It's been for too long since I have posted something other than my regular "Catholic Masterpieces" feature. It's time I right that "wrong!"
I am unlike many of my friends and colleagues, both on the Left, and in traditionalist Catholic circles, in terms of Tolkien's writings. I did not read "The Hobbit" until I was in high school, and I didn't have a copy of "The Lord of the Rings" until right before the movie came out. In fact, I finished reading "The Fellowship of the Ring" in the movie theater, right as I was about to see its movie adaptation. It wasn't until last summer that I read it from beginning to end, and I didn't even get around to reading the appendices (I know, 40 lashes for me with a wet noodle). I started reading it again this past summer, and I got as far as the end of the first part of "Return of the King," when the Men of the West come unto attack at the Black Gate of Mordor. I had to put it down then, and I didn't get back to it until very recently.
I was off today for Veterans Day, and I finally read "The Scouring of the Shire." Anyone who has read the book and has seen all of the movies knows that Peter Jackson and his crew did not film anything from this second-to-last chapter of the book. One commentator, after he saw the movie adaptation of "Return of the King," commented that this reflected the difference between the Americans and the British in terms of the aftermath of World War II. The Americans returned home to a land that was left pretty much unscathed from the ravages of war, whereas the British returned home to see the devastation of the Blitz. Perhaps this British outlook made it into Tolkien's writing, since he lived through that war.
Peter Jackson commented that "Return of the King" had more footage shot for it than the other two installments of his movie adaptation. The ending to this last movie was already pretty long, and the decision was probably made that the "Scouring" was probably too anti-climatic for this production. Many devout Tolkien fans criticized this omission, along with other omissions and changes in these movies. Some material that was omitted in the theatrical releases was restored for the Extended Edition releases on DVD (and from the look of things after viewing the "teaser" for the Extended Edition of "Return of the King," some great scenes are going to be added to this release).
As I reread "The Scouring of the Shire" today, I remembered something that I thought of when read this chapter for the first time last year. Tolkien was well known for his criticisms of the modern world, and I believe he inserted some of his observations into the narrative of this chapter. I must summarize the chapter, in order to reveal what these observations.
When Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo arrive at the Brandywine River crossing, which is the entrance to the Shire, they notice that a spiked gate has been built across the path. After demanding to be let in, the hobbits guarding the bridge reluctantly let them in, but not after encountering further resistance from one of the Outsiders who had helped to overpower the Shire. After they had subdued this "ruffian," the returning hobbits asked if they could stay at the "very gloomy and un-Shirelike" guardhouse that had been built on the Shire-side of the bridge. They learn that this wasn't allowed, among other things. The ruffians have become "gatherers and "sharers," and they "do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the stuff again." Inside the guardhouse, they find lists of Rules that has been put into effect across the Shire. Many of the activities that all hobbits had previously enjoyed, such as the brewing and drinking of ales, and the smoking of pipeweed, had been severely restricted, if not banned outrightly.
The next morning, as the newly-returned hobbits made their way toward Hobbiton, they find out that all of the inns have been closed, and that the "shirriffs," who were few in number and had few administrative duties before the hobbits departed, had expanded into something like a secret police force, spying on the citizens of the Shire on behalf of the "Chief" and his vile Men. Any hobbit that tried to stand up for his rights was taken by the ruffian Men to be imprisoned in the "Lockholes," where they were often beaten. All of the buildings that had been built since the four hobbits left on their quest to destroy the Ring were built in a similar fashion to the guardhouse at the Brandywine Bridge, ugly, "un-Shirelike," and poorly constructed.
After encountering more of the ruffian Men and driving them off, the four hobbits rally the other hobbits to finally stand-up their oppressors. As the resistance begins, Sam and Frodo reach Bag End, and find that their home has been devastated. They discover that Saruman was behind all of these changes. As he, and his Men, are forced out, Saruman meets an "untimely" end, and in the aftermath, the four hobbits begin to set things right in the Shire.
What is pretty obvious to me, and what has probably been missed by countless numbers of "Lord of the Rings" fans, is that Tolkien is describing the aspects of a totalitarian state, especially a socialist one. The rulers of such states preach the equal distribution of all goods in a society, but what ends up happening is that the ruling class ends up being enriched by their "redistribution," while everyone else is left with little. The many laws and regulations of the state restrict the activities of most people, and anyone who resists the actions of the state are beaten, sent to prison, or even killed. The quality of architecture, both in beauty and in construction, goes down, and the landscape is ravaged, due to selfish aims of the state. Due to all of this devastation, which Sam described as being "worse than Mordor," the hobbits rightfully drove out their oppressors, and they began to heal their wounded land.
I think it is entirely possible that the producers of the "Lord of the Rings" realized the point-of-view Tolkien was taking in this chapter. Given the Left-wing bent in the film industry these days, it might have been deemed too politically-incorrect for someone's tastes. However, the producers also included some very "Christian-sympathetic" material in the films, especially in the Extended Edition of "Fellowship" (Gandalf referring to himself as "a servant of the Secret Fire," which is Tolkien's name for the Holy Ghost, and the very Marian sculpture on the grave of Aragorn's mother), which they could have easily left out of the film.
My personal opinion is that they should have filmed "The Scouring," and just put it back in for the Extended Edition of "Return of the King." I think it is an essential part of the narrative, and it reinforces the point that even if you think evil is defeated, it will always try to reveal its ugly head, sometimes in a way that is far too close to home.