minor portion of what was to have been Sauron's - you remember the Voice of Sauron at the Black Gates? That gave the agreement between Sauron and Saruman as it was, revised for the benefit of the Mouth - Saruman's little empire was to be the West of the Anduin.

Saruman's shrunk, much as Sauron has too - Sauron originally intended to drag even the Noldor and the Dwarves into subservience, and by the time of the War of the Ring, he's degenerated into beating the last remnants of the kingdom of Gondor into the dust; Saruman originally intended to bring the entire West of the Anduin under his control, and he's degenerated into being a petty gangster with a non-productive terror regime instead of a state.
Nancy Lebovitz
14. NancyLebovitz
The Scouring seems off-key to me because Sharky's regime is so much more modern than anything else in the book. He's not just using socialist rhetoric, he's imposing a sort of bureaucracy not seen elsewhere. Did he spend his time when he travelled to the Shire inventing the idea of petty regulations?

Any ideas about what would have happened if Saruman had repented? Would that have been feasible in the story?
David Levinson
15. DemetriosX
Lotho wasn't really the complete unknown everyone seems to be assuming. He did get mentioned in the early chapters, though usually as an adjunct to his mother. He's there riding on her coattails at the birthday party and when Lobelia comes to get the keys to Bag End. He's actually something of a trope, the doting, subservient, oppressed son of the grasping mother. No wonder he grabbed at a chance for power in his own right.
16. Jerry Friedman
@DemetriosX: Never mind, I was mixed up—though I agree with jmeltzer that the first-time reader could use some reminder of a character who was mentioned rather briefly. And how Lotho gained power is also much clearer than I remembered. Next: a post where I've reread more carefully.
17. Jerry Friedman
So my real question is, if Frodo is sure that the first ruffians he meets have Saruman as their "precious master", with no clue but Merry's just having said the ruffians resemble many men he saw at Isengard, why is Frodo so surprised when Sharkey turns out to be Saruman?

Nancy Lebovitz @ #14: I agree with you that we never see anything like Sharkey's regime. But there are a couple possible sources.

The hobbits like complicated laws (which are called The Rules, according to the Prologue). Their wills "demand among other things seven signatures of witnesses in red ink", and Frodo knows just how to formally accept custody of Gollum from Faramir, with same approving of the formalities, which would have been much more ceremonious among hobbits.

Then we don't know much about government in Mordor, but Shagrat got very detailed and deceptive orders from the Bosses in "The Choices of Master Samwise", and in "The Land of Shadow" the soldier orc knows the tracker's name and number and threatens to report them Higher Up. This might suggest some kind of buraeucracy.

We don't know anything about how Saruman kept his men, orcs, half-orcs, and wolves under control in Isengard, but we can guess that he might have a lot of regulations, and that the new Rules owe something to that and something to the hobbits' previous Rules.

On another subject, you asked what would have happened if Saruman had repented. Of course he was a fool not to do so in "The Voice of Saruman", as Gandalf and Aragorn and Merry point out much more eloquently behind Saruman's back than to his face. But I think the story could have worked fine, and Saruman could have helped undo the damage he'd done to the Shire.

Speaking of Saruman's foolishness, Doug M. said that Saruman was foolish to try to stab Frodo. But at this point he may care about revenge more than his life. He doesn't have much to live for.
jon meltzer
18. jmeltzer
"History of Middle Earth" shows that the original manuscripts had, in chapters before this, mentioned Lotho (under the character's original name, Cosimo) as being up to no good in the Shire. Even the surviving one line description of Lotho as "sandy haired" was originally "pimply faced", hence his nickname. But JRRT took that all out. I wish I knew why.
Kelly McCullough
19. KellyMcCullough
I tend to think of Saruman's attempt to stab Frodo as Tolkien taking one last shot at the folly of despair.
20. pilgrimsoul
Re jmelzer's comment @18
Interesting historical sidenote to Lotho's original name. Cosimo was a Medici name and for several centuries they were one of the premier bankers in Europe. I'm sure JRRT knew that and said to himself: "The love of money (and power) is the root of all evil."
Barbara Gordon
21. bmlg
I always assumed that 'scouring' in this instance was the same usage as the Scouring of the White Horse - ritual clearing and renewal of a landmark. Rather than pot-scrubbing.
22. Foxessa
Petty wasn't invented in the 20th century.

Petty also was about making money: the taxes on windows and doors, getting married, having a child, you name it. Those kinds of fees were well in place even before feudal times, in various ways, throughout history.

