Full weight and meaning of that list of rules in The Scouring of the Shire

Discussion in '"The Lord of the Rings"' started by Sir Eowyn, Oct 23, 2018.

  1. Sir Eowyn

    Sir Eowyn Member

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    Remember when they get back to the Shire, and to their horror there's a list of rules on the wall, and Pippin tears it down? What a lovely moment. Nowadays we take for granted that everywhere we go there are ten thousand rules (including ones about smoking inside which would have horrified Tolkien), but here in the book it's lumped in with orc-mischief. I cheer.
     
  2. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    Yes - and the onerous part about the new Shire Rules, is that they were not even intended to protect others (ie, from second-hand smoke), but they were all in place to limit what the Shire Folk could do and have, that they might be further plundered by their leaders. The "Sharers" took a page from socialism with all those rules. :)
     

  3. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Treacherous and Vile

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    I'd hesitate to assign "The Scouring of the Shire" to political allegory, especially given the author's explicit statements in the Introduction. Although Tolkien despised what he viewed as "Socialism", we have to be careful about linking a author's personal views with his work as a fiction writer; he appears to have despised democracy just as much.

    The "Rules", and the overcoming of them, go back at least to Aristophanes.

    Case in point. Although Sam does grumble about "a lot of rules and orc-talk", the initiative for the situation in the Shire, including the "Rules", began with Lotho.

    Several threads of the story come together in this chapter, but looked at structurally, it is comedy.; that is, it follows the comedic theme of a hero overcoming the obstacles in the way of obtaining his desires, and in the process creating a new society.

    The obstacles to be overcome may be personal, as it is in domestic comedy -- for instance a "heavy father", blocking the hero from taking the bride of his choice -- or it may be social, as it is here, with a usurper-figure setting up a false society of despotic rule. One common feature of this is the issuing of arbitrary or absurd law. This is not to imply the law itself is "funny" or comedic: it is often cruel and deadly. The failure to overcome it creates tragedy; I mentioned in another thread Rohan and Gondor as examples of absurd laws that held the potential for tragedy: we can imagine the consequences if Theoden hadn't been "healed" by Gandalf, for instance.

    In the case of the Shire, the emphasis is thrown, as it is in most comedic structures, on the absurdity, of both the law and its author. The question arises of what makes the blocking character absurd, rather than simply evil. The answer lies in the concept of the "humor", to use Ben Jonson's term: a ruling passion or obsession which he follows to absurd lengths. The obsession of the Sackville-Bagginses with possessing Bag End is absurd in this sense; after all, it is far from their "power-center" in the Southfarthing. It's notable that this obsession is treated humorously, in both this and our normal sense of the word, in The Hobbit and the first chapters of LOTR; it's only after gaining the object of the obsession that its dark side begins to manifest itself. We, of course, don't see the process at work, as we are with the heroes of the quest; we find out about it as the hobbits do, in retrospect, and see only the final product.

    That product, in the case of the Shire, is a sort of sham Utopia, a society of, to use Northrop Frye's term, "ritual bondage", enforced by the Humor's will, and absurd and arbitrary rules and laws are an integral feature of it.

    The opposite of this is the society that emerges at the conclusion of the comedic structure, one of a kind of moral norm we expect in an idealized free society. Its "rules" are not externally imposed, but internalized, and aren't really defined; definition and careful formulation are characteristics of the humor. This demonstrates the soundness of Tolkien's instinct in dropping Gandalf's original explanation of why he couldn't force Bilbo to give up the Ring: that it would be "against the Rules". "Rules", and behavior restricted and defined, are part of the sense of arbitrariness associated with both false, "humorous" society, and with nightmare. The action which resolves the story causes them to dissolve, to vanish like smoke, which is why we often have the feeling, at the end of a comedy, of awakening from a dream.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
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  4. Sir Eowyn

    Sir Eowyn Member

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    I happen to think the concept of second-hand smoke is bogus (negligible compared to, say, car exhaust, which no one seems to mind), but that's a whole different debate entirely.
    Yeah, the whole idea of the "Sharers" disturbed me---they take all your stuff and then hoard it, ostensibly for your own good. The parallels with modern government are dark indeed. The whole point of the Shire is that it's really quite loose, and "families manage their own affairs." Is our modern bureaucracy a version of Saruman? Again, the scope of these questions goes beyond the books, but it really is interesting.
    As for Tolkien's introduction statements, Squint-eyed, I'm hesitant to take any author's comments on their own work at face value. Even so, he mentioned "applicability," which means that whatever we read into it is valid to some extent, so long as it holds up. And there's much political food for thought in The Scouring of the Shire, to my eyes.
     

  5. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Treacherous and Vile

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    That's the thing about "applicability": it can be "applied" in a number of different ways, depending on your point of view, including political point of view. It's surprising how often readers feel Tolkien's apparent beliefs match their own. Or is it?

    Here are some samples from a few months ago:

    http://www.thetolkienforum.com/index.php?threads/tolkiens-political-views.23245/

    I note in passing that you can find websites where Tolkien is held up as a hero of White Nationalism. I'll let you find those for yourself -- if you want to.
     
  6. Sir Eowyn

    Sir Eowyn Member

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    I certainly don't wish to overreach, Mr Squint-eyed, or go recruiting Tolkien to things that just weren't on his radar. However, I think it's pretty clear that Tolkien believed certain things...i.e., that the natural world's despoilment by industry was a lamentable thing. That such despoilment goes on is the result of certain political orders, certain ways that society functions. What happened to the Shire under Saruman and Lotho is, I think it can be said without stretching, what Tolkien saw happening to the countryside of England. The Shire's a haven of personal freedom combined with a respect for nature. I'll note in passing I'm by no means a conservative, and nor do I think Tolkien was one as such---any author of his magnitude will have a stance too complex for the boxes. But I don't think it's reaching to say he associated rules and natural pillage with Mordor and Isengard.
     
  7. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    Every shire needs a Madmartigan! :)

    This is quite possibly the best hero tune ever created, i'm serious :D

     
  8. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    The whole story of the "Scouring of the Shire" shows quite a number of parallels to George Orwell's "Animal Farm", a book written to lambast USSR communism. That part of LotR always reminded me of that book.
     
  9. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Treacherous and Vile

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    Which is especially telling in our context, as Orwell was a lifelong socialist.

    No, not a stretch at all, since he said so in the Introduction, though he was connecting it with his youth, rather than the time of writing and publication.

    No argument about the parallels with Mordor and Isengard, either; that's made explicit:
    I note, for the purposes of the argument here, that there's a citation, in the linked thread, of an essay in Jared Lobdell's 1975 collection A Tolkien Compass, called "The Scouring of the Shire: Tolkien's View of Fascism". "Applicability", again, seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
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