The Scouring of the Shire
"The Scouring of the Shire" is the penultimate chapter of the epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and the eighteenth chapter of The Return of the King. The hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, return home to the Shire to find that it has been despoiled and corrupted by ruffians and their leader, the wizard Saruman, now known as Sharkey. To date, it has been left out of all film adaptations of the novel.
The author denied that the chapter was an allegory of the state of Britain during the aftermath of World War II. The chapter had been planned from the beginning and, instead, Tolkien drew on his 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.
Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin come to the Brandywine Bridge, which is barred at both ends, late at night. They are taken in, after some convincing, by the group of hobbits who are supposed to be guarding the bridge. After setting off for Hobbiton the next morning the four hobbits are met by Shiriffs at Frogmorton and placed under 'arrest' for breaking a number of rules the night before. Unable to keep up with the hobbits on ponies, the Shiriffs give up and allow them to continue.
Reaching the village of Bywater, the hobbits are confronted by a group of ruffians who are quickly scared away by the sword-wielding Pippin, Merry, and Sam, after their leader insults Frodo. (Pippin and Merry, having partaken of Treebeard's Ent-draught, have grown by inches, and indeed are now the tallest hobbits ever seen in the Shire.) The hobbits decide to 'raise the Shire'-Sam recruits Tom Cotton and his sons, who rouse the village of Bywater. After some discussion, Pippin rides off to Tookland to rally his kin. Soon after Pippin's departure a gang of twenty ruffians from Hobbiton try to take farmer Cotton prisoner but, after the leader of the gang is shot dead, the other ruffians quickly surrender and are locked away under guard.
The next morning the hobbits at Bywater learn that Thain Paladin II has raised Tookland and is pursuing ruffians that have fled south, and that Pippin will be returning with all the hobbits his father could spare. The hobbits also learn that a much larger group of ruffians is heading towards them; fortunately, Pippin returns in time with one hundred Tooks at his back. Merry and Pippin lead the Battle of Bywater, the last battle in the War of the Ring, and the only battle in the Shire since the Battle of Greenfields.
The hobbits learn that the true "Chief" is not Lotho Sackville-Baggins as expected, but rather the wizard Saruman, now known as Sharkey, 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, Frodo offers Wormtongue the opportunity to stay. However, Saruman reveals Wormtongue killed Lotho, causing Wormtongue to cut 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 shriveled skull of Saruman and turns away.
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 Sackville-Baggins 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.
By contrast, 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 alluded to in the 2000s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, in which the Mirror of Galadriel shows an invasion of the Shire by Orcs as something that has not yet come to pass. Galadriel tells Frodo that this is a glimpse into a future that has not yet been decided, but, should he fail in his quest to destroy the One Ring, the events depicted in the Mirror will come to pass. 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.
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- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1966), "Foreword", The Lord of the Rings (published 1991), pp. 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
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- 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