Not to mention the destruction of 'private' mill wheels so everyone had to use the lord's mill and pay his fees. This also meant the destruction of domestic grinding stones and their rollers -- this has gone on throughout history.

The last really big notice of this was with the Poles, the confiscation and destruction of family owned grindstones by the nazis. Tolkien was very close to the Polish refugees. He's buried in a cemetery filled with them.

Love,m C.
Birgit F
23. birgit
How the HECK does Frodo guess that "the Chief" is Mr. Lotho?

They find out that the Chief lives in Bag End and Frodo knows who lives there.
24. HelenS
Tolkien is buried in the Catholic section of Wolvercote Cemetery; naturally most Poles would be in the Catholic section as well.
25. Jerry Friedman
birgit @ 23: Thanks. I was mixed up when I asked that.

I see the "scouring" as an image of cleansing with hard work, as a pot. This way of depicting Saruman and his dedicated followers seems quite in harmony the rest of the book.

jmeltzer @ 18: That's interesting. Maybe Tolkien took those references out just to shorten the book, and maybe missing such things was why he said in the Foreword that the book was too short.
Soon Lee
26. SoonLee
Doug M. @5 & bmlg @21:

'Scouring' for me is an apt word as it evokes housework (scouring pad), it evokes the sort of hands-on approach in keeping with a place like the Shire, and certainly fits the start of the next chapter with the description of the many willing hobbit hands young and old helping with the clean-up.

Many horns are sounded in this chapter and it does stick out, but for me, it's more because of the context. Horns sounding in Rohan & Gondor are normal but in the peaceful Shire, horns blowing are a bigger abnormality, so very clearly a sign that things are wrong.

BTW, my version* of the text has a rather jarring typo where Saruman says, "Well, I go and I will trouble you no more. But do not except me to wish you health and long life."

*Unwin & Allen 1979 paperback edition
27. DaveB
I do not recall posting here before but I have
been following these re-read's and comments for some
time. As it winds down, I'd like to express my thanks
to Ms. Nepveu for her efforts and her excellent skill
at summarizing the story and insightful thoughts.

I'd also like to mention how interesting I found
most, if not all, the comments. What a pleasure to
read such an intelligent and polite discussion. A
wonderful contrast to the more usual obscenity-laden
and moronic comments posted to many sites.

Thanks again Ms. Nepveu
28. JoeNotCharles
So my real question is, if Frodo is sure that the first ruffians he meets have Saruman as their "precious master", with no clue but Merry's just having said the ruffians resemble many men he saw at Isengard, why is Frodo so surprised when Sharkey turns out to be Saruman?

I got the impression Frodo thought these people were ultimately working for Saruman, but didn't expect Saruman to be there personally, and assumed "Sharkey" was another lieutenant.
29. pilgrimsoul
@ Dave B 27

A hearty second to that!
Wesley Parish
30. Aladdin_Sane
FWLIW, I've just been reading Charles Dickens' mammoth picaresque first novel, The Pickwick Papers, and noticing that there are a fair few thematic similarities between it and The Lord of the Rings.

There is a semi-aristocratic senior whose means of support we never see - Mr Pickwick - an unmarried intellectual whose grasp on ordinary reality is about that of both Bilbo and Frodo, and who is generous in defeat as in victory, a la Bilbo and Frodo; there is a servant who is dedicated to his master on account of his master's character, and who will dare most things for him, coincidentally named Sam in both books; there are a few younger friends whose mishaps and bungles and rejoicings fill most of the books; and there are some other seniors - Mr Wardle and Theoden, and the like on the beneficient side - a few on the not so beneficient side; and even a fallen creature who is still the object of good will and an effort at reformation - Mr Alfred Jingle and Job Trotter, coincidentally matched with Smeagol/Gollum ... not to forget, that Strider was originally to be named Trotter ...

Coincidentally, there are also a fair few inns, the love of good food and drinks, and a positive joy in celebrating with friends of a like mind ...

Just a few thoughts, possibly Off-Topic in this here blog entry ... :)
31. Jerry Friedman
Several things I'd enjoy responding to in these comments, but I forgot that Kate brought up the population of the Shire.

So: "more than a hundred" hobbit men, not counting lads, join our heroes when "Bywater is up", and "many" are still coming in.

Say that gives Bywater a total population of 800.

I'll estimate that Hobbiton has an equal population (though if anything I have the feeling it's smaller): that's 1600 for the Hobbiton-Bywater Combined Statistical Area (HB CSA).

