"You have grown very much": The Scouring of the Shire and the novelistic aspects of the Lord of the Rings.
In the grand sweep of The Lord of the Rings, "The Scouring of the Shire" has very much its own tone and atmosphere. The chapter (chapter 8 of Book VI, published in 1955 in The Return of the King), in which Frodo and his three hobbit-friends, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, return to overthrow the unjust order that has imposed itself on their homeland while they were absent, has a distinct quality to it. As Robert Plank has argued, the Scouring chapter is "fundamentally different from the rest of the book" (103). There is no magic, no lyricism, no Elvishness. The only character who is not either a hobbit or a man is the evil wizard Saruman, ultimately the mastermind behind the unjust order. The Scouring chapter has also attracted various historically contextualized readings, such that J. R. R. Tolkien himself, in the foreword to the 1966 second edition of The Lord of the Rings, had to deny that it was an allegorical response to the socialist policies of the 1945-51 UK Labour government. Tolkien stated: "It has been supposed by some that 'The Scouring of the Shire reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not."
But what does the Scouring chapter reflect? This article will argue that the chapter plays an essential role in the shape of The Lord of the Rings because of how closely it resembles the prose fiction of the two centuries before Tolkien began to write. My contention is that the Scouring chapter is the most novelistic episode in Tolkien's massive tale. The Lord of the Rings is an epic, a romance, and a fantasy. But it is also a novel, specifically the sort of novel Ian Watt described as reflecting "the dominance of the middle class in the reading public" (Watt 48) by invoking a certain kind of bourgeois social realism. It is my argument that "The Scouring," in what Janet Brennan Croft calls "that deceptively anti-climactic but all-important chapter" (102), epitomizes many of the book's aspects of what Barry Langford calls "novelistic verisimilitude" (Eaglestone 30). In the English novel as delineated by Watt, novelistic verisimilitude consists of the following aspects. First, there is a broad swath of society with several social classes represented as interacting with each other. Second, the focus is domestic, or at the very least the resolution of the plot is a domestic one and occurs within a domestic context. Third, though not recording an overwhelming or revolutionary social change, the novel tends to privilege the viewpoint and the ideals of the emerging and aspiring middle classes, though accommodating them within an essential continuity of English life in which existing hierarchies might seem only slightly altered. "The Scouring of the Shire" as a piece of writing can be said to, in different degrees, reflect all three above-described traits of the English realist novel.
David Waito has recently presented an outstanding restatement of the chapter's importance. Waito argues that "The Scouring" presents a "Shire Quest" of equal moral importance to the "Ring Quest" of the trek to Orodruin. The Shire Quest, for Waito, possesses the same moral stakes as the Ring Quest but applies them to daily life and to circumstances that the hobbits have to address for themselves. This article concords with Waito's emphasis on the moral and political aspects of the chapter, but particularly emphasizes its formal role in the book's overall composition--especially the ways in which The Lord of the Rings is a novel. This compositional role depends crucially on the figure of Saruman--the chapter's most unexpected character, and the figure who renders the very idea of scouring necessary in the first place.
A final obstacle to the return home was part of Tolkien's plan at least from the initial composition of the scene in Lorien in which the mirror of Galadriel depicts mischief taking place in the Shire. This sense of a final obstacle was a plot-aspect with a long epic pedigree going back (as Giddings and Holland 129 indicate) to Odysseus's nostos and his scouring of the suitors who have plagued Ithaca. Yet, as the compositional history included in Sauron Defeated (the ninth volume of Christopher Tolkien's The History of Middle-earth and part four of the History of The Lord of the Rings) shows, the presence of Saruman-as-Sharkey, and thus the Scouring's connection to the greater tale of the War of the Ring, was a very late entry. As in most of Tolkien's revision-during-composition process, the later an element appeared, the more serious it was, and the more serious an element, the more likely it is to connect with, in Middle-earth terms, southern and eastern geography (see Birns). In the final composition, there can be no division between the parochialism of home and the consequentiality of abroad. Indeed, one of the principal outcomes of the Scouring, and of the oppression that prompted it, is to lessen the hobbits sometimes protective, but sometimes stultifying provincialism, to open up the Shire to the outside world just enough so it can preserve its own distinctiveness. The Shire is scoured. But it is also toughened. Fredegar Bolger is "Fatty no longer" (RK, VI, ix, 1022), and Merry and Pippin are now world citizens. They are ready to become cultural ambassadors and teachers of the wider tradition of Middle-earth, even as the anchors of that tradition, the Elves, accelerate their westward migration.
Yet the Scouring chapter is sufficiently self-contained that many see its interpolation as a deliberate political point on the part of Tolkien, despite what the author himself repeatedly said. Tolkien (writing in 1943) said he was averse to socialism, "most of all because the 'planners' when they acquire power, become so bad" (Letters 235). But, lest his reader see him as simply averse to the Labour Party in a party-political way, Tolkien hastened to say his chief adversary over letting motorcars into Oxford was "a member of a ' Tory government." Tolkien was not concealing his generally conservative bent here. Lotho's "socialism" began with ill-thought-out plans for redistribution. It ended in sheer destruction. This fairly reflected Tolkien's personal opinion of socialism. But Tolkien also clearly did not want the reader to use his opposition to centralizing planning in the Lotho/Sharkey regime to be read as a determinatively partisan allegiance within Britain. While not concealing his heartily expressed political views, he was allowing the reader to experience a more comprehensive artistic stature for his text. As Brian Rosebury says, "Tolkien's most earnest commitments were to values which he believed to be independent of specific historical circumstances" (90).
