LotR Reread: You Can’t Go Home Again

Chapter VIII: The Scouring of the Shire

Of all the things that Peter Jackson left out of his Lord of the Rings films, I’ve heard the most complaints about the exclusion of ‘The Scouring of the Shire’. I get it. This is where we see just how much the four traveling hobbits have grown during their adventures. But if you think about it, the theatrical edition of The Return of the King was already three hours and twenty minutes long. How much time would have been added by the inclusion of this chapter? And how much would it have taxed the patience of movie-goers to sit through all the conflict and the battles, then watch the Frodo and the others return home to yet another battle?

So I get why Peter Jackson left it out of his films. But it’s an important chapter that tells us a lot of things about Tolkien and his world.

Night has fallen by the time the hobbits arrive at the Brandywine Bridge. It’s raining, they are wet and cold, and then they discover that there is a locked gate between them and the bridge. This wasn’t there last year. They’re confused by this, and when they raise a ruckus, a bunch of hobbits come out of a house and cross the bridge to see what’s going on. Merry calls for someone to open the gate and let the weary travelers in. They guess that Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Frodo’s horrid cousin, has been up to some mischief and that it’s time he was put in his place. The group of hobbits is shocked by this, and even more shocked when Merry and Pippin, exasperated by their kin’s unwillingness to break “the rules”, climb the gate and let Frodo and Sam in. They find shelter for the night (which is apparently against “the rules”) and hear that things haven’t been going well since Frodo left.

Apparently, Lotho had been buying up properties and once he got Bag End from Frodo he started putting on airs and ordering hobbits about with the help of ruffians from outside the Shire. Because hobbits are, generally, a timid people it was easy for the ruffians to frighten them while they instituted an ever-growing list of rules, curfews, and the overbearing taxes that took away their food stores and pipeweed.

The travelers, having faced orcs, Nazgûl, privation, and despair, mostly roll their eyes when it comes to the thought of facing the ruffians. Merry and Pippin still have their weapons and armor from Rohan and Gondor. They’re not afraid of a few ruffians. They are perfectly willing to take charge of the situation.

And so they do. When a group of shirriffs arrives to arrest them, the travelers state that they are going to Hobbiton to talk to The Chief (who they think is Lotho), and the shirriffs can travel with them if they want. Bystanders watching the procession wonder who has arrested whom, as the travelers don’t act like they’re concerned about the situation. But as they get closer to Hobbiton, the state of the Shire grows worse. Good hobbit holes are abandoned, ugly houses in rows have been built in their place, beautiful old trees have been cut down for no reason, a new mill that does little more than pollute the water stands where the pretty old mill used to be, and Bagshot Row has been dug up. The paradise that was the Shire has become an industrial wasteland, ugly and infertile. It’s modernity for modernity’s sake with ‘efficiency’ and ‘progress’ emphasized for no good reason. Tolkien hated this form of ‘progress’ and condemned it at every turn. He loved forests and gardens and loathed it when good trees were cut down to make room for ugly, institutional buildings.

But back to the Shire.

On the way to Hobbiton Sam gives the hobbit-shirrifs stern talkings-to, shaming them for going along with all these new “rules” instead of acting like the upright hobbits they’d always taken them for. But they discover that those who did try to stand up for themselves were quickly locked up and never released. The Mayor, Will Whitfoot was among the first, and even old Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was disappeared when she attacked a ruffian with her umbrella. The hobbits of Hobbiton admire her for that, but they’re too afraid to raise a fuss.

photo of foggy forest

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And speaking of the ruffians… They’ve heard about this procession and show up in force to put the travelers in their place. But Pippin is having nothing to do with this. He draws his sword and says, “You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!” Big words for a little hobbit, but Pippin’s not the immature young hobbit he used to be. He means what he says and the ruffians see it. Merry backs him up and the ruffians flee.

That night Frodo and Sam take refuge with the Cotton family. Old Tom Cotton and his sons are friends of Sam, and his daughter Rosie has carried a torch for him all this time. Merry and Pippin decide to rouse the Shirefolk. Merry blows the horn Éowyn gave him and then heads off to Buckland to gather his own people for the fight. Sam and the Cottons plan to make a stand there in Hobbiton.

Frodo is quiet through all of this. He is, in the hobbits’ eyes, strangely pacifistic and urges the hobbits to not kill- especially not each other even when they’re fighting on opposite sides. He knows how dark powers sow divisions among people, and he hates fighting. But Sam tells him that being shocked and sad won’t do the Shire any good. It takes action to set things right.

Soon enough, the Shirefolk are up in arms. They’ve prepared their barricades, sharpened their axes, bent their bows, and are pouring in from the countryside. Someone’s lit a bonfire. The ruffians have gathered their strength, too, but are nothing against the angry hobbits. Now that one of their own has arrived to lead them and awaken their latent bravery, the ruffians can’t stand against them. Especially when Merry and the Bucklanders arrive. The hobbits rout the ruffians and spread out across the Shire, rounding up ruffians and escorting them to the borders, tearing down “the rules” and calling the rest of the hobbits to arms.

After a couple of days of watchfulness, Frodo and the others go to Bag End. Lotho is unexpectedly not there, but Saruman is. They’d guessed that he was the one who caused the ruination of the Shire. The former wizard had his eye on the land for a long time, and now that his life is in ruins, he is acting out some petty revenge on Frodo and the others. They caused his home to be ruined so he will ruin theirs. All this destruction was done out of sheer malice.

But Frodo has pity on Saruman. The others want him dead, but Frodo refuses to allow it. He understands the nature and power of mercy more than anyone there. He says, “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way!”