There are about 50 ruffians based in that area, but sometimes only 20 or fewer, so say 30 on average.

Farmer Cotton also says there are no more than 300 ruffians in the Shire, so say 1/10 of them are in the HB CSA. That suggests 1/10 of the population is in the HB CSA, which isn't too inconsistent with the datum that the Thain can spare 100 hobbits. So if 1/10 of the Shire is 1600, we get a population of the Shire of 16,000. Say 10,000 to 20,000. Any corrections?
Kate Nepveu
32. katenepveu
Hey everybody--somehow I missed that this had gone up.

DemetriosX @ #1, I think Tolkien was denying applicability/reference to specific situations, not general commentary.

BillinHI @ #4, I seem to recall that the Scouring was out from well back, so I doubt they would've shot those scenes.

Doug M. @ #5, mmmm. I'm not convinced about your interpretation of what the chapter is saying about modernity -- as I said, there are more than sufficient objectionable things about the mill and the other changes other than just that they're modern.

The menance of socialism thing is an interesting point, however.

Jedikalos @ #6, fair reaction. But you don't find it at all satisfying that they're all so competent now?

Michael S. Schiffer @ #8, I'm happy to answer that question. Yes, if my e-book can be trusted, the word "human" appears only once in _LotR_, in the description of the bridge to Minas Morgul in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol": "Figures stood there at its head, carven with cunning in forms human and bestial, but all corrupt and loathsome."

Tolkien uses "Men" instead, of course ("Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die"), which usage I accept from someone of his time but don't choose to adopt myself for reasons that I hope are obvious. I regard "human" as the natural equivalent. No alienating distinction was intended, merely precision. Though I admit that I cannot view either Elves or hobbits as genuinely the same species as H. sapiens, even given the evidence of the Half-elven, because there's only so far my suspension of disbelief goes and immortality v. mortality within the same species is way, way past it!

KellyMcCullough @ #9, I'm really fascinated by all the people who love this the best! It would never have occured to me. Thanks.

Dr. Thanatos @ #10, yes, the teamwork among the hobbits is very nice here, the more so for it being apparently automatic.

Jerry Friedman @ #11, you mean Frodo's "cast yourself into the fire" comment? I did point that out, too, honest!

And @ #17, I wondered too about Frodo's surprise about Sharkey, but I think Frodo didn't make the jump from "Saruman's minions, directed at a distance"--that bit was easy, with the leaf and Saruman's hints and the minions looking like ones Merry'd seen at Isengard--and "Sharkey = Saruman." But it wasn't very artfully done.

EmmaPease @ #12, Farmer Maggot, ooh, interesting question indeed.

Aladdin_Sane @ # 13, I hadn't considered that Saruman might've thought killing Lotho to also be a blow against Frodo. Interesting, thanks.

NancyLebovitz @ #14, it hadn't occured to me that the petty rules needed an explanation beyond, first, Lotho's desire to be important, and, second, Saruman's taking Lotho's changes and turning them up to 11. But Jerry Friedman @ #17 has some interesting suggestions too.

jmeltzer @ #18, who was saying that Lotho was up to no good? That is, how did Tolkien bring that information in, considering that they had no contact with the Shire?

KellyMcCullough @ #19, mmm, I'm not sure I agree about despair--it was a weak attempt but I think it was still a real one, not actively giving up, just not caring about the consequences. But it's true that Saruman doesn't have anything productive to live for any more, which is seriously not good.

DaveB @ #27, welcome and thank you.

Jerry Friedman @ #31, thanks for the back-of-the-envelope. We do get a reference to "thousands" helping in the rebuilding next chapter, for whatever that's worth.
33. (still) Steve Morrison
Re the number of horns blown: I was just looking at the Nomenclature, and saw this under Hornblower:
Hornblow, -er, are E surnames, in the Shire evidently occupational surnames.

If some Shire hobbits made their living by blowing horns, it would explain quite a bit...
34. Dr. Thanatos
Re: the transformation of the Shire under Sharkeyism:

Frodo said that this is Mordor; we then meet Saruman. What the Lizard has done to the Shire doesn't look much like Mordor; but we don't see much of Mordorian infrastructure, economy, or the Barad-Dur Road Journal. What we do see is what a very diminished Lizard is able to do to the Shire. 5 years earlier he might have made things much worse, rather than being a straw-man for Labour Party policies...
35. (still) Steve Morrison
I've put up the individual chapter links for Debbie Ridpath Ohi's 2001 readthrough on my Slashdot journal.
36. Dr. Thanatos
To clarify waaaay colder than it is here]:

This is Mordor, Frodo says; Saruman was just doing it's work.

