Sunday, June 29, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Scouring of the Shire (ROTK Ch. 18)

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.

Favorite Lines:

"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?


  1. I have never liked this chapter, it felt too much as an unconnected afterthought, but when you explain why you like it, I can understand that.

    Interesting question you ask whether Tolkien described something about post-WWI England. A lot of things had changed after WWI at the 'homefront', but it doesn't feel really similar to what is happening in The Shire. Conclusion: I don't know. I'm sure Tolkien scholars have written something about this?

    1. Really? But what about in the chapter before when Gandalf tells them the need to go home because this is what they've been training for the whole time?

      Everything after Mount Doom feels like a gradual slowing of the story to me. Like that was high tide, and then each chapter after is a wave going out to sea. Each one recedes a little more until it's low tide at the end. So this feels like one more of those waves. And even if Saruman hadn't entered the picture, there clearly would have been a lot of work for those 4, getting rid of Lotho's ruffians.

      I know a lot has been written about Tolkien's sorrow at the way trees and small farms and open spaces gave way to factories and machines. So he may be saying more about that here than about post-WWI and post-WWII England. I'm not sure!

    2. You describe that very nice Hamlette, but I remain with my point ;-) It may be what they have been training for, but it's very seperate from the rest of the narrative concerning the Ring, the Fellowship etc.

    3. But what about the beginning? It's just Frodo and his fellow hobbits, with Gandalf popping in and out, for the first nine chapters. I think if there wasn't a lot to do with just them and the Shire at the end, it would feel unbalanced somehow. This is where it all started, for us as readers and for the characters, and so we need to return here and see how these four hobbits have grown and changed -- how different they are from the four bewildered boys stumbling around the Barrow Downs. This part brings their character development to completion, I think, and is a logical way for the Fellowship to wind up as well.

      But that could be the writer in me taking the back off the clock and looking at all the little wheels inside it.

    4. I definitely follow you, but I feel there's a difference between the beginning, where everything still points towards the main adventure about to start and the end, with a rather separate storyline.

    5. But I don't feel like it's a separate story line. I feel like it's the original story line still. Frodo and the other hobbits set out to save the Shire. And the rest of the world, but it's the Shire that's first and foremost in their thoughts and hearts. Isn't saving the shire still part of the whole story, then?


What do you think?

Comments on old posts are always welcome!

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)