In the 1966 foreword, Tolkien deflected any historical referent for the chapter to his youth, when, in his account, industrialization was already beginning to ravish what Tolkien's fellow Roman Catholic, Gerard Manley Hopkins would have called "the sweet especial rural scene" (Cunningham and Wu 162) of Tolkien's childhood. As a 1958 letter to Deborah Webster also indicates, nostalgia for his childhood and rage at the rape of his local countryside by late Victorian industry, not any partisan diagnosis, was the emotional antecedent here (Letters 288). Nonetheless, these explicit demurrals on the part of Tolkien have not kept commentators from seeing a linkage. Hal Colebatch in his Communism entry in the Tolkien Encyclopedia argues, using Tolkien's phraseology, for the "applicability" of the Scouring episode to the Labour government (108), and sees Tolkien as explicitly anti-socialist. Benjamin Wiker uses the Scouring episode, with its critique of central planning, as a main reason why the book is "a must read for conservatives" (260). Yet the chapter presents a powerful pro-environmentalist argument as well (see Dickerson and O'Hara 282). Its portent is as much conservationist as it is traditionalist.
But the chapter's resonances go far deeper than any echoes of its time of composition. The social background of the chapter leads also to another, earlier source. As John Garth and many others--including Tolkien himself--have stressed, the First World War, in which Tolkien actually fought, had much more influence on his mind and writing than did the Second. After four years of grueling warfare, the returning troops in 1918-19 were a social problem for England; they needed to be reintegrated into society but felt themselves possessed of a more profound insight than that of the society they had returned to. Tolkien was certainly conscious of the problem of the First War veteran as a social issue. There is a light-hearted chuckling at the incongruity bestowed by the hobbits parochialism in the narrative's observations of Hamfast "Gaffer" Gamgee's minimizing of the war. But there is also a sense of injustice in that the actions of the warriors are not entirely recognized on the home front.
Sam's demurral when Rosie trivializes everything he has accomplished so far is done not just out of decorum or politeness towards his beloved. It proceeds out of awareness that the Shire experience has been so parochial that the home hobbits are literally incapable of registering the trauma of the returning veterans. This is seen in the localism of the Bree people in their skepticism regarding any of the developments away south. Both the Shire and Bree folk are civilians who only know their own local deprivations and, in what Tolkien called in a 1963 letter "a mental myopia which is proud of itself (Letters 329), are insensitive to those of the soldiers who have travelled, both physically and experientially, much further. As Sue Kim puts it, the "hobbits are caught in a bureaucracy for which their own submission and lack of organization is partly responsible" (884). Necessarily, it is this very provinciality that Frodo and company went into peril in order to protect. They would not want their people to know all that they have known. To preserve ordinary life is why Frodo and Sam made the sacrifices they did. Still, at the end of the war, there is a pronounced difference in moral knowledge between Frodo and Sam, on the one hand, and the majority of hobbits, on the other.
Frodo faces the same problem of reintegration encountered in many First World War poems and narratives, albeit his is very differently treated in mode and style and in a narrative universe that is, in Tolkien's vision, much more integrated and harmonious. Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), a poet who, like Tolkien, had actually fought in the war, posited a similar issue of reintegration, albeit from a far angrier vantage point. In "To The Prussians of England," Gurney has a returning soldier say, "We ll have a word there too, and forge a knife/Will cut the cancer threatens England's life" (34). Gurney here proposes a kind of scourging of the cultural complaisance and excessive bellicosity of Britain. Frodo's scourging, on the other hand, is of the malevolent oppression of Saruman and Lotho. Frodo returns disillusioned with, yet not entirely scornful of, military action, and he certainly advocates overthrowing the Lotho/ Sharkey regime. Yet he wishes to do so with minimal bloodshed and takes no great pleasure in his side's triumph. Frodo's quandary does not refer to, as in Gurney, the corruption of his people, but the trauma of his own ordeal. More largely, Frodo realizes that his life in the Shire has been, as Verlyn Flieger said of Tolkien's wartime life, "diverted from its accustomed channels" (9). Despite his love for the Shire, Frodo realizes it offers him no real possibility of reintegration.
But reintegration into what? What is the polity of the Shire? Identifying the polity of the Shire can take us, productively, beyond the immediate politics of the twentieth century towards a more enduring sense of Tolkien's art and vision. Asking this question yields the realization that any sense of the Shire's polity will have to be found very late in Tolkien's compositional process. To be sure, in the early chapters of Book I, we have a sense of the geography and organization of the Shire, and of the relationship of Buckland to the original four farthings. But there is no evidence of who the overall ruler of the Shire is, or what is the nature of the authority they exercise. Certainly, no sense of any of this can be found from The Hobbit; indeed "the Shire," as a term, did not exist in The Hobbit; there was just "Hobbiton." The Shire as a new concept is coextensive with the far darker reimagining of the world of The Hobbit in The Lord of the Rings. Imagining a politically bounded region surrounding Hobbiton was a necessary part of establishing the darker historical circumstance of the Scouring. And all textual evidence shows that many of the details of the polity of the Shire, as unfolded in "A Note On The Shire"--that it had a Mayor and a Thain and a Master of Buckland--were conceived in the course of Tolkien's planning of the Scouring, the deliverance of the Shire from Lotho/Saruman's oppression by the returning Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The final conception of the polity of the Shire is very much a novelistic polity, in that it resembles the half-genteel, half-bourgeois world in which the first major English novelists, such as Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson, wrote. Again, the evidence of the box Galadriel presents to Sam indicates that Tolkien foresaw the need for scouring early on. But the very idea of scouring changed his conception of the Shire that would be so scoured.