We don't get a close look at Mordor or it's economy; no cameos of Mouthie or Angmar reading the Sauron's Road to Sammath Naur Journal over breakfast and discussing the latest fiscal policies; we do know that food was grown by slaves around Nurnen or brought in as tribute; this sounds on a very large scale what Lizard was able to do in the Shire. If he was not so diminished perhaps he would have done something on a larger scale to transform the Shire, rather than installing a fumbling Hobbit gestapo that could be faced down by 3 armed hobbits and a government that appears to be JRRT's vision of what happened after a Labour Party victory...
jon meltzer
37. jmeltzer
@36: "Would you buy a used pony from this wizard?"

Uh, okay.
38. Dr. Thanatos
"Come on down to Crazy Sharkey's where we're cutting prices, we're cutting inventory, we're cutting everything!"

"Wormtongue, put that down, I didn't mean everything!"
39. pilgrimsoul
Best wishes to everyone for a happy and prosperous New Year!
Doesn't Gandalf somewhere--in TT?--comment on how pathetic Saruman's attempts to follow in Sauron's footsteps are? He was talking about Orthanc compared to Baradur. The same analogy applies to Mordor: Sharkey Shire.
Also in a previous chapter Gandalf is irritated that Treebeard has let Saruman go not because he's a huge threat anymore, but because he could do mischief "in a small way." I'm not sure I've got that last part right though.
On the way from Bree G's foresight allows him to see that 1) the Hobbits will have a right mess to clean up 2) they are fully capable of doing so.
40. Rabscuttle
One thing I found interesting in here is Lobelia. As has already been pointed out, she and Lotho were the same loathsome person at different ages in the beginning of the book (to the extent we saw them). She takes a turn for the better (bad-ass grandma version) and maybe Lotho did to. (Why bother to kill Lotho unless he is unwilling to do Sharky's bidding?) That leaves Ted Sandyman and the only Hobbit to unequvically go bad, unless I am miscounting. Evern Smeagol needed a lot of help. I would guess that the bit with her was put in the reinforce Tolkein's generally optomistic view of human nature, or at least of our capacity for redemption.

Now that I think of it, Will Whitfoot and Fatty Bolger come out looking better than one might have predicted. Farmer Maggot may be unhappy but passive, like Farmer Cotton, but I do wonder why Merry's dad did not follow the lead of Pippin's dad. Maybe it was not having a natural fortress like the Great Smails, or maybe the ruffians paid more attention to Buckland at first, given how important it was for transport. I suspect that having everyone be on the side of the angels would make the post-war reconstruction less messy than it was in a lot of places.
41. Jerry Friedman
Kate @ #32: No, I missed the curse you pointed out in that post. The one I pointed out is the similar one in "Mount Doom", the one that comes true: "If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom."

If anyone's interested in hobbit demographics, I found a forum thread on the population of the Shire. Estimates range from 10,000–20,000 like mine (and arrived at in a similar way) to a million! I'm starting to think 30,000 to 50,000 might be closer. Twelve Shirriffs for that many people is as nothing; "hundreds" is probably more law-enforcement officers per capita than New York City has. (NYC has 1 police officer per 200 or a bit fewer people, depending on who counts as a police officer.)
42. EmmaPease
Merry's father and the rest of the Bucklanders were not legally part of the Shire and they had the Brandywine separating them from it. I don't think Lotho or Saruman had any direct power there. The Buckland almost certainly set up barriers and might have given aid to some people in the Shire (I think one of the appendices mentions that some of the farmers in the Marish respect the authority of the master of the Buckland), but, they weren't going to be the ones raising the Shire (at least until Merry decided to do so).

The ruffians centers of power are listed as Hobbiton, Michel Delving where they used the lockholes for prisons, Longbottom (probably to keep an eye on Tookland from the south and also possibly Lotho's original home and center of his pipeweed plantations), Sarn Ford (where supplies had been shipped to Isengard and where Saruman might have expected the first trouble from returning rangers), Waymeet (half way between Hobbiton and Michel Delving) and some in Woody End.
43. Sophie Gale
I don't have any reference books handy but Tolkien was meticulous about dates in the book. If he had the Hobbits return to the Shire on Hallowmas (Nov. 1), it's because that day was significant--not because he needed time for Sharkey to trash the place. It's been a good twenty years since I studied LotR in college, but it must be a something like a year and day after they left Rivendell.
44. HelenS
I don't see anything noted for Nov. 1 on and following
( etc.). The Council of Elrond is Oct. 25, and they leave just two months later, on Christmas Day by our reckoning.
45. Jerry Friedman
On the subject of "This is Mordor", is anyone tangentially reminded of "Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it" (Marlowe) and "Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell" (Milton)?