Saruman calls to Gríma and turns to go, then draws a knife and stabs at Frodo. Frodo is wearing his mithril mail, though, so is unharmed. Sam moves to kill Saruman, but Frodo forbids it. Even now, he won’t have the former wizard harmed. Saruman looks at Frodo with a mixture of hate and respect. “… and now I must go hence in bitterness and in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you! Well, I go and I will trouble you no more. But do not expect me to wish you health and long life. You will have neither. But that is not my doing. I merely foretell.” He walks away then, and though the hobbits offer him mercy, too, Saruman mocks him. Gríma acts, suddenly enraged, and stabs Saruman in the back. Before Frodo can say anything, three hobbits shoot arrows and Gríma falls down dead.

Then a mist gathers above Saruman’s body. It looms over them and seems to look wistfully toward the West, but a cold wind blows the mist into nothingness. Thus ends Saruman the White.

And so the hobbits breathe a final sigh of relief. They have fought yet another evil and overcome it. It will take time to rebuild and set things right again, but they’re home at last.

Chapter IX: The Grey Havens

Now begins the rebuilding process. They empty the prisons and find Fredegar Bolger, who is far too thin to be called ‘Fatty’ anymore. They also find Lobelia, and when they carry her out into the sunshine, the gathered hobbits cheer for her. She’s become something of a local hero for standing up to the ruffians, and she’s quite touched. Though she dies of old age the following spring, her last act is to give the last of her money to homeless hobbits and end the long family feud.

The last of the ruffians are escorted out of the Shire, and though there is a lot of work to do, there are a lot of helping hands to see it done. Great stores of food and supplies (gathered up by the ruffians for their own use) get them through the winter, and the spring is particularly beautiful and fruitful. Sam uses the box of Lothlorien earth Galadriel gave him to replant particularly beloved trees and plants the mallorn seed that was in the box where the old party tree once stood. Thanks to the Elvish blessing upon the soil, the trees spring up right away and grow quickly. The mallorn is especially beautiful and beloved.

agriculture barn beautiful country

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And then, when Sam is finally finished with his work around the Shire, Rosie Cotton corners him and tells him that they’ve waited long enough. Or at least she’s waited long enough. He doesn’t have any excuses anymore. They’re going to get married. The only thing Sam is worried about is where to live. He’d planned to move into Bag End to help Frodo out, and when Frodo tells him there’s plenty of room for him, Rosie, and as big a family as they could want, Sam finally makes up his mind. In the spring of 1420, he marries Rosie Cotton.

They move into Bag End, and within a year Sam and Rosie’s first child is born. It’s a little girl, and though Sam is smitten he has no idea what to call her. Most hobbit girls are named after flowers, but Sam doesn’t think the flowers of the Shire are pretty enough for his little girl. Frodo suggests he name her after the white flowers they saw in Lothlorien- Elanor. Sam’s delighted by the suggestion. He and Rosie are happy. Merry and Pippin are happy (and beloved of the Shire, thanks to their stature and their war stories).

Frodo… is not happy. He pretends to be around the others, but they sense that he is fading into the background. And though his deeds were the most important in all of Middle-earth, no one seems to care. Frodo is often ill seems to be just lingering on while he finishes writing his book.

Then one day in the autumn of 1421, when little Elanor is six months old, Frodo asks Sam to take a few days off to go somewhere with him. Sam thinks they’re going to Rivendell, and doesn’t want to spend that much time away from his family, though he wants to go with Frodo. He feels like he’s torn in two. But Frodo says it won’t be that long of a journey and he won’t feel torn for long. “You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.”

Once Frodo has finished organizing his papers and books he gives them to Sam. It’s an account of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain, and Frodo’s own story of the downfall of Sauron and the destruction of the Ring. There are still a few pages left, though. Those are for Sam to complete. With that, they depart quietly and that night they meet up with the Elves and Gandalf in the forest. The last of the Elven kindred are finally departing Middle-earth– Galadriel, Celeborn, Gildor, and Elrond are there, and Bilbo is with them, too.

That’s when Sam realizes that Frodo is leaving with them, and he can’t go along.

“‘Where are you going, Master?’ cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

‘To the Havens, Sam,’ said Frodo.

‘And I can’t come.”

‘No, Sam. Not yet anyway not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.'”

Though Sam had hoped that- now that the Shire was safe again- they would all be able to enjoy the peace they had fought so hard for. But Frodo has been too deeply hurt by the Ring. His health is broken and his spirit is wounded. There is only one place he can hope to find peace- in Valinor with the Elves. He sacrificed everything for the Shire, but he realizes that in doing so, he had to give even that up so that others could be happy. Perhaps one day, when Sam has lived a good life with Rosie and all the children they hope to have, he will be able to join Frodo. But that time is not now, and it won’t be for a long time.

And so the company rides to the Havens where a beautiful ship awaits them. The keepers of the three Elven rings are all there– Galadriel with Nenya, Elrond with Vilya, and Gandalf with Narya. The power of these rings is at an end. Their keepers can finally rest.

While the Elves are boarding the ship, two riders appear. It’s Merry and Pippin, who chastise Frodo for trying to give them the slip again. They’ve arrived just in time to say farewell. Gandalf is glad for it. “…for it will be better to ride back three together than one alone. Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

With that, Frodo and Gandalf board the ship and it sails into the West, leaving Sam, Merry, and Pippin to watch it go, and then watch the waves roll in and out. Then finally, they silently turn away and do not look back. It’s a slow ride home and they don’t speak, but they each find comfort in the presence of their friends. Then one evening Sam rides over the Hill and finds the lights on in Bag End. Rosie is waiting for him and she puts little Elanor in his lap. Sam, no longer torn between Frodo and his new family, is ready for the future he’s worked so hard for. He has no grand words for the occasion, just simple ones, fit and proper for a hobbit: “Well, I’m back”.

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