It is notable, for instance, that the idea of a Thain is not mentioned in the text until the Scouring chapter. Here, Paladin Took, as described by Farmer Cotton, says that if anyone will give orders "at this time of day" it will be "the right Thain of the Shire" (RK, VI, viii, 1009). Pippin has earlier mentioned his father, describing him to Bergil, son of Beregond, as someone who farms the lands round Whituell near Tuckborough in the Shire, not mentioning that he is the Thain. Did Paladin Took only "become" the Thain of the Shire when Tolkien had to conceive the sort of polity that would resiliently reaffirm itself against Sharkey's depredations? Christopher Tolkien comments, on page 103 of Sauron Defeated, that the mention of the Thain was "introduced" on revision, and in addition, reveals on pages 99 and 101 that mention of the Thain was inserted. These alterations suggest that Tolkien at the very least made more of the institution of the Thain in the text as he decided he needed it for narrative reasons. "At this time of the day" in Paladin's comment (as quoted or perhaps paraphrased by Farmer Cotton) is also fascinating as it indicates that the Thain sees his power as largely ceremonial and having, in institutional terms, passed its height. If there is any de facto power in the Shire before the Lotho/Sharkey crisis, it resides with the Mayor, however comical a figure Will Whitfoot may be. This is seen in the initial draft of the chapter where Robin Smallburrow speaks of the responsibility of the Shirriffs to "do as the Mayor bids" (Sauron Defeated 81). Though this language was omitted in the final version of RK, the assumption that the Mayor commands the Shirriffs is still latent. Notably, the Shirriffs obey the Mayor, not the Thain. In crises such as the Lotho/Sharkey one, however, the Thain can assert his institutional reserve power, as indeed Paladin does in resisting Lotho (fortified by the impregnability of the physical stronghold of the Tooks in the Smials). The power is still there, formally, on the books, able to be activated if need be, as in the case of what Christopher Tolkien calls Paladin's "refusal to have anything to do with the pretensions of Lotho" (Sauron Defeated 103). But Paladin's own words give the impression that the more active exercise of the power of the Thain was in the past. And the office of the Mayor, as an institution, seems more modern than that of the Thain (which even in Shakespeare's Macbeth--so eloquently linked to Tolkien by T. A. Shippey--was used as a synonym for archaism, replaced by the earls introduced by the English-influenced Malcolm Canmore). The Mayor is elected for a renewable seven-year term, a democratic practice that certainly did not exist other than on the village level in the Middle Ages. The institution of shirriffs or shire-reeves, is a historical one stemming from Anglo-Saxon times, but there are no records of the Mayor of a pre-Norman Conquest English shire or of the institution of Mayorship, which in its etymology is French and Latin. The Mayorship seems an institution more of the sort that would have existed in the eighteenth century, at the time of the rise of the novel.
This is in line with Tolkien's description of the Shire as "half-republic, half-aristocracy" (Letters 241)--indeed a winning and apt description of Britain in the eighteenth century. The Shire is seen as a place where democracy in the sense we would use the term today is not absent. (1) Of course, the fundamental idea is that the Shire is a place where concentrated power is abhorred as the enemy of all virtue and freedom. Ideally speaking, there should be as few orders given as possible. Tolkien's hobbits, and his conception of them, exude a love of near-anarchy close to the distributism of a vision such as G. K. Chesterton's in The Napoleon of Notting Hill. This relation is argued by, among others, Paul E. Kerry, who speaks of Tolkien's sympathy with the older Catholic writer's critique of "the encroaching artificiality of industrialization" (225). Certainly this encroaching artificiality is what Saruman represents, and it may well overpower any consideration of the society that emerges from Saruman's impingement. But Tolkien does portray a Shire after Saruman, one in which Mayor Sam Gardner is a resounding success. The general arc of history in the Shire seems to point to the rise of the Mayorship, even if this is not automatically accompanied by the decline of the other offices.
Indeed, in the next generation, even after the cosmopolitan heroes Pippin and Merry revitalize the offices of Thain and Master of Buckland, it is Sam Gardner, the Mayor, who is the principal power in the Shire. As important as the institutions of Thain and Master still are, it is that of Mayor of the Shire that is preeminent. Sam represents social mobility and the rise of the middle class. As symbolized by Sam, the post-Sharkey Shire is not a restored aristocracy but a continuing incipient democracy that resumes its course after Sharkey's menace is removed. The emphasis is less on the Return of the Thain than the Rise of the Mayor. In the epic-romance world of the rest of Middleearth, virtuous kings retain, inherit, or resume thrones. Sam's emergence as Mayor during the years of his maturity and achievement in the early Fourth Age, on the other hand, reconfirms the novelistic nature of the world of the Shire.
2. Frodo and Saruman: Novelistic Characters
Yet, for all that, the character who makes the Scouring most novelistic is a millennia-old wizard who has ensnared himself with his own devices--Saruman. Saruman's fate in this chapter is one of degradation and humiliation. He has spurned the last genuine offer of the victors for forgiveness, taken advantage of Treebeard's half-intentional mercy by slinking off and putting himself up to no good. His putative last moment of command under the name of Sharkey turns to dust when he loses both the physical battle and the struggle for psychological supremacy to a bunch of hobbits, albeit heavily armed and militarily experienced ones. Sharkey, originally suspected by the returning Hobbits to be merely a nasty ruffian, is revealed as Saruman. But, equally, Saruman's character has dwindled to become, in effect, merely a nasty ruffian. This fall is symbolized in the way Saruman, ejected from the lofty battlements of his tower of Orthanc, ends up in-a hole in the ground! Bag End embourgeoises Saruman. He diminishes into a local magnate. Shippey termed Bilbo the "bourgeois burglar" (10). Saruman has become the bourgeois wizard. Just as Wormtongue becomes Worm, Saruman becomes Sharkey. For both Saruman and Wormtongue, it is a process of diminishment, of truncation. When he first heard of hobbits via Gandalf, Saruman had contempt for them. Now he is as petty as the worst of hobbits upon whom he has looked down. Just as Frodo has attained the aura of an Elf or a Wizard, so has Saruman slunk down to meanness and pettiness. If romance or epic characters, for good or evil, are necessarily larger than daily life, Saruman's final pettiness is merely life-size, and typical of the sort of character one finds in a post-1700 novel, defined by Watt as possessing "formal realism" that constitutes "a full and authentic report of human experience" (31).
