"I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved."
Frodo�s task in
Tolkien�s Lord of the Rings
by Walt Sheasby
*If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it�s my
wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly with the natural
earth,* Tolkien once said in a 1966 Interview. (1) That is also at the heart
of the task that the young hobbits embraced, a task better understood after
the Ring is dissolved in the fiery Cracks of Doom.
Sam said to Frodo, *I thought you were going to enjoy the
Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.*
*So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.
I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me,*
Frodo said. *It must often be so, Sam, when things are in
danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others
may keep them.* (2)
For Tolkien the love of the natural earth was seasoned with a nostalgic
bitterness about the loss of *the quiet of the world, when there was less
noise and more green....* (3) Tolkien tried to make it clear that his
motivation was more general than that of Frodo, who has an intense love
of his place, his hometown, Hobbiton:
*...it has been supposed by some that the The Scouring of the
Shire reflects the situation in England at the time when I was
finishing my tale. It does not.... It has indeed some basis in
experience.... The country in which I lived in childhood [1896-
1900] was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in the days
when motor cars were rare objects.* (4)
But Tolkien took this experience as a lesson through which to arrive
at broader understanding of the peril of environmental degradation.
The film script by Peter Jackson emphasizes nostalgia even beyond
Tolkien's words. A fan wrote about the tense climax of RotK: *The scene
between Frodo and Sam on the slopes of Mt. Doom was absolutely heart-
rending.* The script:
Sam: *Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It�ll be spring
soon and the orchards will be in blossom, and the birds will be
nesting in the hazel thicket. And the whistle in the summer
barley in the Lower fields. And eating the first of the
strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of
Only Elijah Wood�s response to Sean Astin follows Tolkien�s version:
*Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo? he said.
And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir's
country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?*
*No, I am afraid not, Sam,* said Frodo. *At least, I know such
things happened, but I cannot see them. Not taste of food, no
feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or
flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in
the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel
of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else
The original scene is much less heart-rending because Frodo's cry of
deprivation is not explicitly related to the beloved country.
But the theme of loss, of couse, is spelled out by Tolkien throughout
all the books of the LotR, from the day when Gandalf rode his wagon into
the Shire after a nine-year absence on April 12, 3019 and the hobbit quest
began on Sept. 23, 3018 until the hobbits return Nov. 1, 3019 and rouse
the Shire-folk against Saruman.
In the House of Tom Bombadil
The nature of Frodo's commitment to the Shire is first shown by way
of contrast with another potential ring-bearer, Tom Bombadil, or *Iarwain
Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless*, who is evaluated in the
Council of Elrond. (7) Although Tom had shown the four hobbit visitors
that he was immune to the Ring, he is passed over by Gandalf because he
would not understand the urgent need to safeguard it and destroy it
because of his essential pacifism toward conflict.
Tolkien said of the hobbits' visit to Tom�s house, *Frodo has asked
not 'what is Tom Bombardil' but 'Who is he?'.* Tom is an enigmatic
being, less a real character than a pedantic Greek chorus which
*represents something that I feel important, though I would not be
prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.* (8)
In 1937 Tolkien described the adventurer of his 1934 poem as *the
spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside.* (9) But by
the writing of LotR, his stature had grown: *He is Master of wood, water,
and hill,* as lady Goldberry says, but not that the land belongs to him,
since *all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves.*
(10) As Tolkien explains, �he has no fear, and no desire of possession or
Tom Shippey says of this ancient woodsman, *What he is may not be
known, but what he does is dominate.* (12) This is wide of the mark
since his mastery over the natural world is not through superior force,
but rather because he is master of ecological wisdom,
...an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural
science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their
history and nature, because they are �other� and wholly
independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the
rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with 'doing' anything
with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding
or Agriculture.� (13)
Tom represents the strength and the weakness of Natural History; in
today�s terms, his is a pure ecology, a deep ecology without any impulse
of reform. For this ancient being there is hardly cause for alarm in the
reality that all life is a struggle for existence in a *nature red in tooth and
claw* as Lord Tennyson put it.
The four lads, however, having narrowly escaped death as the prey of a
predatory old Willow tree gone rotten, Frodo is quite shaken: *Tell us,
Master,* he said, *about the Willow-Man.* (14) But Tom is unconcerned,
laissez-faire. *He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no
effort to reform or remove even the Willow.* (15) As Tom charmed the
hobbits with story and song *of bees and flowers, the ways of trees, and
the strange creatures of the Forest ...Frodo learned now enough to content
him, indeed more than enough, for it was not comfortable lore.* (16)
I suspect that this Darwinian lore was also uncomfortable for Tolkien
himself, who nevertheless seems to have absorbed a great deal of it even if
his Catholicism inhibited any acknowledgement. But unlike Tom, and
almost as much as Frodo, Tolkien is interventionist against things being
allowed to go rotten or turn to waste.
Frodo, on the other hand, unlike Tolkien, is a localist or particularist;
he is a very partisan or political ecologist. When he leaves the Shire on
his quest, he is naive and unfamiliar with the violence that has so
deformed and transformed the world of Middle-Earth. But in this regard
the young hobbit does resemble the 23-year old Tolkien summoned to the
trench warfare of the Somme. Both return home wounded and more
experienced in the ways of killing.
The film image of the Shire is a bit of a nostalgic fantasy, but
Tolkien�s real hamlet, Sarehole, outside of Birmingham, where he lived
from age four to age eight, was quite real and its memory an indelible
source of genuine warmth.
*It was a kind of lost paradise,* he said. *There was an old mill
that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond
with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a
few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream
with another mill. I always knew it would go - and it did.* (17)
In response to critics who called fantasy literature escapist, Tolkien
distinguished the Escape of the Prisoner from the Flight of the Deserter,
arguing that critics *stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion,
but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger,
Condemnation, and Revolt.*
Many stories out of the past have only become 'escapist' in their
appeal through surviving from a time when men were as a rule
delighted with the work of their hands into our time, when many
men feel disgust with man-made things. (18)
Here Tolkien echoed the theme of worker alienation, and perhaps of revolt,
that is paramount in the essays and stories of the Marxian ecologist and
fantasy writer William Morris, who in turn drew this theme from John Ruskin,
both major architects of the Victorian romantic critique of capitalism and
1. Bradley J. Birzer, �Both rings were round, and there the resemblance
eases� Tolkien, Wagner, Nationalism, and Modernity, ISI Conference on
�Modernists and Mist Dwellers� in Seattle, Washington, August 3, 2001
2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New York:
Quality Paperback Book Club, 2001, p. 309.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1996, p. 5.
4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring,
New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2001, pp. 7-8.
5. Return of the King , Script Publication date 09-Jan-2004, Council of
6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter III, p. 215
7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 278-9.
8. Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 2000, p. 178-9.
9. Ibid., p. 26.
10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 135.
11. Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 192.
12. Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth, Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 2003, p. 106.
13. Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 192.
14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 137.
15. Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 192
16. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 141.
17. John Ezard, Tolkien's shire, The Guardian, Saturday December 28,
1991, Guardian Unlimited, http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/
18. J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Tales, available in the collections Tree and
Leaf and The Tolkien Reader,
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