EmmaPease @ #42: I agree with your understanding of Buckland's relationship to the Shire. The bit where "the authority of the Master of the Hall (as the head of the Brandybuck family was called) was stillacknowledged by the farmers between Stock and Rushey" is actually inFotR, Chapter 5. (You can see a little discussion of what that might mean here.)

The list you quote of the ruffians' centers of power is Farmer Cotton's, and he's not sure. I imagine there might be ruffian posts he doesn't know about. However, we didn't see any at Frogmorton. It might suggest, and maybe you meant to suggest, that the tenth of the ruffians in Bywater and Hobbiton were responsible for a much bigger population than the 1600 I ascribed to the BH CSA (forgetting Overhill), which would give the Shire a much bigger population.

Sophie Gale @ #43: To add to what HelenS said, the hobbits re-enter the Shire six months to the day after Aragorn and Arwen get married. I can't see any significance to that correspondence. maybe All Saints' Day has more to do with it?
46. Dr. Thanatos

The very interesting references would work better, I think, if the Lizard said it rather than Frodo.

The only thing I can think of significant about the date of arrival is that it's after Labor Day and time to harshly prosecute anyone still wearing white...
47. pilgrimsoul
Dr. T @46
Then Gandalf would be the victim. Lizzy has given up white for reptilian rainbow.
48. Dr. Thanatos
This is true; I forgot that Gandalf is now the fashion criminal.

But then again, Liz thought he wanted a pair of oversized boots .

Let's see, hip-high boots, white after Labor Day; I'd say that when he lands in the West, Mithrandir is going to have some 'splaining to do to Stylia, the Vala of Fashion...
Kelly McCullough
49. KellyMcCullough
Kate @ 32, I wasn't thinking despair in terms of not making a real attempt on Frodo's life, but despair in terms of shooting for murder/suicide.
50. Dr. Thanatos
In terms of the rather strong feelings expressed by our community about the character of one Curunir "Sharkey" Saruman , hereinafter referred to as "Lizard," I find it interesting that the title of this chapter uses the word scouring, not cleansing, purging or purifying. Scouring generally means using an abrasive to remove stubborn scum. I didn't find Merry, Pippin, or Sam particularly abrasive, but the concept of removing stains to restore silver to it's original sheen quite apt especially when the stain comes from the Lizard...
51. pilgrimsoul
Said stain left by Lizzie (I'm going to spell it with ie instead of y because I think it's more demeaning) was pretty superficial so a swipe of Comet and the sink--er--Shire is back to gleaming.
David Levinson
52. DemetriosX
Somewhat more seriously on the choice of the word scour, I decided to look at the etymology, figuring that, as a linguist, Tolkien may have had an ulterior motive in his usage. The word in this sense ultimately comes from the Latin meaning "to take care of". There is a secondary meaning of " to move quickly in search of something" which may be derived from an Old Norse word meaning "to rush in". I'm not sure if this is really indicative of anything, but I figured I'd toss it out there.
53. Dr. Thanatos

Wormtongue Brand of scouring agent: one swipe cuts through the scum!

Available at fine stores throughout the greater Eriador area including Sam's Club, Balmart Moria branches only], and Giant.
54. Dr. Thanatos

You may be onto something, as what Sam and the boys did not only "scoured" the Shire in the sense of cleansing it, but in a deeper sense they were taking care of things. As I write, I consider that our Stalwart Heroes didn't just come in and beat the pogies out of the bad guys, they raised the Shire. They inspired the hobbits to know that they could take care of themselves, rather than being rescued. A microcosm of what Gandalf was working to do . In that sense JRRT might have meant the older meaning of scouring as well as the more obvious one.

Good call!
55. Dr. Thanatos
This is why I shouldn't do this at work, I think of more stuff after I post.