The constructive, affirmative elements of the Scouring also have a novelistic aspect. The Ents give Merry and Pippin draughts that have the effect of making them larger. This seemingly random plot element pays off on their return to the Shire, where the newly grown hobbits are that much more physically mighty in contrast with their former peers. Merry and Pippin do not find the Entwives, as wistfully requested of them by Treebeard. Yet, through the increased height and self-confidence Treebeard (as well as their participation in the victory over Sauron) gives them, Merry and Pippin grow large enough to salvage a land the Entwives--as Treebeard makes a point to say--would have loved. Saruman, on the other hand, dwindles, becomes petty, and is knocked down rather than bolstered by his interactions with the world. Saruman, furthermore, becomes more aged and hunched, and grows smaller just as Merry and Pippin grow larger. Merry and Pippin increase from comic sprites to novelistic figures capable of moral growth. Saruman diminishes from a fearsome wizard to a self-seeking villain more on the scale of a Mr. Carker in Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son or a Sir John Chester in his Barnaby Rudge. Saruman's rivalry with Gandalf is a contest in which mutual rancor takes the priority--at least in Saruman's mind--from the search for knowledge and wisdom. For Saruman, it is only mastery that matters, and the need for mastery arises ultimately from both a personal flaw and a personal grudge. Saruman cannot confess his interest in the Shire to Gandalf because he would be admitting that he shares Gandalf's quirks and enthusiasms more than he lets on. This interpersonal rivalry has the intricacy of motive most often associated with novelistic characters, what Peter Brooks has termed the ability of the novel to negotiate with "the ethical complexity of reality" (145).
Moreover, Saruman has already violated the implied instructions to the Istari to circulate and be helpful to all by claiming a specific place, Orthanc, as his own, while Gandalf is obediently itinerant, indeed finding the Shire in the course of his travels. (2) When Saruman is exiled from Orthanc and dwindles into Sharkey, the Shire becomes his last redoubt. But perhaps, as Vincent Ferre suggests (52), Saruman may also have hope of using the Shire as a new base through malevolent counsel much the same way Sauron used Ar-Pharazon's Numenor after being carried there as a conquered captive. Saruman's post-Orthanc recourse to Eriador is one of many links between the Shire and the mid-Anduin basin region of Middle-earth, going back to the Hobbits original migration and their kinship with the Rohirrim. In every case, the Eriador location is a more domesticated version of the Anduin-oriented location. The Hobbits have ventured out from Eriador and become cosmopolitanized. Saruman has retreated into the provincial realm he had successively derided and exploited, fallen from menacing wizard in a fearsome fortress to bourgeois smallholder of Hobbiton.
For, if, on the one hand, the Lotho who gleefully took over Bag End from Frodo became transmogrified, as Tolkien revised the text, into Saruman, on the other hand, Saruman has, in terms of his moral ambitions, dwindled into being just another claimant to what is still a hobbit-house, "a hole in the ground," no matter how socially grand in hobbit terms Bag End is. Saruman has shriveled morally. But he has also narrowed his ambitions to mere shelter and a chance at ruining the lives of others. Just as Saruman becomes Sharkey, Wormtongue becomes Worm, totally losing any vestige of humanity. It is a process of diminution that inverts the hobbits growth, both moral, and--given the effect of the Ent-draughts--physical.
Much of Tolkien's recasting of the chapter, including his giving to Merry lines originally ascribed to Frodo (on which Christopher Tolkien briefly remarks in Sauron Defeated 81, but whose complete elucidation must wait until there is a comprehensive textual history of The Lord of the Rings), can be explained by the new prominence of Saruman. Merry and Pippin have been on the Saruman "side" of the plot, while Frodo has not. Though Frodo's "side" is far more serious--Saruman at his worst is a far less menacing enemy than even a Sauron much weakened from his height in the Second Age--Frodo and Saruman have not met and have had no history comparable to that supplied by Merry and Pippin's ill-treatment by Saruman's Orcs and their friendship with Saruman's enemies Treebeard and Theoden.
Frodo's interaction with Saruman is still necessary. But because of their earlier non-conjunction, Tolkien handles it gingerly and with a sense of consequence and magnitude. Saruman has certain expectations of Frodo, probably formed by his interactions with hobbits. He expects a triumphant Frodo will be boastful and self-important in his defeat of Saruman, just as Saruman's hobbit minions have been in their mistreatment of the Shire populace. Yet Frodo knows in his heart the necessity for sacrifice and self-disavowal. Rebekah Long speaks of the "lasting sadness and narrative resignation" of the Scouring chapter, and emphasizes the "urgent wish" of Frodo's desire for no more killing, reflected in his not actively participating in the Battle of Bywater (130). This largely has to do with Frodo's physical and psychological wounds. But the Shire as a whole has also suffered a trauma. It is a short and reparable trauma. But it is a trauma that adds to the book's ample experiential reservoir of pain and suffering, and one to which novelistic reintegration, expressed for instance in Sam and Rosie's marriage, is a solution.
