Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


ROTK: Bk 6, Ch 8

The Scouring Of The Shire
"'This is worse than Mordor!' said Sam. 'Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it's home, and you remember it before it was all ruined.'"
For Peter Jackson, there was never any debate as to whether or not the next chapter would make it into his film, The Return of the King. With the audience already having sat through three hours in the theater, he knew that they would have a hard time dealing with such a major sequence in the wake of the trilogy's emotional climax. It just wouldn't have fit. Many fans no doubt disagreed and hoped that it would at least make it into the Extended Edition. But Jackson didn't film it. I have to admit that this has always been one of my least favorite parts of the story because at this point I'm ready to finish it. But, alas, the conflict in the Shire and its resolution was an important - and necessary - part of the story for Tolkien. I'm sure it was cathartic in allowing him to relate his own experiences of coming home from World War I. He left an idyllic life, saw the horrors of war and returned to find that for him neither the outside world nor the world he left would ever be the same again.

The four hobbits arrive at the Brandywine Bridge only find that it is gated. It is guarded by several shirriffs - a position that until recently was served somewhat casually as the Shire's means of law enforcement. But Frodo and company had no patience for this nonsense and entered the gate by force. The shirriffs were under orders from the "chief" residing in Bag End. This meant Lotho Sackville-Baggins, to whom Frodo had sold his home before he had left. Bill Ferny, who is one of the chief's "big men", tries to bar the entrance but retreats when he realizes that he is no match for the sword-wielding hobbits. He is never heard from again.

They decide to stay the night at the guard house when they learn that all the inns have been closed. They also get a little information from Hob Hayward - one of the shirriffs that they knew. It appeared that Lotho was now in charge and had established on oppressive new set of rules that were enforced by the shirriffs and a large number of the ruffians that Barliman Butterbur had warned them about. Most of the shirriffs acted out of fear of the men rather than allegiance to Lotho.

Well, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin had just faced Orcs, Balrogs, Trolls, Giant Spiders and Nazgul. They felt no fear for these squinty-eyed men from the south and resolved to investigate the situation and put things right. Our dear hobbits had "grown" in more ways than one. The next day, a new band of shirriffs showed up to arrest them. Frodo and his companions couldn't contain their laughter at this absurdity and told them that they were setting out to confront their chief but if they wanted to follow along with them they were more than welcome. As they rode through the village of Frogmorton, the shirriffs who had traveled on foot were getting tired and had to stop. Merry told them that they were riding on but bid them to "come along in your own time."

They traveled on until they made their approach to Bywater and were shocked at what they saw.
"Many of the houses that they had known were missing. Some seemed to have been burned down. The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down right to the water's edge were rank with weeds. Worse, there was a whole line of ugly new houses all along the Pool side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank. An avenue of trees had stood there. They were all gone. And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air."
They were met in front of The Green Dragon, now boarded up and lifeless, by a group of swarthy men. These men resembled the squint-eyed, orcish-looking southerner that they had seen at The Prancing Pony over a year ago. It was clear from the look of them that they had been the result of Saruman's doing down in Isengard. These half-orcs, half-men had clubs but no other weapons. They warned the hobbits that their "uppish" behavior would be dealt with harshly. Lotho would see to it they said, because "Sharkey's come now, and he'll do what Sharkey says."

Frodo tried to bring the ruffians up on current events regarding the fall of Barad-dur and Isengard and the return of the King to Gondor. One of them snapped his fingers in Frodo's face and called him a little "cock-a-whoop". This was too much for Pippin, who unsheathed his sword and declared himself a messenger of the King. Merry and Sam joined him but Frodo did not move. These men, who weren't used to such defiance from the little folk, turned and fled up the Hobbiton Road. But Frodo knew they would soon return in greater numbers.

Merry told his friends that something needed to be done at once.
"'Raise the Shire!', said Merry. 'Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don't at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don't know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they'll go up in fire. The Chief's Men must know that. They'll try to stamp on us and put us out quick. We've only got a very short time.'"
Merry understood that at one time the four of them had been just as "comfortable" in their provincial lives, but they had since learned that the safety they had always felt was just a fantasy. The threat of evil had pierced their formerly tranquil existence. And it was time to defend it.

