An unusual feature of the The Return of the King, the last book in the Lord of the Rings series, is the amount of time spent on the ending. The ring itself is destroyed around two thirds of the way through the narrative (or halfway if you count the appendices), leaving a huge amount of space for resolutions for characters and wrapping up loose ends. While some people enjoy the closure, others feel it unnecessarily drags on. This is how I felt the first time I read the “Scouring of the Shire”, the penultimate chapter, where the hobbits return to the Shire only to find Saruman and his minions taken it over but they are ejected after a brief battle. It seemed very anti-climactic and petty in comparison to the epic battle for the fate of the world that had just been fought.
However, I did some reading and found that many people enjoy this scene, in fact they argue it is one of the most important of the entire series and were disappointed it didn’t appear in the movies. Pretty much every article and discussion I could find on the chapter tells the same story, that the Scouring of the Shire is based on Tolkien’s experience from World War 1. The chapter is actually about the difficulties soldiers faced when they returned from war and found society had drastically changed while they were gone. It’s a bittersweet ending showing how despite the fact the hobbits fought so hard to protect their homes and preserve the Shire, they return only to find it has irreversibly changed. Some argue Tolkien is actually saying that Frodo failed.
So with this in mind, I realised that I must have missed the nuance during my original reading, so I decided to reread the chapter. Yet I was shocked by what I found, the chapter isn’t about the First World War or the changes society underwent, it is the complete opposite. Continue reading “The Scouring of the Shire is the opposite of what people think it is”