The fact that Frodo's lines in draft are taken over by Merry in the published version also signifies that Tolkien realized that Frodo, after his suffering, temptation, and sacrifice, was an insufficiently bourgeois hero (again using "bourgeois" as Shippey used it of Bilbo). Merry has endured horror, including a serious war wound. But he has not undergone the truly extreme perils faced by Frodo. Merry is a more appropriate accomplisher of the task of repairing errors that are caused by avarice and arrogance but that are not direct embodiments of Sauron's metaphysical evil of the sort Frodo has faced in Mordor. It is for this reason that Merry and Pippin take the lead in dealing with the minions of Sharkey. Merry and Pippin's draught-assisted physical growth can deal with the obstacles on the ground. But Frodo's moral growth is needed to deal with the obstacles within the heart. If Frodo had not been laden with suffering, Saruman would not have been so shocked at Frodo's moral growth.
When Saruman says to Frodo, "You have grown very much" (RK, VI, viii, 1019), and that he, Frodo, has robbed Saruman's revenge of his sweetness, Saruman is saying Frodo has gone beyond what might be expected of a hobbit. Even when corrupt and miserable, Saruman is still, intermittently, wise. He can see that Frodo will not have a long and happy life. Saruman understands-in the way that a Sauron, at least a Third Age Sauron, would not--that Frodo has indeed grown. But Saruman has lost the ability to put his percipience in any overall moral frame. That is the core of his bitterness, his perdition. The moral complexity here is novelistic. Certainly heroes in epic or romance grow morally. The protagonist of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a text profoundly important to Tolkien, is a good example. Yet Tolkien's moral canvas has a three-dimensionality to it that medieval texts arguably lack. This scene is a consummate example of what Ian Watt argued was the "much richer psychological and moral content" (167) of the modern novel. Frodo's moral growth is an eminently novelistic element. So is Saruman's agony at having to concede it although it gnaws at his heart to do so.
Indeed, Saruman's percipience becomes turned even against his ostensible allies. When Saruman says, mockingly, of Wormtongue, "Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars" (RK, VI, viii, 102), he is jeering at his only continuing loyalist. Here, any vestige of a moral understanding on Saruman's part has collapsed--even as Frodo, in showing to Saruman at Bag End the mercy that he had shied away from feeling for Gollum in his discussion with Gandalf in "The Shadow of the Past," has achieved a larger and more comprehensive moral insight. The tension within Saruman and Wormtongue, the friction within the camp of the adversaries, is also friction within fiction itself. The aphorism gains its thrust from Saruman's pointed psychological deployment against his alleged helper. What is, thematically, evil turning in on itself, being schismatic and disputatious, becomes, on the level of articulation, a deepening novelistic effect yielding a multiplicity of psychological planes.
Frodo can neither subside back into the Shire nor resume his former role as squire, despite a brief stint as temporary Deputy Mayor. Sam, Merry, and Pippin, on the other hand, assume roles much larger than those they had once had. Saruman, though, becomes morally diminished, and his character dwindles to the merely novelistically malevolent. He is still of much greater intelligence than anyone else in the tableau. But he is so filled with rancor and loathing for himself and others that this intelligence has no context. That his spirit seeks the West after he dies is a sign that some of his potency remains. That it is rejected, presumably by the Authorities (Eru, that is to say "God," and/or the Valar), via a cold wind shows how far Saruman has fallen. From being the mightiest wizard in Middle-earth, Saruman has become a petty criminal, a half-comic, half-monstrous blocking figure who would be at home in a Moliere comedy or, perhaps especially, a Dickens novel (see Nelson for a discussion of Dickens's possible influence on Tolkien). Conversely, from being a bourgeois gentlehobbit, Frodo has become a hero deserving of welcome and sanctuary in Eressea but is no longer at home in the Shire. Tolkien anchors the moral clarity of Saruman's deserved punishment in the moral nuance of novelistic psychological detail.
3. Middle Class, Marriage Plot, and the Novelistic Shire
The post-1700 British novel has long been considered to focus around one contextual and one structural feature: the rise of the middle-class and the marriage plot. Watt, the preeminent theorist of this conjunction, puts all the elements together when he speaks (140) of "the middle-class concept of marriage." (3) In The Lord of the Rings, this combination is epitomized in the life of Sam Gamgee. Sam is the unobtrusive moral center of the book. His return to domestic happiness with Rosie after dropping Frodo off at Mithlond is paradigmatically novelistic. In 1951, Tolkien said of this aspect, "I think the simple ' rustic love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves , and sheer beauty" (Letters 161).
The "nowhere elaborated" is key. Why, in a sprawling, teeming saga, replete with details of Dunland and Lossarnach, Archet and Aglarond, would an author nowhere elaborate something he says is essential to the understanding of a character that he says is his hero? Obviously, Tolkien thought about having a more expanded role for Rosie (explicitly in the shelved epilogue, but perhaps elsewhere, in possible reveries by Sam during his Mordor travails) and decided this would distort the shape of the book. If he only came to explicitly understand there was a Rosie late in composition, that sequence would explain why Rosie is not mentioned at the beginning and why Sam thinks of Galadriel, but not explicitly of Rosie, in Mordor. Bywater, the Cotton family, and, for the most part, Lotho are new names in narrative terms, manifesting themselves first and only in the Scouring chapter. Christopher Tolkien, in discussing the original draft for the murder of Saruman by Wormtongue, remarks that "There is ... no Battle of Bywater" (Sauron Defeated 100) and speaks of the battle descriptions as being "inserted" later on in the compositional process.