While Merry sounded a horn that was given to him by Eowyn, Sam made a dash for Farmer Cotton's place. Cotton and his sons were up for joining in the fight. Sam also took the opportunity to reacquaint himself with Rosie Cotton, who was pleased to see him return. Soon the whole village had gathered. When the shirriffs arrived, most of them joined their side. Farmer Cotton told Frodo of the resistance shown by the Tooks down at Great Smials over the last year which gave Pippin the idea to hurry down to Tuckborough and bring as many of his kin as he could muster.

The hobbits set up a barrier across the road and beyond it a huge bonfire was set - which was breaking one of the "rules". When a squad of ruffians, about twenty of them, headed into the town they saw the barrier and laughed. The hobbits let them in and they marched to the fire where Farmer Cotton stood alone. But they had led them into a trap. As the men made a move to seize Cotton, they stopped because suddenly they found themselves surrounded by a circle of some two hundred hobbits that had crept out of the shadows, each of them holding some sort of weapon. Merry stepped forward and warned them that they were covered by archers. The leader, however, made a move at Merry with a knife and a club. He was shot dead with four arrows. This was enough for the other men, who gave up and were taken away to be bound and locked up under guard.

They knew a larger scale attack of ruffians would come by morning. Farmer Cotton gave them a further account of how all this had happened. More than a year earlier, Lotho Sackville-Baggins had been secretly buying up large amounts of property throughout the Shire. His source of funds was never revealed but he soon began sending large quantities of pipe-weed out of the Shire. And as he gained more control, other goods followed. Soon the men from the south began to arrive and, about the same time that the Fellowship set out from Rivendell, Lotho declared himself "chief shirriff", had the Mayor arrested and locked up and handed down the "rules".

Merry asked him who Sharkey was and Cotton told him he was "the biggest ruffian o' the lot". No one had ever seen him but he arrived sometime around the end of September and took up residence in Bag End. It seems that now Sharkey was the new "chief" and his orders to his men seemed mostly to be "hack, burn and ruin." And shortly after his arrival he had Lotho's mother, Lobelia, arrested for interfering with Sharkey's men. Lotho had not been seen in weeks.

The next morning there was news that close to one hundred ruffians were heading down the East Road towards them. It was clear they meant to squash this rebellion as quickly as possible. But Pippin had just arrived with one hundred hobbits from Tuckborough to join the other two hundred in Bywater. And Merry had a plan. The men turned up the Bywater Road, which lay between two high banks aligned with low hedges. As they came around a bend, they were stopped by a barrier of overturned carts. Out from the hedges above, the army of hobbits appeared. Merry ordered them to lower their weapons but soon the battle began. As the men tried to climb the banks, the hobbits attacked. Those men that made it out were caught and encircled by a wide ring of hobbit archers.

When it was over, seventy ruffians were killed and the remainder were either taken prisoner or had run away. They buried the men in a large sand pit nearby, which was later named "the battle pit". Nineteen hobbits were killed and thirty were wounded. Frodo had been in the battle but his efforts were focused on preventing those enemies who surrendered from being killed by the other hobbits. Now it was time to deal with the chief.

Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were joined by an escort of about two dozen of the sturdiest hobbits and marched up to Bag End. Even Sam's vision in Galadriel's mirror hadn't prepared him for the devastation that they saw. The old mill had been torn down and a larger one built in its place. In the distance they could see that Bagshot row had been dug up into a quarry. The fields were bare of grass. Large huts had been erected in front of Bag End so that the hobbit hole could not be seen from the road. But worst of all for Sam, the Party Tree under which they had celebrated Bilbo's birthday so many years before had been cut down. Its trunk was lying dead in the field. (click on the before and after graphic below for larger view)

They arrived at the front door of Bag End but there was no answer. They forced their way in to find it was full of filth and disorder. Then suddenly, Saruman appeared at the door. "Sharkey!" cried Frodo. Yes, Saruman said, that was the name that his men called him back at Isengard - a derivative of the orcish word sharku, meaning "old man". He had been the one who financed Lotho's land grabs and sent his people north to ensure that the supply of leaf and other goods in the Shire were sent to his fortress. Lotho had always believed he was more in control of his situation than he really was. But he had ultimately been under the power of Saruman, which is ironic when you consider how similar this was to the relationship Saruman had with Sauron. While the wizard believed that he was a power in his own right, his actions were merely an echo of the purposes of Mordor.

