Monday, October 19, 2015

The Scouring of The Shire

Tolkien protested when it was suggested that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the Second World War
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
And while there may not have been an intentional allegorical reference to WWII, in his stories about Hobbits, there may be an unintentional one.  His description of The Shire has a lot of parallels with Canada.  From the Cliff Notes on the Return of the King:
From the novel's outset, the Shire stands as an ideal country, characterized by green hills, sparkling rivers, and pleasant woodlands. The inhabitants of that community are farmers, tradesmen, and country gentry, all of whom indulge in the innocent pleasures of rustic life: good food, strong beer, and idle gossip, all amply represented at Bilbo's birthday party.
The Shire and its inhabitants were generally ignored by their allies to the south in Gondor, although the Hobbits have proved themselves as fierce warriors when then had no other choice.  They are not oftne included in the councils of the "wise" but they are instrumental at the key times.  If that isn't Canada, what is, eh?

And life went on like this for the Hobbits of The Shire.  Until there came a time when the Hobbits let their guard down and individuals driven by greed.
When they return home, however, the Shire hobbits discover their cherished ideal corrupted. A totalitarian state has replaced the carefree rural life, dominated by "the Rules" and suffering from "no beer and very little food." Journeying deeper into the Shire reveals a devastated countryside. Homes have been replaced by ugly row houses and barracks, trees have been wantonly felled, and the old mill has been replaced by "a great brick building straddling the stream, which it fouled with a steaming and stinking outflow.
Is this due to external forces?
At first glance, Frodo and the others blame outside forces for the destruction. Evil men, brigands, and thieves have moved in while the protecting Rangers have gone to war. Sharkey, their leader, has urged them to "hack, burn and ruin" since his arrival. The hobbits soon learn that Sharkey is their old enemy Saruman, who has ravaged the Shire in revenge for his own losses.
(Yes, Harper is not the ultimate evil.  He is the banal equivalent of the lesser evil to Sauron.)

But the Hobbits are inspired to fight back and reclaim the home and native land they knew was still there somewhere.
With determination and cooperation, the hobbits expel the invaders, destroy Saruman and his henchman Wormtongue, and eradicate the last vestige of Sauron's evil in Middle-earth. Then they apply the same energy to the restoration of their beloved homeland. "Now there were thousands of willing hands of all ages, from the small and nimble ones of the hobbit lads and lasses to the well-worn and horny ones of the gaffers and gammers." The result is not just an ideal restored, but surpassed: "a gleam of beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass on this Middle-earth." As with the novel as a whole, the ending of evil means little without the assurance of continuation, that the life and land, once saved, will be preserved and remembered.

Not a bad allegory at all in my opinion.  Well done and very prescient Mr. Tolkien.

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