These insertions do much to fill in the picture of the Shire as a developed polity. But they remind us all the more that Tolkien's vision of the Shire grew considerably in heft and nuance as he neared the end of his great work; the final polity of the Shire was clearly considerably amplified from his original intent. Cotton, Rosie, and Bywater all, as referents, give a more embodied view of the Shire. They give it a felt social context that ramifies and diffuses the polity described in section one of this article. The three-dimensionality and sense of paradox here are novelistic. The very people such as Rosie and the Gaffer, who do not understand the scope of the War of the Ring, are those who must be protected against the remnants of the evil it was fought to combat. Once again, Waito's differentiation of Ring Quest and Shire Quest becomes relevant. The epic/romance plot exists in order to safeguard the lives of those living the novel plot. All this is a testimony to what Robin Anne Reid calls the "multiple styles and registers and languages" that flourish within Tolkien's polyphonic text (535). This very multiplicity is novelistic.
The combination of marriage-plot, domesticity, and Sam's rapid social and political rise (even seen in his surname-change from Gamgee to the more aristocratic-sounding and less parodic Gardner) are juxtaposed with the troubling transformation of the Shire, once thought to be inherently free from evil, but now its repository. As Fleming Rutledge puts it, "murder has come home to the Shire" (363). Ted Sandyman's delight in the new order, even though he is no longer master of his own mill, sacrificed to the oncoming of the machine, is reminiscent of Barnaby Rudge's pride, in Dickens's novel of that name, in being enrolled in an anti-Catholic cause he does not at all understand. Lotho and Saruman do not merely inject a foreign toxin of pride and exploitation utterly alien to the Shire. They play on vulnerabilities that already existed, as in the case of Sandyman. Rosie's provinciality is a far more benign version of the Shire's negative traits. But Sam is genuinely hurt by it because for a moment he doubts the understanding with Rosie that instantly thereafter very movingly manifests itself. That this convergence of domesticity, middle-class qualities, and psychological depth is "nowhere elaborated" speaks to Tolkien's reluctance to have these novelistic aspects burst his epic/romance frame. But his comment about the centrality of the Sam/Rosie relationship surely leads the reader to consider these aspects more deeply than first might have seemed appropriate. Few would say The Lord of the Rings owed more to Barchester Towers than it did to Beowulf. But it is worth considering these minority aspects of the book along with its more obvious debts.
Obviously, medieval romances had marriage-plots; even the Odyssey and the Aeneid did. Equally, the rise of the middle class had its correlates in medieval lore. Dickens's Dombey and Son, a great example of the Victorian Bildungsroman, took the model for the rise of its hero, Walter Gay, from the Renaissance legend of the late medieval figure of Dick Whittington rising from humble circumstances to be Lord Mayor of London. Modern fiction holds no copyright on these themes. But the way these themes are treated in the Scouring chapter involves a rich mixture with the complicated and often disturbing psychological implications of Frodo's and Saruman's moral fates. This mixture brings the Scouring chapter near to what Martha C. Nussbaum describes as the novel form's "moral 'record' and 'projection'" which presents its particular characters and events as "something that might happen in a human life" (166). It is because of this ability to project, Nussbaum hypothesizes, that makes the "concrete doings and imaginings" of novelistic characters accumulate "a universal significance" (166). Q. D. Leavis speaks of "the moral drama essential to the novelist's art," which she sharply differentiates from mere "moral fervour" (150). In the Scouring chapter, there are certainly moral absolutes. There is no paring-down of the manifest distinction between good and evil. But Frodo's stance makes a retaliatory vengeance impossible. As, indeed, in a different way, does the domestic resolution. The aim is ultimately not to settle accounts with the malefactors. It is to create, or re-create, a society in which Sam and Rosie's progeny can flourish.
It is indeed Sam and Rosie's progeny whose future is open. Frodo has no progeny. The Baggins line, its headship (as Tolkien conjectures in Letter 214, p. 290) passed to a distant cousin, the second Ponto, peters out, like the Buddenbrooks family in Thomas Mann's novel of that name. Frodo never does manage to go back to the Shire fully. For him, it can never be "There and Back Again." For Sam, it can. Sam may pass to the West eventually, but for him there is a resolution this side of the Sea. The rising middle class replenishes the aristocracy of Hobbiton. Marriage, reproduction, social mobility are all aligned as they are in many an English novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And Sam's rise is not just a fluke. Nor is it merely a personal reward to him for his loyalty to Frodo. The "very considerable rise in the fame and fortune of the Cottons" (RK, VI, viii, 1016) dates from the Battle of Bywater. Far from restoring the old order, the Scouring seems to precipitate an intensification of the Shire's incipient development towards a middle-class democracy. This was the kind of world that was depicted in, and that consumed, domestic, marriage-plot fiction. Just as the landed class, as manifested by Merry and Pippin, becomes broadened, more cosmopolitan, becomes not just an aristocracy but, in its appreciation of Gondorian and Rohirric lore, a cultural avant-garde, so do the middle class use their yeoman virtues no longer just to obey but now to govern. (4)
Often in a Victorian novel (say, one by Anthony Trollope), there seem to be a lot of lords and ladies around at the end of the book, but in reality, a middle-class hero's rise has both opened up the social hierarchy for that individual and set the entire society on a more open and consensual path. Similarly, the rise of the Gamgees and the Cottons epitomizes the class mobility and opportunity that are evident in a post-Scouring, post-Sharkey Shire. Sue Zlosnik has aptly pointed out that Tolkien's book has aspects of the "Victorian questromance" (Eaglestone 51); the Scouring chapter gives a glimpse of Victorian domesticity, once the quest has been fulfilled. The resolution of the Shire plot is redolent of the optimistic possibility of class transition and upward mobility for distinguished individuals such as Sam. Just as, despite his awareness of the anonymity and tradition-mindedness of much medieval literature, Tolkien's idea of authorship was individualistic--Jason Fisher reminds us how Tolkien "vigorously defended his intellectual property from infringement" in the Ace Books controversy (34)--and so too is Tolkien's social model partially one of democratic individualism, as represented by Sam. Sam's individual rise and that of the middle class that he represents transpire amid a realistic milieu where, as Plank puts it, "Miracles do not happen" (106). It gives a novelistic ending to The Lord of the Rings much as other chapters in Book VI give elegiac, poetic, or epic endings.
