The Scouring of the Shire
|The Return of the King chapters|
The Scouring of the Shire is the eighth chapter of the sixth book in The Return of the King.
The Hobbits find the bridge at Brandywine closed with a large spiked gate. When they demand entrance, a frightened gatekeeper informs them that he is under orders from the Chief at Bag End to let no one enter between sundown and sunrise. Frodo guesses that the Chief must be Lotho, his greedy relative. Merry and Pippin climb over the gate. The four hobbits set out for Hobbiton and encounter a large group of Hobbit Shirriffs, who inform them they are under arrest. The four hobbits laugh and move on. One of the Shirriffs quietly warns Sam that the Chief has many Men in his service.
Leaving the Shirrifs behind, the four hobbits find a half-dozen Men who claim they do not answer to Lotho, the Hobbit Chief, but to another mysterious boss named Sharkey. The men threaten Frodo, but the other three hobbits draw swords. The men turn and flee. Sam rides on to find Tom Cotton, the oldest hobbit in the region. Farmer Cotton and his sons gather the entire village to fight. The band of Men return, but surrender after a brief fight.
After the battle, Farmer Cotton explains that shortly after the Hobbits first left, Lotho began to purchase farmland, causing a shortage of food in Hobbiton. Cotton says that a gang of Men from the south took over the town. The next morning, a band of nearly one hundred Men approaches Hobbiton. Pippin arrives with his relatives, and a fierce battle ensues. Seventy of the Men die in the Battle of Bywater, as the conflict is forever remembered.
The three remaining companions lead an envoy to Frodo’s home, Bag End, to deal with the new Chief. To their surprise, the hobbits find Saruman standing at the gate to Bag End. Saruman—who, it turns out, is the mysterious boss Sharkey—pronounces a curse upon the Shire if any hobbit should harm him. Frodo assures his friends that Saruman has no power, but he forbids them to kill the wizard. As Saruman passes by Frodo, he draws a knife and stabs Frodo, but Frodo’s armor shields him.
Frodo again demands that his companions show mercy on the old wizard. Frodo’s clemency, however, enrages Saruman. Frodo asks about his relative Lotho, and Saruman informs Frodo that his servant, Wormtongue, killed Lotho in his sleep. Wormtongue, standing nearby, cries out that Saruman ordered him to do so. Saruman kicks Wormtongue, but Wormtongue stabs the old wizard. Wormtongue flees with a yell, but three Hobbit arrows kill him. From Saruman’s corpse, a gray mist rises and blows away.
The transformation of the Shire from rural idyll to industrial wasteland heavily parallels Tolkien's own views of the destruction of the English countryside by the steady creep of industrialisation. In particular, the loss of the old Mill in Bywater, only to be replaced by a much larger, grimier version, mimics an event from Tolkien's childhood. Tolkien himself commented that the symbolism lay in the feeling of loss he felt after returning from the First World War, to discover that many of his close friends had died, and the world he remembered from his youth had largely disappeared.