When Saruman left Isengard, he decided to head north and settle a score with the little folk who had caused his ruination. He explained:
"'You thought you had done very well out of it all, and could now just amble back and have a nice quiet time in the country. Saruman's home could be all wrecked, and he could be turned out, but no one could touch yours. Oh no! Gandalf would look after your affairs.'

Saruman laughed again. 'Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them. But you must go dangling after him, dawdling and talking, and riding round twice as far as you needed. "Well," thought I, "if they're such fools, I will get ahead of them and teach them a lesson. One ill turn deserves another." It would have been a sharper lesson, if only you had given me a little more time and more Men. Still I have already done much that you will find it hard to mend or undo in your lives. And it will be pleasant to think of that and set it against my injuries.'"
Saruman tried to scare the band of hobbits into backing off, but Frodo declared that the old man no longer had any power beyond his persuasive voice and ordered him to leave. Knowing he wasn't in a position to make a stand, Saruman called to Wormtongue to come with him. As he passed Frodo, he produced a knife that he had hidden and stabbed him but Frodo's mithril-mail once again saved him from harm and the knife just turned and snapped. The other hobbits, led by Sam, threw Saruman to the ground. But Frodo stopped them, insisting that he not be slain. This only angered Saruman, who cursed Frodo because he must now "go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy."

Frodo told Wormtongue that he didn't have to go with Saruman because he did him no wrong. They would allow him to stay if he wished. Saruman revealed that Grima had killed Lotho, stabbing him in his sleep. Aghast with hatred, Wormtongue hissed that Saruman had ordered him to do it. Saruman only laughed and kicked his servant in the face before turning to leave. But Grima's wrath drove him to seize his master and, producing his own knife, he slit his throat. A hobbit bowman sent an arrow into him and they both fell dead on the doorstep of Bag End.

It seems that for the longest time, Tolkien was uncertain as to the ultimate fate of Saruman. In his notes outlining the story as foreseen from the Field of Cormallen, he wrote regarding the hobbits return trip through Dunland: "They come upon Saruman and he is [?pardoned]."

Christopher Tolkien writes of this matter:
"That they would meet Saruman again on the homeward journey was an old idea (see 'The Story Foreseen from Moria', VII.212), but then it had taken place at Isengard, and the matter of that scene had of course been removed to a much earlier place in the narrative (VII.436). A later note (VII.287) says that 'Saruman becomes a wandering conjuror and trickster', but nothing further has been told of him since he was left a prisoner in Orthanc guarded by the Ents until now." (Volume references are for The History Of Middle Earth)

This idea clearly continued toward the end of his first draft because in the first writing of "The Scouring of the Shire", the Sharkey that the hobbits met at Bag End was simply the leader of the ruffians. He had become the new chief when Lotho had fled the night before after receiving the news of the rebellion. The men still had acted on orders from Isengard but they had not had any contact with Saruman for some time. This original "Sharkey" was dispatched by Frodo, who stabbed the man with Sting. This fierceness of Frodo's demeanor had been present throughout the early draft. It was later that Tolkien chose to make Frodo more passive and abhorrent towards violence.

When Tolkien revised his portrayal of Frodo in the later drafts, he apparently decide to write a final unambiguous ending for Saruman as well. Instead of just disappearing after he went off into the woods of Dunland in "Many Partings", he devised that Saruman made for the Shire and arrived on September 22nd (the day after Frodo and his companions reached Rivendell). Over the next five weeks, he worked his mischief although much had already been done. He got rid of Lotho by ordering Wormtongue to kill him and moved into Bag End.

Now he lay dead with his body shriveled and withered as his spirit left this physical incarnation.

"To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing."
Saruman's true nature, just like Gandalf's, was that of a Maiar spirit. Bereft of its physical form, it attempted to return to the Undying Lands. But a power in the form of wind from the west destroyed it. For despite opportunities to repent, Saruman remained an evil, twisted version of his former good self. Unlike Gandalf, he would not be welcomed back by the Great Powers of Valinor.

With the death of Saruman came the official end of the War of the Ring. But as Sam observed, there was still quite a mess to clean up which would require much time and work.

[Chronology: October 30th through November 3rd 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Grey Havens

(revised 11/13/06)


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