4. Lobelia's Repentance and Novelistic Morality
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, as depicted in The Hobbit and in the first book of The Lord of the Rings, is an opportunistic, avaricious ogre. Yet the conclusion of her story allows her possibilities for moral regeneration and reform. Lobelia's reappearance is brief and potentially lost amid a welter of other plot developments. But the moral change is notable. If with Saruman we see a potential hero become a villain, with Lobelia we see a minor villain become a heroine. When she emerges from the Lockholes, the "clapping and cheering" that greets her renders her "touched" and moves her "to tears" (RK, VI, ix, 1022). The evidence provided by what Christopher Tolkien reveals in Sauron Defeated shows that the development in the minds of Frodo and company--from Lotho and his mother as villains, to them as victims of Saruman--also occurred in the compositional process. In sum, Lobelia and Lotho fall into the group of characters in various shades of gray--Boromir and Denethor, for instance--who give to Tolkien's romance a Shakespearean depth and nuance of character. Boromir is of a far more noble background and character, and his final repentance transpires on different planes of representation and importance. Yet Boromir's final repentance and regeneration after his terrible lapse presents a model of atonement, humbling, and forgiveness equivalent to Lobelia s. The villainy at the end had to be more structural, less personal--had to be ingrained into the moral perils of Middle-earth, not just manifest as a fluke of the difficult personalities of certain cadet branches of Hobbit families.
Thus, the spite of Lobelia's contra-Frodo vendetta turns into the spirit of Lobelia's contra-Sharkey resistance. The goad and bane becomes someone to be cheered. To get there, Lobelia had to evolve, to suffer. She had to be put away as a political prisoner. She had to suffer the loss of her son, whom she had made into the vehicle of her misguided ambition, the pressure of which, we may infer, had expedited the moral weakness of Lotho's willingness to give, in essence, his soul to Sharkey as the price for the momentary afflatus of illgained power. Lobelia also shows moral growth in her realization of the limits of her newfound acceptance. Ashamed at the results of Lotho's actions, she retires back to her people in Hardbottle and leaves her money to Frodo to help redress the calamitous losses of the Shire for which her greed and ambition were partially responsible. Lobelia has responded to the Shirefolk's acceptance of her with grace and humility. She has stepped forward along with them into a new relationship that transcends the divisions of the past. Christopher Tolkien indicates that Tolkien revised Lobelia's words after her release from prison to emphasize her repentance and maturation. The initial draft, as recorded in Sauron Defeated, has Lobelia saying, of the disastrous Sharkey episode, that Lotho (at that time called Cosimo) was not to blame, that "it was not his fault" (110). The final version retains Lobelia's inability to get over the death of her son, but leaves out this bit of exculpatory pleading. The final presentation of Lobelia is of a character who knows her son's guilt, even if she does not avow it. The use of her money to repair the damages her son wrought testifies to this tacit but powerful moral acknowledgement.
But Lobelia was not the only one who had to grow in this scenario. So did Frodo, in the first instance, and the Shirefolk more generally. Frodo had inherited Bilbo's long-term animus against the Sackville-Bagginses, whose behavior when Bilbo had ostensibly disappeared was opportunistic and unsympathetic. In settled non-emergency times in the Shire, it was normal for Frodo to loathe the Sackville-Bagginses, with their self-interest and bourgeois avarice. But, even before learning of Lobelia's imprisonment and late-in-life heroism, Frodo, on his way back from Mordor, has forgiven Lobelia and her son. Frodo comes to save Lotho, not to punish him. Frodo has seen the evil of Mordor, and after that there can be no other evil. To hold on to the Sackville-Bagginses as villains would be to shortchange the hard lessons learned during the Quest. The victory over Sauron and over the perils of the Ring itself would be no victory if it just meant triumphing over pathetic, deluded, vainglorious hobbits. Embracing these hobbits, forgiving them even in their manifold flaws, is what must be done in the light of Frodo's glimpse of the ultimate Evil.
When the ruffians mock Frodo, Merry thinks back to the Field of Cormallen and the honor Frodo earned from all the great of the West. Not just by dispatching Sharkey and his ruffians, but also by showing mercy, and compassion for Lotho, Frodo demonstrates he is worthy of Cormallen, and that Merry is right to be indignant at his cousin's deprecation by the mob. Frodo's forgiving of those who attack him is, of course, profoundly Christian in spirit. But in many ways the post-1700 novel, from Richardson onward, deploys Christian values on a realistic psychological plane. The aim was not so much to transcend these values as to actualize them. The post-1700 novel showed moral issues affecting people concretely, not just through precept and instruction. Even though C. W. Sullivan rightly says that "Tolkien was certainly not writing a modern novel" (11), the Scouring chapter is where he comes closest to doing this. Even Tolkien's overtly non-novelistic aesthetics allows for representational aspects that mirror and parallel the post-1700 realistic novel. Frodo provides not a paradigm of morality but an actual practice of it that, in its serviceability and its concrete understanding of the flaws and needs of others, is preeminently novelistic in mien. And the people of Hobbiton and Bywater follow Frodo's lead, even if they have not had his specific experiences. They cheer for Lobelia's spirited resistance and forgive her past avarice and the malevolent contribution she made to the rise of Sharkey.
