The Scouring of the Shire
"The Scouring of the Shire" is the penultimate chapter of the epic fantasy The Return of the King — the third volume of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The hobbits of the fellowship return to the Shire to find that it has been despoiled by ruffians and corrupt hobbits led by the Chief Shirrif, Lotho, and Sharkey — the refugee wizard Saruman.
The author denied that the chapter was an allegory of the state of Britain at that time it was written — 1949, the aftermath of World War II. The chapter had been planned from the beginning and, instead, drew on Tolkien's childhood at the end of the 19th century:
The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in days when motor-cars were rare objects (I had never seen one) and men were still building suburban railways. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important. I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.
In the final volume of the story, the five travellers (Gandalf, the wizard, and Hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took) stay overnight at The Prancing Pony in Bree where they catch up on the last year's local events with proprietor Barliman Butterbur. They learn that thuggish strangers from the South have settled in and around Bree, much to the discomfort of the peace-loving Men and Hobbits indigenous to the region. Barliman is impressed to discover that Strider has been crowned King of Gondor.
Gandalf parts ways with the Hobbits on their way to the Shire, to talk with Tom Bombadil, and assures the four that their experiences in the War of the Ring will be sufficient to settle the troubles. Finding their compatriots tyrannized by the southern invaders, they rouse the Shire and expel the occupiers. With the assistance of Farmer Cotton, Merry and Pippin lead the Battle of Bywater, the last battle in the War of the Ring, in which 19 Hobbits die.
Ultimately, the returning Hobbits find that the thugs' ringleader is the fallen wizard Saruman, who has taken up residence at Frodo's former home, Bag End, along with his servant Wormtongue. Though the Hobbits allow the pair to leave the Shire unharmed, Wormtongue cuts Saruman's throat; Wormtongue is in turn killed by the Hobbits, who shoot him with arrows. A column of mist arises from Saruman's corpse and is blown away in the wind, a scene reminiscent of Sauron's demise. Frodo covers the suddenly shrivelled skull of Saruman and turns away.
The events of "The Scouring of the Shire" do not occur in any film adaptation of the novel to date. It is not featured in the 1980 animated version of The Return of the King and only barely referenced in the 2000s Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The 1981 BBC The Lord of the Rings radio play has "The Scouring of the Shire" story included, during which the Shire homeland is taken over by ruffians. Like the events of the book, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin rally the Hobbits to fight against the ruffians. Ultimately, the Hobbits win The Battle of Bywater. The radio play includes the original showdown and ending in which Saruman dies by Wormtongue's knife and Wormtongue is killed by arrows in the Shire. It also tells about the murder of Lotho, and Lobelia gives Frodo and Sam back his home and money to help out the Hobbits. She later dies of old age. Then Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin and the Hobbits clean up the Shire and restore it to normal. This is included in the last episode, The Grey Havens.
It is the only radio adaptation to include the story of "The Scouring of the Shire" from the book. The BBC radio play is available on cassette, and on CD.
In Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Mirror of Galadriel does foretell the Ruffians taking over the Shire as in the novel, but Galadriel tells Frodo that this is a glimpse of the future only if he should fail in his quest. Consequently, when the hobbits return home in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Shire is unchanged. In the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Wormtongue kills Saruman (through stabbing him in the back, not slitting his throat) and is in turn killed by arrow as in the novel; however this takes place at Isengard instead of the Shire and it is Legolas who shoots Wormtongue.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), ch. VIII The Scouring of the Shire, "The Return of the King", The Lord of the Rings (1991): 1035–1058, ISBN 0-261-10230-3
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1966), "Foreword", The Lord of the Rings (1991): 9–12, ISBN 0-261-10230-3
- Birns, N (2012), "'You Have Grown Very Much': The Scouring of the Shire and the Novelistic Aspects of The Lord of the Rings", Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
- Croft, Janet (2004), "'The Scouring of the Shire' and Pacifism", War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 130 et seq., ISBN 0313325928
- Hardy, Gene (2013), "'This is worse than Mordor!': The Scouring of the Shire as Conclusion", Cliffs Notes on The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- Helms, Philip; Thompson, Kerry; Ritz, Paul (1994), "The Gentle Scouring of the Shire: Civilian-Based Defense among the Hobbits", Tolkien's Peaceful War
- Jones, Leslie (2003), "Evil on the Home Front", J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Greenwood, pp. 112 et seq., ISBN 9780313323409, ISSN 1540-4900
- Langford, JD (1991), "The Scouring of the Shire as a Hobbit Coming-of-Age", Mythlore
- Plank, Robert (1975), "'The Scouring of the Shire': Tolkien's View of Fascism", A Tolkien Compass, ISBN 9780875483030
- Waito, DM (2010), "The Shire Quest: The 'Scouring of the Shire' as the Narrative and Thematic Focus of The Lord of the Rings", Mythlore