Brief Notes on Two of Tolkien’s Tales: The Scouring of the Shire

The film adaptations of Lord of the Rings were masterpieces, most can agree to that. But all ardent fans of the trilogy have their gripes and complaints about what was missing or what was done wrong. Elijah Wood’s portrayal of Frodo’s temptations/pain. The lame version of Faramir and Eowyn’s love story. The total ejection of Tom Bombadil.

And I get it—the books are so enormous that even with the movies already rushing through some chapters, the extended editions still ended up being over eleven hours total. There is only so much you can put in them.

Yet of all the mistakes of the movies, it seems to me that the most egregious is the removal of the Scouring of the Shire.

The Scouring is the penultimate chapter of Return of the King, after the entirety of the Grand Narrative has passed, after the War was won, after Gandalf has departed, and when the hobbits are at last returning home to the comfortable and quiet and unimportant Shire.

Throughout the story, the hobbits have matured. They have been caught up in something huge beyond themselves, and they have walked with the Great Ones. With Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn, Elrond. No one can help but change and grow when a part of such a quest.

Now, at the end, we finally the see the results of this growth. The first hint we see is a change in Gandalf’s opinion of them. He knows (or at least suspects) that Sharkey has taken over and spoiled the Shire, but thinks of the danger ahead without any worry. He says to the hobbits, “You’ll manage all right.”

And indeed they do. They come home to find the place in shambles, with silly rules and coldness where warm friendships used to be. But unlike the other enslaved hobbits, they are unafraid to challenge the absurdities taking place and aim to set things right. They organize, they gather allies, they rebel to gain the peace and joy that they knew.

The Scouring of the Shire is our part in the story. The truth is that almost all of us are small and unimportant. We live in small communities that are not hugely impactful. We are not the Greats. But, we can walk with them. And I would argue that if we are in a healthy Christian community with stout and grace-filled and Bible-filled teaching, we will be walking with them. We will be hearing of Stephen and Moses and Ester and our Lord Jesus. We will learn of their heart and their words and their deeds, and through this, we will be transformed. (Not to discount or diminish the work of the Spirit in any way—He is the agent of our transformation. He just doesn’t have a counterpart in LotR.)

Then, after such a transformation, we come back to our communities with fresh eyes for injustice and foolishness, and find within ourselves boldness to become impactful where we are. The hobbits did not intend this change or expect it. It didn’t happen because they were seeking a transformational experience. In fact, they were quite content to stay in the comfortable Shire until the end of their days. They changed because of the story they found themselves in, and because of the greatness of the ones they followed.

So what is it to remove this part of the book? It is to remove our place in the world. It is to remove the application. It leaves us struggling to find where we fit, leading to either shame or pride. Shame because we know we cannot fill Faramir’s shoes, or pride because we think we can. The Scouring of the Shire leaves us with neither, and indeed is the most inspiring part of the book. It gives us a good, hard task that can be achieved. It is our portion of the fight.

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