Forget everything I've said about favorite chapters. This is it, for me. Does it get much better than our courageous friends putting their new skills and knowledge to use to rescue their families, friends, and homes? I'm so proud of them!
The first time I read this, I was so shocked at the reappearance of Saruman. This isn't how it goes in the movies, you know, and him popping up here in the Shire was absolutely horrifying. It felt like finding a snake in my cereal box or something. And that's what makes The Lord of the Rings rise above so many other "quest" stories, don't you think? The hero doesn't get home and everything returns to normal. The quest had consequences; the world is not the same, not even the farthest reaches of it. Just like when Gandalf chose to save Faramir instead of fighting the Witch King of Angmar, and thus Eowyn and Merry were grievously wounded -- Frodo and Sam left the Shire unguarded in order to save the world from destruction, and in their absence, less worthy hobbits messed it all up.
Saruman makes an interesting point at the very end of the chapter: mercy can be cruel. He tells Frodo, "You are wise, and cruel. You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy" (p. 996). It makes me think of a line from Hamlet: "I must be cruel only to be kind" (III, 4). Being kind and merciful can be cruel, and saying mean and hurtful things can be kind. Hmm.
"If I hear not allowed much oftener," said Sam, "I'm going to get angry" (p. 979).
They would have started earlier, only the delay so plainly annoyed the Shirriff-leader (p. 980).
"You won't rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo" (p. 983).
Some of the village-folk had lit a large fire, just to enliven things, and also because it was one of the things forbidden by the Chief (p. 985).
"It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing" (p. 995).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Do you think Tolkien might be making a statement about post-war England here?
Frodo says, "No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire, and it is not to begin now" (p. 983). Do you find that a bit too good to be true?