Frodo and Company have raised the Shire, and have taught them to stand up for themselves, rather than waiting for brave hobbitsies with shiny swords, yes, to rescue fat lazy hobbitsies. As I noted above, this looks like a microcosm of what Gandalf was doing. Perhaps this is an illustration of what he meant by "this is what you have been trained for," to take over the role of Gandalf as he sails off into the sunset?
56. Dr. Cox
@Dr. Thanatos . . . "this is what you have been trained for" referring to the Shire raising--yes . . . good description . . . and perhaps keeping, or at least trying to keep, everyone less complacent than formerly?
57. Dr. Thanatos
@Dr. Cox,

Indeed. Remember Frodo's quote from the next chapter about reading from the Book about the Great Danger "so that they will love their Shire all the more." They can no longer take their good life for granted; knowing that they could lose it gives that peaceful, bucolic, pre-industrial life more value for them now.
Peter Schmidt
58. PHSchmidt
I love this chapter. Seeing the hobbits throw off Sharkey and his oppressive rule is a huge thrill.

As to scour, Free Merriam Webster says:

archaic : to clear (a region) of enemies or outlaws

My hardcover Webster's Third Unabridged (1966) concurs.

However, it also lists another archaic meaning as something like to "roister" noisily and unpleasantly through the streets or fields. I.e. for louts to act like teenagers at an out of control, unauthorized party - or worse. Which is probably what the ruffians did.

So perhaps Tolkien had it both ways.
59. hooded swan
I thought the inspiration for Scouring was the post-war Continent rather than post-war Britain. Part of that was from utter ignorance of British politics when I 1st read LOTR. Frodo & company made me think of Free French troops returning home - that is, the parts of France that were not fought over.
60. Dreamflower
When I was 15, and read this chapter some 43 years ago, I hated it. I was crushed that after all the effort the hobbits went through, the Shire had been despoiled after all. I wept with Sam over the Party Tree.

Now that I'm older and have a bit of perspective, it is one of my favorite chapters. We see our heroes being heroes among their own folk (even Frodo, though he was a different and quieter sort of hero), and we see the personalities of other hobbits who had scarcely figured in previously, such as Farmer Cotton and his lads, and Pippin's father the Thain, though he does not actually appear, is also shown up in a good light.

There is a lot not told in this chapter. What the Big Folk would have been doing among the hobbits, I am quite sure did not stop at thievery and bullying, but it's not until the next chapter and the Lockholes that we get a glimpse of how cruel they've been.

The hobbits who were in the Shire during the Occupation must have had a lot harder time than we are ever really given a hint of.
61. pilgrimsoul
I certainly understand Dreamflower's initial reaction to the chapter, and I agree that the Hobbits had their share of fear and suffering perhaps even more than the residents of Minas Tirith.
But I liked the chapter because it showed that Fellowship Hobbits had grown into heroism, and they could act on their own to save their home. What caused the tears to start in my eyes was Merry blowing the Horn of Rohan. I picture him on a white Welsh pony who rears as he blows. Apparently "grey" as Stybba was described is actually white in horse terms, so it's ok
62. JohnnyMac
I just want to say "Thank you!" to Kate and the commenters here. I found this site a couple of weeks ago and have had a great time reading through it. I am impressed by the very high batting average of intelligent, insightful and, often, very funny commentary. Again, my thanks to all.
63. Lórindol
I couldn't agree more!
Kate Nepveu
64. katenepveu
Belatedly, now that I've finished the next post and mostly licked this cold--

(still) Steve Morrison @ #33, the mind boggles at that being an _occupation_.

And @ #35, thanks for the links.

Dr. Thanatos @ #36, yes, and yet it's a good thing, plot-wise, that Saruman is so diminished, else the Scouring would have looked quite different. But evil seeds of own destruction etc.

Also nice point about raising the Shire, later on.

Jerry Friedman @ #41, got that one too! (Though I phrased it as "the Ring falls victim to its own prophecy.")

EmmaPease @ #42, thank you--my Shire geography is non-existent and I hadn't gone back to the maps.

KellyMcCullough @ #49, hmm. I admit I hadn't conceived of Saruman going for suicide by cop, err, hobbit, instead of just overwhelmed by impulse.

Dreamflower @ #60, thanks for your comment. I go back and forth between thinking that this is as much as the ruffians did, because it wouldn't fit the tone of _LotR_ otherwise, and thinking that they must've done more and that the sunny next chapter bugs me more as a result.

JohnnyMac @ #62, Lórindol @ #63, thanks and welcome!
65. Dan Dan
Thank goodness Peter Jackson didn't include this drivel in the movie. It is beyond absurd. The concept that the greatest wizard of his order, after failing to conquer all of Middle Earth, would return to a puny and insignificant land to cause petty troubles for the locals, is completely unbelievable and ridiculous. Rubbish!

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