The Scouring of the Shire

Michael Kern '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

When the heroic hobbits return to their home in the Shire, they expect a great welcoming and a well-deserved rest. Instead, they find that the ruffians who have taken control of their homeland ruined its beauty and innocence. The utopia that was the Shire has been horribly transformed.

The travelers trotted on, and as the sun began to sink towards the White Downs far away on the western horizon they cam to Bywater by its wide pool; and there they had their first reall painful shock. This was Frodo and Sam's own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world. 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 bright to the water's edge were rank with weeds. Worse, there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all along 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.

As the companions continue, their outrage increases when they see the devastation of a favored tavern. They also get their first look at some of the men responsible for the wretched condition of the Shire.

But in the village of Bywater all the houses and holes were shut, and no one greeted them. They wondered at this, but they soon discovered the reason of it. When the reached The Green Dragon, the last house on the Hobbiton side, now lifeless and with broken windows, they were disturbed to see half a dozen large ill-favored Men lounging against the inn-wall; they were squint-eyed and sallow-faced. [980-981]

Questions

1. Why does Tolkien cause the Shire to be in ruin at the homecoming of the heroes?

2. How does Tolkien's technique, in which he mentions the old condition of the Shire before describing its new form, emphasize the devastation?

3. How does Tolkien's description of the Men at the inn immediately betray their ill intentions?

4. What qualities of the type of community in the Shire, as well as the qualities of the hobbits within, cause it to be so susceptible to such a takeover? What does the four companions' willingness to mend this devastation say about the changes they have undergone?

References

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.


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Last modified 25 February 2004