The Sackville-Bagginses are novelistic villains. They may do bad things but love their fellow Sackville-Bagginses (as Farmer Cotton admits that Lotho loved his mother, and, importantly, as Saruman and Wormtongue do not love each other). Above all, they operate within social forms. One might not like the Sackville-Bagginses living next door, but one could (barely) tolerate them. Sauron, or any of his immediate minions, is just not tolerable in the same way. Moreover, Lobelia's repentance, her metanoia, as the New Testament would put it, takes place within the framework of a life lived in realistic moral terms. Much like Janet Dempster in George Eliot's novella "Janet's Repentance," Lobelia is turned from a life of scorn to one of understanding, both by her own experience at the hands of Sharkey and, later, by Frodo's mercy and compassion. As a Christian, Tolkien would most likely believe, with St. Augustine, that Lobelia was ultimately pardoned by the pure mercy of grace. But Frodo was the vehicle of that grace, as the Reverend Tryan was in Eliot's story. In both Eliot and Tolkien, metanoia and Augustinian pardon are expressed not through moral precept but through a narrated turning of the heart in a world where social relationships and gestures (such as Lobelia's leaving her money to Frodo to care for the victims) are of primary consequence.
These sorts of novelistic concerns, the problems of what Jane Chance refers to as "the domestic and quotidian" (230), would not come into play in connection with villainy on a vastly grander scale than Lobelia s. Sauron, at least in the Third Age, cannot operate within social forms at all. He is thus unable to be a manifest character in a book that is, after all, named after him. Saruman, in social and novelistic terms, splits the difference between a Sauron and a Lobelia. Saruman's role throughout is to play the aspect of evil that operates, or thinks it can operate, within socially acceptable matrices. When the Hobbits return to the Shire, they know the evil that is facing them is from Saruman, not a residuum of Sauron, because of its continuity with the less admirable aspects of existing Hobbitry. Now, Saruman is not truly socializable either. The smooth exterior he projected during White Council meetings, in conclaves with Theoden before the betrayal, and even in his last futile projection of his voice while immured in Orthanc, provides a veneer of social polish. But by the time Saruman comes to the Shire as "Sharkey," he has become so diminished as to be part of a social and novelistic frame. Saruman has become an aging, raggedy, abject failure hoping to make one last comeback on a smaller stage. His diminution would move the reader--as it nearly moved Frodo--were he not so vile.
Yet Saruman's implosion fosters positive lessons. Just as, even after the demolition of the "new" Shirriff-houses, the bricks from them "were used to repair many an old hole, to make it snugger and drier" (RK, VI, ix, 1022), so do the lessons of the Scouring contribute to an enlarged moral atmosphere. Using the bricks for good purposes and welcoming even the repentant Lobelia back into the fold of the Shire shows a maturity that in its generosity is as much a signpost of the novelistic as the marriage-plot of Sam and Rosie and the resulting rise of the middle-class Gardners and Cottons (and two generations later the Fairbairns of the Towers). The denouement of the Scouring integrates recent pain and suffering, integrating the near past into the rhythms of the present and the future. Bywater is the first battle in Shire history since the Battle of Greenfields over two centuries before. It was sad there had to be a battle, and even the loss of just nineteen Hobbits is lamentable. But there is nonetheless a certain satisfaction for the Shire in integrating the Battle of Bywater into its history. This is not just in terms of the Shire being battletested, but also of having the Hobbits of the Shire undergo the moral experience of, for example, Frodo's reconciliation with Lobelia and his acceptance of the heartfelt spirit of her repentance.
Events such as Lobelia's repentance signal that there can indeed be common ground between the war experiences of the Travellers and the ordinary life of those among whom they return to dwell. Crucially, Sam and Rosie do find they understand each other enough to have a long and happy life together. This common ground is the ground traversed above all by what Ian Watt called "the infinite formal and psychological complexity" of the post1700 English novel (238). The Lord of the Rings indeed is an outlier in modern fiction; its key links are to a certain tradition of modern fantasy as well as to a whole series of medieval, Renaissance, classical, and Biblical works. Yet, for all the book's exalted and manifold ancestry, the post-1700 novel can be a vehicle useful for understanding important aspects of Tolkien's prodigious text. "The Scouring of the Shire" is where Tolkien's dark romance bends the most towards the realistic novel of domestic reintegration and redemption.
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(1.) One of the few exceptions is Esgaroth in The Hobbit, where a (presumably elected, certainly non-inheritive) Master continues to rule even after a King is restored in nearby Dale. This can be seen to anticipate the way that, in the Scouring of the Shire, no polity that has achieved anything like democracy sees it rolled back in the favor of aristocracy. Stewards take second place to Kings in Gondor, but Mayors do not take second place to Thains in the Shire.
(2.) The Saruman/Shire relationship is also colonial (much like the cultivation of the real-life pipe-weed, tobacco, in North America.) He is extracting commodities out of a faraway land that he perceives as culturally inferior.
(3.) Novel criticism of the past fifty years has moved on from Watt, and indeed has redefined the novel in ways that would be far friendlier to Tolkien's practice than is Watt's conception. But my point is that Watt's narrow, realist, and middle-classcentered idea of the novel, as inadequate as it may be for an account of the entire form, is surprisingly pertinent to certain aspects of Tolkien's work.
(4.) As Christopher Tolkien shows in Sauron Defeated, the name of the character that ended up being called Lotho was Cosimo for most of the draft stage. Tolkien might have decided the name was too stage-villainy. But it is interesting that, considering the cosmopolitan traits of the "enlarged" Merry and Pippin, Tolkien shied away from using "Cosimo" for a character with largely negative connotations, and substituted Lotho, a name that suggests "loathsome" and "Lothario." Interestingly, the Cosimo/Lotho name change is the major difference in a final product that, for The Lord of the Rings, was atypically close to the first draft as provided by Christopher Tolkien in The History of Middle-earth.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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